I have a shocking confession to make: I have a vagina and, sometimes, I refer to it using that word, “vagina.” Even if I didn’t call it “vagina,” even if I called it “hoo-hah,” “poonani,” “fanny” (there’s a funny story to that one), “koos” (oddly, a camp favorite), or “minge” (which always made me think of that disease that dogs get), I would still be talking about my vagina. Even if I were never to mention it by name, never refer to it in passing, never imply its existence by wearing pants, I would still have a vagina, nestled between my legs. It would still be there, lying in wait, ready to offend young children, staunch conservatives, and high school principals. For those not in the know, I am referring in this rant to the latest vag-induced kerfuffle at John Jay High School in upstate New York. Three young women (or “wymin” or “womyn” or, more recently, “vagina smugglers”) were suspended for one day, ostensibly for “insubordination” and not for using the word “vagina” when they read a piece from Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. (I’m already exhausted just from the use of quotation marks denoting that my words are used ironically and do not necessarily represent their originally intended meaning. “Meaning.” I think I have carpel tunnel syndrome now.)
Georgia O'Keefe does not have a vaginal fixation.
What does this issue have to do with Judaism? Well, beyond the fact that 50% of us are smuggling around vaginae on a daily basis, there’s a serious dearth of vag-focused discussion on Jewish blogs. I did a search on such blog aggregators as Jrants, Jewishblogging, Cross-Currents (not quite an aggregator, but so expansive, it may as well be one), Jblogsphere, but found nary a mention of “vagina” (although Jblogosphere did lead me to an adorable post on sex ed by Jack’s Shack; it wasn’t gynocentric in the way I was hoping, but that was totally understandable, given the sexes and ages of the parties involved). This notable absence puts me in mind of that Peter, Paul, & Mary song:
Where have all the vag-es gone, long time passing?/ Where have all the vag-es
gone, long time ago?/ Where have all the vag-es gone?/ Young girls have picked
them everyone./ Oh, when will they ever learn?/ Oh, when will they ever learn?
Luckily, the witty and wonderful Tamar Fox of Jewcy fame has written more than one article elucidating the intersection between vaginas and Jewish texts, for which we all owe her a serious debt of gratitude, in addition to an enlightening diatribe about language and the nature of swearing. You will be unsurprised that I have a liberal opinion on censorship (nearly never appropriate; and I say "nearly" because I dislike making absolute statements, for want of a caveat). However, the principal of John Jay had the right to say: Ensler's content is inappropriate for the young children in our audience, please choose a different piece. Her monologues are controversial and evocative; that's their purpose; and some of the writing may be too risque for some audiences. Sans "vagina," how did he expect the women to introduce the piece?
"We are now going to read a piece from the [Word Redacted]
"The [Special Place] Monologues"
"The [Flower Garden] Monologues"
When he singled out "vagina" as an inappropriate word, he overstepped the bounds of decency. It's the accepted, clinical term for a part of the body. Saying "vagina" is no different from saying "ear" or "nose." The sexualization or degradation implied when you label that word dirty is far more destructive to the young children in the audience than using the word itself. Instead of owning up to the fact that he censored the women and suspended them as a result of their speech, he justified the suspension as a reaction to their "insubordination." To clarify, when you
tell someone not to say something, it's censorship; you get in trouble with censors when you say the word you weren't supposed to say. But don't take my word for it, let's check my favorite
According to the OED, censorship refers to 1. The office of a Roman censor (or its period); 2. a. gen. The office or function of a censor (see CENSOR n. 2); official supervision. spec. control of dramatic production and films (see CENSOR n. 2b, e). And a censor is one who exercises official or officious supervision over morals and conduct.
Given this definition, I would argue that Principal Richard Leprine acted as a censor and that his suspension of the young women constitutes censorship.
What's next? Are we going to demand that people not say "nunnery" in that famous Shakespearean tragedy?
Principal Leprine, get thee to a [euphemism for a brothel].