Women using the V word

By now you have certainly heard the buzz surrounding Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown, who was banned from speaking on the house floor a day after she used the word ‘vagina’ in a speech against a proposed law restricting access to abortion.  While arguing against the restrictive legislation, which would prevent abortions even if the mother’s health was at risk, Brown stated, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no'” (msnbc). In response to Brown’s statement, House Republicans blocked her from speaking on the floor of the legislature the following day, apparently because she failed to maintain ‘decorum’ (NY Daily News).

Interestingly, Brown is not the first legislator to ever use the word ‘vagina’ in a public speech. In fact, many Republicans uttered the offensive word long before she did. Representative George Radanovich (CA) did so in 2009. Representative Ted Poe (TX) used the word in 2008. Representative Roscoe Bartlett (MD) uttered the term in 2007, and Senator Tom Coburn (OK) spoke it in 2006.  Senator George Voinovich (OH) dared to speak it in 2003, and even Senator Rick Santorum (PA) thought it was appropriate to use in 1996 (dailykos.com). Is it possible then, that it is acceptable for male politicians to use this anatomically correct term, but it is not acceptable for women to use the same term when it applies to their own anatomy? According to Brown’s colleague, Representative Mike Callton, “What she said was offensive. It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women.  I would not say that in mixed company” (Detroit News).  Oddly enough, Callton has a degree in biology.

In a written response to being banned from the floor of the legislature, Brown stated: “So why was I silenced? On Wednesday I spoke against a sweeping new anti-choice bill. This bill attempts to over-regulate women’s health clinics to the point that many could no longer offer abortions. Among other things, the plan would require doctors to make funeral arrangements for fetal remains after miscarriages. In my comments on the House floor, I used a word that Speaker Jase Bolger and floor leader Jim Stamas are clearly offended by. I used the word ‘vagina.’ I used that word because we were debating a women’s health issue. Vagina, by the way, is the correct medical name of a part of women’s anatomy lawmakers want to regulate. My statements were within the rules of the House and were clearly appropriate in relation to the bill we were discussing. These lawmakers — predominantly men — have no problem passing laws about my vagina. But when I dared mention its name, they became outraged. You know what? I am outraged, too” (Detroit News).

I am outraged as well.  The legislation that Brown was opposing passed in the House by a vote of 70-39, with all Republicans voting in favor of it.  Brown vows to keep up the fight against such restrictive legislation, and in the meantime, she is receiving tremendous support.  Last night she performed in The Vagina Monologues on the steps of the Capitol, with eight other female state legislators and Tony Award winning playwright Eve Ensler.  According to Ensler, “Censoring a woman for saying a word that is a body part that 51% of their constituents have is a repression that we have not and should not ever witness in this country” (NY Daily News). I hope House Republicans covered their ears.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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