“Vagina” is not a dirty word, although legislators in the state of Michigan seem to think so. Recently, in response to the debate over a strict anti-choice bill that places onerous obstacles in the path of women seeking legal abortion, State Representative Lisa Brown used the word “vagina” in her responding remarks. She was subsequently barred from speaking on an education bill as her words were deemed offensive and in violation of house decorum.
Censoring her speech represents the underlying tension of sexual conversations and policies in the United States where the Puritan values of our early nation battle against later movements toward sexual liberation. Of course, the irony is clear, although painful: Men who abhor the word “vagina” are quick to regulate it through law and religious decree.
However, the women of Michigan were not silenced for long. In response, they performed the award winning play, The Vagina Monologues, by activist and playwright Eve Ensler on the steps of the capitol. In the name of free speech and female autonomy, Michigan lawmakers and actors performed the play that celebrates the power of female anatomy and validates women’s complex feelings about their sexual organs while also confronting the violence done to the vaginas of girls and women regardless of age, nation, or sexual orientation. Moving beyond arguments of free speech and abortion rights, Ensler cogently told the Associated Press, “If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion … was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men‘s terror of women’s sexuality and power, I think it’s fully evidenced here.”