Wednesday, February 01, 2006

why, part 1.5


This was the first picture of a vagina I ever saw in a book: a line drawing of a "beaver" in Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

When I told my mother, she said, "Good grief." When I told my sister, she said, "Cool."

I don't guess I really ever told my dad.

So what do I want to tell you?

Maybe it's because I'm pregnant, and my vagina, for the first time, is going to be center stage pretty soon anyway. So why not.

Maybe it's because, despite the purchase of David Schnarch's Passionate Marriage and a whole host of other marriage-related books prior to my wedding, I never did do what they told me to and sit in front of a full-length mirror naked and try to see what it looked like. Maybe it's because now I'm curious and try to get my husband to describe it.

Maybe it's because, when I learned my baby is a girl, the technician told us, "See those little lines right there? Those are her labia," and I was so, so happy that my little girl was not identified as a little girl simply because of the absence of a penis.

Maybe these things are relevant. Maybe they're simply ways to say, I know my vagina is a part of me in a way that has defined who I am, and what I've done, and what I've wanted to do, my whole life, in a way that I have never explicitly acknowledged. Until now.

But it's more that that, more than just the fact that I want to be honest with myself about this part of me. It's also that as I discover this about myself as something to cherish and celebrate, other women still experience their vaginas as a source of vulnerability and oppression and anxiety. And that, too, is what the Vagina Monologues is about.

This is the most recent picture of a vagina I've seen in a book: from Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias (Book One, Vision Three), the Rupertsberg manuscript.

These two pictures bookend this statement. They bookend my experience with vaginas. First they were dirty and illicit and something that only men talked about--and not in ways that a nice girl like me should know about, anyway. But ever so slowly, the vagina has become a metaphor for the divine, of creation, of love, of faithfulness: the universe.


TKP said...

cool pics. i leave in three hours. should i try to sleep? probably not...

Anonymous said...

I'm appreciative as a woman from a repressed household in which any anatomy below the navel was described by my mother in an ashamed whisper as "you know, down there...". Now that I deal with women whose bodies suffer the consequences of modern medicine it is a lot easier to say "vulva" or "clitoris". Women appreciate the frank education.

Scott Lybrand said...

I found the show striking because it seemed as if almost every monologue I heard evoked some aspect of my own journey of 'coming out.' (Perhaps this is just because I first watched the Vagina Monologues right smack in the middle of the coming-out process toward the end of college?)

But the more I think about it, there does seem to be a loose parallel. Before I could come out as a gay man, I had to recognize that the parts of me I thought were dirty were, in fact, good. I had to recognize the power of giving those parts of me a name that reflected their purpose and goodness (or I at least had to reclaim those names that had been given a dirty or bad connotation by others...'queer' is no longer a scary or a dirty word for me).

There are also parallels in the pain that is faced. Truly recognizing the power and importance of the vagina often invites hate and abuse from men. Hell, even the existence of a vagina often invites hate and abuse from men. In the same way, recognizing the goodness of love between two men (or even the existence of a LGBT person) just really pisses some people off.

Good luck in the show.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, yes, the Vagina has been a great mystery. I think for all women this is true, if not only temporarily, b/c it does take some effort to actually SEE our vagina. A few months back my husband and I were watching "Everybody Loves Raymond." During this episode, Ray's mom makes a sculpture, and everyone seems to think it looks like a vagina. In all honesty, I didn't see it at first, but my husband did. And I felt like this made sense-- he does have front row seats, whereas the best I can do (as you alluded to JTB) is to see a reflection (a reflection! Not even the true image!) in a mirror!

I've also found to be in somewhat of a quandery over what to tell my daughter about her genitalia as she develops. When you think about it, we have generalized female genitalia to "the vagina"-- but really it's so much more complexed than that. For the simple act of coitus, yes, it's a vagina. But for pleasure, much is contained in the clitoris. And for urination, it's the urethra. My 20-month-old daughter has been rather curious about what she sees at eye level when I step out of the shower, so that's why all this is so fresh in my mind. B/c we just use the word "vagina", many young (and some old!) boys and girls think that women possess one big, gaping hole between their legs, where both menstruation and urination occur. For this, and other reasons, I'm trying to strike a balance between being honest, but not annoying my daughter with details.

Several years back I overheard a gynecologist I work with on the telephone. She was ordering tickets for our local production of "The Vagina Monologues." I got the biggest kick out of that. Here is a woman whose whole profession is mostly vagina dialogues with her patients, but she still wanted to see the production. I guess our fascination with vaginas will never tire!

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