Labeling our Ladyparts: To V or not to V?

I was reading this blog post on Eat The Damn Cake last week, where Kate describes the nightmarish experience of discovering she has a massive hole in the crotch of her yoga pants, triggering a fear that she’ll flash her “vagina” at the whole class during downward facing dog. (I’m assuming she was actually wearing panties, but it’s the thought that counts).

The first comment on the post is from a woman browbeating Kate for using the word vagina to describe her vagina, much to Kate’s understandable annoyance. This is an old chestnut I’ve heard on feminist websites over and over again over the years: “DON’T CALL IT YOUR VAGINA! It’s you’re vulva! Your vagina is the internal structure used for birthing babies! The vulva is the external portion! GRAAAHHHH!!!!” Personally, I find this shit as tiresome as dealing the same smug dopes who wring their hands over grammatical misuse of “they’re/there/their” on the Internet. Unless you’re a high school English teacher, I don’t want to hear it.

I don’t argue with the medical definition of vagina vs. vulva. It is true, scientifically speaking, that the vagina is internal and the vulva is external. I also don’t think that it’s inherently wrong or misleading to casually refer to one’s ladyparts as “my vagina.” It’s not because I’ve bought into some patriarchal model of female genitalia that places more value on the vagina than the clitoris or whatever. It’s just that “vagina” has come to be used by lay people to describe the whole enchilada, so to speak. It’s the polite alternative to “pussy,” an all-inclusive term that doesn’t distinguish between the innie and outie. I guess have a personal aversion to “vulva” because it sounds somehow clinical and graphic at the same time, whereas “vagina” feels relatively neutral to me.  I’ll use vulva in scientific or medical context, but stick to vagina for everyday conversation.

It’s important to remember that language is fluid, and that a word can mean different things in different contexts, or even change meaning entirely with consistent misuse.  A perfect example is calling a creepy dude a “chauvinist pig.” By strict definition, you just accused this man not of misogyny, but of extreme patriotism. The term “male chauvinist” emerged to describe an individual who perceives men as being superior to women (just as a garden variety “chauvinist” perceives his nation to be superior). With time people dropped the “male” descriptor, inaccurately equating chauvinism with misogyny. But is it truly incorrect if it’s been accepted into common language as the dominant definition?

I guess I personally don’t feel like it’s that important to distinguish between the external and internal pudendum with medical terminology in a blog post about accidentally flashing your crotch at yoga. I also wonder what might happen if this post had been written by a man worried about accidentally flashing his “testicles.” Would concerned Internet commenters flock to remind him that his testes are internal structures, and the correct word for his external gonads is “scrotum?” I sure as hell hope not.

If you are an individual who feels more comfortable distinguishing the vulva from the vagina in everyday speech, by all means do. But is it really necessary to police other people’s language for describing their genitalia? I guess this is why I’d much rather just say “punani” like someone’s Jamaican grandmother, and leave it that.

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Comments

  1. shannonhumphreys says:

    Your last line was exactly where my head was at! I was thinking, this is why I just say “chocha” and be done with it. Because really, who cares? If your point was understood, then what’s the problem?

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