Why you should care
Because it took awhile, but finally people have stopped squirming … over a body part.
When I was growing up, no one had a vagina. We had VJs, yonnies, suzies, pee pees and, long before the concept of social media was born, tweeters.
The only people who ever said the word “vagina” were pediatricians and moms warning you not to wash it with soap. And this was in the groovy Northern California of the ‘70s. We were hardly prudes.
My elementary school playground was rife with dicks and wieners. But never, ever, ever did anyone refer to the girl part by its medical name — or otherwise. Our genitals were just shameful blank spaces that everyone ignored until high school, when people started paying a lot of attention to them but still didn’t call them by name. Vagina was just gross.
Vagina has had a long history as a shocking word. Remember that amazing and hilarious scene in The Big Lebowski when Julianne Moore’s character says to the Dude, “Vagina. Does that word make you uncomfortable?” A fair question since the word vagina makes almost everyone uncomfortable.
In the last half decade it’s shown up everywhere. It’s in Bridesmaids and Girls, and it’s all over Jezebel. Jon Stewart says it. So does Mindy Kaling.
Or it did, until recently, when people realized they could use the word — and its attending unnerving shock — to get big laughs. In the last half decade it’s shown up everywhere. It’s in Bridesmaids and Girls, and it’s all over Jezebel. Jon Stewart says it. So does Mindy Kaling. As Lena Dunham told the press before the premiere of Girls, “I want to say vagina all the time.” (She has most certainly kept her promise.)
I wish I could remember exactly when I realized that the word vagina was being used liberally and in public as an automatic laugh-getter and funny woman badge of honor, but I can’t. Safe bet it was sometime around 2011, when the New York Times published this article on the liberal use of vagina in sitcoms.
I do, however, remember its apex: At this year’s Golden Globes ceremony Tina Fey introduced Leonardo DiCaprio by saying, “And now, like a super model’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio.” I know. It’s a great line. What do you expect? She’s Tina Fey.
Not everyone is on the vagina bandwagon, of course. In 2012, Michigan made news by banning state representative Lisa Brown after she used the word vagina on the house floor. A Republican colleague, Rep. Mike Callton is quoted as saying, “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say it in mixed company.”
Now, 20 years later, vagina is on prime time, and little girls no longer have hoo-hoos and tinys (at least not in San Francisco). When Tina Fey gets a big laugh at the Golden Globes with her Leonard DiCaprio line, it’s because it’s a good joke, not because the word is so audacious. Case in point: I even said the word in front of my dad the other day.Crusty old state legislators aside, we probably have Eve Ensler to thank for the vagina revolution. When The Vagina Monologues came out in 1996, it was a giant step forward, not just for women and vaginas but for the word vagina. Suddenly “down there” had something to say. Not only that, it had a name — a name lacking in melody and loveliness — but a name just the same (and yes, I know all about the vulva, but no one in her right mind would ever use that word — ew).
Because while vagina may have come out of the closet, it’s losing some of its luster as a punch line. Now that everyone uses it, it’s not so shocking anymore. You don’t get bawdy girl points just for saying it these days. Sorry, sitcom writers, but vagina has become like that’s what she said, or talk to the hand — just a little too familiar to be funny.