I’ve been reading a bit about the reaction to the new euphamism for vagina “vajayjay”. Specifically, lillithattack, Pandagon (this one, too), and the Pandagon refered Michael Smerconish and Stephanie Rosenbloom.
Now, I’m not one of those types of linguistics that decide on a favourite vowel, brake for portmanteau morphemes and hover over all sorts of dictionaries, but I am a linguist and a feminist so I have had an interest in this discussion.
(eek…this was meant to be a fairly short post, but upon rereading those articles, I found many more things to address. Anyway…here goes.)
On the use of the euphamism Vajayjay. My short answer: why not? My long answer: I understand why not, but including a few factors, I still say ‘why not’?
Via the NY Times:
It began on Feb. 12, 2006, when viewers of the ABC series “Grey’s Anatomy” heard the character Miranda Bailey, a pregnant doctor who had gone into labor, admonish a male intern, “Stop looking at my vajayjay.”
The line sprang from an executive producer’s need to mollify standards and practices executives who wanted the script to include fewer mentions of the word vagina.
That’s the problem. Right there. It stemmed from the network not allowing a character from a popular medical drama use the medical term: vagina. Wtf?
Since, it caught on like wildfire. Oprah, apparently, loves the word and uses it on her show. More NY Times:
Vajayjay found its way into electronic dictionaries like Urban Dictionary, Word Spy and Merriam-Webster’s Open Dictionary. It was uttered on the television series “30 Rock.” It was used on the Web site of “The Tyra Banks Show.” Jimmy Kimmel said it in a monologue. It has appeared in the Web publications Salon and the Huffington Post and on the blog Wonkette.
And feminists, I think correctly, got nervous.
Feminists are not nervous, unlike Michael Smerconish seems to think, because they feel as though the vagina should be seen as a no-fun-zone for men.
No matter what you call it, many feminists don’t want guys attracted to it. If it were up to them, there’d be an image at www.dictionary.com with a sign next to “vagina” reading “No men allowed.”
Quite the opposite! Good lord…very very much the opposite. In fact, many feminists, quite rightly, riducule those men who don’t ‘go down’. And this is the problem…that our bodies are somehow seen as either too ‘temple-like’ (because of our scacred womb) or ‘disgusting’ (because or our periods) to refer to without discomfort.
There’s been taboo studies that show that tampons are more taboo than toilet paper—read: menstrual blood bothers people more than shit. … Hell, think of the constant use of the word “purity” to refer to virginal women. That word choice speaks volumes.
This is what causes the push for using vagina/vulva/clitoris when refering to these parts of a woman’s body. Because those are the names and we need, precisely the opposite of what Smerconish claims, everyone to be comfortable with them. These words are not dirty, disgusting, nor awkward, neither inherently nor because of what they describe. This is why feminists encourage the use of them.
This is also why I use the word ‘cunt’. I do not enjoy that the one big taboo word in our North American culture, the one that you really really have to be prepared to use, happens to refer to the vagina…or labia. Actually, I guess the whole kit-n’-kaboodle. I would prefer that everyone gets over their squeemishness use it as they would cock, dick, or pecker.
Having said all that….
In a voice-mail message left for a reporter, Gloria Steinem said she hopes the women using vajayjay are doing so because they think it is more descriptive than vagina, not because they are squeamish.
I’m not sure what else Steinem has said about vajayjay, but if this is at the heart of it, I agree. I hope the same thing. I am perfectly fine with the euphamism vajayjay…if that’s what it is about.
When I’m with my good friends and I want to refer to sexual intercourse, I’ll say “A and B fucked”. I may, if I want to seem baser and more teenaged, say “they pumped” or “they humped”. When I’m with my mother or father (and this conversation does not come up often with them, believe me), I will say “they slept together”. There’s no sleeping involved in fucking. I know that, my mom and dad know that, but we use that euphamism anyway. Vajayjay serves the same function. Now, personally, if I were addressing my mom or dad, I would probably use the word ‘vagina’..but I may find myself in a situation where a reference to one’s vagina needs to be made with minimum fuss. A children’s party, perhaps. Kidding…I do think that kids need to know what their body parts are properly named.
My point is that, as much as sometimes we don’t care to admit it, there is a cause for us to adjust our language due to social situations. I think that it is sometimes seen as phony, but it most certainly is a part of being a social animal. Recognising the social situation you are in and responding appropriately. We, as humans, just happen to have language to concern ourselves with.
I think vajayjay can help our cause. Men have all sorts of euphamisms for penis that range from acceptable (“little fella”) to unacceptable (I dunno..probably something to do with a snake) depending on the situation and euphamisms for vagina have been sorely lacking. Twat. Cunt. Snatch. Pussy. None of these are particularly friendly. Vajayjay might be the one that can’t be hurled at us by drunken frat boys to make us feel less than we are.
Though, thanks to Dan Savage for encouraging the use of pussy to mean something strong.
There have been at least 1,200 terms for the vagina in the history of the English language, according to Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard and the author of “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature” (Viking, 2007).
There is? Who knew? Stephen Pinker, I guess…with his ‘rock star good looks’.
HE calls it “the euphemism treadmill.” Such words arise, he said, “because people want to make it perfectly clear to their listeners that they are not bringing up the topic for prurient reasons.”
Okay…sure. I agree. But lets be more to the point. I can’t remember the last time that the penis went through this ‘treadmill’. Female sexual subjects seem to be more ’emotionally fraught’ than male…but whatever. I understand what Pinker is saying.
So, I think I covered all I meant to say here. Essentially, I don’t think we need to be afraid of the dawning of another euphamism. Euphamisms do happen, and frankly, I agree with Nunberg in that there may have been a need for a new euphamism that was more female friendly:
“There was a need for a pet name,” said Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the chairman of the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary, “a name that women can use in a familiar way among themselves.”
But, as feminist writers caution us, this cannot be a replacement for vagina. And, as long as we remember that, I think we will be okay.
One thing, though….he most disturbing thing about Smerconish’s article:
Years ago (when I was much younger than I am today), I had lunch in a men’s club (of course), where I made the acquaintance of an older, distinguished gent. We were randomly seated next to one another. I’d bet two generations separated me from my dining companion.
As the hour progressed and we warmed to one another, I asked him what he did for a living. With a sagelike glint in his eye, he said to me: “Son, I spend my daytime doing what you’ll spend your lifetime trying to accomplish.”
You probably figured out that he was an OB/GYN. Some things don’t get lost in translation.
If this is how male OB/GYNs are talking to other men about their job…I think this is a problem. And fucking creepy.