Friday, September 12, 2008

Vaginas, and what women have in common (by Suzie)


         I’ve held off writing about my vagina as long as I could.
        Although I can’t find evidence of the etymology, I blame the Vagina Monologues for inspiring "Vagina Americans" and related jokes. A recent Daily Show sketch ridicules the idea that women would (or should or might) vote for someone just because she’s a woman, without considering other issues. As one commenter put it: "Please women, don’t be, as Samantha Bee called it, a Vagina-American. Vote for the best person, the one who is part of the party that you are loyal to. Don’t vote with your vagina."
         Some people use the phrase to chastise women who consider gender at all. I still have guys trying to get me to ’fess up that I wouldn’t have liked Hillary as much if she were a man, as if I should not have considered gender at all.
         (People don't talk about Penis Americans, or voting with the penis, nearly as much.)
          Jokes about Vagina Americans may imply that women have nothing in common other than vaginas. This is a corruption of feminist theory that questions the category of “woman.” I don’t believe that all women are essentially the same, not do I think we all have the same experiences. But I do think a lot of us share similar experiences. For me, shared experiences count for something, even though they may translate into different views and policies.
            The synecdoche of vagina = woman troubles me because, once again, it reduces women to a body part, and it assumes all women have that part. We don’t. In 2002, I was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that arose in my vagina (although it can appear throughout the body). Most of my vagina was removed, along with my uterus and ovaries. Other women have had vaginas removed due to cancer. Who does or does not have a vagina also can be an issue for intersexed or transgendered people.
            I don’t mean to stifle all vaginal humor; I have quite a repertoire of jokes. I just wish people made fewer assumptions about what they have in common -- and how they differ.