Yesterday, Michigan Representative Lisa Brown was banned from speaking after having the audacity to use the word “vagina” in a debate over an anti-abortion bill. Apparently, it’s not enough that Republicans have made it a political priority to roll back women’s reproductive rights—they also want to ensure that we remain silent as they do it.
Representative Mike Callton, for example, was absolutely scandalized by Brown’s comments: “What she said was offensive.… It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.” (He does realize that this mixed company likely has vaginas, yes?)
I wished this latest GOP gaffe surprised me, but Republicans feeling squirmy about women’s “down-theres” while desperately trying to keep said “hoo-hoos” in check is pretty standard these days. We live in a country where it’s fine to legislate vaginas, but saying the actual word is forbidden.
Is it run of the mill misogynist disgust of female bodies? Puritanical pearl-clutching? Or simply sexist legislators who would rather not be reminded that the vaginas they’re attempting to control have pesky women with opinions attached to them?
No matter the reason, it speaks volumes about the way in which Republicans would like women to participate in policy conversations that effect their health and lives: they wish we would just shut up already. It would be so much easier if we just left the important decisions about women’s bodies up to men!
But yesterday’s “controversy” sparked more laughter than outrage. Soon the hashtag #VaginaMovieLines was trending on Twitter. (I couldn’t help but add a few to the mix: “It rubs the vagina on its skin or else it gets the hose again.” “Life is like a box of vaginas, you never know what you’re gonna get.”)
It’s understandable—after all, it’s difficult not to get carried away in the absurdity of grown men having fainting spells over the v-word. But as eye-roll inducing as this incident may be, it’s also deadly serious. The legislation at the center of this debate—which has passed in the Michigan House—is being called the most restrictive anti-choice bill in the country. It bans all abortions after twenty weeks—even in cases of rape, incest and threats to a woman’s health. Women who have fetuses that will not survive birth would be required to carry them to term anyway. The bill also mandates regulations designed to make it near impossible for rural women to obtain abortions or for clinics to operate.
Despite the way in which this bill will run amok in women’s lives, homes and health, we’re expected to stay quiet. And it wasn’t just Brown who was silenced—women who had to terminate wanted pregnancies after twenty weeks because of severe fetal abnormalities were blocked from testifying in Michigan. It’s not just happening in one state, either. After all, who could forget the all-male panel on birth control?
Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to silence women’s voices and experiences. Not because they find “vagina” offensive—because they find the idea of women controlling their own bodies and lives offensive. Because they find us offensive. Republicans can shroud their misogyny in huffy rhetoric about “decorum,” but women know the truth. We just have to keep saying it.