No, we will not say "woo hoo" for our "froo froo". Women need to talk about their bodies honestly

Down with euphemisms, say Rhiannon and Holly.

VAGINA. VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA. Whether you did Latin at school or not, you all know what it means. VAGINAAAAAAA. Say it with us, folks. Shout it from your office cubicle, your freelancer’s Starbucks table, your library cubby hole (also a euphemism for VAGINA).

The word ‘VAGINA’ is seeing a resurgence. Perhaps because our VAGINAS, especially those of our American sisters are, much like Stalingrad, increasingly under siege (Stalingrad is another euphemism for VAGINA). State representative Lisa Brown hilariously offended some Republicans last week when she had the temerity to utter the word during a ridiculously euphemistic debate about female contraception and abortion. ‘I wouldn’t use it [VAGINA] in mixed company,’ said her fellow politician Mike Callton, as though us women never dare to speak of the things. In fact, the women we know talk about theirs a lot, whether in the context of a one night stand post-mortem (‘my VAGINA was out of control’) or medical ‘lady-problems’ (‘something’s rotten in the state of my VAGINA.’)

We did our own research into the lexical world of VAGINA, and this produced some interesting results. ‘Fanny’ is still going strong enough to keep it out of the popular names charts that it once dominated. ‘Flower’ definitely gets a shout out, thanks to the efforts of optimists everywhere and Georgia O’Keeffe. We encountered two Italian exchange students who told us that the standard slang term for down there in Italy is ‘potato’ - a visual we’re finding it slightly difficult to get our heads around. A schoolgirl, meanwhile, insisted that her mother referred to it as her ‘fairy’, which is just begging for years of psychoanalysis later in life when she realises that at the same age, she believed that a fairy took her teeth in exchange for money. Finally - the mystery of where those milk teeth disappear to is solved (and with it, the origins of the possibly mythological disease ‘VAGINA dentata').

The fact that Republicans are trying to legislate something they are unwilling to even say adds extra layers of hilarity to VAGINAgate. The feminist backlash to the suggestion of transvaginal probes involved women inundating Senator Ryan McDoogle’s Facebook page with detailed information about their lady bits. ‘During my last period, I had to use extra large tampons during some chunky blood issues’, said one post. ‘Just a quick hello to let you know that I’m currently ovulating!’ said another. The same happened to Texas Governor Rick Perry, who since deleting the posts became the lucky recipient of oodles of hand-knitted and crocheted VAGINAS. Then there was the viral video, ‘Republicans, Get in my VAGINA.’ VAGINAS are back, and they mean business.

Feminists have long pondered the question of what one should call ones ladybits. From the Inga Muscio classic Cunt: A Declaration of Independence to Dr Catherine Blackledge’s The Story of V, to Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, women have been trying to wrestle their vaginas out of male hands and away from male terms which don’t belong to us for ages now. The fact that ‘VAGINA’ is back with a vengeance can only be good in the face of patronising advertising such as the below, from a well-known feminine hygiene brand that we don’t care to publicise here. They suggest a variety of terms, ranging from ‘mini’ to ‘twinkle’ to ‘hoo ha’, before uttering the immortal tagline ‘whatever you call it, make sure you love it.’ VOM.



In a world conspicuously devoid of adverts for wiener cleaner, it’s a bit disconcerting to see ‘Woo hoo for my froo froo!’ posted on the side of telephone boxes throughout the country. Celebrating that you have a VAGINA: sure, why not? Celebrating because you got the right product to make your natural VAGINA less disgusting: not exactly the passive aggressive message we relish. The whole ‘froo froo’ shebang has led to an internet-wide speculation on how you should refer to your lady parts - with equally cutesy results.

Such terms are perhaps just about acceptable when you have a little girl with a tricycle injury and don’t want her uttering the C-bomb. But for grown women the advert has an infantalising effect. The potential for hilarity (pastrami curtains, anyone?) has been eschewed in favour of prudishness. Fundamentalist Christians are no better, as the online post ’51 Christian Friendly Terms For VAGINA’, which jokingly suggests such legends as ‘sin bucket’, ‘devil sponge’ and ‘neighbour of anus’, goes to show. And since the once hilarious opened itself (snort!) to submissions, it has lost much of its pizzazz to immature pranksters repeatedly suggesting ‘Nick Clegg.’

The problem with euphemising the term ‘VAGINA’ is that it takes serious discussion of them off to the menu. Suddenly they’re less ‘a la carte’ and more ‘all you can eat’. How on earth are we supposed to retain possession of them if we can’t even call them what they are? Which is why it is of utmost importance that, if you can bring yourself to do it, you stop referring to your ‘la-la’ and start using the proper anatomical terminology. We wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that you inundate the Facebook page of that ‘feminine hygiene product’ (read: vagina perfume) with ‘VULVA’ posts, but here’s the link and a labelled diagram of the general area.

Of course, the implication that you can’t really love your VAGINA unless you use a certain product is deeply impertinent. Half the population carry them around in their pants without freaking out, yet if VAGINAS were supposed to complement the saccharine, flower-gathering view of everyday women by smelling like a lavender patch, they would. But guess what, patriarchy? We’re not candy-sweet and we don’t come in washing-detergent flavours!

Until they finally realised that it annihilated everything good inside your flange, douching that made you smell detergent-like was an incredibly popular activity, promoted mostly by VAGINA-haters in the US. And considering the furore over Rep. Lisa Brown being banned from saying "vagina", it's no wonder America were at the forefront (pun intended) of fanny denial. Pussy polishers that claim to say woo woo to your frou frou are just the natural extension of douching, which should have died a death before we even knew they did more harm than good.

In light of this, it’s of utmost importance that you learn to call your VAGINA what it is, and furthermore, accept it in its natural state. VAGINAS are a wonderful arrangement of flaps capable of the most magnificent things, just as God, in Her infinite wisdom, intended. Once you do that, you’ll realise that anyone who says otherwise is most likely a DOUCHEBAG.

Eve Ensler has probably said the word "vagina" more than anyone else alive. Photo: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Show Hide image

Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.