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 ineedanotherwordforvagina.com 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.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder