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.

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.