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.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.