by A. Haynes

The V word, vagina, struts out my mouth in carefully enunciated syllables clicking a stiletto heeled grace through the streets of Brooklyn. With the same grace, eminently revered aliases, "toti," "chocha," "coochie," and "pussy" have fallen from my mouth and landed on embarrassed yet always intrigued ears producing a profound effect on those chosen to uphold our society’s laughable mores of what is deemed appropriate sexuality for women.

If the intention in sexually circumscribed conversation is to result in profundity, I’ve found that of all the vagina’s nom de plumes, employing use of the word "pussy" demonstrates a limber imagination, a weighty intellect, and a brash sexiness. The ability to casually drop "vagina" and "pussy" alternately and frequently like sensual mantras while resisting feelings of burning shame and potential condemnation from others means women’s genitalia, within a glorious sexuality, can at last be explored as ambrosia not poison.

Eve Ensler, playwright and author of The Vagina Monologues, understands the visceral connection between sexual autonomy and a woman’s healthy sense of self. Many women, manacled by stringent cultural and religious dictates, view their vaginas as a clinical subject you whisper about only in a practical refrain. It is acceptable to discuss the vagina if you need to visit a gynecologist or if you’re menstrual cycle has started and you need to purchase tampons. But ask how to get off and the inside of our ears prickle with the ominous baritone of disapproving fathers. Our chests heave and tighten as we attempt to discuss how to coax a well meaning penis or tongue into working a consistent stroke over the sensitive nerve of a clitoris so that we achieve a plush full orgasm. No one tells us it’s a required rite of passage to learn how to rise up into an orgasm exclusively through our own five or ten nimble fingers.

When a woman’s been sexually assaulted or feels violated often times the solution is to further punish her for having been born with a pussy instead of validating her experience and offering her psychic and spiritual help. We ladies, whose thighs lounge around a triangle of purple velvet, lay in waiting for a society that allows for real gratifying sexual bargaining.

So Eve Ensler invents V-Day or at least that’s what she tells Ms. Winfrey. V-day which happens every February 14th, aims to celebrate women’s vaginas, raise consciousness and awareness around sexual violence against women in the United States and throughout the world, and affirm women’s blustery sexual energy.

The problem though, is that most of the women of color focused on for V-Day and in Ensler’s celebrity performed Vagina Monologues are usually consigned to victim roles, having "courageously" or "bravely" escaped some form of heinous abuse. I find that while white women are allowed to experience "life's revelations" and enjoy spiritual and sexual freedom as stunning epiphanies women of color are consigned to discussing their bodies in relation to being parented as opposed to being autonomous or powerful. I would love to read or hear about what similarities and differences there are amongst South and East Asian mothers or fathers when it comes to telling their daughters about sex. I would love to know if there are any other rituals pertaining to "becoming a woman" in African countries besides the much maligned and publicized female genital mutilation. What slang words do Native American women appropriate when they don't feel like saying vagina all the time and do the words vary from tribe to tribe? My main criticism is that Eve Ensler did not burrow deeper into the cultural nuances of women’s bodies who are not European.

In Ancient times, I believe the year was 1994 a.d., Method Man, member of the infamous Shaolin Island Wu-Tang Clan paid a rude buoy homage to Black women’s erotic power. He, along with Mary J. Blige, and the sage hook of Aretha Franklin’s "All I Need" riffed rhyme style:

I got a love jonz for your body and your skin tone/
Five minutes alone/ I’m already on the bone/
Plus I love the fact you got a mind of your own…

Further adulation ensues before he ends with "You got the good power-U". Here we have a rhyme, devoid of the traditional misogyny found in hip hop a playful respect and acknowledgement of how urban girls rock worlds.

Yes, absolutely women are raped, abused, traumatized to insane heights but those aren’t our only tales of lore. While scores of women are packing emotional baggage between their legs Ensler and even Method (kinda) encourage us, in the words of Erykah Badu to "pack light" by supporting one another in gathering the skills and tools necessary to begin leaving silence behind. V-Day is definitely a vehicle that moves women to tune it to their sexuality and their bodies as an entire entity, not scattered parts. It is not however, the definitive vehicle.

More women of color need to tell their stories with complexity, unabashedly proclaiming their allegiance to supporting one another every day. As Black women we must not fall into a pattern of looking towards White women for our sexual freedom. We have to practice speaking up for ourselves and claiming our sexuality especially through our art. For you see, quiet as it kept, vaginas are our homegirls, our road dawgs; if they ain’t right, we ain’t right.

A. Haynes is a writer living in Brooklyn.


© Copyright 2002. All rights reserved.