Barbarella
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What’s the big mystery? It’s my vagina, not the sphinx! — Miranda on Sex and the City

We were at Target, a store Jane hits up an average of three times a week. While Jane and I perused cosmetics, my five-year-old niece Bella entertained herself by climbing in and out of the red shopping cart. I was comparing two shades of lipstick when I heard the little girl shout, “Ow! That hurt my vagina!” This is Bella’s new favorite word. She knows it’s a naughty word by the way adults react when she says it. She realizes this naughty word holds a power most profound, for even though adults wince and giggle in embarrassment when she utters it, she is never reprimanded, as when she speaks the other handful of forbidden words she’s gleaned in her short life.

The exclamation had so caught me off guard that my first reaction, before establishing that my niece was okay, was to swivel my head to check if anyone had been within earshot. Jane rushed to her daughter’s aid, helping Bella swing a leg over the edge of the cart. Then my sister met my wide-eyed gaze, and we shared an uneasy chuckle. As we hurried to finish our shopping, I caught a glimpse of Bella’s satisfied smile.

You’d think it would not be so jarring for two grown women to hear the anatomically correct word for female genitalia. I was disturbed by my reaction to my niece’s innocent reference to what, for her, should be no more than a word for the area of her body that she had inadvertently bumped. I wasn’t about to correct her, but I did have the thought that if she’d wanted to be more accurate, Bella would have said “vulva,” not “vagina,” for the latter refers only to the inner canal portion of a girl’s whoozy-whatzit.

It was only a few months ago that I first saw a production of The Vagina Monologues, the Eve Ensler play that debuted over ten years ago. The only reason I went was to support my friend Kristen, who was performing in the show. Kristen was shocked that I had never seen the piece — not because I’m a woman but because I’m a strong woman. I don’t mean strong as in I can lift heavy things, but dominant, not meek, the kind of woman who takes the word “bitch” as a compliment because it denotes one who doesn’t pussyfoot around. Bitch is bold. Maybe that’s why I’d never gone out of my way to see the show — as a dominant and sexually liberated lady, I didn’t feel the need to confront my femininity.

Kristen was to play a dominatrix. I loaned her a selection of femme domme books to help her get into character and a red-and-black riding crop to complete her ensemble.

The show was mostly what I expected: a lot of raunchy, vivid descriptions of female genitalia mixed with a handful of heartbreaking tales of abuse. The most overwhelming part of the show was when performers asked all victims of sexual abuse to stand. I remained seated and swallowed the lump that rose in my throat as I watched a shocking number of women rise to their feet, both on stage and in the audience.

Aside from the sorrow I felt at the harsh realization that so many have suffered, all I took away from the show were graphic mental images of OPP that I was not exactly “down with.” Between my freak-out at my young niece’s eloquence and the Vagina Monologues material I’d found borderline unpalatable, I had to wonder if it was possible that I’d somehow turned prudish. As soon as the question entered my head, however, I recognized its silliness: anyone who knows me would guffaw at such a suggestion. As if a woman whose license plates broadcast her prurience could ever be considered a prude.

So why was I put off by all the crotch talk? While pondering an answer, it occurred to me that in my day-to-day life, I rarely have cause to refer to my womanhood. I don’t think I avoid the subject so much as it’s not relevant to most of the topics of conversation in which I find myself engaged. As my friend Jen says, “I don’t think many people want to talk about their junk.”

Once the proverbial Eve pasted a leaf to demarcate a “private” area, talk about our genitals was relegated to reticence. Aside from informing my sexual partner or my doctor where attention is required, any mention or reference to my vulva is superfluous, intended only to amuse or disturb others.

References to one’s nether regions made for the sake of throwing people off balance is not solely the province of children. Like a grown-up version of my niece, my friend Kimberly wields the wand of words. The other night, Kristen was enjoying a glass of wine in my kitchen when Kim called from outside. After I buzzed the front door to let her into the building, I turned to Kristen for a quick rundown of what to expect. “My friend Kim, she likes to bust out the word vagina.”

Kristen smirked at me. “Hello, I was in the Monologues, remember? I can handle it.”

“Right, yes, of course, I forgot,” I said. “Still, just FYI. She uses it a lot. It’s, like, her vadge of honor.” I giggled at my pun. David rolled his eyes, demonstrating how above my potty humor he was.

Kim and her husband Shawn were at the door. Ever generous, they’d brought with them not one, but three bottles of wine, a rack of ribs and sausages for our new grill, and a gorgeous bouquet of red-orange gerbera daisies. I’m not sure why, but I made note of the time displayed on the microwave. Perhaps I was curious to see how long it would take Kim to bust out the V-word. When she did, just over one minute after walking through the door, I couldn’t help but share a look with Kristen to communicate a silent “Told ya.” I could see on Kristen’s face that, despite her experience on stage discussing all things vaginal, and regardless of the warning I’d given her of Kim’s blunt crotch commentary, she’d been taken aback, just a little. On Kim’s face, as I’d seen on my niece’s, I noticed a certain sly, satisfied smile.

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David Dodd April 15, 2009 @ 1:45 p.m.

Did you have to bring up the ribs and sausages? Here we go again...

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Barbarella Fokos April 15, 2009 @ 2 p.m.

And did you have to point that out? ;) I wrote this before the veggie explosion. And it just so happens that those are the items our friends brought. Nothing sinister in that.

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David Dodd April 15, 2009 @ 2:21 p.m.

I am, of course, kidding. But it will be interesting to see how many people are more offended by your dinner than by someone's spontaneous and maybe even reckless use of the "V" word. I'm not easily offended, perhaps as a byproduct of my youth. I had a good friend in high school with parents that were about as open with their thoughts and speech as I try to be with my own children. This friend's father was epic. He had a pool table in the garage and we would play constantly. There was a sign hung prominently, that said, "Feel Free to Fart".

While I have refrained thus far from adopting that sign as my model for social interaction, I respect its message. Sometimes as a society we are so uptight that we lose the ability to freely communicate. It's been thirty years since I last saw that sign, but I remain inspired by the notion of a society not offended by the distance of another human being's moral boundaries.

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Barbarella Fokos April 15, 2009 @ 3:17 p.m.

It's not "technically" a naughty word, magics, my point is that people react to it as if it were. For example, my original title for this column was "Vagina Dialogues." Notice it is not anymore. ;)

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magicsfive April 15, 2009 @ 5:20 p.m.

i know what u meant barb ;) i prefer "cookie" myself. the term, that is :O

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lallaw April 15, 2009 @ 6:56 p.m.

I think the term "cootchie" is kinda cute; I've known men who named their counterparts "Thor" and other such mind bogglers so I guess there's some precedent. Odd though that, as Barbarella points out, even us strong broads are a little squirmy with the V word. I was raised by a pack of no nonsense from-the-mother country la dolca vita loving Italian women. They took no prisoners; tolerated no wallflowers. And while off-color jokes among girlfriends are good for an occasional giggle...the V word has always made me uncomfortable too. Particularly when every single "feminine hygiene" product is named with Vaga-this or Vaga-that with commercials usually showing some woman in a swimsuit talking about things I wish she'd keep to herself...and don't get me started on the tampon commercials (we know allllllllllllll about tampons, trust us, we'll buy them no need to advertise - although that "mother nature" one IS cute. Oddly, you rarely if ever see male hygiene products for itch or genital B.O....mustn't ever happen huh?)

I have to say though Barb your niece is no doubt a precocious little smartie being raised by and around some strong, intelligent women. She'll no doubt be ruling the world soon...:)

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mike1 April 15, 2009 @ 6:59 p.m.

Do you know where vaginas, I mean ribs come from? I mean...oh nevermind.

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magicsfive April 15, 2009 @ 7:51 p.m.

VIVA LA VULVA!! sorry i had to... saw it on a button once ;)

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magicsfive April 15, 2009 @ 7:56 p.m.

omg lol lallaw i know u said don't get u started on tampon commercials but...did u ever see the one where tis guy and a girl were like on a rowboat ant it started leaking and the girl is like no problem, and she takes out a tampon and plugs the hole in the boat with it...you know, to indicate how absorbent it is.... i was saving that for mr. board's worst commercial ever off the cuff that he said he is going to write but i couldn't wait... xoxo

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magicsfive April 15, 2009 @ 7:57 p.m.

wow i really need to use that spell check :/

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jray April 15, 2009 @ 11:22 p.m.

Gee Barbarella, why no video this week?

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pinkshoes April 16, 2009 @ 7:30 a.m.

OH! To be in a room where the conversation flows as freely as it does here!

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Barbarella Fokos April 16, 2009 @ 9:07 a.m.

Oh, there's video, jray. You just don't see it. ;)

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bohemianopus April 16, 2009 @ 1:05 p.m.

This reminds me...

My father used to sing Caruso's "Te Voglio Bene" on the front steps of our New Jersey home very loud. Only, instead of the real lyrics, he substituted the raunchiest Italian lyrics you could imagine. It was a non-Italian neighborhood, so no one understood the words.

One day my friend said, "I didn't know your father sang Opera."

To which I answered, "He tries, but I don't think the lyrics are correct."

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catty1 April 16, 2009 @ 3:17 p.m.

It doesn't help that we were saddled with an awful word to describe our nether parts. "Vagina" sounds like a disease. What's the matter with Phil? He's got a bad case of vagina.

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Barbarella Fokos April 16, 2009 @ 3:38 p.m.

Haha! True, Catty, it's such a cold, clinical word. That's why Oprah adopted vajayjay. But recently, I overheard a Spanish speaking friend say "Vaheena." I liked the sound of that. It's the "jine" part of the English pronunciation that skeeves me out. My friend Sheri said her niece refers to it as her "lady business." And that, I like a lot.

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SDaniels April 16, 2009 @ 5:06 p.m.

Oh refriedgringo, not to start up on that topic again, but really--you'd think you picked up a little more from the conversation than the (false) impression that people get teed off at the mere mention of meat for dinner...

I wonder if Barbarella's friend Kristen performed VM in Florida a couple years ago?

"The Vagina Monologues was renamed "The Hoohaa Monologues" in Florida (No Vaginas Please We're Floridian, 2007), following a complaint from a female resident."

http://www.matthewhunt.com/c***/reappropriation.html

I had to use asterisks for the censors, of course. The article in the link has more to do with the "c" word, but is pretty comprehensive of historical attitudes and treatments.

Yes! I agree Barbarella--it is that "jine" syllable! I have always been shy of the "v" word myself, and notice I even pronounce the soy mayo product "veeg-uh-naise," rather than "vej-uh-naise." Something about the "v" and the "j" sound-- don't like the idea of junk and food together :)

Certainly, there is more to why we flinch. I hate to think that as a woman, I've been unconsciously socially primed to fear and denigrate the female organ--even through such an innocuous example of avoidance through pronunciation, but there has always been a fair measure of shame that the proud phallus doesn't quite have to endure...

Freud talks about the fear of castration (when isn't he?!) and the vagina dentata (ancient fear of vj with teeth). I'm sure they go into this in depth with the Monologues. There was a poem --Housman? using the myth of vagina dentata, and a reply like a century later from a first wave feminist poet, I think--will try to find them--hilarious stuff.

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David Dodd April 16, 2009 @ 5:46 p.m.

Ms. Daniels,

I'm sure that you know my initial comment here was made in jest. However, what I have learned in my forty-seven years on this planet is that there are people who have, and will continue to inform me that I am an inhumane bastard for eating meat. I defended Barbarella in her last column for two reasons: Primarily, from my own experiences, and secondarily, from an attempt by many to charge her with irresponsibility when, in fact, the diary in question has been nothing but honest.

In the comments of her last column, you were "surprised" by my attitude of understanding. Here, you seem to think that I have an axe to grind. Give me a little credit. Get to know me, then criticize the heck out of me.

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mike1 April 16, 2009 @ 8:51 p.m.

Refried...you're an inhumane bastard FOR eating meat. I'm sure in other aspects of life, you're very compassionate. ; )

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magicsfive April 16, 2009 @ 9:56 p.m.

i am a vegetarian but whatever, you know? i like everyone so its all good. i don't much care what people think of me. xoxo

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Josh Board April 17, 2009 @ 12:27 a.m.

Wait a second...you mean to tell me one of those goofballs like Pete, hasn't posted yet to make some kind of joke about eating meat, and uh....oh, nevermind.

Anyone see the great episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where his wife loses a part in The V Monologues because of him? It was hysterical.

Barb...did your sister think to tell her daughter that she doesn't need to say that word all the time? I remember as kids, our parents told us never to use the slang words. We had to say "penis" (much like the "jine" part gets you in the other word, I think with this it's the "is" part...no problem with the "pee" part of that). Or, for my little sister, she had to say "vagina". Which she proudly did, in a store, when she had to yell that the underwear was going up it. Much to the horror of my mom, who had everyone staring at her.

But, if my sister was always using the word, my parents would've (i'm guessing) told her she doesn't need to say that all the time. Instead, it seems almost like what happened, will just have her continuing to use it, to illicit shock from the adults.

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David Dodd April 17, 2009 @ 1:02 a.m.

I'll tell one on myself.

Maybe I was six or seven. I lived in the land of super-heroes. Batman, Superman, the Green Hornet, and so on. I invented my own identity.

My cape was a small blanket, from previous years, probably light blue and quite worn. I might have found a Lone-Ranger mask. I flew around the house.

"I'm SUPER-F&$#ER!"

I had no idea what it meant, but I had obviously heard it from somewhere. My mother and my second cousin during a visit, between laughing and being horrified, managed to stop my crime-fighting efforts.

"What? No, I have no idea where you learned that, but stop it," my mother said.

"But mom, I'm super-f&$#er!" I said.

I got slapped. It hurt. I didn't know what I did wrong. I still don't understand why I can't be super-f&$#er, the World needs a new super-hero.

And to magics and mike, thanks. To magics, I don't care what anyone else thinks either, we're brethren. And Mike, I disagree with my categorization of bastardness, but respect and admire your passion for what you believe in and the World needs more of it.

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lallaw April 17, 2009 @ 3 a.m.

OMG joshb, you had to use the clinical term for your respective "junk" when you were kids! Hilarious!! My parents taught us 4 kids (2 boys, 2 girls - me being the eldest, go figure) to use the term "peach" when we were little and needed to refer to our whatevers...nevermind it was the same term for both sexes. (We were also taught to use the word "nuches" for boobs, some Sicilian/Italian thing, but I digress). When I had my two sons, I sorta understood why "peach" for a girl, but it didn't seem to fit a boy. So I taught my sons to use the term "picky"...it's a wonder we are not all in therapy. Perhaps that is where the respective discomfort and bravado over the female and male terms come from: our own parents' levels of comfort. Blame your parents; the default position. :)

Hey magics5...I DID see that tampon commercial and what a ridiculous waste of advertising dollars it was. First of all, no woman on a date with a guy would pull out her tampon to plug a hole in a boat. We'd rather drown. Second of all, how insulting. You mean to tell me we need to be packing something that has the capacity to suck a lake dry when our special "visitor" comes to call? Try sitting between two teenage boys on the couch when one of those commercials come on....horrifying.

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magicsfive April 17, 2009 @ 7:05 a.m.

i know, right...i couldn't believe it either. i guess they realized how ridiculous it was because i haven't seen it in ages. I too like the mother nature one lol... xoxo

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SDaniels April 17, 2009 @ 11:33 a.m.

Ha ha! So you ARE Ollie, refried? Such bristling from such an intrepid soul, then? The only way to get to know you is through your writing, so gotta use your words (and if you are Ollie, there are words to be missed!) After such an uneasy detente on the other thread, yeah, your comment about dinner was grating--surely not only to me. It reestablishes the smug attitudes we seemed to have replaced with a bit more understanding. Sorry if I offended you too, and:

I am going to promise not to respond to that topic again on this particular thread.

Peach and Picky, lallaw? That is priceless with a capital Pee. Sounds like residents of whatever town they're calling it in Paint Your Wagon--mayor was Jubilation T. Cornpone?

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David Dodd April 17, 2009 @ 12:24 p.m.

SDaniels: I'm not Ollie. And I keep a weblog on this site, it's in the Baja section, sporadically updated as the mood strikes me. There are lots of those words in there that you speak of. Help yourself. And no offense taken.

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SDaniels April 17, 2009 @ 12:31 p.m.

I will line up for a serving, refried :)

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SDaniels April 17, 2009 @ 12:54 p.m.

Didn't one of the mother nature commercials have some sort of explanatory graph, with arrows pointing at a cute little Atari-like icon of a red-bowed package? Clever. Although I think I prefer the humor of European commercials when it comes to bodily organs and functions...

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Josh Board April 17, 2009 @ 3:50 p.m.

I never saw the ad with the boat leaking, but that sounds awesome.

I promise, magic, the next Off the Cuff will be worst commercial.

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SDaniels April 17, 2009 @ 4:07 p.m.

Do we get to vote on that one? Don't forget the "Viva Viagra guys" doing a set in studio, Josh!!!

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magicsfive April 17, 2009 @ 4:34 p.m.

ok i will start making a list ;)

lol sdaniels save it for the column!!!! that IS one of the worst....hahaha

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magicsfive April 17, 2009 @ 4:41 p.m.

ok this is the actual commercial but it is spoofed with sound effect...just for u josh. turn down the sound lol:

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johnandflo April 18, 2009 @ 9:30 p.m.

OK, I looked up prurience on dictionary.com. Now, I want to know what your license plate says.

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pete78 April 18, 2009 @ 11:09 p.m.

Sorry Josh...I'm a little late posting this week. My personal favorite synonyms for vagina are "Gaping Wound" and "Vertical Love Gash."

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Joe Poutous April 20, 2009 @ 11:05 a.m.

um, Pete.. damn. You must have a hell of a nickname for a penis.

  • Joe
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Barbarella Fokos April 20, 2009 @ 3:14 p.m.

Johnandflo, I will only say for now that it's a variation of a word that means "strong woman." At least that's how I described it when I applied for the plates. ;)

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lallaw April 20, 2009 @ 3:25 p.m.

Hey Pete78 - you're a real charmer! Betcha all the girls just can't get enough, huh? (Okay, I just poked my tongue all the way through my cheek. Hate when that happens).

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David Dodd April 20, 2009 @ 7:42 p.m.

I will only say for now that it's a variation of a word that means "strong woman."

Um.

NOSEX4U

?? ;)

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SDaniels April 20, 2009 @ 11:09 p.m.

If that's strong, let me be weak, refried ;)

lallaw, no worries. Just want to make sure no one out there is opining for me by proxy :)

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Josh Board April 22, 2009 @ 12:09 a.m.

I just saw the movie Tokyo! at the Ken. Don't waste your time. But I had to mention in this thread, perhaps the best scene ever, of a V on screen.

This guy makes a low-budget movie (in the film), and when he's screening it, there's a scene where a woman is giving birth. They do the view from the inside of the woman, looking out at the husband. You see the womans knees and legs up in the air. And around the screen, you see what is supposed to be part of the womans V. The crowd erupted in laughter, and you can't stop staring at it, wondering what they used to create that visual. The problem is, you end up missing the subtitles for that scene.

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SDaniels April 22, 2009 @ 10:18 a.m.

A cute "v" scene I know is from the mockumentary My Winnipeg. The filmmaker/narrator Guy Maddin (Saddest Music in the World) has film noir star Ann Savage play his mother.

To give the idea that mother is a very strong, domineering force, he uses shots of a "v" that he narrates as the "fertile crescent" or "delta," and that's what you think you are getting at first--an aerial view of the birthplace of civilization ;)

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SDaniels April 23, 2009 @ 12:29 p.m.

Nope, but that too is an acceptable "birth of civilization" scenario, Joe. Like the little curl at the end of his beard.

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