When I was growing up, no one had a vagina. We had VJs, yonnies, suzies, pee pees and, long before the concept of social media was born, tweeters.
The only people who ever said the word “vagina” were pediatricians and moms warning you not to wash it with soap. And this was in the groovy Northern California of the ‘70s. We were hardly prudes.
My elementary school playground was rife with dicks and wieners. But never, ever, ever did anyone refer to the girl part by its medical name — or otherwise.
Our genitals were just shameful blank spaces that everyone ignored until high school, when people started paying a lot of attention to them but still didn’t call them by name. Vagina was just gross.
Vagina has had a long history as a shocking word. Remember that amazing and hilarious scene in The Big Lebowski when Julianne Moore’s character says to the Dude, “Vagina. Does that word make you uncomfortable?” A fair question since the word vagina makes almost everyone uncomfortable.
I wish I could remember exactly when I realized that the word vagina was being used liberally and in public as an automatic laugh-getter and funny woman badge of honor, but I can’t. Safe bet it was sometime around 2011, when the New York Times published this article on the liberal use of vagina in sitcoms.
Not everyone is on the vagina bandwagon, of course. In 2012, Michigan made news by banning state representative Lisa Brown after she used the word vagina on the house floor.
A Republican colleague, Rep. Mike Callton is quoted as saying, “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say it in mixed company.”
Crusty old state legislators aside, we probably have Eve Ensler to thank for the vagina revolution. When The Vagina Monologues came out in 1996, it was a giant step forward, not just for women and vaginas but for the word vagina.
Suddenly “down there” had something to say. Not only that, it had a name — a name lacking in melody and loveliness — but a name just the same (and yes, I know all about the vulva, but no one in her right mind would ever use that word — ew).
Now, 20 years later, vagina is on prime time, and little girls no longer have hoo-hoos and tinys (at least not in San Francisco). I even said the word in front of my dad the other day.
While vagina may have come out of the closet, it’s losing some of its luster as a punch line. Now that everyone uses it, it’s not so shocking anymore.
You don’t get bawdy girl points just for saying it these days. Sorry, sitcom writers, but vagina has become like that’s what she said, or talk to the hand — just a little too familiar to be funny.
Really? Does all this “Power to the V” and chatting about pubic tattoos on late-night talk shows represent emancipation, linguistic or otherwise?
It doesn’t take long, when you’re thinking of a put-down or a punchline, to veer toward the genitals or their excretory and sexual functions.
And why not? Our privates truly are the core of our humanity. They motivate and enthrall and sometimes disappoint and embarrass us, yet keep the species going.
They’re beautiful and weird, and all it takes is one picture of Michele Bachmann eating a corn dog to prove that inside almost every adult is an 11-year-old boy.
For now, “vagina” is still the Voldemort of prime time, a word that has been unspoken for so long that it has a mystical, fearsome ability to shock. So simple. So plain. So powerful.
But though it can provoke titters, “vagina” by itself isn’t uproariously funny. And if your prime-time sitcom can’t provide real jokes for its punchlines, chances are it won’t be long before your slot disappears altogether.