Jessica Biel is on a noble crusade to improve the state of sexual education in the U.S.—and she’s doing a surprisingly decent job of treating it as more than a mere cause célèbre.
It includes a series of sex ed videos that are mostly humorous and engaging. They aim to make it easier for young women to learn about their bodies and talk to adults they trust about sex.
But when Biel and Saundra Pelletier, the President Emeritus of WomanCare Global, did a Reddit AMA Thursday, they seemed to only focus on one specific aspect of sexual education—understanding the vagina.
And by “understanding” we really mean saying the word “vagina” as many times as possible while describing it as “magical” and “amazing” without actually providing information about it.
When asked by a Reddit user, “what is the most important take-away” of the AMA, Pelletier’s and Biel’s answers were laden with vaginas, but very light on content.
“We could say ‘Vaginas are awesome! Most everybody came from a woman!’ We could use the line you said—anything that bleeds for 7 days and lives on is amazing,” responded Pelletier.
“We could go with your line, like vaginas are magical things. I like that. Or go with the line that vaginas are weird and scary, and like bleed for 7 days, so they shouldn’t be trusted,” added Biel.
Pelletier chimed in: “THAT IS AN IMPORTANT TAKE AWAY. I think everybody should know more about vaginas—they benefit everyone!”
And I heartily concur: Vaginas are, indeed, highly beneficial to every human. Even if you don’t have a vagina or derive pleasure and/or life from a vagina, you should respect and appreciate it as you would any other body part belonging to a fellow human being.
That’s the thing: At the end of the day, the vagina is a just a body part, folks.
But the vagina has been elevated in its significance to embody all things positive and valuable about being a woman.
Thus, saying you “care for vaginas” or “respect vaginas” has become shorthand for proclaiming you support any number of issues: access to birth control! better health care for women! equal pay!
It seems that cheekily, vociferously chatting about vaginas has become the fastest way to show off that you are an empowered feminist. Throwing around such a “taboo” anatomical term must prove you support progressive sexual and gender-related causes!
Unfortunately, saying “vagina” or even loudly proclaiming love for one and all vaginas does not accomplish any of these tasks.
Historically, the word “vagina” has been stigmatized and considered obscene—and that’s why at different points, actively speaking and using the word has been a powerful act.
When Eve Ensler wrote and performed The Vagina Monologues in 1996—creating a political play that not only repeatedly used the word “vagina” but linked the monologues through frank discussions about its physical and sexual function—it was transgressive and powerful.
But nearly 20 years later, saying “vagina” has become the lazy and often inaccurate way to prove you’re edgy and care about feminism and women.
Talking about your vagina like it’s a separate, independent creature is the way to demonstrate you’re so comfortable with your body that you simply must be a feminist.
After writing The Body Book, Cameron Diaz proudly proclaimed that when it comes to the vagina, “you’re supposed to nurture it in all the ways that it needs nurturing” because “it’s hungry!”
I would venture that the recent debates over whether to wax or not wax one’s pubic hair has become so socially charged because vaginas have been placed on a pedestal in the feminist lexicon.
Even in Biel’s videos with for WomanCare Global, which are really quite funny and decently educational, she and her celebrity friends often fall into the easy trap (pun intended) of professing love for vaginas rather than providing concrete health information.
In one video, Whitney Cummings stares at the camera and says “I care about you, but more importantly, I care about your vagina.” She plays the line for humor, using similes such as “I love your vagina the way a lion loves its cubs. I just want to put it in my mouth and drag it to safety.”
Clearly, there’s a tongue-and-cheek tone to the video, but the repeated emphasis on vaginas speaks to how that one body part has become a sloppy way to convey support for any number of health and social issues related to women.
To a certain point, we need this dialogue—saying “vagina” is shamefully still treated as controversial.
In 2012, Rep. Lisa Brown was banned from speaking before the Michigan House of Representatives after she said the word “vagina” in a speech against a bill that would tighten state abortion regulations—and, effectively, restrict women’s reproductive access.
“If I said ‘elbow’ would I have gotten in trouble?” Brown told The Daily Beast at the time. “If you’re regulating vaginas, I don’t know how we’re supposed to not talk about them.”
But while saying “vagina” may sadly—and ridiculously—still be considered transgressive in some circles, it is even more ludicrous to think being comfortable talking about genitalia is a sufficient expression of support for feminism or sexual education.
It is simply lazy, one step above hashtag activism.
Women, we can do better—for our vaginas, and more importantly, for ourselves.