Too Much Vagina For Prime Time TV…

The Times did a piece on the stylish new term “vajayjay” (under the headline “What did you call it”, which I stillIlovevagina_2

don’t get). Vajayjay launched into the popular lexicon through, of all places, a 2006 episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Bailey, in the throes of labor, admonishes a male intern with, “O’Malley, stop looking at my vajayjay!” Oprah, who is such a Grey’s fan that she says, “I don’t watch TV, but I watch that,” (which I also don’t get), soon dropped the term on-air, and the rest is history. (Search “oprah vajayjay” on Youtube for a taste.)

The irony is that the line is a re-write. The original line simply read, “O’Malley, stop looking at my vagina.” Shonda Rhimes, Grey’s co-creator and executive producer, wasn’t a fan of the change, which was prompted not by an effort to pump up the humor, nor to make it more true to Bailey’s character (although a retrospective argument could probably be made for both). Instead it was changed to appease “standards and practices” executives who felt the word vagina had been too prevalent so far that season. Rhimes explains

“I had written an episode during the second season of ‘Grey’s’ in which we used the word vagina a great many times (perhaps 11)…Now, we’d once used the word penis 17 times in a single episode and no one blinked. But with vagina, the good folks at broadcast standards and practices blinked over and over and over. I think no one is comfortable experiencing the female anatomy out
loud — which is a shame considering our anatomy is half the population.”

According to wikipedia, the “standards and practices” department is responsible for the “‘moral’, ethical, and legal implications of the program(s)” on a particular network. An FCC spokesman told the Times that the commission doesn’t penalize for the number of times a word such as vagina or penis is used in an episode or a season. Instead

if the words are used in a graphic and explicit description of “sexual or excretory organs or activities,” he said, it might contribute to a finding of indecency. “Context is a critical factor,” he said.

Indecency? Context? The woman is giving birth! Is there ever a more decent and natural time to use the word vagina?

Since its national exposure, vajayjay has seemingly become a user-friendly term for a woman’s “unmentionables”. The article quotes Geoffrey Numberg, a linguist at Berkeley:

“There was a need for a pet name, a name that women can use in a familiar way among themselves.”

Why? Eve Ensler powerfully illustrates the link between secrecy and shame in her Vagina Monologues, written not from the mind of one woman but culled from the voices of hundreds. “What we don’t say becomes a secret, and secrets often create shame and fear and myths.”

In a 2006 Time Magazine interview she says

When I started doing The Vagina Monologues, I realized how impossible it was for women to say the word. I would see the disgust, the shame, the embarrassment. The vagina is smack in the center of our bodies, yet it is a place that most women felt ashamed of talking about. What did that say about the center of our beings? There’s something in the uttering of the word that reattaches you to it. It’s empowering.

Watch Eve’s powerful lecture at TED in 2006: Finding happiness in body and soul.

Why do we need a new word? Men sometimes name their penises, but this is a personal and generally prideful thing. Sure, there’s plenty of penis slang, but how much of it is implicitly degrading?

The linguist Steven Pinker believes that we need to reinvent new terminology when old terminology gets bogged down by attached innuendo. In this case, all other words for vagina have become fraught with added meaning. The Times article insists the need for

a word for female genitalia that is not clinical, crude, coy, misogynistic or descriptive of a vagina from a man’s point of view.

That’s my whole point, why is it that the most basic, fundamental, life-giving part of a woman is termed by male view-point?

I have no problem with “vajayjay.” It has a funny, non-serious, everyday-life kind of feel. John McHale from TV’s “The Soup” said

It’s not derogatory. It’s not ‘You’re being such a vajayjay right now.’ It’s kind of a sweet thing. Vajayjay is like your good buddy.

The Queen of Media herself asked her audience, “I think vajayjay is a nice word, don’t you?” The truth is, yes Oprah, I do. I just don’t like the fact that it has come to prominence because all alternatives remain or have become either shameful or derogatory.

Just something to think about…


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