“Vaginas are Everywhere!”: The Power of the Female Reproductive System by John Erickson

I have a beautiful picture of vagina hanging on my wall.  However, for the longest time it was in the back of my closet, with a plastic bag covering it.  I wasn’t ashamed of it but my ex-boyfriend, like most gay men, refused to have it on the wall where he could see it.  He is now long gone; the vagina is now out and proud.

I bid on the picture one fall during a showing of the Vagina Monologues at Claremont School of Theology.  One of my best friends was in the show and I had always loved its powerful message.  I walked out of the theatre, waiting for my friend, and there it was: the picture of the vagina.  I found myself caught up in its beauty.  Its gaze had mesmerized me.  The outlying layers of red, the contours of its shape, they all began to mold into a figure before my eyes.  While I have never thought of myself as a religious person, I realized that at that moment I was no longer looking the old photo but rather I was staring at the outline of the Virgin Mary.  At that moment, I realized that I had to have the picture.

My ex boyfriend was ashamed of the photo.  I let him shame me into putting it in the back of my closet and cast it away like it was nothing.  Like the experience, call it religious or not, had never happened.  When we ended our relationship, I found myself inconsolable and pacing up and down my stairs in a never-ending cycle of sadness and downheartedness.   As I was pilfering through our items, I came about the picture.  I saw it and for a split second, I was no longer sad.  I placed it in a position on the wall that used to hold a picture of my ex and I and proudly stood back and felt a sense of calm take over me.  Slowly but surely, I began to box up the rest of the stuff I had hidden away from my friend during the mass exodus of memories and replaced them with images that helped me begin to heel.

That’s the power of the vagina: it births new life into the world, even when one does not think life is possible.  It is not just an organ but a vessel that proudly and respectfully births and re-births us all back into a world that has shunned and cast us away.  Vaginas are powerful not in the classic sense but in the uniting and ecstatic transformative bliss that they bring into the world.

While they are a sense of beauty to some, they also serve as a symbol that needs to be controlled by others.   While some shove vaginas into the back of closets, covered in a plastic bag, others like to legislate against them.  Unlike traditional phallic sources of power, vaginas are an inward expression of beauty and power that take place within a woman’s body unlike external sources of power and size that men like to claim their penis’ represent.

Nice girls don’t say the word vagina.  Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Michigan) learned this lesson the hard way after announcing on the floor that she “was flattered that [all the men were] so interested in [her] vagina, but no means no.”  She was subsequently barred from speaking the day and the controversial abortion bill, which makes it practically impossible for women to obtain abortion services in Michigan, cleared the House with a seamless majority of male support.

While men like to say that they respect women, I find it hard (specifically as of late) to believe anything a Republican (or a Democrat in some cases) says.  They would rather have women sit in a corner and wait silently with a dunce cap on their heads as men dictate what they should do with their bodies and how they should behave.  As of late, conservative men like to think of women and vaginas as two separate entities without realizing that without one you cannot have the other.  These men are afraid of women and more importantly their vaginas not because they signify difference but due to the sheer power they represent.  The ability to create, harbor, and in some cases, if the woman chooses to do so, take away life, is a gift and it is a gift, that as of late, is scaring men half to death.

Wherever we look, there are vaginas.  From the birthing room to the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives, vaginas are everywhere and they serve an important part in shaping and empowering our everyday lives.  Regardless of whether or not these conservative men, not only from Michigan but also from all over the United States, agree is a matter worth fighting for and in some cases worth dying for. While Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville, Michigan) or Ari Adler, Press Secretary for House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall, Michigan) were outraged over Rep. Brown’s statements, they did not take the time to realize that they were only adding fuel to an already blazing fire within each and every woman who is sick and tired of having both her vagina as much as herself talked for and by men who believe they “know best.”

Well, to all those men, I, along with every other vagina wielding women and allies say, we’ll see you next Tuesday.  Vaginas are everywhere and well men, you’re just going to have to get used to it.

John Erickson is a doctoral student in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University.  His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements.  His work is inspired by the intersectionality of  feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric.  He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.

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Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, Art, Childbirth, Christianity, Community, Ethics, Feminism, Gender and Power, General, Human Rights, Identity Construction, LGBTQ, Men and Feminism, Motherhood, Politics, Power relations, Prayer, Reform, Reproductive Justice, Sexual Ethics, Social Justice, Spirituality, Violence Against Women, Women and Community, Women and Scholarship, Women in the Church, Women Religious, Women's Agency, Women's Suffering

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14 replies

  1. On behalf of my vagina and all the vaginas who continuously birth me and others- Thank you!!

  2. John, thanks for that from all of us who have vaginas! VAGINAS!!! Who is the artist of the beautiful vagina painting you posted? It looks like Judy Chicago, but maybe it is Judy Chicago-inspired, not by Judy Chicago. If anyone is in Brooklyn, do visit the Dinner Party permanent installation, a paen to women and our vaginas. Judy Chicago was right that we cannot celebrate women if we cannot see or say vagina.

  3. Thank you John, for your integrity and fearless resolutions. I agree with you that it is fear what closes the conversation on VAGINAS. While the unconscious in men have been acting up and playing deciders between life and death for centuries, they were all along afraid of coming close to the realization of the embodied and intrinsic power in women, seldom indiscriminately abused. You said this best, “The ability to create, harbor, and in some cases, if the woman chooses to do so, take away life, is a gift and it is a gift, that as of late, is scaring men half to death.” Why it should this scare men who rule in the country with the largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and with the largest record of creating terrorism abroad, is a mystery to me.

  4. Thank you John, for your article in solidarity with all women, for your integrity and fearless resolutions. I agree with you that it is fear what closes the conversation on VAGINAS. While the unconscious in men have been acting up and playing deciders between life and death for centuries, they were all along afraid of coming close to the realization of the embodied and intrinsic power in women, seldom indiscriminately abused. You said this best, “The ability to create, harbor, and in some cases, if the woman chooses to do so, take away life, is a gift and it is a gift, that as of late, is scaring men half to death.” Why should this scare men who rule in the country with the largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and with the largest record of creating terrorism abroad, is a mystery to me.

  5. Yes! I love my vagina! She’s one of my best friends and I hate, hate, hate it when men talk about her and try to control her all her sisters like they do. I love your painting so much. Thank you for being such a profound allie, John!

  6. Bravo! And it’s a terrific piece of art, too.

  7. Some years ago, the granddaughter of a good friend and colleague, who was about 3 or 4 at the time, asked him, “Grandpa, do you have a penis or a vagina?” Although taken aback, he replied calmly, “I have a penis, Ava. What do you have?” Apparently she’d been asking the question because it got an emotional response out of the grown-ups. When faced with the question of her own sexuality, she had to stop and think. If only there were more wise, brave men in the world like you and Ava’s grandpa, John!

  8. I also love and appreciate this post! I love that you hang the vagina picture in your home too and what your story represents.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about vaginas the last couple of days after seeing the movie “Prometheus.” … I don’t know if you’re a sci-fi fan, but if so, be prepared to be a bit disappointed. The “Alien” prequel is not only full of plot holes, but as my sister pointed out to me, the hyper-masculine “engineers,” face down what basically looks like a giant, evil vagina (the prequel to the “Alien” monster) in the film. I find it disappointing and saddening that our society’s fantasies (and realities) must continue to repeatedly hunt down and dispose of vagina-oriented power.
    Thank you again for your post!

  9. Thank you, John! I really liked your post (I shared it everywhere I could!). I liked your post even before I realized that you are a man. Vaginas do so much for so many, it is especially good to hear a male voice come out in support them once in awhile!

  10. John,
    Truly, wonderful!! Judy Chicago, http://www.judychicago.com/gallery.php?name=The+Dinner+Party+Gallery and Georgia O’Keefe would love this blog!! In the art world have we ever seen any ‘elegant’ penises except attached to the full figure and most of the time it is hidden behind a fig leaf. The flower blooms in summer in full color.

    So I ask, why do men need to hide behind vaginas? Politically and religiously speaking? Why is it that men seem unable to self-refer in certain ways and resort to having to feel the need to dictate to women in a defining mode. Why is it that they think we cannot speak and act for ourselves, in our own voices. Men defining women is an abusive behavior, many say, which stems from patriarchy and creates a power-over structure. Have women defined men in the same manner?

    In the political arena, Dirty Words On Clean Skin: Sexism and Sabotage, a Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening by Anita Finlay, is the quintessential book about the sexism so evident there. The more this defining gets called out and exposed for what it is and how detrimental and debilitating it is for the women and also the men who do it, the more women and men who understand it can empower others to do the same.

    Thanks for the view and helping the vagina’s ‘coming out of the closet’!!

  11. Thank you to everyone for your wonderful posts and commentary! I truly enjoyed writing this blog and believe that sadly, this issue will only get worse as the current political atmosphere we find ourselves in gets worse and worse.

    Check out this video though; whether you like her or not, I appreciate her.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/20/meghan-mccain-womens-issues_n_1611033.html

    • I love Meghan McCain. I may not always agree with her, but I think she has a lot of intelligent things to say, especially surrounding women’s issues. I wish there were more vocal Republican women of her progressive slant and thoughtful intelligence.

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