Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade that they tend to get lost in the archives. We are beginning this column so that we can all revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted June 19, 2012. You can visit it to see the original comments here.
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.
BIO John Erickson holds a Ph.D. in American Religious History as well as two MA’s from Claremont Graduate University. John served as a commissioner on the California Commission on the Status of Women. He is President of the Hollywood Chapter for the National Organization for Women, a Planning Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood, President of the Board for the ACLU of Southern California, the Legislative Action Chair for Stonewall Democratic Club, and a board member for the National Organization for Women.
13 thoughts on “From the Archives:“Vaginas are Everywhere!”: The Power of the Female Reproductive System by John Erickson”
It is one of my favorite posts!
Honestly John, when I saw this image of a vagina – I saw the image of Mary just now! What a post – “These men are afraid of women and more importantly their vaginas not because they signify difference but due to the sheer power they represent.” I cannot even imagine what good you are doing in this world by being a man with this kind of attitude and sensitivity. Many Many Blessings, John.
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The power to give life, and to bring that life into the world, is the envy of all who don’t have it.
Can I get an amen?
That is so kind of you Sara. It is so great to hear from you and many blessings to you too!
Bravo! You’re a fine, brave man, but we haven’t heard much from you lately. I hope your career is moving along and you’ll post here more frequently.
Love the art! It does look like the Virgin Mary. Good for you for telling us about how you saw it and her. Bright blessings!
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It has been BUSY! I am on a quarterly posting schedule for FAR and look forward to my posts. Because I have chosen jobs outside the academy, when it comes to writing, I need the help of the muse. Most of my posts are written through that lens and one of my favorite pieces, the one about my grandmother, I wrote in one sitting and could feel her with me as I wrote it. It was truly spiritual (as you read in the post).
I’m still here and will be posting again but for now, we get to go through the archives since I am a FAR old-timer and have been here since the beginning. It’s great to read all the new and upcoming voices that this blog has inspired. It’s truly amazing to read their posts every day.
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I am puzzled as to why the artist of the vagina image is not credited in this fine post.
You are so right. I cannot remember the name of the artist. I got it at a production of The Vagina Monologues while I was in graduate school. I have been going back and trying to find it to credit the artist.
Yes, I love this post as well. I didn’t know the site when you first posted it so I am delighted to have the opportunity to read it. Nine years since you wrote this and the situation with controlling vaginas and women’s reproductive acts as a whole has only worsened. Reading about Rep Lisa Brown turned my stomach.
I look forward to reading your new work and in the meanwhile enjoying the archives!
So glad you enjoy it but sad that we still find ourselves in the same situation but I would argue it’s MUCH worse now and that means we have to do so much more.
Enjoy the site (some of the most fabulous authors) and the archives! :)
great post John, but the picture is of a vulva – that word is even harder for people to say, for some reason. I have often thought about how the image of Mary is the same shape as a vulva; I wrote a poem about that in 1980, kind of amazed that no-one seemed to see it, and wondered if putting Her on a pedestal as they do, was a way of keeping an eye on Her (and the Vulva).