Vagina, vulva, miscarriage and misconception.

So, have you ever seen The Vagina Monologues? I haven’t. I have heard it is a great show, but I can’t—not yet, anyway—get past the mistake. They say “vagina” when they mean “vulva.” This happens a lot, and it is annoying to me, especially when it’s people who are trying to be body positive, saying—oh heavens!– The word VAGINA out loud.

 

The Vagina Monologues talk a lot, so I have read, about vaginas when they mean vulvas. (Or vulvae, which sounds like an 80s hair band to me.) Different part of the body, just like you don’t kiss with your vocal chords.

 

Jamie Lee Curtis was in some movie where in an interview, she said about a character, “And it was the first vagina he had seen, and . . . ” unless the character had a speculum, he didn’t see a vagina.

 

Words matter. There’s a reason the Jimmys and Billys and Bobbys of the world grow up and call themselves Jims, Bills, and Bobs.

 

Calling the vulva “vagina” is marginally better than “down there,” but only marginally.   The female body remains such a mystery, we can’t even talk about it. Vulva vulva vulva. Perfectly good word.

 

There are huge problems with the current fashion to teach children, “Boys have penises and girls have vaginas.”

  1. Kids are literal minded. They identify easily things they can see or experience. That means, “boys have penises and girls have vulvas.”
  2. Kids are not having sex. (Or shouldn’t be. Sexual abuse is a whole other topic.) If you teach penis/vagina you are contributing to the idea that girls are only important as sexual beings. This bullshit has to stop.
  3. Physically speaking, the equivalent to the penis is the clitoris, anyway. The vagina only counts as equivalent if you are talking about heteronormative sex. And must we be so damned heteronormative that we are teaching kids that a woman’s private parts exist only to wait for a penis? Jeez.
  4. Kids are definitely urinating. And while teaching kids about sex is important, the earliest function of a penis is to urinate. Kids are thinking about excretion, not (at least initially) sex. Boys have penises. Girls have urinary openings. And I wish to high heaven people would start being up front about this. Because it was pretty damn upsetting to realize IN COLLEGE that there were men in my peer group who truly believed girls/women urinate from vaginal openings. But, yup, of course they do, because for the previous 18 years they were taught that the equivalent to penis is vagina. More often than not, it isn’t. Actually, when you consider the years at the beginning and end of a man’s life when he is not having sex, and how much more often even in the sexually active years a guy is likely to be peeing than having sex, “men have penises and women have vaginas” is creepy wishful thinking.

 

And while we are on health misconceptions, this year I have read two books wherein the plot turned on miscarriages. In each case the miscarriage was over in an afternoon, in one case in minutes.

 

This can’t happen. If there were a book where the plot hinged on a hockey game where the score was 89-90, either it would be a fantasy, there would be a HUGE subplot on how this impossible thing happened, or the book would never be published because it was so damned unrealistic.

 

In a miscarriage, the uterine lining is shed, because the embryo or fetus is unviable. It takes at least as long as a regular menstrual period, and generally longer.

 

The authors of both these books are women, and both failed to realize the impossibility of their plots. I had to read and re-read to find out—was the character just lying about having a miscarriage? Nope. We are supposed to believe it. Which means actual people who menstruate don’t know how miscarriage works.

 

Pop culture is so full of jiffy miscarriages that I almost can’t blame the authors for making the mistake. It’s a big part of TV, or at least soap operas.

Clearly the authors hadn’t had miscarriages. But you’d think they’d stop to reason how it would work before writing the plot. Or that somewhere an editor would call the impossibility to their attention.

 

My guess is that even if an editor or beta DID know miscarriages didn’t work that way, he or she would be too embarrassed or sad to bring it up.

 

As far as I know, I have had three miscarriages. I say “as far as I know” because somewhere around one quarter of all pregnancies miscarry, often when she doesn’t know she is pregnant. From the informed position of middle age, I realize that a lot of the experiences in my college peer group  of, “I think I’m pregnant! Oh, never mind, my period was just late . . . wow, it sure is a HEAVY one. . . ” were likely miscarriages.

 

On FB there are groups for miscarriage support. It is something I can’t understand, for myself, even as I support people who need such groups. Miscarriage often means the embryo or fetus  had an abnormality that made it inviable. I can’t romanticize that. Yes, I was sad to not be pregnant any more, each time, but I couldn’t, and can’t, romanticize the event or mark it with candles as some people do.

 

Then again, I was lucky in my miscarriages. They all occurred early enough that apart from heavy bleeding and tiredness, there were no complications. There are miscarriages that are serious enough to require a doctor’s care or even hospitalization, but none as short as the pop culture notion of a few moments.

 

All right, so here is my funny miscarriage story. Once it was confirmed that yes, I was miscarrying but otherwise OK, I went back to work. One of my patrons looked sad.   I asked him what was wrong.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention—this patron and I always discussed horses, because my family owned horses when I was a child, and the patron was in school to be a vet, specializing in horses.

 

He said, “My horse is sick. Beauty, Beauty is sick.”

 

“Oh, I am sorry. Poor Beauty. You must be worried about her.”

 

“She will be ok, but . . . she’s having a miscarriage.”

 

I resisted the urge to say, “Me, too.”

 

Weird. You can’t make this stuff up. But I’d love a world where we could discuss it more openly.

 

PS Governor Pence believes women who miscarry should bury the “remains” respectfully.  This is a real life complication of people not understanding that miscarriage is not a one day event. In frustration and annoyance, women are calling to tell him that they are menstruating.  His office is irritated. Good.

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5 thoughts on “Vagina, vulva, miscarriage and misconception.

  1. I love those 4 points you made. They really make people think about the effect societal norms have on children and how those affect those individuals as they age. Little things like equating penis and vagina perpetuate patriarchy and herternormativity which seems to be what many progressive individuals are trying to move away from. But without changing something as simple as how we teach our children about their own bodies, the bigger picture will not change. Language is important and I love how eloquently you showed that.

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  2. I… didn’t know miscarriages worked that way. I think every time I’ve read about one in a novel or seen it on a TV show or movie, it was over in an afternoon, like you said. Weird and sad that no one corrects that in fiction. Worst example: The Time Traveler’s Wife. Time traveling fetuses keep trying to time warp in her womb, causing miscarriage. Like, what? That whole book pissed me off!

    As for “miscarriage often means the embryo or fetus had an abnormality that made it inviable. I can’t romanticize that,” I feel the same way, and thank you for saying that. At times I feel like a monster for thinking that and wondering why people are mourning their miscarriage. I’ve never had a miscarriage (that I know of), and if I wanted to be pregnant and it happened I’m sure I would feel bad, but, it’s millions of years of evolution at work, saying “wait, there is something terribly wrong here” and ending it. I also believe abortion is an intellectualized miscarriage. Your body might think everything’s OK, but in your mind you know this isn’t going to work so you abort–in other words, cause a miscarriage. I wouldn’t say that to most people but I feel I can share that with you without judgment!

    Anyway, I also saw the tweets to Gov. Pence’s office and they are pure gold.

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