The Last Word
This is my last post for You Should Know, as I am leaving my position at Positive Women’s Network, the mother ship of this site. Given that, I will end on one of my favourite messages: words count when it comes to talking about our bodies, sexuality, and reproductive health.
I’ve always been of the mind that teaching kids the proper names for body parts is important. It’s a vulva, not a whoopee, or whatever cutesy name people apply. One of the Blunt Moms bloggers agrees and disagrees. In For Cooter’s Sake! There’s Nothing Wrong with Using Nicknames for Genitals, Anita Manderfeld wonders whether using the correct terminology could be alienating, when pet names are used for other parts of her daughter’s body- “We don’t refer to her butt as her gluteus maximus. In fact, much of the time, we call it her ‘tush’ or ‘heiny’.”
Manderfeld’s post starts by calling her daughter’s vulva a vagina, so that is the beginning of our disagreement.
But as with any blog post, you can’t capture the whole picture, so I’m giving her some benefit of the doubt. It sounds like she’s recognizing her own challenges in using the language (“Maybe I just put off a subtle, unconscious weird vibe when I say vagina.”) and is committed to making sure her kids get the right terms. And she makes a good point about the word play – and potential oppression – of pet names for anatomy when we get to be adults. Why not talk about this stuff in the safety of home?
On a different language issue, Dr. Maureen Shaw talks about the limiting polarities in the pro/anti choice movement. She cites the use of wording that makes repressive health bills against women look like a good thing:
“When anti-choice lawmakers and activists wield language that is inflammatory, misleading, or demonizing, the public’s perceptions of abortion are compromised.”
Pro-life advocates are anything but. If they were, they would push for services that support parents before and after birth; challenge policies that perpetuate the poverty cycle; improve social services for children, and fight stigma against single parents, as starters. But the name pro-life helps imply that those who support reproductive health choices, including safe access to birth control and abortion, are against life. This is definitely not the case!
Using language to imply that women and their reproductive health care providers are evil (at minimum) and murderers (another favourite from the anti-choice movement) pushes their restrictive agenda. Shaw points out that in keeping up the pressure against the anti-choice forces, anti-choice is the preferable term over pro-life, because anti-choice identifies what they are really doing- limiting rights.