“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities, and interests are different for physiological reasons.”
So said Tony Abbott when he was a university student, reflecting the historical view that men’s bodies are the standard from which women’s deviate. As prime minister and minister for women, Mr Abbott refused to say he had changed his opinion.
Given this traditional acceptance of a woman’s body as inferior, when it malfunctions it can produce an acute sense of shame. No wonder then that women often find it embarrassing to deal with problems “down there”.
That coy term exemplifies euphemisms used in our culture to describe women’s bodies and their functions. They deny women the accurate, unambiguous language to communicate about their bodies with confidence.
Women need access to language that is appropriate for different circumstances: formal (in public), anatomically correct (with a doctor), intimate (with a sexual partner), and casual (with friends).
Watch: Dr Ginni Mansberg and Shelly Horton discuss the mystery of a lost tampon. (Post continues after video.)
Talking about vulvas
When it comes to menstruation, a girl isn’t supplied with appropriate language for her experience. Girls have long been taught that periods must be spoken of, if at all, in strictest privacy, indirectly, and not to men.
Periods have generated a variety of mundane and vivid euphemisms: “that time of the month”, “on rags”, “aunt Flo visiting” and “painting the garage” are just some of them.
There is an extensive lexicon of derogatory, aggressive, and cute words for female genitals, most of which would be unhelpful and inappropriate in a medical consultation.
Many women use the term “vagina” (the passage between the uterus and external genitals) inaccurately to describe the vulva (the outer genitals). Even Eve Ensler, creator of the Vagina Monologues, failed to use “vulva” when naming her play, despite claiming to free up discussion of women’s genitals.