“I come from the ‘down there’ generation.
That is, those were the words – spoken rarely and in a hushed voice – that the women in my family used to refer to all female genitalia, internal or external,” renowned American feminist/journalist Gloria Steinem, 86, wrote in the foreword to Eve Ensler’s book, The Vagina Monologues.
Oh, how that 1998 book left people the world over in furious knots! I remember the minister of Ethics and Integrity even banned a planned reading of the book (presented as a play) in Kampala in the early 2000s, but like all moves like that one, it only left a bunch of curious, defiant women hunting for the book to see what the big deal was.
And quite honestly, apart from the culture shock of calling ‘things’ by their English name as opposed to calling them ‘things’ or ‘down there’, there is not much to this book, save for its attempt to address the lack of self-love and self-knowledge among many women – the real reason why they fail to enjoy lovemaking.
Anyway, what caught my eye this time was Steinem saying that ‘down there’ was something from her generation. Hmm, what is she even talking about? ‘Down there’ is very much still part of my generation, and the one before mine and the one after mine; and there is not much hope for change in the status quo in the foreseeable future!
That Steinem is 86 should leave you and I very afraid. Is there anything as feared in this world as the word Vagina? Does any other body organ have as many names as the female genitalia has been given? Each household seems to have its own name; anything but the given name.
What does that even say about us? I am too tired to go down that lane in analysis. But recently, a colleague shook his head when we met a week after one of these columns had been published.
He said: “Mwana gwe oli mukalu (girl, you are bold). The column last week was particularly vulgar!” Concerned and eager to make changes (because I never want to step too far outside the ‘family paper’ boundaries), I asked him in which way it was vulgar and he said I kept typing the word ‘vagina’ throughout the column, and that was hard for him to read. Eh!
I thought we had made progress, folks! Clearly not! He said the subject in itself was okay, but he wished I had called the female genitalia something else. Like coochie? Poochie? Peewee? Goolo Y’e Mutungo? Connie? Piccolo? Mauwa? Missy? What?
By the way, I have heard all those words used to describe the vagina; anything but its real, given name. And therein lies the problem. For a body organ so sought-after and revered, it invokes such fear, myth and mystery, all of which directly drive up cases of sexual assault, sexual disenchantment in marriages and self-loath, because the average woman feels like she is walking around with a dirty monster that she is somehow stuck with.
We are still stuck at ‘down there’, my people. Even I, am guilty as charged. In 2019 I attended a workshop for journalists, on domestic violence, among other topics. The facilitator from Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (Cedovip), kept the word vagina in several slides of her presentation, and every time she read it out, there were audible gasps and giggles from her audience.
One journalist eventually grumbled: “Please stop saying that word”.
And she comically answered him: “Which one? Vagina? As in, vagina?” He almost had a seizure.
This is sad; when we believe our bodies as having ‘unmentionable’ parts, then it is a fallacy to think those ‘unmentionables’ can deliver sexual pleasure to both stakeholders at crunch time.
Stop wondering why marriages are falling apart faster than a house of cards. As long as you cannot bear to say the word or even look to see what God artistically placed where, then the journey up from down there is a long one ahead.