vulva. vulva. VULVA (not vagina!)!

In my late 30s (in the early 2000s), the Houston Press hired me to write a review of a play showing in Austin, The Vagina Monologues. By now, most people have heard of the play, I’d imagine.

Guess what I found out as I watched the play? I found out that my vagina isn’t my vagina. That is, the vagina is actually the soft tunnel that leads from the outside of a female’s body up to the cervix (which leads to the uterus).

A vagina is not, it turned out the whole squishy area on the outside. That, I learned, is called the vulva.

Did you know that?

A lot of people, full grown adults, don’t know that. In fact, I’d venture to guess a lot of people will find the word “vulva” very silly sounding.

I was in my 30s. I was an adult. I didn’t know the name of my own body parts. I was not alone.

Why does this matter? Why am I writing about it?

I’m writing about it because this kind of knowledge is power. I saw an article recently advocating for using proper names for body parts when teaching children. You know, instead of hoo-ha or pee-pee, use the correct language. It was a good piece. But, guess what? It referred to the female parts as “the vagina!” Even an article stressing the value of naming body parts correctly got it wrong!

It winds me up because we women (cisgender) are encouraged to live in ignorance. How can we accept ourselves unconditionally when we don’t even know ourselves?

I’ll end with this post I saw recently that I think illustrates my point well:

“Imagine if male genitals were treated like female genitals? Like testicles weren’t even referred to as testicles and some men didn’t even know what they were actually called and the general area was just called “penis”.

Imagine if boys were told that their prostate doesn’t exist. Imagine if hairy genitals on men were called “bearded snakes.” And they don’t know how many different holes they have until adulthood. Imagine.

imagine if men were flocking en mass to get “testicle tightening” surgeries.  imagine if men weren’t taught that they could have orgasms.  Imagine if it were considered rude to say “penis” even in debates regarding legislature involving medical care about men’s penises.  Imagine penis was a word that was considered too “dirty” to be said on television. Imagine if penis’s were depicted only as meat-sticks that fit in vaginas with no other value.  Imagine if teenage boys heard joke after joke about how all dicks smell terrible no matter what

Imagine if people thought the more a penis was used, the smaller and more useless it became.

Imagine if people didn’t understand how penises ‘work’ and therefore their orgasms didn’t matter.

Imagine if having a penis meant you were paid less money.”

financial independence just out of reach

As I get financially more stable, I get more worried about the point at which I stop qualifying for government assistance (beyond the assistance we all get from our fire fighters, police officers, public education, drivable roads, etc.). The food stamps can go, I’d probably be okay losing them now, but losing the health insurance would likely put me back into scary territory really quickly. It’s a terrible bind. I want to keep getting more financially secure, but there’s an enormous gap between being stable and being able to afford medical care.

caring requires strength (why Romney will win)

Romney will win and the progressives (liberals, Democrats, however you want to label us) are helping to make that happen.

Every time Romney makes one of his gaffes, the progressive and even the moderate communities fall all over themselves with shock, disgust, and a lot of gleeful laughter. Each time we do that we put another nail in our coffin. The radical right knows their base of voters—and their base votes—believes hard work really pays off. In their view, if Romney is rolling in dough and helping the rich, he’s doing it because he’s successful. He must have done what they (the poor, working poor, and fundamentalist evangelical Christians) believe they can do if they try hard enough. He is a successful man, he is at the top of the food chain, so he is a leader (strict father morality) deserving of respect.

When we respond to him and mock him or say he’s awful, we are doing what the well-oiled communications machine of the radical right say that the “elitist liberals” do. We think we are better than everyone. We think we know what’s best for people. We condescend to everyone around us. We pat poor people on the head and give them a cookie and a hug. We don’t know how to be strong (like the successful guys like Romney or George W. Bush). Our wimpy ideas will turn our nation into sinful/amoral hedonists without any sense of responsibility.

Whether everything about Romney’s idiotic statements has been orchestrated, or if he is simply the best choice of puppet for the radical right (all politicians are puppets in this regard, the public face of policy formation and communications), or if they just got lucky that he keeps upsetting the progressives, it’s working. The progressives are all giddy because they think we’ll win. Surely even the least informed voters will realize Romney is an asshole who doesn’t care about them? The progressives are all passionate to show how wrong Romney is. The progressives are all swept away with responding to Romney. That’s how the radical right will win.

We need to stop paying attention to the radical right. We need to embrace our own values and share them with each other:

Hard work should pay off—A man should be able to work one full-time job and bring home enough money to pay for food, shelter, healthcare, and reasonable living expenses for his family. When hard times hit a family, the work they’ve done and the taxes they’ve paid should guarantee their freedom from poverty. Hard work should pay off.

Caring requires strength; caring is strength—Firefighters, police officers, first responders, and soldiers are all in the business of caring. They protect us. When a single mother protects her children by enduring the humiliation of asking for assistance from the government, she is being strong for her family. Protecting is caring and caring requires strength.

Government’s job is protecting our freedom—We should be free to drink clean water, eat disease-free food, and have access to electricity and drivable roads. Our health should be in our own control; the government should protect our medical freedom (access to high quality and truly affordable healthcare). Government’s job is protecting our freedom.

We are strong enough to care about each other. We are strong enough to be proud of our patriotic values (caring and freedom). We love our country because we value freedom: freedom from fear, from illness, and from poverty. We recognize we are a part of an interconnected global community. Finding peaceful solutions to international problems—trying to keep our soldiers safe—protects our freedom. Caring requires strength.

framing, *not* spin

Since the 60s, conservatives have known how to share their values with people. In 1971, they started forming “Think Tanks.” They have, as we know, a well-oiled communications machine.

If you’re anything like me, you might think this communications machine is sleazy, manipulative, and full of tricks. Sometimes, you’d be right.

But most of the time, you’d be—I was—wrong. Most of the time what the conservatives have that we progressives don’t have is an awareness of what works. They know how to communicate and we progressives don’t.

When I talk about frames, I’m talking about cultural narratives or metaphors that people live by. I’m talking about our morals and our values and how they are shaped by emotion.

When Frank Luntz recommended conservatives use “climate change” rather than “global warming,” he knew what he was doing. He recognizes with precision the importance of framing. And, hear me now, this is not “spin.” This is an awareness that conservatives would object to the notion that there is systemic causality involved in global warming. They would not hear the concept that we must care for our neighbors, empathize with strangers across the world who are already being affected by the rising sea levels. They can’t hear itbecause that sort of empathy-based metaphorical thinking doesn’t exist in their frames of individual responsibility and direct causality metaphorical thinking.

“It’s not *my* pesticide killing the fish”/”It’s not *my* wood fire giving that child asthma”/”It’s not *my* SUV emitting so much poison that gasses are trapped and are screwing with the entire ecosystem” so don’t you try and tell me I can’t do what I want.

We progressives have seen the slimy way conservatives used their intimate knowledge of frames and metaphors to mislead the public with lies like the “Clean Skies Act” that did nothing to clear any skies but actually increase pollution. We associate the use of metaphors, of carefully chosen language with that kind of hucksterism. That’s not what frames are all about. They can be misused like that, where “climate change” appeals to conservatives for it’s obvious lack of power. They can be misused by mistake as we progressives have accepted that frame and taken on the phrase “climate change” as a reasonable descriptive term. We think, it’s not the words that matter, it’s the truth, right?

Well, the truth is always wrapped up in cultural experiences, metaphors, frames. There is no escaping it. For example, it would not be “spin” or tricky or slimy for progressives to begin referring to the “environmental crisis.” Try that on for size. See how it feels different?

As for those of you who believe in the benefits of an adversarial system (I do), when you choose language in discussion socio-political issues, a sure sign you’ve found something based in progressive moral values (“environmental crisis”) is how much of a tizzy the radical right flies into. And they will. They will mock and tease and try to minimize, just like so many progressives do to the Tea Party movement.

Progressives must find our common values, learn to discuss everything important to us in terms of those values—not issues—and speak from within our frames, not the radical right’s.

Environmental crisis.

supporting the Republican platform means you support incest perpetrators

She was only ten when he started coming in to her room at night. “Just let me lie with you,” her Daddy said.

By the time she was sixteen they had sex once a week when her Mother was at the gym. Sometimes more often when her Mother was out of town.

The week before she went to college she found out she was pregnant. She had been with no other men. Only her Father.

The Republican platform would require this girl to carry that child to term. She would have no other legal or safe options.

Some of the Republicans who stray from their party’s official platform might require her to go ask her parents for permission to get an abortion. Imagine her asking her mother or father that question.

Abortion is complicated. No one thinks it is a simple issue. No one has clear answers. No honest person really believes it is ever easy.

Surely, though, we can all agree that this child abuser, this perpetrator of incest, this “Father,” shouldn’t have more rights than his daughter? Should she be forced to spend nine months carrying that baby?

The Republican platform says she must.

For those of you who so desperately cling to the idea that, “Oh, that’s just the freaks on the far right, *real* Republicans understand there are situations where a woman should have a right to an abortion,” consider this: Any Republican who wants to get financial support from the party must sign the platform. So, if they want to have the support of the Republican party they either they agree that abortion is always wrong, or they are liars.