Today I was checking out Dodson and Ross, which is the site Betty Dodson runs with a fellow pro-sex feminist Carlin Ross, and found a link to an amazing project called Beautiful Cervix. A doula and student midwife took photos of her cervix every day of her cycle and both pre- and post-coitus to show how it looks in various healthy states (none of which are Vagina Dentata, above.)
Christ on a cracker it's insane! I've gone back several times today just to look at the pictures again. I'm not going to lie- for me they have the same abject, repulsing/ fascinating thing going on that all photos of the inside of the human body have. Having said that, the fascination was generally a lot stronger than the repulsion. Vagina Pagina has the somewhat similar Everyday Bodies Project, and a recent post at Homebirth: A Midwife Mutiny came with photos of a baby being born that completely blew my mind.
Projects like Midwife Mutiny, Beautiful Cervix, The Everyday Bodies Project and even the galleries at Dodson and Ross are so important. The shame and lack of understanding that many women have of their bodies is one way that patriarchy uses to control us and prevent us from becoming a threat. This shame/ ignorance combination is a really effective tool. It's carried out by limiting the opportunity for honest, woman-to-woman discussions about what it's like to have a vagina and disseminating misogynistic myths about how unhygienic and gross they are. This is all overlaid with a narrative of moral obligation and threats to those who don't keep in line. In my own experience it can all become completely overwhelming and a bit of an obsession at times. When I was a little younger, less comfortable with my sexuality and didn't have anyone to talk to about vaginas and sex I thought my vag was broken. It wasn't pink enough or the discharge wasn't right or it was all dry and wrinkly looking. I thought it was sick, sick, sick!
One of the problems here is secrecy. I'm convinced that until we teach meaningful sex education to kids in school that goes beyond anatomy and advertising opportunities for tampon companies (another post in itself) there will always be girls who think and feel this way. We need to let kids know that it's ok to explore your own body yourself and tell them what they need to consider when exploring it with other people (including how to make sure it happens on their terms, physical safety and emotional safety). They also need to know that talking about this stuff is positive becasue sex and bodies aren't shameful or mortal pleasures that we'll suffer for sooner or later.
Of course ending shame and secrecy relating to sex and our bodies isn't just for the classroom. I'm continually in awe of bloggers like Renee from Womanist Musings and Deborah at Strange Land who openly talk about raising children as a feminist, a difficult thing which is essential to eradicating hierarchies of oppression (as well as simply being worthwhile and valid in its own right).
These attempts to empower women with understanding and images of their vaginas in different states is important. We need to let people know that vaginas are not obscene, gross, evil or the copyrighted property of men.