Lisa Brown, Michigan lawmaker, performs ‘Vagina Monlogues’ after being silenced during debate

The ghost of Aristotle suddenly appeared in the Michigan House of Representatives last week when House Speaker James Bolgersilenced State … Continued

The ghost of Aristotle suddenly appeared in the Michigan House of Representatives last week when House Speaker James Bolgersilenced State Rep. Lisa Brown for using the word “vagina” at the end of a speech opposing a sweeping anti-abortion bill under debate

In an opinion piece for The Detroit News, Rep. Brown talked about her speech and her colleagues’ reaction to her using the word “vagina” in a House debate:

“I used that word because we were debating a women’s health issue. Vagina, by the way, is the correct medical name of a part of women’s anatomy lawmakers want to regulate. My statements were within the rules of the House and were clearly appropriate in relation to the bill we were discussing.

“One of my counterparts, Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, said “vagina” is such a disturbing word that he would never deign to use it in the presence of women or ‘mixed company.’ This, from a man who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.”

The obvious revulsion of these Michigan male legislators at the term “vagina” goes well beyond politics. If you really want to understand why some Michigan legislators find the word “vagina” disturbing and unsuitable for “mixed company,” you’ve got to go all the way back to Aristotle.

Aristotle thought women were more material (carnal) and men more rational (active).  According to Aristotle, the fully developed human is male, and a woman “is as it were a deformed male” (Generation of Animals, 737a. 28). This has disposed western culture, and especially Christianity, to consider women’s bodies as profane rather than sacred, and thus by extension too offensive to talk about in public.

But wait, this isn’t the mid-fourth century BCE, the time when Aristotle wrote. It’s not even the Middle Ages. It’s the 21st century, and women will not sit still and have their bodily parts considered “disturbing,” while simultaneously being regulated without their consent.

Almost instantly a Twitter feed appeared from the ACLU, and a Facebook page..  “VAGINA. Can’t say it? Don’t legislate It” is the message.  And, even if you can say it, in my view, if it’s not in your biology it’s not your call. 

This outrageous action by the Michigan House is having further consequences. Rep. Brown and State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic leader, will join Tony Award-winning playwright Eve Ensler to read through Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, in Lansing, Michigan on the steps of the Capitol on Monday, June 18.

The Vagina Monologues have given voice to the way in which women are suppressed through their sexuality, and to the affirmation of women’s equality that includes all of their sexuality. Ensler started writing the series of monologues in 1996; they are drawn from women’s real experiences of sexual violence, relationships, and healing, and new ones have been added over the years.  On “V-Days”, a global movement to end violence against women, the play is often performed as a fund-raiser.

The Detroit News (
quotes a press release from Ensler:

“‘Censoring a woman for saying a word that is a body part that 51% of their constituents have is a repression that we have not and should not ever witness in this country.”

Well, we are witnessing it, over and over.  The repression of women, the denial that women are deserving of equal dignity and respect with men, rooted in revulsion at their bodies, is on the rise once again in American politics. 

In this moment, it is crucial to point out that treating women’s bodies as profane is fundamentally at variance with what the Bible actually teaches.  In Genesis, women as well as men are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and the whole creation, including the human body, male and female, is called “good” (Gen. 1:31). 

Aristotelian biology has warped and distorted the biblical views on both the goodness of the human body, and the God-given value of women.  Today, Christian theology, as well as western culture, needs to leave behind these legacies of Greek philosophy.   

Treating women and their bodies not only as unequal, but as profane, is at the root of the so-called “war on women” in contemporary political life that deprives women both of respect and equal treatment under the law.

Not only should an extreme “anti-woman” bias be considered bad from a Christian theological, and western cultural perspective, therefore, it also makes for incredibly bad politics.  A blog post on the American Civil Liberties website points out the voter backlash from what happened in Virginia when the legislature there took the “war on women” to an extreme. 

“According to a poll released this spring, voter approval for the governor and legislature plummeted among both men and women and across party lines. According to the poll, this is the first time the Virginia Legislature has ever received a “negative grade” from Virginia voters. The poll also revealed that 72 percent of Virginians do not want the government using its resources to interfere with a woman’s personal and private decisions about abortion.”

Note to the Michigan legislature and legislatures throughout the country: Do you really want to be this extreme and risk this kind of backlash?

Women are equal to men in body, mind and spirit.  Their vaginas, as well as the rest of their bodies, are not an object to be legislated against their will.   This “war on women” needs to stop.  It is un-American and unbiblical.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is a professor of Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary. She wrote this article for On Faith
.

  • detroit man

    To say that I am disappointed in the Michigan legislature is a total understatement. Instead of attacking problems like unemployment, poverty, poor education these characters instead decide to censor a legitimate word in the English language. They can now go home and proudly announce to their families “that I did something for Michigan today” Yes you sure did you made a laughingstock out of an already beleaguered State. Since the legislature has more Republicans than Democrats we know where the stench really comes from.

  • persiflage

    Folks that think of Michigan as a liberal state should think again. This is, after all, the home of the very republican Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell’s political army for regressive, religious conservatism back in the late 1960′s. I was born and raised there, so I know whereof I speak.

    To think that reputedly educated grown men in the 21st century would have a problem with using official medical nomenclature for the female anatomy outloud in mixed company is beyond pitiful – it’s downright emotionally retarded. Who knew such a list of forbidden words and terms even existed?

    This is a prime example of the political process under the thumb of religious fundamentalism. Squeamish, prissy men weighed down by their own sexual immaturity are way out of fashion everywhere, or they ought to be – at least in the halls of congress.

  • Claire Broderick

    I think Ensler herself said it well,

    “If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion … was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men’s terror of women’s sexuality and power, I think it’s fully evidenced here.”

    These are sad and scary times to be a woman.

  • Vagina

    Just wonder what he calls that part of a womans body..?

  • A Real Woman

    I think the lot of you are all a bunch of screaming meemies who just want to say the stupid word. Grow up and make your point without saying the word instead of making such ridiculous mountains out of molehills. If the “males” don’t want to hear the words for genitals, then those words are easily circumvented. Good grief. I am so dang tired of blowing things which are barely important up to monstrosities!! No wonder women have such a bad reputation for nagging, whining, and wimpering. You just gave those ill qualities a big boost as well. Hope you are proud of your hystrionic selves!!

  • A Real Woman

    You, are an idiot. Good grief. Can’t you see that sometimes a red wagon is just a red wagon??? sheesh

  • A Real Woman

    The stench comes from those who want an “anything goes” world. I believe the other name for them is “Liberal Democrats”.

  • arielpoly

    DId you displace yr meds? Or are such astute comments as these just de rigueur for you?

  • cricket44

    Well, you are a real something…I doubt it’s a woman. If “males” don’t want to hear the word, then they can stop trying to control what women do with their own bodies.

    There! Problem solved and allll the widdew dewicate boysies don’t have to hew that nasty wud evew again!

  • persiflage

    Not a real woman, and probably not a real man either……

  • Renew

    Why does one have to talk about your private parts in public? Aren’t there more important things to talk about?

  • Boiler_psych

    I think that is quite a far stretch to say that abortion regulation is simply about fearing a woman’s sexuality. Even without religion entering the debate I think it is quite arrogant to assume we know enough about to life to understand when consciousness and self-awareness become present. I am neither pro-life nor pro-choice because I realize that until neurophysiology is more developed and understood, it may not simply be a woman’s body but another mind that is afforded the same civil rights as a child, and I don’t think anyone is arguing that just because a two year old is a mother’s “biological property” (in a sense) that she has the right to kill it as an extension of her own body. Plus it takes TWO to make a baby, so while the sexual organs that endure abortion belong to the woman, the man involved (or simply sperm for fert.) has a stake in what is aborted as well.

  • persiflage

    You’d prefer public parts in private?

  • Claire Broderick

    First, “A Real Woman” – Your claims of my being an idiot are unfounded and ill informed. I disagree with you, this does not comment to my intelligence. However, you might be interested in the recently published study by Dr. Gordon Hodson, which linked conservative viewpoints to lower IQs.

    Second, “Boiler_psych” – I feel it’s about fear because by legislating a woman’s ability to terminate a pregnancy, you make her completely at the mercy of the men around her. If she is forced to carry to term any child she conceives, she can be forced to bring to life a direct genetic link to her own rapist, or worse, an abominable result of the union between family members.

    Furthermore, by legislating a woman’s body but rejecting the medical words that describe it, you sanctify the rights of men to procreate, while refuting the rights of women to control their own procreation. Abortion and birth control is documented as early as Ancient Egypt, and is even described and prescribed for adulteresses in the Biblical book of Luke. There is historical, political, and Biblical precedent, and no amount of legislation

  • Claire Broderick

    That last was posted before I had the chance to edit and complete it.

    cont. – There is historical, political, and Biblical precedent, and no amount of legislation can make it moral or ethical to deny rights to one gender that are freely granted to another.

    And finally, the argument that abortion is paramount to infanticide is like saying that because I have an unpaid parking ticket I am suspect for grand larceny. It’s the Godwin’s Law of abortion debate and it simply does not follow.

  • Claire Broderick

    That last was posted before I could finish editing, and my conlusion failed to post.

    Cont. – There is historical, political and Biblical precedent, and no amount of legislation or red tape will make it moral or ethical to deny rights to one group of people that you grant to another.

    And finally, to presume that abortion is paramount to murder is similar to saying that someone who has parking tickets is suspect for Grand Larceny. It’s the Godwin’s Law of the Reproductive Rights debate and it simply does not follow.

  • Stella333

    Because the body part she spoke of is being legislated against.

  • Stella333

    Sounds like “A Real Woman” (whatever that means) has issues with her own body. That is truly sad.

  • Charmaine Keller

    I’d say they need to go to sex marital counseling. lol

  • Charmaine Keller

    Susie Q?? lol

  • SheepCheese

    I like how the supposed “A Real Woman” went on wimpering, whiny, hystrionic rant about wimpering, whiny hystrionic women.

    Hilarious!!

  • Sadetec

    Why does anyone have to legislate women’s private parts? Aren’t there more important laws to consider?

  • cricket44

    A rare sighting, if there’s any karmic justice. He’s SO not worthy.

  • aaronhardy1000

    Parking tickets and Grand Larceny? Is that how the spectrum of human life works? So where in your ingenius analogy does a child in the 3rd trimester belong? A new born? A toddler? When does your misdemeanor become a felony?

  • quiensabe

    If the government, Susan, doesn’t interfere with the wholesale ending of childrens’ lives through abortion, who or what will?

  • Joel Hardman

    A Real Woman,

    You’re seriously suggesting that legislators refer to vaginas as “hoohas” or some such? Why? What’s the point? If all parties involved know what you’re talking about, why not use the proper terms?

  • SODDI

    I don’t think the WaPo will allow me to say “v*g*n*” either.

    I was saying that many men fear the power of the v*g*n*.

  • cricket44

    What “children?” If you are that concerned, you really ought to start directing your diatribes towards men, to remain chaste so that they don’t cause the problem in the first place.

  • cricket44

    “So where in your ingenius analogy does a child in the 3rd trimester belong? A new born? A toddler? ”

    None of these have relevance in the abortion debate. LTA’s are not performed on a whim or for trivial reasons. How about some research before spewing?

  • quiensabe

    A man who has sex with a woman against her will is committing a crime. Both are responsible and when the life of a child is ended by abortion, they are both guilty. And you know what? Susan should know that as a reverend, but she doesn’t.

  • cricket44

    However, only the woman is subject to the risks involved in either choice. That’s why it is her decision and her right. If you are SO concerned about preventing the pregnancy altogether, tell it to the guys because they have the least to lose.

  • Draken

    Are you really suggesting with “both are responsible” that the woman being raped is responsible for being raped, or getting pregnant? Really?

    I’ll step aside while some other readers tear you to virtual pieces.

  • haveaheart

    You can’t get much more public than a state legislature. And if the legislature wants to make laws concerning v*g*n*s, you bet people are gonna talk about it.

  • cricket44

    Oh, Scott’s here! Let me sum up: You’re afraid of women and they must be controlled. Usual garbage. Moving back to the grown-ups now.

  • aaronhardy1000

    cricket44 – If none of these have relevance in the debate, then you’ve made my point, which was to challenge Claire Broderick’s ridiculous analogy.

  • HobbstheTiger

    Quinsabe,

    Why cant we take responsibility for our own actions and leave the gov out of it.

    Why can’t you accept the fact that people don’t all believe in what you do and leave them to live their life how they chose.

    If two people disagree about the outcome of a situation, then they should fully realize those consequences and be ready to accept what ever they may be

  • HH-Higgins

    you go girl. you’re the only one in the legislature w any balls.

  • ccaseyAZ

    I’m surprised that this didn’t happen in my state, Arizona, but maybe even our Republican majority here knows Gov Jan Brewer has one of “those” things “down there.”

    Or they’re scared of her shaking her finger under their noses.

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