Two Michigan state lawmakers, both Democratic women, were barred from speaking on the floor for one whole day this week for a “breach of decorum.” Did they order in a stripper-gram? Install a hot tub behind the speaker’s podium? Start doing cartwheels down the aisle? Begin clonking other legislators on the head with pool noodles?
No. Representative Lisa Brown said “vagina,” and Representative Barb Byrum allegedly shouted at the officer presiding over the House when he didn’t allow her to speak during a debate on a piece of abortion legislation under consideration; she was attempting to introduce an amendment to ban vasectomies except when they would save the life of a patient1 and wanted an opportunity for comment. I’m reminded of the infamous Issa birth control panel, where a bunch of dudes lined up in a row to make decisions about women’s health.
OK, so, it’s a little more complicated than that; the fiery legislator actually said “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no,” in a reference to her decision to vote against the bill. One might be able to argue that she was being a bit too sassy for the demure environs of the House of Representatives, but I don’t really buy that. She was speaking up in a pretty contentious debate, debates sometimes get heated and may include sass, and she got shut down because she said “vagina.”
So, let me get this clear: if you say “vagina” on the floor of Michigan’s legislature, you are committing a breach of decorum. Would the legislator prefer cooter? Ladybits? Honey pot? Pink pleasure palace? Cavern of delights? Down there? Bearded clam? Quim? I’d like to raise this question as a point of order, but I don’t know which euphemism to use and I’m afraid someone will send the vagina police after me.
The ban was apparently necessary to maintain “maturity and civility on the House floor” during a debate over a bill that restricted access to abortion services and passed by an extremely wide margin2. Curious indeed that two women legislators from the minority party should be singled out as being violators of the rules when I’d say that attempting to legislate women’s bodies is a pretty profound violation of maturity and civility.
Evidently, anatomical terms are taboo:
"What she said was offensive," Republican state Rep. Mike Callton told the Detroit News. "It was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company."
Let me help you out here, Mr. Callton. VAGINA. VAGINA. VAGINA! Vagina. Vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina, vagina vagina; vagina vagina, vagina?! Vagina vagina vagina-vagina. I’m saying that word in front of women. And in mixed company! Anyone offended? Allan, how you doing over there?
Mr. Callton, you may not take me seriously because I am, after all, a person who writes about my own tubal ligation and talks about tenaculae, which, for your info, are medical instruments inserted into the...wait for it...VAGINA and then clamped onto the...wait for it...CERVIX, but trust me, most of us grownups can handle the word “vagina,” especially in the context of a discussion about, uh, vaginas.
And we’d kind of like to know that our legislators can be trusted to do the same, particularly when they are making laws that pertain to our vaginas and their future happiness or lack thereof. If you can’t deal with someone calling a vagina a vagina, I’ve gotta ask why you think you’re an authority on abortion, and what makes you think you have the right to tell people what to do with their...uh...stuff...down there.
As Brown pointed out, if she can’t say “vagina” when the House is having a debate on a law that very directly involves vaginas, when can she say it? The point of discussion and debate in the legislature is to have a conversation about the law under consideration, and to allow people opportunities to speak. Brown was representing both herself and her constituency in an impassioned speech opposing the bill, and that speech included a direct reference to female anatomy because that’s what the bill was about.
If you can’t even say the word, why should you be allowed to legislate it?
The Internet is already on it; Twitter is abuzz with vaginas and people are sending delightful emails to people like Representative James Bolger, Speaker of the House. Not that I would recommend sending him an email with the word “vagina” pasted over and over and over and over and over and over again or anything, though. Because that would be wrong.
1. Have I mentioned lately how in love I am with all these random acts of protest like this sprouting up in legislatures across the US? Return
2. The Senate will take it up again in the fall after the recess. Return