This piece originally appeared on Role/Reboot. Republished here with permission.
Warning: Some parts of this article, and individual hyperlinks, are explicit, and may be considered NSFW.
There’s a lot of pressure to have a good vagina. Rapper Missy Elliott’s mysterious “Pussycat” is a ballad from a woman to her genitals. She pleads that they not “fail her now” so her lover won’t cheat on her. Then she disguises her voice through a creepy filter and raps as her lover, backhandedly affirming that he’s “glad [hers] ain’t that gushy stuff.” Ten years later, I’m still not sure if the song is parody or commentary. It reminds us that in a culture that reduces women to our appearances, we can feel like not much more than walking vaginas. And if you flip and reverse that argument, when we sexualize women, we see women’s genitals existing to perform for a partner’s pleasure. Where every part of a woman’s body is taxonomized, judged, and sentenced, it’s no surprise that we treat our vulvas with fear and disgust.
I know a few extra things about how women regard their genitals. While creating my documentary,Subjectified, I had intimate conversations about sex with women across the United States. In the jarring words of a funny, self-confident, conventionally gorgeous 23-year-old, “I don’t think I have the prettiest genitals…I remember like three years ago I put a mirror down there, and that was the first time I saw up-front what was going on…I was totally horrified for a whole week.” Another woman described how her genitals were seriously injured in childbirth, requiring reconstructive surgery that she couldn’t afford. She felt stuck in a dysfunctional relationship because she was ashamed to show her body to anyone else. Our feelings about our genitals reverberate through our lives, and we project a life’s worth of insecurities onto our private parts. Continue reading