Shut My Mouth

Since when did "uterus" become an offensive term—especially when you're talking about regulating abortion?
by Published on

In the immortal words of the great Tammy Wynette, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Anyway, that’s the tune I’ve been humming — “Stand by Your Man,” to be precise — while a torrent of anti-female legislation sweeps across national and state capitols like an Old Testament pestilence. De-fund Planned Parenthood! Forget family planning! Teach abstinence even though it doesn’t work! Give extra lectures and bonus sonograms to women who seek abortions!

Humming and singing, I try not to notice the raging inconsistency that some of the biggest libertarians turn all Big Brother when it comes to women, sex, procreation and pregnancy. In fact, if you listen to some Texas lawmakers, you learn that nothing empowers a woman like a state-mandated wand in her vagina.

Good Lord. Shut my mouth. I’ve said one of those impolite, overly clinical words. Vagina.

You see, it’s fine to propose and pass legislation about women’s bodies, but it’s rude and uncouth to get too specific about the particular female body parts being affected. That’s what landed Florida state Rep. Scott Randolph in hot water recently. Randolph joked that his wife should probably incorporate her uterus if she wanted the government to leave it alone.

Randolph is now famous for this remark, which pokes fun at conservatives’ reverence for unfettered markets and laissez-faire businesses. “If lawmakers and other politicians see your uterus and your body as a business,” the Florida ACLU’s new website, IncorporateMyUterus.com, points out, “maybe they’ll work to get government out of the uterus regulation business as they do for every other company.” Similarly, Mother Jones’ website brought up the great news that an incorporated uterus could also donate unlimited money to political action committees.

All of which was beside the point to Republicans in the Florida House. They rebuked Randolph for using language—uterus!—that could be offensive to the ears of the teenage pages in the legislature.

Pause here to consider a few troublesome matters. Such as: Since when did uterus become an offensive term – especially when you’re talking about regulating abortion? Wouldn’t you naturally think of uteruses and wombs and vaginas when you’re thundering from the legislative floor about women and their bodies?

And the sensitivity of teenagers? As the mother of two former teenagers, I can attest that the only thing they routinely consider offensive is their parents.

All this reminds me of a very funny guy I worked with a few years ago. Let’s call him Michael, since that’s his name. Michael was the kind of guy who was casually outrageous and intimidating, capable of saying anything and embarrassed at nothing. He and I were at an office baby shower one afternoon when I told the story of how early feminists sometimes gathered to eat the placenta after giving birth as a ritual and for medicinal benefits.

That was all I said. I’ve never eaten placenta myself and have no idea whether it’s tasty or not. But I thought it was a marginally interesting story, until I noticed Michael’s face had turned chartreuse. He looked nauseated, he looked sick, he looked terrible. “Stop saying that word,” he hissed finally.

Well, wands in the vagina may be quite nice, but I personally find nothing more empowering than finding an occasionally overbearing person’s weak point. Placenta, huh? Pay dirt! In the weeks that followed, I challenged myself to use the word placenta as frequently as possible around Michael. You’d be surprised how often you can squeeze in a word when you’re really, really motivated and the other person really, really deserves it.

But there’s something here that fascinates me. Something about men’s squeamishness when it comes to women and their bodies. Some suspicion that we and our messy, unruly bodies scare many of them to death—with our blood, our bloating, our pregnancies, our miscarriages and our abortions, our menopauses. These are men who can’t decide whether we’re delicate blossoms to be protected or vengeful harpies with a tendency toward sexual voraciousness. Because, of course, we must be one or the other. And we must be protected from the world or from ourselves, but we will call this protectionism “empowerment.”

Maybe we should just descend en masse on the national and state capitols—women young and old, menstruating and pregnant and menopausal, unattractively angry, in fact, royally pissed off. Chanting scary words like “uterus” and “placenta” and “vagina.” Screaming to the fleeing legislators that hey, we’re like Tammy Wynette. We just want to stand by our men. But it looks like we’ll have to catch them first.