Vaginas and Penises and Ignorance Oh My

My evangelical friends have been sending me links to articles regarding the brewing controversy about the soon-to-be-published book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” by Rachel Held Evans. Modelled after A.J. Jacobs’ “A Year of Living Biblically”, Evans tries to follow the various directions that scripture [primarily Hebrew scripture] gives regarding how women should act.

As you can imagine, a lot of the directives in scripture regarding women deal with menstruation. Naturally, if one is going to talk about menstruation the word vagina is probably going to appear. Here’s where the controversy starts.

LifeWay Christian Booksellers, a conservative Christian bookstore chain, has announced that it will not carry Evans’ book. While they are keeping quiet about the reasons for not stocking it (which is news all on its own), there is reason to believe that the word vagina appearing in it might be at least part of the cause.

I was going to write about that, but the longer I’ve thought about, LifeWay not carrying the book is not really that much of an issue—at least not outside of evangelical circles. However, there is a related issue that I think has broader implications.

In a response to a question about LifeWay not carrying the book, Rachel Held Evans gives this little gem:

My publisher had warned me that if I left the word “vagina” in the book, it might not be carried by the Christian bookstore. 

This disturbs me; not the Christian bookstore deciding not to carry the book (that might be the subject of another post), but the publisher [Thomas Nelson, well known as a Christian publisher] saying that she needed to remove the word vagina in order to have that particular Christian bookstore sell the book.

What is it about the word “vagina” that makes it unacceptable yet in similar circumstances “penis” would be (and, in fact, is) perfectly acceptable?

The longer I’ve sat with this the more I see that there seems to be a longing to keep people ignorant about the basics of the female body. It’s as if not saying the word “vagina” means that we don’t have to deal with the issues that affect women on the social, economic and health levels.

Yes, I’m thinking about Todd Akin and all the other Dominionists out there. Who would have thought that in 2012 there would still be debate about contraception, Planned Parenthood and what the definition of “rape” is? (on the other hand, I can well see why there is debate on things like education and equal pay)

Ignorance leads us to places and people that we should avoid. And yet we seem to want to run full throttle into it. Why?

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6 thoughts on “Vaginas and Penises and Ignorance Oh My

  1. Back the late 1940s, I had a biology (included botany in those days) teacher who diagramed the anatomy of a flower on the blackboard. She pointed out: “this is the stamen, this is the pistil, and this is the o.v.a.r.y.”. Even then we all thought that was so funny that we mocked it and got used to that and to this day we spell it out if we speak of that part of ourselves to each other.

  2. I have to admit that the most surprising thing to me in the above, is the idea that “Christian Bookstores” are OK with the word penis. Are they really? For how many years (or decades) now? really? I have to admit that I’m very surprised (yeah, that’s pretty obvious that I am,)
    And For What It’s Worth;, LifeWay is owned by the Southern Baptist Church.

    • I’ve known about LifeWay and their SBC connection for a long time. Actually used to shop there once-in-a-while. Stopped when I asked why they didn’t carry all the different types of Bibles that my local independent bookstore sold and was told that they didn’t think those Bibles were valid.

      And the word “penis” actually does come up in a bit of Christian literature; mostly about marriage, but sometimes in other places. So it’s been at least 2 decades that Christian bookstores have carried books with the word “penis” in them.

      That’s why I was surprised. If it’s ok to talk about penises, why can’t there be talk about vaginas?

  3. Why penis and not vagina? In my college years of viewing everything through a feminist lens of a particular prescription my answer would have been harsher and more doctrinaire but just take a look at this page for a picture of SBC leaders http://www.examiner.com/slideshow/the-152nd-annual-meeting-of-the-southern-baptist-convention If you Google for multiple years you will see the same type of group.

    I like to tell about how when I was a kid if was common to be asked in the play yard “Where do you go to church?” and we would answer “Baptist”[Pause] “American Baptist” , to separate ourselves from our less evolved southern brethren.

    Of course my American Baptist minister grandfather would never have used either word and while the ABC would have no issue with the book or its language I wonder from what percentage of pulpits might you ever hear either word spoken?

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