Leago Mamabolo and Michelle May
It turns out p*ssy really isn’t that pink! Between the consequences of shaving/waxing, sexual pleasure, infections, menstruation, masturbation, appearance, imaging, intimate hygiene products, inclusivity (considering the harm in gender binaries), flexibility, ejaculation- the cup runneth over- so much violence and expectation surrounds the vagina and this filter into vaginal insecurity.
We are so past the age of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues (1996) where reading the word vagina next to normal text was a radical moment. Women such as Warsan Shire, Rupi Kaur, Harnaam Kaur and brands such as Gugu Intimates are making bold statements on the broader spectrum of body positivity, battling out an ‘erect’ and patriarchal world that forces and expects women to internalize their realities and experiences within rather than outside of their bodies.
Although a great wave of acknowledgement and awareness is hitting the shore as to how we navigate our feelings and conversations concerning the vagina, it can be seen in Lady Skollie’s paintings of burning vaginas (with men gathering around the fire) that vaginal insecurity is partly propelled by this very symbolism: That men warm themselves up around the fire (vagina) and each one feels entitled to the space and warmth of it. This is in response to the entitlement felt by many men in South Africa and even globally.
It seems, there is something burdensome and shameful in having a vagina; therefore menstruating carries the same burden; well at least talking about it does. This mentality is produced by the obscured societal views that talking about your anatomy as a woman is taboo, which is in itself another form of subjugation and because many girls and women grow up believing it is something dirty to touch on, isolation results in feeling as if you are the only one going through what you are going through.
There are women who equally contribute to this violence by cringing in discomfort at the “explicitness” of words such as ‘pads’ instead of ‘sanitary towels’ or perpetuating a culture of pretence that only you can know when you are menstruating. Pretend it’s not happening. Attach shame and irresponsibility to leaking. Attach shame and embarrassment to having a yeast infection or odour or even ingrown markings to the far out extent that these are the things we panic or worry about in sexual encounters and the impression it will leave. Our vaginas are commodities in the business of selling impressions. Products such as GynaGuard and Femagene have become popular in the intimate hygiene market, with them ranging from R55 to R70.
Do we know what these products are made of or do we purchase them because of what they can do? Are we educated about the self-cleaning nature of vaginas and what disrupts pH levels to cause odour or infections besides STD’s? The vagina is a self-cleansing organ with the help of secretions also known as discharge. Maintaining vaginal health relies on more than just wipes and cleansing products but watching the food we eat and exercising, pelvic exercises to be specific
Maintaining vaginal health relies on more than just wipes and cleansing products but watching the food we eat and exercising, pelvic exercises to be specific. Not all bacteria and discharge is bad though, this is part of protecting and cleaning the vagina. Scented and perfumed soaps irritate the vagina and disrupts pH levels, use unscented soaps to wash the outer part of the vagina gently.
It is paramount, for vagina keepers to reclaim their vaginal power and disrupt spaces that were theirs, to begin with, by educating themselves. Do not get that unwarranted wax or shave if you do not feel it’s what you want, and nobody should expect it from you. Vaginas smell like vaginas not taste or smell like peaches. Your ingrown markings are a mural and the difference in all those works of art- their shape and form- ought to be embraced so grab that crotch and hold tight.
You can read more about vaginal care from UK National Health Services