Due to a few Mondays in a row of heavy traffic and missed buses, I left slightly earlier this morning to catch a different bus from usual. Unfortunately for me, this meant a bus full of preteens (and a wave of relief nostalgia – knowing there’s no popularity contests and judging comments from bitchy girls I have no interest in talking to at the end of my journey) on their way to school and the only seat free – at the back of the bus, where the worst of them were. Plonking myself down on the seat, I retrieved my book from my backpack and started reading.
I’m currently reading Vagina by Naomi Wolf and which is so far awesome. Having heard great things about Wolf’s writing and having felt empowered myself by spotting a woman reading it on a train about six months ago, I treated myself to the book while visiting Waterstones on New Years Day. I love exploring sex, sexuality and gender – it’s a pretty spot on book for me.
However, I should have considered the impact of a group of 13 year old girls spotting the front cover (a graphic of the vaginal area no less) who aren’t as awesome as me when I first saw someone reading it. While I was trying to concentrate, all I could hear was giggling, squealing and comments like “WHY would you read that in PUBLIC?”. Remembering journeys like this as a teenager six, seven years previous, and how a conversation could come back to haunt me, I didn’t react. But it really bothered me.
Why would a bunch of young girls not see the awesomeness in my cool feminist book about, vagina-owners sexual drive. Its liberating! Empowering! REALLY REALLY COOL. This isn’t the sorts of stuff you learn about in sex ed. This is an OWNERS MANUAL DAMN IT! (Subsequently, the literal owners manual is on my reading list!)
I know the real answer lies with the maturity of the girls, but it’s quite ironic that it drove that reaction, given that the book itself lies on those lines – Why aren’t the sexual experiences of women and other vagina owners mainstream? Why isn’t there a word for that sexual organ (rather a load of words for the various parts of it that are entirely medical). Why should I be ashamed to read a book in public surrounding my sexuality? I can’t really complain. Age 13, I didn’t understand how the patriarchy affects everything I do and have done. But I hope that one day these girls learn that and/or work it out. I hope that with their generation, feminism is as cool and as mainstream as it is currently becoming.
And that feminism has many small and major successes like it sort of had in the past week with the page 3 debacle, in changing narratives for the better. But really, the patriarchy is the route of their issue with me reading the book, so I’ll tackle that as it stands. They’ve (theoretically and generalising here – these girls may be awesome but just horrendously giggly) been told that they should be ashamed to be sexually liberal. That any woman who displays an interest in sex is a slut and yet they accept the double standard that men are allowed as much interest and as much sex as they want. Adding to that the fact that laughter is a defence mechanism, we never really had much hope.
So to the girls on the bus – vagina’s aren’t funny. They are awesome. And all I’ve learnt so far from my reading has more than confirmed that belief. If Wolf’s thesis is right, then they help vagina owners be more creative, passionate and that an attack on a vagina can be a loss of sense of self. I am not ashamed to be a vagina owner – I am PROUD. And yes, I will continue reading my book on public transport and I will feel empowered when it turns heads. But could we just turn heads a little quieter please? I’m trying to read after all.
P.S. ON THE NOTE OF FEMINISM – I’m starting a feminist company, please sign up to our thunderclap!