Michigan Lawmakers Can't Stop Talking About Vaginas, But Where's the Action?

5 years ago

I just got back from a trip to the Arctic. I was there ten days, and most of the time I didn’t have Internet access. I was traveling with some other journalists, and every time there was a glimmer of an Internet connection, we’d frantically try to get online. Sort of like seals diving for fish. It was ridiculous. I finally gave up, stopped worrying about whether my husband thought I was dead, and gave in to the wonder of being on a ship immersed in ice, in a mysterious and utterly magical part of the world, where daylight never ends.

After all, what could happen during a few days without the Internet?

Apparently, a lot.

I came home, opened my email, and there it was: a story about two female Democrats in Michigan who’d been banned by Republicans from speaking after using the word “vagina” to protest an anti-abortion bill. Which naturally had to do with vaginas, and regulating them.

But when Rep. Lisa Brown said, “I’m so flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means “no,” that was apparently too much for GOP speaker John Walsh, who gaveled Brown to silence because he felt she was making a political metaphor about rape.

For his part, Rep. Mike Callton was so offended by Brown’s use of the word “vagina” that he declared it should not be used in “mixed company.” And the next day, Majority Leader Jim Stamas told Brown she was through speaking on not just the anti-abortion bill, but any bills up for debate. And no, it had nothing to do with the vagina remark. Really.

“My concern was the decorum of the House, not of anything she said,“ Stamas told The Detroit News.

I just have one question: Are we living in the 18th century?

Normally, this kind of story would have outraged me. But being so far away gave me a different perspective.

Are we really this crazy? I thought. Because make no mistake: that is what we are talking about here. Insanity. Or, even worse, an insidious effort by male legislators to control women’s lives and our most intimate medical decisions. And I’m not even talking about the bill itself, which is heinous enough and which actually passed the Michigan House. It’s so restrictive, in fact, that Michigan’s Republican governor is apparently trying to get the worst parts of the bill quietly scrubbed.

But back to how obsessed Republicans have become with controlling women. Just think about it for a second.

What other democracy censors women legislators for speaking against a law that would dramatically curtail their reproductive rights? Isn’t this America? Isn’t this the 21st century? Who wrote the legislative rule in Michigan dictating that women can’t speak? And why aren’t women massing in the streets about this? Why aren’t women more worried about the conservatives war on birth control, and their efforts to control our medical care? Why are we even debating abortion rights, more than forty years after the passage of Roe v. Wade?

I don't get it. Women should be terrified.

Granted, the insanity in Michigan did draw national attention.

Granted, there was a rally on Monday night at the Capitol, where about 3000 people and 11 legislators turned out to see playwright Eve Ensler and other women perform the The Vagina Monologues..

The signs people brought were particularly inspired.

Angela Ash, a 25-year-old from Grand Rapids, had a sign that read:
“Keep Your Mitts Off My bitts.”

Austin Muir, who wanted to show support for the women in his life, came with a sign that said “Trust Women.” “It’s ridiculous what’s going on here,” the 21-year-old said.

My favorite was the sign that said: “Vaginas brought you into the world and vaginas will vote you out.”

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate also had a clever response to the insanity. She proposed that the Michigan House immediately pass a bill to regulate how “vagina” is used by women in mixed company:

The bill will include Part A(1)(a) providing that any women who seeks to use the word vagina in a floor debate be required to wait 72 hours after consulting with her physician before she may say it. It will also require her physician to certify in writing that said woman was not improperly coerced into saying the word vagina against her will. Section B(1)(d) provides that prior to allowing a female to say the word vagina a woman will have a mandatory visit with her physician at which he will read to her a scripted warning detailing the scientific evidence of the well-documented medical dangers inherent in saying the word vagina out loud, including the link between saying the word vagina and the risk of contracting breast cancer.

On Twitter, the vagina meme also exploded:

While all this was very entertaining, particularly for the media, who tend to get easily bored and love these kinds of sexy stories, it was also deadly serious. My biggest fear is that women will get mad for a moment, and then fail to act.

I’ll just say one more thing. One of the passengers I met on the ship was a wealthy developer from New York. Not that he looked like it, with his messy beard and tendency to favor sweat pants and flip-flops. He has three daughters, including one who’s in medical school. He told me he couldn’t believe the backlash against abortion and birth control—battles he thought had long been won. It was wonderful to her this from a middle-aged guy, I have to say. To know that men are worried about this issue too. But he also couldn’t believe how passive women have been as their rights have been steadily taken away.

“Where are the women?” he asked.

I don’t know, I said.

Credit Image: © Susan Tusa/Detroit Free Press/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com/

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