Or maybe I was frightened of the things that were supposed to come in and out of it, like blood. Other liquids of varying viscosity and colour. Tampons. Penises. Entire babies.
For a brief time, I convinced myself I didn’t have a vagina at all. I was 12, attempting to use my first tampon. How disgustingly, unfeasibly large tampons appear when you’re a virgin. I still remember the pain. It felt like I was pushing a wad of sandpaper into an open wound. I’d read a real-life story in an issue of Bliss magazine about a girl with no vagina. She couldn’t have sex. A surgeon had to make her a hole. What if I was like her? Would I have to appear in Bliss one day?
To cut a long story short, it turned out I did (and do) have a vagina. I suppose it just didn’t want a stick of cotton shoved up it.
Today is International Woman’s Day. If I was a decent writer, I would write about the female Greats throughout history who have defied misogynist obstacles to afford me and my fellow 21st Century females freedom and a voice and a nation of ears that are legally obliged to hear.
But instead I’ve decided to reflect on my vagina, and all the other mysteriously floaty tubey bits that constitute my as-yet unused reproductive system.
Actually there is one female Great I would like to mention: the French writer Anais Nin, who I only discovered two or three years ago, but whose books immediately soared to the top of my ‘favourites’ list alongside John Steinbeck and Margaret Atwood.
She once wrote this: “I will always be the virgin-prostitute, the perverse angel, the two-faced sinister and saintly woman”.
I love that. To me, womaness is duality. Or multiplicity. Or paradoxicality. It is not one thing. We are not one collective being. You and I are not the same just because we both have tits.
There’s something called the Madonna-whore dichotomy’, which is the inability to see or portray women as anything other than either mothers or sluts. We’re either domestic, or sexual. We can’t be both. We can’t be neither. Of course that’s just silly, and terribly unimaginative, but if you think about it when you’re next watching a shit action film, or a shit romcom, you’ll notice it.
Somehow I feel I have always been trying to escape the limitations of femininity. And that’s not to say femininity is a weakness. If I was a man, I would be trying to escape the limitations of masculinity. I have never felt comfortable calling myself a feminist – although of course I am. Perhaps it’s arrogance, a feeling that I cannot be or do not want to be boxed.
This is what I love about Anais Nin’s writing. She doesn’t confine her female characters to roles. They flit: transcendent, contradictory, confusing – through their worlds and situations. Her women are fluid, just as she (from what I can glean from her diaries and letters) was. Just as I am too. Just as all human beings can be if they allow it.
Sometimes my uterus develops metal spikes and tries to wrestle its way, via my lower back and several vital organs, out of my cervix. Sometimes so much blood gushes out of my vagina that I wonder if I’m hemorrhaging or miscarrying. I’m nearly 32 years old and my period still leaves me curled in a ball moaning in agony like a birthing cow. This is not the fault of men, I hasten to add. I’m sure there are many men in the world who would gallantly, given the opportunity, take a period every other month to share the burden with their female conrads. It is an unfortunate side-effect of being a woman that often pushes me towards bitterness and anguish and self-pity. But it is nobody’s fault.
Being a woman can be frightening. The giving-birth stories I’ve heard from family members and friends have magnified my respect for women: for our bodies and our mental fortitude and primal, mystical need to bring new life into the world.
But motherhood isn’t what makes us women. Many women feel no desire whatsoever to bring life into the world, and many can’t, or choose not to for a whole plethora of reasons. We can still be primal, still powerful, still creative and nurturing and mystical and womanly whether we are mothers or not.
Gender is a social construct, of course. We each have varying degrees of the ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ within us and I believe we all have the right to decide how we present ourselves to the world. But I have to say this: the biological woman with her weird, wonderful, terrifying vagina, is a marvel – and I really do think that’s something worthy of celebration and awe – whether we have vaginas or not.
The feminine qualities in each and every one of us deserve celebrating. The soft, nurturing, feeling, creative parts of our selves. These are vital, beneficial qualities in society that should be valued and encouraged in all sexes and in all areas of life and industry. No least politics.
Anyway. My laptop is about to run out of battery and I’m not in the mood to get political, so I suppose that brings an abrupt end to a rambling blog.
I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that over the years, I’ve made peace with my vagina and everything it contains. It will no doubt continue to cause me terrible pain until my menopause, at which point I’ll probably uncover a whole new host of terrifying things. But of course my vagina also gives me a huge amount of joy and pleasure – and for that I’m eternally and unashamedly greatful.
Happy International Women’s day to every single one of you!