V is for - shut your mouth!


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We get all kinds of stuff in the mail from publicists – from cool to weird to downright dirty. Last week, the Gambit Weekly mailbox turned up something that was kind of all three (but mostly the latter two): the latest solo effort from Tool’s Maynard James Keenan (see above.)

If it looks like the demonic cartoon flight attendant on the cover is flipping you the bird, U.K.-style, it’s because the distributor placed that parental advisory sticker over the word “vagina.” Yes, the album title is “V Is For Vagina” – and the satanic stewardess isn’t rude, she’s just pro-cooch.

The word is obscured, according to Keenan’s publicist Monica Seide, “because more than half of the retailers refused to carry the cd unless the word Vagina was blocked out. Even with the sticker Target pulled the album at the last minute.” (Oh, Target. Home of hip yet affordable design – why do you have to disappoint me just in time for Isaac Mizrahi sweater dresses?)

The record itself is the kind of growling, ambient trip-hop popular with pole dancers, but that’s not the point. What would Eve Ensler say? “Vagina” – though a little unwieldy and clinical for my casual usage taste, in the same way that “penis” is ineffectual and, well, limp – is a perfectly respectable medical term. It’s not one of the F.C.C.’s famous forbidden words. And it appears on the packaging of multiple products sold at Target (which – dang it – we can’t link to here, because they don’t sell drugstore products online. But take our word for it.)

Interestingly, this minor controversy emerges at a time when vagina terminology is much in the news. Blogger Carla Thompson wrote a frustrated essay in response to Stephanie Rosenbloom’s article on the popularity – Oprah and Tyra Banks use it! – of the (dubious, and infantile – at least I think so) popularity of the euphemism “vajayjay.”

For perspective, I called Crystal Kile at the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women. Kile is one of the movers and shakers behind V to the 10th – the tenth anniversary of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” consciousness-raising play, which will take place as an all-star hoo-ha in early April at the Superdome. (Ensler has, over the past two years, visited New Orleans several times to participate in post-K feminist activism and advocacy efforts.)

“At this time of heightened vagina consciousness… why?” Kile wondered, a little stunned by my story of the Parental Advisory sticker. “The Man obviously still has a problem with vaginas. One that I can’t even begin to understand.”

Target, I noticed, is willing to sell products carrying salacious, even historically controversial images, like the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album, or Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese CD. Why refuse to carry an album using such an innocuous word? Why, for that matter, make a record using the word “vagina” in the first place? People – especially rock musicians - who want to refer to that organ with prurient intent usually use a host of other terms that are dirtier, or funnier, or both. “Vagina” to me still brings to mind the gynecologist’s office or “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” way more than sordid fun. Though maybe this odd instance of censorship proves that efforts like Ensler’s, over the past decade, to reclaim the word for feminist agency have actually succeeded in a way she might not have intended – making it better than safe. Dangerous. Sexy.

Anyway, back to Maynard James Keenan the vagina fan, it’s worth noting that he – kind of – anticipated this moment back in 1992. In the video for Tool’s song “Hush,” he and his bandmates appeared nude but for Parental Advisory stickers covering their crotches. Oh, the irony.


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