How did we end up here and why are we talking about vaginas?

This was the title to a paper I wrote for my very first Women’s Studies class in 2005.  Caught your attention didn’t it. This was a life changing class for me. I had never before considered the full scope of gender related issues. The term “feminist” seemed to refer to someone from another generation. Yes, even I was not always a tried and true feminist. Like many of you I associated the term with someone who hated men and who fought old wars against issues that were no longer relevant. Turns out, I was wrong.

Feminism, in its most recent incarnation, is still a very relevant fight. While we have much to celebrate we still have much more to accomplish. When my grandmother was born in 1909 women did not yet have the right to vote. (That was First Wave Feminism). When my mother was born in 1934 female genital mutilation (amputation of the clitoris) was still routinely performed in the United States (yes, you read that correctly) to “cure” cases of childhood sexual deviance (masturbation).  When I was born in 1965 women did not have the right to chose pregnancy, most did not have access to birth control (the pill had just come out in 1960) and women, are you ready for this, in some cases, had to get signed permission from their husbands to have a tubal ligation to prevent pregnancy permanently. (That was Second Wave Feminism).

So here we are in 2011, in what many call Third Wave Feminism. What are our issues today and how are they relevant to all of us? Third Wave Feminism is not just about white, middle class women, as critics of the other feminist movements sometimes rightfully accused. It is about including women of all races, from all cultures and all socioeconomic statuses. Third Wave Feminism is about reaching out to women in developing countries. It is about political action to provide them with the things we have come to take for granted; reproductive freedom, access to healthcare, education, good jobs, and safety from sexual assault and physical abuse. It is also about equality as it relates to gay, lesbian and transgender issues. It is about being judged professionally for the work you do, not who you are inside or out. It is about making sure two people who love each other can get married, or not, whatever they choose. It is about the government staying out of our pants, what’s in there is none of their business. It is about being able to be who we are, being able to define who we are and being free to love who we choose. 

Does this still not seem relevant to you in 2011? Well let’s look at more traditional feminism. Did we accomplish all our goals? Are women today being paid equally for the careers they choose or are men still out-earning them? Take a look at where you work, how many women board members do you have? How many women vice presidents are there? How many women do you have verses men in lower paying support staff roles? Are women still judged if they choose non-traditional paths? Are they still judged if they choose career over marriage and family? Are men judged by the same standards? How are gay and lesbian employees treated? I think if we answer these questions honestly we have to realize there is still much work to be done.

The class that made me an active feminist in 2005 was Women’s Studies 101. (I even went on the minor in Women’s Studies). The play that changed my paradigm was Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” The paper I wrote was about that play, as experienced by a group of women I worked with. They were all ages. They had various cultural and religious backgrounds. These were women I worked with for almost a decade, a group of loving committed women in an environment I have not been able to duplicate since. We shared the play, good food, and lots of wine. They shared their own stories with me and allowed me to share them with others. How did we get here and why are we talking about vaginas? The short answer to that question is that if we are ashamed of our bodies, of ourselves, or who we are, how do we ask for what we need? If we are afraid to even say the word, how do we get adequate healthcare or keep ourselves safe? How do we teach our sons and our daughters about respect for themselves and others? How do we share pleasure with a lover? How do we report an assault, get counseling, or counsel a friend? How do we change things for the women and men who come after us? How do we make it better?

Last winter I seized the opportunity to perform in a local version of the “The Vagina Monologues” and it was an incredibly freeing experience for me. I’m here. I’m talking about it! Even when the topic is unpopular and the listeners uncomfortable, I’m going to keep talking about it. Are you?
For more information about feminism and gender equality issues in 2011 go to:


Ensler, Eve “The Vagina Monologues” New York: Villard Books, 1998. 
Karen Foley

About Karen Foley

Karen Foley, has successfully been writing her blog for the BDN since May 2011. By successful, she means a few people read it, and she has not been sued, stalked or fired since starting it.