Silenced for Saying ‘Vagina’ during a Dialogue on Repro. Rights? Reach for the ‘Monologues’ Instead
State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-Bloomfield) who said she was banned from speaking on the House floor by Republicans after she used the medically correct term ‘vagina’ during a debate over a proposed bill that would put new restrictions on abortions in the state, performed "The Vagina Monologues" with the help of the playwright, Eve Ensler, on the statehouse steps Monday night.
"If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion … was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men's terror of women's sexuality and power, I think it's fully evidenced here," Ensler told The Associated Press.
Approximately 2,500 people attended the "Vaginas Take Back the Capitol!" event.
Brown was silenced last week by her conservative male counterparts for failing "to maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives,” according to a statement released by Michigan Speaker James Bolger (R-Midland).
A mother of three, Brown used the word vagina when she asked her fellow legislators to resist injecting their personal religious beliefs into debates about legislation that directly affects women's reproductive health. The legislation in debate, HB 5711, would ban abortions for women who were more than 20 weeks into their pregnancy.
"The stage of pregnancy does not matter – wherever there is a question of the life of the mother or that of the unborn child, Jewish law rules in favor of preserving the life of the mother," said Brown, who is of the Jewish faith. "The status of the fetus as human life does not equal that of the mother. I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?"
"Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina," Brown continued, "But no means no”
Although the Michigan legislature was debating the issue of women's reproductive rights, the word "vagina" was deemed too much for some of Brown’s male colleagues to bear.
"What she said was offensive," Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) said to the Detroit News. "It was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company."
Rep. Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) was also silenced by Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas (R-Midland) after referencing vasectomies, Politico reports.
“Maybe they’re banning me because I dared say vagina – the correct medical name of a part of a woman’s anatomy these lawmakers are trying to regulate,” Brown said at a press conference following the incident. “Isn’t that something?" She continued, "These lawmakers, predominantly men, have no problem passing legislation about my vagina, but I dare mention its name and they become enraged.”
“House Republicans often go beyond simply allowing debate by welcoming open and passionate discussion of the issues before this chamber,” said Speaker James Bolger’s spokesman in a statement. “The only way we can continue doing so, however, is to ensure that the proper level of maturity and civility are maintained on the House floor.”
Brown questioned what language could be more "mature" than using the clinically correct terms:
“If I can’t say the word vagina, why are we legislating vaginas?” Brown said. “What language should I use? It’s a medically correct term. We’re adults, we’re all adults here.”
“The leaders of the House have shown they will go to great lengths not to hear our voices,” she said. “I say speak up anyway, and make an appearance. I promise that I will not back down from this fight. And I am urging others to stand with me.”
"Censoring a woman for saying a word that is a body part that 51 percent of their constituents have is a repression that we have not and should not ever witness in this country," Ensler said in a news release Friday.
Exiling women's voices to the margins has been an oft-used tactic in the conservative-launched war on women. Earlier this year, House Republicans decided to let a majority of men testify at a Congressional hearing on Obama's "contraceptive compromise," which gave religious institutions a way out of providing contraceptive coverage to their employees–shifting the burden over to insurers instead. Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) refused to let a female law student from Georgetown, Sandra Fluke, a chance to speak because she did not have “the appropriate credentials."
Fluke, a private citizen, did get her chance to testify in support of covering contraceptives at a women's health hearing sponsored by Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) but was slut-shamed by conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh for three consecutive days.