Earlier this month, Michigan Representative Lisa Brown drew the ire of her male colleagues for using the word “vagina” on the House floor. Her comment, “Finally Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’” was made while the state’s politicians were discussing proposed anti-choice legislation that is considered to be among the strictest in the country.
As Brown recalls, there was no immediate reaction from her colleagues until the following day, when she and Rep. Barb Byrum were informed that Republican House leaders had barred the two women from speaking on the House floor. “Given my speech, I could only assume it was because I spoke to my Jewish values or because I had said vagina,” she writes in an article published last week. “But later that day, Rep. Mike Callton told the press that what I had said was so vile, so disgusting, that he could never bear to mention it in front of women or “mixed company. … Since we share the same religion, I’m guessing he wasn’t referring to my kosher sets of dishes. Even though Callton has a bachelor’s degree in biology and worked as a chiropractor, it was the word “vagina” that did him in.”
Oh those delicate Michigan men, done in by an anatomically correct term! Perhaps they will find sympathy among equally squeamish politicians of Tennessee, who voted this week to bar “gateway sexual activity” yet were unable to verbalize just what that meant. In lieu of the bill’s supporters being able to use their words, critics of the bill – which is intended to promote teen abstinence – have dubbed it the “no hands-holding bill.”
This legislation came about after a Nashville parent objected to an anti-AIDS group giving a demonstration to his teenage daughter’s class that used a sex toy and a condom. The group’s leader agreed that the material was inappropriate for that specific audience and there have been no further complaints in the two years since that demonstration.
Yet apparently the fact that it even happened once was too much for certain legislators, or maybe they were just looking for an excuse to push abstinence-based education in a state that has one of the country’s highest teen pregnancy rates. I’d like to hope that their motivations were at least a little more rational than that parent’s initial objection, which he explained by saying, “When you start bringing sex toys in, at a point you’re stimulating the kids to have sex.”
I don’t know what the sex toy in question was, but I have to wonder – has this man ever seen a sex toy? Yes, there are a number of detailed and creative toys on the market, but I can’t think of anything that would look less sexy to a teenager than a plastic dildo. Unless the educators were actually passing the toy around to, ahem, stimulate the kids to have sex (hey, he said it first), it’s hard to see how teaching children how to safely protect themselves from serious diseases is a negative action.
At this rate, I’m giving it about three weeks before legislators in another state jump on the overreaction bandwagon and decide that that wacky 80s movie had it right, and teenage dancing really is the root of all evil. And sex. Bring on the stealth midnight dance parties, Kevin Bacon!
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.