More penises? No thanks.

If vaginas could high-five, it’s fair to say mine would’ve been in a slapping frenzy since the Honi Soit (the University of Sydney student newspaper) published 18 vulvae on it’s cover two weeks ago.

It seems vulvae far and wide – bare, prickly, dangly, tucked and bushy – have been shouting a muffled “Thanks!” to the Honi Soit editors for showing them as they are, in their natural glory.

Suddenly, vag-convos were the topic du jour around water coolers, at mothers’ groups, in office cubicles and online.

After exposing myself as the proud owner of an “outie” I had friends confess they too had been suffering a bad case of dodgy vag, much to their surprise.

It seems many twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings and even beyond learned something from the uncensored image ***Not appropriate for work*** and shared in the sense of liberation felt by the 18 women who bared their hoo-has for the sake of the cause.

And then there were others who – while obviously well intentioned – missed the point.

More than once since news of the cover went viral, people have asked: why not 18 penises?

I say to them the same thing I said to a mate who volunteered my husband to feature in a fictitious male remake:

a) men (and more specifically, my husband) rarely need an added incentive to take their penis out – many have no shame

b) there’s no mystery

AND

c) Men aren’t running to surgeons en masse to have a section of their penises lopped off because women/society tells them it looks disgusting (unlike the reported 1200+ Australia women who undergo labiaplasty each year)

Phallic worship has been present in a number of ancient and modern-day cultures and there are more than enough penis frescos, penis statues, penis plates and penis paintings to evidence that fact. Indeed a 1993 issue of Honi Soit featured a picture of a flaccid penis on the cover which, according to the editor at the time, Kit Messham-Muir, did not receive a single complaint. Vulvae? Not so acceptable.

Culturally, it’s OK for men to let it all hang out like Michelangelo’s David while women are shamed into covering up à la Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus. Boys are raised to praise the penis regardless of shape and size because *insert hair tousle and hearty back-slap here* “It’s not the size that counts but how you use it”.

Girls, on the other hand, are conditioned to believe beautiful vaginas are neat, hair-free and labia-less. So-called “designer vaginas”. Bare anything else and run the risk of being humiliated or branded gross.

Blogger Lousia Simmonds captured this sentiment when she quizzed the males in her household about their reaction to viewing the Honi Soit cover. 

“Predictably”, according to Mrs Simmonds, they variously described the vulvae as “gross”, “uninteresting” and “quite ugly”. Why? It could be that, to them, photographs of anonymous vulvae are as attractive and interesting as photographs of anonymous ear-lobes or elbows. Or, they could be unwittingly echoing a more popular sentiment held by men and society in general.

How would a 16-year-old feel if her boyfriend said the same of her vulva? Would she have the guts to say it’s beautiful, hair and labia and all? Or would she join the queue at the surgeons?

Is this the sort of society we want for our daughters? The editors of Honi Soit certainly hope not.

Some may be cynical of their motives* but there is one thing for sure – they have done a cracking job of bringing a serious and important dialogue to the fore.

Well done, my vagina high-fives you.

*It has been suggested the editors printed the cover for the sake of being controversial, or to launch their own media careers. Evidence suggests they thought discussing a topic relevant to more than half of the country’s population, in an effort to empower women, was a worthwhile endeavour.

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