a few weeks ago, i took a pilates class to relax and clear my mind. this happened instead.
“c’mon girls, relax your neck and pull that bellybutton in toward your spine,” the teacher barked over loud music. “let’s go ladies! tighten those cores, tighten your glutes—and tighten that va-jay-jay!” oh for fuck’s sake.
first of all—no. just, no. and second of all—NO. never say that again. ever. anywhere. to anyone.
now let’s deal with the semantics. as a grown woman, you should be able to say the word vagina. don’t we do enough abbreviating these days? must we address our genitals like that too? tie-tie and tum-tum and cray-cray—i’ll cop to using some of those stupid phrases sometimes. and while they’re certainly not my proudest moments as a writer, asking someone if their tum-tum hurts is not the same thing as calling my vagina something that sounds like the name of a cheerful puppet on a children’s show. i’m not a little girl who hasn’t mastered the art of pronunciation yet, and neither are you.
semantics aside, there are much bigger issues here.
i work out to feel like a bad-ass. of course there are physical benefits—healthy heart and tight tush and blah blah blah. the thing that gets me to the gym when i don’t want to go (which is every time i go) is the bad-ass thing. i exercise to stop my rat wheel of a mind, tune the world out, and leave feeling stronger. do you think any of that is possible when you keep lobbing the phrase “va-jay-jay” around? does that sound like something that makes you feel ready to head out and kick the day’s ass? the only thing it makes me want to kick is you—in your va-jay-jay. and it’s not even the good kind of violent impulse that fuels my workouts sometimes. it’s the distracting and demeaning kind.
so listen closely because i’m only going to say this once: my vagina does not need to do pilates. y’know what actually, maybe that bears repeating. my vagina. does not need. pilates. it just doesn’t. no one’s does.
this has nothing to do with who’s had kids and who hasn’t—it’s not about anything physical. it’s about finding one goddamn place in my life where i’m not bombarded with the idea that as a woman, my value is inextricably linked to my sexuality—a sexuality of a very specific form and function. woman as object for consumption. shit, all i have to do is walk through the lobby of the gym and i see diet products everywhere and bright lcd screens that accost me with images of shiny, happy people using shiny, happy products. which is why when i actually get to the fitness studio, and you’re the one who is supposed to be my guide, it’s kind of important where you take me and how you get me there. and taking me there via vagina-talk is completely unacceptable.
while i’m at it, here are a few other things i never want to hear again from a teacher at the gym:
- while working my ass, don’t tell me to “squeeze it like a stripper holding onto a hundred-dollar bill.” whatever the opposite of empowerment is—that sentence is it. not to mention an image i could do without.
- when you’re balancing on one leg and you fall over, please don’t tell me that you have your period, which everyone knows compromises a woman’s balance. first of all, i very much doubt that’s true. and second, keep that shit to yourself. you fell over. it happens. just own it.
- while working my back, don’t talk about all the women you see with back-fat to whom you want to run up and offer your card. let’s try not to confirm all of our worst fears about how women treat each other. you’re on stage, with a microphone, in front of women of all shapes and sizes—act like that fuckin matters to you.
- don’t tell me that once i get into shape and start getting noticed by my friends’ husbands, then my own husband will start paying attention. really? do you get a bonus if you hit every evil stereotype of a conniving woman, talking shit and stealing husbands?
this last one has nothing to do sexual politics, but it’s really important nonetheless:
- please—for god’s sake—don’t try to get me to whoop, clap my hands, count out loud, or vocalize my excitement in any way. don’t tell me to smile because frowning will give me wrinkles. YOU smile. do not ask me if i’m enjoying myself—i’ll tell you right now: no, i’m not. that’s always the answer. my muscles are burning, i can’t breathe, sweat is pouring off of me, and i’m watching the woman in front of me do it all more nimbly and without breaking a sweat. you asking me to show faux-enthusiasm for something that is kicking my ass only serves to highlight how much fun i am not having. and how can i be a bad-ass when you’re telling me to clap my hands?
as the people closest to me will attest, i am not an especially easy person to please. i know that. i realize that often my expectations get the better of me, but i don’t think this is one of those times. i’m asking for a few simple things: don’t tell me to clench anything in my ass, don’t perpetuate every nasty female stereotype, don’t talk about your period, and please—if you hear only one thing today—leave my vagina out of it.