Women are taught from birth that they should aspire to be ‘pretty’. From the giant bows stuck on their infant heads lest they inexcusably be mistaken for boys, to the constant barrage of media messages that girls receive throughout their childhood, by the time they reach adulthood, women have largely been conditioned to value their looks and how others perceive their attractiveness as their most valuable asset.

But woe betide the woman who has bought the messages, conformed to society’s beauty standards, and KNOWS she is pretty. She will be put back in her box quickly and viciously, slut-shamed and silenced for daring to acknowledge that she’s won out in the beauty sweepstakes. The message here is: ‘Be pretty, but don’t tell us you’re pretty. We will decide whether you meet our expectations but you are not allowed to have an opinion on the matter.’

Recently, a group of sorority girls attended a baseball game in Arizona. Moments after an announcement was made encouraging fans to take selfies of themselves in the stadium, the cameras trained themselves on this group of young women snapping away, making silly faces and holding hot dogs aloft. The two male announcers took it upon themselves to mock and deride their actions for several minutes, unbeknownst to the group of women, making it clear that their actions were vacuous and vain, despite encouragement from the sponsors to do exactly what they were doing. The selfies were reposted by one of the announcers on Twitter, where people tore them down with great merriment. How dare women attend a sporting event and then only sit on the sidelines caring about how they look? Umm, hello, what the hell are CHEERLEADERS then?

This exemplifies the struggle women face with wanting to be ‘pretty’ and then facing the consequences when they are either not pretty enough, or get too confident about their looks. The reason there is such a dichotomy is because our attractiveness is not ours. Beauty exists for the male gaze, and for male judgement. It is not ours to comment on or possess, for ‘pretty’ is a title we have to have bestowed upon us, not something we can claim to be. The amount of anguish that women feel over their lifetimes about not being pretty enough is time-consuming, soul-destroying and another example of the ways in which we are silenced and held back from achieving things with our minds, our actions and our personalities.

Katie Makkai’s poem remains one of the most powerful commentaries on what it means to be ‘Pretty’.

Rules for your vagina

If you’re a woman with a vagina, you know that there is a whole lotta politics involved with what goes in and comes out of it. People you’ve never met before, mostly those who don’t even HAVE magical lady caverns, want to tell you what to do with yours — how it should look, who can see it, what is supposed to go in and come out of it, how you should be paid and treated and behave on account of having one, and all sorts of other vagina rules that you didn’t ask for. Way too much of our time is spent worrying about what others’ think of our vaginas, what we’re ‘allowed’ to do with our bodies and how we can best please the patriarchy with our bewitching beavers.

This blog aims to break down some barriers and explore why the vaginal is so political. As an active feminist and birth worker who strongly believes in women’s autonomy and right to choice, I also aim to get women thinking about how their own actions, words, thoughts and beliefs can either add to or help destroy the Great Big Book of Rules For Your Vagina. This book does not actually exist (as far as I’m aware — there may be a self-published e-book out there somewhere just waiting to prove me wrong) but it exists in the power structures, cultural norms and societal standards that we all live under and within.

Subversive Owl is a pseudonym that I know not everyone will identify with or even like, but it is the one I’ve chosen so I hope you will stick around to read more content as I create it, and to join in the discussions that I hope take place.

I do actually have one rule about vaginas, though: I will not, under any circumstances, refer to a vagina as ‘yoni‘. Call me a hypocrite if you want, but I am not quite hippy enough to say or type that word with a straight face. Besides, yoni means ‘sacred origin of life’ and I believe that vaginas are more than that. They are like any other body part in that sometimes they are simply there, or in pain, or in need of a wash, or glowing with health, or bruised. Vaginas can be a source of pain, joy, pleasure, confusion, terror, ┬ápassion, birth, growth and even death. We are more than simply givers of life. We are people — women — with flaws and plans and dreams and regrets. We don’t just give life, we are life. We are more than our vaginas. It’s time to throw away the rule book we’ve been forced to read from and get a little…subversive.