Whose Blog Is This?
Log onto Squarespace
« Humanizing an OB/GYN Visit | Main | Powerful Comment That Must be Shared »


In Ladyelm's Patriarchal indoctrination , she briefly states the origin of the words vagina and cunt.

In the midwifery community, there are two distinct schools of thought regarding using the word vagina.

1. I don't know any other word to use but vagina. What are you talking about?

2. The word vagina is an evil, horrible, patriarchal word that needs to be eradicated even more than AIDS.

(There might be some middle ground, but it isn't relevant to this discussion. Ha!)

Coming around from the side of the discussion, Anne Frye writes phenomenally as a midwife. Her texts/tomes include incredible details and research. I call her the Minutiae Midwife. Of course, her suturing book has finally been absorbed in my head, so I am cheering her from over here holding my Carb n Serts. There is no midwife that I can think of that holds more information in her head than Anne Frye. She is an immense presence in the birthing community, belying her diminutive impish size outside of the pages.

However, as much as I respect and admire Ms. Frye, I have a huge concern about her choice to eliminate the word vagina from her otherwise scholarly texts.

Frye set out years ago to find a word that was more woman-friendly than vagina and settled on Yoni. Sure, yoni is attractive and pretty, but is it appropriate to use when speaking with those you might want to educate or even need just because you don't like the origin of a word? If we knew the origin of all words, might we end up with a mere three with which to discuss the riddles of the Universe?

In order to be more technically correct, she also uses clitorotomy instead of episiotomy. As many women already know, the clitoris has long legs that dangle far from the actual clitoral center. Frye's statement moves one to think about the seriousness of cutting apart (a part of)the clitoris when a woman births a baby.

Yet, when those that write textbooks for medical schools, professors in college A & P classes, consulting nurses, nurse-midwives and doctors, childbirth educators, 99.9% of midwifery texts, 100% of birth books found in bookstores and even homeschooling mamas use the term vagina and episiotomy, who is one small woman to believe changing two words will make a positive impact in our vocabulary? Or our reputation as midwives?

(Amusingly, I am sitting here smiling thinking about the POWER it takes to change minds and that it really does only take one person to initiate change. I acknowledge that at the same time I argue these points. Confused? Sometimes I am, too. Okay, often.)

I had an email discussion with Anne Frye regarding these words and how difficult it would be to be seen seriously if she insisted on continuing with their usage. The last thing midwives need is to be laughed at for calling a vagina yoni. How can we expect to be seen as peers if we can't even use the same language?

(Do we have to use the same language? We don't already, but we certainly don't walk into L&D and talk about surges or releasing of membranes when discussing our clients with medical personnel. When in Rome.... And for now, the hospital/doctor/nurse is Caesar.)

Frye acknowledged the difficulties in the differences in language choices, but feels strongly enough to keep the words in her texts.

I feel sad that she chooses to do so because I can so easily see her textbooks being used in medical schools as a window into midwifery and the out-of-hospital mindset and education process.

As long as yoni prevails, however, midwives will be misunderstood and laughed at. It's already hard enough trying to be seen as professional and educated. The last thing we need to do is to perpetuate the view of midwifery as crunchy granola tie-dye Birkenstock butt-length braided hair and flowing skirts who don't even know the meaning of proper obstetric terminology.

(And for those that don't know - I am a sort-of granola chick who wears tie-dye, Birkenstocks and flowing skirts - the bald head eliminates the braid, but I'd surely have one if I could!)

Watch your words. They carry much more weight than you might originally think.

For now, vagina and episiotomy are the words I will continue to use.

What words do you use?

Reader Comments (8)

As the mother of two small boys I use vulva and vagina in my house. I am working hard to impart no shame or negative connotation to any of the words we use while explaining the place of their genitals (or mine) in the world. By changing the word to something different I feel as though that would somehow send a message that the first word I gave them was somehow "wrong". I am comfortable and secure right now in the knowledge that their use of the word vulva is as benign as their chatter about their penises. At least for a little while. :) I like Yoni but it's not the word I'll be using with my clients (or their physicians or nurses). Unless I am asked by a client to do otherwise, vaginas they will remain!

June 23, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLouisa

I totally agree. I love the word yoni, but at the same time, the word vagina totally has its place. It would be like talking to the medical community about all the "thing-a-ma-bobbers" that are used during labor instead of the terms "monitors" and "forceps" and such. I think it is important for midwives to communicate to their clients on an equal level, but they must also appear worthy of attending births to the medical community. They must show they understand birth, anatomy, complications.... and not just look like they would light a candle and pray if complications sprang up.

June 23, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterErika


I Love.Your.Writing.



P.S. Where did Anne get "yoni"? Make it up?


P.S. Where did Anne get "yoni"? Make it up?


My midwife uses standard terminology, and it was likely one of the many cues I picked up when interviewing her and judging her to be competant and skilled.

Yoni is a sanskrit word: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoni" REL="nofollow">hopefully this will link to the wikipedia article. So another troublesome aspect of co-opting it in lieu of standard words like 'vagina' and 'vulva', is that 'yoni' has religious and cultural implications that are dismissed by such use, which many folks who'd recognize the word would be aware of.

'Yoni' coming from the mouth of a health professional fails to bring any sense of sacred into the mix. It sounds silly and pretentious in that context, as if the person were too embarassed to use the standard words.

June 23, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterd. feldman

I like the word yoni better, but I think I will use vagina (vulva is a good one, too!) with my kids. My 19-mo old already know what penis means and where his is... why do I feel embarassed and self-conscious saying vagina and not penis? I was taught to use the proper terms for anatomy, but obviously some deep-seated misogynistic attitude lurks in my brain. I'm going to start practicing saying vagina ten times a day until it feels normal and comfortable.

Interesting side note: recently I saw an episode of Oprah where she asked her audience members what names they used for their vaginas. (Her preference was va-jay-jay, a la Grey's Anatomy.) But it seemed that every woman who had taken the time to think about her vagina had gone through the effort of renaming it. Which tells me there really is something wrong with the word. We either need a new one that becomes mainstream, or we have to reclaim our vaginas!

June 28, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrg

I agree with D. Feldman - "yoni" is a sacred word that has been (like many other things) appropriated by white amerikkan progressives. I used to use it, but it never felt right.

I can't stand the mis-use of the word "vagina". Like the "vagina monologues"...vagina is the hole. the beauty of the whole package is the VULVA. I wish more people got that right.

I also don't like how midwives ask about "the bottom". Like, "let me take a look at your BOTTOM to see if there are any tears". Heh, my bottom is my BUTTHOLE or bum. Hopefully that didn't tear during birth. :)

I agree about Anne. I think she's trying to bring about an awareness, but it's sadly misguided. I think we should reclaim many words - CUNT included. Rah!

June 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSage Femme

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.