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May 03, 2016

Apparently, You Can't Say the Word 'Vagina' in Michigan

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.—First of all, yes, there is such a place, and it even has a school or two—the one at issue here is Harper Creek Middle School—though we'd hate to think that a venerable institution like Kellogg's had anything to do with the Froot Loop-y idea of firing a teacher just because she said the word "vagina" in class. The victim is one Allison Wint, who was a substitute art teacher at the school, and her topic of the day was the paintings of famed American artist Georgia O'Keeffe. For those not familiar with the artist's work, a Google Image search of "Georgia O'Keeffe" will bring up a number of the artist's paintings, parts of which clearly are meant to represent the human vagina—so it's hardly surprising that during the lesson, Wint asked her class, "Imagine walking into a gallery when [O'Keeffe] was first showing her pieces, and thinking, 'Am I actually seeing vaginas here, am I a pervert? I'm either a pervert or this woman was a pervert.'" Leaving aside the question of whether painting, however stylistically, one of the most important parts of human anatomy can actually be considered "perverse," somehow, Wint's words got quoted to to the school's principal, Kim Thayer, who told Wint, who admits to having used the word "maybe ten times" in the course of the lecture, before classes began the next day that she had violated school policy. See, at Harper Creek, teachers have to get official permission before talking to kids—even the eighth-graders that Wint taught—about what is loosely termed "reproductive health." What that means in practice, according to a story on Jezebel.com, is that teachers can't use the words "breast," "ovary," "egg," "infant," "birth," "sex," "penis" or "sperm" in front of the kids—or, apparently, "vagina"—unless they get prior permission from a superior. "I did not know about this policy," Wint told WWMT-3 News. "They were entirely within their right to remove me; however, I was not aware of this policy beforehand. If I had known about this policy, I would have never done it without approval." "I was really invested in those kids," she added. "And I miss them a lot." Actually, this wasn't Wint's first brush with the administration. Sometime earlier, she'd hung a student-made sign behind her desk which read, "Marriage Is About Love, Not Gender." That didn't sit too well with the Powers That Be either, who ordered her to remove it. But the truth is, Michigan has been pretty wacky about the word "vagina" for quite a while. Back in 2012, conservatives in Michigan's House of Representatives floated HB 5711, which would have regulated women's clinics that performed abortions so strictly that, according to Rep. Lisa Brown, many would have been forced to close. Brown argued against the measure, with Allison Yarrow of The Daily Beast noting that Brown had stated on the House floor that "as a Jewish woman, she chooses to keep kosher in her home, and that she also abided by the Jewish tenet dating back to the biblical era that 'abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother are not only permissible, but mandatory.'" Shortly after her remarks, Brown was banned from the House floor. "It was inappropriate in the way it ['vagina'] was used during a floor speech and that’s his decision to make,” House Speaker Jase Bolger's spokesman Ari Adler said of the speaker's crackdown. "We have passionate debates on the House floor. The only way to continue doing so is to maintain civility." So ... using the word "vagina" in public is uncivil? Good to know! (Brown's fellow Rep. Barb Byrum was also banned from speaking that day, supposedly for speaking out of turn. Byrum had wanted to argue that as long as the House was considering restrictions on abortion, maybe they should apply similar restrictions regarding who would be allowed to get a vasectomy.) ** In other vagina news, anyone remember Megumi Igarashi, the Japanese artist who made a 3D print of her own vagina, shared that print with several other artists, and then enlarged the image to create a vagina-shaped kayak? She was arrested twice in 2014, once for the sharing and again for the kayak, with indictments for "distributing 'obscene' data" having been handed down in December of 2014. That case has dragged on for 17 months, though apparently a trial was commenced sometime last December, and 3Ders.org, a website devoted to 3D printing, reports that a decision is expected to be announced on May 9. Prosecutors are asking the judge to levy a fine of ¥800,000 (about $6,600). In the meantime, Igarashi has created several more vagina-inspired art pieces, even taking part in an exhibition in Hong Long with 11 other artists. "I recently met with Ai WeiWei," Igarashi said, referring to the renowned and controversial Chinese artist. "He’s also trying to show with his art what authorities are trying to hide. He told me that my vagina was now my passport." Use it in good health! Pictured: Selections from three paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe.

 
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