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Vaginas and Leadership: Let’s Talk

Vagina - Artwork credit to Ranier Amiel as artist
Vagina - Artwork credit to Ranier Amiel Wood as artist

What if talking about vaginas could create a seismic shift in our conversation about women and leadership?

What would happen in our world if we all started talking about how amazing vaginas are?

I think about these things—and not simply because I have one.

I think about it as the mother of two sons.
I think about it because I’m partnered with a man.
I think about it when I work with women leaders.

I think about it when a jacked-up pick up truck goes by and a guy says, “he must have a small penis.”

Can you imagine if we said things like that about women and our vaginas? Did you see that Lexus she drove? I bet she’s got a REALLY big vagina….

I think about it a lot, actually. But before today, I’ve not actually had the courage to talk about it.

Let me ask you this: when was the last time YOU talked about vaginas?

What about penises, hhmmm? I dunno about you, but it’s noteworthy how frequently I toss those (dick, prick, dink, weiner…) into daily conversation, considering I carry a vagina on my body at all times…

That’s my training showing. I have been taught that my vagina is like Voldemort in Harry Potter, s(he) who shall not be named.

I was watching Parenthood on Hulu the other day with my teenaged son and there was this scene where a young girl ran up to her parents on the playground and asked if she had a vagina.

Apparently she had just learned her best friend had one…so naturally SHE wanted one.

(side note: we don’t really talk about vagina envy in our society, do we? Hurumph.)

Anyway, this little girl’s parents got all flustered when she asked them—the mom nervously looking at the dad and the dad looking back at the mom with obvious discomfort. Clearly embarrassed, they answered her question…at which point the girl SQUEALED with delight and ran back to tell her friend:

I HAVE A VAGINA, TOO!!!!

Now her parents were really mortified. Such a scene! So inappropriate for the playground! What would people say? (sigh)

What followed in the show was a series of heartbreaking moments, where this child was asking completely natural and really obvious questions about how and where babies come from and her parents were all like, um…..ah…..well….ya see…..um…..

I hit pause on the remote, looked at my 15 year-old son and said:

I look forward to the day when everyone talks about vaginas as amazing and remarkable…because they are.

Like the women who possess them.

I mean, think about it.

Raise your hand if you came into this world THROUGH A VAGINA.

(imagine an entire stadium or theater with hands raised high right now…and quick: what’s the expression on their faces as they do it?)

Embarrassed to admit it?
Surprised at the sheer number of hands?
Mortified that they’d be asked that in a public arena?
What does a vagina have to do with anything?

My point exactly.

If we ALL CAME THROUGH ONE…shouldn’t it have EVERYTHING to do with us?

Sure, some of us might not have come through a vagina into this world, but I betcha the INTENTION was to come through a vagina…and for whatever reason it didn’t work out that way or go according to plan.

But seriously…how ODD that more of us aren’t talking more often about vaginas?

This is something we ALL share as humans…regardless of our nationality, race, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, career choices or political beliefs.

What ELSE can you say that about, hmm?

What if VAGINAS were our universal language and no one knew how to speak it?

I think about these things. Which makes me annoying at a dinner party, but still….

Think about it.

It’s one of the most basic and universal facts about human beings.
You don’t need a degree in astrophysics or HTML coding to talk about it.

It’s everywhere, actually. But you won’t see it unless you look for it.

  • In her books Love Your Lady Landscape and Witch: Unleashed, Untamed, Unapologetic, Lisa Lister writes about the vagina as a source of our power as women, inviting us to name and reclaim what we carry with us everyday—as a means to “re-member” ourselves to wholeness so we can both heal and lead with our full power.
  • What do you think was the inspiration for world reknowned artist, Georgia O’Keefe? Those weren’t just beautiful flowers…oh my goodness, they’re vaginas!? AND, here’s a contemporary push back  from the Tate on how that has been a cliche diminishing her work (read: you can be taken seriously if your work is about vaginas…)
  • Playwright and activist Eve Ensler (now known as V) wrote The Vagina Monologues, which was performed in 140 different countries, in 48 different languages and heralded as one of the “best American plays” because of its worldwide impact.
  • Contemporary artist Ranier Amiel Wood in her Vulvére Project, paints large and stunningly beautiful portraits of vaginas, essentially channeling a woman’s essence onto a very large canvas in a moment of radical vulnerability…storytelling, healing, and art.
  • Sonya Renee Taylor in her poem Your Body is Not an Apology, uses the written word to weave a tapestry between our individual experiences and our collective liberation—as a means of radical self love.
  • Regena Thomashauer (aka Mama Gena) has dedicated her entire life to helping re-introduce women to their birthright of our bodies, and the untapped pleasure—and power—that lives within us. In her most recent book: Pussy: A Reclamation, she writes about the unconscious conditioning we have in our Western culture by not offering a common name to describe that which is most essentially feminine about us.

These are just a few—and I’m sure you’ve got more. Like love, it’s everywhere if you look—many people have tried to engage us from a variety of disciplines all saying the same thing:

Can we please acknowledge how frigging UNBELIEVABLY awesome and POWERFUL vaginas are?

Can we please talk about how AMAZING it is that women can bleed and not die?

Can we please question why something SO UNIVERSAL—doesn’t get discussed more frequently and openly?

Do you realize that human beings come OUT of a vagina…and STILL it continues to work as intended? Do you understand how IMPRESSIVE that is? You just SIT on a penis wrong and it breaks!

Trevor Noah

 

When my niece was a young girl, my sister-in-law was hellbent on making sure her daughter took pride in the power of her body, and made a point to teach her words like vagina and vulva so she could know—and therefore own—her anatomy with respect.

They went to church one Sunday shortly after that and my niece—who was hellbent on testing the patience of her mother that day—proceeded to yell:

VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!!! VULVA! VULVA! VULVA!!

…in the middle of a Catholic mass. Imagine the acoustics.

Her parents, like those parents on the playground of the show I just watched with my son, were mortified. She was summarily shushed and led out of the church for being inappropriate.

My niece is now a grown woman—a very outspoken one at that, I’m proud to say—and I wonder how her life might have been different if the mass stopped on that day, and the priest looked at her and said:

“Wait, you have a really good point, young lady. Vaginas are not something we often (or ever) talk about—why is that? I don’t have one, myself, but I’m standing here today because of one. Forget the sermon I had planned for today, let’s talk about the miracle of vaginas.”

(I know, I hear you laughing…or gasping? But humor me. Just imagine…)

Where ARE the vaginas in church? Where ARE they in the oval office?

Representation does matter. We need to talk about this more openly—and loudly.

Word, niece, word.

“Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

—Maya Angelou—

Change our conversation about vaginas and we’ll change our conversation about women.

I thought about this the other night night as five women sat with me in my women’s circle to explore the topic of cycles and seasons—and how it relates to our experience and understanding of what it means to be a woman in this world.

Women have learned to live in a world of lines, but we are designed to move in cycles.

We are born to be inconsistent—like the tides and the moon and the seasons. But we often don’t know it until we bleed for the first time—and don’t die.

For so many of us, that’s the moment we experience the conversation that doesn’t happen—the wild thing in our women’s anatomy that is not to be spoken about publicly.

The power we are told is a curse—even as we learn it is the source of life.

Imagine what it would look like for women to completely own their power—not as a tool [to be of service or an object for others to use],

but as a way of being?

My life is MINE. My vagina is MINE.”

Tracee Ellis Ross

As the youngest of two daughters, I remember my newly divorced and frazzled mom hocking a really large box of maxipads up the stairs when I told her I got my period for the first time. She told me to put one of them in my underwear.

Really? That’s it?

I remember being bummed because my older sister got to go out for a special lunch with my mom when she got her period for the first time.

But then again, I thought, was it really worthy of a lunch if my mom didn’t even feel the need to climb up the stairs?

That was 40 years ago (cringe…). But have things changed around this as much we seem to give ourselves credit for? I don’t think so…

The women in my circle talked about why it mattered so much to talk about this more openly and it came down to this:

  • Wholeness. We are only harnessing half of our power.
  • Our survival on this planet. We are in crisis.
  • Love—self and others. It’s what will save us from ourselves.
  • Leadership. We need the lines and the circles, together.

This is not a conversation about men and women, nor is it a conversation about sex.

It’s not a conversation about what’s good or bad, right or wrong, better or worse.

It’s not about choosing either/or.

It’s about holding space—and EMBODYING—the both/and.

This is a conversation about power.

And the courage to bring our wholeness to a fractured world.

Which is why I feel so strongly about the call for more women to lead with their whole selves.

I believe the circle has been entrusted to us. It’s our “half of the sky” to hold up for all of us.

And lest you think I’m all comfortable and feel safe over here…I’m a bit sweaty even writing this…that’s how risky it feels.

I’m mean, who starts off the new year writing about vaginas!?

(I do, I do….)

So let me see your hand if you came into this world through a vagina.

That matters. Numbers matter. Representation matters.

And here’s to having more awkward and risky conversations that matter in 2023, yes?

Start today, I dare you.

Share this post with a friend—maybe someone who is new to this conversation. Maybe a man—a brother, a son, a CEO. Go public. Trust their capacity to “handle this.”

Feel what it’s like to take a risk about something that matters.

May we all find the courage daily to take small and symbolic acts to move us forward. And may we lean on each other when that courage is running low or tapped out.

Word.

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