Taking a break from my all-consuming Dreams as R-evolution installation and an outstanding report, I harkened back to the V-Bag series as the images of the bag yawn in front of me. Sitting with my foot in a vinegar-d bandage (a broken toe) as a result of my wrestling with the ocean for our bags, cellphones and car keys. Something light to write, I suggest.
I once referred to the sea as my lover …and there are sanguine days when he felt that way wrapped around my legs, sensuous to my touch, floating, gurgling, whispering my name…but of course as with many such relationships, it can turn violent in word and deed. Thoughts of Dworkin once more enters the fray as the ocean throws me against the rocks; and I hold on dearly to my bag. I could feel the drag; that feeling of being helpless regardless of how strong one is. A rag. The tide is uncontrollable. The moon will be rising soon to her fullness…I’m bashed around, can’t stand. Can’t grasp a thing. Men with fishing rods observe but continue their important work of bringing home very large fish that get away and you have to cook dahl once more. My granddaughter is safe. Her shoes are not. Not one of ours are. My daughter dives in – bag, cell-phone and all to drag her mother (me) to safety. A relentless ocean, wild in its passionate charge, pulls, drags, throws us about. While grabbing for my friend’s bag, she enters and joins the wild, wild occurrence…we make it; bleeding, bruised with my toe at an odd angle.
Sound familiar to anyone?
I recall my first really conscious experience where my vagina was looked at – sexually. I was in high school. Very much a nerd. Quite innocent really, unknowing about so much though I knew about mitochondria and planaria. I knew about the French Revolution and the Great Trek (sic). I knew the periodic tables; however I could not manage my accounting trial balance. And I read 600 and more page books mostly touting female heroes. I think there were names ‘for girls like me’. Can’t remember.
I remember the naked feeling of being looked at by the boys in my class. They surrounded ‘me’ peering down on the desk on which sat an open magazine with its full page spread wide…and an image I could not make out. They insisted I look – with Cheshire grins and excitement in their eyes which grew in them the more I refused. I just wanted to escape back into my innocence. What was that? Exploding with peals of laughter as recognition dawned on me – I recognised myself in the graphic image of a woman’s vagina. Raw. Raped I felt and I could not cover myself from the glares and stares of the male gaze – innocent perhaps though it were, as these young men explored their sexuality. It did not matter. The deed was done and none apologised. None thought it was ‘not ok’. None understood or cared what I felt, what I did. And it was only a book. A silly magazine. I escaped out of the class clasping my own book of tough women tightly to me. I couldn’t go back, – to un-see what I saw and the experience of it – not being actually looked at, but where I felt “looked at”’.
The ocean weaved between our feet. Bedraggled, bruised and spent, we limped our way back to the parking lot across about a kilometre of beach sand, rich with fishing tackle and a line-up of manly men out for ‘fishing pleasure’. A remark, a snigger. No help. A comment oblivious of the blood trickling down our legs,’ nor my limp or my mangled toe…”You ladies went on a lovely long walk!”, he shouts. Incredible. Laughter bubbled through our shocked demeanour, while we made our way to the safety of our vehicles, grateful that we had each other.
The vagina survived. Again.
A friend recalls a long-ago late-night wine induced conversation about the vagina where we deigned to describe and equate (her – the vagina) with some sort of value. Treading on dangerous cultural grounds and the work of women hard pressed to survive, we guffawed at our ridiculous ideas of cow heads and rampant vaginal hairs. [Fig: 01] Yet, they were our vaginas. We could talk about them in the safety of our homes. It was a ‘woman only’ home – not by choice, but it became that once we escaped the violence of it all.
And so; to free the vagina and allow her the space ‘to be’ with unkempt long hairs, a choice of pleasures and types of birthing processes1: a most misunderstood, most talked about cavern of life and love.
1 Coming soon…a treatise on birth and birthing
I asked a friend, Pralini Naidoo, to respond to my V-bag musing. Here is what she sent me.
My babies were tiny little creatures… they slipped out from where they were meant to, even when so many doctors, aunties and old wives said “you’re too short, definitely a caesar for you!” Yet each baby found her way out from between my legs through my Vagina, somewhat dramatically. Aren’t all birth stories dramatic yet never quite capturing the magnitude of the experience?! Anyway I digress.
I was very much a child myself when my first littley was born. Not in chrono years but emotionally. I was still heady with the joy of carving out my own life, having discovered wings and possibilities in a new city… My pregnancy, too, was dreamlike – a euphoric love story with the unborn inside me… and me, elated like so many helium balloons.
But the labour ward at the local provincial hospital brought me all the way down to ground floor again… helium-deflated.
In the 18 or so hours of labour at that place, I had more people scrutinise my Vagina than I have had lovers! I had to spread ’em for many a nurse who also stuck a gloved finger or two up said Vagina to determine the extent of my dilations. Despite my confusion at the weirdness of it all, as a first timer, I naively believed this was standard procedure. I believed that the attention had something to do the uniqueness of my labour. It turns out they were student nurses practicing on my body. I may as well have been a cadaver.
The old-school nursing sisters, uniforms and faces, equally bleachy white, commandeered this tiny, naïve, brown, first-time mother to be with military brusqueness. The night before birth, I was administered an enema (here I might add – I had PTSD flashback moments from my constipated youth) and I was given strict instructions to make sure that my bowels were completely evacuated! Their commandeering continued throughout my labour. As student nurse upon student nurse came to examine me, I was asked to spread ‘em every thirty minutes or so. They discussed me amongst themselves – some jargon, some concern – testing out their theory – my body and Vagina gazed at, prodded and poked. That is all I was… body parts… hospitals can be like that… there we are just patients… patients are not treated as people with agency or a wisdom about their bodies.
Later when my baby was born the nurses returned to pinch and squeeze my breasts and nipples to get my reluctant newborn to latch. The hospital was vehemently pro-breastfeeding. I was pro-breastfeeding too. But their stance in getting mother and child to enter into, what should be, something natural and beautiful, was just aggressive. My child cried for 3 months after she was born. It was attributed to colic but perhaps the trauma of my own body affected her. Sometimes though I smile at the irony. For all their prodding and poking, first born and my Vagina fooled them and she was released into this world way earlier than any of them had predicted, saving us both from further torture.
By the time my second baby arrived my body’s wisdom surged to the fore. My Vagina fooled the nurses once more into believing we had way more time. I was given something to sleep and slept through most of the contractions before littley number two decided it was time. My legs were already spread by the time the doctor arrived…. and Vagina was ready for her to slip out. As she arrived into the world from between my powerful thighs, she opened her eyes and found her way to my ready breast taking in her first meal voraciously… all this, without the bullying!
When I think of violation I often think of those pasty nurses and their little appies. I also think of my gynae’s receptionist who often walked past during my examinations, to scrutinise my Vagina in a particularly uncomfortable way.
That weird feeling lingers… It’s not quite as obvious as the revulsion you feel when your mom’s cousin decides that his hand has rights you never agreed to or when the lifesaver believes his fingers in your groin are perks to his swimming lessons.
Not quite but very, very close…
Keen to hear your response too …