Vagina Pride

Posted in: News 2005-Older

Column: In Times Like These…

By ‘Rolake Odetoyinbo

Recent weeks have seen me doing a lot of talk, but the topic which always took the cake was gender pride. As you must have guessed by now, I’m unashamedly feminist and pro-women. One of my greatest asset is my gender, and I totally, completely, absolutely relish and love being female. I’m big, and have been told I look like a man when I wear trousers, especially with my hairless head. But don’t be deceived, I am every inch a woman, praise God!

The first time I mention sexual anatomy in a talk, almost everybody in my audience cringes. The ladies shift in their chairs, thoroughly embarrassed and uncomfortable because this isn’t what they are used to hearing in public. The organ has been called “the canal of life” because more than 99% of us were conceived and came into the world via this beautiful, 10cm vault. Sadly however, it can also be the “tunnel of death,” as more than 80% of my African sisters and children living with HIV got infected passing through the tunnel — or being passed through. If this is true, it seems to me like one sure way of reducing the spread of HIV is for men to respect the canal of life and the women to take ownership of what is rightfully theirs.

Isn’t it amazing how our most important body parts don’t really belong to us? It’s either considered as belonging to your man or to your baby if you’re birthing. Equally sentenced to the same fate are these two beautiful brown ones up here — it’s either his or the baby’s if you’re a nursing mother. If God wanted our men and children to take possession of our body parts, don’t you think He, in his infinite wisdom, would have planted them on their bodies?

Tell me Sisters, just how many of us have ever taken a look at our girls in the mirror? You’ll be surprised at how many women have no idea how beautiful it is. Our main girl is tucked away in hiding, and we never think of her as a living being. But men are different; they see theirs staring at them every time they take a trip to the urinal — and you can imagine how many times a day that journey is made. Little wonder that they give it pet names, strut around defining their manhood by what they carry in front of them, and would rather die than lose boy wonder.

It’s so disgusting that a man whose hands you won’t shake in broad light would get to meet your girl behind closed doors just by dangling some rusty car keys and flashing rumpled naira or dollar notes. We cleanse, steam, tone and moisturize our face, hands and feet to protect them from the elements, but refuse to use protection and guard the most important part that can make a difference between life and death. We spend a fortune on dead outgrowths called hair and nails, which can be easily be chopped off by a pair of scissors, but ignore the main girl herself. We will gladly pay five thousand naira for a head gear we wear maybe once a month, but cringe at paying 500 for a good pair of cotton pants, which allows the girl some much needed air to breathe. Most of us can’t spread our under garments in a shared bathroom because they are faded, ‘holey’ and downright ugly. You won’t be caught dead with smelly hair but your girl stinks to high heavens!

I can’t understand why we won’t treat our girls like the treasures they really are. Maybe we should learn from guys who, even though they came out from there, spend the rest of their lives trying to get back in; while we, the real owners, give it away to worthless, dumb, abusive, opportunistic ingrates because we lack self-love, self-respect and battle with low self-esteem. Why is it that the first time a guy smiles at you and tries to make intelligent conversation, we automatically think he’s gunning for the girl downstairs? Wake up, give yourself a break and get a life. Or are you telling me that’s the only interesting thing you have to offer? Just maybe the guy likes your voice and carriage or, God forbid, maybe you do have some brains he’d like to interact with. Why can’t he just be a friend who enjoys your company but doesn’t want to go downstairs? Why should he be considered queer, slack, action-less and maybe gay just because he hasn’t jumped you? Yeah right, I know men are dogs who are always running after meat, but can you please spare us that old story and come up with something original and innovative that proves you are a thinking woman and haven’t just bought into the popular theory hook, line and sinker.

All I’m asking is if it’s remotely possible that we turn things around and take charge of these poor girls? Let’s just shine our eyes and say no to infections, unwanted babies and continued disrespect. Let’s protect the young ones amongst us and give them a chance to prove themselves rather than wanting every woman to go pay the price by going through the same battering, pain and suffering we went through. We can be teachers, supporters, pacesetters and role models. We can be our sisters’ keepers and we sure can teach the silly, flighty ones some good lessons rather than wait for a man to do it.

Sisters, can we say yes only when we are absolutely, totally sure the answer is yes, when our hearts and souls mean yes? I want to be sure that when I say yes, it’s because it is what I really want, not because I feel obliged or pressurized into compromising myself. Even if I say yes to the wrong man — like most of us have done at some point in our lives — I want to walk away knowing I have followed my heart and soul; that it was my choice, my mistake, my learning experience.

Vagina Pride is my chant because my girl is mine and mine alone — and I love her even when she has a yeast infection. She is not a means to an end, a reward for favors or payment for services rendered — and she most definitely isn’t the convenient money spitting ATM or the friggin’ Central Bank. If you are a girl-respecting man or a girl-loving woman, just holler and give a power salute in honor of the main girl downstairs!

’Rolake Odetoyinbo is the project director of Nigeria’s Positive Action for Treatment Access. Her column appears monthly on BlackAIDS.org.

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