This week, under somewhat unique circumstances, an American woman discovered that Apple wouldn't engrave the word "vagina" onto her iPad. The reason? The word is considered “inappropriate language” by the company.
However, the female customer soon discovered that "penis" and "dick" were acceptable. This strange breed of sexism isn’t new to Apple — it has already been discovered that its autocorrect function would rather assume you’re talking about bacon or cabins rather than vaginas.
All of this would be laughable, maybe even trivial, if it didn’t belong to a wider trend of people who are so uncomfortable with the word "vagina" that they want to censor it.
Back in 2012, US State Representative Lisa Brown was banned from speaking in the Michigan House of Representatives because she used the word during a debate on abortion.
Mike Callton, a Republican State Rep for Michigan, said that Brown’s use of vagina was so vile and disgusting that he would never mention it in front of women or “mixed company”.
In 2013, a biology teacher said "vagina" during a tenth-grade high school science lesson in the US. Upon hearing that their children had learned the correct anatomical term for female genitalia, numerous parents pushed for an investigation into the teacher’s conduct.
So what’s wrong with the word "vagina"? Is it the pronunciation? Do the three syllables and long vowel sounds make people cringe? Or is it more the fact that vaginas are often attached to women and linked with sexual shame and disgust?
Apple’s decision to class the word "vagina" as "inappropriate" makes no sense. But at the same time, such an attitude has become sadly predictable. We live in a world that holds women’s bodies in high disregard, and a dislike towards the word ‘vagina’ is a hateful product of this. Especially after the recent Hobby Lobby ruling, a multinational corporation’s choice to censor this word is alarming.
Apple’s restriction displays an indisputable gender bias that is completely unacceptable. Silencing and prohibiting use of the word "vagina" but permitting "penis" is one of the clearest examples of phallocentrism anyone could imagine. Doesn't Apple’s sleek branding suggest that they're a bit more forward-thinking than this?
Women’s reproductive rights are under huge threat from governments, who treat vaginas like public property, as well as schools, who refuse to teach children about family planning. Global sexual violence against women has reached epidemic levels. Somehow, female genital mutilation still exists.
In order to combat all of these issues, we need to stop stigmatising and shaming women’s bodies. Everyone — individuals, governments and companies alike — has a part to play in this.
We need to be talking about vaginas much more. We need to do so candidly, intelligently, with respect and without censorship. Most importantly, we need to be talking about the rights of the humans that they belong to.
No part of anyone’s body is intrinsically offensive or inappropriate. For global corporations to say it is is not just disrespectful, but dangerous.
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