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Vajayjay? Honestly? May 1, 2008

Posted by phledge in family, fat, feminism, medical school, yellow bile.

I’m ashamed to say that, as I alluded to in a comment, I am indeed not very good at confrontation.  Upon reading SM’s brilliant analysis of what words can do, I let my sister get away with it. And this is the one to whom I’m closest, the one with whom I can talk all kinds of issues and still feel safe and loved

So, my sister M is an RN, and a damn fine one at that.  She’s an excellent diagnostician and she is very sensitive to what her patients need; she doesn’t have a problem telling doctors that either, especially when they’re wrong (she works in a teaching hospital so it’s good for them).  Sometimes, though, even the best of us can become frustrated and exhausted while working with patients—or any other population, for that matter—and this morning she called me to tell me about one particularly obnoxious “vajayjay patient.”

Alrighty, first:  don’t call your patients names.  You can tell me that so-and-so was doing such-and-such and it was really bothering you, but namecalling a) takes away the humanity of the patient and b) deemphasizes and invalidates the legitimate complaint.

Second:  you are a health care professional and you use the word “vajayjay?”  For fuck’s sake, your children always use anatomically correct language, and they’re six and three years old.

Third:  this was the only place I’ve heard of the word, a nickname commonly utilized by “middle-age African-Americans.”  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the word (unless you count #2, above), but I personally feel like my, or my sister’s, usage of the term borders on cultural appropriation.  Maybe I’m just a little sensitive to that, but we are a very white family and I don’t know if we’ve earned the right to use someone else’s language in that way.  This one’s a little iffy.  Women readers of color, any thoughts?

Finally, best for last:  what makes a vagina/vajayjay/any euphemism for the female genitalia a bad thing?  Why are cowardly people “pussies?”  Why are mean women “cunts?”

What I’m getting at is that all of these thoughts crowded my head while I listened to M complain about her night on the ward, and this one patient, who kept changing his mind about which pain medication worked best for him and would ring his call button so frequently as to warrant my sister sitting next to his door doing her charting.  And I didn’t call her on any of them, just like I haven’t called my professors on their fat-hating, or my physician on being pwned by the pharma reps that deck her office with boughs of Viagra clocks and Prozac pens.  These are things in which I vehemently believe, but I have not brought myself to a place where I would stand up for them.  I guess I’m just a pussy wimp.



1. Arwen - May 1, 2008

I’m white and Canadian and we first used vajayjay circa 1999 – I heard it from a lawyer who was using it personally as a term of endearment. I wondered if she’d made it up because court cases using the word vagina were usually unhappy.

Later I heard it other places and thought maybe she’d started something, but I doubt she meme’d it as far as Oprah.

But she’s totally using vajayjay wrong, if she’s using it as an epithet. In my circle it seemed a term of endearment to get away from the politics of cunt and pussy and to be more loving and personal than clinical – although reclaiming cunt is also popular – and there’s no way it should be made mean.

I thought you meant the patient was in for gyno reasons.

2. Bri - May 1, 2008

I absolutely HATE the term ‘vajayjay’! I first saw it in on Fatshionista in a comment about a Beth Ditto pic. I think it is ridiculous. First of all, what you could see on Beth Ditto was *not* her vagina – it was her labia and secondly, we are grown women – why can’t we say the word vagina when that is what we are referring to?! I have a real thing about slang names for genitals. I detest them.

3. spacedcowgirl - May 1, 2008

Finally, best for last: what makes a vagina/vajayjay/any euphemism for the female genitalia a bad thing? Why are cowardly people “pussies?” Why are mean women “cunts?”

Yes, absolutely.

4. anniemcphee - May 2, 2008

Maybe the same reason men are pricks, cocks, dicks, etc. JMHO.

5. anniemcphee - May 2, 2008

Or why male parts are now called “junk” lol. Though that one has grown on me. It’s kind of funny.

6. BigLiberty - May 2, 2008

Personally, I like the retro feeling of the term “nethers.” It applies to everyone equally, and doesn’t have any negative gender-based connotations (although it’s a bit sex-fearing lol). However, I’ve never used it. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a conversation about female genitalia, but I’d likely, in pedantic Aspie fashion, use vagina properly. Same as penis for the males. I’ll let you know if it comes up. 🙂

In a clinical situation, I agree with Phledge’s first comment that calling anyone “Patient X,” or “the Y Patient” dehumanizes them, whether or not the descriptor is slang, culturally appropriated, both, or neutral. That’s where the analysis stops for me.

7. sweetmachine - May 2, 2008

First of all, what you could see on Beth Ditto was *not* her vagina

Dude, I hate that. Someone in a film class I’m in said you could see an actress’s “vagina” in a particular nude scene, and I didn’t say something because I didn’t want to derail class, but sheesh. Don’t people know what a vagina is?

Thanks for the shout-out, Phledge! FWIW, I don’t like the word “vajayjay” either, but I have the same reaction to it that Arwen describes.

8. Risha - May 2, 2008

By the way, though I think that “vajayjay” is unnecessarily cutesy, I’m pretty sure that it’s not cultural appropriation. Or if it was at one point, it happened decades ago. It’s in common usage amoung and/or in the knowledge of pretty much everyone I know, all races.

9. Stephanie - May 2, 2008

Don’t people know what a vagina is?

No kidding, SM, I had to explain to a smart lesbian friend of mine that the vulva was the whole area, and the vagina the canal itself. I understand that the fact that she’s a lesbian doesn’t really mean she’d know the terminology any more than any other female, but STILL.

(Surfed over from Shapely Prose via the Notes. Hi!)

10. Aurora - May 2, 2008

I actually don’t think you are a wimp at all… maybe at some point you will be able to talk to your sister about your feelings about her language, but I think many people, myself included, feel able to call out a stranger on language use that is offensive, but find it much more difficult to negotiate difficult waters with people who are so close to us… more to lose if that relationship is soured or conflictual, you know? I think you had a nice analysis of the problematic wording in your post, and maybe at some point you can share it with your sister, but in the meantime, I’d hate to see you feeling bad about yourself (i.e., calls self wimp), when it could actually be a situational barrier that you are feeling, not a personal one.

11. Telle - May 2, 2008

The only place I’ve seen the term “vajayjay” is on message boards that maintain a PG rating.. the automated censors often don’t allow certain words and so you have to be creative in thinking up alternatives.

As a mother, I’ve simply used the term “parts”. I tell my three-year old girl “boys have boy parts and girls have girl parts”.. and she’s seen her little brother and her father, so she understands the difference. I’m not sure when I’ll start introducing the terms for each specific part.. although when my little one grabs himself during a diaper change I do tend to say “Yes honey, that’s your little penis, can you let go now so I can get your diaper on you?” 🙂

12. BigLiberty - May 2, 2008

^Ooo, “parts” is a good one. I’ve never had small children, but that sounds like the winner to me. Anatomical without getting unnecessarily specific (since three-year-olds aren’t usually interested in a lecture on anatomy, at any rate 😉 ).

And the diaper change story was very cute! lol

13. Bree - May 2, 2008

I use vajayjay when I’m being sarcastic or goofy. I actually find it funny. Another one that gets tossed around at another message board I visit is “hoo-hah.” I have no idea where that came from, but again, I think it’s funny. Oh, and I’m biracial, and have never heard a person of color use this slang.

But in a professional setting, no. Just say vagina or penis or private parts or gentials.

14. Rachel - May 2, 2008

Confrontation is difficult for even the most confident of people, so, the fact that you didn’t call her on it shouldn’t make you feel bad. Instead, you chose to write an extremely articulate and well-written blog entry about it and potentially raise the consciousness of many more people than just your sister on the issue. So, in a sense, you are standing up for what you believe, but in a different,less confrontational format. I think that’s pretty damn admirable.

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