Op Ed

Vaginagate: A Strange, But True Tribute to A Handmaid’s Tale

Last week, my home state’s House of Representatives garnered national attention and became a laughingstock. What happened? During a debate on an abortion bill, which would prohibit the transportation of aborted fetuses as medical waste and make coercing a woman into having an abortion a crime, many Democratic representatives protested that these proposed regulations in no way made provisions to improve the care of women seeking abortions.

Instead, these regulations only served to make it more difficult for women seeking abortions to find clinics that provided such care, and it made it more difficult for such clinics to operate. Another bill, which was tabled, banned the abortion of fetuses past twenty weeks and made no allowances for cases of rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities.

A cover design for The Handmaid’s Tale, which is quite symbolic.


The best protest, though, came from Representative Lisa Brown, as she rebuked her colleagues, including the six Democrats who voted in support of the bill, “I’m flattered that you’re all concerned about my vagina. But no means no.”

At this point, Jase Bolger, the Speaker of the House, denied the women further opportunities to speak, all to “maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives.”

According to the article, “Brown wondered whether she was being silenced because of her comments that bill was forcing others’ religious beliefs on her or that she used the word “˜vagina, which is an anatomically medically correct term. If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it.’”

Barb Byrum, who joined Brown in denouncing the bill, also said, “’I was ignored by the majority floor leader and not allowed to speak on my amendment which would have held the same standards for men and women when it comes to legal, voluntary procedures in reproductive health and now I am being silenced for standing up for women. This is yet another example of this Republican majority’s misogynistic and cowardly tactics.’”

Both women have been lauded and demonized for the things that they have said, but if you look at it with an objective eye, these women are both absolutely correct. It has been the prerogative of the religious right to completely ban abortions in the United States, and to also police the sexual behavior of women. Women, in their eyes, are not human beings with rights to autonomy, but are little more than brood mares whose sole occupations include being a wife, serving as a vessel for “the unborn,” and serving as a mother to their children.

While Representative Brown’s choice of using the word “vagina” has been called unprofessional, it’s nothing compared to the unprofessional behavior of her male Republican colleagues. Without consideration of what others might believe, they are forcing the beliefs of their constituents–and their own beliefs–on others who might not agree with them. And never mind that the Constitution calls for the separation between church and state. Their beliefs are the only ones that are right, and they should do all they can to manipulate the government so that laws reflect their beliefs, and everyone must follow the laws.

And look at the backlash.

However, what is most disconcerting is the symbolism behind Bolger’s gesture to silence Brown and Byrum. These are two women who are calling Republicans out on the contradictions between their beliefs in smaller government and their actions in doing what they can to limit women’s access to contraception, abortions, and basic health care. The complete disconnect here is very obvious, but Republicans in the Michigan House of Representatives didn’t want to hear it and instead silenced them. This is something out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, in which women served as little more than wives, mothers, and brood mares for the state.

Clearly there are other people who can see this, and now the Republicans and the Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives who supported this bill have only ended up with egg on their faces. This has become the source of much humor, as the pearl-clutching that ensued is evidence that Republicans are now desperate since they have been called out on their behavior. The quick, desperate move to save face has only hindered, and not helped them. Not only are they wasting time with this debate, but they are also wasting tax payer money. There is no guarantee that Governor Rick Snyder will sign such a bill, particularly when there has been so much resistance against his efforts to build another bridge crossing to Canada. Not to mention that, even if the bill were signed into law, it would be tied up in court by both Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

And so once again, Republicans have only demonstrated their blatant disregard for an individual’s right to choice even though they purport to represent individual rights for all. But I guess having a vagina automatically excludes someone from being an individual, doesn’t it?

7 replies on “Vaginagate: A Strange, But True Tribute to A Handmaid’s Tale”

I know that it’s a very small possibility, but I wish that men like these (as the majority being men, I’ll stick with using that word) would just realize for one second that they’re silencingwomen for naming a body part. Not with a slang word, not as a curse, but to point out that it’s the subject of discussion.
This legit scares me. The book freaked me the frick out, I don’t want this truth to become stranger than fiction.

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