“Does the female form make you uncomfortable, Mr Lebowski?” The question comes from Maude Lebowski, an avant-garde artist and feminist played by Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski, one of my all-time favourite movies. “The word itself makes some men uncomfortable: vagina.”
When I first watched The Big Lebowski some 20 years ago, I was a university student trying to survive in English – a language I still had to master. There were many scenes in the film that required a better level of English than what I had at the time. But the brief and surreal vagina dialogue between Maude and The Dude was loud and clear.
I don’t think I had ever said vagina out loud in Italian, my native language. Growing up, I was taught a euphemism to refer to my private parts: farfallina, which in Italian means little butterfly.
However poetic the euphemism may be (I love “sparkly bits” in this series of words suggested by readers of the Guardian), the point is that it is important to know how to call our anatomical parts and to refer to them directly.
I know, I know: vagina is not a great word. I totally second what Jen Gunter says in her book The Vagina Bible: “Vagina means ‘sheath’ in Latin, and I hate having female anatomy defined in terms of how it fits with a penis.”
But if that is the name, let’s use it. Because what happens if we don’t name things correctly?