I’m co-founding a Dublin chapter of Hollaback!, an international movement designed to fight the street harassment (cat-calls, groping, lewd comments, scare tactics, etc.) of women and LGBT individuals. And there’s an article about us in today’s Sunday Times! The site officially launches November 19 and our badass launch party will be November 20, but you can see a sneak peak now at dublin.ihollaback.org.
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On May 10, I was privileged to attend the opening of Skin Deep by Jamie McCartney at London’s Hay Hill Gallery. The exhibition got a lot of attention, as it marked the unveiling of The Great Wall of Vagina, a series of plaster moulds of real women’s vaginas.
Over five years in the making, the wall features women from all over the world with a range of backgrounds and life experiences, their ages spanning from 18 to 76. Among the participants are identical twins, transgendered men and women, virgins, sex workers, one woman both pre and postnatal, and one before and after labiaplasty. When I first interviewed McCartney in 2010, he was hoping to find a participant who had experienced genital cutting. Unfortunately, he was not able to do so before the project was completed.
There was also a glass mould of the inside of a vagina, a truly spectacular sight.
The exhibition was amazing to see. Over 400 vaginas, and no two alike. What surprised me most was all the piercings. A remarkable number of the participants had their vaginas pierced – some with a small bar through the clit, others with a dozen hoops along either side of the lip, one with two huge rings that resembled testicles.
The variations between the different vaginas were truly astounding. It really hammered home the message that there is no such thing as the perfect vagina. Each is unique to the person it’s attached to.
As we wandered between the panels of vaginas hung along the gallery walls, my friend asked if, were my own vagina up there, do I think I’d be able to spot it? I realized, a bit ashamedly, that the answer is a definitive no. I’m sure, like the majority of women, I wouldn’t be able to recognize the thing that’s been between my legs for my entire life, but I bet any man could pick his penis out of a lineup.
In addition to a dozen or so panels varying in size and price from ten vaginas (£2,250) to 70 vaginas (£6,500), was a panel featuring casts of 16 erect penises. McCartney explained that, just as his motive with the vagina casts was to dispel anxieties women have about their vaginas being unattractive or abnormal, the penis wall was about fighting the insecurities many men have about their members as a result of the unrealistic images they are exposed to through pornography. While we often hear of stories about boys comparing themselves in the locker room, most men have never seen another man’s erection in the flesh. While interesting, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the penises displayed seemed to be on the large side and could potentially trigger insecurity among lesser-endowed patrons.
There’s a light-hearted tone to the exhibition. McCartney does a great job freeing his subject matter of the eroticism and secrecy that often constrains attitudes toward genitalia and promoting self-acceptance.
Skin Deep will be showing in the Hay Hill Gallery until June 2. Admission is free.
Read Soraya Chemaly’s introduction to her Slut Manifesto here.
BECAUSE we know what’s best for us and yes, we do “deserve better”
BECAUSE we know that we are more than our wombs
BECAUSE we believe no double standards, including sexual ones, should exist
BECAUSE we believe we have the right to control our own reproduction
BECAUSE we will not be complicit in our own oppression by conforming to perversely-constructed rules about how women and men should behave
BECAUSE we understand basic science, embrace diversity, and are part of the modern world
BECAUSE we believe that how we dress does not give a man the right to rape a woman, spit on a female child or publicly strip another human being to humiliate them
BECAUSE we will not be silenced by bullies and thugs and will speak openly, politically and with conviction about important issues that affect us in the public space
BECAUSE we are justifiably angry
BECAUSE we, and the men who think as we do, are the future and will transform this planet
Alix Olson is a goddess, and her book, Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution, has changed my life and the way I look at poetry in every way. This poem is one of my favourites because it so accurately captures the struggle of a woman trying to make it in a “man’s world.”
So we’ve learned karate,
carry knives on our runs
wield words like weapons
prepare glares-like hidden guns,
we’ve deconstructed, demystified
tried retribution, remythologized,
we’ve been diagnosed with your diseases,
and still tried pleases, tried tears, tried Jesus.
You wanna see what it’s like down here
in this pool of someone else’s rules, well
jump in, take a swim or just sit in this pit
squishing bare toes in someone else’s bullshit,
we do it all the time.
Still we’ve tried being patient,
collected, calm, nice
trying praying, tried laying you
paying the price,
we’ve learned to scream
until our throats throbbed
what else do you do
while your cunt’s being robbed.
And they say “you’ve made progress, girls,
take a rest in-between”
but see while you’re resting,
someone else is progressing,
it’s what i’ve seen.
So i take back the whispers,
the cute mute act,
and the high pitched giggles, yeah
i take them back,
i won’t avoid your stare, evade your step,
nothing of that kind,
won’t help you help me victimize
the only space that’s mine.
See now I’d put my life on the line just to see them trip,
frown and say “funny love, i never saw you slip.”
i say, “my life on the line-”
you say “man, she’s jaded.”
i say, “maybe control’s overrated.”
like when we cackled, they called us witches,
now we don’t giggle they call us bitches
well I’m cacklin loud, taking it back, full of hiss,
cacklin loud, cackling proud now.
And they’re getting nervous with this kissing each other,
scratching their heads,
whats going on brother
and they yell feed your husband, stop feeding the fire!
and we just cackle,
we’re a fuckin witches choir.
and we sing “sharpen your knives, sharpen your daughters
steam up the mirrors, bake us some dreams,
cook up some riots, fry up some screams,
and when you’re sick of your skirts
slice open the seams
cause they want domestics,
theyll give us needle and thread
for patching their egos.
we’ll sow revolution instead.”
And i hear you saying
less bite, more bark
you can make your point without leaving such a mark.
stop your seething,
i think we got it, i think we’re even:”
subtle like a penis pounding its target?
subtle like your hissing from across the street?
subtle like the binding on my sisters’ feet?
subtle like her belly raped with his semen,
draped in his fuck, funny,
doesn’t seem even.
See, sometimes anger’s subtle, stocked in metaphor
full of finesse and dressed in allure
yes, sometimes anger’s subtle, less rage than sad
leaking slow through spigots you didn’t know you had.
and sometimes it’s just
you see, and to me,
That’s poetry too.