Connotations of the vagina need to be broadened to fit the changing dynamics of society.
Connotations are the layered emotional meanings that reside within words; these can be positive or negative and can impact people in powerful ways.
To preface this argument, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the word vagina originates from the Latin word “sheath” or “scabbard.” This etymological definition implies that the organ is incomplete without the penis, which is often euphemized as a sword.
This isn’t to argue that the use of the word “vagina” should cease. The word has been in existence for such a long time that to get rid of it would be impractical. However, if the word is going to be maintained, then the connotations surrounding the word need to be altered.
For example, often times profanity is used in association with female genitalia. When one person calls another person a “pussy” or a “cunt,” it’s considered extremely insulting. This bestows a negative connotation to female genitalia and, in extension, to femininity.
Some may argue that there are curse words used in relation to male genitalia as well. This is true; however, these words are used more commonly and more often in a jovial manner. This makes these words less insulting than those listed for female genitals.
This gives the impression that the female reproductive system is taboo and, to a further extent, implies that femininity itself is negative. These current connotations aren’t explicit, but these implicit connotations can have an impact on how people view femininity.
Word policing would not improve this problem. Censoring what people can and cannot say would just exacerbate the issue and infringe on people’s freedom of speech. However, expanding the dialogue about what the vagina means and symbolizes can mitigate this issue and offer a broader view of femininity.
According to a Bustle article, the ichthys, a symbol that resembles a fish and is commonly associated with Jesus, was originally a symbol of the vagina because of its shape; the lotus flower was considered a symbol for female genitalia during the Chinese Han and Ming dynasties and the vulva was often called a “boat of heaven” that connected the Earth with a heavenly divinity.
All of these examples give the vagina a divine connotation, casting it in a much-needed positive light. This is a good start; however, with societal dynamics changing and with femininity meaning more that just the genitalia associated with biological women, these symbols need to transcend the biological so that all women can find solace in their associations.