A biology teacher from Idaho is under investigation by the state's professional standards commission following his shocking attempt to teach his students what a vagina is. For those of you who were not raised by deviants, FYI: a vagina is a reproductive organ belonging to all female placental mammals. Once a month, human vaginas spew forth blood because they are agents of evil and decay. The only time a human child should ever see or think about a vagina is the moment that they slither out of it, and then never again.
Sarcasm aside, this is an extreme and depressing version of the anti-woman rhetoric that has seen a recent upsurge in the landscape of sexual politics. The teacher in question, Tim McDaniel, received complaints from several parents who "were offended that he explained the biology of an orgasm and included the word ‘vagina' during his lesson on the human reproductive system in a tenth-grade biology course."
Although the district's superintendent claims that it is "highly unlikely" that McDaniel will be dismissed as a result of the complaints, his willingness to even consider disciplinary action is horrifying. The fact that any parent could be offended by the inclusion of the word "vagina" in a tenth grade biology class, during a lesson on the human reproductive system — and the fact that any school official could consider such offense a legitimate response — reveals a terrifying willingness to malign women's bodies (and, by extension, their sexuality) as abnormal and shameful. This reifies a belief that women's right to sexual expression and autonomy is not truly a right, wherein any mention of female anatomy — even one that comes directly from a textbook — is automatically prurient and inappropriate. Preventing young women (and young men!) from having an open discourse about the female reproductive system quite obviously precludes the possibility of having a conversation about what basic rights and dignities those in possession of a female reproductive system deserve. This serves to propagate the pernicious idea that women's issues are not universal; it's part of the logic that allows those in power to possess a willful ignorance about rape, contraception, and sexual harassment.
How will women ever hope to have sexual agency — in a time during which that agency is coming under constant attack by right-wing groups — if they are forbidden from speaking and learning about their own bodies and subjected to a way of thinking that views them as dirty? Patriarchy and, by extension, rape culture thrive as a result of those who normalize and validate a traditional construction of masculine sexuality while overlooking, ignoring, or suppressing those forms of desire that exist independently from it. To give credence to the view that vaginas have no place in a high school biology curriculum (although penises are totally okay) is to disrespect women and obfuscate their sexuality. This not only dissuades young women from taking pride in their own bodies, but also upholds a gendered hierarchy in which misunderstanding female anatomy is inextricably linked with being disgusted or embarrassed by it. To take the vagina out of the discussion of sex and reproduction as though it is a non-essential part is not only immensely idiotic and counter-intuitive, it is also beyond disempowering.
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