We've all been there. Literally, we all come from vaginas. A lot of us even have them! Yet they remain an unspeakable part of our daily lives. How does this effect how we joke about vaginas? Or vice versa: how do jokes about vaginas effect how we think of them? Join us in this conversation speaking about the unspeakable.
This Fallopian Life: Is my vagina showing?
by Emma Speer and Lily Shoretz
As a woman in comedy, or as a woman who wants to make people laugh, or as a woman who wants to laugh, or just as a woman, we often need to compromise ourselves and join the “boys club.” With this compromise comes a lot of dicks. This Fallopian Life: Is my vagina showing? explores the culture around penis and vagina jokes. A conversation between myself and my co-producer, Lily Shoretz, weaves through conversations with 8 female Yale students. They articulate—some for the first time-- their relationships with their vaginas and the stigma around vagina jokes. Also interspersed throughout the piece are vagina songs and stand up almost exclusively by women. This podcast was made for women by women, but has something to offer all genders because vagiphobia permeates all modern American culture.
Many of our interviewees’ first experience with their vagina is their period. Early vagploration consists of awkwardly holding a mirror “down there” - if any vagploration happens at all. The vagina’s mysterious and sometimes scary stigma in the media also pervades women’s relationships to their own vaginas. The vagina’s stigma/silenve in the media feeds off of its unspokenness at home, and vice versa, although where this feedback loop originates is unclear. Some interviewees speculate that because dicks are physically “out there”, they are easier to joke about. Others hypothesize that because dicks are vocally “out there”—“men have held the mike”—their words are whats heard. Men will talk about what they know about, and what they know about is their dicks. The male-dominated comedic realm combines with the patriarchal history of modern America. Females must remain untainted, and barring them from humor may be some way of protecting females from impurity.
These women’s stories really opened my ears/eyes/mind to the untold stories, shame and hilarity of all the women around me. When I told my mother about this podcast, my brothers overheard and immediately started joking at me (no other way to put it) to stop talking about it. What’s even more- I was actually grateful for their censoring because I was so uncomfortable talking to my mom about vaginas. Finding songs that were 1) about vaginas and 2) by females was nearly impossible. Where are all the vaginas? They’re typing this statement, reading this statement, running for president, popping out babies, trying to hold in a queef, and wanting, waiting, needed to laugh out loud.
VOICEMAIL: You have reached the voicemail box of [Adam’s Voice: “Uhhh…. Adam.”] At the tone, please record your voice message. When you are finished recording you may hang up or press pound for more options.
EVE: Hey Adam, it’s Eve. Just calling to see when you’d be home and if you and God were planning on having dinner here. Okay, gimme a call back! Bye!
[Sound of Adam’s voicemail: “Uh… Adam”]
EVE: Hey Adam! It’s Eve again. I still haven’t heard back from you. I hope you guys are having fun. Um… I’m assuming you’re not having dinner here since it’s so late, but I was wondering if on your way back you could still pick up some more sacrificial flesh. I would do it myself but as you know I can’t leave the garden [awkward laugh]. Uhm… Okay. Bye!
VOICEMAIL: You have reached the voicemail box of [Sound of Thunder]. At the tone, please record your voice message. When you are finished recording you may hang up or press pound for more options.
EVE: Hey, God! It’s Eve. Hope you’re doing well. Thanks for the sunny day today, that was great. I know this may seem kind of silly but I was just calling to check in on Adam. I haven’t heard back from him since he left to go meet up with you and I’m getting kind of worried about him. I don’t know if he got lost or something on the way back down. But, yeah, so just, uh, give me a call. That would be great. Thanks, bye.
[Sound of Thunder Boom]
EVE: Hey God, it’s Eve again. Sorry to bother you. I just I have to confess something. Um, really, I’m not worried that Adam’s lost, I’m worried that he’s not coming back because he’s mad at me and never going to come back again. So, I didn’t say anything cause I didn’t think it was a big deal but, so like… the other day, he like asked me [sigh]… this is gonna sound psycho. But he asked me to like… swirl his nipples. Like, we were just sitting in the garden and he wanted me to like put my index finger and my thumb on either side of his nipples and just like give them a little, like, just like a little swirl. And of course, I was like “Is God okay with that?” And he was like “What? Of course God said it was okay. Are you doubting the word of God?” And I’ve just been trying to get a hold of you because I wanted to ask you myself. I know you’re so busy and… um, so I just — I haven’t swirled his nipples, I didn’t end up swirling his nipples. I wonder if he, if he’s not coming back cause I didn’t swirl his nipples and it’s not that I’m not devoted to you, I was just scared at the time cause Adam was like, “I have 23 more ribs and all I have to do is put one in the ground and I can have another one of you.” I was just paralyzed and I just feel so bad now. Please, just, if you’re with him, let him now that I’m sorry and that I want him to come back to the garden. I’d do anything for you guys. Sorry, sorry. Okay, alright. Thank you for listening. Bye.
[Sound of Adam’s voicemail: “Uh… Adam”]
EVE: Hey Adam. So I’ve been thinking about it and I just wanted to apologize for not swirling your nipples the other day. I didn’t mean to defy you. I didn’t mean to defy God. I will give you a nipple swirl as soon as you come back. Okay, bye. I love you.
[Sound of Adam’s voicemail: “Uh… Adam”]
EVE: Hey Adam, um, sorry to bother you again. This isn’t about — somebody just came by and said that I should use the apples in the tree, but I remember God saying that that was a no go and so that’s what I told him, and then the guy said God told you to tell him to tell me that it’s okay now? I just wanted to check in again. This just… seemed important. I don’t know. Just call me back. Okay. Bye!
[Sound of Adam’s voicemail: “Uh… Adam”]
EVE: [whispering] Hey Adam, sorry to bother you again. It’s just this guy won’t leave and I told him to come back when you’re here and he’s all like, “Don’t worry about it” and I’m like I wasn’t worried about it but now I kind of worried about it? And he keeps like coming close to me and he smells really good, and like… [giggles, then speaks away from phone] Oh cool, really? It’s like that outside the garden? No way, that’s so impressive. [giggles]. No wayyyyyy… A whole lion?… What? Oh my god, you’re so strong. Oh my god, yeah. One sec one sec… [speaks to phone] Sorry, he just like came over again and I didn’t want him to like overhear it. Okay, just, like, call me back.
[Sound of Adam’s voicemail: “Uh… Adam”]
EVE: Hey Adam, so it’s been three moon cycles since I’ve last heard from you. I’ve been really, really lonely. I’ve been trying to talk to you. You and I haven’t D-T-R’d yet so I think I’m gonna go with this guy right now. I want you to know its nothing personal. It’s not that I don’t love you. I love you very very much actually. I’m very grateful for you and everything you’ve done for me. I’m just soooo lonely right now and am in a physical-need state, and it really means nothing to me whatsoever. It’s totally non-romantic. It’s just whatever. I’m just gonna go to the apple grove with this guy right now, whatever, no big deal. I’ll see you soon. I love you so so much. Um, I just want to be honest with you. Okay. Um. He’s coming over now, I gotta go, bye.
[Sound of Adam’s voicemail: “Uh… Adam”]
EVE: Adam, I’ve been naked this whole FUCKING time and you didn’t say shit? You fucking pervert. You FUCKING PERVERT. I KNEW. I KNEWGod didn’t tell me to give you a FUCKING nipple swirl, you FUCKINGsicko. Okay, go have fun in that little boys’ club with you and God. Newsflash Adam: You’re not God, okay? God fucked up with you and that’s why he made me. You don’t even know how to take care of yourself. Good luck grooming your ass and harvesting your own berries and sewing your own fig cover. You shouldn’t even FUCKING need a big leaf, you shit. Okay, I’m gonna keep eating these FUCKING apples and there’s nothing you can do a—
VOICEMAIL: The mailbox is full and can’t accept any more voicemails at this time. Goodbye!
Originally Published on McSweeney's 1/4/2018
An Op-Ed Originally Published in the Yale Daily News on January 31, 2017: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2017/01/31/speer-question-and-manswer/
A T.A. (male) gave a guest lecture to my formal logic class. At one point, my professor (female) raised her hand to ask the T.A. a question. It was clear she was trying to take the conversation to the next conceptual level. The T.A. earnestly responded with some canned explanation of a fundamental aspect of logic that she had in fact taught us the first week of class. In other words, he answered a question she did not ask. He presumed, whether consciously or not, that she must be asking about something he had already said, that she needed clarification, that she was asking for something that he could provide, that there was no world in which she could be going beyond what he had covered or — god forbid — beyond his realm of knowledge.
There is a power dynamic inherent to asking a question: The questioner places the respondent in a position of authority — but only if the latter is able to answer. In turn, the respondent can either assume a higher status, a status equal to the questioner — by conceding that he (it’s often he) doesn’t know — or (impossible but juicy) assume a lower status.
Let’s take a moment to think of what this final option might look like. “That’s a good question.” Or a “Huh — I’ve never thought of that before.” Or even a “You know what? I was going to b.s. an answer to maintain an illusion of omniscience, but I’ve decided to be honest and admit I don’t know.” Yum.
Here is that distilled in logical paraphrase:
P= Woman asks man a question
A= Man answers with (a), where in (a) he assumes a higher status
B= Man answers with (b), where in (b) he assumes an equal status
C= Man answers with (c), where in (c) he assumes a lower status
Now here is the story of my life: P =⊃A^infinity.
Feminist essayist Rebecca Solnit, the oft-cited inventress of the concept of “mansplaining”, states that the phenomenon results from “overconfidence and cluelessness”. Manswering is a specific manifestation of mansplaining. It happens when a man (consciously or not) automatically assumes a position of higher status when answering a question, in order to protect his ego or maintain at least an illusion of authority. In turn, a woman is automatically demoted to a lower status: “Ha! Silly girl! What a sweet innocent vessel beginning for me to fill it with my fat knowledge.” Alternatively: “I’m a busy, busy man, but I guess I can spare you a few seconds of my precious time to b.s. like you’ve never seen before.”
These are conversational political pivots, just that they aren’t political — simply patronizing. Too often, I have asked a man a question, only to have him indulge in verbal masturbation. By the time he finishes, I invariably end up throwing out my question entirely.
Don’t dismiss me as just another woman nagging out of her furious vulva. Listen: I love males. My dad is a male. I have a brother who is a male. The males, I love them. I am merely suggesting a way to optimize human interaction. At this point, you may not be convinced. The preservation of women’s sense of personhood may not motivate you to address manswering. I get it: pathos is for pussies, and ethos is useless because I have a pussy. So even though I am just a woman, I figured I would try my hand at logos: Imagine how much more efficient conversations would be if women (read: people) didn’t have to ask every question twice!
To the manswerers of the world: I hereby relieve you of the heavy burden of patronizing and pathologizing women. I free you to live among females who actually actively listen and who can become just as interested in an abstract topic as you are. You may find yourself saying “I don’t know” or “good question” more often and speaking less, but that’s okay. We will know you’re listening.
with Yale's The Cucumber
A Personal Essay Originally Published for the Yale Daily New's Magazine, February 2015
I would soon identify that time of year as “around Ralph’s birthday” or “about to open the pool,” but at the time I considered it “almost done with sixth grade,” and my oldest brother Pete had gotten mad the previous summer and threw an ax at our above-ground pool, so the water was really low and green and icky and the pool wouldn’t be opened that summer.
“Emma, James, Gigi. Ralph and I have been talking and we want to ask you guys how you feel about Ralph moving in with us.” Ralph sat in a rusted iron patio chair across from me.
Gigi started to cry. My mom apologized to Ralph. I decided to use this distraction to pull my mom to the side. I figured Mom would take me more seriously if I used my sixth-grade words.
“I really really really really really don’t want Ralph to live with us, Mommy.”
Already I felt guilty. Sixth-grade words were failing me. Present-day me would have said, “Because his motto is ‘children should be seen and not heard,’” or “Because he wears a gold cross but goes to church twice a year and listens to Rush Limbaugh every Sunday morning,” or “He eats yogurt for breakfast so he doesn’t have to put his teeth in until lunch time,” or “He beats your dog when you’re not home!” or “He doesn’t believe in organic foods or global warming and he says mean things to my black friends,” or “He looks like a peanut with a mustache!” All I could say at the time was, “I don’t know. I guess because he’s old.”
She misses me in three ways. The first way Ma is missing me is like how her tomato sauce is missing something when she tries to follow Grandma’s recipe. No matter how exactly Ma followed instructions, sitting down at her table and eating her pasta is not the same as it was sitting down at Grandma’s table. The pasta is missing something, some mystery something. More salt? Less oregano? Paprika? We don’t know the spice and so we can’t know where it is. And we can’t ask Ma if she forgot an ingredient because then she’d start to miss Grandma and we’ll all lose our appetite. Ralph usually cooks dinner.
When I’m home, Ralph always asks me to make a salad for the dinner table. Then I always ask him if he will eat any, and he always says, Yes, this is why he is asking me. If my Ma wants salad too, I make sure there are no raw onions. Ma hates raw onions.
I am not there anymore to make the salad. Dinner without me goes more or less like the following: Gigi and James return from basketball practice at 5:30 and Ralph does not let them have a snack “because dinner would be ready soon.” Four hours later they sit down to eat. Ma tells Ralph the NRA called and he thanks her between bites of barbequed ribs. His gray chest hair and gold cross peek out from behind the unbuttoned top two buttons of his business shirt. Gigi and James shepherd their potatoes around their plates. They were hungry at 5:30. They are no longer hungry thanks to Gigi’s secret stash of Reese’s.
My Ma is missing me like a flashlight can be missing batteries, or a house that suffered from a hurricane can be missing a roof. The flashlight is not quite functioning. The house is not quite complete. My Ma is not quite functioning and not quite complete. The seat I filled at the table is full of an echoing emptiness. The silences I normally fill are themselves broken, and my mom does not know how to break them properly. My Ma needs me to function properly, but alas, she is missing me. This second type of missing is a need missing.
Ma breaks the silence to share a story she read about a new dinosaur they discovered that is bigger than the T. rex, but she stops the story short because it’s not true. Ralph said so.
Gigi and James speak for the first time and ask to be excused. James looks at Ma and says he needs $20 for school. Ma looks at Ralph. Ralph looks at up at the wall in front of him as he slowly puts down his ribs, his hands shaking from his medication, and gets out his wallet from his back pocket.
The third way she misses me is a want missing. This is the type of missing that rides in on the back of late night silence. This is the missing that then pries its way into her heart while she lies lonely next to Ralph. This missing pops her heart open like a champagne bottle. This is the kind of missing that transforms liquid emotion into one solid thought: My ma misses me.
(I am the only one who remembers that she hates raw onions.)
A bowl of salad — untouched — rests on the table. Ma asks Ralph if he wants any, since, in my absence, he had made it. He holds out the shaking hand that isn’t holding a rib in a stop gesture. He shakes his head. He continues to stare up at the wall across from him. Ma tries to eat around the onions in the salad, but it takes too long. Ralph puts his dish in the sink and goes upstairs to his office to make business calls. Ma is left alone at the table, wondering why onions make one cry.
My mom is 56 and Ralph is 72. Ralph grew up in the Bronx with two siblings and his Italian immigrant parents. Ralph attended an all-boy college on track scholarship. Ralph eventually became a businessman and started a company selling computer parts. This supported his wife and two children until he went bankrupt. Thereafter he became a salesman for a pharmaceutical drug company. A few years after this and prior to meeting my mom, Ralph had divorced from his wife of forty years. She requested it.
Ralph lived alone in an apartment when he and Ma met. His grandchildren had not yet been born. His kids were busy with their own jobs, so Ralph could and did travel a lot for work. He brought back all the complimentary mini lotions and shampoos from the hotels he stayed in. He brought my mom home her favorite candy from San Francisco whenever he went. Before he moved in, he used his travel miles to fly them to Puerto Rico on vacation.
There is a picture of them dancing in Puerto Rico. Ralph holds himself as still as a tree in the winter while my mom is mid-movement, lithe, alive, like a flame frozen in time. Her hair is still long and golden. She is tan, and she glows.
I have never seen Ralph smile like he does in the picture. He smiles as if he has never seen how crowded his bottom row of teeth is. He smiles as if he does not know that this deepens and multiplies the wrinkles on his face. He smiles like he is unaware of how old my mom’s youth makes him look (“Is that your father?”), or — if he does — like he doesn’t care.
He locks the front door when he mows the lawn. Gigi, James, and I used to play out in front of the house but he would lock the door if he saw we didn’t have our keys. To “teach us responsibility.” Two Thanksgivings ago, Ralph locked us out of the house, and so James tried to unlock the door with a toothpick. It broke off in the lock, making it impossible to open the door. We eventually got inside once Ralph pulled up in the driveway after visiting his daughter (his son was still not speaking to Ralph at this time.)
My mom agreed with Ralph’s idea to make James stay home while we went to Thanksgiving dinner at my uncle’s house. (James ended up ordering Chinese food and watching TV instead.)
I wish my mom had said something. I wish she had remembered that that was her house. I wish she had comforted Gigi and me while we cried and begged her to let James come. I wish she had remembered how she made Ralph shut up that time she beat him with our house phone until it fell off the wall. I wish she had remembered that Ralph needed to ask her to open jars of mayonnaise for him. But I guess she had forgotten all that, or she remembered only that Ralph bought that mayonnaise. And that we had to leave soon because Ralph had also bought the turkey.
Ma didn’t ask me what we thought about kicking Ralph out of the house. However, she did ask Sunshine, the local psychic. For $50, Sunshine articulated my ten-year-old intuition, without tears. She read Ma’s face and advised her to get Ralph out of the house within two months. After that, Ma would come into great wealth and would find true romance on an internet dating site. My Ma asked me for help writing her match.com profile, but by the time I got around to it she had already started. Her favorite things? Yellow. A good white burgundy. Salad. Latest reads? Rolling Stone interview with Bono. Siddhartha. Treasure Island. Velveteen Rabbit (to her kids). Her introduction? “Dancing with abandon on the quais of Paris one Bastille Eve night, my feet were blistered for days, but my heart was free. This is the real me.”
By Emma Speer
Originally Publish in Yale's The Herald, February 2017
I love love. It is the Earth’s greatest renewable energy. Despite this fact, many people live like love is this precious resource, as if every February 14 is 1849—only instead of rushing to California with a sieve, everybody is whipping out their credit cards at Jared’s or Walgreens. And if you can’t find someone willing to lick whipped cream off of your nipples, then Valentine's Day easily makes you feel like a failure. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
I have lots of Valentines. So many, in fact, I can’t choose between them, and I don’t have to. Some of them make me laugh. Others know me better than I know myself. And all are just this perfect combination of sexy and cute. To illustrate my point, here’s a text I received from one of my Valentines about another one of my Valentines, after I asked her to deal with my insurance claim:
“Yes! I'll do it after I make your sick sister some oatmeal....she pooped and threw up at the same time.....the cherry-on--top....is she got her period, too!!! LOL!!!! Love, Mom.”
I challenge you to find a message packed with more love. Who needs chocolate when you have Mom-made oatmeal? Who needs flowers when you have two daughters love-sick for you in their own unique ways? Who needs a love-story when you have real love?
We seem to value true, romantic love above all else. Anything less couldn’t really be a fulfilling life. This is especially true for women. An older female who lives alone only has cats to mask her deep malheureusement. A woman with a successful career and flourishing friendships is a shame because she’s not a wife, too. A woman who doesn’t want this must be lying to herself. Chimamanda Adichie asks, “Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?” The connection between female and wife has been so naturalized that even we females (even feminist females!) determine our value based on whether or not a man wants us. This binary causes us to “to see each other as competitors… for the attention of men.” By binding ourselves to marriage, we blind ourselves to friendship.
My favorite movie is The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared. The film is about a one hundred year old man, who, after spending years stuck in a nursing home, climbs out a window and disappears. The movie shifts between the old man’s adventures in real time and flashbacks to his his wild past, and features German work camps, American physics laboratories, murder, mental hospitals, castration, espionage, explosives and elephants. It’s essentially a Swedish Forest Gump on retirement.
I watched this movie with my mom over Christmas. After we LOL’ed our labias off, I was haunted by this thought: my mother could never be the hundred-year-old woman who climbed out of the window and disappeared. Women can’t disappear. My mom is a single mother of five, working three jobs to support us all. And, maybe more important, she has nowhere to disappear to-- because women’s stories must end in romance. An old man can say ‘fuck it all’ and frolic off with a fellow senile Swede. The female equivalent inevitably ends with a male savior: the life-changing (or, as is often the case, life-ending) romance. My mom laughs amongst the family, home, and life she has created, yet she remains convinced that it’s all worthless without a man to share it with, just like we’re all convinced that Valentine’s Day is a pointless holiday if you don’t have someone to put whipped cream on your nipples.
I was this way until very recently, when I realized that not only do I know so many people who would put whipped cream anywhere I’d like, but that I wouldn’t even need to remind them to bring a dairy free option. These are my Valentines, because these are the people I love in my life. These are my friends.
Now, I’m still into mating, but only in the Australian sense. A conventional romance may be a “source of joy and love and mutual support”, but it’s not the only one, and it may not even be The One. The Ones may be many. The Ones are the people who send you GIFs and say “lol story of my life.” The Ones are the people who will walk with you to Walgreens on February 15 for cheaper chocolate. The Ones are the people who will cook you oatmeal while you poop and throw up at the same time, and then they will laugh at you. The Ones may put whipped cream on your nipples, but they also may not, and that’s okay, because honestly what kind of value system rests on Cool-Whip-Nips anyway?
So, this Valentine's Day I’m back on that second-grade status, handing out shitty yet earnest love to my friends. Thank you gals. Let’s give a whole new meaning to V-day.