A New Hampshire legislator — male — uses the word “vaginas” as a synonym for women in an internal e-mail sent to fellow legislators. A Michigan legislator — female — says the word while arguing against a bill that would restrict abortion rights, and was reprimanded and banned from speaking on the House floor for a day.
One was using vaginas in a pejorative manner similar to referring to men by the vulgar terms for penises, while the other was referring to a portion of the female anatomy by the proper terminology.
State Rep. Peter Hansen. a Republican from Amherst, sent an e-mail April 1 responding to a speech by a fellow lawmaker on proposed changes to a law on the use of deadly force:
“There were two critical ingredients missing in the illustrious stories purporting to demonstrate the practical side of retreat,” Hansen wrote. “Not that retreat may not be possible mind you. What could possibly be missing from those factual tales of successful retreat in VT, Germany, and the bowels of Amsterdam? Why children and vagina’s of course. While the tales relate the actions of a solitary male the outcome cannot relate to similar situations where children and women and mothers are the potential victims.”
Liberal blogger Susan Bruce first posted the e-mail message from Hansen, saying, “That the representative chose to describe women as ‘vagina’s’ is certainly an affront to half the population. That he failed to properly pluralize the word adds insult to idiocy.”
Rep. Rick Watrous, a Democrat from Concord, responded to Hansen’s email, writing, “Children and vagina’s”??!! Are you really using “vaginas” as a crude catch-all for women? Really? Please think before you send out such offensive language on the legislative listserve.”
Hansen defended his use of the word in a reply to Watrous: “Having a fairly well educated mind I do not need self appointed wardens to A: try to put words in my mouth for political gain and B: Turn a well founded strategy in communication into an insulting accusation, and finally if you find the noun vagina insulting or in some way offensive then perhaps a better exercise might be for you to re-examine your psyche.”
The whole issue began in a debate over using deadly force — part of the controversial Stand Your Ground law, which was passed last year and has since been repealed by the New Hampshire House. Hansen said women (or vaginas) and children need to be able to defend themselves.
Despite the publicity, Hansen doesn’t regret the comment, he told The Telegraph of Nashua. “My point in the choice of words was two-fold, one was shock content and the other was to try to get into the mind of the perpetrator,” he said. “This is something that has been totally blown out of proportion.”
I’d be careful in New Hampshire, though. It’s the first, and only, state with an entirely female congressional delegation and a female governor. And you never know — Eve Ensler just might show up on the Statehouse steps, as she did in Michigan, for a performance of her play, “The Vagina Monologues.”
Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.