A Michigan Democrat who was silenced on the state House floor last week after she referenced her vagina during a debate on abortion has a headline-grabbing encore planned: Rep. Lisa Brown will join activists, politicians, and others for a performance of The Vagina Monologues on the steps of the Michigan state capitol in protest. How did Michigan lawmakers wind up in such an unlikely political showdown? Here, a brief guide to what some are calling "vagina-gate":
How did this fight get started?
Brown and another Michigan Democrat were speaking out against a GOP bill that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks, and require women who want to take a morning-after pill to do so in the presence of a doctor. Brown said to Republicans pushing the bill: "I'm flattered you're all so interested in my vagina. But no means no."
How did Republicans react?
The next day, the House GOP leadership refused to recognize another Democrat, Rep. Barb Byrum, over her retaliatory proposal that a man be required to prove his life was in danger before he could get a vasectomy (and also shut out Brown during a debate on a school-employee retirement bill). Republican Rep. Mike Callton said Brown's choice of words "was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company."
How furious are liberals?
Very. Should we blame "run of the mill misogynist disgust of female bodies?" asks Jessica Valenti at The Nation. "Puritanical pearl-clutching? Or simply sexist legislators who would rather not be reminded that the vaginas they're attempting to control have pesky women with opinions attached to them? No matter the reason, it speaks volumes about the way in which Republicans would like women to participate in policy conversations that effect their health and lives: They wish we would just shut up already. It would be so much easier if we just left the important decisions about women's bodies up to men!"
What's the conservative counterargument?
This isn't about the word "vagina," says Tommy Christopher at Mediaite. Brown was silenced because her "no means no" quip likens the bill's supporters to rapists waging a war on women. The GOP should defend itself against that — not "the more humorous, but less relevant, notion that they're uptight about vaginae."
And now Democrats are performing the Vagina Monologues?
Yes. Brown, Byrum, seven other legislators, and Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler will gather in Michigan on Monday evening to read the monologues in a bid to focus more attention on the legislation, which passed the state House 70-39. (It won't be taken up by the state Senate until September.) "Bring signs, bring your vagina, bring your outrage, bring your humor," Ensler says, arguing that it's critical to assert that women "have a right to determine what happens to their bodies — whether they want children or don't want children."
Sources: Detroit Free Press (2), Guardian, Huffington Post, Mediaite, Mlive, The Nation