Some words my mom taught me that I intentionally forgot, but must now resurrect

My mom has a way with words. Not only does she enunciate quite sharply and precisely, she draws out certain sounds for maximum impact, “puSSSStUUULES” “GGGGoiter.” As to why these ailments frequently come up in our casual conversations, I’m still not sure. 

If she fears her enunciation might not be enough to make her point, gesticulating is always next her toolkit. As if my teenaged ears might have fallen temporarily deaf at her mention of “puuuuuBIC haiRRRR,” the phrase was always accompanied with the international sign for pubic hair, which, according to my mother, is communicated by vigorously patting and rubbing your crotch with no awareness of where you are or how red your daughter might be. 

You might also be curious about where my pubic hair was growing. While friends of mine were sprouting theirs on delicate “hoohoos” and sassy “VJ’s,” I was growing mine on my monstrous-sounding “vUUULLLvAAA”—right before the darn thing ate me! 

I’ve called it a lot of things since then, and for many years now I’ve stuck with “vagina,” but I'm now ready to take it back to my roots and return to my mom’s “vulva.” 

Vulva is all the external razzle-dazzle, not just the internal void where the penis goes, which is the vagina. To some, this may seem like splitting pubic hairs, but in light of Republicans’ recent attacks on reproductive rights and all of the sexual assault and misconduct scandals finally getting the attention they deserve, the myriad and seemingly mundane ways in which patriarchal male sexuality confines women on every level, from the classroom to the workplace, from the bedroom to the delivery room, is both astounding and profoundly terrifying. The language we use to define our bodies matters. It can reinforce insidious misogynistic ideologies, or disrupt them, so it’s worth taking the time to examine who benefits most from our shared lexicon. As Ellen, my recent guest on Ménage à Moi said, “the penis is a pretty pathetic organ,” so why would I refer to my organ, which is not pathetic, as merely the penis’s counterpart, when in fact it is so much more? So I’m doing one better than Maude Lebowski for this one, and feeling grateful to my mother for embracing words that make people cringe, now say it along with me: “vUUULLLvAAA!”

Chelsea Beck