Our Culture Editor, Veronica Wells, runs a great site called No Sugar No Cream Magazine that tells the “unsweetened stories of Black women.” She recently launched a series called “Enjoy Your Vagina” for the purpose of taking the shame out of womens’ relationship with this vital bodily organ in relation to both sexual and nonsexual experiences, and she launched a line of t-shirts, tanks, mugs and stickers to go with it. I bought a t-shirt and I proudly wore it for the first time yesterday.
Given the provocative message, I expected some stares. The same thing happens when I wear my “I’m the Man in Bed” t-shirt supporting Bed of Nails in Harlem and, sadly, my “My Black is Beautiful” t-shirt. I’m still amazed at how many times I’ve been asked what that means. To me, the message is as self-explanatory as “Enjoy Your Vagina” — keyword your — but in a world that still sees drunk women, salaciously dressed women and, essentially, all women as inviting sexual attention and even assault, I knew there’d be a few men here and there who would see what they wanted to see: a declaration for them to enjoy the vagina that belongs to me and exists for my pleasure.
On the way to the office, I received more prolonged stares than usual so I knew the men I was passing by were attempting to process the words written across my chest. I didn’t stop to wait to see if they’d figure it out. But when I went to the mailroom in the middle of the day and found myself standing around waiting for packages in the presence of two older servicemen, I decided folding my arms across my chest was a good move. He won’t get it if he reads it, I thought. And I’m not trying to explain it to him. But, as luck would have it, I had to anyway.
I saw the moment the lightbulb went off in his head from the corner of my eye. He just read your shirt. Don’t engage. But, of course, he wanted to engage. He had to.
“It took me a minute to realize what your shirt said,” he told me, half fumbling over his words as he gestured across his chest.
“Oh, yeah,” I said laughing just lightly enough to imply I didn’t want to talk about it.
“Let me ask you something, what does your other half think about you wearing that?”
It took me a minute to register what this 50-something-year-old man was asking and for a split second I thought about informing him there is no other half, but just that quickly I realized my singleness wasn’t the point. Man or no man this shirt would be worn.
“The shirt says enjoy your vagina; it’s not for other people to enjoy my vagina,” I explained.
“Oh,” he said, half stumped. “So it’s like an empowerment thing?”
I’m certain he still didn’t get it, but in the same way I don’t make it my business to Blacksplain to white people things that have nothing to do with them, I didn’t feel the need to enlighten this man on the importance of women embracing their vaginas rather than seeing it them as dirty crevices in constant need of maintenance and manhandling. I could’ve ordered another package from my phone and sat with him for the 2-3 days it would take it to arrive and he still wouldn’t understand because men still think we need their permission to live our lives and enjoy our bodies. That’s half the reason this shirt exists.
It’s been a little minute since I’ve personally encountered someone asking me what my fictitious man thinks about something, but as soon as it happened yesterday I was reminded of the last incident. I was on set for Ask a Black Man and one of the men we cast came up to me and asked, “So what does your man think about you doing this and being surrounded by men all day?” I was taken aback for two reasons. One, this man was not single so I found myself curious what his partner would think about him being so curious about my relationship. And two, I’m grown and that was work. That’s when I realized how feeble minded men are; for them a crowd of women always presents some sort of opportunity. Sadly, they don’t realize women don’t operate the same and that’s why they think we need their permission to function in life. Sorry bruh(s), you got it all wrong.
If men could, just for a moment, stop looking at the world through a sexual lens, they’d realize sometimes women actually do things for themselves, like wear t-shirts that say “Enjoy Your Vagina” and remind them and other women to do the same however they see fit. When I grabbed lunch, the girl behind the register smiled and told me she liked my t-shirt. Between her and the baseline lesson in female agency I gave ‘ol boy, I did my good work for the day and I didn’t need anybody’s permission.