Scottish poet, Magi Smith, talks to REEK about womanhood alongside her poem “V****a”

I’m a poet and writer and in Scotland and Ireland I run Wild Women Creative Writing Workshops. All kinds of women come to these, with all levels of education and from all walks of life. And the one thing that astounds me time and again is their lack of confidence in owning and naming their own intimate body parts.

Though why should I, of all people, be surprised? After all, I was brought up by a Scots Presbyterian mother who thought the word ‘pregnant’ was rude. ‘Expecting’ was the preferred euphemism. And God forbid that words such as ‘nipple’ or breast’ should be uttered in daylight for fear of an immediate tumble into prostitution. You can imagine, therefore, that vulva, clitoris and vagina were so far beyond the pale I didn’t even know they existed till I got my hands on a copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). (It’s pretty awful. Don’t buy it. It was all that was available in 1970.)

And here we are, multiple decades later, and I’m finding a fair number of women still squeamish about naming their own intimate body parts! (Not you, obviously. If you’ve visited the REEK website you’re well capable of shouting I LOVE MY VULVA at the top of your voice.)

But why, you may be wondering, do female body parts feature in my creative writing workshops? Well, that’s simple. The workshops are aimed at helping women find their true voice. The voice comes from the body as well as from the mind. That comes from lived experience in the physical world. A writer must be capable of writing anything she needs to write. If a writer cannot write from her vulva, write about her breasts, express the emotions of her uterus, explore her full female experience in all its complexity, she is limiting the range of her voice. She is operating on half power.

A woman who is confident in naming her own body grows into a more confident woman, a woman able to take control of the language and influence it. A dangerous woman.

Names given to parts of the female body are often derogatory and objectifying. Think about it, even the term ‘old bag’ refers to the womb (and therefore the woman) being seen historically as no more than a container. An incubator. Shades of The Handmaid’s Tale.

And as for ‘cunt’? Well, that’s got a long and colourful history! Some believe it’s related to a word for ‘wedge’ while others trace it to more elevated sources such as ‘priestess’. Whether you think it comes from Sanskrit or ancient Egyptian, or Norse, Irish or Klingon, it’s still the word that about 80% of women in any Wild Women Writing Workshop hate saying out loud. Yet it is a common and ancient word for part of their own bodies. By being taught from an early age to abhor this word, are they also being taught by stealth to undervalue their own intimate body, and by extension, themselves as women?

Inga Muscio says in her book, ‘cunt’,  “According to every woman-centered historical reference I have read – from M. Esther Harding to bell hooks – the containment of woman’s sexuality was a huge priority to emerging patrifocal religious and economic systems… Literally and metaphorically, the word and anatomical jewel presided at the very nexus of many earlier religions which impeded phallic power worship.”  Which is basically where we are today. A woman who ‘owns’ her cunt, who can talk about it easily and without fear or shame, who can even be proud of her cunt, is a dangerous woman. She is a direct challenge to the patriarchy.

REEK perfume