Students at Scripps College in Claremont, California, held a “Project Vulva” event recently to fight the “taboo” on showing women’s genitals in society, only to find themselves under attack for allegedly engaging in “transmisogyny.”
The event was held Oct. 29 at a coffeehouse near the all-women college, and invited participants to come and decorate cupcakes so they resembled vulvas.
“Why is it that, generally, society is so comfortable with the image of the penis and vulvas are considered taboo?,” the event’s Facebook page provocatively asks. “In middle school people would scribble penis pictures on the desks in the classroom. There is always that kid who passes out at the party and someone draws a dick on his face. So where the vulvas at??? What even IS a vulva (often confused with the vagina)? What problems can lack of knowledge lead to?”
But the premise of the event rapidly drew criticism from transgender activists, who complained that the event demeaned the experience of women who were born in men’s bodies. (RELATED: UCLA Paper Apologizes For Saying Women Menstruate)
“Society is not comfortable with the image of a penis on a woman,” Claremont resident Ariel Aliá said in a post attacking the event. “This event feels extremely transmisogynistic and to say penises are universally accepted as non-taboo is transmisogynistic.” Aliá’s post provoked an extended debate over just how offensive the event was.
“[T]his entire event is so incredibly violent to trans women specifically. I’m so disgusted,” said Facebook user Kasie Butler, who later described the word “transgendered” itself as “highly offensive.”
“The wording of this event excludes trans women, and further normalizes transmisogyny and violence against trans women,” added Simone Rae Charles-Isosceles, who dismissed the whole affair as a “garbage, cis, white event.”
The backlash occurred even though organizers tried to cover their bases by saying they were not assuming a simple “binary concept of gender.”
“Not all women have vulvas, and not all vulvas belong to women,” the Facebook page said.
The outrage grew strong enough that an apology was issued by The Motley Coffeehouse, which hosted the event and describes itself as an “intersectional, political, and feminist business.” The coffeehouse said it was working hard to atone for its error and overcome its “herstory” (rather than “history”) of privilege.
“The Motley wants to validate and support the critiques that have been voiced concerning Project Vulva,” the coffeehouse’s statement said. “We are deeply sorry for the hurt experienced by the trans community both in the space of the Motley and on the Scripps campus in general. Being a privileged and exclusive space has long been imbedded in our herstory, and though we have tried and are trying to become an inclusive space where everyone can feel safe and accepted, we recognize that we have failed.”
To rectify the situation, Motley announced that the event would feature “a space … devoted to interrogating the symbol of the vulva – what does it mean to you? Is it a symbol of strength? A reminder of being labeled as an ‘other’ that is oppressive?”
“We hope that providing the opportunity for written reflections about the vulva (which will be kept in our sitting room after the event) will help foster further dialogue and widen our perceptions of feminism to be more intersectional and inclusive,” the statement said.
At least one person said the apology wasn’t enough though.
“I’m surprised that with the feedback this event has received, it hasn’t been canceled,” said commenter Jay Marks. “Whether or not cisgender people view this as an act of violence towards trans women is irrelevant. Multiple trans women have expressed that this event is an act of violence towards them, and it’s extremely concerning to me that while they are being acknowledged, they are not being listened to.”
Nevertheless, the event went forward, and afterwards, organizer Jess Bird uploaded a video on YouTube showcasing her efforts to raise awareness about the vulva:
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