By Kelcie McKenney
There, I said it. Was that so hard?
This semester, for a Performance and Installation Art class, I decided to build a giant, cozy vagina in order to press people to think differently about the female genitalia.
In society, the most common connotation of the vagina brings up hyper-sexualization of women. It is thought of as something for men to use, rather than something a woman has ownership over. Researchers are often looking into the general hyper-sexualization of women in the media, finding that there is a strong connection between how young girls and women view their worth based on what they see in the media, according to Psychology Today.
“In magazine advertisements there is evidence that sexual objectification occurs more frequently for women than for me, and that women are 3x more likely than men to be dressed in a sexually provocative manner,” wrote Catherine McCall MS of Psychology Today.
This experience can lead to increased feelings of shame about one’s body, appearance anxiety, negative mental health outcomes in adolescent girls, increased probability of anorexia nervosa, and decreased sexual health, to name a few.
While I couldn’t change the way the media industry works, I could do something to try to alter the way people look at part of a woman’s body.
Feminist art with this goal isn’t uncommon, so I had plenty of artists to look toward to gather information. To start, Allyson Mitchell’s Vaginal Dens are crocheted and knitted rooms that resemble the opening of a vagina. They are beautiful, cozy, and massive, and while I didn’t have the time of materials to build something so immense, I was inspired.
Along with Mitchell, the Australian artist Casey Jenkins did a piece that equally impressed me called “Casting off my Womb.” She spent 28 days in a gallery knitting a scarf from wool that was inserted in her vagina. It is a peaceful, beautiful piece, and her goal was contradicting the fear of the vulva and vagina.
“The piece to me is about assessing and I guess being intimate with my own body,” Jenkins said in a video by SBS2 Australia.
I wanted to use some of those themes in my own work, and so my vagina was created.
To contradict that perspective on sex and over sexualiztion, my piece focuses instead on the warmth, comfort, and solace of what the vagina stands for from a mother’s perspective. Although sexual independence and freedom is a powerful thing, I instead wanted to look at the life-bringing aspect of the womb .
Soft lines, billowing materials, and a cozy nook create my version of the vagina. It is made of sheets, blankets, and pillows in shades of pinks and reds that have all been borrowed from my own mother’s home. With soft lighting, warmth from a nearby space heater, and the light scent of sweet perfume, this tent vagina creates a space where one can relax, lie back, and feel safe inside a makeshift womb.
To me it is a feminine haven, and my hope was that it would bring up similar feeling to those who also sat inside of it. When I presented it in class, people couldn’t stay out of it. Up to five people at a time were lying in the space, comfortably, commenting on how warm and beautiful it was.
One classmate said, “I feel proud of being a woman when I look at this.”
But beyond female recognition, many males had their perspectives slightly changed as well. Their actions were all filled with immense care and gentleness because they recognized they were in a place that maybe they didn’t fully understand.
The vagina isn’t a mystery, nor is it something to be afraid of. As a woman and a feminist, I am immensely proud of my body and what it stands for. The womb has the power to bring nourishment and life, and that is beautiful to me.
Overall it was a fascinating experience. No, I didn’t change the way the world looked at a woman’s body, but I did my best to press people to think about it differently. That’s the least I could do in thanks for the womb my mother provided me.
What about you? What do you think of my vagina?
Kelcie McKenney is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a major in Journalism and two minors in Design and Art. She is a writer, editor, designer and artist who is passionate about magazines. You can find her watching internet cat videos, eating brunch, taking photos, and reading mystery novels.