Last Thursday, students at Scripps College hosted an event at The Motley called “Project Vulva” to initiate dialogue about the stigmatization of vulvas in society. “Why is it that, generally, society is so comfortable with the image of the penis and vulvas are considered taboo?” states Project Vulva’s Facebook page. “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.”
Project Vulva’s organizers described the event as “an educational and interactive art show displaying your friends [sic] depictions when we asked them, ‘Can you draw a vulva?’ We will also have cupcakes that you can decorate like vulvas. Supplies are limited!” The event’s stated goal was “to create an open dialouge [sic] educating people about the vulva in order to confront society’s stigmas and stereotypes, and make people more comfortable with the many varying images and types of cis and non-cis vulvas.”
However, the event faced harsh backlash from students who found it offensive to the trans community. One student, who felt that Project Vulva’s claim that penises are not stigmatized was untrue, wrote, “Society is not comfortable with the image of a penis on a woman. This event feels extremely transmisogynistic and to say penises are universally accepted as non-taboo is transmisogynistic. I can’t say I’m surprised though. There are infinitely many ways to celebrate genitals without making transmisogynistic remarks in the process.”
Another commenter wrote, “Right like this entire event is so incredibly violent to trans women specifically. I’m so disgusted.” The comment went on to state, “Equating genitalia to a person’s gender is and always will be transphobic.”
In defense of the event, one student tried to clarify the event’s description and commented, “I’m not really trying to protect transmisogyny and I honestly don’t know why you’d accuse me of that.” However, the comment only sparked further backlash.
“I don’t need your help parsing out the finer details of this garbage, cis, white event,” responded one commenter. “A trans woman is telling y’all this makes her feel uncomfortable and that’s not enough for you to rethink your stance on this? You’re gross, this whole thing is gross, have fun with your ugly cupcakes.”
The conversation intensified as more people defended the event, with one commenter arguing that students have a right “to try to explain our purpose and ask questions when attacked.” This outraged other students who felt that the word “attacked” has racist connotations.
“These women did not ‘attack’ you or your event,” replied one student. “You responded to their very very very credible and personal (as trans women of color) critique by using racialized terms (such as ‘attack’) to discredit their actions and hence discredit anything they are pointing out to you. That is wrong and racist.”
In response to these concerns, one of Project Vulva’s organizers wrote, “It has come to our attention that certain aspects of our project implied a binary perception of gender, as well as a limited relationship between gender and genitalia. We apologize to those offended. We strive to be as inclusive as possible, which is why we are doing our best to incorporate all viewpoints into discussion. We hope that everyone can attend our event and continue to have progressive conversations.”
Additionally, officials from The Motley issued a statement: “The Motley wants to validate and support the critiques that have been voiced concerning Project Vulva. 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.”