Allison Wint had been employed as a substitute art teacher at Harper Creek Middle School in Battle Creek, Michigan, since January, but was unceremoniously fired last week after having the gall to use the word “vagina” during an art history lesson on Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe, as many are aware, was an artist well known for her abstract paintings of flowers bearing a resemblance to vaginas — or, “dirty boxes,” as is the Battle Creek school board’s approved term for female genitalia, probably.
Shortly after having taught the class, Wint was pulled aside by the school’s principal, Kim Thayer, who informed her that she was being relieved of her position. Wint was told that she had violated the school handbook, which states that “teachers are required to get advanced approval when discussing any form of reproductive health.”
Due to her contract as a substitute teacher, Wint could be let go at any time and for any reason. Still, she was clearly gobsmacked.
At some point, Wint remembers saying: “Imagine walking into a gallery when [O’Keefe] was first showing her pieces, and thinking, ‘Am I actually seeing vaginas here, am I a pervert? I’m either a pervert or this woman was a pervert.’ ”
She was hoping to have a thoughtful dialogue with a class of about two dozen eighth-graders on Thursday – but school officials have said her lesson ran afoul of policies. Through the course of the lecture, she went on to use the word vagina “maybe 10 times,” she said. “But it was never in a vulgar capacity.”
This is not the first time the word has come under fire in the state of Michigan. In 2012 state Rep. Lisa Brown was blocked from speaking after telling supporters of an abortion regulation bill that she was “flattered they were all so interested in her vagina.”
Wint says she’s not fighting her termination, and despite the fact that she didn’t know about the school’s policy, harbors no ill will toward the school board. But maybe she should be mad. If not at the school board or state of Michigan, though, then who?
Interestingly enough, The Daily Show tackled this very subject Tuesday night in a segment about New York’s controversial tampon tax, which led to “senior period correspondent” Michelle Wolf pointing out the ludicrous way we use code words instead of just saying “menstruation” or “vagina.”
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In a nutshell: “Even the woman trying to pass a tampon-safety law can’t say the name of the place that we put them.” Vagina: It’s not a dirty word, people.