Apple’s “Vagina” Ban is a Bigger Deal Than You Think
Tech behemoth Apple has had a few run-ins with casual sexism over the past few years. After Siri was introduced, it soon became clear that the software had trouble finding abortion clinics, but was very capable of finding escort services. A writer at Jezebel noted that her iPhone will not autocorrect a misspelling of “vagina,” no matter how clear it is that that’s the word she intended. Now it’s come to light that Apple will not engrave the words “clit” or “vagina” on their products. (But don’t worry, bros. “Dick” and “penis” are still A-OK.)
Justyn Hintze bought a new iPad and decided to get the lyrics to one of her favorite songs engraved on the back. This is something you can do when you buy Apple products from the Apple website. The lyrics she wanted engraved used “clit.” However, Hintze got an error when she tried to enter the lyrics. After some investigation, Hintze noticed that “clit” and “vagina” are flagged as inappropriate language while “penis” and “dick” are not.
This type of reaction to the mere mention of the female anatomy is nothing new. In 2011 a Florida state representative was chastised for saying the word “uterus” on the state house floor during a debate over abortion restrictions. Girls are told all the time how their outfits provoke boys into misbehaving and that they should therefore cover up. This is just one more log on the body-shaming fire.
The cumulative effect of our society-wide fear of lady-bits has a broader impact, however, and at the highest levels. After several decades of progress, the women’s rights movement seems to have stalled in a lot of ways. Reproductive rights, which are rightly considered necessary in any free society, are under continuous attack. Meanwhile, gay rights have been steadily gaining victory after victory. While not the same thing, the feminist movement and the gay rights movement have a lot in common. Both are about shedding the requirements of a heterosexual male dominated society. The two movements just focus on how that overarching social structure punishes different groups of people. In many ways, feminism and gay rights are natural allies.
So why has one taken off and the other stalled? Mark Joseph Stern at Slate has a theory. He argues — persuasively, I think — that it comes down to sex and Americans’ squeamishness when it comes to sexually active women. While, over time, the gay rights movement has managed to make the discussion about the dignity of LGBT people, women’s reproductive health is still seen as something that only dirty sluts undeserving of any legal protections need to worry about. This attitude reaches up in the higher echelons of government:
That last point is important. Even in a ruling legalizing gay sex, [Justice Anthony] Kennedy paints in the broad strokes of “liberty” rather than cabining his opinion in a cramped discussion of sodomy. Yet his views on abortion seem deeply informed by a puritanical disapproval of women who have sex for fun. Arch right-winger Justice Samuel Alito’s recent Hobby Lobby opinion evinced a similar sententious squeamishness about non-procreative sex. Conservatives clearly refuse to acknowledge women’s sexual freedom as a fundamental right, instead dismissing the whole concept as a liberal crock meant to excuse women from the consequences of their libidinous actions.
What does this have to do with Apple’s double standard? Everything. Men (well, straight men, anyway) are constantly being encouraged to own their sexuality. For them, it’s something natural and the desire for sex is not something that needs to be repressed. For women it’s different. Women are constantly being told that we are the sexual gatekeepers. Women are not supposed to want sex. We need to make sure that men and boys control themselves. We are the ones who are asking for harassment by wearing shorts and a tank top. We can’t talk about our sexual urges because that’s not what good women do.
Apple’s policy against engraving “vagina” and “clit” but it’s apparent ease with words like “dick” and “penis” are an extension of this attitude. The lesson here is that men’s sexuality is normal and should be celebrated while women’s sexuality is abnormal and shameful. Apple’s engraving policy may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a symptom of one of the biggest battles we have to fight.
Photo Credit: matt buchanan via Flickr