A Line In The Sand: Crude body language, or is it time to grow up?

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VAGINA: the passage leading from the uterus to the vulva in a female mammal.

That’s it. Exactly what it is.

So why have we gone into a flurry over the use of the word on our television screens?

Within hours of Carefree going to air with its latest advertisement encouraging women to talk about natural female bodily functions this week, the advertising watchdog was swamped with complaints.

The ad features a naked woman, tastefully positioned behind white flowers, talking about female hygiene products – during which she uses the words vagina and menstruation.

But those two words sent viewers into a frenzy.

The Advertising Standards Bureau received more than 40 complaints up until 3pm yesterday, most of which were concerned with the use of the “anatomical word” vagina, that the advertisement raised the “taboo issue” of menstruation and featured a naked woman.

But why?

It’s not a fanny, front bottom, pippy, v-jayjay or ginie, or whatever nickname your parents gave it – it’s a vagina. And it has a purpose, which relates to menstruation.

These are key words in a woman’s life, and perfectly natural. And they are key factors in what we celebrate about women – and that is the beautiful event of childbirth.

We owe it to ourselves and our daughters to be honest about how the female body works and proud of how remarkable it is.

So how can we celebrate women for the beauty of a natural event, when we shame them into using words other than those given to the process?

One in two people have a vagina – so why can’t we name it? Instead, Carefree will now be asked to defend its advertisement.

It will respond to the complaints and put its case to the Advertising Standards Bureau – with a decision on whether the ad will continue to air expected before the month’s end.

Rather than being forced to defend the move, Carefee should be congratulated for taking a natural issue and using real words to describe it.

There is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing to defend.

But it seems Australians are quick to complain to the advertising watchdog when they are confronted by issues that make them uncomfortable and challenge their own beliefs.

Rather than keeping an open mind and accepting that advertising is meant to appeal to its own market, many think their differing views mean advertisements are wrong.

Last year, the most complained about advertisement was a poster promoting safe sex in the gay community.

It was dismissed on the grounds the ad was in favour of the important health message the advertisement portrayed.

ASB chief executive officer Fiona Jolly said the board “considered that while some members of the community would prefer not to see this issue advertised, the public health message overrides any social sensitivity”.

And what a sensible approach.

Why should an important message be lost because a minority feel uncomfortable about an ad?

It’s easy to switch off the television – if that’s what you want to do.

But don’t expect the ASB to remove an advertisement simply because it challenges you and makes you squirm.

We can only hope the same sensible approach will be taken this time – and words that are natural to a woman can no longer be taboo or bring shame.

- Nicole Ferrie is the Bendigo Advertiser’s deputy editor.

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