'Project Vulva' at Scripps criticized for alleged 'transmisogyny'

Last Thursday, students at Scripps College hosted an event at The Motley Coffeehouse called “Project Vulva” to initiate dialogue about the alleged 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 online from commenters who found it offensive to the trans community.

One commenter, who felt that Project Vulva’s claim that penises are not stigmatized was untrue, wrote that, “[s]ociety 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.”

“Right like this entire event is so incredibly violent to trans women specifically. I’m so disgusted,” said another commenter.

“Equating genitalia to a person’s gender is and always will be transphobic," a third commenter wrote.

“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,” a fourth person declared.

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 others in the conversation who felt that the word “attacked” has racist connotations.

“These women did not ‘attack’ you or your event,” one woman replied. “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 that, “[i]t 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.”

There was enough controversy that The Motley Coffeehouse's official Facebook account issued a statement on the event page.

“The Motley wants to validate and support the critiques that have been voiced concerning Project Vulva," the post said. "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.”

The coffeehouse declared that it would have "a space at Project Vulva devoted to interrogating the symbol of the vulva - what does it mean to you? Is it a symbol of strength? A reminder of being labeled as an “other” that is oppressive? We hope that providing the opportunity for written reflections about the vulva (which will be kept in our sitting room after the event) will help foster further dialogue and widen our perceptions of feminism to be more intersectional and inclusive."

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This article was originally published in the Claremont Independent, a conservative student newspaper affiliated with the Leadership Institute's Campus Leadership Program. Its articles are republished here with permission.