Skip to main content

Lisa Brown: Silenced for saying (shock!) 'vagina'

By Lisa Brown, Special to CNN
June 21, 2012 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michigan state Rep. Lisa Brown said "vagina" in addressing strict anti-abortion proposals
  • Republicans decried use of the word; banned her and a colleague from the House floor
  • Women rallied to defend Brown, saying she was silenced for speaking out on health care
  • Republican men didn't get it, and if they don't wise up, they will lose their seats, she says

Editor's note: Lisa Brown is serving her second term as a state representative for Michigan, representing the 39th District, which includes Commerce Township, West Bloomfield and Wolverine Lake.

(CNN) -- One week ago, the Michigan House of Representatives was taking up some of the most restrictive anti-choice legislation in the country. It was in the context of this bill that I said, "Finally Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means 'no.'"

You can watch me say that here. My comment is made around the 1:50 mark, and you can see exactly how the legislators seated behind me reacted. While there was a scatter of applause from my colleagues, there were no dropped jaws, bulging eyes or fainting. In fact, the only remarkable thing about their response is that there was virtually no response at all.

Not until the next day. That's when I got word that Republican House leaders had banned me and my colleague Rep. Barb Byrum from speaking on the House floor. I was shocked.

Given my speech, I could only assume it was because I spoke to my Jewish values or because I had said vagina. But later that day, Rep. Mike Callton told the press that what I had said was so vile, so disgusting, that he could never bear to mention it in front of women or "mixed company."

Lisa Brown
Lisa Brown

Since we share the same religion, I'm guessing he wasn't referring to my kosher sets of dishes. Even though Callton has a bachelor's degree in biology and worked as a chiropractor, it was the word "vagina" that did him in.

As a storm of protest grew against our silencing and women across the state started to rally around my use of the word vagina, Republicans changed course. They insisted they had no problem with vaginas. Byrum and I were being punished for our lack of decorum. We were accused of throwing a "temper tantrum."

Women protest 'vagina' censorship
Lawmaker banned for saying 'vagina'
Michigan lawmakers silenced for remarks

Take another look at the video. Do you see a temper tantrum? Does that look like a group of people shocked by what we said or how we behaved?

Vagina enters stage left -- or is it right?

When complaints about our banning picked up pace, Republicans tried again. This time, their story was that I was kept from speaking because I said "no means no."

As Republicans continued to throw mud against the wall to see what stuck, they only made it worse for themselves. Thousands of women, not only in Michigan but across the country and even around the globe, saw exactly what was going on. What they saw was a male-dominated legislative body going to great lengths to silence two women who dared speak in opposition to a measure that would limit access to our health care. They saw it, and they didn't like it.

Among the people watching this unfold was Eve Ensler, who wrote the award-winning play, "The Vagina Monologues." Ensler, who has worked for nearly 20 years to empower women and undo the shame many of us are taught to feel toward our bodies, didn't just see a group of mostly male legislators freaking out about "vagina." She saw them trying to shut women up at the same time they were trying to pass laws about our health.

She wouldn't stand for it. That's why she came to Lansing this week to lead a performance of "The Vagina Monologues." Thousands of men, women and children showed up to see it and show their support for Byrum and me.

In the aftermath of this, Rep. Jim Stamas, whose job it was to issue the edict against me, said he "honestly had no idea it would become such an issue." I find it amazing that a fellow legislator wouldn't understand why it's outrageous not to just silence me, but my 90,000 constituents.

I hope he and his fellow Republicans get it now. If not, the election this November will surprise them even more.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lisa Brown.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT