Vulva. There. I said it. I don't think it’s particularly scary but some people clearly do as this marvellous cartoon from the 1800s of a woman flashing her fanny at a terrified devil shows.
It was shared on Twitter by @WhoresOfYore. The poem underneath is hard to make out, but it goes like this:
Once on a time the Sire of evil
In plainer English call’d the devil
Some new experiment to try
At Chloe cast a roguish eye
But she who all his arts defied
Pull’d up and shew’d her sexes pride
A thing all shagg’d about with hair
So much it made old Satan stare
Who frightend at the grim display
Takes to his heels and runs away
There are so many things to love about this. I love how cheery Chloe looks, bundling her skirts up around her waist and wiggling her woo-woo at the source of all evil. I love the detail of Chloe’s vulva itself, how it’s big and puffy and speckled with hair rather than being neat and tucked away. I love how the devil, incredibly powerful, full of bulging muscles, with impressive wings and scary horns, is so scared of tiny little Chloe and her cloven tuft that he’s violently recoiling from her, hands thrown in the air in horror. Even his enormous penis is swinging away from her, lest her snatch snatches it up and does terrible things to it.
But mainly, it’s the idea that in the 1800s people thought that a vulva was so horrifying it could scare the devil himself. Satan could cope with the horrors of hell and positively enjoyed all the sin and evil on earth, but the one hairy hoo-ha was enough to send him packing.
Scary vaginas are a theme throughout history. Stories of vaginas with teeth are everywhere – in Hinduism, Shiva is killed with a toothed vagina and hundreds have cultures have legends about vagina dentata which castrated men who entered it. Many cultures and religions have rules about what women can and can’t do on their periods because of worries that a bleeding bajingo could curdle milk, sour wine and blight crops. Even Freud theorised that a mother’s lack of penis was terrifying to children because it carried with it the threat of castration.
Are we still scared of the vulva? I feel like I see penises all the time, in films and on TV and drawn on bus stops, but I can’t remember the last time I came face to face with a front bottom. People are trying to change this, though, with comedians like Amy Schumer making more jokes about their muffs than your nan would think was polite, Etsy artists making ovary pin badges, and musicians wearing dresses with the female reproductive system on them on the red carpet.
Hopefully the world is slowly getting used to the idea that vulvas and vaginas are actually absolutely fine – although I must admit, there is a small part of me that will miss carrying around the ability to scare Lucifer in my pants.