It’s the kind of insult you might expect a teenage boy to spit out, furious that he has been turned down by a girl or hurt that his mutating masculinity has been threatened.
But, in an attempt to excuse himself from accusations that he abused hundreds of female patients, Dr George Tyndall, a 71-year-old gynaecologist this week resorted to that tried and tested formula: ridiculing women’s vaginas.
His theory is that those who reported him – nurses who had witnessed his behaviour firsthand – did so “because they had trouble reaching orgasm and were jealous of young patients with tighter pelvic muscles.”
The details of the story are horrific: since the 1990s complaints had been raised about Dr George Tyndall’s methods, questioning his excessive use of cameras to photograph patient’s genitals, his sexual comments while examining women and inappropriately using his fingers at the beginning of pelvic exams.
Witness nurses report that Tyndall used the same phrase with hundreds of women when intimately examining them: “My, what a tight muscle you have. You must be a runner.”
Now, there are a whole catalogue of insults aimed at women’s genitals, from those slurs that have transferred into mainstream swearing to those designed to mock the way women look and smell down there. We live in a world infused with phallic imagery while women’s nipples are still censored on Instagram. It is one of humanity’s greatest cons that men have developed to expect sex from women, while being publicly repulsed by female genitals.
It is because of the way those genitals are viewed culturally that all over the world women try to change them. They clean and preen them, steam and shave them, lighten and tighten them all in the hope that they will be more aesthetically acceptable – primarily to men. It is why very young girls consider surgery before they have even had an opportunity to understand their own bodies.
But this specific slander – that a woman has a “baggy” or “saggy” or “bucket” vagina – is especially complex, with so many layers of shame woven into it. The metaphors for a woman having a “loose vagina” have become ever more imaginative: “a hot dog down a hallway” or “a needle floating in a bucket of warm water”. If the pieces don’t fit together that well, it is of course the woman who is at fault.
No man is angrily shouting that a woman has a “massive clit” because for so long, the clitoris has not been relevant to heterosexual men having sex
So much of society still considers sex to be penetrative sex. Specifically, P in V. That pointy emoji next to the OK sign emoji. And fetishising vaginal tightness is not only playing to this specific form of sex, but it is prioritising the man’s pleasure in the process.
No man is angrily shouting that a woman has a “massive clit” because for so long, the clitoris has not been relevant to heterosexual men having sex. Even though Tyndall, as a gynaecologist, avoids the quintessential error of mistaking the vulva for the vagina, his obsession with “pelvic muscles” does exactly the same thing, especially in linking pelvic muscles to ability to orgasm.
Particularly cruel is that vaginal tightness for women is so often linked with pain. It might be a symptom of vaginismus or another condition that makes penetrative sex difficult, uncomfortable or even agonising for a woman. It could be as a result of a form of female genital mutilation or the horrifying post-birth “husband stitch”.
But, as journalist Lili Loofbourow wrote, the accepted cost of male pleasure is female pain. And for many men, sex without successful penetration, is not sex at all.
Unsurprisingly, the preoccupation with the elasticity of women’s genitals is guided by total misinformation. Vaginas are designed to be more flexible and adaptable than any other body part. The only thing that can affect a vagina long-term is physical trauma i.e. childbirth. And considering what that can entail, a penis is small fry. Ironic, considering that a byproduct of desiring “tight” women is, of course, evidence of one’s magnificent proportions.
But it is also seen as confirmation that a woman has not had too much sex, fetishising the image of a virginal young woman being unblemished and pure, suggesting to a man that he is special, maybe he is even the first. She saved herself for him.
Because the urban myth that a woman with a “loose vagina” evidently has loose morals, persists. When men insult the size or shape of a woman’s genitals (which is remarkably rich, considering the variety of all human bodies), they also intend on insulting her moral compass, her common decency and her honour, all of which society still persists in upholding as denotations of a woman’s value. She is a slut and a slag and a tart and all the other words that society has invented to shame women who have sex.
From the centuries-old glorification of hymens to today’s popular porn search terms, the elusive “tightness” of a woman’s genitals is desired by men who seek reassurance alongside their own pleasure. Who either misunderstand women’s bodies or simply do not care about them.
“Loose” and “tight” – and all their many synonyms – are the Madonna-Whore complex distilled into genital descriptors. And they are just as reductive.