Skip to main content

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

By Lisa Brown, Special to CNN
updated 11:14 AM EDT, Thu June 21, 2012
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
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT