April 27, 2016

"Am I actually seeing vaginas here, am I a pervert? I’m either a pervert or this woman was a pervert."

Said the schoolteacher, drumming up interest in art by describing how someone viewing a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe might have felt. Allison Wint got fired for using the word "vagina" without prior approval as supposedly required by Harper Creek Middle School policy... though other teachers seem to be saying that what the policy requires is approval "before discussing reproductive health," and obviously the question of what a painting looks like is not about reproductive health.



I'd like to know the entire context, and so far I'm critical of the school for firing this woman, but I do have a few problems with what she said: 1. Please maintain the vulva/vagina distinction (especially if you want to rely on the claim that you were using anatomical terminology). 2. O'Keeffe paintings looking like genitalia is trite and probably too cheap of a way to try to get adolescents interested in art, and 3. Don't use the word "pervert" to describe people who are interested in looking at the details of genitalia! "Pervert" is the real bad word here. My dictionary — the OED — defines it as "A person whose sexual behaviour or inclinations are regarded as abnormal and unacceptable" and gives as the earliest historic use of the word — I'm not kidding — "The virulent fagotty-minded pervert Scheffler" (from 1856, R. A. Vaughan, Hours with Mystics).

48 comments:

campy said...

If you can't say penis you shouldn't be able to say vagina.

Because equality.

JPS said...

Prof. Althouse:

"Don't use the word "pervert" to describe people who are interested in looking at the details of genitalia!"

Can we use deviated pre-vert instead?

Rob said...

Imagined student response to AA version of the lecture: "It doesn't look anything like a Volvo to me."

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

The 8th grade me would have had absolutely no idea what ladyparts look like but I assume that the internet has changed all that.

mockturtle said...

Pervert? Of course it's ludicrous. Flowers, O'Keefe's subject, are sexual organs, after all. Portraying this artistically is hardly unnatural.

damikesc said...

Feminists seldom differentiate vaginas/vulvas. I don't expect more of teachers.

Michael K said...

I wonder what Dr Kellogg would think ? He invented the corn flake in Battle Creek and made a fortune.

I don't know how much he knew about vaginas, though.

I once knew someone who had a large painting in his living room that was a cross section of a penis.

MadisonMan said...

Looks like a shaded Cowboy's head to me.

Mrs Whatsit said...

How did we ever get to the point where the question of a painting's resemblance to a woman's genitalia is considered an appropriate topic for a MIDDLE SCHOOL art class, no matter what words are used?

The Godfather said...

According to Hillary!, "women's reproductive health" means abortion.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I saw my first stag film when I was a freshman in high school. Super 8 mm, no sound, projected against a friend's bedroom wall in total, absolute, 100% secrecy.

The image of tightly sealed vaginal lips pulsing forward and back with the movement of the shaft is seared, SEARED in my memory!

I wasn't able to put together a coherent thought for the next 10 minutes or so.

Earnest Prole said...

too lawyerly to arouse interest

C Stanley said...

I'm with Mrs Whatsit, and I assume the reason the policy only spoke to reproduction classes is that this is the only instance when previous generations of educators imagined that the topic of genitalia would possibly be appropriate in middle school classrooms.

Agree with Professor Althouse's too that (IMO possibly in a high school class) if OKeefe's "controversial" work is presented, this is trite and it should be nothing more than an aside- not the kind of groundbreaking deep discussion this teacher thought she was instigating. And, yes, the perversion angle was the most egregious because she was the one pushing the discussion toward titillation with that.

tim maguire said...

She has a pretty good point that using a euphemism would have turned it into a joke, but because she used the real term (yes, vulva is the "real" term, but using it would necessitate an even more inappropriate discussion) let them get past the giggles and have a substantive discussion. At least as she described it.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

...required by Harper Creek Middle School policy...

Are you sure that wasn't actually Harper Valley? Because I've heard stories about their PTA...

Michael K said...

"I saw my first stag film when I was a freshman in high school."

When I was in college, my girlfriend told me her sorority sisters wanted to see a stag film so I borrowed one and set it up in my tiny apartment. I then left so they could view it in private. That was about 1958. Well before the sexual revolution. Now, college girls are making stag films.

"vulva is the "real" term, but using it would necessitate an even more inappropriate discussion"

Do you know the difference between "uvula" and "vulva"?

One is "Ah." The other is "Ahhhhhhhh !"

An ICU nurse told me that one.

Saint Croix said...

Please maintain the vulva/vagina distinction

No! Never!

I'm okay with "Bermuda Triangle,:" however.

Schorsch said...

I was fully on her side, from the less-detailed reports I read. Now I'm also appalled she implied it was "pervert(ed)" to see body parts symbolized in paintings. Still against firing her, but she should know better than to bring up perversion when talking about genitals with students. Not that the caution is right, just that it is necessary.

Saint Croix said...

I don't know how that sneaky colon got in there.

rhhardin said...

Vagina is a euphemism for vulva.

rhhardin said...

The -vert words are from turn. Some preposition wants to add how you're turned.

rhhardin said...

Pharmasist lady humor: How do you tell an oral from a rectal thermometer? The taste.

Guildofcannonballs said...


"I'd like to know the entire context"

Say it again. That'l.

Fair enough decency requires; You'll always know you or any man lacks the entire.

Why expound?

Fernandinande said...

the earliest historic use of the word...(from 1856, R. A. Vaughan, Hours with Mystics).

That's odd. Google ngram shows that "pervert" was popular in 1800, peaked in 1812, declined until about 1930, then flat since. Here it shows 1300 and 1660.

AlbertAnonymous said...

Michael K-

That's like the difference between oral sex and anal sex...

Oral sex makes your whole day, anal sex makes your hole weak.

Ann Althouse said...

"That's odd. Google ngram shows that "pervert" was popular in 1800, peaked in 1812, declined until about 1930, then flat since. Here it shows 1300 and 1660."

There is an earlier meaning. The sexual meaning begins where I put it. The earlier meaning is, per OED, "A person who has been perverted; spec. a person who has forsaken a doctrine or system regarded as true for one thought false (opposed to convert n. 1); an apostate."

Ann Althouse said...

"1661 T. Blount Glossographia (ed. 2) Pervert, one that is turned from good to evil; as Convert is the contrary."

There's older stuff like that, but it's not the meaning the teacher was using or the one we are familiar with.

Ann Althouse said...

I guess originally the idea was that there was a limited sexual orthodoxy and someone who didn't adhere to it was forsaking doctrine. Some people still seem to view homosexuality that way.

Owen said...

Saint Croix: making me laugh. Thanks.

"Pervert" is just a conclusion. It tells us nothing really about the underlying facts, just what the speaker thinks about them.

The more I see of Georgia O'Keefe's work, the more I admire it within its obvious limits.

John Tuffnell said...

The substitute teacher could have used the "The Joy of Painting With Georgia O'Keefe" as a supplement to the educational opportunity discussing her work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRkq3QbAVrg

madAsHell said...

The grill on the front of the 2012 Subaru Tribeca was referred to as the "flying vagina".

mikee said...

I recall my favorite 9th grade teacher, a saucy redheaded 22 year old fresh out of college, who noted the class was falling asleep one day and announced a pop quiz. We all got out paper and pencils, and she wrote on the board, "Why are blondes more fun?"

She let us stew over our answers for about 15 seconds, then broke up laughing and said, "Because they're easier to find in the dark." The class descended into hysterics for about 30 seconds, then she clapped her hands and continued with the boring lesson.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said... My dictionary — the OED — defines it as

Your dictionary, ma'am?? Talk about cultural appropriation.

defines it as "A person whose sexual behaviour or inclinations are regarded as abnormal and unacceptable"

That's problematic (as the kids allegedly say) since no sexual inclination is allowed to be defined as abnormal (much less unacceptable). Some behaviors are still allowed to be found unacceptable (molestation, sexual assault, etc), but generally only in the sense that they're violations of some law (and for only that reason).
I agree the problem with her statement was the "pervert" angle. I disagree with your implied argument that there is come correct and acceptable usage of the word pervert in our modern culture. Being sex-positive means there's no such thing as unacceptable (sexual) inclinations...and if you're not sex-positive you're anti-feminist, anti-woman, and "objectively pro-rape."

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

"O'Keefe paintings looking like genitalia is trite and probably too cheap of a way to try to get adolescents interested in art."

Seriously? Seriously? It often appeared to me that the creepy art teachers were practically giddy when covering O'Keefe merely BECAUSE it gave them the chance to talk about/not really talk about/but actually talk about the resemblance of her stuff to women's junk. If there's one thing lefties and intellectuals and NPR listeners love it's a chance to blather on-- in code-- about the whispering eye.

walter said...

The Altparse runs deep here. The classroom wasn't an appropriate place for this level of freewheeling chatter. But this person appears to be alluding to having an unhealthy fixation on genitalia. Seeing them everywhere..or umm..inserting them into everything they do.

Fernandinande said...

John Tuffnell said...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRkq3QbAVrg


Funny!

Ann Althouse said...
The sexual meaning begins where I put it.


Maybe. Here's the source of the 'faggoty' quote ("Hours with Mystics"). It's about religion, Eastern and Western mysticism and a book called "The Cherubic Wanderer", not about sex:

"The author of this book has been generally identified, on grounds altogether inadequate, with a contemporary named John Scheffler, — a renegade from Jacob Behmen to the Pope. Suffice it to say that no two men could be more unlike than the virulent fagotty-minded pervert Scheffler, and the contemplative pantheistic Angelus — be he who he may."

AllenS said...

You know what looks like a vagina, besides a vagina? Your appendix when viewed from your colon. At least mine does.

n.n said...

Rorschach test. You failed.

Marc Puckett said...

I'll point out that it seems to be generally accepted that Johann Scheffler is Angelus Silesius, who wrote Cherubinic Wanderer. Scheffler converted (was 'a pervert') to the Catholic religion, yes, and is considered by many to be a praiseworthy writer about spirituality. Joseph Fessio SJ has recorded the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar's selection of couplets from Cherubinic Wanderer here: [https://angelicpilgrim.com/].

Robert Alfred Vaughn appears to have been a Congregationalist minister whose views of the Roman Church were... unfortunate if not unusual in his religious and social milieux, although he was an ardent anti-slavery campaigner.

wildswan said...

We evolved from plants (by way of early pre-animals) and so why should not our reproductive forms resemble each other? But I would not bring it up with 8th graders accompanied graphic art, great or otherwise, and loaded words like "perverted". That is turning a question in plant morphology from good to evil.

Clyde said...

This is sort of like that cowboy shadow drawing from the other day. I see the genitalia, but I also see two long-legged pink people bumping booties, from the waist down.

Or as the patient said to the shrink with the ink blots, "Hey, I'm not the one with all the dirty pictures!'

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

It's an opportunity to bring up my judo-like Plan for Bathrooms, namely just mark the doors with pictures of genitalia. That way nobody is identified as a man or a woman.

The pic would be a fine decoration for the former ladies' room door, in this plan.

openidname said...

No fair jumping on her use of "pervert."

Her remark started: "Imagine walking into a gallery when (O’Keefe) was first showing her pieces . . . ." That would have been roughly in the 1920's. At that time, people who created porn and people who sought out porn were considered perverts.

It's actually a workmanlike attempt to get the students to understand the historical context of the art.

tim in vermont said...

Firing her was an over the top cave to imagined incoming pressure. Imagine how every other teacher feels right now. "Pour decourager les autres" is the purpose of that policy, I am guessing.

Michael Edward McNeil said...

We evolved from plants (by way of early pre-animals)…

No we (animals) didn't. If animals evolved from plants, then (eukaryotic) animal cells would contain chloroplasts — which they don't. Instead, (eukaryotic) plant cells contain mitochondria, which shows that plants evolved from animals.

mikee said...

Who is the male genitalia equivalent of O'Keefe?
All you Art History majors, to your keyboards!

mikee said...

Google answered my question, never mind. Rafael wins!
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/28/penis-art-guide_n_5614173.html