I am not sure how many of my readers will have had the speculum experience. It was profound. I encountered my first friendly speculum in Newcastle in the late seventies on my first venture to a women’s conference.
Feminism had come to me after I sent for various magazines in The Guardian, Along with Spare Rib and Shrew was one called Women’s Voice and this was delivered to my door by a member of IS( International Socialist) an excellent woman brought it to me and I became part of a group which included a Communist, several Labour Party women an IMG ( International Marxist group) member and a few nonaligned characters including me and a wonderful doctor called Helena who willed specula when she very sadly died at an absurdly early age.
The group was a marvellous revelation for me: A group of women prepared to argue the toss with very little provocation, to raise their voices with no comeback and women who never spoke of soft, or hard, furnishings or nappies. We were all in agreement about the pro abortion campaign, anti apartheid and all against nuclear weapons and for the moment that was enough. It felt like coming home, a sisterhood, a gaggle of friends who accepted me. We would have our meetings, go to the pub afterwards and often we went skinny dipping at Sandbanks. I think I was in love with the entire women’s movement. I was the only one of us who could get away to go to the Newcastle Conference. I felt I was carrying the banner for us all…
In spite of traversing from Southampton to Newcastle with not a word addressed to me, having my bed given away by my roommate and a rather random disco I was intent on getting the very most from the experience of being with so many women .
I had not encountered a speculum before though I had been prodded and poked ‘down there’ but I hadn’t liked to enquire as to the instrument. In fact I was not sure what one was, but all was explained to us by an energetic enlightened woman who would have made an excellent saleswoman. Some of us paled a little when the process was explained. I had on my new dungarees and the very thought of removing them – with the entire attendant undressing horrified me and along with my ancient baggy knickers I felt compelled to refrain. But there were a couple of women all too eager to step up –as it were – and cast off their underwear. We watched cautiously, we less bold women but we were impressed and when we were offered a mirror for self examination, I for one was rather keen to see my nether regions in glorious close up. I adjourned to the privacy of the loo and later, at home I gave myself a comprehensive once over.
In fact I think this experience was extremely important. It demystified a part of me that my mother referred to as ‘down there’ and though my own generation had both cute and scabrous names for our vaginas – we had never thought to have a close look at them. The process of learning to love that part of ourselves, not finding it ugly and unacceptable was difficult for some women though I went to it with some alacrity. I had always enjoyed sex and I found that this increased my enjoyment. I had also had female lovers from time to time and my new fanny fascination made this more fun. The vagina has had a bad press from males, smelly, peculiar, ugly, to be used but not loved? All this stuff that we have read, heard, internalised (?) Now I hear that the fashion is for a totally hair free territory ‘down there’. I am not quite ready for this, I like my bush. While the penis has been admired, compared, looked at with adoration and exposed with wanton abandon we females have been told to cover–up and deodorise. Keep it safely in your knickers…
The conference carried on with many workshops on equal pay, violence against women and equality in the home, among others. I teamed up with two women who came on the minibus with me and we made our carnivorous way to curry houses in Newcastle town. Apparently our conference drank more beer that any other one that year – though this may be a legend. Every workshop I attended included an extremely aggressive woman who yelled at the group leader/facilitator ‘You want to try being a working class dyke in Brighton’ I told her that I had no inclination to accept her offer and she got very angry, grabbed me in a terrifying manner and shook me until my teeth rattled. I shut up.
In fact there was rather a lot of anger in the air at this conference and the women who had driven us from Southampton decided to stay an extra day to join a lesbian only separate workshop, leaving us with no driver. I had to get back to work as did others in our group; fortunately one brave soul among us had a provisional licence and elected to drive us home. I look back on this conference as a learning experience in all kinds of ways but the speculum experience was the most important one – that and not to be a smart arse with tough women.
Coming back to my own lovely friendly group who, in spite of our political differences actually LIKED one another was a profound relief and I know that that feminism changed my attitude, and my life, in many ways and that the speculum was very much part of that.
This very week I heard of some new vaginal wipe to eliminate the odour ofa hot noni and I wondered what was wrong with washing? But no, there is profit in persecuting that particular perfume, remember the vaginal sprays of the seventies? all lavender coloured or pale pink with several floweryl perfumes. They were, apparently damaging to health and died a death. But undeterred here is another product to smear on our ‘front bottoms’ (my fave euphemism) let’s call a cunt by it’s own sweet name eh?
I should be interested to know of any other speculum speculations.