Vaginas have been having a moment. Last month, we celebrated the work of The Labia Libary to show, through a gallery of user-submitted images, that "normal" labia = whatever labia you've got. We applauded when Orange Is The New Black's Sophia gathered her fellow inmates to demystify their own genitalia, and celebrated a video of adult women seeing their vulvas for the first time. Despite all this progress in toppling the taboo, as a culture we remain largely embarrassed — even ashamed — to discuss female anatomy (oh, hey there, award-winning news anchor struggling to say the word "vagina" with a straight face on national television).
Unfortunately, we're also not the only country wrestling with vagina anxiety. On Saturday, police in Japan arrested artist Megumi Igarashi, pseudonym "Rokudenashiko" or "Good-For-Nothing Girl," on obscenity charges. Her crime? Emailing a digital scan of her vulva to funders of her campaign to create a "life-size pussy boat." That's right: a real-life, working kayak in the shape of her vagina. This project was the latest and most ambitious in 42-year-old Igarashi's quest to normalize the vagina through art (while the vagina and the vulva are not technically one and the same, Igarashi uses the words interchangeably, as is sometimes done colloquially). "When I pronounce the word 'vagina,' men especially get very angry with me," Igarashi says in the video above. "Don’t be angry. Vagina is just a word."
Igarashi has been making molds of her anatomy for years. In one sculpture series, she decorates 3D models of her vagina to look like different landscapes: a golf course; the surface of the moon, complete with astronaut figurines; a nuclear cleanup site (a doubly-subversive diorama). It all started with curiosity about her own body, followed by the idea to use her own quirky brand of humor to push vaginas into the mainstream. "They never show the vagina in the media, so I didn’t know what a normal vagina looked like," she explains. "I was wondering if mine was weird. So, that's why I made a mold."
Igarashi turned to crowdfunding site Campfire to finance her "vagina boat," which was met with wild enthusiasm. She raised about one million yen (almost $10,000) — twice the amount she originally sought — to make her graphic kayak a reality. As part of the campaign, she sent funders who had donated the yen equivalent of about $30 or more a scan of her own vulva and instructions on how to use it to create a 3D-printed model (basically a normal Kickstarter gift, only racier).
It's these emails that have Igarashi facing obscenity charges that will slap her with two years in jail or a maximum 2.5 million yen ($25,000) fine if she's convicted. She denies that the emailed imagery qualifies as "obscene," and her fans have sprung into action with a Japanese Change.org petition urging authorities to drop the charges against her. Already, the petition has gathered nearly 18,000 signatures — but this support may not be enough to ensure Igarashi's freedom. Sadly, discomfort with female anatomy knows no cultural bounds.