Vagina Uprising Allows Free Speech For All
Many people recently added mansplaining to their vocabularies, a way of talking used frequently during the election. After Hillary Clinton’s surprise defeat, Elissa Weinzimmer, a vocal health educator, decided to go public with her “Speaking from the Vagina” sessions, starting Dec. 3.
For more than a year, these women’s circles have been private as she and her friends experimented with “Vagina Scrums.” “Right now is all about voices,” said Weinzimmer, 31, a resident of Williamsburg. “People who didn’t raise their voices, people who felt their voices didn’t matter, and people who finally felt they had a voice,” Weinzimmer told YogaCity NYC’s Ann Votaw:
Ann Votaw: Why was the election a call of action?
Elissa Weinzimmer: I think the people who voted for Trump have been feeling disenfranchised and silenced for a long time, and this election has simply brought their feelings to light.
AV: Why make your forums public?
EW: I’ve been wanting to launch this for a long time but I’ve been scared. The election
proved to me that this is the time.
AV: Would you explain that?
EW: I’ve been afraid I will alienate people, some who are clients. So far I’ve been the woman who talks about vocal health, and now I’m becoming the girl who talks about voice and vaginas.
AV: Tell me about vaginas as a source of communication?
EW: When it comes to feminism, a lot of the body focus has been about what we put in or on our bodies, but not about embodiment itself. But our connection to our body, vagina included, is an incredible source of feeling that fuels our ability to communicate. At first I considered teaching a class called “Speak From Your Vagina,” but I teach in every aspect of my life. Instead I thought I could facilitate a group of friends to explore embodied movement, voice and what it means to be feminine. The first women’s circle was October 2015. We had no agenda. The thing that kept coming up was power. Can it be feminine? Is it only masculine? Does it have a gender? Since then, we have done nine “Vagina Scrums,” one almost every month.
AV: What on earth is a scrum?
EW: In rugby, the players put their heads in the middle to restart a play. But it’s also what people in software development call a brainstorming session. Someone in the group suggested that our meetings were scrums.
AV: What is the format of a Vagina Scrum?
EW: Each one has had a theme like authenticity, intimacy or lineage. We start with a practice that involves voice or movement. For the intimacy scrum we did a lot of eye gazing, which actually was really intense. Then we have a potluck followed by a discussion on the theme. Moving forward, we plan to have scrums on the third Saturday of the month in different homes anywhere in the world, led by anyone who wants to host a scrum. They are three hours, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. and the whole thing gets kicked off with a larger-scale event on Dec. 3 in New York City.
AV: You raised $1,000 for Hillary Clinton using this idea. How did you do that?
EW: In fairness, most of the people attending that fundraiser had no idea I was using the structure of a Vagina Scrum. But yes, I organized a fundraiser for the Hillary Clinton campaign in late September, leading a workshop called “Raising the Female Voice,” that men also attended. Going forward, I would like to figure out a way to include all genders in this movement. We’re interested in exploring the feminine. That doesn’t necessarily mean female.
AV: What came up in your fundraiser workshop?
EW: A lot about “shoulds.” What should we look like. What should sound like. We get frustrated with other women’s voices. In my voice training work, I educate people on vocal patterns, many which we’re not aware of.
AV: Like what?
EW: Like vocal fry, which is what Kim Kardashian does. It sounds very California. Then there’s upspeak, which sounds like a question when it’s not. “I like this dress? I think it looks beautiful?”
AV: What does Hillary do?
EW: She doesn’t do those, but she sometimes taps into an extra-masculine thing, lowering her pitch and pressing volume to sound emphatic. Then people think she sounds inauthentic. She has the capacity to be very authentic, but I think she’s probably listened to a lot of people and taken advice about what she should do and how she should act, so it comes across as canned. I think Hillary Clinton’s authenticity challenges may very well have cost her the presidency.
AV: What does Trump do?
EW: Well, people have been asking me to write and speak about that, and the truth is I haven’t wanted to. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of him, so I suppose now is the time to talk about that. He has a breath pattern people notice. He breaths in very deeply through his nose.
AV: Can we actually learn something from him as a speaker?
EW: He has a tendency to push his presence, physically and vocally. In one of the debates, he made Hillary come more than halfway across the stage to shake his hand. He waited for
her to approach. He is bombastic. He pushes outward. But--do I even dare to say this? We could say he speaks from his cock.
AV: Have you spoken from the vagina since the election?
EW: I have watched friends attend protests on Facebook. I just haven’t felt that was what I wanted to do. I’ve been doing a lot of my own writing and contemplating. I have attended gatherings in order to meditate and be with other people.
AV: Is there a way to speak from the vagina on Facebook?
EW: What it feels like we need now is love and activism. I think we need unity, curiosity and listening instead of reaction and hate.
AV: Say more about listening.
EW: I was recently driving through Ohio to Detroit visiting cousins. What I wish I would have done was stop the car and ask a Trump supporter with a sign why he or she was voting for Trump. What did I miss? We have to keep exploring our ability to raise our voices and open our ears, to listen.
Elissa’s first Vagina Scrum is 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3. Learn more about her here.
Illustration by Sharon Watts, to see more of her work, click here.