Darya Apahonchich: “What’s a Vulva?”

Hello, my name is Darya Apahonchich, and the Russian Justice Ministry obliges me to start any video and story that I publish online with the phrase:

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) HAS BEEN CREATED AND (OR) DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY, PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT.

Since I have become not just a foreign agent, but a foreign agent media outlet, I decided to take advantage of this unexpected status and record a trial internet video, as if I had my own TV channel. So, this is my first video, and it deals with the case of Yulia Tsvetkova and issues surrounding the female body.

This program is about what the vulva is. I’ll explain why I’ve chosen this topic. The fact is that my apartment was searched by the police. During the search, one of the officers found a lot of posters protesting the Yulia Tsvetkova case. At some point he asked me, “What’s a vulva?”

At that moment, the search had been going on for a long time. I didn’t feel like talking and said that, in keeping with Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, I wished to exercise my right not to incriminate myself. I wouldn’t be telling the officer what a vulva was.

Almost three months have passed since then, and I thought it was unfair that there was a cop walking around who didn’t know what a vulva was, so I decided to record this video so that he and others could fill in this gap in their knowledge.

Now I shall fantasize what I would have said at that moment in reply to the officer’s question.

So, the policeman would ask me, “And what is a vulva?”

And I would answer him, “Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question quickly. I can only answer by resorting to a fairy tale.”

And he would say, “Well, you have so much junk in your home that we’ll be searching it for a long time. Let’s hear your story.”

And I would say, “Good, because your question reminded me of a question that a dinosaur asked a sea cow. The fact is that this tyrannosaur ran out of friends suspiciously often. He would invite them to dinner, and by the end of the dinner they would all be gone. So, he asked the sea cow for advice.

“‘Listen, sea cow, you have so many friends. How do you manage to be an equal among equals? I’d like to do the same.’

“‘Yes, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s my advice: start reading about the world and its problems, about injustices, have a look at theory, and make friends who are also interested in these things. And yes: you need to completely abandon meat and eating living creatures,’ the sea cow answered.

“The dinosaur took this advice, and when he and the sea cow met a year later, he was quite different.

“‘Listen, I did everything as you taught me. Now I read books with other former predators. We get together to discuss the global cold snap and the violence that we generate. But I’m very sad, and so are all my friends – we are really grieving. It seems that this isn’t what I wanted,’ he said to the sea cow.

“‘Yes, but you wanted to be an equal among equals, didn’t you?’ the sea cow asked.

“‘Yes, but not like this. I’ve achieved my goal, but not in the way I thought.”

“‘You know, tyrannosaurus, this happens quite often. For example, I recall the story of a jellyfish who quarreled with everyone.’

“‘What’s the story? Tell me!’

“So, the sea cow told the dinosaur the story.

“‘Once upon a time there was a scyphozoan jellyfish who quarreled with everyone. She couldn’t help it when she heard something about motherhood or the rights of females:

“Well,” she would grumble, “They used to give birth to jellyfishlets in the sea, and there were no female rights, and everything was normal.” But no one wanted to be friends with her, and so she asked a moon jellyfish for advice.

‘“How do you not quarrel with anyone? What’s your secret?”

‘“You know, I have a magic spring in the sea, and as soon as I want to say something about the rights of females, I swim to it, take in a mouthful of water and count to a thousand, and then let it out. And that’s it. I don’t quarrel with anyone.”

‘The scyphozoan took the advice and began doing the same. It helped her, and then she asked the moon jellyfish another question.

‘“Look, it’s a great method: I’ve made up with family. But magic water isn’t scientific, is it?”

‘“Well, yes, but you had to learn a new way of interacting with your loved ones, so you did it. You’ll change your mindset later on.”

‘“That’s great, of course, but I still prefer knowing what I’m doing, not just doing it. This story reminds me of the story of the doubting bee.”

‘“What’s the story? Tell me!”

‘And the scyphozoan told her the story of the bee.’

‘“Well, there was once a little bee who doubted whether she really needed to spend the whole summer gathering nectar.”’

And that’s when the policeman would have interrupted me.

“Look, I already got the point about the sea cow, the jellyfish, and the dinosaur, but what does that have to do with the vulva?”

“Look, you’ve come to search my home because I might have seen someone jaywalking,” I would have told him, “but you’ve been looking at my vulva posters for the past six hours. What’s the connection there?”

“All right, go ahead,” he would say.

And I would go on.

“So, the bee doubted that she really needed to collect nectar, flying from flower to flower every day: the work made her tired. She shared her thoughts with a stick caterpillar, and the stick caterpillar decided to play a nasty joke on the bee.

“‘Listen, honey bee,’ she said, ‘there is a magic flower called the elecampane. It is difficult to find, but as soon as you find it, you bring the pollen from it home, and you shall always have food for all your brothers and sisters.’

“And the bee flew off to look for this flower. When she met the stick caterpillar in the autumn, she was reproachful.

“‘Caterpillar, did you deceive me?” I spent the whole summer looking for the elecampane, but I couldn’t find it.’

“‘Yes, I deceived you because I wanted you to keep pollinating the flowers while thinking that you were looking for elecampane. Because your work is very important: without you, the flowers would not be able to reproduce, and the whole green world would die, and we would die with it. That’s why I lied to you.’

“‘Look, maybe your method worked,’ the bee said, ‘and I have been pollinating flowers all summer, but it’s wrong. I’m a rational being and I understand how important my work is, but it’s better to have a theory than not having one, to know what I’m doing than not knowing.’”

“Yes, I understand,” the policeman would then say. “So you mean that in all these stories, the characters achieved their goal, thinking that they were doing something different, but they were disappointed because it is better to have a theory than not having one?”

“Yes, you’ve got it quite right, comrade policeman,” I would say, “and that brings you closer to the question of what the vulva is. The vulva is a sexual organ, and many organisms have one. But feeling shame over the vulva is the starting point of our misogynous culture, while the movement towards respect, towards understanding that the vulva is an organ of a living person who has the right to know about their anatomy is a process. Therefore, the vulva is the path from shame to respect.”

And now I will draw a picture of how I told this story.

First, I told you about my conversation with the policeman. This was the first narrative frame. Inside it was the second frame, about the dinosaur and the sea cow, followed by the story about the jellyfish, and, at the very center, the story about the bee. The structure of my story will also help you to think about what the vulva is.

I want to finish this story with two conclusions.

First, please support Yulia Tsvetkova, whose trial begins soon.

Second, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the female body. It is very important, even for young women.

Thanks for listening!

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for providing me with a slightly abridged Russian text of the story she tells in her video, above. Images courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader