Where The Vagina Counts

Virginity test protestMothers lay their daughters on mattresses, spread their legs as wide as “Vs,” push their fingers inside their daughters’ vaginas and measure the depth of entry into the soft mounds of flesh.

If the fingers go in too deeply, the girl is not a virgin.

The daughter did not keep her vagina clean and fresh so she will no longer be perceived as clean and fresh. She will be described with adjectives like spoiled and used. Her vagina has been used. Throw it away. Throw her away.

In a society where a woman is worth the condition of her vagina, women and girls start to believe it—that their vagina counts. Boys and men believe it. Public officials and religious leaders believe it. The society begins to promote a sort of consecration of the vagina.

If a father finds out that his daughter’s vagina has been spoiled he could remove her from the homestead. Or perhaps, the father is “progressive” and will pretend he does not know that his daughter is spoiled until her belly begins to grow and her movements become lethargic. Then, he cannot ignore it. Then, his desire to kick her out, damn her, maim her, kill her or marry her to the town drunkard is justified.

In such societies, men write books with titles like “The Good Woman,” “The Holy Wife,” “A Woman of Destiny,” “A Woman Under The Covering of Her Husband,” “How To Be A Virtuous Woman,” “The Fulfillment of Womanhood.”

Girls and women read these books and they want others to know that they are reading those books.

An adolescent girl was raped by her two older brothers one day. When her parents found out, they agreed to kill their little daughter to cleanse the family of shame. They planned the assassination. The scheme was for the sons and father to leave the house. The mother would take care of everything.

Mother took her daughter to a bed in the house – perhaps rubbing the girl’s soft black hair along the way – and she laid her olive-skinned daughter down. She lifted two pillows into the air and then pressed them down over her daughter’s face. The girl kicked and jerked all over the place. Mother used her hands and the pillows to shove the life of her daughter out of her neck. The girl died by asphyxiation.

This true incident happened in Iran. A Persian university professor of mine chronicled the details to the class. The dead girl had been her neighbor in a country where “honor killings” are a part of life. A Google search of the phrase honor killings will yield more than 35 million results and the practice does exist in Nigeria.

honor killing 1

Nigeria is a society where men jail vaginas. They control them with glee and tickle them until they become moist. Too moist means she is not a virgin because the excessive moisture is evidence of her enjoyment of the tickle. Moist enough means she is a good girl. You treat her carefully so you will not “mess her up.”

In fact, an entire community, or at least the designated decision makers, can have a stake in girls’ vaginas. That’s why elders can charge a higher bride price if the girl is “unspoiled.” The unspoken message conveyed is that the woman does not control her own body. It is for society to monitor and suppress, praise and scorn.

Pastors can refuse to wed a female church member who is having sex with a man she loves. Even the suspicion of sexual involvement can prevent a Christian woman from getting married in the church she attends. Let her stay outside and commit sin because that is what Jesus would have done, they suppose.

A prevailing rule mandating that only virgins can be married in the church really means that the lady must be a virgin. The man, who really cares? It’s the vagina that counts.

Some seldom call upon The Virgin Mary without including the word, “virgin” before “Mary.” Would she even be in the Bible if she were not believed to have been a virgin? The mother of God’s son should be “clean” so we have made her so by depicting her as an unspoiled woman, who had a baby. She would not have been worth anything as a childless wife. We do not talk much about Mary’s life after Jesus because it does not matter much. It was her virginity that captures approval. It’s the vagina that counts and the Virgin Mary once had a holy one.

There are Nigerian women who cringe at the suggestion of wearing a light gold wedding gown, or a champagne-tinted wedding gown because she wants to show the world that her vagina is “pure white,” wrapped in swaths of lace and satin, chained to God and to her future husband. She walks down the aisle in a pure white gown. At the reception, she dances the night away in pure white. Not ivory, pure white. The world must know that she is a fresh one to marvel at. The man beside her at the wedding altar whom she will call husband from then on, he is wearing the blackest of black suits. His bowtie is gray. His shoes are black. His socks are black, too.

In the Nigeria that I live in, men want fresh girls, just as they like fresh fish, but the girl must be fresher than what is in the soup. She has to be fresh as a baby. So children become brides, plucked from age 13, expected to spawn children at age 14, scorned if she dies in labor. Men want virgins on earth and virgins in heaven – or paradise – so they line up to bomb, kill and commit themselves to a god reckoned to enjoy the scent of spilled blood and the sound of an unfolding massacre as long as the dead are infidels. Some men want virgins in hell, but they will never find any there. All virgins go to heaven.

Nigerian men sit in stuffy airplanes for hours, coming from Belgium, London, Australia and New York, coming home to Nigeria. And in those planes, one imagines the freshness of the unspoiled village lady who will become his wife. He has never met her face-to-face, only in photographs did he see her and in fleeting phone conversations, he heard her homely voice. The Nigerian ladies abroad have all gone wild, so Nigerian men go to their home towns for a dewy-faced, high school graduate who cooks the best vegetable soup in town. Best of all, she is unspoiled. The joy of wedding an unspoiled woman can only be experienced. So the guy’s friends request vacation time from their jobs and venture to Nigeria to experience it, too.

The 2002 protest of Muslim youth who opposed the holding of the Miss World pageant in Nigeria did exactly what those youth likely wanted it to do: take those worldly girls out of Nigeria. Perhaps the presence of so many perceived spoiled women would have brought a curse on the land and everyone’s cows would have fallen over and died of an incurable plague. (In some instances, cows are more valuable than females.) That incident, which left more than 100 people dead according to the BBC, revealed a sick truth about Nigeria and the males who were offended over a ThisDay newspaper editorial that made reference to the Prophet Mohammed in regards to the Miss World contestants.

Violence against women has increased worldwide. The stories of 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai of Pakistan, Anene Booysen of South Africa, the 23-year-old woman who was raped on a bus in India are just a handful of the millions of women around the world with a similar experience. Women equality is a cause that Malawi President Joyce Banda and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stand for.

“…Where violence and abuse keep women out of the workforce and drag down communities for generations, fostering women’s economic participation grows national GDPs and personal incomes,” Clinton commented.

Female circumcision, domestic violence, honor killings, acid burnings, dowry deaths…all the violence comes down to the vagina, and the control of it. Who knew that two plump lips of skin could wreck so much havoc and hysteria? No wonder historically, it was kept under a lock and key in the form of chastity belts in some societies.

The vagina has traits. It looks like flower petals, yet smells like a servant. In societies where the vagina counts, a female is a servant to the males around her. In the home, at the workplace, at events, the female is expected to serve people and to be aware of that expectation. At anytime, a guy can turn to a woman in a particular setting and ask for a drink. She is supposed to go fetch him a drink.

In societies where the vagina counts, no matter how well a female is packaged with luxurious clothing and jewelry, a sound education or a philanthropic spirit, the condition of the vagina is still considered.  So let’s consult the Vagina Oracle to see what it will tell us. Which lady deserves to be wedded and which one may as well be left to fornicate in a den of sin? Which one can be killed? Beaten? Raped?

A girl bleeds from ritual cutting (FGM)

A girl bleeds from ritual cutting (FGM)


Tools used for female genital cutting

Tools used for female genital cutting


J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere – Fro Fro – 1970. J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere is most known for his photos of elaborate Nigerian hairstyles and head ties.

In societies where the vagina counts, the rise of a Condoleeza Rice, a Michelle Obama or a Margaret Thatcher seldom happens. In such societies, a wife is as good as her husband. That is why the relevance of the life of Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of Pakistan, cannot be underestimated.

In societies where little boys eat before their little sisters, get a larger portion of meat and go to school when their little sisters go to the market, those little boys imagine vaginas and what they want to do with them. Control is in his hands. That little boy will cultivate an uncanny fascination with the thing between girls’ legs and then assert his position over it, knowing that the society has given him the right to do so. That little boy may become a pastor where he can stand on the pulpit and say, “I will not wed a spoiled woman.”

Or he may become a husband who forces his wife to do what he wants her to do at a time when she does not want to do it because he paid her bride price.

Vaginas count. That’s why some readers will count the number of times the word ‘vagina’ in used in this piece. And others will fortify their position that the condition of a woman’s vagina is a reliable assessment of her worth.

In elementary schools in the United States, many children are taught a song with lyrics that go like this:
My body’s nobody’s body but mine
You rule your own body,
let me rule mine

But in societies where the vagina counts, that song is a lie. Girls and women do not rule their bodies, especially not their vaginas.

And being called “spoiled” means she is as good as dead.


By Chika Oduah |  Published in BellaNaija on Wednesday March 6, 2013

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8 responses to “Where The Vagina Counts

  1. Powerful! You speak with passion and conviction backed with the right level of evidence. Well done. Moving. I am sharing a duet I wrote with Susan for this year’s IWD –
    http://t.co/lifM6djavq for your reading. Grateful for your comments. I also have poems on FGM, Domestic Violence and Child Marriage.on my blog.

  2. This is a very interesting post, very moving, and very well-written. I agree with your point. We live in a world where we have created technology to make our life easy, but we haven’t done much to prevent the perpetual oppression against women, either through norms, political or religious means. Too bad!

    I am actually writing a book that is aimed to elevate women’s position in this world. It’s got nothing to do with the centre point of your post, but I hope it will help to create a better world.

    Thank you again for your post. I am sharing this on my Twitter 🙂

  3. Hi
    Interesting, painful article.
    Do you have any information about the statue you have used in this post which showing a virginity exam?

  4. Thank you for writing about this very important subject. It is my belief that one of the first steps of change is exposure, what is not known cannot be changed. Your words will work to allow a future that is more positive toward women.

  5. African men have hated African women for a long time (other societies can handle their own so I’m not talking about them). This is why they continuously fail to understand the need to protect and provide for their daughters, wives, sisters. Until the women in a society are elevated, the men will never prosper. This is why African men are at the bottom of the world, and unfortunately African women with them.

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