Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Story Behind the Photograph



Readers have been inquiring about the mysterious cover photograph of The Medieval Vagina (MV), and I am happy to share my story. 

In June 2013, I traveled with my husband, Steve, and a group of friends to Scotland and England.  We drove through the gorgeous terrain of Scotland, searched for Nessie at Loch Ness, and crossed over to northern England. We stayed in the town of Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales, where sheep adorn the hillside. It’s also the hometown of the famous author and veterinarian James Herriot.
           On our travels through Scotland and England, we visited medieval castles. Karen and I were in the middle of writing the book when she asked me to take photographs to accompany the book.  I used a four mega-pixel digital camera, and later, my cell phone, to snap photographs of the countryside. The cover photograph is located in the entrance to Bothwell; a 15th century Scottish castle near Glasgow. This was the first castle I had ever visited up close. As Karen and I later scrolled through the photos, we saw this one and immediately agreed that this was the one for our book.  
 MV is available on Amazon in print and ebook formats. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thank you, Gwyneth Paltrow!

Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow recently posted in her own blog about the wonders of vaginal steaming. It seems she frequents a certain California spa that offers a procedure that sends heated water vapors, infused with mugwort, into the vagina. Gwyneth referred to the procedure as “relaxing” and “invigorating”.

Of course, talk show hosts and media outlets had a field day with this concept, labeling it kooky new-age quack medicine. Gwyneth’s down-under antics got a lot of people talking about the vagina.

This has been good for business! Especially if your business is selling a book called The Medieval Vagina. You see, in our book, we include a chapter on medieval douching and medieval vaginal fumigators, just a fancy word for Gwyneth-like vaginal steaming. Yep, Gwyneth’s new-age technique has actually been around a whole lot longer. In fact, it was commonly prescribed as a medical treatment during the Middle Ages to cure all sorts of things from menstrual cramps to yeast infections to urinary tract infections.

It worked by boiling water mixed with herbs in a specially-designed pot. This pot had a tight lid and a long tube protruding from it. The steam had nowhere to go but up the tube, which was inserted into the female patient’s vagina. Yowza!

Through the magic of social media, we were about to join in the conversation about Gwyneth and her steam cleaned va-jay-jay and inform a whole new group of people about The Medieval Vagina and the practice of medieval vaginal fumigation. It is funny how this networking thing works. We both enjoyed a jump in Twitter followers, saw an increase in book sales, and have been invited to write guest blogs. In short, Gwyneth’s vagina has been beneficial for us.

So we thank you, Gwyneth Paltrow, for opening up a conversation about hot, steamy vaginas that allowed us to capitalize on her momentary controversy. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What Word Makes You Squirm?

My daughter offered me a stick of gum last week. It was 5’s Dare gum. When she handed it to me, she said, “You have to either answer the question or do the dare.” I guess this is gum marketing’s version of True or Dare that I used to play as a middle schooler. I don’t remember the “dare” the gum wrapper made me do…something about doing the Robot dance, or maybe it was the Running Man…but I certainly remember the “truth” question. It said, “What word makes you squirm?”

That word is Vagina.

Ironic, isn’t it then, that the title of our new nonfiction book is The Medieval Vagina? Truth is, we chose that title on purpose to attract attention. And it has worked. Peoples’ interest is piqued as soon as they hear that title. It seems, as we suspected, there is something deliciously naughty about the word “vagina”

The medieval vagina, however, is a bit of a misnomer. The word “vagina” is a Latin term that did not enter the English vernacular until sometime in the mid- to late-1600s, about a century after the unofficial end of the medieval era. Etymology, vagina means a sheath or scabbard and the term is a derivative of an even older word, “voziu” which translated to mean “to cover something with a hollow object,” much like a sheath would cover a sword.

So here is where the meanings become metaphorical.

The word “vagina” was then assigned to the birth canal of women…the same birth canal that men use for sexual pleasure. It is not too much of a stretch to envision the man’s penis as the sword and the woman’s vagina as the sheath, or protective covering. What is implied, then, is that the penis is fragile and needs sheltering and that the best way to do that is to safeguard it in its natural protective wrap, the vagina.

What we like about the word origin is that it is empowering to women. And yet, many people, myself included, squirm at the word. We are more comfortable with an ameliorative of the word “vagina”, like va-jay-jay or V or vag. In fact, we toyed with changing the name of our book to The Medieval V, just so we wouldn’t feel so squirmy.

But we also know that there are no inherently bad words, only words onto which society has places a negative connotation or stigma. Although “vagina” falls into this group, it is certainly not the worse word in the bunch. It’s a medical term, for goodness sake. It is time to push through the squirmy feelings and say it out loud. VAGINA.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Five Week Journey

This blog post is a bit different from our previous ones. Rather than informing you about medieval women, or historical gender issues, or weird medical misconceptions from antiquities, we are going to talk about our journey of the last five weeks.

On December 10, 2014, our book, The Medieval Vagina: An Hysterical and Historical Look at All Things Vaginal During the Middle Ages, was finally published and available to purchase through Amazon. This achievement caps off two years of writing, researching, writing some more, giggling, editing, revising, more giggling, and more writing. We both can honestly say that we had fun writing this book. We know we are writing a strange and sometimes embarrassing topic, but through our research, we have been inspired by women of the medieval era. We are inspired enough to keep writing.

It was all worth it as we watched the number of books sold rise higher and higher. We haven’t quite reached the level of J.K. Rowling (although we do seem to be gaining popularity in England), but we have been pleased with the sales, which has spurred us on to market the book to a wider audience.

On December 19, we had a book launch party and we shared excerpts from The Medieval Vagina with those in attendance. We had our first media interview and are looking forward to seeing the article about our book when it hits the newspaper. We have been invited to be guest bloggers on a medieval history blog (which we will link to our blog as soon as it comes out) and are in negotiations with a bookstore in Texas who wants to carry our book. We have also been invited to speak at Ignite Michiana, which is an event featuring brief talks on a wide range of topics, presented by a variety of speakers, with the overall goal to inspire and ignite. We even started our own webpage!

We know we have much to do to get the word out about The Medieval Vagina and we realize that marketing is a never-ending process. We have learned quite a bit so far and more every day. Much has happened in five short weeks and we can’t wait to see what opportunities arise in the next five weeks!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Troubadours: Quaint Singers or Purveyor of Male Dominance

Think of a medieval troubadour, and most of us envision a smooth-singing, tight-wearing gent strolling leisurely through ye olde village. The troubadour entertaining the culture-starved townsfolk with ballads about romance and chivalry, valiant knights and courtly maidens. To some degree, this image is true.

The troubadour, or travelling musician, was a popular sight in medieval Europe from the 11th century until the Black Plague in the 1300s. Songs performed by troubadours followed a common pattern and often told fictional tales of heroic deeds and complicated love triangles. But a good performer knows how to play to the crowd, so the theme of these poetic songs could take a vulgar turn, with veiled or overt references to the vagina. In fact, some of these salacious songs portrayed women as horny, sex-fiends.

 But, sadly, these tunes are vastly out-numbered by songs that thrust women into a subservient role as the recipient of men’s sexual aggression, with rape, seduction, and domestic violence as popular themes. The collection of troubadour ballads that remains illustrate the typical male-dominated attitude of the time: men were in the power roles, women were to be dominated and kept in their place.