Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard, also a contributing writer for The Week, went with the eye-popping “vagina” headline this morning.
The headline: “Lawmaker Uses Vagina as Synonym for Woman.”
The brief post concerns a state lawmaker who used the word interchangeably for “woman” in an email to colleagues.
Asked if he had any hesitation about using the word “vagina” in a headline, Goddard told FishbowlDC…nothing! He never replied to the question. However, a Washington editor, when told he or she was being asked a serious question about vagina headlines, replied, “There are no serious questions about vaginas! Unless it’s ‘Do you have cancer in the vagina?’ The editor added, “I would try to avoid it in headline.”
Longtime producer to radio host Bill Press and FBDC Contributor Peter Ogburn remarked, “How do I feel about vagina headlines? I like to feel them as often as I can.”
The issue can be discussed in a mature manner. Brad Phillips, who writes the Mr. Media Training blog, says journalists shouldn’t shy away from using the v-word. “’Vagina’ describes a body part that roughly half of the world’s population has,” he wrote to FBDC. “Journalists shouldn’t stay away from using it just because some people (let’s face it, men) grew up snickering at the word in their seventh-grade locker rooms. But like almost everything else, context matters.”
He continued, “If the word is used as an accurate descriptor, it’s fine. If it’s used as a pejorative or as gratuitous linkbait, it’s probably not. Taegan’s headline strikes me as an accurate description of the story that followed—and I would have used the same one.”
He said words are just that – words. “We have to get past this juvenile idea that medically accepted words are somehow verboten. ‘Vagina,’ ‘penis,’ and ‘scrotum,’ for example, should be used when appropriate, reader reaction be damned,” he wrote.
BuzzFeed‘s Washington Bureau Chief John Stanton also did not bristle at the word as a headline choice. “I don’t have a problem with it necessarily,” Stanton told FishbowlDC. “I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule for something like this. It’s the name of a body part so it shouldn’t really be offensive if the context makes it appropriate.”