A big (and important) part of what I do is deeply admiring women doing great things. When I need inspiration, there they are, when I need motivation, when I need to learn something...they make me be aware, check my privilege, deconstruct stuff... I am surrounded by awesome women doing fantastic things! the world is full of them and it is up to us who we choose to follow, listen or support.
One of those "wow I love her" moments happened as soon as I discovered Jo Corral, the founder of This is a Vulva and her account full of...well, vulvas! and honest conversations and bravery and sorority! Reading her answers only made me like her more! I bet you will feel the same :)
What is this is vulva and how was it born?
This is a Vulva is a sex education and vulva acceptance campaign to help stem the rise in labiaplasty (plastic surgery for the vulva). I use artwork, both curated from others and made by myself, to show what vulvas actually look like i.e. not just like the white, hairless, small lipped vulvas you see in mainstream porn and medical diagrams. By getting people to see normal, everyday vulvas, we can get rid of the myth that vulvas should look a certain way.
It started in 2016 after I saw an annotated, colour by numbers vulva diagram by illustrator Jo Harrison at Women of the World Festival. I put it on my fridge and the number of educated, feminist friends that saw it and said ‘what is THAT bit?’ made me realise that we don’t know enough about vulvas. So I started putting them online and teaching people about them. Now I run Labia Lessons – events to help teach people more in a fun way, concluding with making a vulva from craft materials! I’ve got lots more ideas coming too!
Who is the person behind it?
Hello, I’m Jo (she/her). I’m 33 and live in London. I’m bisexual, I love dogs and sewing my own clothes and I wish I could spend all my time making things. I run This is a Vulva as a side hustle alongside my full time job tackling air pollution for my local council.
What is the biggest impact of what you do?
I often get messages from people saying that since following my account they feel much happier with their vulvas, are able to let their partners go down on them or have sex or get undressed with the lights on. One person told me they are now having orgasms because they’re no longer worrying about what their partner thinks of their vulva. People have told me they now haven’t gone for labiaplasty or that they wished they’d discovered my page before their operation. It’s so incredible and frankly unbelievable that from me deciding to put up some vulvas on Instagram, I am helping people have orgasms and stopping them undergoing unnecessary surgery.
What is the big goal, the big ambition?
My BIGGEST ambition is for everyone to know what vulvas look like and for them ALL to be accepted and celebrated, therefore completely removing the need for cosmetic labiaplasty. Or orgasm-less oral sex. If this information could be properly taught in schools then my work would be done. I’ve seen many amazing feminist charities and organisations who say that they want their work to be completely unnecessary. If we can get to a place where people are like ‘oh a vulva? How mainstream’ then I will happily quit Instagram and pack away the vulvas. My biggest ambition is to not be needed anymore.
What is Feminism for you?
Equity of experience regardless of sex/gender. It 100% has to be intersectional. If it doesn’t include everyone then it’s not going to work and it’s not feminism. It’s about having a level playing field for all genders, regardless of your race, class, profession, age and sexuality. Of course it’s not easy to fight all the battles all at once but we have to try. A feminist world will be fairer, safer and kinder to everyone. Releasing men from the grips of the pressures of masculinity is as important as stopping gender based violence. And it should be utterly obvious why one will help make changes to the other.
Which “everyday sexism” really bothers you?
People using ‘he’ and ‘she’ when describing a hypothetical professional. Doctors, engineers, politicians, police officers, astronauts, managers, mechanics, farmers – always ‘he’. Nurses, teachers, carers, sex workers, secretaries, receptionists are always ‘she’. It might seem like a small thing but it shows how engrained these notions are and it’s why we still have children saying ‘no, I can’t be a fire fighter because that’s a boys job’. Not to mention it excludes everyone who doesn’t align with the gender binary.
Do you remember when you start identifying as a Feminist and why?
In my early 20’s was when I realised that was what I was. Feminism wasn’t necessarily part of my language before that, although I’d always been the person to roll their eyes when boys were too afraid to get a pen out of my bag at school in case there was a tampon in there. I think it happened because I became friends with a group of women that were experiencing the same things as I was and also learning and talking about feminism. Those same women are my absolute rocks to this day, with a few more gained along the way, and rarely a day goes by when we don’t discuss feminism in some form.
Who is your biggest feminist role model?
It feels a bit obvious but I think Michelle Obama. An educated, strong, funny and ambitious woman who ‘goes high when they go low’, fights for what she believes in, refuses to be labelled ‘Obama’s wife’ and faces it all with dignity and compassion. She’s not afraid to show she’s angry (and god knows that is harder for Black women than white women) or that she cares. She’s shown that you can be successful and brilliant by BEING a woman, not by emulating a man to make it easier for other people to swallow. She’s shown you can lead with kindness and compassion. She doesn’t apologise for who she is and what she is doing. What’s not to love about that?
What is your favourite Feminist quote?
‘Our foremothers were farmers, warriors, weavers and builders. They had wrinkles and pubic hair and opinions’. Kate Smurthwaite in the New Internationalist in 2014. I just loved it as soon as I saw it.
What is your proud feminist victory?
I had to ask my friend (aforementioned rock) for help with this and she was shocked that I didn’t put my vulva work as the number one prime example. In her words ‘each flipping Labia Lesson and positive message from someone on Instagram saying ‘I never thought about it like that before’ is a victory. You need an army of people to make a change and you’re building one.’ So urm, yeah that.
What is your feminist recommendation?
- Book – Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. The first comic book I’ve ever read and I LOVED it.
- tv show I absolutely love Fleabag,
- Film I spent AGES trying to think of answers to this but I very rarely watch films, or much TV. Mainly because not much passes the Bechdel Test and everything seems to have sexual violence in. If it doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, don’t waste your time watching it.
What is your feminist call of action to whoever is reading?
Keep asking yourself if this would be happening to a white man. And don’t just look at the issues in your own life but in the lives of those around you and those who may be different to you. Women won’t be free until we are ALL free. If abortion is illegal in a different country, it should be as much as an issue to you as your male colleagues talking over you in a meeting or horrendously low rape convictions rates – everywhere.
And don’t apologise when you don’t need to.