Disciplining Language: The Response to Anatomical Language in Social and Political Settings

When discussing the human body, the line between medical terminology and every day, “slang,” terms is becoming harder to distinguish, thanks to numerous moments of “language lapses.” This study looks at how the female body is discussed in the media. Working off ideas of the muted group theory, I look at two specific moments when language about the female body was censored or censured. Joan Rivers, known for her self-deprecating humor about her looks, her age, and her plastic surgery (for example, Rivers once stated that she’s had so many surgeries that when she swallows she has an orgasm), was bleeped on television for using the word “period” when discussing the menstrual cycle. Thus, when Rivers speaks of unnatural aspects of her body she is celebrated, yet when she speaks of naturally occurring aspects she is censored.

In addition, I examine the media response to Michigan Representative Lisa Brown’s use of the word “vagina” on the House floor and her subsequent banning from the floor (along with Representative Barb Byrum for proposing a ban on vasectomies). Using the muted group theory, I analyze the idea of gendered words and the notion that the media naturally uses “male language” and is thus confirming the idea of bordered, distinct language.


Saniya Ghanoui is an M.A. candidate in Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. Her research looks at the social construction and images of menstruation and currently she’s exploring the history of menstrual education films. Saniya holds a B.A. summa cum laude in Communication Arts from Marymount Manhattan College and an M.A. in Journalism from Emerson College.