The Mail’s objection to Emmerdale’s use of ‘jam rags’ reflects culture’s longstanding weirdness about women’s private parts
by Hannah Betts
July 28, 2010
The inhabitants of Beckindale, setting for ITV’s Emmerdale, are no strangers to calamity, having variously endured shootings, conflagrations and sundry apocalypses bestowed by the great god of ratings. Last week, however, a new and unlooked for catastrophe befell the good folk of Beckindale when the phrase “jam rags” appeared on a blackboard shopping list. Jam rags, for the uninitiated, is a not an especially delicate means of referring to sanitary towels. Can no one protect us from this outrage?
Step forward Mediawatch, aka the late Mary Whitehouse’s acolytes, whose finger-wagger-in-chief expressed consternation in the Daily Mail. Mail readers, however, remained – forgive me – sanguine. Their collective online reaction might be summarised: “OMG, hysterical. Made my day. LOL.”
Inelegant as this evidently not-so-offending phrase is, the frisson it generated reflects culture’s longstanding weirdness about women’s private parts. Where the male member is perceived as somehow clownish, comic, amiable, the vagina remains polite society’s great abyss. Accordingly, “dick”, “prick” and “knob” are mere playground banter, while “cunt” remains a source of abject hysteria. One is reminded of Pompeii where excavators have unearthed depictions of penises everywhere from oil lamps to doorbells, but female equivalents are missing in action.
If nature abhors a vacuum, then slang still more so. Terms for the female genitalia outstrip all rival inspirations bar drinking and intercourse, leaving the one-eyed trouser snake pitifully castrated. Chaucer flirted with the “belle-chose” and “nether eye”. Elizabethan writers, mesmerised by the Virgin Queen’s potent and pearl-bedecked lacuna, found countless ways of lauding and – as the reign wore on – satirising the vagina: from a snow bedecked temple of the gods to a hellish, red-hot “gaping gulf”.