An eighth-grade substitute teacher from Michigan says she was fired from her job last week after saying the word “vagina” during an art lesson. Allison Wint had been teaching art classes at Harper Creek Middle School in Battle Creek since January, and was leading a discussion on Georgia O’Keeffe with a class of eighth-graders when her apparent infraction occurred. Wint admits she said vagina about eight times during the discussion about O’Keeffe’s work. The American painter was famous for her interpretations of landscapes and New York City skyscrapers, but she also produced a series of flower paintings that are widely seen as being symbolic of the female genitalia — a theory that dates back to 1919. One of O’Keeffe’s most famous images, “Flower of Life II” is commonly viewed as an expression of her own sexuality.
Flower Of Life
Quite reminiscent of a woman's genitalia. This painting draws me in. pic.twitter.com/8SoM28F3M8
— Sabi Sabina (@saba_chu) December 21, 2015
Wint said she only meant to lead a thoughtful discussion on the real meaning of O’Keeffe’s work, and used what she thought was strictly an anatomical term. “Imagine walking into a gallery when (O’Keeffe) was first showing her pieces, and thinking, ‘Am I actually seeing vaginas here, am I a pervert? I’m either a pervert or this woman was a pervert?’” she recalled having said to the students in an interview with The Detroit Free Press. “Yes, I did say that word however I was saying it in the context of art history. I wasn’t being vulgar,” Wint explained to local news station WWMT.
However, school officials said her use of vagina violated school policies. In order to use the word vagina in class — or discuss any topic relating to women’s reproductive health — teachers at Harper Creek Middle School must first obtain permission to do so from school administrators. Wint said, being a substitute who’s only been teaching at the school for a few months, she wasn’t aware of the policy.
“I did not know about this policy, they were entirely within their right to remove me,” she said. “If I had known about this policy, I would have never done it without approval.” Wint added that she’s in disbelief that she was actually dismissed from the job over the misunderstanding. “I honestly had no words, because I’ve always been an advocate of not censoring art and music and writing,” she said.