Mika Simmons is passionate about vaginas. The filmmaker founded the Lady Garden Foundation and hosts The Happy Vagina podcast. Here she catches up with Edaein O’Connell on the gender health gap, Irish shame and body confidence.
Where did the idea for The Happy Vagina come from?
On International Women’s day 2019, I hosted a panel called ‘How To Make Your Vagina Happy’ and the response was absolutely phenomenal. The guests were super grateful for the education around women’s health issues mixed with a huge helping of fun. Turning it into a podcast, allowing us to reach more women, felt like a no brainer. We’ve just finished recording Season 2 and I am already having withdrawals!
What are your thoughts about the current dialogue (or lack thereof) around fundamental female issues?
The taboos are being broken, slowly, all over the world. But there is still work to be done. Shame about our bodies, reproductive anatomy, sex and sexual health is a very powerful force and systemic in most cultures. It runs so deep, we often aren’t even aware that it’s the force that drives much of our silence. This silence can be life threatening when it comes to our health. That might sound extreme but silence is the bedfellow of denial. If we cannot speak freely about our gynaecological anatomy and sexual experiences, how can we know when there is a problem? More so – how can we speak up when something is wrong?
Why do you think there is such a lack of education around women’s health and experiences?
There is a huge lack of education, and I would even go as far to say that there is a huge disrespect of women’s experiences regarding our bodies, reproductive and sexual health – particularly within the world of medicine. How could there not be when women have only been allowed to be Doctor’s for just over 100 years? Of course it’s going to be a bit like turning a steam ship, but if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, work and educate, I do believe we will eventually eliminate the gender health gap.
Is there one area, in particular, that is really lacking a substantial discussion?
Apart from reducing the gender health care gap, the key area for me will always be sex and sexual health. It’s not because I feel that is more important than reproductive or gynaecological health – it’s because, I believe, it’s where the deepest stigma lies. If women, and men, can free ourselves from this acute shame, steeped in historical judgement – the world would be a much, much healthier place.
In Ireland particularly, the vagina and just about anything to do with female health or desire are never spoken of openly or without judgment. How do we go about changing this?
I come from a long line of Irish women and I can tell that it is changing. The historic referendum 2 years ago, where the Irish people voted to repeal the 8th amendment, was a huge win for Irish women. And Ireland has finally opened its first menopause clinic
. Two of my favourite guests on the podcast – Laura Whitmore (Season One: Be My Yes)
and award winning author Emilie Pine (Season 2: A Life Of One’s Own
) have spoken up publicly about up-skirting, miscarriage and rape, respectively. Ireland has its warriors and change is afoot – the repression is being lifted! My suggestion to each and every Irish woman would be to try and do something new in this area, something brave, something that might, perhaps, startle your family and friends but ultimately will help you all to grow and eliminate shame.
Has the show and its discussions exposed you to a different perspective or has any moment stood out to you?
So many things!! Even though I feel I am an incurably open minded woman – all of my guests teach me something. I am repeatedly, and regularly, educated – especially around subjects I have no personal experience of. It’s one of my favourite things about the podcast and I hope that our listeners are having the same experience. The episodes with the experts are perhaps best for this – Alix Fox taught Chloe Delevingne and I all about Vibrators and how a good self pleasure practice is paramount for mind-blowing sex with your partner (Season 2: Self Pleasure Treasure Chest
) and Kate Devlin’s knowledge on the history of sex and it’s future was positively breathtaking (Season 2: The Future of Sex
What was the reaction to the show when it first came out?
Phenomenal, and our community is still growing. It’s a humble project but I always look out for the ‘God nods’ – those sweet spot when a project is growing, the feedback is that people are enjoying it and, perhaps more importantly, it is becoming an force for good for it’s surrounding world
What has your own relationship with your body been like? How did you come to accept it?
This is a huge question but – in a word – troubled. It’s not unusual for actresses to feel under huge pressure for our externals and I think that, plus being severely bullied as a child about my looks then losing my Mum to ovarian cancer at a very young age, left my thinking extremely skew-whiff! It took a while to identify that my thought processes about myself were extremely negative, but once I did, I was able to ask for help and begin to learn tools to help. Today, I do a daily gratitude list and my body being fit, well and healthy is always at the top.
What would you say to a young girl who is struggling to come to terms with her body or feels ashamed of it?
“I’m really sorry you feel that way. I hope you know or will come to known that you are so much more than your body.” Then I’d suggest they take the following actions as a starting point – stop reading fashion magazines immediately – comparison is the thief of joy; find a mentor and only follow or read the work of women who have a positive message about their bodies, intellect, relationships.
What episode are you most excited for people to listen to in the second series?
I absolutely hands down refuse to answer this! My guests are like my children, I simply can’t have a favourite. But what I would say is that I work really hard to make sure each season has something in it for everyone – so if you flick through The Happy Vagina library you will find the one you identify with. Once you’ve listened to that one and grown a little, why not try one with someone who’s talking about something you know nothing about?
Tell us about your upcoming film projects?
Just before lock down I directed my second short – Breach – with Joely Richardson in the lead role, and produced by Sally Wood. It was put on hold once the pandemic hit, but we’ve just finished the edit and we are about to enter it into the festival circuit. I hope it does as well as my debut Rain Stops Play which was very well received on the international circuit in 2019. Perhaps most imminently, Us Among The Stones, an independent film in which I play Rose, a woman facing the loss of her mother to cancer will be having its online release in November.