Getting into it: 'Vagina' is still a book about vagina


If there is one thing that some feminists like to do, it is tell each other that they are not really feminist -- or, judging from the Internet over the past weeks, that's what newsmedia enjoys paying them to write about. Imagine that two competing “waves” at an NFL game crash into each other and their wavers begin hurling epithets involving biological primacy (“the wave's appeal lies in the rolling motion of the womb experience!”) and unacknowledged privilege (“our wave does not rely on fancy running shoes for buoyancy, or expensive snack bar items for flourish!”) 

Naomi Wolf wrote a book called Vagina: A Biography, and is now being torn apart, bit by bit, by representatives of various feminist waves in nearly every vaunted publication in the land. I'm saying: she did write a book called Vagina, though.

Bongwater: Power of Pussy from DANGEROUS MINDS on Vimeo.

Recently, I did an email interview with Wolf about the merits of her book. I sent her the questions before most of the more scathing reviews of Vagina hit the Internet presses, so most of them revolved around which pieces of her research she found the most compelling. When asked to summarize the shortcomings of research publicized heretofore on vags, she wrote to me: 

It is stuck in the 1970s, when Masters and Johnson concluded that men's and women's sexual responses were basically the same proces (arousal, plateaue, climax, resolution) and when Shere Hite (admirably for the time) concluded that the vagina and clitoris were unrelated, and everyone thought the vagina has little innervation. 

New data show that women and men are very different in what arouses them and brings them to orgasm and that even their pelvic wiring is very different.

Men's nerves in the pelvis and penis and fairly simple and regular -- but women's 'pelvis innervations' is like lace, compared to the male “grid.” There are neural terminio [sic] for women in the clitoris, as we know, but also in the walls of the vagina, the mouth of the cervix, the G-spot, the anus, the perineum -- and every woman's wiring is different! So the takeaway is that if you want to make a woman happy, whether you are male or female, you need to learn each woman's patterns and responses anew and pay careful attention and engage is very attentive exploration. And listen to what she likes.

Read Wolf's book and you'll get an amazing lesson on female biology, and perhaps even more interestingly, the social history of the pussy. From ancient worship of goddess-whores up to references to the cunt in 20th century jazz in the US, this is stuff that really helps to contextualize our current struggles with those who would penalize us for having anatomy. 

Wolf visits 1900s dance routines choreographed by Lois Fuller in her exploration of the history of vaginal representation

But, as other reviewers have mentioned, she does founder a little when she starts hypothesizing. 

From a passage asserting that eye contact is important for sexual satisfaction: 

Page 299: “Might it be that some new mothers – starved of deep gazing from their husbands – are more at risk of being drawn into a charmed circle of mutual gazing with their babies, which leaves out the man?”

And on the loss of self-awareness during climax:

Page 284: “The findings could be read as hinting – not by any means confirming – that the ages-old fear that sex makes women into something like witches, or into maenads who have no moral boundaries at the moment of orgasm, may have a bit of truth to it.” 

No snap moral judgments made at the height of your climax, witches! You can imagine now, why people have been reacting poorly to some of Wolf's “findings.” (I would love to see the owner of a penis make any kind of decision at all while climaxing. No really, send videos.)

Other charges leveled at Vagina have involved heterocentricity, although Wolf admittedly trys to explain why the book is focused on penis-loving women in her introduction. She says she thinks women of all sexualities deserve books focused on their vaginas. And next time she'll do more, she said in the email: “in the next edition I will expand the info that there is for lesbian, bisexual, and transwomen, even given its scarcity, because of the extreme interest from my readers across the spectrum.”

I'm not denying the book's got issues. But then, this weekend, as I lolled on Dolo's Gay Beach shelf above that brave new Disneyland of a playground, I read my copy of Vagina. Muttering middle-aged men shot death glares at the spliff dangling from my fingers (I moved downwind as requested.)

And all of a sudden, I got weirded out. I think it had something to do with the big red “vagina” written in red cursive letters on the book I was reading. In Dolores Park, really! It felt like I was engaged in something untoward, and not to be dramatic but in that moment I realized that no matter the woman-stealing babies and witch-producing orgasms contained in the pages of Vagina, it is still: a feminist book. And a heavily-researched book about vagina, with history lessons on vagina, and a frank discussion of the importance of the female genitals.

Perhaps sadly, that's still a big something. Not to get all maenad, but at Wolf's upcoming SF dates I'd like to shake her hand and say thanks for putting it out there. 

Naomi Wolf

Wed/19, 7pm, free

51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera


Thu/20, 7pm, $25-30

Jewish Community Center

3200 California, SF


Mr. B is out of town
and I can't find anyone to have an affair with
so I just mosey on down
to the metropolitan museum of art
to look at all the satyrs with hard-ons

they're over there next to the mid-evil armor
their bronze muscles flexing
and their goat fur loincloths
vibrating that
little bitty richter scale looking thingy box
that sits in the corner of the controlled environment
behind the

I sit on an imitation neo-classical chair and
wait and wait and wait
I look into a gilded full length mirror and see my
stringy hair
and I think
Hef won't like me like this

then I check out that chick Lita
with the swan peckin' at her pink egg tempera nipples
and I say,
what that swan be doin' huh?"
"uh huh uh huh"
"and why?"

and how 'bout those plump maidens?
those hot cherubic babes
being presented to Apollo, Dionysus, Neptune
or one of those other well hung Gods huh?
what about them stripped
like the day they was born
with their hands bound by Gollum's whip

dually budding blossums
ripe and tender to touch
just like the
lesbians in that
16th century tapestry
the one over the
lookin' just like California Blondes


just then
three zephyr jets descend from the sky
on an old fashoned deus ex machina
singin', "I ain't wearin' any underwear
I ain't wearin' any underwear
I ain't wearin' any underwear
I ain't wearin' any underwear

I ain't wearin' any underwear
I ain't wearin' any underwear
I ain't wearin' any underwear
I ain't wearin' any underwear

oh plumes of molten rock
rising from Venus' mantle
solidify on the crust as plateaus

that God looks cute he has a look of
studied melancholy and distraction
that reminds me of my own boyfriend
the Al Pacino look-a-like
I called my soul gigolo
who broke my heart in a hundred places
and caused my nervous breakdown that resulted in
the most unsuccessful suicide attempt
involving 42 Phenobarbital
where I slept for two days and woke up
and luckily lived long enough to reach my sexual peak

I wonder whatever happened to him?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

It kind of seems like you've become the go-to reporter for vagina news at the Bay Guardian. Though I rarely agree with your political opinions, I do think your political pieces are excellently written.

Hey, Tim, how about next time you write the vagina report and let Caitlin do the Downtown-Illuminati story :)

Posted by Snoozers on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 12:10 am

You guys really censored Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris' hilarious piece on vaginas? Really?

Posted by marcos on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

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