Concisely, Wolf’s cultural history of cunt, which employs lots of personal anecdotes, argues that a mind-vagina connection exists.
For Wolf, scientific developments suggest that our ladyparts directly affect our ladybrains and that treating women and their, er, “yonis” like “goddesses” has a direct, positive impact on our intellectual and creative development.
On a far more basic level, Wolf’s thesis boils down to the notion that well sexed women do well in life.
Of course, this did not go over very well.
The Nation‘s Katha Pollitt, for example, writes that “Perhaps opinion-mongering, black-and-white thinking and relentless TMI are the price of remaining a world-class celebrity feminist. In any case, that process has surely reached a nadir with Vagina: A New Biography. What a silly book!”
And in The New Yorker, Ariel Levy likens Wolf’s championing of vagina to sexual fetishism a la Fifty Shades of Grey, noting: “Is it going too far to say that Wolf’s book, which clearly belongs to the same realm of the erotic imagination as the Grey trilogy, is itself a kind of pornography? Wolf has found a mistress we must please, serve, and honor. There is a new dominatrix in town. And her name is Vagina.”
Also, from the Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg: “She’s back to sex and religion, with a book arguing that the key to women’s self-expression and transcendence lies between our legs. The vagina, she writes in her introduction, ‘is not only coextensive with the female brain but also is part of the female soul … a gateway to, and medium of, female self-knowledge and consciousness themselves.’ A woman, in this formulation, basically is her vagina.
“It shouldn’t need pointing out that plenty of misogynists believe the same thing. Vagina may intend to celebrate and empower women, but it has a reactionary way of treating them as slaves to biology.”
Most scathing, perhaps, was mention of the book on Bitch mag’s website.
As per Kelsey Wallace: “It’s like something out of a feminist horror story: Feminist-turned-douchebag Naomi Wolf has written a book called Vagina: A New Biography. (Scratch what I said about a horror story—this is more like something out of a feminist horror parody. Scary Movie 6: Naomi Wolf is All Up in Your Vagina.)”
Wallace then goes on to describe Vagina as an “essentialist (only women with vaginas who have orgasms that come from sexual partners can be creative or experience feminine joy), privileged (Wolf recounts looking out from her ‘little cottage upstate,’ contemplating her vadge next to a ‘cold iron wood stove,’ and she is getting paid to write a book about it), prescriptive (ladies, if you want a partner who treats your vagina right that person best be familiar with ‘the Goddess Array’), cringe-worthy (see: ‘yoni massage’) tome.”
Also among the reactions are a fair amount of puns about pussy (see headline), which are to be expected and, in my humble opinion, emphatically encouraged.
Anyway, the reason I’m just writing about Vag now is that I wanted to see what people were saying and get a sense of where this book fits in to a broader cultural conversation about sex and gender.
Yes, I agree that Vagina does make some eye-roll inducing claims: of course, my temperment is related to twat, but it sure-as-shit isn’t dependent on it, as essentialist-seeming Wolf suggests. And her tired statements about the dangers of porn, which she rehashes extensively, boil down to sketchy scare-mongering.
Yes, some of the verbiage is just too much: for some women, a man’s mention of the hippy dippy-sounding “goddess array” would be a total turnoff.
And yes, Wolf takes herself way too seriously. She talks about intellectual collapse when a male friend preps “cuntini” pasta and salmon filets to celebrate her upcoming book. Apparently, this was so offensive an affront to her vag/person that she couldn’t work for months? At points, she almost seems guilty recognizing that sexual discussions between chicks aren’t always PC. Her linguistic concerns — that non-exultant vagina verbiage does psychologic harm to women — are just laughable. That I would feel devalued somehow because the term “fucking” gets used instead of “making love” is just ridiculous, especially considering how I’m one of the biggest culprits and nonetheless a woman with a fair amount of self-esteem and sexual confidence.
(The cynic in me wonders whether sensitivities like these are emotional luxuries limited to wealthy academics who don’t much interact with the real world, but I digress…)
All that said, Vagina does do something important and good: Wolf’s work emphasizes that women’s sexuality does have an emotional component — a fact that, like it or not, has in my opinion gotten neglected in a lot of contemporary discussions of sex and gender.
Whether you like it or not, what Wolf does — and I’m wondering if this might be a lot of the impetus for hate-reads and hate-reviews of Vagina — is question the psychologic viability of the practices resulting from the sexual revolution.
Without being judgmental, she does point to the fact that hookup culture — often billed as sex-positive liberation — does leave a lot of women dissatisfied and unhappy.
No, I don’t agree with all (hell, probably even most) of what Wolf says.
However, Vagina does force us to confront that some feminist corollaries might need to be revisited and revised, and that the ideology kinda fails in addressing the needs of heterosexual women — specifically, when it comes to romantically interacting with men.