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Read This: Ariel Levy on Naomi Wolf's "Vagina"

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.)

Out next week, this "New Biography" is apparently about the "profound brain-vagina connection," based loosely on pseudoscience but mostly drawing from Wolf's own experiences with orgasms, creativity, and a former investment banker who now specializes in "yoni massage."

Maude Lebowski in a green cape
Maude Lebowski called. She wants her vagina art back.

Lest you think nothing good could come of this 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, think again: Ariel Levy has written a smart and hilarious review and you should read it.

black and white photo of a book spine that looks kinda like a vaginaFrom this week's New Yorker:

Watch what you say around the vagina. Over time, if a woman's "vagina is targeted verbally, her heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, and many other systems will suffer chronically," Wolf writes. Thus, if you "bully a woman by insulting her vagina," you are committing an act of physical violence. Wolf claims that vaginal slander—referring to the vagina by its "awful" feline moniker, for instance—"apparently affects the very tissue of the vagina." She bases this conclusion on a study of female rates whose vaginal tissue showed signs of change after periods of stress. The experiment did not, however, entail researchers yelling "Rat pussy!" at the animals; stress was manufactured physically. Wolf's interpretation of the science is, as usual, rather free.

That's the part I LOLed loudest at, but Levy also critiques Wolf's book in a feminist historical context and compares it to Fifty Shades of Grey. Read an excerpt (and the whole thing if you're a subscriber) here. You can also listen to a New Yorker podcast on the book.

Reviews are just starting to emerge for Vagina, but based on Levy's piece, the comments on this Hairpin article, and this Neurocritic post about the "science" behind Wolf's claims, I'd say we have an entertaining month ahead of us.

Images: The Big Lebowski and The New Yorker

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Comments

8 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I really wanted to like

I really wanted to like Wolf's book, I really did. The Beauty Myth was so important and relevant in its time. You're right, Levy's review is amazing and totally on the mark, if a little cringe-worthy at times. It amazes me that a book with such glaring, second-wave flaws (essentialism, privilege omission) can be published and given so-much-press today. I almost feel like the press explosion is part of a "mis-represent feminism" in the media agenda. Of course it probably has more to do with Wolf's name, but it feels like a large step back.

Please, don't "hate on her," but indeed criticize her

I agree. Wolf's first two books, The Beauty Myth and Fire With Fire are very much essential tools of feminism. I proudly own those books and would never throw them away (Maybe give them away) But her works and actions in recent years have indeed been cause for me to question her credibility. There are too many to list, but one that comes clearly to mind is a late 1980s piece she wrote for The New Republic titled "Our Bodies, Our Souls" (If the article is archived online, you need to be a subscriber to access the site's archives. I must also note that I am trying to recall something I read over twenty years ago and don't have on-hand for me to reference from) where she questions abortion rights after having a confrontational debate with a pro-life activist. Instead of continuing defending abortion as a reproductive health choice, she comes to a sudden realization that being against abortion is a choice, too. That's not standing up for abortion rights with courage. That's backing down several steps away from the movement in self-absorbed cowardice. She maintains throughout the piece that she remains "pro-choice" despite her realization. I remember throwing out that article and magazine and I wrote her off right then and there (Though I kept the aforementioned books because they are essential in content) and didn't even bother picking up her popular tomes Misconceptions and The End of America when they were the talk of Oprah Winfrey and the zeitgeist.

It's not just Wolf's privelege that I find problematic. Her narcissm issues are also. Does she really care about what other humans think and say? Hardly! I got into feminism because I care about what other humans think and say about our mere survival on this planet. Movements do not work as one. They work as many! Her newest book sounds like it's full of more of that problematic privelege and narcissism ... and that is just from reading the above piece about it.

Her December 2010 "debate" on rape with Jaclyn Friedman on Democracy Now! is very, very uncomfortable to watch. As someone who is sick and tired of hearing about rape and assault victims ... not to mention women standing up for the good of humanity ... being blamed and shamed in the media and courts of public opinion-as well as the justice system-all I gained from that was respect for Jaclyn Friedman. I even joined WAM!

correction

The New Republic piece I was referring to (yes, it's the same anonymous as above) was written in the late 1990s, not the late 1980s.

On "privilege"

Yes, that age old insult of being "privileged" again. Because a "privileged" woman knows nothing about the specific problems of being a woman. And heaven forbid she spends time drawing attention to such problems. Go and rattle your pearls at some other privileged people, don't come and shove them into our underprivileged, suffering faces!

Yawn.

You know, there's one thing that's even less attractive than overt privilege: jealousy.

For a different take on the

For a different take on the subject, watch "It's Not You...It's Sex." on youtube... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-64YvFTp8Q

Naomi wolf is a careerist.

Naomi wolf is a careerist. What she says about the anatomy is a short cut misunderstanding. Most people who have had good sex know how to orgasm. Big deal. Cheap shot careerist.