Naomi Wolf's 'Vagina' Is an Example to Us All
It's not easy being a man who longs for a woman's world. Which is why, when VICE offered me this column, I decided that it had to be written anonymously. I hope that that doesn't lead you to take me any less seriously - yours, Logan Stuart.
The campaign to demonise Naomi Wolf has entered a new stage. As Vagina: A New Biography hits the bookshelves, a long queue of supposed feminists line up with their hatchets; ready to bury them in one of the most formidable intellects of her generation.
Much of the sisterhood’s criticism has been directed at the idea that – by focusing on the vagina itself – Wolf is already playing into the penetrato-normative modes of male sexuality. It's a criticism that is not without merit, but before we rush to judge, shouldn't we also try to understand whether it is coming from female critics who are fully harmonised with their sexuality – as Naomi evidently is – or simply feminists who thus far haven't been able to climax vaginally? Ironically, sororal envy and ignorance are emotions that follow Wolf like the male gaze; two beady little Henry VIII eyeballs, stalking her like the fat pervert king eyeing a delicious slice of pie.
In one of the central strands of her book, Naomi draws on the neuroscientific idea that the vagina is connected directly to the brain – bypassing the spinal cord. Many of those lining up to sneer have queried the value of this discovery, and pointed out that the feet, too, are connected directly to the brain. The fact is that these people simply lack any ability to see the metaphysical distinction she's drawing: I stand united with Naomi in her belief that women deserve mind-blowing orgasms, and I stand against those who feel that neuroscience ought to be governed by men – invariably men – with clipboards, doing whatever it is that they do in their grey, dour laboratories. Like her, I stand for a neuroscience that is based on a free, creative expression of our desires – and what's more free, creative and desirous than a tender session of lovemaking?
I also stand united in the belief that words can hurt the vagina in ways science is only starting to unpick. Naomi makes plain that there are strong evolutionary (i.e. rape-related) reasons why her vagina needs constant reassurance in ways that a penis simply doesn't. Backed up by further research, she points out that when a vagina is demeaned in conversation by slang appellations – “pussy”, “cunt”, “slutbox”, “vaginator”, “mimsy”, “walnut whip”, “inverse python” – it can not only cause psychological harm, but actually physically impact the overall functioning of the reproductive system.
Wolf has taken it in the neck so far, but simply by publishing a book with such a bold title, she is achieving a victory over vagina denigrators. From my perspective, I too feel that part of the key to liberating the vagina is to celebrate it. In fact, once a year, my life partner and I hold a small ceremony in the backyard to affirm our celebration of not just her vagina, but of all vaginas. It is based on one the Aztecs sadly lost sight of around their first contact with Cortes – when this ancient civilisation was first taught that the vagina was shameful.
As part of the ceremony, we leave a range of small gifts out for the vagina: some yoghurt, fruit, nuts, a tampon, a frilly pair of panties, a few token coins, and so on. Then, my partner will lie naked on a deckchair, and I will talk directly to her vagina – much like the addressing of the haggis on Burns night. I will read it small passages. Feminist poems. Sontag essays. Things that a vagina would like to hear – the trick is, of course, to be positive, and to avoid inadvertently insulting the vagina. Then, I will tend to rub a modest amount of linseed oil into the visible area and – with a final, hearty “Thank you, vagina!” – we will return to our daily business, refreshed and renewed, safe in the knowledge that the vagina's place in society has been elevated.
As a man, I always feel privileged to intrude into these sacred rituals. After all, what man hasn't, at some point in his life, strapped his “meat and two vegetables” between his legs, and wandered round the room naked and squawking, his knees clenched, gazing in the mirror attempting to ascertain at least some sense of what it would mean to have a vagina?
As Naomi points out, every vagina has an ancestral memory. All are blessed with a wisdom older than time. A vagina is like a sponge from the deep ocean. Like one of those squids with no visible features that hasn't seen sunlight in 120 million years and reproduces by sheering away its own tentacles. It is a black hole. A portal to an alternate universe.
In its swirls, you will see the fading light of a thousand galaxies that died a billion aeons ago. In its corpuscles, you will see the sequence of DNA itself. In its crevices you will find... well, you will find whatever you want. That is the true genius of the vagina. It is a Rorschach blot of a thing. Not literally, though, of course: if it is a big labial mess of folds, then that is obviously a difference we ought to celebrate all the more. Because – as Naomi shows – every one is special.