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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

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Ariel Levy on Naomi Wolf's New Book, 'Vagina'

“To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain but also is part of the female soul — it is a gateway to, and medium of, female self-knowledge,” Wolf writes in “Vagina: A New Biography” (Ecco). She refers throughout the book to a “profound brain-vagina connection” but sometimes suggests that the vagina is, or ought to be, the rightful site of mission control.

Please read Ariel Levy's glorious, muffled-smile dissection of Naomi Wolf's new book, Vagina: A Biography, in this week's New Yorker (the book is out September 11). "Anger the vagina," Levy paraphrases, "and the woman will have no choice but to become a harpy. Biology is destiny once again." It's free online only for subscribers, frustratingly, but if you can borrow someone's copy later on, it's worth it for the part about rats alone.

(Also, unrelated, but "Naomi Wolf's Vagina" — is there a phrase for the syntactic difficulty of pairing a person's cultural contribution with their name? For instance, the Etta James obituaries — "Etta James, singer of 'At Last,' has died," versus the other way around. In this vein, it seems smart to write/make something called Perfect.)

Elsewhere: an excerpt from Vagina.

66 Comments / Post A Comment

SarahP

I wish they hadn't gone with coral cursive font for the cover. Come on, people.

(And in the article: did she really think a vagina-shaped pasta party was a good idea? I can't imagine that ever going well.)

redheaded&crazy

@SarahP I imagine angels singing and a holy golden glow shining upon the person who opens this book.

SarahP

@redheaded&crazie I missed you! I'm glad you're back.

redheaded&crazy

@SarahP you should know that i wrote thank you cards to all my friends for birthday stuff on the first day of vacation. and I mailed them on the first day back! even though I still kinda feel like my friends will feel weird about it I DID IT ANYWAY and I was so proud :')

SarahP

@redheaded&crazie !!!!!!!!
I am so proud of you!

maybe partying will help

Looking forward to reading the article when this issue comes into my library. The abstract available is delectable.

thematt

Yes but then you set yourself up for cheap-clever reviews; "Edith Zimmerman's Perfect isn't."

Judith Slutler

@thematt I've always wanted to have a perfect isn't though!

Maryaed

I found that excerpt fairly mortifying.

Josh is like Germany Ambitious and Misunderstood

I'll read this when i go to work this afternoon, but the rhapsodizing of 50 SHADES OF GREY ends with that excerpt, right?

anachronistique

"The word itself makes some men uncomfortable. Vagina."

Oh, squiggles

I'm just here about my rug.

maybe partying will help

@anachronistique

I think it is accurate to say that Wolf's art is very vaginal.

Decca

@anachronistique Fairly sure I've seen Julianne Moore's vagina more times than my own.

sarah girl

Don't be fatuous, Jeffrey.

Nicole Cliffe

I am almost certain this is the first time the phrase 'rat pussy' has appeared in the New Yorker, as well. But not the last!

EternalFootwoman

@Nicole Cliffe I'm always a little surprised when the New Yorker uses a swear, especially "fuck" or "bitch". It's just a little startling, I think because I went to Catholic school and have a deeply ingrained idea that there are places where you can and cannot swear. The New Yorker seems like a place where you cannot. I imagine when I get this issue that the term "rat pussy" will be equally startling.

wharrgarbl

@Nicole Cliffe Please let it never be the last.

Decca

@EternalFootwoman "rat pussy" is fine, but "focuses" most certainly is not? C'mon.

melis

In the New Yorker it's actually spelled "föcus."

Ellie

@EternalFootwoman They had an article a little while ago by John McPhee about the evolution of swearing in the New Yorker. When I was a teenager I was hardcord into New Yorker history and whimsically delighted with all of its quirks, but at this point in my life the William Shawn regime of style just seems wayyyyyyy too precious.

Nicole Cliffe

@Ellie I visited a friend at their august offices last week, and she had to keep me from saying 'these august offices' the entire time. It was extremely exciting.

Emby

Sounds a little... moon goddessy. It's an organ and your brain is an organ, and both are fraught with the history of humanity's failure to appreciate or recognize equality, but they are organs nonetheless. The "gateway to the female soul" stuff feels a little fluffy.

Says the man with no vagina to speak of.

Bloodrocuted

@Emby It's more than an organ, though. It's a shapeshift-abilifing organ that can turn one into a harpy in times of stress. That must count for something.
Wings and all.

Emby

@Bloodrocuted I... I had no idea!

Bloodrocuted

@Emby Do your research, man! It's so powerful that the women have no choice.

wharrgarbl

@Bloodrocuted In his defense, we do only do it when dudes aren't around. That's why ladies really go to the bathroom in groups. Somebody has to guard the purses while everybody else harpies out for a few minutes and gets it out of their systems. (Also, women's restrooms are practically aviaries for just this reason.)

Bloodrocuted

@wharrgarbl It would only breed jealousy and discontent between the genders. Ours isn't near that cool.
Angry penis! Shapeshift-abilify into... a politician.

fondue with cheddar

@wharrgarbl It's also why little girls have slumber parties. My first one was such a transformative experience.

wharrgarbl

@jen325 I've always kind of envied the second-wavers and their hand-mirrors. Can you imagine having a vagina with such a hair-trigger that you only needed to look at it funny to turn into a harpy? If my vagina got enraged that easily, I wouldn't need a car. I could just fly everywhere.

fondue with cheddar

@wharrgarbl That would be pretty fantastic.

Also, can I be 12 for a second? Because heehee you said "hair-trigger".

wharrgarbl

"I'm sorry about how snappish I was in the meeting earlier. My vagina's just really infuriated today."
"Oh, I hear you. I'd have been flipping the refreshment table over and smashing credenzas from hell to breakfast if I hadn't taken my vagina to see Magic Mike last night."

damselfish

I dunno, turning into a harpy can't be that bad. They can fly! Who knew gaining the power of flight would be so easy? I'm angry all the time. Maybe I am really just the dream of a woman living in Florida and looking for a job dreamed by a harpy who fell asleep after a day of terrorizing men, crapping in their dinners, and then flying away, cackling maniacally.

leonstj

Is there a reason we're not commenting on the phrase "Muffled Smile"?

Emby

@leon s It's the "L"

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@leon s
NOBODY does "muffled smile" like Levy. I am beside myself with excitement to read this, but am waiting until I get the paper version.

Ellie

I read Naomi Wolf's book "Promiscuities" when I was 13 (not too age appropriate) and it really shaped my impression of female sexuality for years afterward. I still think about stuff in it all the time. I was a big Naomi Wolf fan but I'm even more excited to read Ariel Levy's review, because I love her.

fondue with cheddar

I, for one, thoroughly enjoy angering my vagina until it's red in the face.

TheBourneApproximation

Dear Naomi Wolf: I am still not forgiving you for your response to the Assange case.

Judith Slutler

@TheBourneApproximation mmmmhm!

theotherginger

@TheBourneApproximation just read that. can hardly believe it.

Miss Maszkerádi

*Six months* of writer's block from one bad word and an off-color culinary joke? I mean....really? Is that a thing that happens?

wharrgarbl

@CountessMaritza I guess maybe if you really just want to ride that sucker until the wheels fall off. Or if your vagina is being unusually angsty this year, because it's going through a thing, and you can't talk it down because every little thing just sets it off again.

Ophelia

@wharrgarbl Ugh, seriously, and it just WON'T come down from the ceiling, and you can't get its muzzle on to clip its claws, either.

Miss Maszkerádi

@wharrgarbl Vagina.....vagina! COME BACK HERE - no, the other way - ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME - no, don't start chewing on the wiring! If you don't start behaving I'm going to trade you in for a new one!

Springtime for Voldemort

I've always felt shockingly out of touch with my vagina, given how much I touch it...

Ophelia

@papayalily Mine only responds if I talk to her in ancient Greek.

Ophelia

This year for Halloween, we should all just let our vaginas out and go as harpies.

Also, there's a surprisingly well-written take-down of this book in Elle this month.

MILFofMagnesia

re: the cuntilini comment: obviously the woman has some sort of sexual assault or incest history, which accounts for all sorts of hypersensitivity to minor stupidity. Have some compassion. Also, did you read the yale newspaper editorial (after the jump)? Horrifying...

Miss Maszkerádi

@MILFofMagnesia Do you know that for a fact?

MILFofMagnesia

@CountessMaritza nope

WaityKatie

I wish Naomi Wolf would stop being "controversial." It's so exhausting. (Also I hate that her name is so similar to Naomi Klein, who is straight up awesome, and I always think things are talking about her and then have to be disappointed when it's just Naomi Wolf, AGAIN.)

theotherginger

@WaityKatie I know! Glad I'm not the only one.

amirite

@WaityKatie THANK YOU. I was so confused about how to feel. That excerpt made me very suspicious, but I thought I respected Naomi, didn't she write a thing that I liked in first year university? But I was thinking of Klein and No Logo.

Verity

The Guardian also has a thing about this. Plenty of "muffled-smile" stuff there, too.

There is some discussion about what constitutes the "female soul". Looking back on a walk she took with a group of female scientists, Wolf recounts "that slightly wild, slightly inexplicable moment – when the wind, the grass and the animals had all seemed a part of what we were learning about ourselves". It's these kind of moments that have, over the years, contributed to a vague sense that while her heart is undoubtedly in the right place, Wolf is also full of hot air.

Verity

If our special "female souls" are in the vagina, how do we keep them from falling out? I don't have the stamina to be doing pelvic floor exercises constantly to prevent such things.

TheBourneApproximation

@Verity Female scientists, on reading that passage: "What the shit?"

theotherginger

@TheBourneApproximation @Verity. Seriously? Naomi Wolf. Seriously? (Guardian ftw)

Inkling

@Verity
Feminity is always related to Nature, in the terms that it's a wild, powerful thing that must be used, tamed, or fought by Men who are of course related to Humans. We're not more natural or intuitive or anything, urgh we're just people, stop coming up with excuses to hate us.
Basically what MoxyCrimeFighter is saying down there.

MoxyCrimeFighter

Ugh, I HATE mystical moon-goddess sentiment. HATE IT. Pyramid Collection feminism makes me rage-y.

I understand the impulse, after centuries of being told that women are less-than and untrustworthy when it comes to logic etc, to be like, "Fine, fuck it, my womb is the womb that mounts the world! My Kegels make the ocean tides ebb and flow!" And I won't lie, sometimes a really good discussion with my friends about what it means to be a woman and how truly powerful we are can make me feel like I do have a special insight.

But I think that line of thought is so damaging, in the long run, because it's still assigning an "otherness" to women, even if it is in positive attributes. Whether its dudes saying offensive shit like "Chicks have magical boob-powers that make us do dumb things!" or women saying ostensibly affirmative stuff like "The blood of my uterus is the dirt in which the seeds of life sprout!" it basically just perpetuates the idea that women, as a whole, are somehow so strange and "special" that we aren't just human. I am a human, with the same basic brain and instincts and feelings as anybody else. Just let me be a person, please.

BoozinSusan

@MoxyCrimeFighter Totally agree. And if you feel this way - the repetition of the word "goddess" makes you cringe - you probably shouldn't live in San Francisco. The ubiquity of "goddess"-themed stores (which, what?) would drive you a little nuts.

theotherginger

@MoxyCrimeFighter I think that's why I had such a negative response to the subject of this post (not the hairpin, natch). To me it's a short distance from the "women are beautiful and special" to "women must be protected because they have these special abilities" to "women must be punished when they fall outside of the norm we (men) impose on them"

Porn Peddler

Mmmm, gender essentialism?

JUST A GUESS.

Brian1001

For a different take on the subject, watch "It's Not You...It's Sex." on youtube.

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