The Female Counterpoint to the Penis is NOT the Vagina

Fri, 09/21/2012 - 11:49
Submitted by Eric Francis

Did you catch that Naomi Wolf, an American author and political consultant, has a new book out, about sex? It's called Vagina: A New Biography. I commend Wolf for figuring out that there is a sexual-social-political connection, and taking advantage of it.

Toni Bentley, who reviewed the book for The New York Times, summed it up this way: "The female counterpart to your penis is not (spoiler alert) our vagina, and calling a book about the female sex 'Vagina' is like calling a book about the male sex 'Scrotum'. Talk about a near miss." I kept thinking the same thing. Did this woman get her entire sex education at The Vagina Monologues?

"The clitoris is the diva at our party, and she sports the most sensitive millimeters of flesh -- male or female -- in human existence. Her 8,000 nerve endings -- let me repeat that: 8,000 -- outnumber those on your circumcised penis by a mere 100 percent," Bentley wrote in her review. But the clitoris, well, hardly anyone talks about that in polite company, while science is still trying to deduce what it's for. (Implication: its evolutionary purpose cannot be female orgasm. It has to be about something else, perhaps related to women's role in hunting-gathering).

Wolf has been something of a sensation this week, as the latest heterosexual woman to come out of the closet (right on the heels of Sandra Fluke). There is so much sexual tension in the air that the world has a spontaneous orgasm any time a woman even mentions sex publicly. Whatever it takes.

This week Wolf wrote an opinion piece for CNN, and I would like to offer my analysis of some of her thoughts. She asks: "Who decides when and how breasts might be exposed; who decides who can say vagina and where; who decides who is a slut; and who must be punished with hard labor for asserting their right to define their own sexual and artistic identities." [She forgot the question mark, which insinuates that she was making statements, not actually asking questions.]

"The sexual revolution came and went, and yet women are still not as truly sexually free as they deserve to be -- here or around the world. They are not yet, as these struggles show, fully free to define the meanings of their bodies and their desire, to assert their sexual wishes without punishment -- including punishment by the state. And they are not yet fully free to claim the right to sexual pleasure and autonomy without enduring public shaming."

Let's start with the sexual revolution, assuming there even was one. What exactly was it a revolution against? Well, presumably against sexual oppression. Most of what we think of as sexual oppression is created with guilt and shame. Yes, there are plenty of efforts to make sex illegal, but they're not really efficient. As for who deserves to be free: with an emotionally based self image issue like this one, those who deserve to be free are those who do the personal work that it takes to be free.

Sexual revolution is specifically revolution against shame. That's because nearly any 'outer' source of oppression requires shame of the individual as its power source.

The way oppressive forces control sex is to shame people. You can, therefore, be pretty sure that when anyone speaks up for sexual freedom, someone is going to try to shame them. That shame, which has as its power source our natural instincts, is used to turn us against ourselves. To be free, the first thing we have to deal with is the shame itself.

As long as that shame exists -- as a public function or as a private one -- there is a need for sexual revolution. Or perhaps the concept we're looking for is healing. While it might seem that we need to stand up for our rights to abortion and birth control and to be queer and for that matter to be 'straight', I would propose that most of what we need to stand up to are our own toxic emotions. Those are what hold us back; those are the tools that are most readily used against us by anyone else.

To have sexual freedom for oneself, it's not necessary to enter public discourse. In fact, it's better to shut up about what you're doing. You just figure out how to have a good time, and the chances are you'll be left alone. Maybe you might come out to your friends, and your mom and dad, so you don't feel so lonely, and even when you do that, the thing you're up against is indeed shame.

It's only when we want to take the step into advocating liberation on a larger scale that it's necessary to engage with the larger public realm, and stand in that mysterious 'personal as political' Aries Point magnifier -- where Mercury has been all week, sparking these kinds of conversations. Then one invariably gets an earful of what society is made of, and what judgments and emotions are contained in the humans who populate it.

We can only blame advertising for so long. If she's ashamed of her body or her sexuality, or if she thinks she's fat or ugly, eventually she has to work that out, and it's unlikely to happen at a protest -- though you never know. Photo by Eric Francis.
Though Wolf seems to long for a world where it's safe to speak up without being shamed, she is missing the very point of what we need to do right now -- which is to confront precisely that shame as the oppressive force. The problem is that things considered shameful are presumed to be that way because they're also presumed to be 'wrong'.

Therefore, to speak up is to stand up and to do exactly the thing that everyone else seems to be judging in the first place -- being open about your sexuality. This is territory that's taken back, and you can expect a few people to throw tomatoes. Said another way, if you're going to confront resistance, you can reasonably expect a little. If you're going to stand up for anything besides alleged Biblical monogamy, you're very likely to piss off a good few people.

Wolf concludes her article, "Until that real freedom arrives, we can honor the pioneers such as Lisa Brown, Pussy Riot and the young women of Tahrir Square -- and keep up the fight to be free to name our bodies and ourselves."

Until that real freedom arrives? Does she think that freedom pulls into the station like a train, steps onto the platform, stops for a cappuccino and takes a taxi to the hotel? This reminds me of the people who want the fruits of the land without plunging in their pitchfork and turning over the soil. We want fire, but we're not willing to split the wood. We want food, but we're not willing to cook. Wait -- where are we? I just checked my GPS and it's flashing the words WESTERN CIVILIZATION.

The state of the sexual discussion is so dismal at the moment that Wolf's ideas may have value if we bother to consider and question them -- though I don't think she understands the nature of the problem and therefore cannot speak about the solution.

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Love the Post, not the titling shown when posted to Faceboo

Sun, 10/21/2012 - 09:21
Jim Pivonka (not verified)

Carlin, forgive my presumption. My impression of the headline, and the excerpt that appears when the URL is processed by the bot that places it in the description when a link to this posting is posted to facebook, could better describe the import and content of Eric Francis's writing if they referred to these points from the article:

TITLE: Sexual revolution is specifically revolution against shame

QUOTE (description): The way oppressive forces control sex is to shame people. You can, therefore, be pretty sure that when anyone speaks up for sexual freedom, someone is going to try to shame them. That shame, which has as its power source our natural instincts, is used to turn us against ourselves. To be free, the first thing we have to deal with is the shame itself.
I made the changes, or attempted to, when I posted my Facebook link to your site and post, here:
http://www.facebook.com/jimpivonka/posts/495121170507677

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