[E]ach time I took the subway this week, I tried to use the sleeve of my jacket to shield the title of the book I was reading from the person who sat across from me. When I felt someone’s eyes drifting over to the text on the page, I couldn’t help but feel a little sheepish.
In bold cursive red letters, the word “VAGINA” brands the cover of Naomi Wolf’s newest book.
It’s a word that is whispered in conversations, but Wolf takes every opportunity to shove the six letters into every possible space in her book. Some may call it empowering to see derivatives of titles like “Meet Your Incredible Pelvic Nerve” splashed on every page, each title more sensationalist than the last, but after the halfway point it becomes borderline obnoxious.
Before I delve into the subject of vaginas I want to say that if the roles happened to ever be reversed, and a man decided to write a book about his penis (mirroring Wolf’s description of the women’s sexual consciousness in relation to female creativity and sense of self), it would almost immediately be labeled as one-sided and sexist.
But hey, enough about men, Wolf didn’t intend to write this book for both sexes after all.
Wolf begins this book with a “medical crisis” she experienced, in which her sexual pleasure became numbed by an unknown force. She spends the next few chapters describing a gruelling process in which it turned out her pelvic nerve had been compressed by a damaged vertebrae in her spine. Her “heightened interconnectedness” after lovemaking returned after having surgery on her spine, and as did her “transcendent orgasms.” It’s easy for the reader to feel empathy for Wolf, but after her run-in with the medical side of things, Wolf credits herself as some sort of scientist.
The next section is all about Wolf’s attempt to educate the reader on the hormones and chemicals that a woman is made of, because she is now a self-confessed expert on this subject. It’s reasonable when Wolf credits her sweeping statements to the dozens of neurologists she seems to have talked to, but when she attempts to make her own claims to medicine it is nearly laughable.
She claims femininity resides somewhere in between our pelvis and brain. As though femininity is a rigid entity that must reside in the same place in every woman.
She calls dopamine the “ultimate feminist chemical.” The more of this chemical she has, Wolf writes, the harder a woman is to control and manipulate. That’s not all. She then claims that serotonin “literally subdues the female voice, and dopamine literally raises it.” Dopamine and serotonin are two chemicals that actually exist in both sexes, animals and even plants. She continues to write in such a manner as though these two chemicals are solely applicable to women. Wolf reduces femininity and the female voice to two chemicals that are found in nearly all organisms in the world.
Just because the author happens to be a woman does not mean she has the authority to speak on behalf of all women. She is just one female, with her own limited sexual experiences.
Did I learn anything? Sure. It’s difficult to get through 300 pages about the history of vaginas without walking away with some kind of new outlook. I learned that Wolf labels men as simple beings who have predictable patterns in their sexual conscience and are there to indulge women in their journey to satisfaction. I learned that Wolf has found a sneaky way to label almost all poetry or song lyric written by a woman as an innuendo to a vagina. According to her, the infamous line, “a rose is a rose is a rose,” is actually referring to an orgasm. I also learned, somewhat unwillingly, after an entire chapter about nipples (that’s right, there were other things discussed besides the vagina!), that women can become “hooked on sexual attention from their lovers.”
One of the most difficult part of reading this was trying to explain what exactly this book was about to myself. Was it a user manual? It didn’t seem like a historical document or a medical journal, why was it trying to pose as one? It was even more difficult to explain these ideas to friends who were unlucky enough to be around me while I was reading the book. One of them posed asked a question that I could not answer. Neither could Wolf.
“What about virgins? What about somebody who doesn’t want to have sex right now? What about the person who just got out of a serious relationship and is going through a dry spell?”
Yeah, Naomi? What about them?
That’s right, Wolf’s writing is only aimed at those who have had sexual experiences identical to hers.
The most dominant theme in Wolf’s book for me, in most simplistic terms, is that sex is a necessary part of a woman’s life for her to remain at her most expressive and artistic character. She claims that a sexual relationship must be functioning at full capacity in order for a woman to “feel that the world is a good place.”
A woman (or a man!) should not defined by their sex drive or the physicality of their genitalia.
Perhaps Wolf should take cue from someone who knows what they’re talking about. In the heavy words of Aristotle: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”