Naomi Wolf (One of my favourite and highly influential feminist authors, famously known for writing ‘The Beauty Myth’, 1991) has just released her newest book ‘Vagina: A New Biography’. The book offers a cultural-history of the worshipped, censored, sexualised, shamed and powerful female body part of the vagina. Wolf aims to get “to the very core of what it means to be a woman”.
The female body is at one of it’s most highly politicised moments. Pussy Riot, the Russian Punk band have caught the attention of the newspapers and pop stars such as Madonna (below), and are often referred to in Russia as “the uprising of the vagina”. Politicians are constantly debating the definition of rape and US Democratic stet senator Lisa Brown was barred from speaking in the Michigan state courthouse for using the word ‘Vagina’, being told that she had “failed to maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives”.
The perception of the vagina has altered throughout history. The first use of the word ‘Vagina’ in the English language was back in 1682 and before Western religion imposed shame onto this body part, the vagina was celebrated as symbols of fertility.
The depiction in contemporary society see’s the vagina depicted mainly in pornography. Germaine Greer wrote in 1973 “A woman’s pleasure is not dependant on the presence of a penis in the vagina. Neither is a man’s”.
Midwife Inu May Gaskin fears that this contemporary definition contributes to to womens fear of labour and the increase in medialisation of child birth. In the past, sculptures such as the Sheela Na Gig (carved in the 12th Century) portrayed a crouching figure open enough to accommodate a size as big as her own head. As Gaskin says “I’d like to see a large rendition of a Sheela Na Gig as part of the Decor of birth rooms in maternity units”.
With the ever rising demand for labiaplasty with some girls as young as 11 asking for procedures, maybe it is time for another ‘Vaginal Revolution’. I hope that Naomi Wolf can influence us about this subject, just as her book ‘The Beauty Myth’ did.
Sheela Na Gig carved in the 12th Century at Kilpeck parish church.
Naomi Wolf’s book cover and Naomi Wolf herself.
A portrait by Jean-Baptiste Mondino called ‘Man Looking at the Origin of the World’. The original oil-on-canvas painting ‘L’Origine du monde’ (Origin of the world) was painted by French artist Gustave Courbet in 1866 and currently resides in the Musée d’Orsay.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Iris, 1926
Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974 to 1979, was a huge installation by this hugely influential feminist artist. This piece still influences art education today.
Clayton Cubitt, Flesh For Fantasy (Girl #5), color pigment print, 32.5 x 44.5, 2008
I went to see Jamie McCartney at his exhibition of the ‘Great Wall of Vagina’. He also does internal vaginal casts.
Maybe I will treat the team to some cupcakes next week 😀
Myself and Katherine Jane Wood are reading this book at the moment. So look out for the book review!