Naomi Wolf is a well-established third-wave feminist known for her book The Beauty Myth. In 2012, she came out with a new biography centered both in and around her lady parts. The book was not well received. Katie Roiphe of Slate said of Vagina that, “I doubt the most brilliant novelist in the world could have created a more skewering satire of Naomi Wolf’s career than her latest book.” So, with that in mind, I didn’t set out to fall in love. I listened to Vagina in an audiobook format, and it was a strange journey.
There is a mixture of the scientific and the spiritual as Wolf drags you into her doctor’s office, through laboratories where researchers stimulate rat vaginas, and into the intimate offices of healing sex therapists. All this in a search for the lost ability to see colors when she comes, and the way she describes afterglow sounds more like a trip on psychedelics. I mean, really. When she accomplishes her goals and her orgasms return with ferocity, she describes it in such sweet prose that I think I may have diabetes:
“¦I looked out of the window at the trees tossing their new leaves and the wind lifting their branches in great waves, and it all looked like an intensely choreographed dance, in which all of nature was expressing something. The moving grasses, the sweeping tree branches, the birds calling from invisible locations in the dappled shadows seemed again all to be in communication with one another. I thought: it is back.
This may have more to do with me than Wolf, but a book that flips between a medical discussion of the pelvic nerve and pop-culture-tantric exploration of the yoni as the center of the female, she calls the vagina a “goddess hole,” makes me a little ill at ease. There is a lightning fast shift between medicine and science in Wolf’s biography, and I am not sure it is something with which either community would really feel comfortable.
As I mentioned, I did listen to the book, which made some of the discussion of Wolf’s scientific discoveries difficult for me to grasp – I prefer to consume my figures through visual means. However, the voice actor pronounced vagina “vah-gyn-a“ in sort of a breathless tone that was too much for me to handle – I would cringe every time. If this book interests you, I suggest you buy the print version.
In her journey for the return of orgasms in Technicolor, Wolf discovers (early in the book) that all women are wired differently, which accounts for the differences in women’s ability to feel pleasure. That’s a pretty big revelation, and one I had never heard before. Yet, after several long flowery minutes on the unique snowflake-ness of every vagina, the rest of the book does not seem to keep this differentiation in mind. She uses her experiences in life as the model for which all women could follow. Being a biography, this egocentricity makes sense, but then why devote so much time discussing uniqueness at the beginning?
My favorite part of the book was the revelation that the entirety of our lady part has no name. As Wolf herself says, the there’s vulva, clitoris, and vagina but they are the most superficial surfaces of women’s anatomy. How have we not named the whole (pardon the pun) of the female sex organ? Wolf also writes very compellingly about the damage that rape does to a woman – damage that goes well beyond the physical discomforts. Her writing here was meaningful and poignant and I would have loved to see material like this have its own book.
Overall, diving into Wolf’s vagina made me uncomfortable (I bet I am late to the party on that joke). This may have more to do with me than with her, but I find a book that centers an entire life on your genitals to be disturbing. I don’t think we should be ashamed of our vaginas but I don’t know if I need to demand that my boyfriend acknowledge the goddess in my yoni. Further, the vagina-mind connection Wolfe speaks of sounds more like something that should be on a b-reel horror film, or science fiction. Blorg-vagina, anyone?
The book is both an exhibitionist cry for attention (hey, everyone look and think about my vagina, and my amazing orgasms for hours) mixed with a lot of fancy science which basically explains something that we already knew. Sexual satisfaction is a part of overall well-being for a woman, and being appreciated means that you are more likely to accomplish both.