Man, am I struggling with Naomi Wolf’s Vagina.
Remember how, when I was reading Sex at Dawn, part of my problem was that those authors were reporting the science incorrectly, and part of my problem was that the voice of the book was so… asshole dickwad jerkface?
Well, Wolf is also describing the science very poorly, but man I can’t help liking her. Her book is just exactly what I would expect one of my students might write if I just said, “Go read this cool science and tell me what you think!” She has a precocious way of constructing meaning, which would be awesome if she actually UNDERSTOOD the science.
Naomi Wolf is quite clearly an intelligent, sane human being. She has been through some stuff with her sexuality, and she turned to science to understand it, after finding that her culture her led her badly astray. Which is what I did, however unintentionally, when I was 18 and started training as a peer sex educator. So I get it.
Because I can’t think Ms Wolf is dumb or is operating from a hidden agenda or has anything but the most compassionate intentions, I can only conclude that the extent to which she’s wrong about nearly everything in Vagina reflects the extent to which our cultural understanding of sex must be abysmally, painfully, horrifically wrong, and possibly also that non-scientists have no way of understanding what sex science actually says.
She writes in chapter 5:
The tricky part is, if you look at the new science, that women are indeed, in sex, in some ways more like animals than men are; the new science also reveals that, in sex, women can be more like mystics than men are. These are controversial statements, but as a feminist I believe that a frank exploration of the potential animal and mystical aspects of female sexuality does not in any way undermine women’s rational, intellectual, and professional capabilities.”
To clarify and correct: There isn’t any science that shows that women are more like animals than men; it is not possible for one sex within a single species to be more “animal-like” than the other. They are both equally animals. Peacocks would never be described as “more animal-like” than peahens. Female bonobos are not “more animal-like” than male bonobos. They are all equally what they are: members of their species. Animals. As are we. While we’re at it, male and female humans are also both equally intellectual, creative, and rational. Equally human, I mean to say.
And there isn’t any science that says women are “more mystical,” either, because science wouldn’t call anything “mystical.” I imagine that if it were MY research she was pointing to and saying, “See? Women are more MYSTICAL!” I’d be all, “Uh no, uh… women, they’re just sexual with their whole brains. I guess sometimes people experience this kind of thing as mystical, but that’s not actually what the science itself shows.”
What these two sentences should say is:
When I, as a person with four decades of cultural training around women’s sexuality and essentially no training in thinking like a scientist, read the science, I apply the metaphors of my culture to my interpretation of the science, and I conclude that women’s sexuality, contrary to what my culture taught me within the metaphors, more closely meets the definition of “animal-like” and “mystic.” This actually feels really good because I’ve spent my middle class, white, American, feminist, liberal life being told to value intellect and reason and ignore the body – and it turns out my body is important.
She’s reconstructing her narrative. And the narrative she started with, her beginning framework was SO FLAWED, that this was the farthest she could go and still submit her manuscript on deadline.
Basically? I want to buy Naomi Wolf a drink and be like, “Let me help you out.”
On to chapter 6.