Certain feminists, similar to children discovering that certain words shock their mommies, like to talk dirty. Or at least naughty. Naomi Wolf climbs on this bandwagon once more with her eighth book, “Vagina: A New Biography” (Ecco, 2012). She joins aging shock-jock (“jockette”?) Eve Ensler in shouting the word in a marketplace crowded with female monologues. Ms. Wolf, who helped Al Gore with his “earth tones” to make him more attractive to women in his presidential quest in 2000, imagines that she has grown up now and seeks to prove it by “liberating” a certain word in the female anatomy.
Contemporary feminism sprang from the heads of smart women who, like Aphrodite, sprang from the head of Zeus. They changed the way women asserted themselves. Some of their rhetoric suffered from hyperbole about bra burnings and witch sightings, but the most credible of the sisterhood addressed legitimate complaints about prejudice against women in the workplace and the objectification of women as sexual objects in cultural stereotypes.
Ms. Wolf’s new revelations are what’s wrong with so many contemporary feminist perceptions that gain such easy attention (and notoriety). Middle-class women have attained so much of what they sought in work and love, for better and for worse, that they’ve become sexual satires of themselves. They cheerfully gave up childhood dreams of a knight on a white horse, but they’re disillusioned and unhappy now when they find themselves on an old gray mare in the rodeo of life.
As a revolution, it produced low-hanging fruit, ready for the picking, and the revolution coincided with the development of the birth-control pill, which gave women the ability to determine whether they would bear children, when and how many. The changes didn’t usher in a perfect culture, as revolutions rarely do, but women got a new way to think of their bodies, their abilities to work outside the home and how they could combine work and nurturing. This inevitably opened Pandora’s box, letting loose all manner of new and unexpected vices, abusing language and love.
Naomi Wolf gives her repetitious sexual signature a patina of faux scholarship, claiming insights in the tradition of transcendence, described by William James in “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” the moments of glory articulated by the poet William Wordsworth (when he finished his dance with daffodils), and the sublime as achieved through meditative states, such as those of the Dalai Lama. That’s quite a tradition for someone with a taste for displaying sexual habits.
The experience of the mystical, transcendent and shining elevations which enable a woman to connect with the divine, or “greater self,” Ms. Wolf writes, is available to all women in their “multi-orgasmic capacity.” She writes: “Producing the stimulation necessary for these mind states is part of the evolutionary task of the vagina. Philosophers have spoken for centuries of a ‘God-shaped hole’ in human beings — the longing human beings feel to connect with something greater than themselves, which motivates religious and spiritual quests.”
If this argument sounds like a late-night skit for “Saturday Night Live,” it’s not. She is deadly serious about her spiritual “journey,” and one reviewer, Toni Bentley, tartly observes that “so many women are taking journeys these days that I am surprised anyone is ever at home.”
The reviews of “Vagina” are often coupled with discussions of Hanna Rosin’s much publicized book, “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women” (Riverhead, 2012), in which she describes how the “new woman” has become the man she once railed against. As women become the dominant sex in education and in the work force, they find their opposite sex, no longer so opposite, reduced to a passive partner.
Although Ms. Rosin argues that the heartaches of women in the college “hook-up” culture is exaggerated, she concedes that two-thirds of the women in one survey of 20,000 only wished their last hook-up had turned into something more than a one-night stand. They hope, wistfully and often desperately, that they will still marry and have families. This is evidence that some women reflect seriously on the nature of their trade-offs and the changes wrought in male-female relationships.
All these data, of course, must seem superfluous to women of other cultures, particularly women in Muslim cultures where many must conceal their bodies, often in heavy wool armor, lest they unleash uncontrollable lust in their men. American society remains in the vanguard of women’s rights in a democracy where we don’t (yet) have to apologize for free speech, no matter how far-fetched or even irresponsible speech may be.
There’s no such thing in America that could remotely be called a “war on women.”
Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.
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