Tomorrow is V Day. It’s the day when everyone will be able to buy Naomi Wolf’s Vagina.
I seriously doubt that the book is worth any attention at all, let alone the attention it’s been getting, but, I am happy to grant Katie Roiphe what should be the last word on the book and on the sad story of Naomi Wolf.
In her Slate review Roiphe makes two salient points.
First, the book reads like self-parody. Naomi Wolf has finally succeeded in making herself into a cosmic joke.
In Roiphe’s words:
One the most prominent feminists in the country writes about her failure to see Technicolor after having sex—“the colors were just colors—they did not pulsate after lovemaking anymore”? And her subsequent painful spinal operation that restored the “pulsating colors”? A book in which she calls the vagina “the goddess” and has the revelation that the vagina “is a gateway to, and medium of, female self-knowledge and consciousness themselves”? It would be hard to write a parody more effective, more sublime, than this.
As I see it Wolf has appealed to young women because she is defiantly and aggressively feminine. She is one of the few feminists who never really indulges in the gender-bending version of feminism.
One might say, after Roiphe, that Wolf is presenting a parody of femininity, but, apparently, to young women who are leaning toward feminism, it is good enough.
Wolf has provided a way to be a feminist without being more masculine and less attractive. She is a radical feminist who wears her hair long, has a sense of fashion and is always made up.
Roiphe argues her case by quoting Wolf’s description of her orgasm. In the world of self-parody it doesn’t get any better.
“Sexual recovery for me was like that transition in The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy goes from black-and-white Kansas to colorful, magical Oz. Slowly after orgasm I once again saw light flowing into the world around me. … 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.”
I’m not going to call this a “primal scream.” I prefer to leave the screaming to Wolf’s readers. So, let’s call it a primal effusion.
For those who do not understand why Wolf is emphasizing her orgasms, I would point out that in the 1980s, radical feminists came up with the idea that the vast right wing patriarchal conspiracy had been erected for the sole purpose of repressing the female orgasm. They also believed that if the awesome power of the female orgasm were ever to be unleashed it would bring down capitalism and the new world order.
That was, dare I say, before we entered the era of The Rabbit.
Roiphe concludes by declaring, correctly, that Naomi Wolf is a cultural symptom.
Surely, Wolf is a symptom of the media culture. She is attractive and articulate; thus she appears often on important television shows.
In Roiphe’s words:
An older writer once wrote to me that Naomi Wolf was a “yuppie barracuda with an execrable prose style,” and the words do float back to me as I read her new book. What’s perhaps most disturbing, though, are the ways in which she is our yuppie barracuda. We should be looking very closely at the shallow fantasies or cultural yearnings and subterranean pressures or forces that created this particular yuppie barracuda effervescence.
To my mind, a woman who has such cosmically feminine orgasms does not deserve to be compared to something as phallic as a barracuda.
If Naomi Wolf’s career is a symptom it is a symptom of the vacuous nature of so much feminist thought.
It is more accurate to say that Naomi Wolf is a leading modern feminist “with an execrable prose style.”