I like this title so much I have to write a post to go with it.
Naomi Wolf's Vagina: A New Biography has been panned by Zoe Heller, Laurie Penny, Katie Roiphe, Suzanne Moore and Neuroskeptic (a neuro-scientist who questions Wolf's science bits). (Entertaining quote mine here.) The book outlines Wolf's quest for the transcendental orgasm that she had mislaid somewhere. Suzanne Moore describes it as a "self-help" book. So I've decided not to read it - it sounds very American and earnest, and as for searching for the transcendental orgasm, I have trouble enough locating my keys and spare pair of specs. As for the power of the vagina that she extolls, mine won't even charge up my moby. Laurie Penny groans, "Has feminism come to this?" Quite.
Putting "Vagina" in a title does make a book sound more exciting and feministy, so I am jazzing up titles of books I'm reading, or have read recently:-
The Curious Incident of the Vagina in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon In the Shadow of the Vagina by Tom Holland Vagina's End by Ford Madox Ford Letters to Vagina by Philip Larkin We Need to Talk about My Vagina by Lionel Shriver The Lonely Planet Guide to the Vagina A Vagina for Mr Biswas by V S Naipaul The Vagina of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield Changing My Vagina: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith The Vagina Stain by Philip Roth The Odd Vaginas by George Gissing
This heavy solemnity about sex - Wolf, it seems, thinks her vagina is a "goddess" and chaps should cover you with rose petals before you go transcendental on them - does bring out the Vagina Wood in me.
Update:- commenters came up with more suggestions for vajazzled titles here.
Further to my last post, the attitudes towards rape as shown in the poem The Rape of Lucreceare still prevalent in many parts of the world. Sixteenth century England was an "honour" culture.
In Turkey, outside big cities, social life concentrates on coffee houses, that is, if you are a man. This week, the customers of a coffee house in a village in the Mediterranean region saw a young woman carrying a bloody sack. Inside was a severed head. She hurled the sack towards them and said: "I saved my honour. Do not talk behind my back any more."
The woman was 26-year-old Nevin Yildirim, a mother of two. Her husband had been away working at a seasonal job in another town. In his absence Nurettin Gider, aged 35 and a father of two, had raped her repeatedly, taken photos of her naked, and blackmailed her. She had become pregnant. He had been boasting about his visits to her house to his drinking buddies, and there were people in the village who knew what was going on.
[The naked pictures are the equivalent of Tarquin's threat to kill Lucrece and make it look like she was in bed with a slave.]
She shot him 10 times, stabbed him in the abdomen and cut off his head. She turned herself in, and told the police she would rather die than have the baby. Her seven-year-old daughter was about to start school this autumn. She said she didn't want anyone to call her children "the whore's kids". Instead, they would be seen as "the children of a woman who had cleansed her honour".
Female honour only cleansable by death - her own (Lucrece) or the rapist's (Nevin Yildrim's).
I have been away on holiday, and have only now got the time to write a piece about Camille O'Sullivan's performance of The Rape of Lucrece, which was part of the Edinburgh International Festival’s main programme. O'Sullivan has formerly appeared on the Fringe doing her cabaret numbers by Brel, Weill, and more modern song-writers, so this new departure shows that the talent she deploys to enact a song can take an audience through a long narrative poem from the sixteenth century.
I didn't know what to expect but I am a big fan of O'Sullivan, so I went to see the show, and it was a memorable evening. There was a pianist in the corner, some piles of papers and a bit of scenery but otherwise she stood alone on the big stage at the Lyceum and narrated, sang and acted out the poem. In a black coat she was a menacing Tarquin, the princely rapist, in a white shift Lucrece, the trapped victim. She used her flexible voice to tell the story, then growled and lamented, and she sang some lines over and over, especially those about Lucrece's beauty. The theatre was full, attentive and she received a standing ovation.
My only cavil was that the music that accompanied the lines she sang was dull.
I saw The Rape of Lucrece at a time when there was much noise about rape blasting out - and a good deal of the noise showed an ignorance about the subject which needs some correcting. So for the unreconstructed chauvinists I'm thinking of running a course on Basic Feminism. Here are some questions and answers from Module 1
1. Lucrece is the perfect rape victim- discuss.
Lucrece’s feminine beauty – her azure veins, her alabaster skin – is much dwelt on, as is her supreme married virtue – both of course make her desirable to Tarquin. She is chaste; she is forced by Tarquin who threatens not just to kill her but to make it look like she was in bed with a slave when he did so, thus dishonouring her family. In shame after the rape she kills herself in front of her chief male protectors – her husband and father – and they take her bloody body to Rome to rouse the citizenry against Tarquin. She is the soft white lamb menaced by the totally ruthless wolf. She is the patriarch’s perfect rape victim – her relations with Tarquin have been formal and proper and she was never given to doubtful behaviour. Her womanly virtue is stressed again and again.
2. In the light of Camille O'Sullivan's portrayal of her, how does Lucrece compare to the heroine of another performance by O'Sullivan, the woman who sings In These Shoes. If that woman was raped, what would be the reaction?
We are not told what the woman In These Shoes looks like - she's subject rather than object. She takes and leaves the males that come her way on her own terms. If one of the chaps in that song – one we'll call Riderman, the fellow who offered to take her for a ride – tried it on again, and she said, or indicated, “No way, Jose”, and he kept trying and succeeding by force or subterfuge an old tradition of males would say – well – you have been putting it about a bit, including with Riderman. So what did you expect? A smaller sub-group would first of all have to investigate whether Riderman had pissed off the USA before pronouncing on his culpability. They might even let Tarquin off, if he had really good anti-imperialist credentials.
3. Please expand on the following definitions in the context of the following texts:-
( From the flies a hook appears, scooping Asange off the balcony)
All right - it's just a few jottings but I'm sure in a few improv workshops we can come up with something.
Reading the muck emanating from George Galloway et al put me in pure female (not necessarily feminist) fury. But the satirist in me took over - as it did with Hadley Freedman and Deborah Ross - both light, satirical woman writers.
Satire is normally the voice of common sense and decency against the crazy and outrageous - and of course one era's outrage is another era's normality. The idea that women could appear in Parliament was once a cause for automatic hilarity. So it was a sign of great gains made by the nineteen seventies new wave feminism that it is considered a crime with chances of conviction if a man rapes a woman who had been his willing sexual partner - that "brazen groupies" like other once rapable beings (wives and prostitutes) are not a special category of no questions asked access women, but just women. That if the bedroom door closed, inside it wasn't a small dictatorship with full sovereign territory ceded to the strongman. Believing this has become mainstream common sense and decency. Those wriggling about this have been derided and scorned - which is heartening.
*A nasty little commenter on this thread - see Comments 123, 160, 173