Quantcast

«

»

Sep 10 2012

Not reading Naomi Wolf

The UK neuroscientist who blogs as (and at) Neuroskeptic reviewed Naomi Wolf’s new book for the New Statesman blog. I was surfing Twitter the other day at the moment when there was a deluge of tweets about Wolf and the book because everyone was watching Paxman interview her (and because I follow a great many people who watch things like that). Most were funny, all were scathing, and taken together they made for a hilarious few minutes. The review, however, just makes me cringe.

NS starts with an extract.

Words, when deployed in relation to the vagina, are always more than “just words”. Because of the subtlety of the mind-body connection, words about the vagina are also what philosopher John Austin, in his 1960 book How to Do Things with Words, calls “performative utterances”, often used as a means of social control. A “performative utterance” is a word or phrase that actually accomplishes something in the real world. When a judge says “Guilty” to a defendant, or a groom says “I do”, the words alter material reality.

Studies have shown that verbal threats or verbal admiration or reassurances can directly affect the sexual functioning of the vagina. One suggests that a stressful environment can negatively affect vaginal tissue itself…

Ogod make it stop. When deployed in relation to the vagina? Oh jeezis on toast does she do that throughout? Does she use “in relation to the vagina” for “to/at/around a woman”? Does she drag in seriousy-looking stuff to make it sound more seriousy ‘n’ true? Does she pretend the vagina has some kind of special receptivity to words?

NS comments on the extract.

True of course, but it’s nothing to do with vaginas specifically. Threats, admiration and reassurances all influence our stress levels, and stress can affect the function of the vagina. But the same could be said for any other organ: stress also affects the heart, the stomach, and even the penis.

So apparently she does. Ogod.

There’s a good deal more along the same lines.

Why would anyone do that? Write about neuroscience without being a neuroscientist?

It makes me cringe.

 

19 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Someone (was it Laurie Penny?) suggested she was having a public meltdown. I have to say it seems plausible.

  2. 2
    Ace of Sevens

    I’ve found talking to vaginas in a reassuring tone to have a pretty clear effect, especially when I put my mouth very close. Maybe she’s onto something.

  3. 3
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I can’t wait for TLC’s new reality show, The Vagina Whisperer.

  4. 4
    Dave

    Hmm, yes but… if we can’t talk about X without being X, then there goes the public sphere.

    Though probably not the pubic one.

    Thank you, I’m here all week, try the fish.

  5. 5
    Brian Jordan

    Wrong Wolf – i thought you were talking about Tom. He’s in the news at the moment and wrote about Mohammed – who is proclaimed as the eternal world expert on vaginas. Phew, what a relief.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Dave – yeh but – there’s talking about and talking about. Also, neuroscience – I mean.

    Brian the other Wolfe gots an e on the end. Wolfe.

  7. 7
    Raging Bee

    What is this, a new branch of philosophy called vaginassentialism?

  8. 8
    eric

    Threats, admiration and reassurances all influence our stress levels, and stress can affect the function of the vagina. But the same could be said for any other organ: stress also affects the heart, the stomach, and even the penis.

    It reads like some bad combination of a low-budget martial arts movie and alternative medicine woo. “This is Kane. The Qi Gon monks taught him the five sacred limericks that will rupture someone’s internal organs. Now he walks the earth, righting wrongs and exploding the vaginas of evildoers.”

  9. 9
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Ophelia, it gets worse. Much much worse. She also tried to use… evolutionary psychology. You can see where that is going and it’s not pretty. *shudder*

    Link NSFW: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/sep/27/pride-and-prejudice/?pagination=false

    Some excerpts from the review:

    Feminists in particular have tried to persuade women that they can “fuck like men, or get by with a great vibrator…and be simply instrumentalist about their pleasure.” But these, Wolf argues, are damaging myths. In order to achieve high orgasm, women need to feel safe and protected. (Ideally, they will feel “uniquely valued” and “cherished.”) They need atmosphere (candlelight, attractive furnishings, dreamy gazes) and “unique preparatory tributes or gestures” (flowers, drawn baths). It also helps a lot, apparently, if their male partners address them as “Goddess.”

    These are not, Wolf emphasizes, the culturally specific preferences of a high-maintenance woman, but the biologically determined requirements of all women. In prehistoric times, it was dangerous for women to enter the disinhibited trance state of high orgasm when they were copulating “in the vicinity of wild animals or aggressors from another tribe,” so choosing sexual partners who would value them enough to protect them in an emergency was paramount.

    Naturally, physical attacks on the vagina have even more dire consequences. Rape is not merely a “sex crime,” or a form of violence, Wolf writes. It is a profound “injury to the brain,” from which a woman never fully recovers. Her experiences with female rape victims in Sierra Leone—women who spoke of themselves as “damaged goods” and in whom she saw a “unique dimming of vitality” quite distinct from that of any other war victim—have convinced her that rape destroys the female spirit in ways that other forms of cruelty, physical or mental, do not.

    It is unclear how Wolf tells a uniquely dimmed vitality from the ordinarily dimmed kind. But if there is a special horror to the traumas these women have suffered, one suspects it has more to do with their sense of being intimately violated, with their gruesome internal injuries, and with the social stigma that attaches to them as rape victims, than with rape’s special ability to “hollow out” the female soul.

  10. 10
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    People who use the word “goddess” with a straight face should just not be allowed near publishing houses

  11. 11
    rosiebell

    Jumped through your Login hoops to get here, I’m so exercised by Vagina Woolf. I’ve not read any of her books as I’ve read enough reviews of her work by clever women ridiculing her to realise I don’t want to. I thought Laurie Penny and Zoe Heller on her were both excellent. She’s so bloody princessy and priveleged. She wrote some book about how a Professor made a pass at her and she turned him down. End of story – but she has to put a huge emotional drama round it. She’s like the characters in Friends with a few intellectual pretensions.

  12. 12
    rosiebell

    From Laurie Penny

    “It is, not incidentally, a very silly book whose author is currently engaged in a one-woman campaign to deny anonymity to rape victims and persuade the world that the charges of rape and sexual assault of two women currently facing Julian Assange are contemptible. The fact that Wolf’s highly publicised new work claims to offer a thrilling new feminist take on – among other serious issues – rape, means that we cannot help but address the two together.

    Naomi Wolf has done great damage by using her platform as one of the world’s most famous feminists to dismiss these women’s allegations. In one throat-closing 2010 article, Wolf placed her name, picture and reputation behind a title dismissing the serious charges against the Wikileaks founder as mere persecution by ‘the world’s dating police’. ”

    Time and again the Assangists quote Wolf as a credible feminist voice on their side regarding whether St Julian should answer the rape charges in court.

    Agree about Goddess unless you’re writing about ancient Greece.

  13. 13
    Ysanne

    What Giliell said.
    Also, I hope someone can tell me where I can give back my woman card, seeing how my ability to orgasm in the absence of flowers, candles and attractive furniture to look at during intercourse clearly shows that I can’t be biologically female.

  14. 14
    skeptifem

    Someone (was it Laurie Penny?) suggested she was having a public meltdown. I have to say it seems plausible.

    I think so too. Her claims about being harassed and watched as a journalist struck me as mighty paranoid, though they were claims she made years ago…

  15. 15
    xmaseveeve

    It’s ‘The Da Vagina Code’.

  16. 16
    ismenia

    Following on from Beatice #9:

    I would find it very creepy if my husband started to address me as a goddess. Nor does the thought of receiving tribute as foreplay to stage-managed sex appeal to me.

    Perhaps Naomi Wolf finds the above very erotic and that is her business but I wish people would not make these sort of blanket statements.

    I wonder where women whose whose sexual tastes are masochistic fit into this universal picture.

  17. 17
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I wonder where women whose whose sexual tastes are masochistic fit into this universal picture.

    Broken category, probably by feminism.
    Obviously, most women who can’t even orgasm vaginally are not real women either. Probably letting everybody else down.
    OMG, I’m a vaginal Chill Girl!
    I’m publicly saying things like “Oh, it’s alright if you want flowers and sexy goddess talk and I’m glad for you having vaginal orgasms but really, not my cup of tea, I don’t think all women need this”
    11!!!
    Oh wait no, this really isn’t about the oppression of women by lack of flowers in the bedroom, it really just is about individual taste.
    Phew.

  18. 18
    Gordon Willis

    This site no longer lets me use my proper name: GordonWillis. I’m only beechnut on two sites.

    Her experiences with female rape victims in Sierra Leone—women who spoke of themselves as “damaged goods” and in whom she saw a “unique dimming of vitality” quite distinct from that of any other war victim—have convinced her that rape destroys the female spirit in ways that other forms of cruelty, physical or mental, do not.

    So she’s completely stupid, unforgivably, terminally stupid. She can’t see that it isn’t rape that has destroyed the spirit, it’s being “goods”. Being “goods” means that a woman’s self-respect is tied to her being an object of exchange, something that can be bartered by men for some other “good”, and her sole claim to self-respect is to preserve her unused state in mint condition for the benefit of the traders.

    Everything trades on her personhood as a human being alive to her emotional dependence on and interaction with her parents and siblings, and especially her father and brothers: her belief in her role, her desire as child to please the adults in her world. And therefore her willingness to accept her lot as an object of trade. But the same infant humanity which wishes to please is the same adult humanity that hopes for a fulfilled life, for a life of constructiveness and value. Rape in this context is no more than the confirmation that one is nothing in oneself, that one’s only acceptable role is to be pristine barterable product, subject equally to use and abuse.

    Add to that the horror of rape itself, and the fact that its only effect on society is to lower your exchange-value, both as physically perfect goods and as correctly performing goods, that no one cares about your feelings that your personhood has been violated: because your personhood, traded on and assumed as a given, is still an ungraspable concept, an impossible concept, an idea that is simply inconceivable.

  19. 19
    Anne Marie

    Feministe has a good take down of the book:
    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/09/10/naomi-wolf-and-the-sacred-vagina/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>