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.