Posts Tagged With: Sigmund Freud

Speaking For Other People’s Vaginas

Yeah, I said it: VAGINAS!  I like to think it’s not a dirty word and yet the word itself evokes oh so many emotions for us all.  Please let me begin this post by acknowledging several of its inspirations (among many): Sigmund Freud and his theories on the female orgasm, Anne Koedt and her 1970 piece on, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” Eve Ensler and her famous play The Vagina Monologues, Dina Siddiqi [of Hunter College] and her course in Transnational Feminisms as well as Jaclyn Friedman and her lecture on how feminist digital activism is like the clitoris (e.g. “it’s misunderstood, not a button, more complex than it looks – the tip of the iceberg – part of a larger system,” etc.).

Even in 2012, vaginas are a touchy subject.  There are a lot of people who have tackled this issue, who have written about vaginas and filmed documentary films about vaginas and given lectures about vaginas.  But, having read and watched and listened to many of these compelling stories, arguments and theses, my question remains the same: Who has the authority to homogenize vaginas?  And the answer, I say with absolute certainty, is NO ONE.

Don’t get me wrong, Eve Ensler did incredible things with her ground breaking play, The Vagina Monologues, and with her V-Day [anti-violence] campaign.  But if you watch a production of the show, you can’t help but notice a somewhat racist, albeit unintentional, trend of white vaginas being liberated and non-white vaginas being tortured by various manifestations of gender violence.  If you watch her documentary on V-Day, you will also see her organization donating funds to stop the practicing of female genital modifications (labeling it “mutilation”) in parts of Africa by providing means of transportation to educate the youth on gender violence; young African girls learn the difference between what a healthy and what an unhealthy vagina look like.  Ensler’s work mobilizes corporeal ideals of the global north, silencing many voices that are otherwise eclipsed.

Take a course in Transnational Feminisms and you will come across some not-so-widely-well-known literature about female genital modification.  As a student of the global north, I myself was taken aback by the ideas surrounding ‘pro-choice,’ when it came to genital modifications (FGM).  But how can that be considered choice?  What [self identified] woman would choose to mutilate her body?  It must be that she has internalized her cultural norms so much so that she is blind to her own oppression.  Thoughts like these are typical of a so-called-Western mind, shaped heavily by Euro-American discourses of universal human rights, etc.

Adopting a transnational perspective might resolve some of these dividing tensions by its strong resistance to homogenizing narratives.  Indeed, some cases of FGM are absolute incidences of physical abuse.  However, other cases are quite different.  There are [self identified] women whom identify as post-colonial feminists and who advocate for feminisms (i.e. plural) so as to accommodate for the voices that aren’t heard on the international scale.  In many cases, these women are fighting for the local rights of girls and self identified women, and ask that global north feminists not intervene so as to reify First World-Third World dichotomies that are rather neo-colonial in nature.  In some other cases, global south feminists are advocating for ‘pro-choice’ policies, as some women construct their senses of beauty and sexuality around the symbolism of FGM.

Pro-choice seems like a relatively fair way to go, especially considering all the voices that are silenced in the global debates as well as all the factors that are otherwise occluded in the politics of saving in the global north; Why are we so focused on vaginas and so inconsiderate of malnutrition?  Those like concerns of malnutrition, starvation and poor drinking water impact the very same objects of scrutiny surrounding FGM.  But there’s plenty room for discussion about these charged debates in the Comments section as well as on Twitter!

I want to shift this topic of vaginas over to the O word, and what some so-called-experts on the matter have to say about it.  After all, science is a loaded term that has been deployed by authoritative voices like Sigmund Freud and, you guessed it, Naomi Wolf.  In fact, their theories aren’t quite different.  Wolf recently wrote a book titled, Vagina – A New Biography, which I have not yet read (so please excuse the prematurity of my critique but I cannot help myself).  Most of what I know about this book derives from The New York Times review as well as from Friedman’s lecture on feminist digital activism.  Wolf attempts to homogenize all [heterosexual] vaginas into flowery goddesses who must ascend up the latter of orgasmic maturity: from clitoral, that is adolescent, to vaginal, that is superior.  Please allow me to invoke Friedman when I assert that the G-spot, to which Wolf is referring, is actually an extension of the clitoris and need not be isolated as its own royal entity; that “it is part of a larger system.”

Wolf’s book should be titled, Vagina – A Dated, Neo-Freudian, Auto-Biography, and recognized for its prescriptive To-Do-ness, which reminds me more of Cosmopolitan Magazine than anything resembling feminism.  Here is a message to Naomi Wolf and any ‘expert’ who claims to have cured women of their so-called-frigidity: Stop assuming that your vagina is just like everybody else’s vagina and that you have the inherent right to speak for other vaginas just because you yourself have a vagina.  It doesn’t work like that, or rather, it shouldn’t…anymore.

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Understanding “Compulsory Heterosexuality”

In her famous piece titled, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Adrienne Rich argues, “A feminist critique of compulsory heterosexual orientation for women is long overdue.”  Rich wrote and published these words in the summer of 1980; that was more than thirty years ago.  I think it’s important to understand “compulsory heterosexuality,” as defined by Rich so as to trace its implications in the past and present discourses surrounding violence against women.

Our course on Feminism, Health and New Media teaches that Rich argues, “violence against women is one of the primary mechanisms men use to control women and ‘enforce’ heterosexuality.”  How might deploying violence be used as an effective tool by which to enforce one such hetero-normative social order?  I think Rich’s argument details the social construction of heterosexuality as a sexuality not based in biological origins but rather along the lines of cultural acceptability (i.e. hegemonic norms and the like).

Rich’s scholarly journal article was significant then as it is reflective now of a time and place in which lesbian discourse was not granted its fair share of authentic representation in the feminist movement and larger social arenas.  On the contrary, lesbian existence was viewed as deviant or alternative to a so-called-normal or normative feminist lifestyle.  Rich presents lesbian existence as one that is not only legitimate, but also one which can provide women with a, “source of knowledge and power.”  It is the heterosexual relationship that Rich views as problematic or, “disabling,” for women.

Rich aims to place [compulsory] heterosexuality under the microscope for critique and analysis as an institution by which women’s drive toward heterosexual relationships is rather externally influenced than internally desired by some fixed nature of sorts.  This theory of sexuality rings quite different to contemporary Lady Gaga standards of biological predispositions (i.e. born this way).  How are we to resolve this theoretical duality surrounding sexual orientation as predetermined by nature or post-determined by culture?

Nature Versus Nurture, from Google Images

At initial glance, it might appear that one theory is dated while the other is current – based in cold, hard, scientific facts (i.e. the gay gene) and so one.  Theories of sexuality range from the very narrow to the very broad.  I tend to air on the side of Freud, actually, whom Sociology has reclaimed after [American] Psychology spit him out like an old piece of chewing gum with no more minty flavor, and in many ways was the original queer theorist.  That is, Freud referred to what Donna Haraway has coined as natureculture, all one word, meaning that reality of no clear division between the two.  Babies don’t sexualize other beings in an adult context so much as they follow drives that are influenced by external environments while simultaneously developing according to one’s own personal nature.  This is not to say that I believe sexuality is a choice so much as I am not entirely sure that it is a rigid, biological construct (rooted in our DNA, so to say).  I tend to believe that it is a much more fluid concept which we as humans experience and desire indiscriminately – UNLESS there are such things at hegemony.  Oh yeah, then the idea of choice becomes complicated.

Rich was referring to that heterosexual matrix – which is a term coined by Queer theorist, Judith Butler, meaning the socially acceptable order of: biological sex, socially constructed gender and sexuality all in so-called-harmony with one another – in her work on, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.”  So if one is born male, it is expected that this individual will perform the gender role of boy, then man later on in life, and desire women, and only women, sexually.  Rich found this matrix to be disabling for women because it granted more autonomy and agency to the male gender role and took away or subtracted from female empowerment via Heterosexual integration and Homosexual segregation.

Can we observe contemporary examples of this unequal gender axis in media images?  Yes, oh yes we most certainly can.  Where does one begin?  Just pick up ANY magazine and observe the purposeful postures of men (as dignified) and women (as subordinate and/or silly, childlike).  Below is a link to an amazing docu lecture given by Jean Kilbourne on advertising’s images of women and the trivialization of violence against women.

Our Hons 201 class states that in our readings, “Caputi argues that the U.S. is a society and culture obsessed with sexualized images of the murder of women.”  I would have to agree with that statement – cultural images of partner and domestic violence normalize and eroticize such abuses – and I believe one of the reasons for our culture’s trivialization of violence against women stems from comupulsory heterosexuality and the gender roles imposed unto us.  One of my WGS Professors put it plainly when she said that gender is not only a source of pain, but it is also a source of simultaneous and conflicting pleasure.  Why else would the following song be so popular to young people?

And the Internet’s role?  It provides a means by which to popularize such media, as well as a space in which such overt and covert messages can be discussed, critiqued, analyzed and supported.  I don’t believe the Internet is to blame so much as it enhances communication.  Whether that communication takes the form of support or resistance is subjective.

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