December 5 2012
Was feminist author Naomi Wolf's most recent book, Vagina: A New Biography, the product of a midlife crisis?
In a Commntary magazine review entitled "Tantra Tantrum," Christine Rosen characterizes the famous feminist as a solipsist who believes that because she has become fixated on her vagina all women must be the same. I love it that Ms. Wolf thinks novelist of manners Edith Wharton became a better writer after having enriching vulval experiences!
For decades, the clichéd image of the Western male’s midlife crisis has been an aging, randy man roaring around town in a red sports car with his comely young secretary beside him. It only seems fair, then, to note that this stereotype has a female counterpart, albeit one far more likely to garner a lucrative book deal than the male: A woman—usually upper-middle class, well educated, and approaching 50—who suddenly realizes that something is missing in her life.
Although these thoughts might have been prompted by a particular crisis (the end of a marriage, a health scare, the sudden appearance of an attractive pool boy), said woman is never described as selfishly fleeing adulthood but rather as embarking on a Journey of Self-Discovery. This journey inevitably points eastward and almost always involves the embrace of some form of mysticism, a Yoda-like guru, a punishing yoga regime, or all three.
If you were expecting Wolf to delve into goddess worship, you are not going to be disappointed. She hits the goddess cliches big time. The Commentary headline must be derived from Wolf’s visits to a former London stockbroker turned Tantric sexual healer. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you what does—or doesn’t—happen here.
I can't help thinking that Wolf's self-absorption says a great deal about the state of contemporary American feminism. It also says a lot about why American feminism hasn't responded so well to what we at IWF call the "Real War on Women," or the plight of women in countries where women really suffer from oppression:
Wolf’s blind spot is starkly revealed when she embarks on a fact-finding mission to a non-Western country. Instead of seeking out endangered frogs on a rain forest eco-tour, she seeks out endangered vaginas among a group of women in a refugee camp in Sierra Leone. There is something disturbing about her over-solicitous questioning of these women, many of whom had been brutally raped during wartime, and her linking of their trauma with Western women’s inability to tap their inner goddesses.
The book apparently grew out of a bad sexual experience:
One wishes that, instead of suffering from subpar orgasms, she would contract malaria and go in search of a cure. That, at least, might benefit a large swath of the world’s women....
By the end of the book, I half expected Wolf to argue that the vagina should be declared a world heritage site that, like the Dolomites, must be both protected and thoughtfully explored by visitors enlightened by her tutelage.
Unfortunately, you need a subscription to read the entire article. But it's worth paying to read this.