The “Goddess Array” in Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, pt. 1
In an instant, I realized that original sin did not, as the Judeo-Christian tradition has it, originate in human sexuality. Our species’ original sin was in deviating from our earliest tradition of reverence for the feminine and for female sexuality, and all that it represented for us. Our original sin lies in five thousand years of shaming it, stigmatizing it, controlling it, subduing it, splitting it off from women, from men, compartmentalizing it, insulting it and selling it. Great dislocations and alienations in civilization and in human development have followed from that original sin, and the results are everywhere around us. In a flash I saw waves of tragedy — for women, for men, and for a now unbalanced, now plundering civilization that followed from this original alienation.
— Naomi Wolf, Vagina: A New Biography (332). Ecco. Kindle Edition.
Reading these words caused me an almost physical shock of recognition. Wolf’s newest book, Vagina: A New Biography, was for me one of those amazing works which shockingly knock you into an awareness of a new reality — even as you simultaneously experience the adrenaline rush of long-unrealized recognition. When you look for it, her writing is almost startlingly spiritual — but it is a spirituality deeply rooted in rationality and truly scientific pragmatism. In other words, it is a science unafraid to really see and recognize what the data is saying, rather than always and comfortingly filtering results so they fit into the same ol’ same old — which is, unfortunately, how far too much “science” today is performed. She has some examples within the book, in fact, and the comparison between the old, “men are the center of the universe” mental paradigm with what the data actually says is startling, subtle, and wonderful (for example: 317-318).
The book is deeply intriguing and deserves to be read for fullest understanding. However, this is a (very simple) synopsis of the book: Wolf explores what she refers to as “The Goddess Array,” explaining how a woman’s genitalia are neurologically connected to her brain via pathways that are about three times more complex than the neurological wiring in men. In fact, “[a]ll female mammals were designed by the process of evolution to experience great sexual pleasure” (49; italics hers). It is unsurprising therefore to discover the empirical evidence proves that women’s sexuality is directly neurologically and hormonally linked to their confidence, creativity, and joie du vivre:
Female sexual pleasure serves, also, as a medium of female self-knowledge and hopefulness; female creativity and courage; female focus and initiative; female bliss and transcendence; and as medium of a sensibility that feels very much like freedom. To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially, part of the female soul. (4)
This discovery is fascinating not simply because it validates much anecdotal and empirical experience, but also because the internal female connections effectively go both ways. Much as a woman who is deeply, joyously sexual becomes brilliantly creative and alive… so too a woman who is unappreciated or sexually poorly cared for is at risk for depression and heightened incidences of injury or heart disease (38). The issue at hand then becomes the androcentric nature of this society: a majority of men apparently aren’t really interested in “women’s issues,” and so don’t bother to report or read amazing information such as this:
[W]omen are designed to have many different kinds of orgasms … without any end except physical exhaustion; that if you understand female sexuality, you pace all the action around her; that while this is a high bar to set, you still want to set it, because properly treated, some women can ejaculate, and because all women in orgasm can go into a unique trance state; that women’s orgasms last longer than men’s; that memory plays a role in female arousal in a way that is not the case with male arousal; and that women’s response to arousal and orgasm is biochemically very different from men’s. (79)
This leads to the assumption by well-meaning men that women enjoy sex the same way they do — which emphatically turns out not to be the case: “the vagina is the delivery system for the states of mind that we call confidence, liberation, self-realization, and even mysticism in women” (56). Wolf suspects this chronic male lack of interest and/or information on women is due to “anxieties about the male ego, even if the censorship involved is unconscious” (79). As she amusingly notes, “if they had found that every man had, tucked away, somewhere about his person, an extra sexual organ, for God’s sake — would that not make the evening news? (78; italics hers).
The logical (if rather unpleasant) question that follows is: what happens during rape? The results are both startling and weirdly predictable: “a threatening environment — which can include even vague verbal threats centered on the vagina or dismissive language about the vagina — can close down female sexual response” (34). Consistent exposure to such an environment — such as many women experience today in modern society — can lead to such emotional and physical constriction that actual physical damage of the vagina occurs.
This is a different sort of damage than that incurred by a “simple” beating — you will physically heal from that. Damage done to the vagina (whether by rape or sexually threatening environment) continues to accumulate, however, with its linked lessening of the chemical and hormonal messages of pleasure to the brain. This is due to “the vulnerability of the vagina as a mediator of consciousness. Trauma to the vagina imprints deeply on the female brain, conditioning and influencing the rest of her body and mind” (93). Consequently, I find myself asking the same question Wolf does, when she brings up the prevalence of rape through patriarchal history: was it a perhaps non-conscious but cruelly effective social manipulation of women? I would prefer to believe men are not capable of such systemic brutality to their fellow humans, but a simple glance at the news will not allow me that comforting social lie. As Wolf notes:
But if your goal is to break a woman psychologically, it is efficient to do violence to her vagina. You will break her faster and more thoroughly than if you simply beat her … Understood in this way, rape is instrumental. Rape is a strategy of actual physical and psychological control of women, traumatizing via the vagina as a way to imprint the consequences of trauma on the female brain. … Rape, properly understood, is more like an injury to the brain than a violent variation on sex. Rape, properly understood, is always aimed not just at the female sex organ but at the female brain. (93; italics hers)
Yes, you’re right, you did. I wrote most of that based on the feeling of the article, then found the quote and only belatedly realized you’d negated it. You get that, and I picked a lousy quote. Sorry about that.
To be fair to what I said, the second half of the comment you quote is me noting that they are, yes. :)
Re the systemic brutalization of women: first, apparently this is possible with men too, via anal rape. Second, it is my hope that making people aware of the extreme brutality of such attacks will help to eliminate them… worldwide. To my way of seeing things, *no one* deserves to have their ability to enjoy life shattered.
The problem I see with your statement, “men are not capable of such systemic brutality to their fellow humans” is that some men clearly are.
Not only that, they may not be aware that this is why they’re doing what they’re doing, only that what they’re doing works. Lots of men are afraid to lose the advantage patriarchy gives them – even perhaps unconsciously – because they like that advantage.
I don’t think this is true of all men, particularly to do so deliberately or maliciously, but it’s a message that seems deeply ingrained in our society. It would be – it is! – easy for there to be no understanding of how this connection works, but merely to take advantage of it.
There are other places in history and other, related societies, where I can see the clear abuse of this connection more easily, but I’m sure it’s closer to home, too.