Vagina, by any other name.

When you opt to chronicle the cultural and scientific life of the vagina, surely, your finger is on the zeitgeist. Naomi Wolf’s new book, Vagina: A New Biography,  released today has already introduced us to some interesting reviews.

Here’s Zoe Heller’s take:

… Wolf’s belief that the vagina is integral to a woman’s sense of “core self” is predicated not just on the mystical experiences that the vagina “mediates” during orgasms, but on the continuing, salutary effects that orgasms have on the rest of a woman’s life. Wolf claims to find strong evidence in the biographies of women writers and artists (Georgia O”Keefe, Emma Goldman, Edith Wharton) that women often “create best after a sexual awakening or a particularly liberating sexual relationship.” When she canvasses women “from many different backgrounds”—friends, grad students, the 16,800 members of her Facebook community—their responses confirm that there is a connection for women between a happy sex life and enhanced confidence levels.

It seems reasonable, if banal, to suggest that having good sex makes women feel good, and that feeling good might make them more productive in other areas of their lives. But there is no evidence that this is a uniquely female phenomenon, or that the sex in question has to be the mystic kind, and one could cite any number of examples to support the opposite thesis—that the consuming pleasures of sexual love are apt to distract a woman from her desk.

I have yet to get my grubby little hands on this latest addition to the canon of feminist theory. I might be judgy here, but I won’t be surprised if I find some far reaching problematic arguments in Wolf’s survey of Vagina. I’ll be sure to keep you posted when I do (I mean, she just discovered ‘the brain-vagina connection’ *raises eyebrow*). Our culture seems to want (or struggle) to develop a mature discourse around female bodies and sexuality. Or perhaps, the politicizing of our bodies this year —as we count states that are actively trying to redefine our rights, create convoluted legalese definitions of rape, discussion threads and junk science about our ‘shutting down mechanism’— is society’s way of avoiding mature discussions of female bodies, personhood, sex, sexuality and the perpetuation of rape culture. Sigh.

One can only hope these issues this year are signals toward some evolution in our culture. 2012 may will be heralded as the year of the ladynether regions, the year of the vajayjay, and much to the chagrin of a rather prudish Michigan state representative, 2012 is the year of the vagina. And she’s got power.

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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