Naomi Wolf’s Vagina memoir proves a turn-off for critics

Sep 3, 2012

Naomi ‘desperate to cling to her long-gone nubile girlhood at any cost’ says Camille Paglia

A NEW book by Naomi Wolf, author of the feminist tract The Beauty Myth, has failed to win over critics. Vagina: A New Memoir promises to help readers awaken their sexuality, with Wolf proclaiming that “sexual discovery [is] like that transition in The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy goes from black-and-white Kansas to colourful, magical Oz."

The vagina is not just a “sex organ”, she argues, it is integral to female well-being and a catalyst to female creativity and confidence.

The book, released next week, is described on Wolf’s website as “enthralling and inspiring, a call-to-arms for men and women that will rouse impassioned conversation”.

That’s not a view universally held by critics.
In a blog for The Guardian, Viv Groskop pokes fun at the author’s discussion of what constitutes the ‘female soul’: “Looking back on a walk she took, Wolf recounts ‘that slightly wild, slightly inexplicable moment – when the wind, the grass and the animals all seemed part of what we were learning about ourselves’. These moments [contribute] to a sense that while her heart is in the right place, Wolf is also full of hot air.”

Groskop also warns that feminist readers may balk at Wolf’s essentialism, viewing her efforts to find a neurological definition of ‘femininity’ – something they have spent years arguing was mostly a cultural construct – as “reductive and reactionary”.

Wolf’s long-time nemesis Camille Paglia describes the book’s theme as “tired and passé”, finding it “bizarre that a mother would indulge in such cringe-making sexual exhibitionism... It's as if Naomi is desperate to cling to her long-gone nubile girlhood at any cost."

The New Yorker sees a damning parallel between Vagina: A New Memoir and the cult hit Fifty Shades of Grey: “Wolf’s book clearly belongs to the same realm of the erotic imagination. [She] has found a mistress we must please, serve, and honour. There is a new dominatrix in town. And her name is Vagina.”

Not all is lost. In a starred review, the journal Booklist concludes: "Wolf's inquiry promises to be an authoritative resource, particularly in view of the current highly charged political and religious dialogues regarding women's sexual and reproductive rights."

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For a different take on the subject, watch "It's Not You...It's Sex." on youtube.