A Womb With a Point of View

Feminist Superstar Naomi Wolf Charts Mind-Vagina Link

By Paula Kamen

Published September 07, 2012, issue of September 14, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Vagina: A New Biography
By Naomi Wolf
Ecco/HarperCollins 400 pages, $27.99

Naomi Wolf
andre lambertson
Naomi Wolf

Vaginas are getting a lot of ink in the news these days. Everyone seems to have an opinion about them, especially folks who do not have one. In August, Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, made his infamous comments about the vagina’s seemingly supernatural powers to prevent pregnancy in the case of sexual assault: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” But Akin has not been alone in supporting this widespread myth, one among many about the “ways” of female biology that persists in modern times.

Such lingering popular ignorance is a reason that Naomi Wolf’s new book, “Vagina: A New Biography,” is particularly timely and thought provoking. This despite some of the author’s own extreme leaps into mystical, zany territory — which are sure to leave many feminists fuming, or, more likely, just feeling perplexed.

Part of Wolf’s stated mission is to fill a real gap in reporting the latest scientific findings on female sexuality; after all, it’s been decades since the last large-scale national blockbuster analyses of biology. Masters & Johnson’s famed report was published in 1966, “The Hite Report” in 1976.

Wolf makes a basic but legitimate point about how different a woman’s sexual response may be from a man’s — beyond just the multiple O’s. Recent findings have shown that many seemingly disparate parts of women’s sexual anatomy, such as the cervix, can be involved in orchestrating sexual response. (Wolf uses the word “vagina” to refer to “the entire female sex organ, from labia to clitoris to cervix). She goes out on a limb, though, when she names the “brain-vagina connection” and asserts that “the vagina is part of the female brain, and thus part of female creativity, confidence and even character.”

Defining women according to their privates is a direct challenge to 1970s feminists who fought to separate, and liberate, women from them. That sort of thinking had previously limited women, keeping them out of public life for centuries. Today, women feel more secure considering real biological differences, but they still view some “experts’” interpretations of those differences with caution.

This is the seventh book by Wolf, a provocative social theorist who rose to prominence in 1991 with her best-seller “The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women,” written while she was still in her 20s. For women of her generation (and mine), the book was a breath of fresh air that made feminism relevant and media-friendly. I was lecturing widely on college campuses at that time, and I witnessed firsthand how Wolf’s was the first explicitly feminist book many young women read.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.