Sounds crazy, but Naomi Wolf, famous for her book The Beauty Myth, suggests that’s what is happening.
The premise, laid out in her latest book, Vagina: A New Biography, has met mixed reviews from both scientists and the literati. But I found her thoughts interesting enough to give them some space here.
Wolf’s notion was sparked, oddly enough, when her spinal cord was repaired. Before surgery she had lost both her sex drive and her creativity. After surgery both returned. Curious, she began exploring how women’s sexuality might be connected to their broader empowerment and passion for life.
She began her journey by exploring more conventional notions of how society and power structures affect desire. But something was missing. So she moved on to biology, learning how the vagina, clitoris and cervix are connected to the brain. She found out that when neurotransmitters related to sexuality are blocked, an “anhedonic state” akin to depression can arise.
The science comes largely from Dr. Jim Pfaus, a researcher and psychology professor at Concordia University — and a defender of her book.
Next, Wolf suggests that extremists try to repress women’s sexual selves because sexuality allows women fuller, more productive and empowered lives. As she explains in the Huffington Post:
The data is sound elucidating the brain-vagina connection that many critics are struggling with. Dopamine builds confidence and motivation, oxytocin is about bonding and intimacy, and opioids are about bliss and ecstasy. If you know really what that cocktail [activated during sex] does [in the female brain], then it makes sense why patriarchy always targets female sexuality, always targets the vagina, with female genital mutilation, rape, and war, you know, derision, mockery. If you get that female desire and the vagina can be a medium for women of positive mindspeak unrelated to sex, it makes sense that the vagina is continually being targeted. The whole takeaway of the book is that the vagina is not just a sex organ. If you want to demean women, you demean the vagina.
I don’t know whether Wolf is right. (Are fanatics really that bright?) But interesting that sexuality seems so related to living a full-fledged, empowering life.
Let’s start with Katherine Fenton, scolded for asking how the candidates would ensure equal pay for women in the second debate. All hell broke loose in Wingnut-Sphere where the “femanazi question” was deemed illegitimate and Fenton became the “Whore of Babylon” inciting “Twitter hate masturbation” as Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon put it.
Nearly every Republican congress member knows better, having voted down the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
The loony right’s insensitivity to rape has been widely panned, but deserves a brief review. Representative John Koster cavalierly called it “The rape thing.” Mike Huckabee sees rape as an alternative baby delivery system and Paul Ryan minimizes rape by calling it a “method of conception.” In fact, Paul Ryan co-authored a bill with Todd Akin (victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant) to narrow the definition to “forcible rape.” Richard Mourdock found forced pregnancy through rape “a gift from God” and told folks to “get over it.”
Feminist, Caroline Heldman wondered how pregnancy from rape could be a gift from God if raped women can’t get pregnant?
Meanwhile, Republicans voted time and again against contraception and abortion (even to save a woman’s life) even though contraception prevents abortion.
And if women die because they can’t get the procedure legally and safely, who cares, says Mississippi State Rep. Bubba Carpenter:
They’re like, “Well, the poor pitiful women that can’t afford to go out of state are just going to start doing them at home with a coat hanger.” That’s what we’ve heard over and over and over. But hey–you have to have moral values.
Laws that lead to women’s deaths are moral?
In other news most of the GOP refused to protect all women in the U.S. from domestic violence.
And, they pushed to block cancer screenings and HIV testing for underprivileged women.
Women’s rights just aren’t important says Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney. They’re just “shiny objects” that are used to distract voters from real issues as he explained to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
Mitt Romney is pro-life. He’ll govern as a pro-life president, but you’re going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people’s attention from the Obama performance on the economy.
First it’s women as objects. Now it’s women’s rights as objects.
These guys haven’t got a clue. And they lost, big time.
Conservatives insist there is no war on women. They must be willfully ignorant to miss the signs.
In recent years the extreme right has voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, they have refused to protect all women in the U.S. from domestic violence, they have pushed to block cancer screenings and HIV testing for poor women, they have voted against contraception and abortion that could save women’s lives. Five states now require women seeking abortions to endure ultrasounds, which might require intrusive, vaginal probes. Some have made light of rape, narrowing the definition to “forcible” rape (what’s nonforcible rape?) or, as Amanda Marcotte at RH Reality Check points out:
Showing their true colors has been a theme of anti-choicers this campaign season, from Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment to Huckabee’s extolling the virtues of rape as a baby delivery system to Paul Ryan minimizing rape by calling it a “method of conception”… They don’t really think rape is a big deal—it’s not like raping uterus vessels is the same as violating people, right?
But what’s behind the war? Here’s one idea: sexist men fear that independent women won’t need them.
Marcotte points out that attempts to control women swell whenever women become more independent. She may have a point. We’ve seen increasing attempts to use government to control women as we become more independent. And the same thing occurs in relationships when some men destroy contraception, hoping their wives or girlfriends will get pregnant and become more dependent.
And the same men who work to limit women’s control over their bodies say things like this, from Rep. Allen West of Florida:
And all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness. Let them know that we are not going to have our men become subservient.
Or Rush Limbaugh:
The average size of a penis is roughly 10 percent smaller than it was 50 years ago. And the researchers say air pollution is why. Air pollution, global warming, has been shown to negatively impact penis size, say Italian researchers.
I don’t buy this. I think it’s feminism.
Well then, men had better get their control over women back, and soon!
Marcotte sums it up:
Hostility to abortion rights and contraception access is about gender anxiety. It’s about this strange fear that unless women are forced into a subservient, dependent position to men, women will not want anything to do with men. Anti-choicers are reacting to a paranoid belief that if women are totally free to choose our own paths, we won’t choose to have men on our journeys. It’s yet further proof that misogyny has an element of man-hating to it, because the misogynist believes that men are not capable of being true friends and partners to women.
Looks like feminists have a higher opinion of men than these sexist men do, themselves.
Last week Notre Dame and more than 40 other Catholic institutions announced they are filing lawsuits suing Obama on the contraception mandate. As usual, they’re claiming that the government is running all over their religious rights.
Meanwhile, bills have been proposed claiming to protect the conscience of employers to opt out of providing coverage that goes against their religious convictions, including the Bunt Amendment and a similar bill in the Arizona Legislature.
Are Catholic Bishops and other employers the only people who hold religious beliefs? Or the only ones whose religious beliefs count?
You’d think so to hear the debate on the matter.
In the face of this war on women progressives have rarely questioned whose religious rights are in play. And so conservatives have undisputedly argued that employers – Bishops or otherwise – must be free to follow their conscience. But that leaves women forced to follow the conscience of their employers. The argument is then framed as “right to contraception” vs “religious rights” which makes the latter stronger since that is undisputedly in the constitution.
Maybe women’s religious beliefs are ignored because the perspective of the powerful tends to trump the perspective of the powerless. The powerful have a history of airing their beliefs and they can bully from their pulpits. The Catholic Church has historically been powerful. Women have not. Business leaders have historically been powerful. Women have not.
I was heartened to hear Salon editor, Joan Walsh, finally make the reverse argument last week, five months after the start of this debate. She pointed out that the Priests have religious freedom backwards as they try to force their religion on everyone else. They and the Republican Right are working to impose their religion on the country. Maureen Dowd and the New York Times editorial page have thankfully followed suit.
Shouldn’t the pious be the ones to sacrifice for their convictions instead of asking everyone else to sacrifice for their beliefs?
And when there is a conflict, the religious beliefs and conscience of those whose bodies, health and well-being are directly affected should certainly trump the conscience of those who simply hold the purse strings.
Women’s right to contraception has been challenged by Catholic Bishops and members of Congress who voted on a “Blunt Amendment” allowing employers to deny healthcare, like contraception, that they deem immoral. (The amendment was defeated in the U.S. Senate by a mere three votes!)
What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex… she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.
If Rush is so vexed at supporting other people’s sex lives, why doesn’t he tackle insurance-covered Viagra too?
By attacking Ms. Fluke as a slut, Limbaugh reveals that he – and other right-wingers — are not concerned with shielding Catholic Bishops’ conscience. No. They seek to control women’s sexuality.
But if Rush can’t limit it, at least he wants to watch (another sort of control). Even as he claims to uphold “conservative values,” he rants:
If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.
Since when were “traditional family values” pro-porn?
Rush is all about silencing women: Be afraid of slut-shaming. Be very afraid!
Men can speak out. And Viagra-infused men can enjoy sexuality. But women must not.
Bishops, and employers more generally, must be free to follow their conscience. But women must follow the conscience of Bishops and their employers.
Conservatives claim to guard individual freedom.
Apparently, women aren’t actual people. They don’t count.
While protecting Big Oil and billionaires, right-wingers brazenly push cuts to programs – many life-saving – that largely affect women: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition programs for women and children (WIC), and prenatal care. A woman’s right to choose is under intense attack with Planned Parenthood and Title X on the chopping block, despite providing low income women with birth control, cancer screenings, and tests for STDs, including H.I.V. And then there’s Rep. Joe Pitts’ proposed bill allowing hospitals to refuse to terminate pregnancy even to save a woman’s life. All famously reported in a New York Times piece entitled “The War on Women.” Nothing’s gotten any better since.
Why attack women?
Balancing the federal budget on the backs of the middle-class and poor (where so many women reside) so that wealthy interests and campaign contributions may thrive seems like a good deal to many politicians.
But why the laser-like focus on limiting women’s reproductive rights? Not a lot of money in that. But it’s a vote getter. Still, why is this stance so appealing?
Karen McCarthy Brown, Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, suggests that limiting women’s reproductive rights creates a sense of stability and empowerment for many. In command of the bodies of women, the power of the flesh, and life, itself, it’s a big deal. Plus, those who value order and stability benefit by “understanding” that men are men and women are women, each in separate spheres, and each knowing their place. So the world becomes simpler and more manageable in black and white. It can all be a huge psychological relief to those doing the controlling and for those who feel the world is under control.
Pretty sad that some coerce others to gain this relief. Surely there’s a better way.
Relatedly, on an interpersonal plane, men who seek to feel empowered by dominating their partners sometimes destroy contraception, hoping their wives or girlfriends will feel more trapped and dependent by the need to care for children.
And then there are your political tyrants. Steven Conn, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State, tells us that in the 20th century the most despicable regimes were fixated on controlling women’s reproductive lives. Outlawing abortion and closing family planning centers were among the Nazis’ first moves. Eventually abortion became a capital offense. Stalin outlawed abortion in 1936. Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu banned contraception in 1966. By 1986 miscarriage became a matter of criminal investigation. China still coerces women into abortion and sterilization. Interesting that Conn observes:
The day after the evil Ceausescu had been executed, the National Salvation Front issued two decrees; it lifted the ban on the private ownership of typewriters, and it repealed the laws that policed pregnant women.
The eerily similar workings of right-wing extremists lend an ironic twist to their claim of being all about freedom through free markets. Women must be controlled, but markets must be free?
But what’s a little nonsensical hypocrisy among right-wing despots?
This post is part of a web carnival promoted by a coalition of women’s organizations to discuss the current attacks on historic gains for women and mobilize women voters in 2012. See the Twitter hashtag #HERvotes.