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Protestors chant during a Code Pink protest, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. Hundreds of protestors gathered in Gas Light Park in downtown Tampa to march in demonstration against the Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) (Dave Martin/AP)
Protestors chant during a Code Pink protest, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. Hundreds of protestors gathered in Gas Light Park in downtown Tampa to march in demonstration against the Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) (Dave Martin/AP)

Sarah Hampson: Is the vagina the new penis? Add to ...

This is not my vagina talking. At least, I don’t think it is.

On second thought – the plain old brain kind, I mean – maybe I should wish it were.

“Vagina thoughts” are supposedly more creative, confident and kaleidoscopic, if you believe Naomi Wolf’s arguments in her new book, Vagina: A New Biography . She sets out to explain that good sexual experience in the vagina feeds the brain with delightful chemicals that have a profound effect on how we think and feel about ourselves. If I were speaking from the pelvic floor, I might be rhapsodizing about the light through the newsroom window. I might feel at one with the cosmos rather than at odds with my editors. I might be unleashing highly creative sentences.

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Yes, I might be on a tangent.

The vagina has a voice – several, it would seem – and never more so than at this particular cultural moment. The Vagina Monologues , by Eve Ensler, may have started the discourse back in 1996, when the frank theatrical piece articulated how the vagina has been abused, insulted and enjoyed by letting it talk through the lips of celebrity actors. But now it’s The Vagina Cacophony.

In many ways, the vagina has become the new penis, rising up in sociopolitical importance, poking up everywhere – in books (Wolf’s Vagina being the latest), in music and fashion, even in government circles. (Witness the recent Republican National Convention in Florida, where protesters, male and female, dressed up in pink vagina costumes to demand that politicians address women’s reproductive issues in a responsible way. “Read my lips,” one vagina protester’s sign read. “No war on women.”)

Maybe it was inevitable. In the past decade, female genitalia have pushed to the front of the cultural melee like a quiet, plain librarian who has decided, in a bold, Cosmogirl move, to fling off her glasses and let down her hair so people pay attention. She will be waxed, bejewelled, perfumed and flashed during exits from limousines in her new-found sense of self. Women are proud of her, calling her by name, defiantly confronting the old-school slut-shaming belief that a lady doesn’t lower herself to her lower bits.

In this vagi-centric mindset, it doesn’t hurt when new, headline-grabbing books such as Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men come along to stroke the goddess ego by suggesting that society is at the tipping point of becoming a matriarchy as women gain ground in postgraduate studies and hold onto the jobs in the Great Recession.

Rosin tends to overstate her case – she calls the persistent wage gap, lack of women CEOs and “second shift” child-care issues merely “the last gasp of a dying age” – but, hey, why spoil the party?

And it’s a crowded gathering, the guest list ranging from babes to octogenarians. Check out, for instance, the music video for Hide , a new single from the much-talked-about British singer Twigs, which features a naked woman wearing a flower petal with a little phallic pistil as a highly erotic fig leaf.

Consider, too, the perfume ad for Marc Jacobs’s Oh, Lola, featuring Dakota Fanning with a large floral phallic thing blooming between her legs as she looks at the camera with innocent insouciance. And then there’s everyone’s favorite granny, actress Betty White, who once quipped, “Why do people say, ‘Grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive! If you really want to get tough, grow a vagina! Those things take a pounding.”

Still, it’s impressive how the vagina’s political voice became a rallying call this summer. In Russia, the women of the cheekily named punk group Pussy Riot offered a sly wink to women’s sexual allure, which is sassily, shamelessly subversive in the context of President Vladimir Putin’s machismo. Similarly, Michigan lawmaker Lisa Brown caused a furor in June when she said, during a debate over a Republican-sponsored bill to place tighter restrictions on abortion, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”

In the United States, such speech, says Carrie Baker, an assistant professor specializing in reproductive justice, gender and public policy at Smith College in Massachusetts, is “an effective in-your-face push-back ... because, while Republicans are content to talk about women’s reproductive rights, they don’t like to talk about sex. That [vagina protest] action [at the convention] freaks them out and shuts them down.”

These days, it’s not just the guys who use their sexual organs as a tool.

My response to all of this? The lady part, in many cases, doth protest too much, suggesting that women are still such political underdogs that they’re reduced to hijacking the cultural discussion with lewd, attention-getting tactics.

Certainly, Wolf goes to great, often over-the-top extremes, verging in some chapters on soft porn to explain the wonders of the female pudendal nerve network and how it can make a woman feel when properly activated. That she calls her book a biography suggests how misunderstood the vagina has been. But when women start to get as tiresome about their genital machinery as men can be, I turn off.

More than often, Wolf is too far up her own you-know-what, if you ask me. Men feel better after good sex, too. And their thingy is often called derisive names as well.

Her chapter on the psychological wound of rape is compelling.

Generally, though, men don’t endlessly discuss the merits of things like nail-polish colours and orgasm levels. In fact, Wolf actually makes me feel sorry for them, as I imagine a bedroom scene in which the eager, postcoital man asks his lover “How was it for you, honey?” and the tetchy woman responds, “Well, it was okay. But I didn’t see any rainbows and I’ve had better hits of confidence and identity from men who really worshipped my yoni. But nice try!”

Ultimately, I prefer to think with my brain brain – and my heart.

As for my vaginal thoughts, I will express them stylishly and silently in killer shoes, thank you. Men may have their penis cars, but we have Christian Louboutins as our metaphoric vaginas, into which feet are snugly inserted. Every good Freudian will say so.

Follow on Twitter: @Hampsonwrites

 

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