So much focus on women who hate their bodies has made me hungry for something that celebrates femaleness. And I have just the thing. Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier, published in 1999, describes the female body with respect, reverence, and joy. This book is hard to classify: it’s full of scientific information, but it’s not a textbook. It’s very entertaining, but it’s not fiction. It’s a fascinating and poignant journey through the female body, from someone who quite loves being female. Angier is an accomplished science writer, and her writing entertains as much as it instructs. She writes non-fiction with incredible skill, using metaphor and imagery with as much artistry as a novelist. I sure wish I could write like she can.
Her introduction begins as follows:
“This book is a celebration of the female body—its anatomy, its chemistry, its evolution, and its laughter. It is a personal book, my attempt to find a way to think about the biology of being female without falling into the sludge of biological determinism. It is a book about things that we traditionally associate with the image of woman—the womb, the egg, the breast, the blood, the almighty clitoris—and things that we don’t—movement, strength, aggression, and fury. It is a book about rapture, a rapture grounded firmly in the flesh, the beauties of the body. The female body deserves Dionysian respect, and to make my case I summon the spirits and cranks that I know and love best.” (p. ix)
I came across this book years ago because it was quoted in the Vagina Monologues. Back in my early twenties I attended the VM on campus several times and that was one of my first exposures to feminism. I was enchanted by seeing women get up on stage and unashamedly talk about living life in a female body. I always came away from the show feeling angry about misogyny yet very proud of being female. I realize that some of the skits have some serious problems in them, but I’m not going to get into that here.
The quotes taken from Woman: An Intimate Geography and used in the Vagina Monologues are some quotes about the clitoris. When Angier is stating that women have never had penis envy, she says “Who would want a shotgun when you can have a semiautomatic?”(p. 58) Later, on the same page, she explains further why the clitoris is the superior organ: “The clitoris is simply a bundle of nerves: 8,000 nerve fibers, to be precise. That’s a higher concentration of nerve fibers than is found anywhere else on the body, including the fingertips, lips, and tongue, and it is twice the number in the penis. In a sense, then, a woman’s little brain is bigger than a man’s. All this, and to no greater end than to subserve a woman’s pleasure.”
I can still remember the sound of the actress’s voice reciting these words in our little theatre on campus. She announced them with joy and pride and well-deserved smugness. She used to repeat the word “twice” several times. “That’s twice, twice, TWICE the number in the penis!”
We women got the body that has an organ fully dedicated to our pleasure, and since that organ has more nerve endings than the penis and can orgasm more frequently, I can state for certain that the female body is the more pleasurable one to have. The reason women hate being female is because of the way females are mistreated; it’s not due to any problem with the body itself.
Now I’m thinking about something I learned in my Vagina Monologues-watching days. The clitoris isn’t just the most fun bodily organ that Mother Nature ever invented, it’s also a metaphor for female sexual self-determination. The woman who believes that her vagina is the center of her sexual life is viewing herself as a vessel for male pleasure. The woman who sees her clitoris as the center of her sexual life is thinking of herself as a sexual agent, the way a man is.
An article by Peggy Orenstein called Our Barbie Vaginas, Ourselves, (which is full of interesting information by the way,) has a paragraph about the effect of women’s genital self-image on our sex lives. Not surprisingly, women who hate their genitals get less enjoyment from sex and masturbate less often. When men treat our bodies like consumer products for them to purchase and use, and convince us that our natural bodies are unacceptable, that systematically reduces the pleasure we can experience. (And of course, it also leads to multiple other human rights abuses.)
The clitoris is fussy and fickle—she can be very sensitive one day and indifferent the next, she can respond with pleasure to one kind of touch and with numbness to another, and she knows which people can please her and which people can’t. At some point around the age of 23 I finally decided I was done having unsatisfying sex with men. No more would I be a vessel for someone else’s pleasure, where the only thing I got out of it was the superficial satisfaction of being deemed fuckable by a member of the male ruling class. You only care about that validation when you’re young. As you get older, especially if you read a lot of radical feminist theory, you realize that validation from men means nothing. Men pretend to be really picky when it comes to women, but they truly aren’t. Men will fuck anything, including women, children, animals, inanimate objects, and holes in the wall. It means nothing when one of them wants to fuck you. What is actually meaningful, for a woman, is pursuing that pleasure which will make her own body happy, and not giving a shit whether the patriarchy approves or not. For me, that pleasure comes from being with another clitoris-bearer. For straight women, that comes from respecting her own body and only being with men who respect it, too. The clitoris may be fickle, but when you give her what she wants, the result is out of this world. Men who think women are just holes to fuck don’t know a goddamn thing about women and have no business being in our beds.
I’m going to dive more into this book, and uncover more beautiful and fascinating things about womanhood, and share them with you. It breaks my heart that some women can’t love their female bodies. I wish they could step into my brain for an hour, and experience womanhood the way I do, with pleasure and delight.