September 13, 2021

"Into this lacuna created by non-naming come degrading, disgusted terms for labia – 'beef curtains,' 'fanny flaps'” – that reinforce the sense that squeamishness is warranted..."

"Second-wave feminists [had] consciousness-raising women’s groups where everyone would examine their vulva with a hand mirror. That fell out of fashion in the 90s and 00s – surfing a post-ironic, anti-earnest wave, feminism was suddenly fine with the hidden, private vulva. Any public notion of what a vulva looked like was created by pornography, starting with complete hairlessness..... [There is a] digital native generation that [looks at pornography and thinks] 'Oh my God, that is not what I look like' [and doesn't want] to talk to anyone about it, because that would be mortifying.'... The artist Jamie McCartney produced The Great Wall of Vagina – 400 plastercast vulvas – in 2011... (He knows that the casts he has made are of vulvas, not vaginas, but the word play doesn’t work so well.)... 'While casting, I discovered that loads of women.... would look at other casts and say: "This one’s so neat," or: "I wish mine looked more like that." I was incredulous – there really wasn’t any sense in my mind that some were good and some were defective. And this ideal was created in my name, apparently, because that’s what men like. I just thought: "Fuck that."'...  On social media, even the most conceptual works of feminist visual representation often have to be taken down due to nudity or 'community' guidelines...."

ADDED: I'm trying to grasp "post-ironic, anti-earnest." Seems contradictory, but maybe that's what they were. I do remember finding the consciousness-raising era feminism too earnest. But I don't really know when feminists were not earnest. As for irony, if the later feminists were post-ironic, when was the ironic era in feminism? I lived through the whole thing and observed it, through my own varying levels of irony and earnestness.

And let me say that I like "The Great Wall of Vagina" as photographed at The Guardian, though I can see I didn't like it, based on different photographs, when I blogged about it — here — in 2012.

Also, I remember the original plastercasters, who preserved the form of male genitalia, specifically rock-star genitalia (Hendrix, etc.). Was that post-ironic and anti-earnest? The penises were erect. Does that help answer the question?  

AND: From that last link: "Meeting Frank Zappa, who found the concept of 'casting' both humorous and creative as an art form (though he himself had no interest in submitting to the procedure), Albritton [AKA Cynthia Plaster Caster] found in him something of a patron. He moved her to Los Angeles, which she described as a veritable groupie heaven, with no lack of willing assistants eager to prepare the subjects for casting. In 1971, after her apartment was burglarized, Zappa and Albritton decided the casts should be preserved for a future exhibition, entrusting them to Zappa's legal partner, Herb Cohen, for safekeeping. The exhibition idea did not take off however due to a sudden lack of famous rock stars willing to participate...."

The phallocracy crushed the woman artist. Meanwhile this Jamie McCartney gets shows and recognition. (And, no, he's not the James who is the son of Paul McCartney. That James, who's about the same age as the "Vagina" artist, became a musician.)

65 comments:

Wince said...

What about “taco”?

Everyone loves tacos!

Jeff Weimer said...

It isn't quite navel-gazing, but it's close.

rhhardin said...

Pudenda comes from pudor, shame. Probably more modesty from back when there was female modesty.

I had a gf who thought she was disfigured until I brought her an issue of Hustler.

Men are wired to like anything.

wendybar said...

Mulva???

Amadeus 48 said...

What? No Chinese represented on that wall? Where are the horizontal full-frontals?

Althouse, you have caused me to regress. Those jokes were racy in the seventh grade.

Robert Marshall said...

I just thought: "Fuck that."

That's sorta the point, isn't it?

The artist also did one (great wall) of the opposite sex organ, which has the advantage that, besides its artistic merit, you could use it as a hat-and-coat rack.

rhhardin said...

I fear that women who have grown old are more skeptical in the secret recesses of their hearts than any of the men; they believe in the superficiality of existence as in its essence, and all virtue and profundity is to them only the disguising of this truth, the very desirable disguising of a pudendum - an affair, therefore, of decency and modesty, nothing more.

Nietzsche, Joyful Wisdom 64

Enigma said...

This has nothing to do with shame and everything to do with universal human female behavior for the social presentation of body parts that can be seen by others. Porn has led culture with all visual art and technology, certainly starting with ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, and east Asian nude or explicit images and sculptures. The rise of visual media and technology in the 19th Century (i.e., photography, cheap printing, movies) eventually led to common and private porn through VCRs and Internet sources.

When women can easily see body parts (i.e., they now visit porn websites) they generate norms, standards, and expectations. They then attempt to either be more normal, or better than other women, or unique. This is exactly why human women modify their hair, skin color, wear jewelry, and routinely develop new and culturally-specific clothing styles. Look "better" or stand out to get more attention.

Beauty standards are simply a culturally-average appearance:

http://people.sunyit.edu/~lepres/thesis/principles/165_pdfsam_POD.pdf

Common, widespread, and easily accessible porn effectively guaranteed that women would go there. The old "degrading" terms likely followed from people who only rarely saw their own or their sexual partners naked (e.g., literal Puritans). Disgust is a simple startle reaction rather than sexism. Many feel uncomfortable looking at the naked male anatomy, and males are routinely judged and mocked for penis size/shape too. Fig leaves were added to many statues long after they were first carved.

Owen said...

What catches my eye is the Grauniad’s choice of words: “lacuna.” Really? You really have to dig deep into obscure recesses of our language to come upon that rare gem. A gap, hole or pit; the 1660s diminutive of Latin for a lake or pool.

In this context, discussing organs which are hidden and in a sense function through absence, it is a remarkable term. It…stands out.

Tina Trent said...

Sculpting labias is a heck of a lot easier than sculpting hands. And who would know if you did it wrong?

Tom T. said...

"Genitals Banned From Public Display; Women, Minorites Hardest Hit"

R C Belaire said...

C'mon, Ann! It's early on a Monday morning. Do we need this type of post so early in the week?

Roger Sweeny said...

I never met an ugly vulva (wow, I am such a rebel against what I "have been taught").

Dave Begley said...

Great stuff Ann!

John Borell said...

As Socrates says, “the unexamined vulva is not worth living." Or something like that.

Curious George said...

My favorite is hatchet wound.

Iman said...

I’ll take what’s behind the fur curtains, please!

Achilles said...

Great Wall of Clams?

Wall of Camel Toe is probably too close to a nickname for the VP who slept her way to the top and is angling to be president soon for a short period of time.

Fernandinande said...

"Hottentot apron" has a certain ring to it.

Larry J said...

This obsession with genitalia would be funny if it wasn't so peculiar.

Joe Smith said...

'And this ideal was created in my name, apparently, because that’s what men like. I just thought: "Fuck that."'

Men thought exactly the same thing...

Joe Smith said...

My previous comment makes no sense in context...please do not post that one or this one...thanks.

daskol said...

Nietzsche on the metaphysics of metaphorical merkins

tommyesq said...

I like not "clicking for more" and trying to figure out without looking how Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix come into play.

Lucien said...

Wendy bar: No, Delores.

mikee said...

Now do female breasts, Althouse, and what women/feminists/LGBTQ think about them. With lots of pictures, please. No need to discuss how men think and feel about 'em, it is a given that much like female vaginas, we like 'em.

Lurker21 said...

I would have thought "beef curtains" and "fanny flaps" referred to buttocks, but they tell me "fanny" has a whole different meaning in Britain.

Howard said...

People body shame themselves because they differentiate and focus on minute features rather than integrate the whole into the gestalt that others find attractive or at least pleasing.

The other source of body/looks anxiety is the false notion that beauty is skin deep.

John henry said...

I wonder if any man has ever gotten close enough to a vulva to get a good look and said "never mind. Too ugly."

There's a great Beach Boys song about this
https://youtu.be/cuHYJuSU39o

John Henry


John henry said...

Didn't Bobby bare have a big hit back in the 80z with "I've never been to bed with an ugly vulva but I've sure woke up with a few"?

John Henry

Iman said...

Lacuna Mutata?

Mark O said...

Ew.

Original Mike said...

Oh! You've taught me a new word I can use.

I already had 'lucida' for the brightest star in a cluster. Now I have 'lacuna' to refer to the star-free spaces. This will be very useful in my notes describing open clusters.

Thank you!

Misinforminimalism said...

"Meanwhile this Jamie McCartney gets shows and recognition."

What goes around, comes around. It wasn't long ago that this same Jamie McCartney was complaining that the phallic wall in Fleabag was a rip off of his work.

Ann Althouse said...

"Sculpting labias is a heck of a lot easier than sculpting hands. And who would know if you did it wrong?"

They're plaster casts. I think the mold is made with the stuff a dentist uses in making replacement teeth. The the plaster model is made using that mold. So it's not like it was sculpted out of a block of dry plaster. Would it be easier to make a mold out of a vulva — straddle this tray of dentist's goo — than a hand — stick you hand straight into this bucket of goo? More undressing and awkward intimacy is required for the vulva. Might be more fun for some people.

Ann Althouse said...

"I like not "clicking for more" and trying to figure out without looking how Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix come into play."

The subtle pleasures of blogging and blog reading.

theCase said...

As soon as I determined the topic I thought of "O'Keeffe" paintings. Really surprised no one else has mentioned this.

Then again, I may have low-brow tastes....

Narr said...

The Vertical Smile.

Narr said...

Can we leave teeth out of this one?

Narr said...

Zappa and Hendrix?

Cleft of ages, rock for me.

Iman said...

Teh Plaster Casters!

“Sniff… eight inches or less…”

—- Cynthia Plaster Caster

Or was that Flo n’ Eddie in “200 Motels”?

Owen said...

Narr @ 10:33, 10:36, 10:37:

You are EN FUEGO. Many thanks for the laughs.

And I totally second you on the plea not to mention teeth in this context.

Uncle Pavian said...

400 plaster casts of women's ladyparts. The artist says in response to a comment, "F*ck that".
There's an Aphrodite of Cnidus joke in there somewhere, but it's too early to look for it.

Yancey Ward said...

LOL, I was going to post the youtube song John Henry did. Great minds think alike.

Iman said...

Lacuna Vicuña

Soft and silky “Gates of Heaven”…

Narr said...

My pleasure, Owen. I appreciate the comment.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Fernandinande,

"Hottentot apron" has a certain ring to it.

But the Hottentot women had a couple of odd, erm, extraordinary developments in that general area. One was a butt that stuck out almost horizontally in a way I assume 19th c. bustles were meant to emulate; the other was really, really extensive labia that hung down several inches from the vulva. I'd refer you to Stephen Jay Gould's essay on "The Hottentot Venus" (Sartje Baartman, IIRC) if I could remember which book it was in. But apparently "apron" was about right.

Scot said...

Laydeez ... stop saying "I shave my vagina". I am not opposed to hair removal, but if you have hair in your vagina, see a doctor. And learn some anatomy.

Tina Trent said...

Plaster casts? That sounds painful, like a Brazilian Wax. How do you show ordinary pubic hair, which I assume is part of the point, without pulling it out?

Also not particularly healthy. Maybe photos would suffice. But then you wander into the sticky wicket of pornography.

The sculptures are weird-looking. Where is the rest of the torso, let alone the rest of the labia? Why are the legs squeezed shut? Are they?

They raise more questions than they answer, but not in the way that good art makes you think. My husband’s mother made him go to some Judy Chicago exhibit when he was a child, the one where ceramic dinner plates sprouted garish labias. This style of feminist art ran out of its stock of irony and everything else a long, long time ago. It’s as grim as Gilbert and George squatting on glass coffee tables.

A lot like that incoherent Jay-Z and Beyoncé photo last week. Aesthetic fail.

effinayright said...

I've been asked many times whether I am a "leg man", or a "boob man".

I always go with "mucous membrane man."

Gets right to the point.

wayworn wanderer said...

You can't make this shit up.

Skippy Tisdale said...

The guy just might be the best PUA ever! "Hey baby, wanna be immortalized at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan"

Iman said...

The Gates of Paradise only an inch or so from the Gates of Hell, separated by ‘t’aint road (best not traveled)… who said the Supreme Being had no sense of humor!?!?

John henry said...

I Can't believe nobody has mentioned www.ratemypussy.com

If you are a woman and secure in the appearance of yor genitalia, this is the site for you.

No matter how secure you are now, an hour after posting photos, the "ratings" will reduce you to a quivering bowl of jelley.

I am of the impression that positive comments are not allowed.

The comments are the best part of the site.

John Henry

Narr said...

"The Gates of Paradise only an inch or so from the Gates of Hell . . . ."

The joke I recall is that God must have been a civil engineer. Who else would run the sewers through the amusement area?

Rt41Rebel said...

"who said the Supreme Being had no sense of humor!?!?"

The joke is that the Supreme Being must be a Civil Engineer. Who else would run a septic system through a recreational area?

FleetUSA said...

I would love to hear Camille Paglia's take on all this. She's the reigning expert on art & porn.

Iman said...

Narr and rebel… thanks, gentlemen… I’d forgotten that one, good stuff!

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Narr said...

The joke I recall is that God must have been a civil engineer. Who else would run the sewers through the amusement area?

Don't forget the one about Henry Ford going to heaven and asking God; "Why did you put the intake right next to the exhaust?".

rhhardin said...

Genitals are responsible for most of the world's troubles.

Narr said...

"Genitals are responsible for most of the world's troubles."

True, but they're worth it.

Paul said...

So women argure over vulva .vs. vagina, oh to hell.. just call it pussy. What the heck is this about?

Geeze do men sit there and take about the parts of their pecker?

Unknown said...

Trust me, we like them all.

Bruce Hayden said...

If a woman came to me and complained about the shape of her genitalia, I would, of course, ask to see the goods. Well, no I wouldn’t. I have been faced with that sort of situation before, and didn’t respond quickly enough.

But my substantive response would be that she is focusing on the wrong things. If she is worried about the shape of her genitalia (assuming that there isn’t anything substantially wrong there), then she is worried about the wrong things in life, because the implication is that her genitalia would be compared to those of other women by her sex partners, and that implies that she is sharing sex partners. And for the most part, those aren’t the sex partners that you want to have kids with, because they are less likely to devote the time and resources to raising them with her. Statistically, the best environment for raising kids is in an intact marriage, and the more sex partners each spouse has, and esp for the women, the less likely that is. The best and the brightest, the elite in this country, know this, and tend to marry and stay married long enough at least to substantially raise their kids.

The other aspect to this is that the big thing that messes up a woman’s genitalia is vaginal births. Yes, you can tell. Again, monogamy has a place there. If a husband/father notices that his wife’s vaginal area is now stretched out (which he might not, if he isn’t looking at other women’s genitalia), most often he is thinking that his wife underwent that so that they could have kids together. Of course, he might not be as accommodating if those weren’t his kids delivered there…

TheOne Who Is Not Obeyed said...

I wonder if part of this vulvular obsession with women is due to the fact that it's really hard - if even possible - to see it directly if you are looking at your own. To some extent you can't see the whole kit and kaboodle directly, only obliquely or via a representation in a mirror or lens or plaster cast.

Things that people can't see directly tend to weird them out psychologically. This would explain a lot of feminism and its obsession with hidden things, many of which don't exist.