This week author Naomi Wolf has accomplished a remarkable feat: She has many of the most prominent news outlets in the U.S. and the U.K. talking about her vagina, or at least her "Vagina." The latest book by the woman who wrote "The Beauty Myth" and "Fire With Fire" has received less than glowing reviews -- and inspired a good number of vagina jokes.
So, what are the problems with this new ode to female genitalia, according to the critics? Behold, 9 ways of looking at Naomi Wolf's "Vagina":
1. The 'science' in Naomi Wolf's "Vagina" is, well, not really science, many reviewers said. David Dobbs, one of the few men who have spoken out about the book, scoffs at Wolf's claim that she has discovered something entirely new in his article for Wired:
" Wolf is asking us to believe that both the quick-dip pop-science press and an extremely attentive and rather bawdy science blogosphere have overlooked a substantial body of “truly revolutionary” findings in neuroscience, consciousness studies, and sexuality — all closely watched, red-hot disciplines beloved of university public relations officers — that insist on a sharp revision of female sexuality. I think not."
2. There is nothing new in Naomi Wolf's "Vagina." The Guardian's Jenny Turner shares Dobbs' skepticism:
"I read this book in utter bafflement. What is this big news that Wolf has to impart? Vaginas feel stuff, so yes, of course they must be packed with nerves; and nerves, we know, join up with each other at the spine to link into the brain. That's why they call it the central nervous system; that's what being human is all about. Feet, too, join up with the CNS – thus reflexologists, and why bunions are so painful."
3. No vagina -- not even Naomi Wolf's -- is a mystical hole. The Economist:
"This book is entertaining and appalling in turns, with language that tends towards the outlandish (“The vagina may be a ‘hole’; but it is, properly understood, a Goddess-shaped one.”). Ms Wolf also has a habit of stretching concepts past their breaking point—such as her theory that women are more prone to mysticism than men, owing to the fact that they are capable of producing more dopamine during sex."
4. Orientalism, Orientalism, Orientalism. The Daily Beast's Michelle Goldberg criticizes the way Wolf's "Vagina" throws around terms like 'tantric' and 'sacred':
"When Wolf lauds Tantra for its “answers to the question of how female sexuality was best understood,” it’s roughly akin to pronouncing on imperial Japanese culture after taking a karate intensive at the YMCA."
5. Speak for your own vagina, Naomi Wolf's "Vagina." Feministe's Jill Filipovich on Wolf 's claims about and on behalf of all vaginas, everywhere:
"Wolf has always been willing to write prescriptive rules and then bend them for herself. And frankly if she wants to write a woo-woo book about her magic technicolor vagina, good for her. I would normally pay about as much attention to a Magic Vagina book as I would to a book about how a man’s magical penis turned him into Dorothy and took him to Oz and back — yay, good for you, but not on my reading list. Unfortunately, Naomi Wolf is our amazing technicolor vagina. She’s still widely listed as a leading feminist scholar / voice / writer / activist. And she takes scraps of feminist ideas that might actually be good and interesting and turns them into conclusory, lazy assertions with only the most tenuous evidence backing them up."
6. This is just embarrassing. The New Statesman's Laurie Penny writes that Naomi Wolf's "Vagina" has turned the author into a laughing stock:
"['Vagina'] has given public intellectuals a legitimate reason to have a good old laugh at female genitalia for the first time in years, somewhere in between Wolf’s description of dopamine as a 'feminist' neurotransmitter and her retreat to a Greek island to feel the divine energy of the she-goats butting in the fields and undulating bloody hills. It's beyond parody, and it makes a parody of mainstream feminist debate. Barely two chapters in, it dawns on you by dreadful stages that the author's self-delusion is such that she really does believe her personal problems in achieving mind-blowing orgasms to have universal application to the future of womankind."
7. There's more than one way to experience an orgasm. In the New York Review of Books, Zoë Heller accuses Naomi Wolf's "Vagina" of telling all of us how to climax:
"Hubris [ ] compels her to instruct us on how all women need to be wooed, and how all women feel when they come. Wolf remarks more than once in this book that she has no wish to be “prescriptive,” but prescriptiveness, alas, is her compulsion. She won’t be able to rest easy until all of womankind has heard her gospel and has started having sex that is not just pleasurable, but worthwhile."
8. Naomi Wolf's "Vagina" is too easily upset. In the Guardian, Suzanne Moore discusses a pasta party incident that Wolf cites as the cause of what does seem to be a disproportionate level of emotional distress:
"I read Vagina: A New Biography in a bar while feasting on some very fine cuts of meat, so I am not just judging it by the extracts, ie the insane pasta party where "Alan", a supposed friend, served her "cuntini". This trauma upset her for six months. Someone give her a hotdog quick to spare us more of this existential despair."
9. Un-self-conscious parody doesn't get any better than Naomi Wolf's "Vagina." Katie Roiphe in Slate:
"One the most prominent feminists in the country writes about her failure to see Technicolor after having sex—“the colors were just colors—they did not pulsate after lovemaking anymore”? And her subsequent painful spinal operation that restored the “pulsating colors”? A book in which she calls the vagina “the goddess” and has the revelation that the vagina “is a gateway to, and medium of, female self-knowledge and consciousness themselves”? It would be hard to write a parody more effective, more sublime, than this."
All in all, media coverage of the book has been dismal, and Twitter users are no more optimistic. Check out some of our favorite tweets about the book in the slideshow below.
Will you be reading Naomi Wolf's "Vagina?" Comment with your thoughts, or tweet them @huffpostwomen!
Lesley Agams Esq