What's So Terrible About Calling Vaginas "Yonis?"
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In the last several weeks, the mainstream feminist blogosphere has been destroying Naomi Wolf’s new book, “Vagina: A New Biography.” Much of the criticism centers around her central thesis that our brains and our vaginas are connected. Critics note that Wolf merely reprinted some Women’s History 101, relies heavily on questionable neuroscience that reinforces gender roles, and completely ignores gay and transgender people. 100% co-signed.
But what is causing the loudest chuckles is Wolf’s discussion of sacred sexuality, the “Goddess Array” and “yonis.” And for me, that’s no laughing manner. While I’m glad, I suppose, that Wolf has found comfort and strength in this terminology, it is frustrating that it’s in the midst of such a myopic book and these ideas are gaining attention from a problematic source like Wolf. Thus those of us who yes, sometimes do use words like “goddess” and “yoni” are once again automatically relegated to a state of ridicule when they could be seen as a vital part of the community fighting back against patriarchy.
Full disclosure: I did not pay full price for this book. My reading consisted of an afternoon at Barnes & Noble reading specific full chapters, various excerpts, and taking notes to see what the fuss is about.
As I read the reviews and critiques of the book, I felt that mainstream feminist writers were jumping too quickly at the chance belittle ideas of “goddesses” and the Divine Feminine because in this case, it was coming from Naomi Wolf, once revered author of “The Beauty Myth,” turned rape apologist and slut-shamer. But the blame also lies with Wolf, who, in my mind, walks a fine line between appreciation of cultural beliefs and customs and appropriation to make a point and sell books.
Unfortunately, I can understand why. “The Goddess Array,” Wolf’s “set of behaviors a lover uses to arouse his or her partner,” builds on gender stereotypes and seems to be geared only towards committed heterosexual partners. (Naomi isn’t really down with casual sex.) She filled an entire chapter with jibber-jabber about women responding better to certain types of flowers (no cheap carnations), and extolling the virtues of pheromones and candlelight. Instead she could have said that genuinely being helpful and considerate, bringing things she likes (not just flowers!), telling her she is beautiful, and talking and listening may help a woman to be more emotionally open and lead to better sex. These are some of the same ways you can establish a deeper rapport with platonic friends too, men or women.
On the physical end, there’s nothing groundbreaking. She advises men to use a more sensual touch, follow her lead on nipple play, and spend more time with the G-spot. Basically, slow the fuck down and worship the body. Yes worship…you know, like a goddess.
There is a growing movement of women who resonate with “goddess” and define themselves as such. Wolf addresses this here:
“Why a Goddess? Goddesses are powerful, those around them hold them in reverence. Goddesses do not need to doubt themselves, their value or their allure—they can even be a bit self-absorbed—so they an allow permission to go on the trance journey inward…and goddesses are entitled, without anxiety or guilt or self-reproach, to high levels of attention and pleasure.”
Though I like her definition, it isn’t why I decided to start Goddesses Rising four years ago with some sister friends, or why I go by “ goddessjaz” on Twitter. I use “goddess” for my own reasons: in particular to push back against a patriarchy which belittles me daily and as a reminder of my own divine element. Besides, goddesses in myths aren’t always presented as omniscient and perfect beings--they make mistakes. But they do have power and agency, something women are frequently denied in our society.