About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Vagina Monologues

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this book (I haven't see the play yet). On the one hand, some of the stories are compelling and heart-wrenching (e.g., the chapter about women raped in Bosnia during the last conflict there. Other chapters are funny and tender (like the one about the "vagina workshop" where women learn in groups about their vaginas and how to reach an orgasm).

There are plain bizarre entries in the Monologues, like "Reclaiming Cunt" (short, neither funny nor touching, though I'm all in favor of the concept), and some where one can easily (perhaps too easily?) see the point, and yet the chapter doesn't quite do it (at least for me, middle class white male), as in "If your vagina could talk, what would it say in two words?" (and it was a bit irritating that several entries had more than two words, but I'm known to be a stickler about such things...).

Perhaps the hardest thing for me (again, as a man) was to wrap my mind around the concept that apparently so many women have never touched their clitoris, given themselves orgasms, or even looked at their vaginas (admittedly, the latter isn't quite as easy a fit as it is with a penis, but still). I kept thinking, c'mon, this can't be, what are these women thinking? But of course I have no reason to doubt these stories, and it has opened up a valuable view into some women's psyche. As a male, I can always use more of that!


  1. but I'm known to be a stickler about such things...


  2. I don't have a problem with the Monologues in general, nor do I find them "poisonously anti-male" as I think Christina Hoff-Summers described them. There is at least one monologue called something like "He Liked to Look At It" that talks about a male sexual partner in a positive way.

    But...I don't like the whole "V-day" thing one bit. Neither does pro-sex feminist Betty Dodson, as she explains in this article.

    Also, there was one monologue in the original text describing a lesbian statuatory rape in a very positive light. That one got dropped early on, though, after some journalists and other critics publicly complained.

  3. Adrienne, the monologue about the lesbian statuatory rape is in fact in the British edition I've got. And you are right, it is disturbing. I can only imagine what the reaction would have been if the adult there had been a man.

    Oh, and what on earth does ISTJ mean?? I get traumatized by acronyms. When I first move to the States I lived in Connecticut, and I once saw signs on the highway for "LI Expwy." It took me some time to figure out that that meant "Long Island Expressway." Ironically, I now live on LI, a few miles from the LI Expwy... :-)

  4. Massimo asked

    Oh, and what on earth does ISTJ mean??

    ISTJ is a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality type (it happens to be mine, actually) - Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging.

    Holy moly, you've never come across the MBTI stuff before, Massimo? I thought all intellectuals knew about this. You could say it's like a thinking person's astrology in that it's a means of dividing people into sixteen different personality categories, with specific tendencies and traits for each category. Unlike astrology, however, there is at least *some* truth and science behind the MBTI. Exactly how much, though, is a subject of debate.

    I happen to know a lot about the traits of the various types because my sweetie (he's posted here as mjrmjr) is really into it. He's an INTP, one of the rarest types, and is damn proud of it, too.

    For an intro to the MBTI, here's the Wikipedia entry.

    If you want to take a short version of the test for free, you can do it here or here.

    To find out about the traits of the various types and how prevalent each type is in the population at large, look here.

    Last but definitely not least, for a funny insight into the various personality types, you must read this.

    I get traumatized by acronyms.

    Then you never, ever want to work for a government IT contractor.

  5. Massimo wrote:

    Perhaps the hardest thing for me (again, as a man) was to wrap my mind around the concept that apparently so many women have never touched their clitoris, given themselves orgasms, or even looked at their vaginas (admittedly, the latter isn't quite as easy a fit as it is with a penis, but still). I kept thinking, c'mon, this can't be, what are these women thinking?

    1) On girls/women "looking" -- it's really not that easy. I mean, you really have to get a mirror and position yourself right to get a really good look...and honestly, I was pretty upset the first time I really looked. I know I'm not alone in this, either.

    Since men's sexual organs are so accessible, and since most boys and men (I think?) hold their penis while urinating, I think they probably get plenty used to how their own penis looks and feels. And boys and men see other males's external genitalia in locker rooms and such, so I think they clue in early on that there's variation in how men's penises and scrotums can look.

    If you're a woman, your genitalia can look very strange and even repugnant to you when you first get a clear look. Your genitals look strange, they feel srange, they smell strange. And it's yet another set of body parts to worry about...as in, "Oh my goodness, I wonder if it's supposed to look like that, or if mine is misshapen somehow." Since girls, at least when I was growing up, don't make a habit of showing off their genitals to other girls, it can be hard to get a basis for comparison.

    In my case, my mom had bought me some of those "going through puberty" books, but each one only had a single diagram of a vulva, and it wasn't based on a real-life model. It wasn't until I was in college and saw an anatomy textbook with several line drawings based on real women's vulvas that I realized women's genitalia can naturally look very different from each other. And boy, was I relieved!

    2) on girls/women giving themselves orgasms -- Women have a much wider variety in terms of what stimuli they need to get themselves off than men do. I mean, I believe there's actual scientific evidence for this, not just anecdotal evidence (although I have heard plenty of the latter). It can take some real time, creativity, and (ahem) dedication to figure out what works and what doesn't. And if you're already reticent about looking and touching your genitalia, you may not ever give this sort of experimentation a try.

    Also, from what I have read, boys tend to talk to each other about "jerking off", so they get the idea that it's a normal and even common thing to do. Maybe they even exchange some pointers, I don't know. :-) But once again, at least in my experience, girls just don't talk to each other about masturbation.

    Maybe some of the reticence you've mentioned is generational, too. Given how porn and the "hook-up" culture has become so mainstream in America, it's possible that today's teens and even kids have a lot more experience with looking at and touching themselves, and also with talking to their peers about these matters.

  6. Adrienne, yes, I had heard of Myers-Briggs, but never actually taken the test (which is why I was unfamiliar with the acronym). Thanks for the links, I'll check them out!

  7. I had some more thoughts on this subject, specifically about how women experience orgasm.

    I'm guessing that an orgasm feels pretty much the same to all men. And it's pretty darn obvious when a man has an orgasm, because there's always the ejaculation part.

    For women, though, the actual feelings and experiences can vary. Not all women have "contractions", for example -- and again, those &*%^ing puberty books never mentioned this fact! It wasn't until I got a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves in college that I found this particular tidbit out. (And again, boy was I relieved!)

    And even one woman can experience her own orgasms differently (so I've read). Some women feel it one way when it results from intercourse, but a different way when they are just by themselves.

    It's possible that some of the women you read about who thought they had never given themselves an orgasm really had, they just didn't realize it at the time. I know that idea must sound very, very strange to a man, but trust me on this one. :-)


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