Naomi Wolf

I attended the Rally for Life at the Texas Capitol with some of my friends from the University Catholic Center this past Saturday. I went hoping that this rally’s speakers would have more nuanced approaches than those who spoke at the same rally in 2010. I based that hope on my thoughts that this year the rally would happen out of the glare of national electoral politics and absent an intraparty primary fight. 

At the event, the most effective speakers were former Planned Parenthood employees and those who had sought abortions, but were now campaigning against the practice. It is not uncommon for prominent women to take stances against abortion. Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who has passed legislation legalizing gay marriage and gender self-identification, resists efforts to legalize abortion. She had a miscarriage in 1984. Even Naomi Wolf, a pro-choice feminist activist, encouraged her colleagues to acknowledge the realness of unborn life and the tension between autonomy and responsibility in her essay “Our Bodies, Our Souls, Rethinking Pro-Choice Rhetoric”:

“Say what you will, pregnancy confounds Western philosophy’s idea of the autonomous self: the pregnant woman is in fact both a person in her body and a vessel.”

Wolf dismisses claims that women who change from a pro-choice to a pro-life position are merely trying to garner attention and says that these women want pro-choice feminists like herself to think about what an abortion entails instead of merely dehumanizing the fetus. She goes so far as to affirm that “the pro-life slogan, ‘Abortion stops a beating heart,’ is incontrovertibly true.” That women who have gone through abortions take center stage in the pro-life movement will be essential for its credibility, especially in light of a national scene in which old white men with little knowledge of women’s reproductive health seem to dominate the Republican Party. At this year’s rally, the speakers reflected a notable effort to shift the focus to grassroots pregnancy assistance and to giving resources for mothers to have children. The further the movement goes in addressing women’s concerns, the harder it will be to paint those who oppose abortion as backwards ideologues that want to replace the doctor’s room with the back alley.

 Unfortunately, much progress is needed. At the rally, even as I heard calls to action from Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee, I heard praise for “the true heroes” of the abortion movement, the legislators lined up next to the Capitol — the same ones that execute prisoners at the highest rate in the country. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst affirmed his belief in the “promise of every life,” but not, I suppose, in the ability of death row inmates to reform themselves, or the dignity of an inmate whose guilt is in question. He lauded Texas’ constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as if my gay father’s inability to share state benefits with a partner had anything to do with the horrendous realities shown in those typically graphic photos of aborted fetuses. Perry talked about having companions as he “rides into battle” as if this national issue were somehow an Old Western movie with him as the star.  The last speaker at the rally quipped, “The federal government believes we should protect our children by taking away our Second Amendment rights ... but we believe in saving babies!”

These partisan jabs hurt what could be an efficacious message. Lauding Texas as the “most pro-life state” in the U.S. while ignoring that it still leads the nation in executions is hypocritical.  Heroic cowboy imagery of the lawmaker who saves the damsel in distress pursued by the Big Abortion Monster will do nothing to convince undecided women that abortion opponents don’t want to return them to the corset.

 This year, the Rally for Life made some positive adjustments in tone that should help deliver a concise message, essential in today’s society: Abortion is a brutal reality that America must begin to face with honesty.

Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.

Naomi Wolf, the bestselling author of “The Beauty Myth” and the recently released “Vagina: A New Biography,” finds female anatomy and physiology complex and worthy of greater study. Her personal medical struggle inspired her to explore the connection between the vagina and the brain. After surgery, Wolf got her ability to orgasm back and wanted to know why her creativity and worldview had suffered without it.

As a bit of a disclaimer, in the introduction Wolf textualizes her intention for this book to be for straight women by a straight woman. She does not wish to exclude or downgrade the experiences of lesbian, asexual or transgender people but does not delve into how the vagina-brain system works for them. This mention keeps Wolf’s book from seeming heteronormative to a fault. Even though she makes her point of view known, some of her ideas can feel dismissive of lesbians’ or other sexualities’ experiences.

Wolf writes, “The vagina and the mouth of the cervix seem to be evolutionarily rigged to need an ‘other.’ This ‘other’ is the penis, and the idea that women naturally need a penis degrades the sexualities of people that are not cisgendered heterosexuals.”

The “mind-vagina connection” is what Wolf found to be the backbone of female empowerment. Wolf finds the vagina is not just a mere physical representation of being a woman, not “mere flesh,” but an extension of the female brain and soul. This connection, along with its connection to society, is the most interesting discussion in the book.

Wolf finds that there is a link between societal repression of women and their sexualities and the physical reaction of orgasms in a woman’s brain. Severely patriarchal societies limit women sexually in dress and action and Wolf sees this as a natural reaction men might have to sexually empowered women. Wolf takes these ideas apart scientifically; she finds that orgasms release a chemical cocktail that empowers female confidence, creativity and character. Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin levels are raised after an orgasm and are the key to a happy and confident woman.

Wolf sprinkles a great deal of scientific claims throughout the book. This almost-case study of the vagina mainly uses anecdotal evidence from women Wolf knew or met briefly. Just because some of these anecdotes are not scientifically sound does not mean the implications of advice taken from them would be bad. More orgasms and, most importantly, better orgasms for women are, as a whole, a good thing.

Society focuses greatly on that “big bang”; that ending that is greater than the sum of its parts. Wolf does bring to light the necessity of arousal, or what she calls “activation,” as being integral to an overall enjoyable and fulfilling experience. She makes a great point when she explores why we refer to actions taken before penetration as “foreplay”; a word that suggests a non-necessity to these very important components. The focus on orgasm as the be-all and end-all of the sexual experience lessens the inclination of many men to engage in foreplay.

The book hems and haws from scientific and personal anecdotes to mystical hippie language. Even though referring to one’s vagina as “The Goddess” might be a little too much for some, this book is full of useful and important information for all sexes. Men in heterosexual relationships can find many revelations among its pages as well and learn ideas for ways sex can be more fulfilling for them and their partners. Vaginas are complex and the constant fight to control them and what women do with them makes learning every aspect of their being a necessity for women.

Naomi Wolf is a featured author at this year’s Texas Book Festival and will be at the Sanctuary at First United Methodist Church Saturday, from 4:15 to 5 p.m.