Of necessity this article discusses sexual vulgarities in art, history, and language.
Amy Schumer doesn’t seem to know what to do with her vagina. Nothing makes that more clear than when she tells the audience in “The Leather Special” that her “p-ssy. . . smells like a small barnyard animal. Not a f-cked-up llama, but a goat at a small petting zoo.”
If she’s trying to shock, she fails miserably. The Internet has numbed us to most p-ssy jokes. If she’s trying to get us talking about her show, she’s done that. But joking about her genitals this way just makes her an opportunistic hack and not a memorable talent.
If she’s trying to do what comediennes often do—denigrate oneself before anyone else has a chance to—that falls flat too. We’re inundated with feminists owning images and words before others do: Slut Walks, C-nt Art, vagina costumes, p-ssy hats… it’s vaginas on parade and has been for decades. We’ve gotten the message: “I’ll objectify myself before you do!”
This is why Schumer’s joke isn’t funny, shocking, or smart. In our current culture, brandishing details about your vagina is meaningless and trite. It also adds to the ongoing degradation of women, which is ironic since Schumer and others like her think they’re doing the opposite. But like the sexual revolution as a whole, the feminist preoccupation with vaginas has not freed women from objectification, it has furthered it. Before the 1960s, men were the ones doing the objectifying; now women are objectifying and disrespecting themselves.
When It Was Mysterious, It Was Beautiful
There was a time, long, long ago, when a woman’s vagina was a beautiful mystery. The descriptors used in art and literature weren’t crass and nasty, but eloquent and respectful. In the Song of Solomon, the vagina (referred to as “navel”) is described as a “rounded goblet,” a lily in an abundant pasture. The entire passage is filled with adoration and eroticism steeped in respect.
Society, however, has moved from refined portrayals, such as references to the altar of Venus, nature’s treasury, privy counsel, and Cyprian fountain, to more denigrating terms that predate even our modern times. The “purse,” a slang term that was popularized in the Victorian era, shows just how demeaning these terms can be.
The “purse” was a reaction to the “fallen woman” personae that was popular in art at the time and the pornography pervasive in the underground of Victorian society. Women’s sexuality was seen as something dirty, like a prostitute that tempted men away from their virtuous and “non-sexual” wives. The vagina and its abundant sexuality symbolized a financial transaction, a dark place where money and a man’s sexual urges were spent.
In a pornographic text from that period, “Memoirs of Fanny Hill” by John Cleland, we find this description: “As he stood on one side, unbuttoning his waistcoat and breeches, her fat brawny thighs hung down, and the whole greasy landscape lay fairly open to my view; a wide open mouthed gap, overshaded with a grizzly bush, seemed held out like a beggar’s wallet for its provision.”
The “beggar’s wallet” is a long fall from a “rounded goblet.” With a single word, a woman’s sexuality is judged and found guilty. This reductionist mindset, which negated women with a crude label, inflamed feminists, making them hell-bent on reclaiming their vaginas and ownership of their sexuality.
From One Abuse to Another
It led to the “Vagina Monologues,” Jane Arden’s “Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven,” and the feminist-labeled “c-nt art” of the 1970s with Judith Chicago’s 1971 “Red Flag,” which pictured a woman pulling a tampon from her vagina. Another is Faith Wilding’s “Sacrifice,” in which a woman who has been disemboweled is lying on a table, covered in bloody cow guts, and surrounded by sanitary pads.
Wilding famously said the “c-nt is beautiful,” much in the same way “black is beautiful” for civil rights activists—it’s about “claiming what has been most derogated as your strength.”
This refusal to be reduced to the embodiment of the vagina—whether it’s regarded as good or bad—unleashed feminist art and literature that pushed boundaries for awareness. One particularly disturbing piece of work came years after the first flush of the feminist insurgency: Eurydice Kamvisseli’s 1991 novel “f/32” in which the character Ela asks, “This c-nt or I? Is ‘it’ I?” From this question, the novel horrifically unfolds as Ela is attacked by a blind man who saws off her genitals before a crowd in New York City.
Having lost her genitals, Ela must now discover who she is. Is she still a woman? Is she complete? What’s her true identity? Kamivisseli shows the absurdity of a woman’s objectification when the vagina becomes famous in its own right, separate from Ela.
The bizarre sequence, which depicts the vagina as a disembodied character, creates a shocking image of how women are perceived in a sexualized culture where they are no longer complete human beings. Mercifully, Ela is reunited with her vagina at the end of the novel, seeing herself as inseparable from her sexuality, yet not solely defined by it.
We’re More than This Body Part We Obsess Over
The sad reality is that feminists today are still in the middle of Kamivisseli’s novel, trying to figure out who they are. In their struggle to prove that they’re more than their genitalia, they have reduced themselves to their genitalia by focusing too much on that aspect of their identity—and they’ve done it repeatedly in a demeaning way. Their mocking reaction to objectification by men has become their reality, and they are at risk of being defined by it.
What purpose are you serving by saying your vagina smells like a goat? I get that it’s a comedy routine, but comedy is an art form—it is communicating something meaningful, or should be. But what is the meaning behind this bit of coarse “humor”? What is Schumer’s intent? There doesn’t seem to be one. It’s just a revolting example of how feminists have jumped the shark over their vaginas.
They put their genitalia on parade instead of themselves as complete women, and the result is dissonance and dysfunction in our society. Instead of women being respected more, they are respected less. Instead of women being seen as complete subjects, they are reduced to deficient objects. And women are doing this to themselves.
Stop Reducing Yourselves to Shamed Genitals
A woman’s sexuality is beautiful. Her vagina is beautiful. It is part of her, and her self-esteem should extend to every aspect of her identity—her mind, spirit, and body. Her sexuality is sacred and should be treated with dignity and respect, not only by men, but by women. The time for making crass political and sociological statements about our vaginas is over. I think men get the point: Women are more than sex.
The slang terms for our genitals will continue, of course, as it will for men’s; there’s no stopping that. But we can—and must—bring dignity back to the discussion of our sexuality, even in comedy. If Schumer is going to make basic jokes about her body parts, let’s hope they’ll actually be funny. But by rambling on in a contradictory fashion about body issues and vaginas, she fails as a comedian, a cultural commentator, and a feminist.
Maybe next time she should try making fun of feminists who objectify themselves with vulgar commentary about their vaginas. Maybe then we might just swing the pendulum back into balance where women are respected as complete human beings whose bodies are treated with dignity, not reduced to barnyard imagery.