Naomi Wolf’s new book — by all accounts a disastrous combination of gender essentialism based on generalizing from her own personal preferences, anti-feminism in feminist clothing, evo-psych wankery, and New Age wankery — does have one undeniable virtue: it figures to generate some of most entertaining reviews since Liberal Fascism itself. I’ve already mentioned Ariel Levy. I think Zoë Heller may have actually topped Levy:
It is striking that when confronted with an evolutionary story that does not suit her prejudices—the idea, for example, that a cross-cultural male preference for a certain female waist-to-hip ratio might be an adaptive preference for fertile-seeming women—she is happy to reject it, without further elaboration, as “sexist.” Yet offered a no less controversial theory that happens to support her a priori convictions, she is all naive fascination. To support her view that vaginal orgasms are superior to the clitoral kind, she cites the phenomenon of “uterine upsuck” as proof that vaginal orgasms are evolutionarily “superefficient.”
Whether she knows it or not, investigations into the adaptive “purpose” of orgasms, vaginal or otherwise, are far more contentious and inconclusive than she suggests. The classic data on which the “upsuck” theory of female orgasm is based derive from one study, involving a single participant, conducted in 1970. And the fact that between a third and two thirds of women rarely or never achieve orgasm through intercourse would seem by itself a pretty conclusive argument against any evolutionary explanation for female orgasm. But there is a further problem with her argument. Why should a feminist woman who is having sex for nonprocreative purposes care whether what she is doing is “adaptive” or not? Wolf, it seems, has ended up in the dangerous position of giving certain sexual behavior greater value because it is “natural” or “evolutionarily valuable.”
There is a strange hubris in Wolf’s claim to understand how all rape affects all women. It is the same hubris that 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. Her refusal to acknowledge the heterogeneity of female temperament, of female sexual proclivity, of female desire, would be galling, if it were not so dotty. As it is, her willingness to position herself as a visionary sexual prophet inspires a sort of affectionate awe.
Incidentally, you will learn far more from Heller’s recent novel The Believers than from everything Wolf has ever written put together, and the experience will be far more pleasurable.
Michelle Goldberg’s take is also excellent, although I’m obligated to note that the “earth tones” story is, like most of the War On Gore, a sexist myth. I also don’t know why her salary as an adviser was an issue. If her recent writings prove anything, it’s that she should be taken exactly as seriously as Mark Penn and Dick Morris.