The Professor lent me The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction which is one of those scholarly books that you almost loathe to start because you are both excited and afraid every other word is going to be hegemony or heteronormativity and all of the references to Foucault will be these beatific paeans to how brilliant he is and how he has never in the history of the universe said one wrong or stupid thing. Oh, that lucky Foucault. I’d love for legions of young scholars to lick my nether regions every chance they got, but alas, I am not him and so I must do without. Not that I don’t deserve it. But I have stuff to do. Trying to get a blog written with a crotch full of young scholars all struggling to get their tongues in me? Nearly impossible. So, you know, maybe once you’ve written a bunch of stuff and can just afford to coast on your reputation, it’s a pleasant way to pass the time, but someone in my house has to go grocery shopping and I just can’t figure out how that’d work, logistically.
Anyway, where were we?
Yes, this book. The only jargony word in it is androcentric and it’s used in context and is the best word choice so I think, though it looks like jargon, it actually sneaks out of jargondom and into usefulness. And Foucault is in there, but how the hell is he supposed to compete against Freud? Once Freud starts in with his "All women secretly want their dad’s penises" nonsense, Foucault’s insights just don’t seem as flashy. Freud. Shit. No one wants him to show up at their parties, because they know he’s going to dominate every conversation.
Anyway, the book repeatedly makes a couple of simple, yet elegant, points. First is that it’s nearly impossible for most women to have an orgasm based solely on vaginal stimulation, but nearly impossible for us to not have an orgasm with proper clitoral stimulation*. And yet, the androcentric view of sex by philosophers and other experts on sex**, has for thousands of years been that sex is when a penis enters a vagina and the man has an orgasm.
If the woman does not also have an orgasm, this is not the fault of a definition of sex that revolves around an easy and pleasant way for men to get off, but of defective women.
These defective women, who exhibited symptoms which look suspiciously similar to women who are highly aroused with no way of achieving release, were diagnosed with hysteria.
Interestingly enough, hysteria is one of those diseases that has existed for thousands of years, but magically disappeared in the middle of the twentieth century, thanks in part to a lot of things, one of which being the wide spread, crazy idea that women could enjoy sex and could regularly orgasm if they or their partners took matters into their own hands, so to speak.
But I’m not quite that far yet. I’m still laughing–yes, hysterically–through the history of the vibrator, a device designed so that doctors could get a break from the tedious work of manually inducing hysterical paroxysm in their patients.
I have to tell you that, at the same time that male doctors come off looking like a bunch of morons, there’s something kind of sweetly naive about their commitment to their worldview. I mean, here are all these guys who are supposed to be so worldly and wise who think that most women are suffering from some disease which can only be cured by rubbing or mildly shocking or spraying with water women’s genitals to the point where the women are writhing around, calling out, trembling, and then their vaginal muscles noticeably contract. And most of these guys find such "physical therapy" tedious. They try to pass it off to midwives or flunkies. "It’s hard and it takes too long," they complain. They spend long hours building elaborate contraptions designed to induce hysterical paroxysm without the aid of anyone.
And they’re despondent because their patients don’t ever seem cured of hysteria, because the women need to come back often for more treatments!
Bless your hearts, smart men of history. Bless your hearts.
*I hope any young scholars who are contemplating spending some time licking my cooter will keep these handy facts in mind.
**Yes, this is a joke.
Anyway, Coble, I will ask the Professor when she gets back from where ever it is that she’s jetted off to this weekend if you can borrow it. You’ll get a kick out of it, I bet.