Sunday, November 28, 2010

there is so much i miss in books on the first read. for instance, in lady chatterley’s lover, d.h. lawrence describes the clitoris as a bird’s beak waiting to attack: “....she got harder and harder to bring off, and she’d sort of tear at me down there, as if it was a beak tearing at me. By God, you think a woman’s soft down there, like a fig. But I tell you [they] have beaks between their legs, and they tear at you with it till you’re sick. Self! Self! all self! tearing and shouting!...And it came back on her like a raving necessity, she had to let herself go, tear tear tear as if she had no sensation in her except at the very top of her beak, the very outside top tip, that rubbed and tore. ”

Monday, November 8, 2010

big clits: notes

in his book making sex, historian thomas laqueur writes, “more words have been shed, i suspect, about the clitoris than about any other organ, or at least about any organ its size.” any organ its size. although it seems like an odd qualifier, laqueur is merely following the focus, since antiquity, on the size of the clitoris. whether emphasizing its smallness (i.e. insignificance) or largeness, the size of the clit is irrevocably linked to the way its read both culturally and textually. in the case of the “enlarged clitoris” this is especially apparent in the literature surrounding the writings of marquise de sade and modern research on the female spotted hyena.

in literature male genitals are often described in detail while female genitals are either eschewed entirely or presented in vague terms, almost never mentioning the clitoris. not so in the writings of marquise de sade. as angela carter argues in the sadeian woman (1974), he is a “moral pornographer” who “made space for woman.” Sade was very much aware of the clitoris as a site of pleasure. In 120 days of sodom (1789), the priest shows Dulcos how to pleasure herself: “what you behold down here…is called a cunt, and this is what you do in order to awaken very felicitous sensations in it. With one finger [...] rub this little protrubence you feel here. It, by the way, is called the clitoris.” in this text, as well as Juliette and Justine, there are countless scenes in which women show their partners how to stimulate their clitoris and vice versa. in Justine, Madame De Sainte-Ange instructs Dolmance: “frigging, my pet, giving oneself pleasure [...] examine my cunt...thus is named the temple of venus. this elevation you notice above it called the mound, which is garnished with hair [...] here above is a little tongue-shaped thing—that is the clitoris, and there lies all a woman’s power of sensation. it is the center of all of mine.”

throughout the majority of sade’s boring, monstrous orgies, the clit is present; however, it is not simply any clit, but following the focus on size, a big clit. In 120 days of sodom, the Four Whores are, in carter’s words “more virile than the libertines.” Madame Champville, for instance, is a tall, fifty-year old woman with a clit that “protrudes three inches when well warmed” and is a self-proclaimed “devotee of Sappho.” sade writes, “her mouth was lovely, still fresh, missing no teeth as yet, she was flat-chested but had a belly which was good…her mound was rather prominent.” Volmar, an inhabitant of the convent where Juliette is educated, is equipped with a three inch long clitoris that enables her to penetrate men and women both vaginally and anally. then, there is Durand, the most fantastic libertine of all. she is utterly luscious, with beautiful breasts, a huge clit, and an obstruction of the vagina and womb, which has prevented her from fucking in the standard heterosexual way her entire life. carter describes Durand as “[...] a virile non-productive mother, who chooses her own children, and seduces them, too. the dead goddess resurrects herself in the form of her antithesis, not as cherishing and nourishment but absence and hunger.” ultimately, Durand can “fuck even nature itself.”

refuting angela carter's feminist analysis—“the women fuck as much as they are fucked”—critic john phillips argues that the aggressive women in sade’s texts are not quite “woman-like,” but rather, “phallic” and “masculinized.” of juliette he writes, “though physically possessing all the usual sadean attributes of feminine beauty, her reproductive potential is underplayed. there is a single reference, for example, to her menstrual periods, and although, she does give birth to a daughter, we are given no details whatever of this event. moreover, she is completely bereft of motherly instincts...” its true sade's libertines glorify non-reproductive sex, often preferring, in phillips words, “the transsexual posterior infinitely preferable to the uniquely feminine vagina.” Juliette is furthermore not “female” because she likes to fuck fuck fuck, sometimes donning a dildo, penetrating both men and women with equal abandon. phillips continues, “in a more general sense, Juliette displays attitudes and characteristics more recognizably male than female: she is promiscuous, goal-oriented, and prioritizes reason over emotion.” more recognizably male. no doubt that Juliette, like all of sade’s women, are products of male fantasy, as manifested in sade, but in phillips interpretation, the symbolic Juliette is stripped of her possible wants and desires; such acts cannot be her fantasies for that might imply that some women enjoy the act of penetration, perhaps preferring it to being penetrated.

the attempt to masculinize women with big clits is not new. the term tribad was often used to refer to women with large clitorises though it could also mean women who actively seek sex with other women, or are mentally ill. large clitorises were perceived as posing a very specific threat: a woman who possesses the physical means by which to penetrate another person in unacceptable in a culture that conceives of the sexually active role as properly restricted to males.

In his two part treatise on gynecology, soranus (1st/2nd century), a physician from Ephesus, advocated the surgical removal (selective clitoridectomy) of a part of the woman’s clitoris if it is “overly large,” a behavior soranus associated with unrestrained sexual behavior. in on acute and chronic diseases, soranus introduces influential idea that tribades were incurable because their problem is rooted in the soul, not the body; he recommends clitoridectomies for women who “behave like men.” aetius of amida, a christian physician writing in greek in the early 6th century, wrote about women with big clits, using philoumenos, a 2nd century medical writer, as his source. He describes three main reasons for clitoridectomy: an “overly large” clitoris and to relieve clitoral adhesions as well as release fluid built up within a diseased or cancerous clitoris. like those before him, aetius asserts that an enlarged clitoris will inevitably lead to licentious behavior due to the constant rubbing of the clitoris against one’s undergarments which “stimulates the desire for intercourse.” sinistrari, a roman inquisitor of the early sixteenth century, claimed that women with elongated clitorises could and might rape men, or engage in “sodomy” with other women. in france at around the same time, anatomist claude duval saved a “man” from being burned to death at the stake after he was caught having sex with another woman, a serious crime. After examining the woman’s clitoris, duval rubbed it back and forth until it produced a white substance. Since the clitoris could ejaculate, it was decided that she possessed a penis, was a man, and therefore, no criminal behavior had occurred. In the popular pleasures of the marriage bed (1687) nicholas venette writes: “the lesbian Sappho would never have acquired so wicked a reputation if this part [the clitoris] had been smaller.” Until the late eighteenth century, when clitordectomies were discussed in the West, they were associated with the size of the clitoris. more specifically, an “overly large” or “extended” clitoris believed to be associated with “lasciviousness.” that is—a physical condition (“large clitoris”) associated with a culturally problematic sexual behavior.

consider the female spotted hyena, known for its “enlarged clitoris,” extending, during childbirth, up to seven inches from her body. The spotted hyenas live in clans and are a matriarchy. they have sex, urinate, and give birth through their clitoris. in order to attract a female hyena in heat, males adopt submissive behavior. hyena sex isn’t easy: it takes careful positioning for the male to point his penis up and backwards to enter the female’s clitoris; often males must practice for several months before getting it right. most of the medical literature, as well as websites like wikipedia, refer to their clitoris as a “pseudo-penis” with most dominant behavior described as “male-like.” such aggressive behavior is thought to result from an influx of androgen, an “androgen bath,” during the last phases of gestation. the hyena's transgressive nature, however, was known to pre-Islamic Arabic poets. in such texts, hyenas are routinely depicted as breaching a vast array of social woes: killing and feasting upon gracious hosts, menstruating out in the open, laughing all the while; when a pack of hyenas wander upon a dead warrior, they pleasure themselves with his still stiff cock. in the physiologus—written in egypt around 200-400 C.E., translated into greek and latin and widely available throughout the west—the hyena is portrayed as an “alternating male-female...unclean because it has two natures.”

at UCLA, a research team, BHP, led by dr. lawrence frank, has received ample funding to trace the role of androgens in the development of the spotted hyena’s “female phallus.” early in their studies, BHP concluded: “it has become clear that the spotted hyena’s genitals are a result of a prenatal exposure to androgens.” instead of viewing this “androgen bath” as an evolutionary beneficial aspect of the hyenas, BHP tends to interpret it as an evolutionary oops. however, a team of german researchers argue that the erectile clitoris was selected for and that it functions to restrain male control of reproduction: forced copulations are impossible because the spotted hyena has sex via penetration of the clitoris, which requires much patience and precision. females thus gain control over the mechanism of copulation and male mating success becomes dependant on the relationships they develop with females.

this counterargument however, has been largely ignored largely ignored or scoffed at by the medical community as well as popular consciousness. dr. frank refers to it as the “chastity belt theory.” in 1987 Psychology Today ran an article about BHP and the female spotted hyena, referring to the hyena’s clit as a “psuedo penis.” The name of the article was “Boys will be Boys, Girls will be...Female Spotted Hyena look and act like males.” Google search the hyena today and difficult it is to find articles that go beyond “the female spotted hyena has really weird genitals” (livewire, 2006). In actuality, clitoral variation proves the norm, not the aberration. African elephants, moles (except during mating season), and the new world monkey, all appear “superficially similar” to the opposite sex. In the gibbon monkey, the clitoris is longer than the penis. Rabbits also have a “large clitoris” with a length of about 3 cm as compared. a urogenital canal is present in the clitorises of the spotted hyena, many rodents, moles, and the elephant, and some primates. however, as researcher anna wilson has aptly noted, much like women themselves, “the hyena has moved from being the dangerous, unknowable other into a position of that which can be known, studied, and dissected but that is still other.”