The latest in a continuing series.
I came to Carthage, where I found myself in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lusts. I had not yet fallen in love, but I was in love with the idea of it, and this feeling that something was missing made me despise myself for not being more anxious to satisfy the need. I began to look around for some object for my love, since I badly wanted to love something. —St. Augustine, Confessions
Our Vaginas, Ourselves
By DAPHNE MERKIN
Let me get some housecleaning out of the way first. This lady's [?] nom de rébellion is an example of what our moral and intellectual superiors call clever:
1. Originally, a wig; afterwards, a mop for cleaning cannon.
2. A patch of false hair, or something resembling hair, worn on a string over the female pudenda; - used by stripteasers.
3. The hair on the female pubic area.
Here's more Merkinmania from The Straight Dope:
* They used to shave off all the pubic hair as a cure for syphillis, so the well-to-do used wigs.
* Before penicillin was around to ease the lives of the promiscuous, these were used to cover up any sores prostitutes may have obtained in the line of duty.
* They used to treat the syphilitic with mercury, which caused baldness.
* The merkin is for women with no pubic hair. Some people just don't develop hair down there, and this can be embarrassing.
* In days of old a common problem was lice. One of the ways people dealt with this was to shave all the hair off their bodies, including arms, legs, and pubes. Wigs became very popular. Pubic wigs caught on slowly, starting among the kinkier set, but eventually became halfway respectable.
* A merkin is a crotch wig for both men and women and is usually worn on the outside. Have you ever seen a Scot in full regalia? That little fur "purse" in front is a merkin.
* In a country of mainly dark haired people, a prostitute may wear a blond merkin to be unusual and therefore more desirable. (Got this from a dictionary of sex.)
* One of the more recent uses is to allow exotic dancers to comply with local laws prohibiting full nudity. They wear what amounts to a flesh-colored panty with hair on the front, appearing to the patrons of the establishment to disrobe completely without actually doing so.
You'll get it after a minute or two of reading, kiddies.
These are cruel times for vaginas. Lately, as if I don't have enough to worry about, with the deadline on various unkept 2005 resolutions fast upon me, I have begun obsessing about various aspects of my genital appearance. Take my labia minora, for instance. Tucked away as those intimate folds of flesh are - hidden in the underbrush, you might say - I have never given them much thought, except as they relate to experiences of sensual pleasure. Ditto my labia majora, which dutifully served their purpose in guarding the entryway to what the Victorians would have quaintly referred to as my maidenhead. As for the much vaunted hymen (named for the Greek god of marriage), mine remained intact longer than most thanks to my slow-blooming erotic life, until such time as a boyfriend's patient late-night exertions finally parted me from it at the age of 25. Needless to say, its absence - much less the idea that I might be harboring a deep sense of nostalgia for this tiny piece of overinvested membrane, might indeed be secretly yearning to reclaim it - hasn't so much as crossed my mind in the intervening years.
Ah, but how blithely backward-looking - and how wrong, as it turns out - I was. I have seen the future, and it is denuded. Pubic hair is out; the ubiquity of so-called Brazilian waxes, once the domain of porn stars and movie actresses, has ensured that this mossy covering is deemed no more than an aesthetic hindrance to the unfettered male gaze. Which leaves the one part of the female body formerly not available to harsh scrutiny now glaringly on display, held up to culturally defined aesthetic standards undreamed of by the smut-obsessed author of "My Secret Life," borrowed as they are from centerfolds and online pornography. Sagging groin skin and limp labia are going the way of crooked noses and post-nursing breasts, courtesy of new cosmetic surgeries focused on this once-neglected hinterland of female beauty. As recently noted in an article in The Wall Street Journal, vaginal plastic surgery is one of the field's fastest growing sectors, and its high priest, one Dr. David Matlock of - where else? - Los Angeles, claims that he has a five-month waiting list for women eager to get that Playboy look.
But wait, there's more. The future as I see it is also - how to put this? - reforested. Hymen-reattachment surgery, once a desperate stratagem undertaken by young women from Muslim, Asian and Latin American cultures that demonized the loss of virginity before marriage, is now being hawked as a way to enjoy a second honeymoon. If it's unclear whom this procedure is meant for - aging women hoping to catch a flagging penis with the semblance of undeflowered innocence? - it's even more ontologically ungraspable how stitching a hymen back together vitiates the psychological experience of having already lost your virginity. But it is being advertised heavily in print as well as online, and one enterprising doctor who trained with Matlock says he performs about a dozen such operations a month and fields voluminous amounts of e-mail inquiries.
Forget Matlock. Try MacGyver. "What's he doing with that thing?"
BTW, isn't MacGyver a Scottish name? What do you think he could do with a merkin, a paper clip, and some ammonia?
Truth be told, I always considered myself lucky to have escaped coming of age at the height of the consciousness-raising era, when anatomical self-examination took on the aspect of a collective ritual. Those were the days when women felt obliged to convene in sisterly circles with mirrors and flashlights the better to study their bodies, themselves. Never having been one to enjoy group activities of any sort, the thought of becoming more closely acquainted with my private parts in a public setting seems potentially traumatizing rather than liberating or, God knows, celebratory.
Indeed, it has always seemed to me that one of the singular advantages of being a woman lies precisely in the "dark continent" quality of our genital cartography. If we women don't get to stalk around flaunting our virile equipment the way men do, we also don't have to deal with locker-room slights or bedroom disparagements. We carry our signs of arousal - our receptivity - on the inside, as opposed to the straightforward jack-in-the-box readability of men. And although it's true that the very structural inaccessibility of the vagina may lead to difficulties with body image (how do you go about envisioning something you can't see?), it also serves as a kind of protection against the relentless judgment - the fierce critique - of every pixel of our appearance that women, far more than men, are inclined to. Men may have begun to worry a bit more about their drooping jowls than they used to and may be the target of those abject penile-enhancement ads that pop up all over the Internet, but 90 percent of all cosmetic procedures are performed on women. So having one less visual surface to commodify - to narrow our eyes at accusingly, checking out for acceptability or desirability in terms of size, shape and firmness - leads me to offer up silent thanks for small favors of chromosomal destiny.
But I am out of step; I grow old and wear the bottoms of my blue jeans rolled. Perhaps it's an inescapable consequence of living in a free-market society that choice springs eternal, that nothing is ever done with, that decisions once made can be unmade, that you can return your character to the vendor and ask for improvements. We live in a time of thong underwear, of designer sorrows and of artificially enhanced gratifications. So step right up, ladies. Your labia may not be up to snuff - they may extrude too much or lack youthful plumpness - but a quick nip/tuck or strategic injection of fat from Dr. 90210 and his colleagues will take care of that. And thanks to the wonders of hymenoplasty, you can get to be a virgin - or at least like a virgin - all over again. From where I sit, life looks to be one long Madonna-esque self-invention tour, (An excellent example. Look here. - F.G.) and there's nothing to be done but to grin, tighten your Kegel muscles and bear it.
Daphne Merkin is a contributing writer for the magazine.
I'd like to think "Daphne" is a guy. Sadly, I have no doubt she is a she.
What in the world happened to women? My mom and dad, the rest of my family, The Church, my friends and neighbors, the books I read, the schools I attended, and even the governments that ruled over me (mostly) taught me women were the wise ones, the ones to be respected.
Women used to be the civilizing force. They were the ones who would keep me and my fellow boys in line once we grew up enough to appreciate the difference between the sexes. This is no longer the case.
Women are becoming more like men. There, I said it.
Our so-called culture demands it. Our betters preach it constantly. Hell, we even have women in combat. (And just you wait until that one comes home to roost, kiddies. Hoohoo!)
Frankly, I hate guys. Sure they're good for sports and boozing and brawling and repairing my transmission. Sure they make the best chefs, novelists, artists, scientists, mathematicians, cops, and firemen.
But if I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a guy, I'd be dating Barney Frank. (Actually, I'd like to think if I was a sodomite, I could do a heck of a lot better than Barney Frank. But you know what I mean.)
Look at your sons and daughters. How are you rearing them? Do you want your girls to grow up to be self-absorbed imbeciles like "Daphne Merkin"?
Do you want your kids staring at themselves in a mirror the rest of their lives while their immortal souls shrivel and harden because you thought teaching them right from wrong would harm their self-esteem?
Part 1: SEX IS DEATH. (Stories for Boys) is here.
Part 2: SEX IS DEATH. (Distaff Death) is here.
Part 3: SEX IS DEATH. (Joyously dispensing death) is here.
Part 4: SEX IS DEATH. (Sex is depression) is here.
Part 5: SEX IS DEATH. (When self-pleasuring becomes self-destruction) is here.
Part 6: SEX IS DEATH. (Sex is theft) is here.
Part 7: SEX IS DEATH. (A review of Bareback Mountain) is here.
Part 8: SEX IS DEATH. (What is the ultimate penalty?) is here.
Part 9: SEX IS DEATH. (Haven from reality) is here.
Part 10: SEX IS DEATH. (Sin-redemption-reasons-reason) is here.
Part 11: SEX IS DEATH. (Mommy loves you) is here.
Part 12: SEX IS DEATH. (George Gilder offers a clue) is here.
Part 13: SEX IS DEATH. (Post-killem depression) is here.