Photo courtesy of missx.com.ausexual
Last week, New York City-based conceptual artist Sophia Wallace brought her “Solid Gold Clit” to Sewanee, with the help of the wonderful men and women of the Wick, and caused quite the stir, to say the least. Wallace’s mixed media project CLITERACY, 100 Natural Laws includes the world’s only anatomically correct sculpture of a clitoris, and can be found on display in duPont Library until March 10. At her February 25 Pinnacle Luncheon, Wallace began the talk by shocking her audience with a little-known fact: the anatomy of the clitoris was not discovered until 1998, and even after that, most sex education classes in the United States do not teach students what it actually looks like. Diagrams of the vulva in doctors’ offices, even, misrepresent the anatomy of the clitoris. Because of this lack of education, most men and women do not know that what is visible of the clitoris comprises only 10% or less of the entire clitoral organ—the tip of the iceberg, if you will.
So, why is it that we are so oblivious to an organ that half of the population has? Why is female sexuality still such a mystery? Through her CLITERACY project, Wallace hopes to craft a new way of conceptualizing the female form and shine a light on something that has been ignored by scientists, scholars, and society as a whole for centuries: female anatomy and, therefore, female sexuality. The sex-positive project’s intent is, according to Sophia Wallace’s website, to explore a particular paradox: “the global obsession with sexualizing female bodies in a world that is illiterate when it comes to female sexuality.” CLITERACY promotes bodily autonomy and posits that female sexuality does deserve to be studied and understood in its entirety; CLITERACY promotes the idea that it should not be viewed as taboo, especially when one considers how male sexuality is normalized and often seen as humorous.
A sample of the text that Wallace uses in the exhibit perfectly summarizes the philosophy that inspired her to create this beautiful and incredibly meaningful work of art: “All bodies are entitled to experience the pleasure they are capable of.”
Unfortunately, some students were upset or made uncomfortable by this public display of female anatomy, and many attempted to use the “equality” argument, which goes something like this: “If you really wanted equality, you’d put a dick statue up next to the clit one!” There is, however, one serious flaw in this line of thinking: putting up another statue does not achieve equality. Many disgruntled students, unsurprisingly, took to Yik Yak to voice their discomfort; one even sent the artist herself a rape threat via the anonymous social media app, which made her so uncomfortable that she requested extra security at her Pinnacle Luncheon. Thanks to the actions of one student who didn’t even have the courage to attach their name to their words, Sophia Wallace will now associate her visit to Sewanee with threats of sexual violence, which is absolutely unacceptable. What was said on Yik Yak is not representative of Sewanee as a whole, but, unfortunately, Wallace has no way of knowing this, given her limited exposure to our school. Sewanee alumna Lacy Oliver (C’14) said it best in a recent Facebook post: “If you have a problem with a woman’s ideology or work, learn to address it without resorting to threats of violence, attacks on her bodily autonomy, name-calling, or any other type of vitriol. If this is the way you deal with disagreements with women, you are sexist and you are the problem.”
I support Sophia Wallace, CLITERACY, and The Wick, and I am appalled that one student’s cowardly words marred Wallace’s Sewanee experience and changed her opinion of our school. If anything, this experience has opened up a much-needed dialogue among the student body and challenged our way of thinking. To focus on female pleasure for once, rather than allowing androcentric sexuality to persist, on the other hand, does. Everyone has known what the penis looks like for centuries—just look at any classic work of art or piece of architecture (**cough** McClurg **cough**) and you will see phallic symbols abound. What is shocking, though, is that man set foot on the Moon 29 years before the anatomy of the clitoris was discovered; I think it’s time to move on from penises for a little bit.
And to those who are complaining about “having to look at genitals,” I’ve got some news for you. For starters, no one is forcing you to look at Sophia Wallace’s work. Avert your eyes and work somewhere else if it makes you that uncomfortable. We all know that no one ever gets work done in the periodicals room, anyway. Second of all, the clitoris is not considered “genitals.” It is a primarily internal organ inside of a woman’s vulva. Perhaps people are uncomfortable because the clitoris makes orgasms happen, but I would argue that CLITERACY is about much, much more than orgasms. CLITERACY is meant to empower and educate, because every human has a right to know about their own body.