The subject of vulvas has come up several times on this blog, from furniture to transportation to promoting more diverse and realistic images of female ladyparts. So we're really pleased to introduce you to our guest blogger Rachel Liebert–whose organization has also appeared on this blog–to keep the conversation going:
The International Vulva Knitting Circle started late in 2008 as an activist project inspired by the New View’s WTF-ing against the growing industry of “female genital cosmetic surgeries”. That is, girls and women being encouraged to have their vulvas surgically altered so that they “look prettier” and “feel better”. But who, we asked, says that they are not pretty or fabulous-feeling in the first place?! In response we decided to wield the knitting needle and create a whole heap of diverse and unique lady-bits (above) that would speak back to the increasing ways that corporations try to narrowly define what our bodies and sexualities “should be”.
We put the word out and badabing-badaboom we now have over 150 different vulvas made by people across six countries, and over 500 members all up. People either craft their vulvas on their own or host circles with their friends. Either way all crafts are welcome and we consciously deter the use of patterns (yes yes diversity) so long as people include the labia majora, the labia minora, and of course the all-important clitoris.
Last year we had our first public exhibition in Brooklyn, NY, at an activist event called Vulvagraphics, which pulled together a collection of artists’ works that celebrated female genital diversity. Since then we’ve been planning for the knitted wee ladies to go a-travelling so that the collection can be used to support other local events. And it seems our first stop is going to be this September in Las Vegas when the vulva surgeons are hosting their annual conference. The Vulva Train meets the Slot Machine. (Okay so admittedly it’s not my classiest of puns, but really, how could I resist?).
Our inside scoop tells us that the first surgeon meeting of this kind was disturbingly heavy on the profit-motive and low on the respect for our lovely vajayjays. So this time, we want to be there. We are working with the New View to host a counter-conference that will be happening up the road from the downtown doctors. Framing the Vulva will bring together an international group of genital scholars, artists, and activists, to critically examine the rise in cosmetic vulva surgeries.
The day will be followed by an evening celebration at the Erotic Heritage Museum, which will include a Petals photography showing and film-screening, as well as an exhibition from little ol’ us. We will also be carrying out a WANTED sticker and poster campaign leading up to the event to draw public attention to the surgeons’ meeting and promote female genital diversity.
While still relatively small in number (although fast increasing), for us these surgeries are especially significant as they offer a window to several important things to do with the regulation of female sexuality. Like how we are constantly told how to have sex, how to look, how to feel. Or that that we are inundated with conservative sex education and medicalized messages about our selves and each other. Or of course that Those Angry Feminists are all man-hating and sex-deprived and (ew OMG) hairy.
All of which are embraced by the promoters of female genital cosmetic surgeries to convince us ladies that we, or our husbands (because we all know every good woman has one of these), need them. And thus to make these businesses some sadly-not-so-hard-earned clams.
So, if you can, come to our VulVegas event to confront the ways that corporations are getting their business all up in our’s. And if you can’t, feel free to pull out those crafty tools and contribute to our collection for the exhibition. All vulvas welcome, always.
Rachel Liebert is originally from New Zealand but currently living in NYC doing her PhD at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She has been involved in various forms of activism to challenge the corporate co-optation of our psyches/bodies/sexualities over the past five years, including The International Vulva Knitting Circle and New View Campaign.