Are you cliterate? Have you ever heard of cliteracy? Well artist Sophia Wallace is making it her mission to educate you. Wallace, who coined and defined the term for her mixed media project and installation titled “CLITERACY, 100 Natural Laws” explains cliteracy in a variety of ways, and I could undoubtedly write a whole paper on the multiplicity of meanings and significations that the new word carries. Thus—as with so many aspects of gender exploration—“cliteracy” cannot be explained away with a simple definition. Wallace does, however, anoint cliteracy with a “dictionary” definition for a print created as a part of her project, which reads as follows:
Cliteracy: clit-er-a-cy [clit-er–uh–see] noun. 1. The quality or state of being cliterate, especially the ability to navigate the clitoris based on an understanding that it is fundamental to the female organ. 2. Fluency in clinguistics. A person well versed in clinguistic pedagogy. 3. Epistemic grasp of the precise anatomy, function, complexity, and external and internal scale of the clitoris as discovered by Dr. Helen O’Connell in 1998. 4. The applied knowledge that female orgasms are not happenstance, rather they are easily and predictably created with a basic understanding of female sexual anatomy. 5. Far from a “little hill” as its Greek derived name kleitoris implies, the clitoris is more like a mountain, easily ten times larger than the average person realizes.
So what is the significance of the cliteracy project to sexual equality? I believe that it is another tool in the hands of women who are building a modern feminism in which we are able to openly discuss and have pride in our own sexuality. Susan Faludi argues in “American Electra” that postmodern feminism is throwing away the hard won gains of the first and second waves of feminism because it has “shifted from the battleground of doctrinaire Seventies women’s liberation toward the intellectual playground of bodily display and pop-culture friendly theory—a feminism…that is ‘about being seen’” (Faludi 40). In other words, Faludi would perhaps consider “CLITERACY: 100 Natural Laws” and the desire to teach cliteracy as another example of the hyper-feminine and hyper-sexual tendency of modern feminism that seems to many to be the opposite of what the original suffragettes and bra burners were working towards. However, I would debate that feminism continues to move forward, regardless of what some may consider a brazen desire to flaunt our sexuality—and our clits.
If the marching orders of the first wave were to free women from the Victorian era “protection racket” of men that led to early marriage and pregnancy (Faludi 36), and for the second wave it was to allow women to escape our dehumanization as sex objects, I argue that what we are currently experiencing is women’s redefinition of our sexuality through a public assertion of our ability to be as overtly feminine sexy or unisex androgynous as we choose. I do not mean to claim, of course, that the phenomenon of hyper-femininity and hyper-sexuality is not influenced by the continued sexual objectification of women that pervades society (and, notably, a nauseating portion of marketing). I am merely choosing to optimistically believe that we are turning our sexual objectification on its head, transforming it from a barrier holding us back into a weapon for our freedom.
So, to return to cliteracy, I contend that Wallace’s project is another weapon in the hands of women that we can use to free ourselves from sexual misconceptions and regain sexual agency and control. This can be seen in one of my personal favorites of Wallace’s 100 Natural Laws, which states: “Freedom in society can be measured by the distribution of orgasms.” As we all know, women have a notoriously difficult time reaching orgasm compared to men, and a man who actually puts in the time to bring a woman to orgasm is practically a hero. So this law—like most of the 100—is a call to respect women by respecting the power of the clit, and thereby contributing to sexual equality. With her laws, Wallace decrees to the followers of her movement the changes that must be made in the attitudes of and toward women if there is to be social change. If I could add a natural law of my own, I would call for “EQUAL WORK EQUAL ORGASM.”
As a woman who identifies with the necessity for cliteracy and women’s empowerment to be sexually assertive, I love this project. I hope that by sharing it with the Wetlands community I am doing my part to expand the movement. I may not yet be prepared to rock one of Wallace’s “SOLID GOLD CLIT” shirts in public, but it is nice to know I have the option.
(To see Wallace briefly explain CLITERACY, 100 Natural Laws, click here! http://vimeo.com/59497570 There is not a complete list as Wallace is currently only showing the entirety in her exhibition, however you can read many of them by zooming in on images.)