If a man trains himself to thump out a ditty on a piano using his erect penis, we think of it as a joke, a kind of sick gag. YouTube will cut the video soon enough. But if a woman somehow manages to knit using her vagina--well, that's what we call "performance art". It is considered art in part because the reason the woman did it was, as she says, to raise awareness about a shunned and supposedly misunderstood part of female anatomy.
Uh-huh. Cue Casey Jenkins.
Now Casey Jenkins seems like an easygoing and open-minded woman. And she certainly seems earnest about her work here. But I would have to suggest, even so, that she is drowning in a narcissistic craving for attention. And she is pathetically and perversely exploiting her own sex organs to get this attention.
When last month I read about the poor dope who nailed his scrotum to the pavement on Red Square I thought a new low in attention-grabbing antics had been reached. And I thought this new low might hold for awhile. At least for a year or so.
But I was too hasty in my judgment. Not even a month has passed and this Australian "craftivist" Jenkins comes in and, uh, snatches the trophy away. Because her work, regardless of the earnestness she seems to show, cannot escape being ridiculous. It is the stuff of humor and scoffing and a vague or even strong sense of aversion. And these emotions are not, contrary to what her ideological statements suggest, because there is anything inherently scoff-worthy in a woman's vagina. No, the humor and scoffing and revulsion are not due to her vagina itself, but to the way she is exploiting it to get attention.
Some consider her work a "brave" feminist statement. Yaaaawwwwnnn. In what is it brave? Is it brave because she is openly courting ridicule by doing something so evidently ridiculous? Jenkins' performance doesn't even subvert any boundaries (unless you consider the boundary between scarf and tampon worth subverting, which I don't). Vaginal motorcycle repair or vaginal billiards, now these might provoke some thought, but vaginal knitting? C'mon. Muffs and knitting go way back. My grandma knit muffs in her day.
So you see I'm starting to take the humorous end of this yarn and run with it. Ouch. Because I think this is what Jenkins' work calls for.
I can credit Femen with bravery when they do actions in authoritarian states and risk arrest. I can certainly credit Muslim women with bravery when they stand against forces like the Taliban. But a woman in Australia publicly fetishizing her own sex organs is not bravery: it's silly narcissism grasping for the status of art. She knows she's almost certain to make a name for herself among the community of like-minded feminists and "artists". And she risks nothing but being laughed at for her trouble. And so I will, in the main, laugh at her.
While we're on the silly antics of performance artists in rich Western countries, why not try to craft a project of our own? I'm neither a woman nor an artist but even I have better ideas how to make political statements with vaginas than Casey Jenkins. If such a sentence as this last one offends and incites feminists to rage, all the better.
"Misogynist asshole! So you think you understands women better than women do, huh? Typical! What a fuckin' jerk! We need more women like Casey in the world!"
That's what I thought you'd say.
But in fact I don't think I understand women or vaginas better than women do. I just think I, along with millions of other people, understand the subversive potential of art better than Casey Jenkins does. Even if this art involves employing the vagina.
You doubt it? Consider: We all know our planet is it trouble, and we all know one of the reasons is the unnecessary overconsumption that comes with capitalism. Many people try to link an ethic of environmental protection with the nurturing feminine, claiming that our destruction of the environment is mainly a result of patriarchy. I don't buy it, but no matter. For performance artists it's plausible enough. So here's my plan, my own contribution to snatch art: How about a group of women activists/artists who come forward and pledge that for the duration of a year they will buy nothing from shopping malls that they can't insert and carry out in their vaginas? Now that would constitute a subversive political statement. And if enough women took up the cause it would put a damper on our excessive consumption. Just think of a whole year with no high-end bags being sold. Or a fall season without any chic urban trench coats going. Because who's going to be able to buy a new trench coat? (If you've ever tried to stuff a whole trench coat in your vagina you'll know what I mean.) Yes, it's true those first-floor cosmetics companies wouldn't really be hurt, given the smooth little canisters they sell, but guys like Louboutin would be in deep trouble.
If my project sounds utterly ridiculous, if it sounds like a joke even as it's being formulated, there's good reason for that. It's because making art with your sex organs is a dubious strategy in any case. But putting the ludic element aside, I would still insist: my project is way more subversive and consciousness-raising than vaginal knitting. And maybe, you might be saying, I should actually start work on this project.
But look: there are two things that keep me from making a name for myself as the creator of Vaginal Shopping: 1) I have a penis and so am disqualified from even proposing the idea; 2) I have a sense of the positive aspects of the mild taboo we in the West still hold in relation to genitals, and so would consider the project degrading.
The one redeeming element I can see in Jenkins' stunt is that she's knitting just a single long scarf rather than a series of scarves. One long scarf can't be worn, and that's all for the better. I shudder to think of her knitting and selling wearable scarves. And so I close with a bit more humor, which aside from tedium is mainly what such projects as Jenkins' must provoke.
"Mom, why does my scarf smell like . . . ."
"Like fish, dear?"
"That's because that scarf is very special. It was made by a performance artist."
"What is a performance artist?"
"A performance artist is a person who does something obscene or ridiculous to get attention, but claims they're doing it because they care about some social issue."
"Do they really care about the social issue?"
"Maybe a little, honey. But the important thing is for them to get their name to appear in the media."
"Why do I have to leave this little hair stuck in the scarf?"
"That's like a signature, honey. I paid extra for the scarf because it had that hair. Try not to lose it."