Tag Archives: Betty Dodson

How to Suppress Women’s Clitorises–And How Not To

Laurie and Debbie say:

Although we are almost a decade apart in age, both of us learned a lot about female anatomy during the surge of feminist knowledge in the 1970s. In that period, Betty Dodson, the artist, became a well-known sex educator and teacher of masturbation skills for women; consciousness-raising groups everywhere encouraged women to examine their own vaginal anatomy with a speculum and a mirror, photographer Tee Corinne published The Cunt Coloring Book. If you were around the feminist world, cunts and labia and clitorises and vulvas were discussed, and examined.


Under constant barrage from a masculinist culture, feminist language and discussion never went away, but in the mainstream, women’s issues were dismissed, trivialized, and suppressed. Joann Loulan’s Lesbian Sex, published in 1984, had the first diagrams of a clitoris that really explained how you feel your orgasms so far away from where you thought your clit was, and it came out from a small feminist press and was pretty much available only through small women’s bookstores.

When AIDS became an epidemic, we started hearing phrases like “anal sex” and “fisting” in at least semi-public discourse, and male sexual choices became the subject of subway billboards.  In the mid-1990s, thanks to the bizarre husband-maiming performed by Lorena Bobbitt, “penis” became an acceptable mainstream news word.

While all this was happening, cunts and labia and clits and vulvas never made the news, never were permitted in public discourse. And, as a result which the male culture is perfectly happy with, women have to work hard to learn anything important about our bodies. That’s why Amanda Chatel’s article at connections.mic, “Here’s What the Clitoris Actually Is … and What It Isn’t,” is still important more than thirty years after Betty Dodson started her crusade.

While there are plenty of spots on both men and women that serve as pleasure points (oh hello, penis), they serve other purposes, such as means for reproduction. The clit, on the other hand, does not serve a reproductive purpose at all; it’s just there to give women pleasure. 


Among other things, scientific knowledge about the clitoris has grown (slowly) in those thirty-plus years. And your clitoris has grown along with the knowledge.

it has been suggested that the smaller the clit, the more difficult it is for women to achieve orgasm. However, even those with a small clitoris can have hope for the future, because unlike the penis, the clit grows with age. At 32, a woman’s clitoris is four times the size it was when she reached puberty; after menopause, it’s seven times the size was when a woman was born.

That’s the fact in Chatel’s article that neither of us knew. But it does explain some things …

Although there hasn’t been a lot of scientific clit study (wouldn’t you think it would be irresistible?), a 2009 French study performed sonographic studies on five women who stimulated their “quiescent clitorises” with “voluntary perineal contractions and with finger penetration without sexual stimulation.” Conclusion? “The special sensitivity of the lower anterior vaginal wall could be explained by pressure and movement of clitoris’ root during a vaginal penetration and subsequent perineal contraction. The G-spot could be explained by the richly innervated clitoris.”

Each time a new set of clitoral studies comes into the light, three things happen: we learn more facts, more people gain access to the facts, and the masculinist culture gets more nervous. Every time we learn more about how our bodies–and particularly our sexual bodies–are put together and function, we learn more about how to notice, recognize, and appreciate what we like … and what we have a right to expect. And thanks to the internet, it’s going to be a lot harder to keep this information out of women’s hands.

Tallest Woman in the Zoo

Laurie and Debbie say:

Ariane Cohen is 6’2″. In this article, she writes about her life as a giraffe. She opens the article by theorizing about our connections to exotic animals:

I have a theory that we each have a vague kinship with an exotic animal. Perhaps you have an inexplicable affinity for leopard print. Or your shower curtain is covered in butterflies, similar to the one on your ankle. Or you were a Rubenesque, somersaulting toddler and your family nicknamed you Panda.

Debbie finds this amusing: “If I had an animal affinity based on what I look like, it would be panda, or hippopotamus, or walrus. But lovely as all those animals are, my affinity is to the giraffe. So whether or not Cohen is correct about affinities, she’s wrong–at least for me–about connecting them to our own shapes.”

Ariane Cohen

Cohen is only one tall woman, and she’s also a slender tall woman, which helps. There’s certainly something to admire in someone who can take what many people might call a social liability and translate it into (mostly) an advantage without having to question any underlying cultural assumptions about height, weight, gender, and relationships.

Cohen is from a tall family, and her mother took her early to an endocrinologist, who offered her some choices that he almost certainly couldn’t have provided:

Which is how I found myself facing Dr Kauger, my mother, and the question: “So what height would you like to be?” I had six months to decide, because the pills must be started before puberty.

My thinking had little to do with height and more to do with a general aversion to medication: when in doubt, don’t take chemicals. At the time, it was simply a decision of passivity. I was frozen. Though I wasn’t happy with my body, I didn’t want to change it. I told myself that the fastest swimmers in the world were six-footers. Long limbs were important. So I decided to not do anything. I figured I’d just wait and see what happened.

What happened, she tells us, is that she ended up in therapy, and examined how she felt about her height:

Tallness is, objectively speaking, gorgeous. Tallness, by definition, can only be awkward when there are shorter bodies nearby. You see it at basketball games: the 6ft 5in athlete looks ethereal in her own space, all grace and long angles. And then the 5ft 5in teammate comes into the frame, and suddenly she looks like Hulk. Or the shorter teammate looks like Humpty Dumpty. Ditto on catwalks when the designer appears.

Of course, men are always a factor:

I had never dated anyone shorter than me. I spent my time seeking out the 3% of men taller than me, who by definition made me not tall. I was alerted to the error of my ways while interviewing love and relationship expert Dr Betty Dodson. When I told her I only dated up, she exclaimed, “You’re prejudiced! I mean, come on! Develop a sense of humour! It will help. Look in the mirror and say, ‘God damn, we’re a weird-looking couple.’ And then shut it off.”

Not much new here, right? Some good writing, some excellent metaphors. Good advice. A scary story (not quoted here) about how being tall in Cambodia almost got her diagnosed with a life-threatening illness at 23.

Cohen’s experience is her experience, but we can still disagree with some of her conclusions. Tallness is actually not “objectively speaking” gorgeous. Tallness doesn’t exist without something to compare it to; neither, of course, does shortness.

Similarly, tall athletes don’t look “ethereal.” The dictionary definition of “ethereal” is “extremely delicate or refined.” Tall athletes, say on the basketball court, are frequently graceful. They are also muscled, sweaty, and breathing hard. They aren’t delicate and refined, and neither are they “light, airy or tenuous,” which is another dictionary definition.

The heart of Cohen’s point, however, is:

The true challenge of tall life is not that you’re tall. Who cares about that – legs are legs. The challenge is that everyone can see you, all the time. Eyes follow everywhere you go. You’re public. On display. There is no hiding. Learning to love yourself has nothing to do with the blather you see in women’s magazines about treating your body as a temple – it’s learning to accept the high-wattage spotlight that came packaged with your body, always shining on you. I can tell you what it feels like to resist: like a non-performer pushed on stage, day after day. The giraffe in the room.

Neither of us are tall enough to judge this for ourselves. In the context of the rest of the essay, however, her word “challenge” feels like exactly the correct one: she’s simultaneously loving and minding her tallness. At 13, she chose it, however passively; as an adult, she’s had some troubles with it, but on the whole she sees herself as beautiful, over-visible, and (thanks to Betty Dodson) with a reasonable range of potential male partners. Like her totem giraffe, she’s come to terms with her height: “Giraffes are tall, laid-back creatures of the highest order: polysocial, known for hanging out in any number or gender combination, the cool lunch table. They stand lookout among the zebras and wildebeests and ostriches, and get along with the entire savannah. They are anything but outcasts.”

Whenever people have the opportunity to do so, they will almost always focus on the way they are different from other people, without examining where either they personally or their differences fit into the larger society. Because Cohen fails to question any cultural assumptions (including both the most obvious “tall women must date tall men” and a wide variety of others, such as underlying heterosexism and stereotypes of what tallness is like), in the end this piece is an entertaining and well-written account of what it’s like to be her, without much to offer anyone who isn’t.

Thanks to Arthur D. Hlavaty for being first with the pointer.