Een Pleidooi Voor Meer Kennis Over De Clitoris

Hoe is het mogelijk dat we op de maan zijn geland voordat we de anatomie van de clitoris hebben ontdekt? Dit is een van de vele vragen die kunstenaar Sophia Wallace stelt in deze tot nadenken stemmende TED-talk over de complexiteit en verkeerde voorstelling van vrouwenlichamen en de seksualiteit van vrouwen. Met behulp van haar mixed-media-installatie "Cliteracy" als voorbeeld laat zij zien hoe kunst en educatie samen kunnen werken om dit te veranderen. Of zoals zij zegt: "Mijn droom is om de manier waarop we over lichamen denken radicaal te veranderen, zodat ieders lichaam gerespecteerd wordt."

"Hello, Manchester. I'm so happy to be here. (Responses) (Cheers) My name is Sophia Wallace. I'm an artist. And I'm here today to share with you a project that I hope will empower you personally, and by extension those that you love, especially if they have a clitoris. (Cheers) (Laughter) To make this work, I have to talk about independent female desire. I have to speak about a universal taboo - female genitals. This is not easy. It taints the speaker. I want to thank TEDxSalford for having me here and hosting this conversation. All bodies are entitled to experience the pleasure that they are capable of. This is a core pillar of cliteracy.

In making this work, I had to say that the clitoris, first, as an organ, has a right to being, and that this right is not just about not being cut off. Sadly, to this day, over a 140 million women have had their external clitorises cut off. This doesn't make it into the news very often, and this doesn't come up in foreign policy discussion. So number one, the clitoris has a right to exist, free of harm, like any other organ.

But secondly, I argue with cliteracy that the clitoris has a right to pleasure, and this is part of its primary right of being. How is it possible that we landed on the Moon and walked around 29 years before we discovered the anatomy of the clitoris? (Laughter) We actually cloned sheep, identified the Higgs boson particle, and only discovered the clitoris 29 years ago. Unfortunately, this discovery has not been adopted, so most people don't know the actual anatomy of the clitoris. The clitoris is not a button. It is an iceberg. Like many in the room who are hearing this for the first time, I was shocked to find out that I didn't know the actual anatomy of half of the population, that I didn't know my own anatomy. In fact, the clitoris is not a button, it is like an iceberg. Most of the organ is internal.

This slide is an anatomical example of the penis and the clitoris side by side. Now, we've all been taught that male bodies and female bodies are opposites: the male body sort of sticks out, the female body is solely internal. Well, in fact, there're so many similarities between the penis and the clitoris. So, if you'll see, both the glans and - The glans of the penis and the glans of the clitoris - both organs have a glans. There are 3000 nerves in the glans of the penis. There are 8000 nerves in the glans of the clitoris. Both organs have a corpus cavernosum. Both organs have crura, like two little legs or wings. Both organs have bulbs of erectile tissue. Both organs get erect.

The penis is outside of the body mostly, and the clitoris is inside the body mostly. That's the biggest difference. In fact, they're very similar. Actually, fetuses have the same tissue, and in boys it develops as a penis, in girls it develops as a clitoris. Some people have small penises, some people have very large clitorises. If one has a clitoris and takes testosterone, their clitoris can expand. What I'm saying is that these organs are actually quite similar. And, while we are different, while we are unique as men and women, our differences are not a sign of opposition. In fact, we're related to each other, we're connected. And that's an exciting fact.

With Cliteracy, I started with language. Language has been a place that so much of sort of the division of men and women and the subjugation of women has been entrenched with the language itself. 'Vagina' - the single most misused word in the English language. This is one of the laws of Cliteracy. It's intentionally hyperbolic. But unfortunately, it's more true than I wish it was. 'Vagina' is a Latin word. It means 'sword holder'. (Laughter)

Vagina, medically, technically, only includes the opening. This term is used almost universally in doctor's offices. It's also used in feminism to sort of advocate. But it's a term that ignores the clitoris, which is the female sexual organ. And secondly, it reduces the female body to being a receptacle, a sword holder.

If you want to use a term that addresses all the female genitals, both the reproductive and the sexual parts of it, the word is 'vulva'. This is a word that almost no one uses, but this is the word if you want to talk about female genitals - vulva. If you want to talk about pleasure, 'clitoris' is the term. The clitoris is both internal and external.

So, when the clitoris is engaged, internal stimulation feels great. If the clitoris is not engaged, it can feel not great, or it can feel painful. It's all about what's happening with the clitoris. If it was about the vagina, there would be so many nerves that childbirth would be impossible. There're very few nerves in the vagina. All of the nerves inside are from the internal clitoris, which gets stimulated both from external and internal portions.

With Cliteracy I felt that - Yes, language has been this way of restricting and confining the female body, but if language can do these thing, it can also liberate, it can also be expansive. It's also an opportunity to come together. And so I sought to use language as a way to shift the discourse and create new space and more alignment. With Cliteracy, I first began with the term, and then a definition of the term, and then an eye chart.

The aesthetics of this project were also extremely important and intentional. I avoided any kind of pink and purple; I didn't use flowers; I didn't use any fabric or yarn, anything soft and fluffy. I also didn't make any small works that you could hold in your hand or eat off of like plates. I also intentionally avoided any kind of sexual imagery, any kind of graphic, close-up, literal depictions. I think that everywhere we see the exposed female body, and yet we don't know the actual female sexual organ, the clitoris. So showing it is not the point, right? Understanding it is the point. Literacy of it, knowledge of it is the point. [The hole is not the whole] (Laughter)

The hole is not the whole. With Cliteracy I had a lot of fun with word-play. There was just so much material to work with and so much to talk about. I also am making the radical claim with Cliteracy that we can't truly be free if our bodies are assailed. We can't truly be fully enjoying our democracy when half of the population can't speak about their own body, is censored when they say the words because these words are taboo, or are regularly having sex without orgasms. And we don't talk about this. I'm making the radical claim that freedom in society can also be measured by the distribution of orgasms. This could be one indicator that we use when we look at education, access to health care, economics.

We could also say: How are orgasms being distributed? That tells us something about a society. There is no lack. Truly. Freud invented the paradigm of the phallus versus the lack. He said that men have the phallus, they have the penis, they have agency; women have a lack, they have a vagina, they have a void. In fact, Freud was wrong, the vagina is not the female sexual organ, it is the clitoris. There is no lack, none of us have lack, none of us are lacking, we're all whole. And none of us need to be depicted in terms solely of a void. [Girls are taught it's normal for sex to hurt. Phallusy.]

In many ways, all of us have had a psychological clitoridectomy because the clitoris is never taught. In sex education it is taught that boys are both sexual and reproductive, boys have erections, boys have wet dreams, boys ejaculate, and then the semen fertilizes the egg. Girls, we're taught, have reproductive organs, they menstruate, menstruation is painful. Girls should not get pregnant if they don't mean to. Girls should not get sexually transmitted diseases.

We never learn about the clitoris. We never learn that girls have desire, that this is natural, that girls have sexual dreams, that girls have fantasies. So already, as a culture, I would say we all have clitoridectomies. 'Clitoris, say my name, say my name.'

I really enjoyed using word-play and putting the clitoris into popular culture and song lyrics. So much of popular culture, music - the female genitals are kind of riffed on but almost always in a negative way. If you want to humiliate a man, call him a word for female genitals, right? But this is also an opportunity, you can just pop in the clit, and suddenly the whole song changes; it's very powerful. So, this is a Destiny's Child song, there're many more in the Laws of Cliteracy like 'Ain't no half-stepping to the clit,' 'Sleeping on the clit? That shit cray', which it is.

Here's an example from looking below at the 100 Laws of Cliteracy. So this work spans 13 feet long by 10 feet tall. It dwarfs anyone's body. When I first showed this work, I had no idea what the response would be. Of course, I was hoping it would be positive, but I didn't know. And I have to say, I was overwhelmed with the way audiences responded. They really wanted to have this conversation. They would stay with the work for 15 minutes. I would come back, they would still be there, they would have friends with them. And I felt like this work was needed.

I was invited to speak about it a lot, and I was also contacted privately. People shared secrets with me, people told me for the first time they didn't feel ashamed about their body, or they went home with this knowledge and are having a great time with their girlfriend, and wanted to thank me for that. So this was extremely gratifying. I think for me, what made me feel like I was onto something was that such a diverse group of people supported this project: men and women, young and old, religious and secular, queer and straight.

So many people came together to support this project. And I was contacted by people from as far as New Zealand, Egypt, Brazil, saying: 'How can we help you with this project? Can you translate this project into Arabic or into Portuguese, like, we need this here in our country.' I wanted Cliteracy to go everywhere, but I didn't know how to do that yet, and I'm still figuring that out. But I know that it's needed. And I know that it can't just stay within the walls of the art world. I don't consider myself a street artist, but I began making work on the street for the same reason that I think a lot of artist do - I wanted to communicate more broadly.

This is an example from a documentary of just me putting up some pieces. These are prints that I made on a news print, then I'm putting them up with wheat paste just like old posters were put up. I'm just doing this in Brooklyn. Some people like to do street art at the night time, I do it in the day because I feel like it's a little safer, the anonymity of the crowd in New York. So far so good.

And one of the cool things about doing street art is that people will comment on your work. Sometimes they cross it out or destroy it, but other times they put their art on top of it. And in this case that happened. Again, like when I showed the work in the gallery, on the street there was a big response, people would photograph it, they would post it on Twitter and Instagram. And it felt like I was talking about something that needed to be talked about, that the project was needed and people were grateful to find it and to keep pushing it out there more.

Doing the street work emboldened me to take on even crazier ideas that I never thought I would find myself doing. And I actually, together with an artist named Clit Eastwood, or Ken Thomas, held the world's first-ever clit rodeo last summer. We created a rideable golden clit. (Laughter)

And we held the first clit rodeo. And, you know, there were two rules to the rodeo. Basically, one: respect the clit. Respect it. Two: have fun. Those were the rules. We had so many riders who wanted to ride, more than we could host for our event. But the riders were judged on three categories: dexterity, style and generosity. And they were really good riders, I have to say.

I was worried that it might get a little boring because as you saw on the previous slide, it was just a spring. But people were reading erotica to the clit, someone did a striptease for the clit, someone surfed the clit, someone offered a cigarette to the clit, and then, like - There was a couple where the woman was nine-months-pregnant; she was riding, and her husband was in the background as her backup dancer, dancing around ... So, it was way better than I ever expected. I just was thrilled because the clit was the star of the show. Finally!

I've always wanted Cliteracy to be in the public space, to be at large scale, to be seen over time, not to have to be hidden away or be a secret. And I had the opportunity last fall. Together with Center and Santa Fe we put up a 35 feet billboard of Cliteracy, or 11 metre billboard. The text says: 'Democracy without cliteracy - phallusy'. And I was thrilled to do this, especially because where it was on this highway is travelled by such a broad range of people, from long-haul truck drivers to art collectors and everyone in between.

The billboard company was a little bit less psyched about how much feedback they got about the billboard, but I thought this was great. A lot of people were like: 'What are you selling? I don't understand.'

I actually got a call that I'll never forget from a mom, saying: 'I have to drive this route with my son every day, and I don't know what to tell him.' But I was thrilled because she's going to talk to him about cliteracy, and this is something that he needs to know about.

Cliteracy needs more than text though, and I always knew that I wanted to explore the form as well. None of us know this form, right? I didn't know this form. So I set about making the world's first anatomically correct sculpture of the clitoris. And this was something that was actually quite hard to do because there are so few accurate representations of the anatomy. And when you find these very few drawings or scans, they contradict each other, they don't make sense.

So, it was actually not that easy to do, but I set about making this form. With the form I wanted to not only explore the anatomy and get it accurate, but I also wanted to show the gesture of beauty of this organ and the gracefulness of it.

Here is the first sculpture that I know of of the anatomically correct clitoris. It's six feet tall and five feet wide. And I wanted to create an iconic form of this unseen organ half of us have, all of us were born through the body of someone that has a clitoris. Everyone in this room was born through the body of someone that has a clitoris. So all of us have been touched by the clitoris.

This is universal and yet we don't know about it. So I wanted to create an iconic form that's memorable, that puts this into our consciousness. And I hope that finally this form would be treated with honour and respect and not be treated as obscene. I think it's a beautiful form, and I didn't know it, but once I saw it, it started to feel familiar in this way. And I started to see it around in the natural world, in plants.

I also saw it in engravings, on architectural sites. I saw it in weavings of oriental tapestries. I started to see it around. And that was very exciting. And the form is interesting not strictly as a sculpture, but in patterns. There's something very exciting about looking into the power of the small, the power of multiplicity. Instead of creating just this singular superior object, what about putting all these tiny beautiful forms that together form a baby-clit army. The one on the right, (Laughter) I call it 'Fleur-de-clits', and the one on the left was later used in the intervention at the Whitney Museum.

So here's a sort of subversive clit army coming together to make the 'Fleur-de-clit', which is this beautiful pattern. But unfortunately, if some people knew what it was, it wouldn't be allowed to be. And that's sort of the rub of it.

Here is an example of more clit forms and patterns that I created. This is a clit damask pattern with clit forms burnished onto wood. On the left is a new sculpture. So, this is the first sketch of an invisible clit sculpture. It's the same digital form that I used to make the gold sculpture I just showed to you. But this exists in the negative space.

So I used the laser to actually cut out the form from clear plexiglass. And so this invisible sculpture addresses the fact that this is omnipresent, and yet it's negated, it's invisible, it's not allowed to be spoken of. I also continued with this idea of negation and using the laser to burn away with laser-cut works on paper.

And I developed a brand new technology. You might not have heard about it, but it's very cutting edge. I'll try to explain. It's called 'clitglass', and the way that it works - anyone can wear it; anyone who wants neutral vision can wear a clitglass. So you put on the clitglass, and you look through the perspective of the clit. And the clit refracts any kind of phallocentricacy that's coming back at you. And so you obtain neutral vision, or what I like to call 'normal' vision. (Laughter)

Now, you can use clitglass at the Whitney Museum, or you can use it at work, in front of the TV, even at a family reunion. (Laughter) This is an example of looking through this cutting edge technology. So those forms that I showed earlier, I also played a game at my intervention at the Whitney Museum, called 'put a clit on it', or - 'clit-dazzle the Whitney'.

So basically I handed out these unknown clit forms, and I said: 'Put the clit wherever you think it needs to go - put it as a subject in art history, put into the designs, put it on the American flag. Whole country has a problem with illcliteracy. Help America out. Just take the clit where it needs to go.' So you can see on the lower left, that's a Clitchtenstein. On the lower right, Clitsper Johns.

This is the family at the Whitney Museum during the intervention, and the boy on the left who looks to be about 11 years old, at one point asks his mom - they'd been wearing the clitglasses for about 15 minutes, having a great time. He was like, 'Mom, what's a clit?' (Laughter) And she said: 'Oh, it's a really sensitive part of the woman's body.' And he was like, 'Okay, cool.'

And I was thrilled because one: he felt comfortable asking the question; two: his mom was supportive and answered the question. And it was totally normal - nothing obscene, nothing secret, no one had to be dragged out of the room, no one had to be ashamed. And that's what I'm hoping that Cliteracy can continue to do.

Overwhelmingly, the response to Cliteracy has been positive. So many people have supported the project and wanted to help with it. And there've been a few institutions who have courageously started showing it.

But there's so much more that needs to be done. My dream is to radically change the way that we think about bodies so that everyone's body is respected. I want to do this by creating large scale permanent public sculptures that exist for thousands of years. I want to work with metals and stone so that these forms don't disappear in future generations, and we don't have to have this conversation again and again.

Democracy without cliteracy is a phallusy. I want cliteracy to be taught in schools so that no child has an unnameable part of their body. The clit should be a starring role in any bedroom that it's in. And it shouldn't be censored in the Parliament.

So, in closing, I want to ask you to see the clit. See it everywhere. Don't stop seeing it. And if you need help, you can borrow this pair of glasses from me. And don't just stop with seeing it. Say it. Say its name.

(Applause) (Cheers)

Thank you." (Applause)

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