On the back of Peaches’ new video, we explore the vagina's complicated relationship with the art world
Badass electro-punk provocateur, Peaches, exploded back into the limelight on Friday with the release of an extremely NSFW video for her new song Rub. After a six-year break, and in true Peaches-style, the reawakening of this genderfuck giant was accompanied with hairy clits, public urination and stylised dick slapping; a perfect remedy for the gaping hole left in the hearts (and vaginas) of her loyal following. The video, and record, can be read as a homage to all things CUNT, with an unabashed celebration of female pleasure, power and pain at its very core. When the video began to circulate on the internet and social media for many the release became a wild goose-chase, as various platforms branded it ‘explicit’ and ‘offensive’ before tearing it down. While yes, admittedly, it is far from ‘family-friendly,’ but Peaches has raised an important question: why are women still so ashamed of their vaginas?
The sheer crudeness of Rub is perhaps its biggest merit: the idea that women enjoy jerking off just as much as men shouldn’t still be a shock, but seemingly, it is. Pro-sex feminists from the first-wave through to the third-, fourth-, post- and all that is in-between, have long campaigned for a greater enjoyment and recognition of the female anatomy. Though we’ve certainly made great strides, there’s still a long way to go. Vagina self-hatred is the unspoken epidemic plaguing millennial women; one where words such as ‘clitoris’ are met with a self-conscious grimace and proclamations that “vaginas are disgusting.” I have listened to countless women tell me their vagina is repulsive and ugly, and I can’t help but wonder why we are still tarnishing ourselves with this brush? We habitually reinforce and re-establish the deep-seated shame that has long been placed upon female sexuality.
So, why all the hate, ladies? If subscribing to masculine systems of psychological thought, no other figure is more prominent than Sigmund Freud when it comes to, the sex. If he was still knocking about, he would surely scream “PENIS ENVY” before telling us our vaginas are little more than the (metaphorical, of course) wounds of our castrated dicks. And maybe he has a point. I cannot be the only woman who has ever wondered how easy life would be if the penis was on the other foot, so to speak: dominant; obtrusive; uncomplicated. Compared to the complexity of our internal plumbing, it could offer a welcomed bit of respite.
The vagina has long been a source of panic and anxiety not only in the bedroom, but in nearly all social structures. As an autonomous pleasure centre, it’s often feared. Female masturbation is still taboo, vaginoplasty and the quest for a ‘perfect’ vagina is an actual thing, and the horrors of FGM are all too real. There have been recent art projects that have sought to unravel the nervous hysteria surrounding the female form, but they still leave much to be desired. In 2011, artist Jamie McCartney (yes, a man) built a series of sculptures named The Great Wall of Vagina out of 400 vulva plaster casts, which included women ranging from 18 to 76 years old. The project was a way of “changing female body image through art,” and hoped to normalise the great diversity of labia not usually shown in porn and erotic film. Just like a snowflake, no two vaginas are the same.
Raising the Skirt, a female-led art project curated by artist Nicola Canavan in 2014, created a platform for women to explore, understand and revel in the uniqueness of their vulvas. Canavan said: “a woman’s cunt continues to be incorrectly named, shamed and erased.” With a strong emphasis on the need for greater education, Raising the Skirt was a way to “reclaim the cunt as a place of power.” Too often we are bombarded with images of female perfection, and there is no exception in porn and erotica. Watching pornography is more widespread and habitual than ever before, all you need now is internet access and a box of tissues handy. A common myth, which has only recently been debunked, is the idea that women do not enjoy porn; this, is a load of bullshit. The more we log on, stream and consume adult films, the greater our confusion about our bodies becomes. Tight, taut, hairless pussies at every click misinform not only women, but also men, about the realities of female physicality.
Dublin based artist, Cathy Hayes, has dedicated her work to examining the impact of the Church, the state, and capitalist consumerism on the female form. Hayes is fascinated by the ways in which women’s bodies have been manipulated and moulded by masculine systems throughout history right up to today. She said: “I thought about the porn industry which seems to dictate a certain body image for young girls…. the body is not seen as a whole, but parts.” The artist’s collection, Identity Crisis, focuses particularly on the vagina as a source of both power and exploitation, one that is still “strictly controlled by society.” While pop culture figures such as Madonna and Miley Cyrus have consistently used our obsession with female sexuality to elevate their position, Hayes explains that it has been employed differently in the art world. “Many female artists have been exploring their own bodies since the sixties,” she explained, “look at the Guerrilla Girls in the US. I decided to use (Auguste) Rodin’s erotic watercolours to highlight the Madonna/whore binary.” The vagina, like the concept of ‘woman’ itself, is a hugely contested ‘entity’ that has somehow become public property.
However, what happens when the shame is not bred solely from our exteriors, but comes from ourselves? Misogyny, violence and patriarchal hegemony still dictate cultural norms for women as much as for men, but a loathing that comes from within is much harder to silence. We can attempt to fight against systems of oppression that have a tangible face, but it is a more complex process to confront a generation of women who can’t simply accept their pussy in all its sticky glory. Perhaps this is the reason why Peaches, as a performer and musician, has always been so ground-breaking: she has an unapologetic appreciation for her cunt. Peaches stomped and thrashed her way to sexual liberation in her first album, The Teaches of Peaches, and Rub is even more radical in its queering of gender boundaries. What the queen of synth seems to have a firm grasp on is the relationship between her body, sexual agency and power. If we are to constantly reject our physicality but declare our love of intimacy, all we do is further compartmentalise our sex from our sexuality.
Far from what we were told about the 60s, the revolution, I hope, is still coming. And Peaches is leading the fight.