Emily Dickinson’s Vagina

February 7, 2009 § 2 Comments

Last Thursday (thanks to the sheer beauty of Regents week), I finally went to the Brooklyn Museum’s Center for Feminist Art to see Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. This provocatively educational installation features the most powerful women throughout history through displaying what portrays women as powerless: their vaginas.

Judy Chicago, a widely published creator of bad-ass-ness, sets The Dinner Party on a triangle table (the universal symbol for equality). On each wing of the table, different eras of women are represented. One wing features goddesses, the next early historical women like Elizabeth I, and the last women pioneers and the famous suffragettes.

Each featured woman has her own table setting and her own vagina-plate (a 4th grader on a field trip asked his teacher “How does someone eat on this?” when staring dumbfounded at Ethel Smyth’s piano-vagina, but that will be another post entirely). Each vagina is unique in that it represents the possessor’s place in the feminist movement. Some were made of penetrable fire, others unfurling flowers, and some swords and weaponry that lead to mysterious corridors.

My friend and I treaded through the exhibit at a slow pace, writing and absorbing the mystery and stab to the patriarchy each vagina radiated.

Then, I saw Emily Dickinson’s vagina.

The delicate flower with its pastel pink petals repulsed me. It was the color of that really sugary medicine that makes you want to throw up. My friend described it perfectly as “cakey.” Each pink petal unfurled to the nothingness that is her hole of penetration. What didn’t make sense was that Emily Dickinson was a woman of substance, bad-ass in her own right. Didn’t she deserve some type of vagina-art recognition for that?

I think I didn’t like her delicate flower vagina because it did not look passionate. Dispassionate means submissive…powerless. I wanted the vaginas to be flaming with power and determination for equality.

Maybe Judy Chicago’s point was to portray all these powerful women using society’s most vulnerable body part.

But who am I to judge someone else’s vagina?

§ 2 Responses to Emily Dickinson’s Vagina

  • Rebecca says:

    I too finally went to the Chicago exhibit and was very disappointed. While I appreciated it for its historical content, I found myself irritated with the representation of each woman’s vagina. Like you, I was horrified by Emily Dickinson’s vagina. I’m not exactly sure what offended me so much but I think you pretty much summed it up. I loved the idea of representing important women by their vaginas but I did not like how Chicago chose to represent each woman’s vagina. I felt that I would have liked the women to been represented by actual vaginas rather than flowers and various other objects. I will cut the exhibit some slack mainly because it is dated and it once was a very controversial exhibit in the 70’s. What I am interested in is why you were only upset by Emily Dickinson’s vagina and not the whole exhibit. While I felt that Emily Dickinson’s plate illustrated my dislike for the whole exhibit, I think there were many other plates that were poor representations of vaginas. Both Emily Dickinson’s plates as well as the butterfly plates reinforce the negative connotations with the vagina by representing women’s vaginas not as the actual sex organ but rather as flowers, pianos, and frills. Why must vaginas be associated with “feminine” things in order to be considered beautiful? Our society is incapable of accepting the female sex organ as it is.
    p.s. My friend recently was at the exhibit and she told me the same story about the 4th grader being utterly confused as to why one could not eat from the plates. I’m assuming you were there at the same time

    p.p.s. I go to school with Silvia and she told me to check out your blog, so far I am impressed

  • Leigh says:

    I love-love-loved this exhibit when I went last year, and was just talking to a girlfriend yesterday about going back to see it again, so very funny to me to stumble upon this.

    I remember the Emily Dickinson place setting very well–at the time, I snapped a picture of it on my phone & captioned it “Victorianism smothers Emily Dickinson’s vagina.” Cakey is kind of dead on–it was asphyxiatingly frothy.

    But I also kind of dug it. It seemed to bear a particular relevance to her relationship with her culture, as well. And hinted at her reclusiveness, the way that, even as Chicago was attempting to showcase and expose her essence, she managed to keep it buried behind so many layers.

    Anyway, just thought I’d share my thoughts–now I definitely have to go back ASAP.

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