Saturday, September 08, 2012

Wolf's hubris

I don't often link to a negative review, but I must confess that I hugely enjoyed Zoe Heller's takedown of Naomi Wolf's new book about the vagina at the New York Review of Books:
After consulting many research papers and interviewing many scientists, Wolf has decided that the sex–creativity link can be “explained” by dopamine, one of the brain chemicals involved in female orgasm. Dopamine, according to Wolf, is the chemical that fosters female focus and motivation. It is what makes women leap up from the rank sweat of their enseamed beds to write novels. Modern women who complain of depression need better sex and more dopamine, but patriarchal societies, fearful of sexually empowered women, prefer to fob them off with antidepressants. “Serotonin,” Wolf writes, “literally subdues the female voice, and dopamine literally raises it.”
Wolf literally does not understand the meaning of “literally” and her grasp of the scientific research she has read is pretty shaky too. By repeatedly confusing correlates with causes, she grossly exaggerates what neuroscience can reliably tell us about the functions of individual brain chemicals. Dopamine undoubtedly has a role in female orgasm. But it also has a role in schizophrenia and, by Wolf’s own admission, a panoply of addictions. Given this, it seems foolhardy on Wolf’s part to designate it “the ultimate feminist chemical.”


  1. Yes I enormously enjoyed this review, though perhaps my complete agreement with everything Heller says is partly responsible (but if I wrote fiction I would be desperately tempted to recycle the "cuntini"/writer's-block incident)!

  2. I loved this; but I think I preferred the New Yorker podcast takedown...

  3. There was a good one in the Guardian too.