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Pussy: It's a compliment! But it's complicated...

I'm seeing this trend everywhere: women are regaining the power we've been forced to shove down for generations stretching far into our ancestry. We have been waking up to and calling out the injustices thrown on us for all this time. There are many places in the world where we are now able, for the first time ever, to live lives of our own accord. We do not have to rely on a husband for his money, we do not have to bear children and tend to a house if we do not choose to. We don't even have to seek a man at all - we can seek whoever the fuck we want and live whatever kind of life suits us. The powerful players in upholding the patriarchy are trying desperately to reverse this and take our power away from us, but for this young generation of women, it is a mission we will never back down from. We get to be, for the most part, free.


I say for the most part because - it should be obvious - this reality is only true for the lucky few. If you are an educated and relatively wealthy woman living in a place without restriction of your own bodily autonomy and healthcare, this reality is within your reach. Otherwise, there are obstacles to overcome in getting there. Regena Thomashauer (also known as "Mama Gena") starts to point us in a direction where we can recognize this reality as a possibility for ALL women in her 2016 novel, Pussy: A Reclamation. I was particularly struck by not only the name of the novel itself, but her remarks on the word "pussy." Like many aspects of a woman's life and history, this is not a word we can say proudly or freely. It is meant to be used in secret, tucked away, or as a term of slander. In her introduction she states "it is the ultimate salacious smack to a woman's dignity, used when the intention is to hurt, humiliate, and fracture her humanity...No one calls me 'pussy' when they want to communicate how radiant and beautiful I look" (xv).


Thomashauer's novel, above all, seeks to change our understanding of not only the once-forbidden word, but also our relationships to ourselves as women and toward other women. She envisions not a future, but a present in which we can turn ourselves on by the richness of our lives, the abundance we are graced with, and the powers we know we hold within. All of this is within our grasp if only we choose to take the journey and unlearn the habits we have picked up on in this patriarchal society. It is in this core mission that I believe Pussy does the job it was created to do: if you are a woman living under the demands of the patriarchy and you have woken up to this fact, and you want out, this is the exact book to turn to. If you are tired of feeling held down, tired of feeling like a failure just because you are a woman, tired of having communication issues with everyone, tired of shoving down your emotions to get through the day, this is the most perfect book to turn to.


I think of women like my mom and my grandma, who are both in long marriages where the flame died long ago. I grew up watching them both struggle to communicate their needs and desires to their husbands; I watched as they both hated their bodies and tried/failed countless diets, and I noticed as they essentially gave up on believing they were worthy of true love and devotion from anyone. My grandma lives a comfortable and still active life, but I know she's lonely. The church and her garden are some of the only things keeping her enriched (and I thank the universe for giving those things to her and keeping her healthy enough to still enjoy them). My mother recently revealed to me that she doesn't feel important now that my brother and I have our own lives. She feels that she is living without purpose. It breaks my heart to even begin to think of what got them to these places.


I believe that if they were open to the idea of "pussy" as a term of endearment, pussy as a part of their bodies they need not be afraid of, pussy as a concept they should get to know and love, pussy as a mantra they could scream from a rooftop and feel unashamed, if not a little silly for having done so, then they might be able to move out of loneliness, out of stagnation, and feel their life force surge through them again. I believe that for people like my mother and grandmother - people who have been relentlessly held down by the norms of the patriarchy and toxic capitalism, people who inherently believe that women are inferior - this book is absolutely perfect in its concept.


When we dig deeper, however, as women who have perhaps been doing this work for a little while, we begin to see some missed opportunities, and even some red flags. I will cover all of these below.



Mama Gena lays out the ground rules of rising up to embody our feminine power quite simply: it is first recognizing that we in fact have that power as women, and then tapping into it and living it out through embodied practice. Again, the core messages of this novel are valuable and critical to a woman first beginning this journey. We must be able to see the conditioning we have all undergone just from being born into a world that is deeply misogynistic, individualistic, money-driven and power hungry. Thomashauer brings this truth to light in a way that would make sense to anyone. She shows us just how we have been stuck living here, and shares stories of women in her own life that mirror other women we all know and love. Every story is individual, but so common it hurts. There are stories of both triumph and failure, of full heroine's journeys and the decision to stay in the cave. No judgment either way, as this is the reality of the collective pilgrimage of women's liberation.


But then she does something I don't like. She uses every possible moment to refer back to her own life and her own questionable choices. For example, in a section used to demonstrate how to turn the body on and feel radiant from within, she details a time in her life where she was drowning in debt, but "needed" a signature outfit, essentially insinuating that all women need this too. Though this initial costume of pink silk PJs and a pink feather boa were not egregiously expensive, she remarks that in time she was able to make the transition from thrifted to designer, as if this is the natural path to embodying feminine freedom. Toxic-capitalist spoiler alert: it's not. In another section, she spends almost an entire chapter recalling a passionate relationship with a man who she felt could "take care" of her because he was immensely wealthy, would treat her to fancy dinners and vacations, and buy her whatever she wanted. Though it may not have been the intent of these corners of the book (and there were plenty more like them), it began to demonstrate that her core values were focused as much on material wealth as they were on women's liberation.


There were also moments where the book seemed to focus a bit too much on sex. Of course, with a name like "Pussy" and with so much of the content stemming literally from the idea of getting to understand our own anatomy and its connection with the rest of the body, physical and mental, this is to be expected. But similarly to the personal stories noted above, there were so many opportunities to discuss universal sexual freedom and open communication where Thomashauer instead chose to recall personal sexcapades, like a moment in an intimacy class where she practiced making out with someone she noted as "overweight, with terrible grooming habits, eczema, and bad breath" to attempt to prove that any intimate moment with anyone can be hot if you choose to make it so (164). I don't think I need to spell out the many ways in which this is problematic.


By the third or fourth chapter, the amount of anecdotes like this were giving me a pretty severe "ick," but I pushed on. I'm glad I did, as the final chapter, "The Pleasure Revolution," comes back to the core idea of liberation with a point that must be stated, and I believe Mama Gena said it well: essentially, we cannot become free if we are not practicing support and service toward other women. As much as I felt I had already been practicing much of what was in this book, this was one pinnacle of feminine rising in which I still have a lot of room for growth. Think about it: though it's talked about commonly these days, we still hold so much animosity toward other women. When we find another woman attractive, our initial reaction is jealousy rather than admiration. We resent being the third wheel around our female friends in healthy, happy relationships. In the stage and age of life that I'm currently in, we often seethe at new engagement posts and abandon friends when they have their first baby. Thomashauer tells the story of an older woman enrolled in her School of Womanly Arts who was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in her life, at the age of 60. The first time she went through it, she was a single mother and refused to stop caring for her children; she believed she survived out of pure spite. The second time, her children were grown and gone, but she was less alone with the help of her community sisters. Through the school, she had established lifelong friendships. Sisters were driving her to every appointment and staying to wait with her. She had a team coming to her house to cook meals, take her dog on walks, tidy up and help her with the smallest of tasks. She beat her second diagnosis even more fervently than the first with the help of so many.


And with a story like that, imagine what the feminine liberation movement could look like if we all took part. Instead of having lonely new mothers, we could come together and hold that mama close as her baby gets nourishment and care from an entire community. Mama would get a break when she needs it and would still feel like a member of society rather than locked away at home. Rather than feeling immediate jealously and contempt over another woman's success, we could collectively practice praise, celebration, and exuberant acknowledgment of one another. We can enhance the experience by fostering spaces specifically for women, choosing an open heart toward practices that were once deemed immoral or inappropriate. In one fell swoop, we can embrace the concept of pussy.


But here's the catch, and this is where I believe the book misses: we are not free unless everyone is free. Unfortunately, this calls for much harder work and a much longer road ahead than this book asks of its readers. As the world stands, it's simply not possible for every woman on the planet to reach financial freedom, achieve medical/bodily autonomy, or even feel completely comfortable in her own home just by tapping into the power of the pussy - just by believing that it is possible. For those feats to occur within our lifetime would be a miracle to the nth degree. Unfortunately, this book is not for every woman even if it claims to be. It is specifically for women who, as previously mentioned, are educated enough, wealthy enough, and living in a culture open enough to the idea that they can become free.


It is not for people who identify as women but do not have vulvas.


It is not for unhoused women, women on welfare, women who cannot make ends meet.


It is not for women who live in cultures where their husbands or fathers still make every decision for them by law.


It is not for women living in highly religious cultures, who must live within the norms of their church or face exile.


Until it is for those women, it will only be doing part of its job, and I wish there were even just a pocket of the book that would recognize and acknowledge this. Instead, like many spiritual or new-age texts, Pussy reads as fact, as truth, when next-to-nothing within it has been studied. Of course this does not always have to be a requirement, but when so much of the content comes from a single life of someone who, in most realms, has lived fortunately and autonomously, it is not truth nor is it painting the common experience of a patriarchal culture. For the core values it presents, it is worth tapping into. For the expressed idea that all women deserve to love themselves and to know that they can explore this reality, it is largely helpful. Otherwise, for a more universal approach to women's liberation, there are better places to find authentic inclusion.



My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

 

Interested in reading? Here is some additional info you might want to know:

Pages

233

Difficulty

🔴⚫⚫⚫⚫ This book is incredibly easy to understand and is meant to be a quick read. The language is kept colloquial throughout the text, and is never formal or literary. There are a few uses of terms or acronyms made up by Thomashauer that are explained very briefly and used throughout the text, which can be a bit confusing.

Average Ratings

⭐⭐⭐⭐ As stated in the review, this is a perfect read for someone who has been held down or oppressed (perhaps unknowingly) by the patriarchy and is opening up to a new way of living. That said, Thomashauer's way of delving into women's liberation often falls flat by coming off as a sales pitch for her exclusive teachings, and to some, even sets us back with highly heteronormative language, referring only occasionally to non-hetero relationships.

About the Author

Regena Thomashauer (a.k.a. "Mama Gena") is a revolution; an icon, teacher, author, mother, and founder and CEO of the School of Womanly Arts, which began in her living room in 1998 and has since grown into a global movement. She believes that women are the greatest untapped natural resource on the planet, and she teaches them to turn on their innate feminine power to create a life they love. Thomashauer's approach stems from decades of research in the social, cultural, and economic history of women. She opens doors for women with her distinctive style, which is at once irreverent, unwavering, inspirational, and moving.

Have you read Pussy? Are you enjoying this book review format? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Let's converse! LOVE YOU!!


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