The Missing Vulva

It hit me on a fairly ordinary Wednesday afternoon, when on a whim I decided to visit the Greek and Roman galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art … that none of the forms showed the reality of female genitals.

Meanwhile, the male statues rock out with their cocks out; dicks are everywhere. Penises of all sizes surround me: curled and flaccid, pert and alert, balls dropped and shrunken. I wandered around, looking closely at all of the female nude statues and fragments. There are no vulvas, no protruding labia, anywhere. There’s no suggestion that vaginas existed.

These marbled statues represented a value – an idealized value – of male and female roles in society that codified a power dynamic and a social order that persists in so many ways today. It’s such a gesture that seems thoughtless until you see it repeated over and over; it becomes clear that it is intentional and deliberate, and the lasting effect, erases feminine humanity. Even the most enlightened of us still have to unlearn cultural definitions of our sex that cast our vaginas as profane, obscene, ugly.

I’m not even sure I have anything to add here. While we sometimes refer back to classical art when talking about shifting body ideals, I’ve never heard anyone point out that, while the statues have wider hips than we glorify now, they seem to have anatomically lost something through the artist’s eye.