Liv Strömquist’s The Fruit of Knowledge is a unique non-fiction book about female sexuality.
The problem is not the men who are not interested in the female sex organ, claims Liv Strömquist slightly surprisingly at the start of The Fruit of Knowledge. Rather, it is those who might have developed too big an interest in this – and she first presents the top ten of those who misunderstand women. For example, men like the doctor and cornflakes inventor John Harvey Kellogg and the theologian Augustinus apparently contributed to the stigma that the vulva is impure and a source of numerous diseases. Due to medical and countless other reasons, this was preferably mutilated, cut or treated with acid …
After this introduction, the Swedish author (born 1979) proceeds to a comprehensively researched cultural history of the vulva that is delivered with feminist verve and vitriolic sarcasm. This begins with the (matriarchal) prehistory up to the present-day, from primeval female figures with powerful vulvas to modern portrayals of women without any visible sexual organs. Not least, it also recounts how feminine sexuality, identity and self-determination was for centuries suppressed, pathologized and declared inferior.
Strömquist processes (revealing her sources with scrupulous precision) numerous stereotypes, prejudices and lies from biology, psychoanalysis, science, art and religion and stuns with hair-raising, yet exactly presented absurdities that still have an impact today, with heresies and incongruities – there is no other way to explain the increase of surgical procedures in the field of feminine genitalia.
This appraisal of the female ‘moist zone’ is anything but dry-humoured: as a comic-strip illustrator, Liv Strömquist is also an entertainer; she doesn’t hide away discreetly in an off-domain like an “objective” historian, but rather guides the reader through The Fruit of Knowledge like a stand-up comedian works through a routine. She directly appeals to her readers (men and women); she is emotional, sarcastic and furious, repeatedly astonished herself about the erroneous facts that she heaves to the light of day and without concealing her opinion. This also epitomizes her illustrative style: Strömquist draws like a punk rocker creates music; her stroke is simple, crude and direct and she constantly interrupts the flow of pictures with bold text panels and exclamation or question marks.
In short, The Fruit of Knowledge is an equally entertaining as well as informative pamphlet which is immersed in a crafty sense of humour and honest outrage that is of high educational value.
By Christian Gasser
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright