I just don’t like the way it appears that women are too stupid to realize “he” includes them as well

August 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Samuel Pepys, the famous womanizer and diarist, was certainly no prude. This is a man, let’s remember, who brought his telescope to church so he could enjoy “the great pleasure of seeing and gazing at a great many very fine women” and who famously detailed his numerous extramarital affairs in a mixture of Spanish, French and Italian.

So what was the book that made even Pepys blush? It turns out to be a surprisingly modern exploration of sexuality written in the form of a dialogue between a teenage girl and her more experienced cousin…

The School of Venus punctures some common notions about pre-modern European sexuality, which is too frequently dismissed as ‘Puritanical.’ Although the book was a product of a misogynistic and male-dominated society, it is surprisingly frank about female sexual autonomy. Katy almost immediately begins wondering “why should not ones Finger yield a Wench the like pleasure” as a penis. Soon after, Frances speculates about the societal benefits that would result “if Women govern’d the world and the Church as men do.” Female multiple orgasms are referenced throughout, and there appear to be a few scattered allusions to the clitoris (referred to as “the top of the Cunt” which “stands out.”)

Some of the language in the text is also surprisingly modern, as when Frances advises her to acquire “a Fucking friend… one that will not blab” and Katy worries about how “to break the Ice” with Mr. Rogers, the friend with benefits she has in mind…

So what do we know of this book’s history? Scholars ignored texts like these throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but since the 1980s historians of sexuality and gender have engaged with The School of Venus. James Turner’s Schooling Sex argues that the book is part of a larger “educational fantasy in sexual writing” which bounds female sexuality by a “set of male-ordered ‘rules.’” Turner also uncovers the publication history of the book, which was “simultaneously prosecuted to extinction and flaunted in the most public places.”  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Viola Cangi

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