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Ridin’ the Clit Rodeo One Phallucy at a Time

Sophia Wallace's CLITERACY hits the streets (image courtesy of Hyperallergic)
Sophia Wallace’s CLITERACY hits the streets (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

You thought that headline was a joke, right? It might be a phallucy, or a fallacy, or it could be just plain phantasmagoric, or phallocentric, or … it could be why you decided to stop for a minute and read this story.

We live in a culture that rewards the act of jerking off a penis more than learning the intricacies and pleasure-oriented qualities of the clit. The art world, the regular world, the theater world, not even the supposedly art-y spaces of American culture offer anything close to gender equality, and especially not to gender non-conforming folks. It seems like a big duh, but white privilege and male privilege can both be very easily taken for granted, accepted as status quo, and then laughed about later amongst (rude, lame, jerky) friends. It’s harder to look at oneself and start unpacking these privileges, and thus diving into a messier type of culture work. This is the America we live in. Duh.

Rather than take it like a man, NYC-based artist Sophia Wallace takes an army of clits to the streets of New York City, art galleries, and the world of social media. Operating through text-based works that echo propaganda-ish slogans — “Don’t Tread on Me” becomes “Don’t Tread on My Clit,” in one instance — she creates signage in the form of street art and billboards to spread Cliteracy: 100 Natural Laws, which exposes cultural overcurrents of misogyny while also considering the effects of internalizing it, particularly for people who live in female-gendered bodies. One such cliteracy reads: “Penetration with a penis is just one of innumerable ways to have sex,” while another pointedly asks “What’s your relationship with the clit?”

Sophia Wallace, "Cliteracy: 100 Natural Laws" (2013) (image courtesy of the artist)
Sophia Wallace, “Cliteracy: 100 Natural Laws” (2013) (image courtesy of the artist)

In her posters around NYC, Wallace delves further into American masculinity, playing a tongue-in-cheek game with word play around the clit. Here’s one that I thought of after viewing this cliteracy alliteration: What if Clint Eastwood were Clit Eastwood, and Clitibank caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis rather than Citibank? What if clits were treated with the same language as dicks? What if this signage wasn’t delegated to the realm of “feminist art” or “queer art,” but actually populist, positive, affirming, and informative work for social change, and a tool for learning more about the powers of the clit? That’s when feminism would actually be post-feminism — if a utopian world devoid of gender inequality actually did exist.

NUFF about CLITERACY? Neva. Photo for Hyperallergic by Hrag Vartanian
NUFF said about CLITERACY? Neva. (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

Operating in a similar vein to Jenny Holzer and Glenn Ligon, Wallace’s CLITERACY work only uses text so as to erase the opportunity of any type of gazing at or upon. This is a curious juxtaposition with her photographic work On Beauty, which asked men to pose in feminine gestures in a similar way to Jon Uriarte’s project which suggests further materials toward a theory of the adult-man, and the Berlin LookBook, which celebrates female masculinity and gender non-confirming styles. Wallace’s photography is all about the gaze, and so it’s curious to consider the confrontational nature of the work that viewers on the street encounter with CLITERACY. Someone who encounters her work while walking down the street could be having any one of these experiences: spacing out and thinking about a date the night before, trying to process the rape of a close friend, what their co-worker said to them about their choice of froyo toppings, or what they’d like to have for dinner—and then one of Wallace’s natural laws confronts them, and asks what they know about the clit. If it were just another scribble of a penis and balls, the responses would be a simple ‘haha!’ and keep walking. But when the clit appears, chances are a knee-jerk reaction of ‘WTF and why are we still talking about this today?’ will stop ’em dead in their tracks.

Poster for the CLIT Rodeo courtesy of Ms. Wal-Lez
Poster for the CLIT Rodeo courtesy of Ms. Wal-Lez

To show the cowboys who’s boss, next up the Clit Bandit and Clit Eastwood will present the Clit Rodeo at the Wassaic Festival, August 2–4. Wallace and her collaborator Kenneth Thomas will build a three-dimensional ride-able clit, and everyone who gets on it will enjoy some sort of stimulation while competing for prizes using only their knowledge of the cliteracy. Ken will play Clit Eastwood, and Sophia says she might be Little Red Riding Hood — but she’s still figuring out what exactly her character is to be. No dickheads allowed unless, of course, they know how to ride the clit till it’s bursting with solid gold glitter.

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