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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)

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 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

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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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...

24 replies on “Ridin’ the Clit Rodeo One Phallucy at a Time”

  1. You told me about this artist but I am not sure what I am supposed to get from it. You have described what I should get from this artwork as I suddenly “gaze” upon it as I walk down the street but I don’t think this is very interesting. I think crappy drawings of penises are quite amusing. I believe I would think a crappy drawing of a “clit” would be amusing too, but really who says “clit” anyways. I am pretty underwhelmed.

    1. I mean, it’s different when you see the giant word CLIT on the street rather than the usual COCK, tho they are for sure both four-letter words . . . just like FUCK! 🙂 xo

  2. This work is really exciting to see, especially the artist using public space to convey the message of The Clit. Using text rises above the often tasteless over-use of the female body in art — images that often ignore female sexuality and pleasure all together.

    Not to mention, the text also rises above the inability of people at large (*cough* men, haha) to be confronted (god forbid) with something other than the soft dough between their legs.

    (Comments on this feed serve as proof that this work is MUCH needed).

    How can I sign up for a ClitiBank card??!

    1. Totally. It was interesting for me to see the use of text deployed as a way to not present the female body, which is of course either sexualized or deemed irrelevant. I wish there was a middle ground for the form that was still sexy. Hmm.

      1. typography is totally sexy! Especially the way S.Wallace uses it; graphically, simply, boldly & with a dash of humor.

      2. Hmmm. I want this to be more sexy too. But that might be us. Taken at face value, Wallace’s art feels more weighted in the medium of language than the subject of clits.

        I love her materiality. It’s dear to my heart and art. Go clits and dicks.

  3. Chris, Thom, Shawn, you guys seems like really nice guys.

    Sorry to hear someone stole your ice cream.

  4. love clits, love’em. love women. 30 yrs of bringing women to orgasm with my tongue and I never tire of it.

        1. haha! that’s cool. today someone asked if i was “still in school,” so i suppose that today I am 22. Keep in ridin’ the clit Electric Pussy Man! cheers 🙂

  5. Would anyone else be interested in riding the clit rodeo? Thus far we’ve experienced bucking broncos, wild bulls, a goat named Pantyhose, butch twins, New York fairies, and a host of other zeitgeist rodeo friends. I am glad you are all attending. The artist is not present at the moment, but I am sure she will arrive soon.

  6. While I think the clit may not get the attention it deserves, the vagina–at least the semi-shaved, full-on, frontal triangle of love–gets widespread recognition. The penis, on the other hand, if not relegated to the scribbles of poster boards and bathroom walls, has all but disappeared from public eye.

    I disagree, in part, with the idea that the world is all about hand jobbing the pork pole and less about waxing the bean. In fact, we live in a world terrified of male nudity but–although in what might be considered extreme pornographic quantities–quite open to the female form and its sexuality. Furthermore, women emphasizing the clitoris would amount to men highlighting their glans penis. Could you imagine a world in which men had the audacity and will to be so biologically specific? Or does this specificity showcase a deeper anxiety among women to draw the biology from the abstract?

    1. As I understand it, the clitoris is of social/political importance (and therefore fodder for art) because it asserts independence and agency for women — as it is not
      directly stimulated through intercourse, it is not subject to a phallocentric
      worldview – its existence and function is not subject to male pleasure.
      The attention given to the vagina in mass media is largely as a site of
      pleasure for straight males (both tactile and ocular; witness the shaving craze-ugh). Attention given to the clitoris is also part of the larger corrective regarding the suppression of female sexuality. And although a gay man would not generally encounter the clit, it might still be symbolically relevant due to its cultural position as an alternative to phallocentric heteronormativity. Maybe that’s a stretch. Sorry
      if all this is elementary but I sense it might add something to the comments
      here.

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