Gwyneth Paltrow, fanny candles, and Vulva LOVE

Never thought I’d be writing about The Goop Lab or Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina. But last week Gwyneth Paltrow made a joke about one of her expensive candles smelling like her fanny and many people lost their minds.

The anger seemed to range from “how dare she say her fanny smells nice” to “how dare this ACTRESS sell an expensive candle.” There was other stuff too, like faux concern which can be harder to spot. This faux-bullshit-anxiety cited her dangeous new Netflix show The Goop Lab and in particular the miff episode. The faux worriers were anxious Paltrow was exploiting vulnerable women into having orgasms. And we all know female orgasm leads to…? Maybe…people joining cults…? Or something. Maybe The Goop Lab IS a Cult? And female masturbation their extremist act against the patriarchy? (Woah guys this is heavy stuff.) Maybe we should all contact our MP’s, or GP’s? Does Prevent know Paltrow exsits? Maybe she can join XRebellion on their list.

I am triple F (Freaky flake faerie)

To be fair, I am one of the vulnerable woman the faux worriers are concerned about. Afterall, my friend Diane starts her texts with the joke “what cult are you in this week?” cos I’m completely obsessed with the wyrd and wonderful, the magical and impossible. I have danced on the corners of cults for years and then run away. I am the woman they want to protect from the evils of Paltrow’s minge candles and yoni eggs (I do love a jade egg and yoni wand) Anyway, don’t worry, I’m not eager to Jim Jones my life away. You see, deep down, I know what I’m looking for; connection, pleasure, authenticity. Cults irradiate these – I don’t think The Goop Lab will radicalise anyone. Paltrow isn’t the enemy. And I know that’s weird to say, as we’re so encouraged to find one everywhere aren’t we?

Why faux concern’s so bloody irritating?

I’m not stupid enough to believe these critics really care about women like me being exploited. Otherwise they’d be taking to the streets about unequal pay, disability rights, race inequality, climate justice, and all kinds of things. They’d care about period poverty and rape. They don’t. I’ve never been helped by any of these people who pretend to care. They’d walk past me while homeless, and ignored me while a teen mum. I’ve had to find my own way, so they can kiss my candle. They’re hypocrites (aren’t we all) but I don’t like the duplicitious nature of it all, I’d be happier if they were just honest and say they don’t like the power Paltrow has, or her platform. She’s a rich beautiful white woman expanding her fortune from biff scents– and I get it, she’s annoying – and women are taught to hate each other and pretend we don’t. It takes years to undo internalized misogyny. We are brainwashed to compete. It’s complex as is misogyny. There’s very real reasons no one attacked the genuinely troubling weirdnesses in other episodes and zeroed in on the female pleasure episode. We still don’t like women getting off on themselves. It really is that simple. To garnish it up with hand-wringing worry about “the vulnerables” is transparent. The episode is WELL WORTH WATCHING, seriously give it a shot. You’ll see women grappling with themselves (not literally) as they too have never been allowed to like themselves. Let alone prioritise their own pleasure *sigh* Why are we still so ashamed of female orgasm? I mean, come on – how sad is that? Has the years Madonna slogged in the pits of fanny freedom taught us nothing?

Slut-shaming and scoffing

Twitter was not the only place the episode was criticised. Even The Guardian got in on the act. Apparently, you cannot talk about your lady-garden unless you are able to name each part, separately, and by its medical terms only, which (ironically) is part of why The Goop Lab exists in the first place. It’s a response to some women feeling the medicalization of their bodies and sexual experiences is unhelpful to their wellbeing (let alone their orgasm). Bodies being medicalized can feel clinical. It’s cold to be owned by doctors, rather than by yourself. It is one of the reasons women turn to alternative models of healing (you can see this in the political sphere too, i.e.: people turning away from experts, but that’s too big a tangent for this blog ramble). To address these challenges, we first need to understand what the problem actually is. (Or if it’s really is even a problem or you’re just being a dick). Whether politically and medically, systems have failed women. Surely it is time to listen, empathically, rather than just plough in with insults. (Like I say, I get it!  I like shouting too, I’m a reactionary at times I mean look at this post! But maybe we can do better?)

Surprised/not surprised

Paltrow’s vagina/candle being ripped into wasn’t suprising, sadly. I just don’t see how a programme about a group of women attempting to like their vaginas is inherently ludicrous or disgusting. Witnessing the level of articles and tweets shaming and grossing out took me back to school. It was fucking infantile (and that comes from me who spent weeks writing VAMP – a short comedy about fannies and vampires) I like infantile. But mindless bandwagon-ing? Nah, stinks of bullying and I’m not buying that candle. Women have been encouraged to disconnect from their labias and make their experiences meaningless for FAR too long – bullying and riducle contributes to that. It’s also why Goop Lab covered the topic – whether you like it or not – women asked to see it.

The Great wall of Vagina by Jamie McCartney

Medicalising women’s bodies

The medical model very often fails women and women’s bodies – we are often medicated for “emotional problems” and after childbirth abandoned by the workplace. Our pleasure is seen as male driven, abortion is still signed off by psychiatrists, and hell! we can’t even breastfeed in public. Heaven forbid you experience sexual violence because help on the NHS is woeful. I should know.

Reconnecting with my womb was a shock

After I was sexually assaulted as a teenager, I disconnected from my womb and vagina. I was numb until I gave birth to my daughter at 17 and labour woke my womb up. She wasn’t happy; I experienced horrific PTSD. This time in my life was extremely complex, I wasn’t even twenty. I’ve written about it elsewhere, and it was even the subject of my first stage play (The Crucifixion of Madeline Mackay) so won’t reiterate, as it’s not pleasant to read or write. Long-story short, mental health services couldn’t help me, (I’m autistic too which added a layer of complexity they were baffled by). Medication for anxiety and depression didn’t work – so my physical, mental, and emotional health was FUCKED! I was very unwell and after five years of therapy and pills they suggested ECT. I didn’t want ECT, it scared me. This fear propelled me towards alternative medicine.

My journey down the rabbit hole

I started with books from my local library. Being working class, I didn’t have money for books or private health care. From these books I learnt about the mind body connection. This spring boarded me towards my local Buddhist Centre where I learnt mindfulness, vipassana, chanting. Then I found the magic of Transcendental Meditation. Exploring Tantra and Kundalini Yoga came next. From there, I delved into Japanese energy healing and received acupuncture from a community clinic in Manchester for people on low incomes. I learnt reflexology and delved in sexual reflexology. Later I became a Reiki teacher. Then I discovered the work of Mantak Chia and travelled to one of his teachers in Wales who offered trades under sacred economics – he taught me womb-breathing, womb-blessings, and Qi Gong. It changed my life.

Slowly but surely, I fell in love with my labia, vagina, and totally magical womb. From this place of reconnection, I set up a women’s circle for other women who were also living with the after-effects of sexual violence: The Women’s Playgroup. I was no longer surviving but thriving. The practices gifted to me had saved my life. They gave me the magic of pleasure, of creativity, of a happy sexuality and yeah – of LIFE. I was reconnected.

Pleasure as a tool of sovereignty

In The Goop Lab, the women discuss the exhausting nature of earning self-esteem, earning pleasure, earning sensual pleasurable lives, rather than simply claiming them. Owning them. That was me too. Most of us have walked that path and have quite literally cum-out the other end. Taking ownership of our bodies is really powerful, and pleasure is a beautiful way of claiming the sovereignty over our own lands.

So I don’t believe my teachers or the cultures these practices arise from deserve the vitriol. They’re caught in the crossfire of cheap shots at a posh actress. Everyone needs reminding – it was just a show about female pleasure. That’s all. Why the resistance? Just cos it’s Paltrow. She’s fair game, isn’t she? How dare she have the audacity to think she’s got something to say.

Indeed, you’re free to not like her. Hate her if you must. Hate me too, I don’t give a shit. But whether you like it or not, women will heal. And some of us will heal in our own messy wyrd ways too, whether you scoff or not. We are allowed to own our pleasure as well – shock horror. We can stuff yoni eggs where the sun doesn’t shine, and laugh while we’re doing it. We can laugh at you as you laugh at us – this is a two way mirror. Only some of us are loving on ourselves so powerfully we don’t need you to approve of our orgasam. Some of us are integrating experiences you will never comprehend – and we are allowed to do it our way. Shaming us will only make us whisper in rooms where you can’t hear us, like days of old. Rest assured you won’t stop us though.

We are unstoppable.

Valid criticism

Now I’m not saying that we should all be watching The Goop Lab and loving it, jumping into practices that seem wacky, scary, and unusual. What I am saying is the zeroing in on the female pleasure episode eclipsed any real discussions to be had about cultural appropriation. We didn’t ask who benefits from the sale of these and other practices? Whether Capitalism is monetizing compassion? Ridiculing women’s vaginas obscured all reason, by masquerading as reason.

Empathy is the sweetest pill

We need to listen to each other. Surely it is time? Past time. To me, there is a chronic lack of connection in society. This can lead to extreme behaviours, including all the cults springing up (have you noticed?) This chronic lack of connection leads to suffering. Where there is suffering and disconnection, there is the possibility of exploitation. We are ALL vulnerable in our traumas and fear. But the way to make sure small fish avoid sharks doesn’t happen by bullying, but listening. Hearing each other out leads to understanding. Obviously understanding is not agreement nor consensus. Understanding requires compassion and so is it’s own remedy. I think we need to extend empathy to people different than ourselves. People who may need something different to heal. Cos healing is the point surely? Not how. We are all different. You know what I’m saying yeah? What’s one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Paltrow included. Who knows, she may apologise for Goop one day, she may realise she was inadequate, ill-informed, even stupid – just like the rest of us. Still, I think I’m right in saying, none of the accusatory tweets, articles, or finger poking (and not in a fun way) will awaken her – cos all that lovely honey comes from within – we change our own mind in the end.

If you can’t change minds, why the fuck write anything?

I’m not writing to change your mind. I’m writing to myself through time. When I was cold, frightened, and ashamed, I looked for blogs and articles to see if other women had journeyed a similar road. When I was disconnected from like-minded souls, I searched and found. I’m writing to reassure that woman, not you. I’m writing to the person who may have watched Goop’s vagina episode and thought there was something in it for them – to her I say, you’re not mad there p[robably is. You don’t deserve to be shamed by anyone. You will be okay, and you are not alone. Your journey is opening up and blossoming – this is your sun-lit beginning. Arriving home to yourself will be magnificent. The power valid, and nourishing. Well worth it. Worth it all. See this rant as your permission to love on yourself; vagina, labia, clit, inner and out lips and all. You are bloody magical, full of juicy wonders worth discovering. So fuck the haters. And go fuck yourself instead.