For many women in the 1970s, the response to the exhortation 'Know thyself' took the form of specula, hand mirrors, torches and a group of comrades who would angle the looking glass and beam just right so that, reclining on your elbows, you could look down through your bent legs and see what really lay between them. It was considered to be an essential encounter with the centre of your being. Consciousness-raising began, as it always must, by peering into the heart of darkness. At the time it was clear that there was no chance of getting in touch with your self unless you had witnessed what nature had so perversely, so patriarchally, hidden from your view. Though it seems odd, on those grounds, that we didn't also require a personal view of our anuses, the goal was a sighting of the cervix, a seeing into the very core: a conflation of geography, biology and mythology. The achieved vision was generally accompanied by gasps of appreciation as if a great work of art had been unveiled for the first time before your very eyes. We swooned: 'Ah, it's so beautiful.' Actually, it wasn't. It was just sort of pink and fleshy. But it had been hidden and now was seen. So: beautiful. As the deserted landscape of the moon was beautiful when Neil Armstrong's camera panned across its uninviting surface.
LRB 20 November 2003 | PDF Download