cover image Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. the Patriarchy

Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. the Patriarchy

Liv Strömquist, trans. from the Swedish by Melissa Bowers. Fantagraphics, $22.99 trade paper (144 p) ISBN 978-1-68396-110-9

This lively feminist graphic essay collection discusses, in chatty comics form, a wide range of topics related to the female reproductive system and society’s uncomfortable relationship with it. Strömquist’s snarky, ponytailed avatar hosts chapters such as “Men Who Have Been Too Interested in the Part of the Body Known as the ‘Female Genitalia,’ ” covering anatomical facts, historical conceptions, and misconceptions about the female body, and eternal cultural anxieties surrounding women and sex. The artwork—a mix of simple, chunky drawings and photo collage—suggests connections between Victorian surgeries to treat female “hysteria” and modern-day labial cosmetic surgery, Enlightenment-era suppression of female sexuality and modern women’s fraught relationships with their bodies, and playful ancient depictions of vulvas (Strömquist helpfully reproduces photos of the bawdy sheela-na-gig carvings found throughout the British Isles) and sex-positive feminism. Readers familiar with feminist theory may already be acquainted with many of the ideas discussed here, but the presentation is witty enough (historical men on menstruation: “It shall be yucky and yucky alone!”) to make this an enjoyable introduction. Strömquist embraces an often fraught topic, balancing serious analysis and irreverent, R-rated humor. (Aug.)