Constructed Ignorance and Inevitable Resistance: Our Knowledge of the Clitoris
Drawing on Nancy Tuana’s epistemologies of ignorance, this thesis explores the ways in which ignorance surrounding the clitoris is socially and systemically constructed, and how people with clitorises resist this gendered ignorance. The researcher conducted interviews with nine women and trans people about their sexual body, knowledge of the clitoris and their relationship with their own clitoris. During the in-depth follow-ups, participants were shown an anatomical model of the clitoris and a Cliteracy art mural by Conceptual Artist Sophia Wallace. After all the interviews were transcribed, a thematic analysis was conducted. The findings suggest that ignorance—in the forms of erasure, misrepresentation and dismissiveness—is prevalent in society and participants’ lived experiences. Few knew about the full size and anatomy of the clitoris and those who did learned this information from feminist, sexual education sources online. Participants demonstrated that what they know is primarily from active, self-initiated learning. Most participants indicated that learning about the clitoris is important for experiencing sexual pleasure, which is evident when examining the ways they sought to overcome barriers to learning. While the relationship between pleasure and the clitoris is complex, most participants stated that the organ was central to their experience of pleasure, especially orgasm. Notably, most participants were queer, and many participants expressed the belief that queer people are likely to be more knowledgeable than others about the clitoris. The data is contextualized with explorations of predominant discourses within social spaces such as schools, media and the healthcare system, focusing on aspects like language, school curricula and visual diagrams. The power dynamics and gendered processes behind what is known, and, importantly, what is not known, are explored.