Vagina dentata actualized

This is not a story for the faint of loins: here is another version of the same story. The coverage, however, is unfortunate.

First, to why I’ve posted this here:

Critics have said the device is like something out of the Middle Ages. “Yes, my device may be medieval, but it’s for a medieval deed that has been around for decades,” she told CNN.

This is an unfortunate use of the word “medieval,” not because painful methods of enforcement–legal and not–didn’t exist then, but because to label the middle ages as the time when this existed par excellence is to seriously misjudge the accomplishments of the 20th century, including the use of systematic rape as a means of war. It’s not a distinctly “medieval deed,” and this is not merely an academic quibble: to locate this cruelty back then praises our modern selves for a tolerance we have not achieved, and simply ignores centuries of cruelty against (for instance) women that have been far more expansive than time before 1500–the post-medieval passion for witch hunting of the European “renaissance” being one of the earlier and best-known examples. This point has been well-made before–note especially Dinshaw’s “coda” here, in which she makes the point that we often use the deep, dark “medieval” past to repress aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to confront or admit.


Critics say the condom makes women vulnerable to violence from men trapped by the device.

It’s also a form of “enslavement,” Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the east African country of Uganda, told CNN. “The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to.”

Kajja added that the device reminds women of their vulnerability.

Please comment below if I miss a nuance here, but I’m not sure that wearing this device is necessary to remind women of their vulnerability. Mightn’t it also help to remind women that they can take measures? Does any kind of protective measure = a reminder to self of “enslavement” and “vulnerability”?

I can understand the argument that, if a rapist encountered this, his anger might become potentially lethal if it weren’t already. That might be, however, a decision for a woman to make on her own.


Author: Derrick Pitard

I teach medieval and early modern literature, the history of the language, introductions to literature, Latin, and writing at Slippery Rock University.

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