SPX Spotlight: Liv Strömquist's Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva Vs. The Patriarchy

Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva Vs. The Patriarchy
Written & Drawn by Liv Strömquist
Published by Fantagraphics

Let’s be honest, the male body and female body are different on some pretty obvious fundamental levels but there are also shades and variations to those differences. Liv Strömquist’s book Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. The Patriarchy explores many ways that society has developed over thousands of years to fear those differences and to use those differences to control women. As Strömquist charts it, female biology and its bodily functions have been weaponized against women over the centuries. Her comics in this book map out the religious, philosophical, and scientific misunderstandings about women’s bodies. And more than misunderstandings, it explores the societies that use these misunderstandings to control women and their roles as part of these societies.

Strömquist’s light and pleasing cartooning style functions as a bit of a Trojan horse. Her storytelling doesn’t take itself too seriously even as she explores some incredibly deep and troubling concepts that have become part of our everyday language about women. The playfulness of her art makes her subject easier to digest. Whether it’s caricatures of the patriarchal thinkers and leaders of their day or the way that she uses her cartooning to draw the spirit of these injustices, Strömquist’s art takes some heavy subjects and makes them surprisingly entertaining to read through. She’s not dumbing down her ideas but she is enveloping them in a wrapper that is sweeter and deceptively more welcoming for the weight of her subject.

Exploring the ways that the male-dominated societies of the last couple thousand of years have used the female body as a tool to develop systematic methods of oppression, Strömquist lays out her argument with wit and calmness. Whether it’s the lack of a penis or the presence of menstrual blood, Strömquist’s comics track a number of ways that biology has been a tool to cast women as a second-class gender. Through the language that we’ve used, the ideas we’ve generated, and even the art we’ve created, Strömquist lays out what seems to be some pretty preposterous and extremely out-dated ideas in the book until she reveals that some of these ideas have existed and been practiced in the last one hundred years or so. There are ways that we want to think that these repressive practices are a thing of the past but Strömquist wants to remind us that even though we may not be as blatant about it, the legacy of this thinking still exists in our societal DNA even today.

The biggest weapon that Strömquist has to use against these hopefully outdated ideas is her humor. Fruit of Knowledge knocks down these sexist prejudices by pointing out just how absurd they really are. From a 21st century perspective, it feels like there’s almost nothing left to do other than laugh at them but that’s also a lie we tell ourselves while reading this book. If we had really evolved so far beyond this stupidity, there would be no motivation for Strömquist to use their own rhetoric against these ideas that seem to be hardwired into our heads. The fact that this book exists shows just how little we’ve advanced beyond the thoughts and beliefs she takes aim at.

Just the idea that the female body is not a man’s body had lead to centuries of persecution and repression. Liv Strömquist picks apart the silly and plain incorrect ideas that have demonstrated either an ignorance or a willing defiance to use common sense and science to really understand these differences. Instead of embracing the differences to celebrate or even just recognize the equality of women, these historical patriarchal structures have instead used them as a means of control but Strömquist is having none of that in Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva Vs. The Patriarchy. Instead, she uses her wit and skill to entertainingly dismantle the false premises of these supposedly wisened men.