Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. the Patriarchy

Writer / Artist
Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. the Patriarchy
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Virago - 978-0349010731
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - 978-1-68396-110-9
  • Release date: 2014
  • English language release date: 2018
  • UPC: 9780349010731
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

Fruit of Knowledge collects the comics that have been a sideline for Swedish polymath Liv Strömquist, writer and radio broadcaster, yet they’ve been so well received in Sweden that they’ve been transferred to the stage. They’re basically monologues in which Strömquist sounds off about matters she knows are wrong with the world. They’re well-reasoned, informative, funny, confrontational and entirely right, with the underlying cause of most situations identified as old white men over the centuries suppressing women. Strömquist supports her discussions quoting a massive selection of publications, annotated as if a university lecture. A lecture it certainly is.

The stall is set out from the start with an opening chapter titled ‘Men Who Have Been Too Interested in Female Genitalia’, which provides seven examples of men whose wrong-mindedness has resulted in atrocities down the centuries. The oldest of them is St Augustine, whose considerations on sex are still responsible for widespread religious repression today, but it’s a list of atrocities, crimes against women where it’s difficult to ascertain the most appalling. The final legal clitoridectomy in the USA being performed in 1948 on a five year old girl to prevent her masturbating takes some beating.

Strömquist devotes a chapter to the misnaming of women’s sexual organs, and ignorance of the vulva, one to views held of the female orgasm over the centuries, and a colour chapter to a selection of quotes from women embarrassed about sex, their organs, being assaulted and menstruation. That has a separate a chapter, in which it’s noted that while attitudes toward other aspects unique to women have changed over the centuries, generally for worse, menstruation has pretty well always been a taboo across all societies from day one. Superstition, psychology and an analysis of Sleeping Beauty are covered, but as with much else discussed, modern thinking is down to an ignorant, self-important men whose wrong theories have taken hold, ensuring the consequences remain with us today.

Visceral impact is a greater priority than technical excellence, so purists may find the actual comic content too minimal. Strömquist is certainly aware of her drawing limitations, and at the beginning those quick sketches rarely serve as anything other than a means of breaking up text, although the aliens are funny. Much of the content therefore fills the panels with other methods of conveying what’s needed. It’s very much a cut and paste method. Some panels are filled with strips of printed text, resembling movie ransom notes, others with sourced illustrations featuring added word balloons. Some could almost be t-shirt slogans. As Fruit of Knowledge continues, the cartooning is more imaginative, and more frequent.

It’s difficult to find much to disagree with in Fruit of Knowledge, although anyone with some form of vested interest and the centuries-old blinkers is welcome to try. They’ll find Strömquist an intelligent, witty and passionate opponent.