Today I learned that Betty Dodson died, less than a week ago, at the age of 91, on October 31, 2020.
Does anyone remember Betty Dodson? She was hugely important to me as I was coming into my own, sexually speaking. She was exhibiting explicit genital portraits of women as early as 1969, in galleries in New York and elsewhere. Her work was even more explicit than Judy Chicago’s and many dismissed it as pornography. But Betty had other ideas in mind; she wanted to strip away the shame and grief that accompanied so many women’s ideas about their own genitals, and in this, she wildly succeeded. I used her book Sex for One: The Art of Selfloving, with many, many patients of mine who had issues with their bodies and their sexuality. Betty used to give workshops on masturbation for women, where she taught them to pleasure themselves using vibrators. Her favorite model was the Hitachi Magic Wand. She would put 15 women in a circle, and give each one their own Magic Wand for the 2-hour session. She taught many women how to orgasm, who had never done so before, by using this technique. She also encouraged the women to look at each other’s genitals, and to praise and describe them, using poetic language. She really was a breakthrough genius.
As she got famous, more and more men began demanding that she offer workshops for them as well. Betty obliged them, at least, at first. It’s my impression that she did not have as much fun conducting masturbation workshops for men. Men didn’t need them in the same way that women did, and they had a very different quality, by her own report. In her later years, she described herself as a fourth-wave feminist, declaring that all the previous waves were sex-negative. She also criticized Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues for being too penis-centered. She published a memoir in 2010, which I have not read.