Nothing incites cultural terror like a woman getting herself off. A woman with a keen awareness of her own body, her own pleasure, and an entitlement to facilitate that pleasure: a revolution, even in 2018. We still hyper-sexualize women whilst somehow never addressing their masturbation, as if women’s sexuality exists solely for other people—particularly, men. A woman’s orgasm really shouldn’t be political, but somehow, it is. We make it public domain: something for everyone to govern but women themselves.
Enter stage left: an artist so audacious, so bitingly clever that suddenly this entrenched phobia paves way for art. An artist taking one of the most indicted pieces of womanhood—cis women, trans women, everywoman—and translating it into music, really a lowkey anthem for liberated and self-directed sexuality. Enter: Von. From New York City, Von emerged into the SoundCloud-sphere with a sizzling, sparkling aliveness. Unimpeachable. A senior in college and a hell of a musician, Von tore some unspeakable fire wide open with her debut single “Action.” Jolty, vibrant, raspy-voiced, aflame. “Action” reminds me of one of Lorde’s lines from “Melodrama”: “Megaphone to my chest/ Broadcast the boom-boom and make em’ all dance to it.” Von quite literally amplifies the beat of her body, indeed.
“Action” is all about intimacy with oneself, particularly when you’ve been conditioned to never seek such a thing. With lines like “Don’t need you to make it happen / One-woman show with the action,” “Action” drives us away from self-worth on the basis of others’ attention and straight into the rocky, exuberant shores of our own attention. A territory ripe with controversy, criticism, and incessant noise, when in reality that space of self-belonging belongs to us and us alone. The song rushes, tumbles, repeats this call to action like plunging a needle into an elusive, wily vein, finding the point of connection again and again. Until our self-awareness, our capacity for self-pleasure, is drunk into our muscle memory.
Von uses her own orgasm wave as the rhythm of the song. In her Broadly interview, she explains how, exactly, this works, through using a specific vibrator called the Lioness: “The Lioness is a smart vibrator that measures users’ vaginal contractions and displays their orgasms on charts via an app. These data are presented as waves that represent the force of vaginal movements at various points in time. From her windowless, WIFI-less Manhattan basement apartment, Von dragged the Lioness waves into the wavetable operator Serum and treated them like sound waves, manipulating them to craft music.”
A woman’s orgasm is proof of self-sufficiency. Not only self-sufficiency, but like the flapper archetypes of the 1920s, self-pleasure. Self-indulgence. In women, a selfish, egregious, unattractive monster, we say. Von begs to differ. Women can get themselves off. Women can travel into the prism of pleasure without anyone, and particularly, without men. That women can and do direct their own pleasure floors our collective psyche.
Auteur theory, a facet of canonical film theory, considers the director the driving creative force and actual artist behind a film. Director as artist. Von describes the female auteur as one who “produces, performs, engineers, and mixes all of her own material.”
Violently, insidiously, historically and even now, women have been stripped of the capacity for auteurship. To spread oneself over a piece of art, to permeate a work so wholly, so pointedly, is a privilege—one historically ordained to (white) men. To infuse a film with the director’s self, you must first have a self vast and distinctive enough to touch anything. A self that does not go ignored, dismissed, underestimated, quarantined to the margins. Throughout history, women have generally not been afforded such an expansive, unrestricted self. Von widens the self. Von widens the woman so that she too may brazenly reach her limbs around a song, caress an artwork in her blood and spit and scent. Von’s music belongs to her. She conjures it out of her own body, pleasure, sensation. She takes from no one, invokes a genre all her own, and a revolutionary one: because she is in a way constructing a “room of one’s own” within the walls of her own skin. Virginia Woolf probably wasn’t referring to music made from the rhythm of one’s orgasm, but to me, the essay’s timelessness rings in its capacity to ceaselessly, vibrantly evolve. “Action” is a product of that evolution. When our bodies belong to everyone but us, when our gender constricts our cultural room for art-making.
When we decide to not stick with the system but redefine it, we get someone like Von, who tells the world what is still considered secret: women like sex. Women can engage in it all by themselves, and craft art from their self-pleasure, not only the same way men have but even bigger, more explosive, brighter and louder. “Action” is an ode to a woman’s intimacy with herself—sexually, yes, but really, woman’s self-knowledge as a whole, her inherent right to it. Von acts on it, and urges us to.
We can get ourselves off. We can conjure art out of our pleasure, stir up worlds vast, colorful, and complex from the interiors of our—yes, woman—selves.
Annie Walton Doyle