From selfie aerobics to bloody vibrators, Maja is a feminist of the digital age. She is a blogger, a performance artist, and now – an aspiring gynecologist?
After doing a little digging you’ll find that Maja’s work has everything to do with female empowerment. She uses her Internet platforms to educate. Her longtime blog, Booth Bitch, has become a veritable resource of knowledge for her followers. Brimming with cute Internet lingo and honest responses, Booth Bitch answers myriads of submitted questions on the topics of sexual exploration, menstruation, consent, the patriarchy, and more. It would best be summarized as an “Ask Ruth” for millennial girls. Her vibe is unbranded, inclusive, and oozing with Internet approachability – understandably, people gravitate towards that.
But why gynecology? (If anything we kind of thought Maja would make a great sex ed teacher.)
For one, it’s empowering to know how your own body works, something that Booth Bitch has been inadvertently teaching for a long time. But Maja’s idea of gynecology goes farther than that: to her it is “anti-patriarchal sexology.” What does that mean though?
On Instagram she sold handmade booklets entitled “How To Stay Out Of The Gyno’s Office,” as part of a grassroots push to “decolonize” the body. The faded multi-color publications look very 70’s, inspired by the radical feminists who originally popularized self-gynecology.
After the publication soon came workshops. Maja’s personal Instagram, Habitual Body Monitoring, includes photos that were taken during her informal seminars. It’s not until you see the photos of her friends all gazing into her cervix that you understand the intersection between her feminist performance art and her activism.
Revolutionary? We will let you decide. We send samples to a lot of gynecologists through our sampling program, but none of them resemble Maja. We were curious about her dissatisfaction with traditional OB/GYN and fascinated by her mission. It’s so exciting to someone out there making self care “cool” and accessible to young people while advocating social justice. Can we expect a new wave of socially aware gynecologists? Maja’s personal transition from blogger to gynecologist may open the door for other passionate young people to pursue medical fields! We wanted to know more about who she was, what motivated her, and what to expect next from such an individual. Maja was kind enough to answer all of those questions and more!
Q: You’ve been making art on the Internet for a while. Your blog ‘Booth Bitch’ and your Instagram ‘Habitual Body Monitoring’ seem to have two distinct identities. When did this shift in focus come about? At what point did you become interested in gynecology?
A: I’m always eager to create space for speaking about the body in a theoretical, cultural and practical sense. The body is always central in my work, so working towards a gynecologist practice seemed quite natural, lol! Forever I’ve been really into alternative/radical/anti-patriarchal/feminist sexology, always trying to educate myself and push my own boundaries of thinking and experiencing.
Quite randomly actually, I discovered that a prominent wave of feminists in the 70s practiced self-gynecology collectively, by scrolling by a picture from the book “Our Bodies, Our Selves” on Tumblr. I became absolutely obsessed with this. I was like, OMG, I want this. I need this. I wanna do this with my friends, I wanna do this with strangers. I want to be part of this safe space. So I decided to create this space myself, since I couldn’t find a community who was doing it. The liberating thing about this practice is that you can do it anywhere, even in the privacy of your own bedroom, self-discovery on our own terms. I was yearning for a space where I could share my thoughts, experiences and learn collectively. I mean, just speaking with my friends about body and sex is what I love to do the most, like I can’t think of anything that can inspire me or broaden my perspective more. Exploring concepts of desire, agency, power, beauty and pleasure at their most confounding and difficult. I thought that creating a bigger sphere for this, in a more fixed setting, would be such a dream – and it is! I wanted to create an outlet for sharing this insane amount of knowledge, thought and theory I had gathered – politically engaged healing! Where personal and political are not in opposition to each other, and potentially become a site for resistance, intervention and change.
Q: Gynecology seems to be your new medium for feminist performance art. When describing self-gynecology you use terms like “anti-patriarchal sexology”, “decolonizing the body”, and “pleasure politics”. What does self-gynecology mean to you? What do you hope women will take away from your workshops?
A: To me, self-gynecology means to take matter into your own hands! My workshop set agenda to create space for consciousness-raising. Where embarrassment is replaced with curiosity!! providing information, care and support in a non-judgmental way. A way to activate critical thinking through embodied knowledge, raising questions and discussing sexual health, bringing together theories that are lived and experienced. Where no question is too stupid and no answer is obvious.
Society implied incalculated feelings of shame about our own body, as if it were a foreign object, i.e too sensitive or too dirty than others, and that particularly other authorities (gyno’s, doctors) should take over. In an era of tight jeans, nylon pantyhose, the pill, high-sugar diets and so much more, it’s important that we learn to know ourselves. Cus knowledge is power! Collectively achieve a more nuanced, discerning, and thoughtful discourse about body and sex. Because I think that more agency can help transform the way we live with ourselves, our sexuality and our bodies.
Q:“How To Stay Out Of The Gyno’s Office” might imply some negative feelings towards traditional gynecology. What, if any, are your thoughts regarding traditional clinics and pelvic exams?
A: Well where to start…. once I started reading about the vulva and vagina I quickly realized that the parts related to pleasure were named after men, who are known to have so called “discovered” these body parts. You know our beloved and powerful G-spot? aka Gräfenberg’s Spot. A German gynecologist from the 1940’s. Bartholin’s Gland, two glands on each side of the opening of the vagina, which produce the fluids during sexual arousal, also known as our bodies natural lubricant – named after a danish anatomist in the 17th century. Last but not least, the mythical female prostate, important for the phenomenon of female ejaculation (squirting), also known as Skene’s Gland, claims to be discovered in the 1890’s.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the clitoris, this poor thing has been ‘discovered’, dismissed and then re-discovered up to several times throughout history!
In my further study on gynecology, a dark and violent history unraveled. J. Sims a doctor in the 1840’s, who is celebrated as the “Father of Gynecology” and inventor of the speculum. In his shadow are the enslaved black women he experimented on, his living subjects. He experimented on these women, without anesthesia (in these times doctors did not believe women of color could feel pain) and most of the cases, costed them their lives, being operated on up to several times. This was knowledge which was obtained at such great cost. The truth is that these women were the real mothers of gynecology, but their stories go largely unrecognized.
This concludes that no knowledge is neutral, nor free from value. Which brings to question how history is written and who has the power of doing so? Becoming aware of what we learn, how we learn and who defines what is worth knowing. My workshop tries to shed light on what was once hidden – fuck “official” knowledge. With such a racist and sexist history of the body, no wonder we today still struggle with such bodily shame and lack of autonomy – it’s internalized within all of us. We need to challenge it because patriarchy is benefiting from our insecurities.
Q: A while back on Instagram you offered “How To Stay Out Of The Gyno’s Office” starter kits. They included your own publication with a written step-by-step guide and a plastic speculum. How did that go? What kind of feedback have you received? Are you still offering the kits?
A: As wished for, different people were very interested! Yay. I got really good feedback too. I sold most of them at an exhibition the project was part of in Copenhagen – the rest I sold through Instagram, having a bigger outreach geographically, which is also so amazing. I made the publications by hand and first edition is 75 copies (now sold out). When I have the time (and do further studying) I wish to do a second edition with expansion! Right now I’m working on a book which will be published through a commercial publisher – if everything goes as planned there will also be a chapter about self gynecology, this would be pretty rad having a more mainstream outreach!
Q: What would you say to other aspiring gynecologists?
A: Stay critical! Stay radical! Create autonomy! Don’t repeat history! You got this!
Q: You mentioned a desire to go on a tour hosting these workshops someday. What are your immediate plans? Can we expect a “Habitual Body Monitoring” Kickstarter coming soon?
A: Wauw, that’s not a bad idea! People have already reached out to be unfortunately there is hardly ever a budget. I also want to keep my workshops free of charge, but this would might have to change. I hope I can do some funding or perhaps apply for some grants when I have some more time on my hands. It would be sooo amazing!
Interview courtesy of Maja Malou Lyse
Based out of Copenhagen, Maja Malou Lyse is a performance artist, blogger, and an aspiring gynecologist. Her mission is to “To RE-politicize, Re-humanize and DE-colonize the body.”
See more on her website: