Mithu M. Sanyal

Dr. Mithu Sanyal: writer, journalist, and cultural scientist.
Dr. Mithu Sanyal: writer, journalist, and cultural scientist.

Sanyal’s subjects are diverse and are often at the centre of pressing issues of co-existence: Identity, racism, sexism and post-colonial heritage. With these charged issues, she comes across as a curious and passionate fighter for the emancipation of all misanthropic myths and restrictive beliefs. According to her, the subject matters just come to her, she merely leaves the door open to them. And with every book she thinks, “I have now said everything I had to say. Now I have filled the last white spot on the map of our world knowledge and there is nothing more that I can write about.”

That’s how Sanyal felt after she finished her first book: “Vulva. Die Enthüllung des unsichtbaren Geschlechts”. The book came from a PhD thesis which Sanyal was working on for her doctorate in “German Literature” at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. What came out of it is a somewhat different cultural story of the Western World at the centre of which is the genitalia, which is usually tabooed and rendered invisible and which we often incorrectly call the vagina. What is meant is the vulva, which only covers the visible part of the vagina. Confusing the vulva and vagina is similar to mixing up the penis and the testicles. After completing the manuscript, Sanyal thought that she had extracted everything from herself, and that she would not write another book. But, of course, she continued to write for magazines and newspapers such as “Frankfurter Rundschau”, “Missy”, “Spex” and “Literaturen”, but also for the Federal Agency for Political Education.

Her published articles are about the Me Too movement, about sex work, and also about the new translation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic “Jane Eyre”. She is also often invited to panels and podia, gives lectures at universities and writes theatre plays, quite a few radio features and, up to now, five radio plays for WDR, for whom she has worked as an in-house author since 1996. On the side, she also started her “Mithulogie” column in the “taz”, which stopped in August 2019 after the hate messages on Twitter got too much for her.

And despite all these activities – and even more besides – things have happened differently to how Mithu Sanyal had imagined they would after she completed her “Vulva” book: For a second time, she attempted to explain the whole world to herself and to others, based on a single subject matter. The result was her book “Vergewaltigung. Aspekte eines Verbrechens”, which was published in Edition Nautilus in 2016. Sanyal analysed widely held beliefs and discourses and developed views on how rape can be prevented societally. The book can be considered a definitive work on a phenomenon which is still covered by taboos.