Unless you’re one of those folks in the habit of seeing through a glass so darkly that you’re able to deny reality completely, it’d be hard to miss the fact that the female body, or our right to own our bodies, is under attack. I mean, it’s not like we, since the advent of patriarchy several millennia back (see The Chalice and the Blade for more on this), have ever enjoyed full sovereignty, but since Roe v. Wade here in America we’ve at least been granted a certain level of privacy regarding what happens with our girly bits. That looks like it’s about to change. They’ve unfunded Planned Parenthood, states like Virginia are considering Draconian measures to limit a woman’s access to affordable, safe abortions, and this brain trust in Georgia wants to criminalize miscarriage…on pain of death! And in case you’re someone who’s pro-life (I can respect that, if you’re actually pro-life, and not just anti-woman), here’s what illegal abortion looks like. We really don’t want to go back there, whether you think life begins at conception or not. Late-term fetuses delivered live and decapitated: I don’t think that’s what you want. That can’t be what you want. Please tell me that’s not what you want.
Now, I’ve had my kids, the factory is closed, and I could ignore all this. Except not only do I have a daughter, but I also feel a certain sisterhood with my fellow women, and a certain responsibility, as a woman enjoying a significant level of privilege, to defend those of my sisters who suffer under patriarchy and its evil cousin, misogyny. And, truly, the lack of reproductive freedom is one of the more extreme manifestations of that misogyny (and it’s gentler, well-meaning cousin, patriarchy). It does get worse, of course: human trafficking, child brides, morons throwing acid in girls’ faces for daring to learn to read. (For more on this, read Half the Sky.) Life’s hard, really hard, in some places, and women and children, especially girl children, suffer the most.
And all of this bubbles around in the psyche when we encounter manifestations that are less heinous, like the recent VIDA Count, showing the disparity between male and female bylines in top literary mags. Not the end of the world, surely, but does that mean we shouldn’t be concerned? Nope, and it’s not just a matter of fairness. Women’s stories are important. We won’t find our way out of this dark forest, we won’t establish a gylanic culture in which men and women relate as equals, support each other lovingly as brothers and sisters in the human struggle, until women’s voices are heard, truly heard. Imagine how different things would be around the world if we had all been weaned on stories that illuminated what a healthy relationship with the natural world (and each other!) looks like instead of stories that glorified violence and war. I love Shakespeare, but I would have loved to hear what his sister had to say, too.
Coming back to women’s bodies and the apparent belief by some men that they are appropriate objects of interest for their lawmaking and commodification: I recently read this brilliant essay by Lidia Yuknavitch about the cover of her soon-to-be-available memoir, The Chronology of Water (which sounds well worth reading), and the resistance it’s already receiving. See, the cover sports an artsy photograph of a middle-aged woman in the water. Naked, and framed from her taut neck to her ribcage. You got it. It’s a boob. (It’s actually a woman in the water, but because of the way we’ve been programmed to reduce a woman to her bits and pieces, it’s a boob.) Both the author and the editor of this book are women, and so it’s not the hey-hey-baby kind of boob picture we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s much more beautiful, much more real, and therefore much more disturbing to those who’d prefer to forget that women’s bodies belong, you know, to people, people who age, who have moles and freckles, who are subject to gravity (though less of it, in the water). Ms. Yuknavitch does a better job than I can going in to the nuances of the conundrum (she also provides scads of fascinating links), but I have to point out how totally whacked it is that, in this day and age, people still think of the breast as a sexual object.
Because it’s not. Can it be used as such? Sure. But so can the hand. The lips. The toes, if you’re kinky. But we don’t ban pictures of those on Facebook. The breast is not a sexual object, it’s an amazing evolutionary development that allowed mammals to become the dominant class of animals on the planet. I mean, seriously. They’re brilliant. They allow us to make food for our children, and to have it available, any time, anywhere. It doesn’t spoil, and it provides exactly what they need, changing with their needs as they develop. (No wonder formula can’t hold a candle to it.) We should worship the breast, not as some plaything for men, but as the nearly miraculous gift that it is. Preparing to write this (I’ve been ruminating on my own “boob blog” since reading Lidia’s essay), I stumbled across an article about breastfeeding. I found the number of women who expressed revulsion at the sight of a child nursing to be depressing. One woman actually said that the breast is a sex object, and she didn’t want her children to see that! Oh, woe. That we have been so programmed by patriarchy to believe such a thing.
And that brings me back to the VIDA Count and the ensuing discussions of it online. While I saw some amazing, big-hearted responses from some men, mostly I’ve seen guys get defensive about it. What really gets my goat is when we’re told to stop whining, that we got equality back in the 70s, that we just like to play victim. That’s when I think about girls having acid thrown in their faces, or being railroaded into brothels, or left to die of fistulas after giving birth to children when they were children themselves, and too small to do it safely. When I see some young guy rant about reverse sexism, or the evils of quotas, I start to wish that something like the point-of-view gun from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were available. I’d like to see how they like it, being a woman on this planet. Mostly I’d like to see us move past patriarchy into gylany. As my favorite male Muslim feminist points out, patriarchy traps both women and men in its constructs. Seems like we should all be eager to free ourselves, and each other, from that trap.
2/26/2011 — This morning I ran across this, The War on Women, a NYTimes Editorial. So I’m not being melodramatic here.