Monday, July 27, 2009

We've come a long way, baby, but we're not there yet

Four recent stories I read on Jezebel:

Men escorting women through protestors into Planned Parenthood and other clinics where abortions are provided are sometimes greater targets for violence than the women themselves, admonished by anti-abortionists for "letting your woman kill your child" and "not being a man and protecting your child."

The deaths of four young women in Canada, all related and of Afghan heritage, may have been "honor killings" performed by male relatives. Whether Islamic or tribal Afhan in nature, the possibility that men might murder their daughters or wives for living in a more autonomous way (as Canadian women do) is really disturbing.

Women who are followers of the Quiverfull movement are more likely to have unassisted home births (as in, no midwife or doula or any other sort of medical professional). It is unclear as to whether this is actually the choice made by the women themselves or by their husbands.

"Cankles" are the new muffintop, and women are having surgery to "correct" this "problem."

So what do all of these things have in common? Each story has an underlying element of the idea that women's bodies are not their own. I find it really telling, for example, that abortion protestors (while purporting to be concerned with the life of an unborn person) seem to be particularly displeased with men "letting" their wives, girlfriends, friends, what have you, have abortions. As though it's up to the men what should be done with a woman's body. Whether or not the murder of the four women was a family "honor" killing, we know that such things happen, and they happen as a result of women wearing clothing or behaving in a manner that their male relatives don't like. I guess it's up to the men to determine what a woman should be able to do, wear, or think, even in Canada.

As to the choice made by some Quiverfull women (the movement the Duggars belong to, a belief that it should be "up to God" how many children you have, so eschewing birth control completely), I think every woman should have the right to choose how to give birth, even if her choice is, in my opinion, misguided. Would I want to give birth at home with nobody to help? No way man. But if that's what someone wants to do, more power to her. What concerns me in this case is that the Quiverfull movement is also all about women submitting to their husbands, and whether women who are unused to making any autonomous decisions are actually deciding to have homebirths or whether their husbands are deciding for them. If that's the case, I have a big problem with it, because it's dangerous for both the mother and the baby, especially if the mother is unprepared or afraid of giving birth unassisted. Another example of someone else having power/control over a woman's body.

And finally, we have the big new no-no in women's bodies (because there always has to be something, right?): Cankles. As I understand it, cankles are the slang term given to women with large ankles, where it appears that the calf and the ankle don't have any division. I've always associated the term with pregnant women and older women with edema, who essentially have cankles because their ankles/feet are really swollen, but apparently society is now an arbiter of what is acceptable when it comes to the ratio of ankle size to calf size, and if your ankles and calves don't have a large enough discrepancy, you're supposed to seek out a personal trainer or surgeon to help correct the "problem." What I want to know is, WHAT PROBLEM? This is a matter of gross anatomy. People can't help the size of their bones and all the calf raises and ankle circles in the world won't change that. I find it offensive that there always has to be SOMETHING that women are supposed to hate about their bodies. Muffintops, for example, are easily "fixed" by wearing clothing that fits right. Cankles are not a problem. People's bodies are different, and not everyone has the same shape (though Hollywood and trashy magazines keep doing their best to convince us otherwise). When I was talking to Dan about the new media emphasis on the horror of cankles, I realized (and mentioned) that the concept of vanity being a bad or negative thing has pretty much disappeared in American society. It used to be that people who focused too much on their own appearance were considered shallow, but sometime in the last fifty years, that has changed, and now if you DON'T fixate on every little detail about your appearance (especially if you're a woman), you're unattractive at best. Has this obsession with women's bodies needing to fit into a certain mold of male- (or female?-) determined acceptableness turned us into a nation of narcissists?

Recently, Dan and I have been devouring Season 2 of Mad Men, an excellent show set in the early 1960s with a fascinating look at the sexual politics of the day and how men and women interacted in both workplace and social settings. It's about a lot of other things too, and has fantastic writing and acting so you should all watch it. (Season 3 starts in a couple of weeks, so now we are all caught up!) To me, one of the most interesting things about the show is that we're supposed to be shocked and appalled at times at the way women are treated by men (particularly in the workplace) and how women view and judge other women. But after these stories, after thinking about it and talking to Dan about it, while things may not be as blatant as being called "sweetheart" by male coworkers or being overtly hit-on on a regular basis, the differences between 1962 and 2009 aren't nearly as wide-apart as one would like to think. When society still feels that women's bodies belong to anyone other than themselves, when women are told to be concerned with yet another body part fitting a certain acceptable mold, and women's decisions and behavior should be dictated by their husbands or male relatives, this country (and this world) still has a long, long way to go.


Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I should probably be banned from academic discussions because my POV is so thoroughly bourgeois and pragmatic-but this is the way I really feel. I think the "feminist" movement in its 3rd wave is very fractured-as a movement it's less about women and women's rights and setting active goals than it is about academically wanking about the problems with the first wave and second wave of feminists.

And not that there weren't problems with those movements that presented oppportunities for re-evaluation, but, I dunno, they were more goal oriented? I feel like 3rd wave/pomo (err, these are all post-moderns right) are about non-issues I think are pretty f*cking stupid, or arguments over semantics.

Reclaiming words, heteronormativity, I'm-not-a-feminist-because-I'm-cool-guy's-girl, I-am-a-feminist-because-I'm-a-stripper/hooker/crackwhore/wear-a-tent-on-my-head/allow-my-husband-to-wear-the-pants, "if it works for YOU", I'm-owning-my-choice-to-be-a-heroin-addict BLAHBLAHBLAH. Okay dudes, what-the-eff-ever.

I'm not saying there's one particular "image" of a feminist out there as a power-lawyer with her kids in daycare and a resentful neutered man doing the dishes in the kitchen, and I know a lot of the noise (academic wanking) today is a result of people feeling like the old order was judgey and exclusionary. But chances are if you need to go through these super-lengthy contortions to explain why your choice "obey" your husband's every whim and/or participate in a gang bang for cash is a "feminist" choice, just maybe your life is a little f'ked up and weird?

I don't really think any group progresses without thinking very hard about where they want to go-and indeed, what do we want at this point? Again, my nasty pragmatic side rears its head and says "apply a reasonable person standard to what constitutes feminist goals" and follow through on them.

Unfortunately, I think until this happens, we're just stuck in a bunch of noise with "the establishment" happy-go-luckily shifting their crap on to women from a different angle-"You're boob job makes you a feminist" "How dare you judge my choice to have a tummy tuck!!!!!"

I don't agree with some of Barack Obama's policies (sorry but if my healthcare benefits are taxed as income I'm really going to hit the roof), but I appreciate a realistic planner with a vision and knack for directing hand-wringers to more productive pursuits than bickering and criticizing.

I really think until third wave makes way for a more organized fourth wave with that type of leader-we're forever going to be stuck with label of being someone else's property.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

My feelings on the label of "feminist" are best summed up here:

She just says it better than I can.

Hillary said...

* slow clap *

Yank In Texas said...

what the above people and you said.

Unknown said...

We led the way, but as with every aspect of democracy and rights, each generation must be vigilant in protecting what has been accomplished. Newer generations don't appreciate their rights fully because they have always had them. Learn your history, focus on what is fair for everyone. Don't let us down by giving away what we fought for. This goes for all rights, not just women's rights.

Cilicious said...

Some women contend with cankles, while others worry about being stoned to death.

I still think many women do what they do *for* or *to* their bodies not because of men, but because of other women.