Tag Archives: the female body

If men could get pregnant….

24 Oct

When I was in high school, I remember this bumper sticker:

I didn’t really grasp the strength of the rhetoric, nor did I know that it was a quote from an amazing African American feminist–Florynce Kennedy:

The point is, I was thinking about the statement today, as I heard about the most recent remark in favor of complete abortion bans, this one by Indiana republican Richard Mourdock. He expressed the following gem at a recent debate: “The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”


This extremely profound expression of compassion and empathy sounds even better when put to the trauma test. Tsunamis, genocide, child abuse, earthquakes, rape–all are events that God wanted to happen, and must therefore be considered gifts. But we’re not talking about the Biblical parable of Job here; specifically, something that will most likely never happen to Mourdock, is something that he insists a rape victim must consider to be a gift.

Think on this: Rape has been used as a weapon of war, as an instrument of torture and soul-killing, in the Serbian rape camps, by Congolese paramilitary soldiers, and in thousands of other examples across the centuries. Specifically, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, Serbian soldiers corralled Bosnian women into camps wherein they were raped for months on end. The goal was not just to torture the women, but to impregnate them, sowing their seeds for a future Serbian generation (and ensuring a life of shame for the raped Bosnian woman). Whether one believes in a God or not is an obfuscation here: these acts do not take place in a sphere where gifts–as such–occur.

Mourdock’s remarks, prefaced as they are with his admission of having “struggled over it for a long time,” clearly reveal his complete inability to look, feel, see, envision, guess, at what another person might be feeling after such trauma.

But I misspoke. It isn’t “another person,” it’s a woman. Mourdock’s description of “struggling,” very clearly and sadly emphasizes his complete, presumptious disconnect. The ongoing tragic irony of these incessant and ridiculous declarations concerning rape and abortion have all been made by men, about women’s experiences. The fire, fury, and righteousness of their mandate occurs in the vacuum of their sex and gender. In 1998  the artist Barbara Kruger produced this poster for the New York subway system:

 14 years later, what’s changed? (Perhaps the former percentage is now higher?)

Back to the notion of “sacrament.” Arguably, the two most famous mothers are the Virgin Mary and Mother Theresa. Hmmm, both were virgins! So, two of the most historically revered mothers in the Western world were not literally mothers at all. Maternal, submissive, self-sacrificing. But nothing went into their vaginas and nothing came out, they remained pure of defilement, empty vessels. This is relevant because, in all this talk about abortion and rape, there’s been little talk about the woman and the mother herself. And, as usual in the anti-abortion argument, near zero talk about the child once s/he’s born. Further, in all the ranting about rape and its “gifts” I haven’t heard a single politician mention rape counseling and support groups, or the funding for such. In this blog I have often ranted about the anti-abortion movement’s obsession with the fetus as a kind of figment, an abstraction encapsulating the movement’s fervor; but I think that the woman herself remains a figment in a similar fashion, what’s done to her body seen solely hypothetically. Also, the movement’s recent emphatic shift to the eradication of the “rape or incest clause” previously allowed by the right, drags the abstraction of pregnant woman even further into the absolutist mire of Christian fundamentalism. It’s not about the woman, it’s about the embryo/zygote/fetus. It’s not about the woman, it’s about (my) God.


Medals for Supermodels

13 Aug

The Olympics closing ceremony was an epic spectacle of cars, rock stars, wannabes, athletes and supermodels. Supermodels? Dressed in notable British fashion designers, the 8 women and 1 man strutted, posed, vamped and preened for the world audience, and for all those thousands of athletes who have spent years working towards the event of the 2012 London Olympics.

What were these 9 doing on the world’s loudest stage?

Being fabulous because they were born that way…

But isn’t that kind of “talent” and lifestyle the very things that the Olympics gives the lie to? The very way-of-being that the effort and strength and will manifested by all participating in the Olympics reveals to be based on superfluousness, triviality, artificiality and superficial standards? Being skinny and tall and wearing a $10,000 dress is not equal to being skinny and tall and spending 15 of the first 20 years of one’s life jumping hurdles. However, displaying these glamazons on a stage that many of the struggling athletes who did not achieve medal greatness were not elevated to produces a standard wherein the models are bestowed a degree of superiority and elevated eliteness that the others are not. Such a production implies the physical and symbolic superiority of the supermodels to be on a par with the Olympics’ participants, which in turn works to dampen and dispel the actual magnitude of the participants’ efforts and unique experiences.

Yeah, okay, it’s the closing ceremony, not a medals ceremony. Well, it’s not a fashion show either. The only super-tall, attention-gathering ladies gracing the arena’s stage should be long-jumping, volleyball-tossing, 800 meter running, soccer goalies.

The true Olympic supermodels:

Prometheus: Male Surgical Procedures Only

5 Jul

When Prometheus‘ Dr. Elizabeth Shaw discovers she is pregnant with an Alien baby, her spontaneous response is to remove it from her body immediately. Kept sedated by the malevolent android, she feigns sleep, knocks out several orderlies, and runs to the nearest (and only) robotic medical surgical pod. Typing her request–C-Section–into the keypad, an electronic voice insists “Male surgical procedures only,” the pod then attempting to terminate the exchange. Shaw overrides the shutdown, typing instead “abdominal surgery” into the keypad. The pod opens! And Shaw begins the process of removing a deadly monster from herself.

Despite the horror and general grotesquerie of the scene–Prometheus‘ best, by the way– the real-world implications here are redoubtable. Stranded on a spaceship 2 lightyears away from earth, Shaw turns to the only medical help available for her singular problem. What she finds is not assistance, but negation based on the very fact of her sex and her condition. She’s resourceful however, using reinterpreted keywords and scientific know-how to cut herself open and get the job done. If only it was so easy…!

The Muslim Brotherhood and the female anatomy

19 Jun

Despite the fact that former authoritarian ruler Mubarak banned the archaic and brutal custom of female genital mutilation throughout Egpyt, there are recent reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has organized a mobile “medical” van that has been travelling through southern areas of Egpyt, with female genital mutilation as one of its principle “surgical” procedures.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been a subject of intense controversy and condemnation for decades now. At first, defenders of the practice referred to its “cultural” importance, decrying those western imperialists who sought to preach to others. Now, it’s being justified as a religious practice, which in turn renders those who attempt to curb its practice as Islamophobes.

But religion’s got nothing to do with it. And, even if it was a cultural practice, a tradition–who cares?! Traditions and cultures change and evolve as do their peoples. The slicing off of 1/4 to 1/3 of a female’s genitals do nothing other than lead to constant, chronic pain for the rest of a girl’s life. Intense pain during urination, sexual intercourse and childbirth; an increased susceptibility to disease and infection; an inability to feel anything other than throbbing, searing agony during sex: these are the after-effects of slicing off the external front area of the clitoris and lips of the vagina.

The tools: a few razor blades.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to the practice might mean that those knives are a little cleaner, but it must be demanded as to why they are propagating such brutal, hateful, torturuous practices? Why have The Faith and Justice Party members of parliament (including a female politician) denounced the existing law which criminalizes fgm, and stated their support for its continued practice?

The Muslim Brotherhood runs an extensive community outreach program, providing health, education and other social services. This benevolent arm of the party undoubtedly also serves as terrific propaganda for it, enabling its politicians to claim greater understanding of Egytian citizens’ needs and desires. So, if female genital mutilation is being done via the Muslim Brotherhood’s medical vans, this means that fgm is considered part of the party’s community outreach. Slicing off parts of a young girl’s body is part of the community outreach in which it is engaging.


Further, by providing the service via a “medical” van, the Muslim Brotherhood strives to give fgm legitimacy, supposedly rendering the procedure safe and presumptive. By advertising its services as “surgical circumcision for males and females,” it equates the two, and further attempts to justify fgm by referring to it as “surgery.”

See? It’s done to men too. Except male circumcision doesn’t lead to chronic pain, generally does not welcome numerous infections, and definitely doesn’t prevent sexual pleasure. Female genital mutilation is exactly what it describes: mutilation. A girl’s female parts are scarred for life; she is forced to bear the pain of her sex until the day she dies.

The Beauty of the Olympic Body

31 May

Heptathlete and Olympic hopeful Jessica Ennis was recently denounced as “fat,” by a senior official at UK Athletics. The 26-year old is in the top 10 in her field worldwide, making the sprinting, hurdling, throwing woman likely in pristine and elite physical condition.







Two-time Olympic Gold-winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington has announced that she is abandoning her Twitter account during the London summer Olympics because of the near-constant abusive criticism she receives concerning her appearance and personality.                                                  


What is going on here? What is at stake for random Twittering fools and members of UK Athletics with these forms of criticism? To judge a gold-medal winning swimmer for her “beauty”–whatever one’s particular standards of such may be, is totally and utterly irrelevant to her profession, public persona, and place in the world. To refer to a woman who likely engages in extreme physical activity for several hours a day, at least six times a week, as “fat” is foolhardy, false, and suspicious.

Further, how can this type of misogynist criticism be anything other than destructive when these women are preparing for some of the biggest competitive events each will face in their lifetimes? In addition to their daily training, mental and emotional preparation, and publicity events, they must also be expected to act and look as if they are in a beauty pageant? Hateful nonsense.

The day I hear tell of Bernard Lagat’s weight being ridiculed, or Michael Phelp’s attractiveness serving as indication of his physical and athletic greatness, is the day I win Miss Universe.

Joan and the Jaguar

30 May

This Sunday’s episode of Mad Men–entitled “The Other Woman”–concentrated on the career paths of three of its central female characters: Joan, Peggy, and Megan.  Though all 3 face significant choices and pitfalls, I want to focus on Joan’s trajectory in particular; she is the most consistently interesting character in my mind, and the majority of the critical response since Sunday has been concerned with her experience.

I do not want to summarize the episode’s content, there are plenty of TV review guides available on-line for that. Instead, I want to try to parse out how Joan’s plight and her responses to it are depicted. 

Tiny briefing: Faced with another opportunity to land the Jaguar account, SCDP is informed by a mid-level player on the Jaguar team that he will not sign on unless he is provided with Joan as a “date.” Too easily, the men of SCDP go along with this indecent proposal, and its then suggestion to Joan conveys this clearly. Weighing her options, gazing into her future as a single mother, office manager and working class woman, Joan appears to realize that it is ultimately in her best (i.e. pragmatic) interests to accept the ugly, fat, married, car dealership owner’s offer (i.e. ultimatum).

Simultaneously, the “creatives” at SCDP are producing their successful Jaguar pitch, tagline–“Jaguar: at last, something beautiful you can truly own.” This ominous-sounding propriertary declaration appeals to the Jaguar executives, and SCDP rules the day. Joan’s prostitutional sacrifice undoubtedly helped the agency’s odds, and as they celebrate Joan smiles at no one in particular and looks more sphinx-like than ever.

Dozens of critical responses have appeared after Sunday’s show, the lion’s share in agreement at “The Other Woman”‘s brilliance–or at least its functionality as entertainment: 

Emily Nussbaum decides that, although she does not believe that Joan’s decision was “realistic,” she still concludes that “as TV, it worked.” http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/05/mad-men-season-five-episode-eleven.html

Matt Zoller Seitz interprets the episode as just one more evocative example of women’s near-constant objectification as the Other in relation to the male, and how women are forced to both constantly negotiate with and transcend this, in symbolic, structural, physical, literal, cultural and material ways.  http://www.vulture.com/2012/05/mad-men-joan-jaguar-recap.html

Samantha Zalaznick concludes that Don Draper is steadily losing all his women:             http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samantha-zalaznick/emmad-menem-recap-little_b_1553783.html?ref=entertainment&ir=Entertainment

NPR columnist Linda Holmes, who states that although “The Other Woman” may be a highpoint for some, for her it is a “serious and profound misstep.” http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2012/05/29/153908787/mad-men-ruminations-on-the-buying-and-selling-of-something-beautiful

Why has one episode generated so much chatter? Is the indecent proposal itself so shocking? Is the fact that Joan is finally getting some serious airtime that is producing all the excitement? For me, “The Other Woman” brilliantly represented the general allure of and pleasure from Mad Men that I almost always receive. Its 60’s setting allows it to depict scenes that we–the contemporary audience–all recognize but happily believe to be in the past. But then, the images, the trauma, the emotions linger, leaving me/one/us to wonder…are things really so different?

“The Other Woman” produced these feelings in me. As I sat watching, wondering how things have changed, if things have changed, in what ways things have changed, a Stella Artois commercial appeared:                         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSMTA-9LlGk                                                                                                                                                         A 60’s French ye-ye song plays as a young, beautiful, long-haired woman showers and readies herself for a party. The segments of her tasks and her body are displayed on several interlocking screens, reminiscent of “The Brady Bunch” introduction, or “The Hollywood Square” game show set; the 2011-made advertisement is intended to signify as “retro,” 60’s cool, and is obviously intended as a kind of reflection of the television show during which it’s airing.  The woman’s all ready to go, a beer is being poured, its foam sliced off the top of its stein, and the advert’s concluding words appear on screen: “She’s a thing of beauty.”

Are Joan and her Jaguar really that distant from the ideas generated in a commercial such as this? Can the tromp l’oeil excuse–that the ad’s merely a component of the show it’s interrupting–really minimize the literal and symbolic segmentation and objectification it’s depicting? And, most uncomfortably, might this commercial’s success indicate that Mad Men might not be quite so subversive or critical or thoughtful as assumed?

Yes, obviously, female executives most likely no longer feel pressure to literally prostitute themselves for promotion; but one of the reasons Mad Men resonates so strongly is because of the power of its scenarios and their symbolism, the way in which each episode can evoke reactions to the past, pondering over the present and wonders about the future.

“At last, something beautiful you can truly own” and “She’s a thing of beauty” are both speaking to the same audience, directed to the male viewer who desires the other (woman).  Both advertisements are produced in 2011, and placing themselves hypothetically in an imagined 1966. So, are the views expressed representative of then or (nearly 50 years later) now?

Football in the Ukraine

30 May

For the second time in a month, protestors from feminist action group FEMEN grabbed ahold of the Euro 2012 trophy cup.


Why are these acts garnering international attention? Well, because the women grabbing one of the world’s biggest football prizes are topless.

Members of the Ukranian feminist collective FEMEN have sweet-talked their way into promotional events for the European championship begining in June across Poland and the Ukraine, proceeding to subvert the events’ activities according to their own agenda. At issue for FEMEN is the likelihood of increased “sex tourism” during the tournament, a crisis that the members of FEMEN place at the forefront of their policy revolution. One of their central platforms is titled “Ukraine is not a Brothel,” and is devoted to the eradication of the burgeoning prostitution industry  in Ukraine, with its “sex tours,” red light districts, and tacit government sanction.


Would the activities of FEMEN receive so much attention if its members were clothed and/or unattractive? Probably not. Or, put another way–would the activities of FEMEN receive a more negatively-slanted form of publicity if its members were clothed and/or unattractive? Most definitely.

This being the case: that a pretty topless woman gains more curiousity and unwavering attention than a clothed ugly woman– can it also be surmised that the likelihood of the topless ingenue’s ire will be more objectively considered? Her rage at the system of female sexual enslavement, subordination and inequality cannot be written off as the irrelevant concerns of a harridan. For she is no harridan! No sir, she is a hot, sexy, skinny, nubile babe.

But, cannot it also be surmised that, in her more naked state, she is not just working within the system but validating it? Does a young beautiful woman with “Fuck Euro 2012” painted across her breasts assist in the destruction of a chauvinist state or a misogynist structure or a sexist sport culture?