My body, my muscles, my uterus, my choice

Forgive the radio silence between this post and last.  I’ve been dealing with a huge work project PLUS I have been trying to finish a zine in anticipation of next month’s Chicago Zine Fest, where I will be tabling as an exhibitor and also speaking on a panel.  If you live in Chicago, you should come by and say hi!

This week has been quite the week when it comes to learning which famous women’s bodies are not acceptable in the eyes of the world.  Oh, who am I kidding – every week is quite the week when it comes to the wild world of famous-woman-body commentary.

Truthfully, there’s nothing particularly special about this week beyond that I have learned that high fashion thinks Sports Illustrated cover model Kate Upton is too fat, that Karl Lagerfeld thinks Adele is also too fat and that commenters all over the internet think Kelly Ripa is too skinny.  To which I can only pull a Seth and Amy* and ask, “Really, high fashion?  Really, Scary Karl Lagerfeld?  Really, world?  Really?

But here’s the sad thing – I can’t even really get all that worked up about it anymore.  I am so used to seeing people use famous women’s bodies as fodder for conversation-sport that I would actually be more shocked if a day passed and I didn’t encounter that kind of talk.

And maybe at another time I’d pontificate about the stringent levels of policing faced by women who dare to exist in public, or maybe I’d feel like discussing the fact that it’s really sad that the word “fat” has become so loaded with negativity that it is automatically seen as an insult, but something else has been on my mind lately.

A couple of days ago I was reading “Female Trouble” by Elizabeth Gumport over at n+1, in which she reviews Chris Kraus’ latest collection of essays.  I know Kraus best as the author of “I Love Dick,” which I’ve been meaning to read for forever, but you know, stuff and things, and it’s Gumport’s discussion of that book that brings up this passage:

But privacy is a feminist issue, one that underlies so many others. As the labor movement made questions of “private” property and private time into public issues, women’s liberation swung open the door of the home to reveal the political dimensions of childcare and domestic labor.

The essay continues on in this vein, and if you are at all interested in that (or in post-structuralist theory or the gender politics of Semiotext(e) or experimental writing), then you might want to give the essay a skim.  But I quote it not necessarily for the content but because I read it just at the precise time that I was mulling the debate I’d seen unfold over whether or not Kelly Ripa was “ripped” on’s Facebook page and also all of the tomfoolery** going on over birth control right now.  What it all comes down to is this persistent societal belief that women’s bodies do not belong to them.  They belong to society, government, husbands, dudes on the street, randos on the internet – everybody but the women themselves.  And because I’m really not all that keen on acting like our bodies are somehow divorced from ourselves, I’ll just come out and say it – in the eyes of many, we are simply not people.

Even though law and philosophy and much of the sciences both hard and social have come around to acknowledging the ground-breaking truth that, yes, we ladies are actually people, there is still a portion of society that would really love to go back to the good ole days when we were counted as wealth alongside heads of cattle and acres of farmland.  But because it’s no longer legal for us to be private property, we now get to be public domain.  Sweet!

I think I’ve always sensed this on some level, although maybe it wasn’t quite as clear as it was now (and honestly, if this is Feminism 101, I’m sorry, I really am, I feel like I should have figured this out before now). In a way I think that my pursuit of physical strength – not skinniness, not pornified hotness, but legitimate strength – is motivated by a need to reclaim my body for myself.  It’s fueled by the belief that what I want for my body is what counts above all things, and that if you have a problem with that, if you think I ought to be more focused on being “hot” or having a productive uterus, you can get bent.

It’s not the only way to fight this encroachment on our bodily integrity, obviously.  I don’t think spending time in the weight room is an adequate replacement for political engagement, nor do I want to even seem like I’m suggesting such a thing.  I mean, it’s not like a thousand women doing pull-ups on the Capitol lawn was what caused the state of Virginia to back off the idea of forced transvaginal ultrasounds, right?  (Although it would be pretty cool if that were the case!)

But it’s a multi-front war, one that is trying to invade the most personal, vulnerable parts of us.  There are a million ways to resist, and what I have found is that one of the most effective ways for me to fight against all kinds of patriarchal bullshit has been to redefine myself as a human being of strength and power.  I’ve found that’s particularly potent in a culture that insists on defining women as creatures of inherent weakness of body and mind.

Your means of resistance is most likely different from mine, and that’s okay, because what matters the most is that you have the right to choose for yourself.

*Amy Poehler is one of my personal heroes, not least of all for the perfect way in which she pounded her fist on the Weekend Update desk and screamed, “Don’t tell me what to do!”  RIGHT ON SISTER.  I am seriously considering making that my motto in life.

**I know I should probably use a different word to describe it, one that more accurately captures the seriousness of what’s going on, but honestly, to see these be-suited, be-duded human dial tones drone on and on about the ethics of birth control while like 95 percent of the country is watching and going “The fuck?  I thought this shit was settled already” is almost farcical in its absurdity.  I mean, even the church in which I was raised – the MORMON CHURCH, for those of you who do not know – has no issue with birth control.  When you are more conservative than Mormons, you know it’s time to check yourself.

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9 responses to “My body, my muscles, my uterus, my choice

  1. I’ve been thinking about this lately as well. I’d never thought of it in terms of being public property but I think that makes sense. I cannot believe some of the things coming out of people’s mouths lately. Apparently women can’t be trusted to make any decisions and men can’t be trusted to act properly around women. It reminds me of the church of my childhood that beleived women couldn’t wear a two piece swimsuit because it would “tempt” men (they have no personal reaponsibility or self control?). It’s interesting that all the people who claim personal responsibility is at fault for being overweight or obese have a different view when it comes to sex and reproductive rights.

  2. Amen! Although I am sorry to report that the Conservative Party is in charge up here in the great white North, at least we’re not debating the legality of birth control and abortion (yet). Another example of famous woman body commentary, Jessica Simpson is getting flak in a variety of places for being too heavy. She’s gestating a brand-new human being but God forbid she put on the wrong number of pounds.

  3. This: ” I think that my pursuit of physical strength – not skinniness, not pornified hotness, but legitimate strength – is motivated by a need to reclaim my body for myself. It’s fueled by the belief that what I want for my body is what counts above all things, and that if you have a problem with that, if you think I ought to be more focused on being “hot” or having a productive uterus, you can get bent.” is BRILLIANT. You put it so well – I totally agree. And it’s nice to hear a real feminist point of view (as opposed to people who while probably well-intentioned, blatantly misuse the term.)

  4. Pingback: Grateful Monday (2) « Little Bit of Lisa·

  5. What a great post!

    I think you hit on a few things that I was feeling but was never able to articulate nearly as eloquently as your post did. :) I’m also do weight lifting (have lost almost 80lbs now) and in a way I see me lifting weights as a way of fighting against the “ideal feminine form”. What’s ironic is that since I started lifting my body probably does fit more into an ideal form (from others perspective).

    So often it was pounded into my head when I was younger that lifting would “bulk you up” or turn you into some she-hulk. Instead, it’s made me stronger, given me more energy to play with my daughter, probably even extended my life. I love feeling strong, knowing that I can carry many bags full of groceries how without a problem, fix stuff around the house, throw my daughter in the air etc. Weight lifting is something I always enjoyed but I felt like I was constantly driven off of it when I was younger but what I was supposed to look like rather than what I wanted to do.

    • Thank you for all of your recent comments on my posts! I like how you describe all of the positive benefits you’ve gotten out of making your body stronger. It’s definitely a huge thing to move from thinking of yourself primarily in terms of “how you look” to thinking of yourself in terms of “what you can do.” I’m all about becoming active agents in our lives and moving beyond the idea that we have to be pretty to look at in order to be worthy of existence.

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