Thursday, January 17, 2013

Women's Bodies as Public Property

[Content note: discussion of body shaming, rape culture, victim blaming, street harassment.]

Goodness, women sure take a lot of shit when they claim their bodies as their own private possession instead of public domain, don't they?

I've written about this in a lot of different ways before, because pretty much everywhere you turn as a cis woman, you're told that you're supposed to believe your body is not your own. Most recently, I've been reminded of this from a post I saw on Tumblr. Someone actually had the audacity to suggest that it's "female privilege" to say that you have a headache to avoid sex. (I can't find it right now to link, sorry!) Thankfully, someone following that importantly pointed out that what's REALLY going is male privilege, of course. When women might claim to have a headache to avoid sex, the really fucked up situation is that society has taught us that within heterosexual relationships...

1) men are entitled to sex unless there's a "good" excuse--and "I'm not into it right now" isn't good enough (no enthusiastic consent there, huh?)
2) women shouldn't openly state their actual feelings/desires
3) and women should carefully coddle the fragile male ego.

And beyond that, all I could think about how this is yet another example in the exhaustingly long list of shit women take when they decide to say, no matter how veiled, "My body is my own! You can't have it!" I mean, if you don't think the default view of the female body is as public domain, then you are living in a dream world. Let's just talk a quick walk through the ways that idea plays out:

  • There's the whole "you'd be a lot prettier if you didn't have all those tattoos" phenomena. 
  • The fact that women's worth is continually reduced to their fuckability factor--or in other words, women matter a lot more the closer they physically align themselves with what your average dude bro wants to fuck and the narrow definition of beauty white American culture has constructed. And heaven forbid a woman be fat (especially a celebrity) because that's, like, so low in fuckability! Ew!
  • And yet, hand-in-hand with that, we're continually reminded, through slut shaming, that it's not OK for us to express our sexuality through our clothes/bodies either, because then we're equally horrible.
  • We're seen as vessels whose sole purpose is to produce babies, even when we don't want to, and preferably male babies who will go on to do really great things. 
  • Even young girls are supposed to be concerned about how other people feel about their outward appearance down to how they style their hair
  • We exist in a world where it is common place for us to hear what random men think about our bodies, in the street. 
  • Rape culture, rape culture, rape culture, and rape culture which reminds us that our personal, private bodily integrity could be forcibly violated at any minute, and it's probably our fault anyway.
  • The sexist entitlement of men who whine about the "friend zone" because these horrible women just want to be friends with them and not allow them access to their bodies. 
  • Even elite female athletes and politicians can't be just valued for their contributions to our society--no, no. Conversation must turn to their clothes, hair, and bodies, because they're women, ya know! 
That's just what I can think of right now, off the top of my head. And it's just what I've witnessed and much more is out there? The message over and over is that, as a woman, your body is inherently open for public criticism, discussion, desire, and scorn. It's overwhelming at times and it's sickening once you see it and see it everywhere.

It's part of why it can be such a radical and liberating experience for me to love my body, to reclaim it, and to adorn it however I fucking please.


  1. Excellent post! How sad that loving and claiming your body is a radical act in this society.

  2. I agree with 95% of what you've posted, but the thing is, you can't really control what men value. If they value "fuckability," then it is your prerogative to ignore or criticize that phenomenon to your heart's content, but beyond that, changing their opinions would take force/hardship/exceeding amounts of cunning.

    1. Um, sorry, but what exactly is your point here? I haven't tried to force a change in anyone's opinion, but you better believe I am going to point out a fucked up sociological concept.

      Oh white people prefer to hire only white people? OH WELL THAT'S THEIR PREFERENCE. Oh legislators prefer to restrict abortion access? OH WELL THAT'S THEIR PREFERENCE. Oh some husbands prefer to hit their wives? OH WELL THAT'S THEIR PREFERENCE. Yeah, no.

  3. This incident occurred over 40 years ago. I was a college student walking 2 miles to the bus stop after an all night film festival on campus. I dressed down wearing an out of style coat which my aunt spent 25 cents for. I looked quite the opposite of sexy. I was aware of my surroundings. Along comes a white car with a NY license plate. Inside was an overweight man with warts on his face. His shirt was white and his sweater was black. He pulled over and reached out for me. I was terrified! I was able to get away and he followed me. My mind was in survival mode and I had to think quickly what should I do next. His car was still following me and when I approached my bus stop I had to hide behind the display windows of the store. My heart was in my throat as I could see him riding around looking for me. He could not see me so he decided to drive away.


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