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.