The Female Body as a Shameful Thing


Look out for this weekly series every Monday by
The Feminist Reading List on Chai Kadai to explore the shapes and forms of feminism around the globe.
The first list brings you articles, songs, and open letters on how ‘shame’ is (/needn’t be) an ingrained identity of the female form whatever its shape or size or body part.


1. Everybody say, “Vagina”!

Most men and women still tend to get tongue-tied when it comes to uttering the V word in public. This either results in the collective skirting of the vagina and its issues, or in the usage of a rather long and sometimes interesting list of nicknames for this critical female body part. But no linguistic acrobatics can hide the truth here – we continue to be ashamed of the vagina and publicly acknowledging its existence is akin to sacrilege.

The Everyday Feminism site is the blog equivalent of a world-wise, liberal older sister. If you haven’t already seen it, we highly recommend that you read through its excellent, easily digestible thought pieces on modern-day concerns of feminism. Here’s an article on vagina hate: 5 Ways Society Breeds Vagina-Hate (And How to Combat It)

Now that we are on the topic, this is a good time to start discovering the magic of vaginas, and we found an excellent article on a (surprise surprise!) men’s magazine site to help you along: 12 Things Everyone Should Know About Vaginas (from Men’s Journal)

2. Historical Art and the Female Form

Vagina/vulva hate apparently goes back far in time and, unsurprisingly, found expression in art as well. If one decides to think about it, when was the last time you saw a vulva slit/opening in a public painting or sculpture of the female form? Heck, even the Barbies are as smooth as mayonnaise down there. Why is the penis acceptable on public art pieces but not the vulva?

The Fascinating Reason There Are No Female Genitals on Statues (from AlterNet)

Art Recommendation: The Great Wall of Vagina – “Changing female body image through art” (NSFW)

3. Big Boobs, Small Boobs

Ah, boobs! One of the most contentious topics that feminists can’t tire of suffering mental breakdowns over. Boobs (‘breasts’ are for medical articles!) continue to fascinate because they seem to be the literal focal point of the male gaze, and thus become an important feminist issue. Women are shamed for having both boobs that are too big, or too small. But then, no one can really classify what the perfect bust size is! So it continues – shaming women for possessing big boobs and daring to show any cleavage, or shaming them for being ‘flat-chested’ and thus ill-equipped to be used as satisfactory sex objects.

Open Letter: Big Bust Shame (from afterthree.net)

An alternate view presented here is this – why are breasts considered weapons of feminine shame in the first place? (from The Atlantic)

For some research help on the topic: Oppressive Beliefs And Breast Size Preference (from Feminist Philosophers)

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4. Crotch Sweat

As girls and women, we desperately wish to inhabit a world where people have come to terms with the fact that we bleed almost every month, pee and poo every day, and yes, sweat even around the privates when we exert our bodies. Till that day dawns, prepare to be bombarded with body-shaming ads selling panty-liners and sweatpants that hide the shameful pit stains that seem to inexplicably develop down there after you, gasp, work out at the gym. Not to mention all the male attention you risk missing out on because you dare to be sloppy and sweaty like a normal human being!

Unless, you are lucky enough to come across a man like this one: This Dude’s Response To Female Crotch Sweat Shame Is Perfect (from Bust.com)

5. Hide Your Sanitary Pads

Have you ever found it funny that most chemist stores in India display a phalanx of sanitary pad ads on their main showcase or doors but the moment you purchase a packet, it is promptly wrapped in a black little plastic cover before being handed to you? The idea of menstruation or the period is just about OK only till is presented in isolation. The moment it draws attention to the female anatomy, or what actually the period entails, it becomes a taboo topic. Generations of daughters have been raised to be ashamed of this absolutely natural physical transition and thus afraid of being seen with pads in public, or god forbid, with a maroon stain on their skirts.

The wonderful Menstrupedia movement is working to change this attitude – Ladies Keeping Periods A Secret From Men Is Unnecessary

And, here is what happens when you dare show on a social media site the consequence of the bleeding: Rupi Kaur Instagram Photo (The Huffington Post)

6. A Mother’s Body Can’t Possibly Be Sexy

Everything leading up to a baby’s birth is magical, only as long as you don’t mention the throwing-up, the weight gain, the tiredness, the water breaking, the vaginal dilation, the blood and the placenta, and all that! The problem with sanitising and soft-focusing motherhood for public consumption is that it breeds unrealistic expectations of mothers, most vicious of which is her prerogative to get back in shape pronto after delivery. The vapid celebrity culture doesn’t help the cause either, unless when some bold famous mothers come forth and flip their middle fingers at the fat-shamers. Find out how 13 celebrity moms stood up to “fat shaming”

7. Would you like to be a pearl or a lollipop?

It would be difficult to find a girl or a young woman who hasn’t ever been told to cover up or dress appropriately because her female form has the potential to attract (male) predators. It comes as benevolent advice, but hides this message – your form is vulnerable and ‘honourable’, and men are rapacious animals, so keep yourself sheathed at all times. Some communities tend to promote graphics that ideally should offend both women and men to drive home this point.

Women are neither pearls nor lollipops (TRIGGER WARNING FOR VIOLENT ASSAULT)

Ad for Hijabs! From Spirit 21 that reposted The National Article

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Immortality

(fiction by Shubashree Desikan)

A tiny dark shape scampered across the portico. Mesa glanced up, briefly pulled out of his reverie. ‘A squirrel’, he registered, his mind still floating restlessly here and there.

The last of the guests had left and Mesa was indulging the familiar empty feeling that comes after a huge party. What a special birthday it had been. ‘That may well be the last time I meet all of those friends together,’ he registered, sombrely.

It all went back to his meeting with Doctor Isai, a month ago.

***

Doctor Isai had greeted him at the doorstep, a very unusual casualness, ‘Hi there, Mesa! Come in and make yourself comfortable.’ He led Mesa into a plush consultation room.

Dressed in a pale pista-green shirt, his trousers hugging his slim form, Doctor Isai seemed to be exuding confidence, except for that shadow of concern in his hazel eyes. He put his arm around the older man’s shoulder almost hugging him and ushered him into a comfortable lounging chair.

The doctor’s warm and attentive behaviour was not new to Mesa. At 250 years of age, this was something he attributed to his seniority and to being the oldest patient under his doctor’s care. But this time, Isai’s face looked just a little too grim for it to be good news.

‘What’s the matter Doc? Am I a goner?’ Mesa asked abruptly.

Isai liked Mesa. He was an old charmer and that made what he had to tell him that much more difficult. After some preamble, he broached the issue. ‘You know, don’t you, that 65 percent of your brain has been replaced by synthetic neural tissue. That’s not all. Your body is almost fully automated. You have been pulling on with this and now face permanent damage to the remaining 35 percent of your brain. To put it bluntly, your brain has reached the end of its lifetime as far as we can tell’.

It was worse than what Mesa had feared. Now he knew the reason for his fatigue and breathless spells. He had at most three months to live with that brain.

Mesa meditated on this for a moment, and then he said with a little smile, ‘So that will be the end?’

‘No! Mesa I am not done yet.’ said Isai. ‘There is one way out. We could complete the process you have been already undergoing – replacement of your natural brain with substitute brain tissue grown from your own cells… but…’

So there was a way out, thought Mesa, why was Isai hesitating?

‘But what?’ he asked eagerly.

‘Here it is! Replacing the core of your brain fully will mean that you will lose every memory of your own life, every face, every single action, everything will be erased from your mind. You will lose yourself. What is more, you will lose every notion of ‘self’. Yet, you can continue to live and function in a different sphere.

‘You mean I will be a… a self-less organism, a robot?’

‘Something like that’, the doctor affirmed. ‘You will lose your consciousness of self. You can no longer live among your friends and family as you used to. It has been done before. You will be removed to National Space Services. You can work for outer space explorations. You can still serve humanity.’

Waves of emotion swept over Mesa – Pain, Desperation, a desperate helplessness. ‘Oh let me die,’ he exclaimed.

‘Not so fast’, said the doctor, somehow managing to smile. There was something strange in his voice, even sly, as he added. ‘You have trusted in the future so far. Each of the replacements done to your body was a blind step into the future. You can take such a step again. You could have the surgery, and place your trust in the future. Perhaps one day a reversal or improvement of your condition would become possible…’

Mesa promised to think over the situation and left the consultation room.

***

One month passed quickly. He summoned all his friends to ask should he opt for it or no, but he still had too many questions and the appointment was nearing.

Should he opt for surgery and just accept that the lease ends in three months? What is better – immortality or death, self or life? What would he be without a self? But then, he could at least be. Had he come this far to perish like every other ordinary being?

The last cigarette was lying in his case. Should he smoke it or not? He picked it up as if to light it. Right when it reached his lips, he drew it across his nostrils and took a deep deep breath. In that moment, his decision was made.

At peace now, Mesa un-hurriedly flicked open the mobile communicator embedded in his left palm to call Doctor Isai…

***

The author is based in Chennai, India. She has a PhD in physics and currently focuses on journalism and literary writing. Visit her blog to read her work in various magazines and newspapers.

Artwork: Heads and Brains / S Vowles/ Satire on George IV in support of Queen Caroline, his estranged wife. The new king spent much of the lead up to his coronation trying to get rid of her/ 1820 / The National Archives/ Flickr The Commons

Experience of a Third World Person

In 2003, in Istanbul, Doris Salcedo made an installation on an unremarkable street comprising 1,600 wooden chairs stacked precariously in the space between two buildings. This work functions as political and mental archaeology, using domestic materials charged with significance and suffused with meanings accumulated over years of use in everyday life. More than just a pile of chairs this work is more like sculptures that take on the resonance of something lost, broken or mended.  Salcedo uses both gallery spaces and outside locations to create vertiginous environments charged with politics and history.  . Be it the antique invention – a chair that everyone uses everyday or a crack on the floor (see the image below), the work makes one take a second look at what one has neglected for long. This work below, entitled Shibboleth 2007, runs the full 167 metres of the cavernous hall on London’s South Bank. It begins as a crack then widens and deepens as it snakes across the room symbolising racial hatred and division in society. Salcedo claims the work took her over a year to make, and apparently spent the past five weeks installing it in the Tate. But she refused to reveal how it was achieved! It has taken five weeks of work here with very considerable disruption to the hall. It’s not an illusion – it’s there, it’s real.

Source: http://whitecube.com/artists/doris_salcedo/http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ArtistWorks?cgroupid=999999961&artistid=2695&tabview=bio

What You See Might Not Be Real

The sculpture “What You see Might Not Be Real,” by Chen Wenling, was displayed at a Beijing gallery Sunday. A bull  ramming the biggest con man of all time, Bernie Madoff, into a wall. The huge cloud coming out of the bull’s rear symbolizes the danger of virtual bubbles in international financial markets. In a society based on desire and money, some people choose to create many false impressions, while others sadly fall for them.

Chen Wenling’s sculptures are the manifestations of extreme humanity and immaterial images in a consumption society. This  recent series blurs the directness of the social metaphor in an interesting way. The reality of ‘Consumer Society’ is so indeed. The consumer culture brought by the development of Chinese economy and the resulting material abundance exerts profound influence on them both in terms of visual perception and cultural context.

His self extreme condition begins from the series of “Red Boy”.  It is neither realism nor vanguard sculpture, but the self expression of Chen Wenling himself to the critical state of life. For example, dread, gladness, game and fancy are thebasic main motivations of his sculpture. This series of the “Red Boy” conveyshis experience in an autobiographic form. One is the allegorical sculpture forms and the other is the manifestations of extreme humanity.

source: chenling.com, odetoart.com

The cupcake travels to vegetable land and becomes a nudist.

The previous post was a sand creature passing on messages in a bottle to snow creature. This is another interesting stop motion animation called Sweet Dreams by Kirsten Lepore again (yes, we like him) where a cup cake travels to vegetable land, builds houses, becomes a muffin, meets a sweet squash potato, becomes a nudist and travels back to his desert land.

9 mins, 57 s, animation, 2008