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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Childless, Naturally

from Livemint.com (click to read full article)

English: Urvashi Butalia, publisher, writer an...

Urvashi Butalia runs a publishing house called Zubaan: an imprint of Kali for women.  Childless, Naturally is part of a just published collectionOf Mothers and Others: Stories, Essays, Poems, edited by Jaishree Misra. Urvashi writes,

I’ve set up my own publishing house, publishing books by and about women. I am fiercely passionate about this, it’s what gives me joy, it’s what involves me, I know this is what I want to do all my life. I want somehow to make a dent in the way the world sees women, to be part of that change. Is this madness, this obsession? Why didn’t I feel this way about children? Or am I just deflecting an unfulfilled desire? I’m told motherhood is a woman’s destiny, it’s what completes her. So what’s all this about publishing? But I don’t feel incomplete, or that I have missed my destiny. Is there something wrong with me?

In this essay, she explores how we choose to understand a woman and motherhood as one and the same. She asks, who is a mother? Does motherhood come naturally to a woman? Is it selfish if a woman is unwilling to have children? Can anyone be a mother? Can motherhood be learned? Is motherhood about unconditional love? If so, how or why do children pay back? Can mothers be violent? Is the relationship between a mother and a child always a wonderful one?

Childless, Naturally is very beautifully written. Please send it to anyone you know.

Families are diverse. Courtesy: Gender Anarchy

Families are diverse. Courtesy: Gender Anarchy