I got a bit grumpy this weekend when I stumbled upon this paragraph in an otherwise worthwhile New Yorker blogpost about the closing of Sisterspirit, a feminist, queer-friendly bookstore in San Jose, California. In it, author Eileen Reynolds described her experience at a recent show called “Girlpower: Survival of the Fittest,” performed by the mostly teenage members of the Project Girl Performance Collective:
While it was inspiring to see bright, confident young women holding forth onstage, I wished that there had been less discussion of bodies: bodies violated in sexual assault; bodies weakening with the effort to be thin; bodies that are beautiful, even if they don’t look like the pictures in magazines. The idea that your body is beautiful might help you get through the day, but shouldn’t true self esteem stem from one’s unique skills and insights? If I had my own girls’ (or women’s) collective, I’d declare a moratorium on bodies. We wouldn’t talk about beauty; we’d talk about ideas. And we’d read, read, read.
Okay, look. I confess that I’m a little tired of discussing the feminist implications of pin-thin models, bikini diets, photoshopped ads and whether our labia are cute enough. I’m sure y’all have your moments of intellectual fatigue on those issues too. And I love the idea that one’s self-esteem should be based only on one’s “unique skills and insights.” Unfortunately, that idea is is pure fantasy.
Reynold’s proposed moratorium on us talking about their bodies would be damaging, not empowering. Protesting the socio-cultural pressures on our bodies and seeing our bodies as strong and even (gasp!) beautiful is not just some girly nattering that helps us shallow and vain creatures “get through the day”—it’s how we can collectively reject the most damaging aspects of misogyny and take control of our health and well-being.
The moment women’s bodies—their reproductive abilities, their looks, their sexuality, their victimization—no longer have any social and political importance is the moment feminists can stop talking about our bodies and just “read, read, read.” When no one wants to regulate how we look, who we fuck, whether we have babies or not, and when zero women are abused or oppressed because of their female bodies, then we can quit talking about our bodies. And then I’ll ride my pink unicorn over the rainbow and we can all skip off together and live in a meadow. But for now, our bodies are the first thing—and sometimes the only thing—that society notices about us. Downplaying that reality by not talking about it could be dangerous.*
*That said, I’d get behind a moratorium on women talking specifically about other women’s bodies. Starting with this post.