Our Bodies, Ourselves: On HRC's Nomination and the Commodity of Women's bodies
Updated: Apr 28, 2018
This week, for the first time, a woman was nominated as a presidential candidate for a major party.
Also this week, Jessica Valenti, talented human, activist and writer and prominent social media presence received death and rape threats. That’s actually not news. Women—especially women who speak out about rape culture, misogyny, or who have the audacity to take pride and ownership in their bodies—get these kinds of threats daily.
However, these were threats to rape and murder her five year-old daughter.
I have nothing wise or original to say. I can only defer to those who are smarter and funnier than me who have examined the issue better than I ever could.
In Bossypants, Tina Fey writes about the woman, Rosalind Wiseman (woman standing on the shoulders of woman standing on the shoulders of…) upon whose book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, Mean Girls was loosely based. In Wiseman’s workshops with adolescent girls, she asks ‘When was the first time you felt like a grown woman and not a girl?’ As Queen Fey (I expect never to be forgiven by Beyoncé fans for using that term) points out, the answers in this workshop were rarely elder-driven, inspiring Lifetime TV moments were a mother, upon her child’s first menses, takes her out to watch the moon rise above the ocean and discusses how the moon cycle and her menstrual cycle are intrinsically linked. In fact, the majority of girls—and women—that you ask, will have stories that involve a man. Or in Fey’s words, “A dude being nasty” to them.
I was lucky in that my ‘Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon’ experience was relatively late. I was sitting on the Metro in Paris as an impressively naïve 15 year old on summer-long study abroad. My eyes drifted and wandered as they are wont to do, and I accidentally made eye-contact with an elderly man on the train across from me on the train. As I had been conditioned from birth to middle school, I smiled, like a nice girl does when meeting someone’s eye. Instead of an innocuous and vacant smile back, as I expected, I watched the man’s eyes narrow. His tongue lolled out of his mouth, and he began making gestures with his fingers and his tongue that it would take me years (impressively naïve, remember) to understand logistically, but that I understood viscerally right away. Although I had no words for it at the time, this old man—older-looking at the time, at least, than my grandpa—was sexualizing me. He was looking at my body, thinking of its various curves and crevices and holes, and making sure he knew that that’s what he was thinking. This was the first of many experiences—a great number of which I encouraged (out of low self-esteem, loneliness, need for attention, you name it)—that capitalized on this phenomenon. My body was no longer something that carried me around all day, giving me a place to drape flannel and NO FEAR t-shirts. My body was on the market. My body was a commodity and I had better learn how to capitalize on it (or hide it, protect it, flaunt it, depending on the situation).
This week, for the first time in over 250 years, a woman was awarded a major party nomination for President. Not just any woman, but one whose haircut has been scrutinized in detail for over 20 years, while she’s attempted to steer the conversation towards universal health coverage (remember? she tried that first). A woman whose choice of pant suit was considered equal priority news to her meetings with foreign leaders as Secretary of State. A woman who has been reminded over and over again that no matter what she does with her body and the brain that resides inside it, that that body is not hers.
This same week, a man felt comfortable with himself as he sat down, typed out intricate descriptions of rape and murder of a 5 year old girl he’d never met, and sent them to that girls’ mother.
I love Barack Obama. He’s kind, wise, measured, intelligent and completely morally crushable. I agree with a lot of Bernie Sanders’ stances and I’m glad he fought as hard as he did for long overdue progressive social causes (his privilege and ability to do so as an old white man is another post altogether, but still). But since 2008, there’s something deep within me that has wanted to see Hilary win.
I don’t know that anything will change, but is important to me for a woman to lead our country. A woman who, perhaps, also marked her journey into womanhood with “a dude being nasty” to her. It is important for that 5 year old girl to see a woman appointing Supreme Court Justices, issuing executive orders, and stealing that brain and that body from the market of public opinion and leading the goddamn country with it.