After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.
It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.
But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.
There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. If you have an interest in understanding racism and the history of oppression in this country and the context in which we have evolved today, I highly recommend it. I want to quote one passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.
“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…
…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”
I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.
I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)
Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.
Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will.
As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.
We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful. This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth.
Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.
What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.
Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.