|Look at that adorable kid. Via Brand New Traveler's Eyes|
So, okay. I'm going to say a slightly shouty thing. Here it is: America is a pretty good country in a lot of ways. It is not, however THE BEST COUNTRY EVAAAAR, and it does not have a particular moral monopoly on righteousness. But you could be easily fooled on that one. Google the word "burqa" and most of what you'll get is a bunch of Americans doing the one-note scream about OPPRESSION ZOMG. In the past, I've figured that this is because Americans like it when other countries are less than awesome, because then they can feel really good about themselves and America and whatnot and continue to believe that All We Do Is Win, etc. But now I'm thinking that maybe that? is actually a simplistic view of a simplistic view. Because, well, things looked a little different from under the burqa...
|This could have been me. My hands look a little like that. Seen|
like this, without the tanks and tents and sad babies, it's a little
harder to comparmentalize, no? Via topz10s.com
That is to say, I stopped being conscious of how I looked.
I'm an artist model and a dance teacher. I'm used to thinking about my body in space; I'm used to thinking about how my body looks. I'm conscious of myself, albeit in a positive way, almost all the time. I have an image of myself in my mind's eye whether I'm walking down the street or making dinner. It's unconscious at this point. Further, I'm used to being looked at. I get looked at more than a lot of people do, of course, because, like I said, artist model -- I'm naked for a living -- but also because, well, you know, that's what happens when you walk outside and you're not wearing a burqa. (Of course people still look at you when you're wearing a burqa. It's just that they don't see you, if you see what I mean.) So the experience of visualizing myself and literally not seeing me was -- fascinating.
Let me say this right now: I cannot speak for women who actually wear the burqa, either by choice or no. The burqa is an oppressive garment in some contexts and not in others, and I am simply not well-versed enough in Muslim culture and history to make any kind of generalization or judgement about the situation of those who wear variations of the veil. This piece of writing is not about the burqa in the context of Islam. It's about the burqa in the context of my own personal relationship to privacy and publicity, and what the experience of donning this particular garment got me thinking about. That is, I'm not here to make a value judgement about the burqa as an item of clothing, but rather to think about what leads Americans (specifically, me) to make value judgements about the burqa as a symbol and icon.
Because here's the thing. When I put the burqa on, I didn't think HELP I'M IN JAIL.
You want to know what I thought? (Of course you do.)
I was thinking about the burqa as a symbol of oppression, because I'm not sure that anything other than an awesome, thoughtful class on Iranian Cinema in college ever really taught me to think of it as anything else. It's the visual sign of everything that seems foreign and alien and backwards and repressive about the Middle East, even if you're a progressive-minded liberal like me and you totally don't see the big deal about the President's middle name. before this experience, if I thought about the burqa at all, it probably went something like this: I want to be forward thinking about Islam, of course! I want to be respectful of different cultural customs! But those damn burqas, man. It's one thing if the women who wear them can choose. But what about the women who have no choice? Except, under the burqa, it was harder to wrap my head around why it was so all-fired important for me to show my body all the time. It wasn't claustrophobic. It wasn't unpleasant. It was almost calming. And I got to thinking, well, okay, so there's this whole thing about my acceptance of this custom hinging on choice, well, am I so certain that I have a choice in how I dress?
|See, this? This misses the point. Or rather makes it.|
Via Silk Roads & Siamese Smiles
It surprised me that I had never had this thought before.
So, actually, I don't have complete choice. I mean, yes, I can wear a burqa if I really want to (though there are countries where it is forbidden) but the act of doing so is an incitement to suspicion and mumbles of terrorist and generally speaking, just wanting some damn privacy is seen as such a totally foreign desire that I can't have it without being hassled another way.
What this says to me is that we, as a culture, are not doing so hot on the whole idea of the body as a private thing. Oddly enough, this week I encountered not one but two articles that kind of clicked into place while I was thinking about this.
The first was an essay I read by Katia Hetter about not owning her child's body. She writes that she is teaching her daughter that she doesn't have to hug grandma - or anybody else, ever. Hetter says that she's teaching her child to be respectful, gracious, and welcoming, but that she will never, ever, ever demand that her child show physical affection for anyone. Period.
|I thought this was hilarious. I'm |
honestly sorry if you found it totally
offensive. Honest. Via Motifake
What a concept. Another choice quote from the article:
"When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend's feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them," said Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a nonprofit specializing in teaching personal safety and violence prevention. "This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so 'he'll like me' and kids enduring bullying because everyone is 'having fun.' "
Yup. I'd say that's about right. Do I think that being forced to kiss that aunt you hate necessarily leads to a feeling that your body isn't yours, or that being allowed to not kiss said awful aunt definitely protects you from ever feeling like your body isn't yours? Hell, no. But it's a start.
Ursula Wagner, a mental health clinician with the FamilyWorks program at Heartland Alliance in Chicago, adds that forcing a kid to display affection "sends a message that there are certain situations [when] it's not up to them what they do with their bodies."
That is, it's pretty darn easy to give kids the message that their bodies - our bodies - are not actually private.
The other piece I read was a lot harder. Rosie, of the excellent, honest blog Make Me A Sammich recently wrote a post called A Brief History (The Bad Parts Version) (note: multiple trigger warnings). In it, she writes about the timeline of abuse that has led her to become a feminist. By the time she was nine, multiple people had made it clear to her that her body was not hers to control. It didn't get better. She is a smart, brave, thoughtful, articulate woman, and she writes clearly and very, very powerfully about what happened to her. It is absolutely worth reading. It is absolutely not easy to read. And it shouldn't be. Except that one of the worst parts of reading her post was the knowledge I was carrying, the whole way through, that what happened to her is not unusual. Not surprising. It's commonplace. Ordinary. For me, that's maybe the hardest thing of all. The adults who laughed it off, who didn't notice, who didn't help, who did the things that took her right to own her own body away from her - they're everywhere.
By the age of ten, she writes, I was really starting to get the feeling it was just me.
|Bingo. Via Literate Lobsters Are Literate|
When I say the word privacy, and the desire for it and the right to it, I mean specifically the privacy of the body: sovereignty over the self, the right to keep your body apart from any and all other bodies if so you desire. And when I say that we have a f!#&ed up relationship to privacy, what I mean is that we don't get taught that we own our own bodies. That's why what Ms. Hetter said and what Rosie said and what I thought about what if I wanted nobody to look at my goddamn body all go together in my head: because they're all things that center around the crazy fact that somehow we've neglected to think of our own bodies as being ours. Not the way that property, say, is ours. Our property, see, is something we very much respect -- and we respect the property of others, too.
For example, take a house. Your house. You own it.
If you invite someone for dinner at your house, and they start acting like a dickbag, nobody will ever question you for throwing them the hell out and slamming the door. Nobody will ever say to you, "But you promised them dinner! You said they could come in!"
|Except squirrels. Everybody has to accept that|
squirrels are totally gonna steal your shit and
you totally do have to put up with it.
Via Troletti Photo
No matter what you have in your house, nobody will ever tell you that you deserved to be burgled just because you had a nice TV and you didn't close the window. They might think you were a bit naive, maybe, if you lived in a bad neighborhood and didn't lock your door -- but it certainly isn't your fault some dickweasel busted in and took your stuff, and certainly nobody would ever suggest that the aforementioned dickweasel had a right to your flatscreen just because you didn't put bars on the window, or because the screen was visible from the street.
Nobody is allowed to go in your house without permission. Ever. No matter how old you are, or if you're drunk, or if you left the back door open. Not telling them they couldn't go in your house is never considered the same as saying they could.
No matter what a dick you are or how nice your house is, anybody who paints it ugly colors or smashes your windows gets punished. Under no circumstances is it okay for somebody to vandalize your home. People are shocked and horrified when damage occurs, and ensure that the perpetrator is held accountable.
If someone knocks on your door, you don't have to open it. Everyone will understand if you don't want to talk to random people on your porch, even if they're being nice.
If you live in a bad neighborhood, no one will ever accuse you of being totally unreasonable for being suspicious of anyone who lingers too long around your place. Even if you don't live in a bad neighborhood, if you've ever had your house broken into at any time, no one will fault you for being cautious. And anyone who hangs around trying to peer in your windows is understood by all to be a serious creep.
Even if you give someone a key to your house, you have the right to take it back at any time, or tell them that you don't want them to come over tonight, even though you usually like having them there. And there is no justification for anyone being in your house without your explicit invitation, for any reason, at any time. None. Nobody will argue with that. Sometimes miscommunications happen, but nobody has the right to refuse to leave your house because of them.
|Right? Like, you see this fence, and you're like, DUDE, what an|
AWESOME FENCE. And then you don't go in the damn house
because it's NOT YOURS. Via The Morrighan
People who don't know when they're not welcome in somebody's house are universally seen with scorn and distaste, as are people who try and force their way in (at parties, say) when they know they're not wanted. You have sole discretion over who comes into your house and who stays out, and no one will ever question that.
In fact, in some states, you are legally justified in shooting dead some dinkhead for just setting foot on your property without permission. I am not saying this is a good law. This is the reason Trayvon Martin is dead. But it is a law. On the other hand, you are not allowed to break someone's arm because they pinched your butt on a bus in Florida, let alone shoot them in the back. This, more than anything, illustrates the fact that your body is not considered your property, and trespasses against it are trivial.
But, as it happens, your body is a house. It is the first house and the last house of your soul and your heart and your mind. This is not a metaphor or an analogy. Your body is your property. We are not taught this. In fact, we're not taught it to such an extent that it took me putting on a piece of clothing usually associated by Americans with the utter obliteration of the rights of women to even make me notice that for some bizarre reason my (theoretical) house is considered more inviolable than my own body. But there is, in fact, no difference. Our bodies belongs to us and they are our own goddamn kingdoms.
So this is a blog about joy, right? What's with all this dark stuff, huh? Well, joy doesn't happen when you lightly gloss over the horrible, awful, bad stuff that eats the experience of joyousness alive. I think we have to talk about it, Rosie writes–the good, the bad, the horrifying–if we want things to change. It took me nearly half a century to wake up, but here I am in my bathrobe, drinking my coffee, working out a plan for the next 50 years.
I don't want to wear a burqa all the time (and I really don't want to argue about whether or not the burqa, as a piece of clothing, is repressive or freeing or whatever; my singular experience with one has absolutely no bearing on the matter and gives me exactly zero insight into the conversation). I just wanted to write about the stark and bizarre realization that getting myself wrapped up in a nice piece of fabric opened up in my brain: hey, guess what? America doesn't really care much about making sure you know your body belongs to you. Your house, yes! Your car, yes! But your body? Naw, dude. Not so much. But maybe, maybe, if I keep standing up and saying THIS HERE BODY BELONGS TO MEEEEEE, and you go ahead and sing along, eventually we'll no longer be in the peculiar position of living in a society where I can kill somebody for stepping on a piece of dirt that belongs to me but not for laying a hand on the territory of my body.
That's a more simplistic ending than I wanted. I was hoping for something deeper. Not sure I got anything else. Just -- I liked being invisible. I liked the privacy. I liked feeling like my body belonged to nobody but me. But then, after all, what could belong to me more?
I love you all.