Monday, 16 December 2013

Public Bodies

The idea that women’s bodies are not their own is not a new one.  The sidebar of shame in the Daily Mail peers with lascivious long lens at women it has deemed to not meet their high standards. Should a woman dare to not lose the baby weight overnight, or shock horror develop wrinkles or cellulite it is deemed worthy of highlighting for the world to see.

If you are a woman who fails to fit the accepted norm, and the norm is cis white and size 6 it seems, then the world believes it has a right to access your body at any time. Women of colour shocked me when they spoke of complete strangers touching their hair, visibly pregnant women have their stomach touched, trans women have their appearance commented on, Muslim women who chose the veil have to defend their choices to complete strangers. These are only the non abusive examples, rudeness and ignorance rather than anger and attack. To be a woman and other is to apparently be without personal boundaries.

So perhaps I should not have been surprised last night, when trying to explain why Vancouver rape crisis center are a whorephobic and transphobic bunch of fuck weasels, that someone responded by asking if I had ever been raped.  Pause for a moment and consider the mindset that thinks it is OK to ask that of a total stranger?

Society as a whole has seen women as a form of public property throughout history of course. Keeping the breeding stock ™ pure and unsullied has been behind most of the policing of women’s behaviour and sexuality. The whore/Madonna dichotomy created in order to fool the good women that something terrible would happen to them if they tried to claim the freedoms that whores enjoyed. Some societies have of course made the public nature of womens bodies more explicit. In Nazi Germany the good woman was one who produced the next generation for the Fatherland.  This was simply the logical conclusion of a patriarchal state, one where abortion was a crime against the state. The breeding stock explicitly known as such and praised for their fecundity.

This attitude may be more explicit in a completely patriarchal state such as Nazi Germany, but, as the questioner last night showed these attitudes permeate society today still. A woman like me who trangresses the social norms is a lesser woman, and one whose body is public. I am not alone in this, sex workers are frequently asked about their STD status, history of child abuse and rape, whether they enjoy a “normal” sex life. Some would say this is merely curiosity about a job that is usually not discussed, but would it be seen as acceptable to ask these questions of other rare jobs? If you encountered an archeologist or a lion tamer would you believe it was OK to ask them intimate questions about their sexual history?

That women are as quick to other as men, and that these women often describe themselves as feminists who care about sex workers is a sign of just how insidious the idea of good women v transgressors is.  Places like the Vancouver Rape Crisis center that support the othering of transgressive women are not rare. I wrote last year of Glasgow Rape Crisis who have a similar attitude to sex workers.  Perhaps given the power of patriarchy and it’s investment in controlling women’s bodies we should not be surprised that so many women buy into its propaganda. After all they get to be the favoured pets by doing so. Call sex workers prostituted women, and deny the ability of women as a class to make informed rational choices about their sexual behaviour and you lessen the chances of the breeding stock realisng that they are being conned. Agree with MRAs that trans women are actually men trying to get sex by stealth and you cement the norms of femininity patriarchy approves of.

It is no coincidence that is it so easy for NGOs that oppose sex work and declare it to be trafficking to get funding. The current moral panic around sex trafficking suits patriarchy just fine and has the added benefit of denying women of colour their rights, infantalising them as victims unable to migrate through choice.  We are living in a time where those who claim to oppose patriarchy are in fact its biggest supporters, and it is time for the others, the transgressors, the women without approval to stand together and demand their rights.

Source: Sometimes It's Just A Cigar