A History of Violence

[content: rape culture, descriptions of sexualized violence]

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I remember being sexualized when I was 9. Seemingly harmless, for the uninitiated observer. But it was my first realization that my body wasn’t my own. That grown men laid claim to it. I remember my first kiss–a boy I barely knew but knew enough to know I didn’t like. I remember the second: A next door neighbour. A friend who would go on to grab my tits as I stood talking to my brother, both of us rendered speechless and frozen. A friend who would go on to, in the eloquent words of a powerful monster, “grab [me] by the pussy.” In public. In front of 40 classmates. If anyone cared, no one said a word.

Continue reading “A History of Violence”

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Women and the Tragedy of Aging

I’ve recently seen two things around aging that made me sigh.

The first is this graphic.

agingThe second was on a Jezebel article where it was revealed that Olivia Wilde, then 28, was “too old” to play 38 year old Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in “Wolf of Wall Street.” While that was irritating, that wasn’t it. It was a comment thread that somehow devolved into when women are peak attractive (arguments ranged from 18 to 31. But definitely no older than 31. Because science).

Continue reading “Women and the Tragedy of Aging”

Embodiment: War, Détente, Peace

This piece is about a year old (I write a lot that I sit on or discard or can’t figure out what to make of) but it feels as relevant as ever. And, interestingly, the idea of “body détente” came up in a recent journaling exercise I did, so I guess it is, as ever, an ongoing process.

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I want more than a détente with my body, I want peace.

I often go back and forth on the idea of body love. On the one hand, it feels vital, life-saving, and profoundly radical. It is a political stance and action (praxis, if you will) that has the power to counter and subvert centuries-old systems of power. On the other…I’m just fucking tired of thinking about my body. And how it succeeds and fails to fit into someone else’s ideals. And actively practicing body love (or acceptance) takes a lot of energy. Continue reading “Embodiment: War, Détente, Peace”

“Smile, Baby!” On Performative Emotional Labour

Just about every woman I know has been told, by a male stranger, to smile at least once in her life. And by once I mean “an uncountable near-infinite number of times.”

We know it’s a power-play, patriarchal, bullshit, fucked up, etc. Often it’s framed as evidence that women are ornamental–that we are assigned object status rather than subject status in the world. All of which I agree with. But I think there is more to it, and given how much I’ve been thinking about emotional labour lately, I wanted to explore that a bit. Continue reading ““Smile, Baby!” On Performative Emotional Labour”

The Gendered Nature of Being Unencumbered

If you ask almost any woman what she would change about women’s clothes I promise you “pockets” would come up about 95% of the time (other answers: sizing consistency, for fuck’s sake; quality construction; larger sizes not just being a size 0 sized up). When I think about my closet I can name four items of clothing with pockets, and two of those are essentially useless cardigan pockets. The few pairs of pants I own don’t even have pockets!

This has been an ongoing irritation for years, and one I’ve lightly thought about in feminist terms, but it’s only recently that I realized how profoundly (the lack of) pockets affects embodiment in very gendered ways. Continue reading “The Gendered Nature of Being Unencumbered”

Learning Crow/Unlearning Culturally Imposed Limitations

Picture borrowed from here.

As I’ve talked about before, I spent much of my life unembodied, learning to distrust both my instincts and my abilities–an experience I think is very common especially (but not only) for women. Growing up both fat and female I internalized a lot of so-called truths about my body that I failed to question (hell, I didn’t know I could question them) and instead integrated them as my own truths. Truths such as women’s innate weakness*, body size as a stand-in for fitness** and worth*** and the idea that I was barred from certain joyful pursuits unless and until I achieved some mythical size that my has no hope of achieving.

Over the past year or so I have decided to test those culturally- (and self-) imposed limitations to see how many of them are actually real. Despite spending some time lifting and getting used to the idea of moving heavy things with merely my body, I still hung on to some ideas I just couldn’t shake. The idea that I’ll never do a full pushup, the idea that I am too weak and too heavy to do a handstand. This was grounded in two fundamental truths: women are inherently weaker when it comes to upper body strength and that I weigh too much to be able to hold my weight with just my arms.

Turns out these two fundamental truths are a load of limiting tripe. While it may be true that most women are inherently weaker than most men, who cares? (And, for a quick digression, how are we measuring this? One rep max? One rep max lifted after an equal number of years spent lifting, being taught good form and not having to fight years of socialization to pick up weights heavier than five pounds? Percentage of bodyweight lifted?**** Something, anything, that begins to attend to the profound cultural disadvantage women, as a group, have in building strength?) What matters is how strong my arms are and how much I trust them. Period. It doesn’t matter how strong they are compared to the dude in the squat rack curling away (seriously, stop that). Or how strong they are compared to the guy who’s never spent a day in the gym but hauls hay every day. Or even how strong they are compared to my yoga teacher with cut biceps and a six pack. What matters is how strong they are, how far I push them, and how I trust them.

Which brings me to my second limiting truth. I had this capital-t Truth that I was too weak and too heavy to do these amazing things I wanted to do: crow pose, handstands. But here’s the thing, forty pounds ago, when I was at a weight I feel more comfortable at, I was also too weak and too heavy to try. And probably, had I weighed forty pounds less (which some people do but my body sure as hell isn’t meant to) I would have still been too weak and too heavy to try. Not even to do, just to try. Because I bought into these myths wholeheartedly. Women are weak (why do we hear “most women are inherently weaker in upper body strength compared to most men” and rewrite it to “women are weak?”) and only teeny tiny women get to do the fun stuff.

So I just never tried. But in the past few months I’ve decided fuck that noise. I may be at a disadvantage compared to some people smaller and stronger than me. I may never achieve exactly what I want to do, but I sure won’t if I don’t try.

And so I’ve tried. And tried. And today I held crow for longer than I’ve ever held it (a record-breaking six seconds which, let me tell you, is a LONG time when you’re holding your entire weight on your hands). And yesterday I held a handstand for 7 seconds. A HANDSTAND. Something I thought was relegated to memories of childhood.

I am still heavier and larger than everyone you see in yoga magazines. I am still fighting the limitations that make these poses hard, but it turns out 95% of those limitations are mental. And if I trust my body to hold me and keep doing it a little more each day, I can do some amazing things. (I can also, as I learned going for 10 seconds in crow, land right on my face. Turns out learning how to get up after falling is a big part of learning how to do.)

*Bollocks

**Fucking bollocks

***Toxic fucking bollocks

****When measured this way women are actually a hell of a lot stronger than we’ve been taught to believe ourselves.

Getting Back to Our Animal Selves

panthere noire zoo de jurques 1012 1024x749I’ve had this pet theory, for a while, that capitalism only works if we silence and eschew the animal parts of us. Think about it, sitting at a desk for 8 or 10 hours a day is completely counter to our animal instincts to be in motion. Doing menial tasks (making widgets, if we want to get all Karl Marx up in here) that don’t directly relate to the care and feeding of ourselves or our loved ones makes no sense until we introduce the fear of poverty (and thus hunger, lack of shelter, etc) if we don’t comply.

But instincts are hard to suppress. They’re literally the most base reaction we have. In fact, they’re there whether we heed them or not. That’s how powerful they are. So how does a system that relies on quashing our animal selves counter something so powerful? With shame, perhaps the most powerful motivator there is.

I was recently interviewed by a university student writing a paper on a particular issue in my field and the topic of shame came up. This student asked if shame can ever be a force for good. Absolutely, I said. Shame is one of the ways that we moderate unacceptable and dangerous behaviour. Shame is based on losing in-group status. Humans are immensely social creatures who need acceptance and community to survive. So the threat of losing your connections and community due to hurting another, for example, is a very positive use of shame, teaching people not to hurt others until they can internalize that lesson.

But the power of shame is rarely used for the benefit of the collective in our neoliberal, late capitalistic clusterfuck. Rather, it is used to shut down all of the signals that tell us that what is going on is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that most of us do work that is not only spiritually unfulfilling but is actively harmful for the earth and for humanity. It is unacceptable that most of us live in some form of economic insecurity. It is unacceptable that many of us don’t have access to fresh, nourishing food and instead rely on hyper-palatable, low-nutrient play food for the majority of our nutrition. It is unacceptable that one in three women* and one in two trans people will experience sexualized violence in our life times.

But you can’t start with the big violations and hope they’ll stick. You have to start with the small pieces of animalia that you can tame. We wear clothes because we are shamed for our nudity (I mean, there are practical reasons for clothes as well, but if I strolled down the street naked tomorrow no one would be objecting on the grounds that I wasn’t protected from the elements). We wear deodorant and perfume because it is unacceptable to smell like the animals that we are (this, by the way, is very culturally specific). We hide our emotions at work because we aren’t supposed to “make a scene” by reacting honestly to rude customers or over-bearing bosses like the animals we are.

And when we routinely over-ride our instincts we stop trusting them. Introducing the element of doubt is an incredible tool for controlling someone. This is an issue that impacts everyone, certainly, but it is also exceptionally gendered. Think of all the ways women (and other people socialized female) are taught to ignore our instincts: we are taught to distrust our hunger, routinely. Whether that’s through extreme calorie restriction, or the mind-games so many of us play as we try to negotiate down our hunger (“Am I physically hungry or emotionally hungry? Maybe I can just have some celery and hope my stomach will stop growling. Maybe I could have some gum instead. Maybe I’m just thirsty!”).How many times have you been told that “we often mistake hunger for thirst”? Ten? A hundred? Coming up on a million? Have you ever stopped to consider how ridiculous of a statement that is? If you took it out of the context of women’s continued disavowal of hunger it makes literally no sense. You’d never tell someone that has to poop that they actually need to pee and have just mistaken the two. Or that someone who is complaining of being cold is actually dehydrated. If someone is hungry they’re hungry.

We are taught to ignore our gut in favour of politeness. I tell my clients constantly, “your gut is smart. Trust it.” How often do we override that niggling feeling because we want to be “nice” (one of the most toxic words in the English language if you ask me)? On the bus, with that creepy guy who won’t get out of our space. Walking home with that dude who’s been behind us for too many blocks and turns. On a date with a cute guy or girl who keeps pushing minor boundaries? With the roommate situation we knew immediately wouldn’t work out?**

We are also taught to ignore our basic comfort, from the clothes that we wear (ever notice how many women change into sweats or pjs the second they walk in the door while their male partners are perfectly comfortable in their un-restrictive pants and shirts?), to the shoes we teeter in, to the absurd and painful lengths we go to remove the body hair that is our god-damn birthright as animals.

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work lately, including going back to therapy after almost a year break. And what I realized today is that almost all of the work I’ve been doing is allowing myself to get back to my animal self. It has been about trusting my gut, honouring my instincts, trusting my body, and seeking embodiment.

I recently had a dating situation where someone did a couple things that threw up yellow flags. Not red flags. They weren’t “DANGER WILL ROBINSON” infractions. They were “psst, hey, Will Robinson, maybe make a note of this, it’s a little hinky.” One yellow flag is something to mind but not a deal-breaker. But in quick succession there were three or four yellow flags on the field and I was suddenly flooded with anxiety. Not because I felt unsafe, but because I was at war with my gut. My gut was telling me “you know about boundaries. You literally teach workshops on boundaries. You tell your clients every day to trust their gut. You can’t talk the talk if you won’t walk the walk.”

I had a really clear signal from my gut that there were too many yellow flags on the pitch but I was fighting it because I didn’t want to “overreact” or “be rude.” Despite being in possession of the world’s best early alert system I was fighting something I champion because I’ve spent my life being subtly and overtly trained to ignore it for fear of shame–god forbid a woman “overreact” be “hysterical” or “a bitch” to a man who is over-reaching his bounds.

This personal work has also included embracing my hunger without questioning it or trying to barter it down, and listening to my body’s signals that it needs movement or rest.

Recognizing when we are safe or not, when we are hungry or not, and whether we are tired or not are literally our birthright as animals (ever seen a cat that’s feeling any of those? They don’t fuck around. They get their needs met whatever it takes), and yet we are taught from a very young age that all of those instincts are wrong (let Creepy Uncle Jerry kiss you, you don’t need seconds, go to bed even though you’re not tired). And so our work as adult humans is, in many ways, to get back to our animal selves.

*This is a contentious statistic for a whole lot of reasons I’m not going to go into here, related to disclosure, shame, measurement, etc. This statistic comes from Stats Can in 1993, the last time they did a Violence Against Women survey. The commonly cited American statistic comes from RAINN and is one in five. My instinct is that that is a low estimate.

**Oh do I have stories. And for every bad roommate story I have a matching story of ignoring my gut instinct.