Out from Under Occupation – Transforming Our Relationship With Our Bodies
(Excerpts from an amazing essay by Carla Rice)
I have often experienced a distressing physical sensation which I know is related to my sense of my body and self in the world. It stems from an overwhelming desire to escape my skin. Of literally wanting to eject myself from my body – to flee a shameful, painful presence. The need is to deliver myself from some unexpressed, wordless reality, which threatens to invade and consume me. When I think about the sensation of wanting to escape my own skin, I wonder if I am alone in this feeling. When I look around and observe many women silently hurting, I realise these private feelings are not solely personal ones.
I believe these feelings stem from personal life experiences which have left legacies of self and body loathing. At the same time, I believe such personal experiences have deep political meaning. I believe these feelings stem from a collective displacement of much that is wrong with this culture onto the terrain of women’s bodies and that such feelings have their roots in an age old attempt to control and colonise women. I believe out collective feelings of loathing, shame and alienation are the fall-out of a war – a conflict waged on the landscape of our bodies. This conflict, played out on the terrain of that which defines us as female, is fought through the regulation, control, suppression and occupation of virtually every aspect of our physical being – sexuality, dress, appearance, deportment, strength, health, reproduction, shape, size, space, expression and movement.
Hatred of women – expressed both in images and everyday acts of violence – drives us out of our bodies. It also drives us out of our minds. Hatred of women, which is played out on the terrain of our bodies, is directed towards us precisely because of these bodies. In other words, such hatred finds its roots and home in the female body. The female body because the battleground of the war against women, and the battleground itself, our own worst enemy.
The war waged on women’s bodes is first a conflict over size and shape, over the terrain and territory of our bodies, played out in deeply entrenched cultural taboos and a powerful patriarchal dictate against women taking up space and claiming room of out own.
The war waged on women’s bodies is also a conflict over race and skin colour, played out in deeply held stereotypes about the value and beauty of whiteness that saturate our culture and language, and are used to colonise non-white peoples and non-western societies.
The war waged on women’s bodies is a war waged over our right to exist as we are, with all our imperfections and flaws, bumps, sags, wrinkles, and lines, the traits with which we were born and the evidence of life being lived out, of age and morality. The war on women’s bodies is also a war waged over our right to exist at all, with all our strengths, limitations, abilities and vulnerabilities, in our full diversity and common humanity.
Finally, the war on women’s bodies is a desperate conflict over our humanity, and right to exist free of domination and violation; it is a literal state of siege, the invasion of our most intimate selves, where our bodies are the occupied territories, where the risks are our minds, hearts and souls and the stakes, our very existence.