Give me back my body, I deserve it.
The scars and trails of a past that I had no say in;
I am my own seed and bud,
Blooming into my own being, undefined, untamed;
My body is a vast plain of conflicts,
Battles I haven’t raged or want to engage in.
Who leaves traces in my bed sheets;
If I want those traces to turn into perennial rivers;
If I want to be the potter to mould another life;
I want to author words of my own flesh.
The relationship between women and their control over their bodies is a relationship wrought in tension. It seems absurd, almost impossible for a person to be denied right over their own physical being. But the harsh reality, conveniently shrugged under the carpet is that since times immemorial, women have come to be treated as the “Other” to the dominant man. Their bodies are seen as a possession or a place to practice misogyny of the men who control them. In fact, political philosophies were formulated keeping servility of women at their core. The greatest source at hand during Feudalism was the availability of labour, thus women’s productive capacity became something to be controlled by the discourse of virginity, chastity, morality and honour. The idea contract on which Capitalism rests was viewed as one between men, with women barely being their dependents.
Thus, women’s bodies are not “virgin” grounds but actually conceived in terms of power relations. Communities’ identities revolve around protection of their “women”. Strangely, in the dichotomy created between culture and nature, men are seen as creators of civilization and culture, while women are seen as the remnants of nature. However, despite being accorded the role of natural, wild, temperamental beings, it is women who are burdened with the civilizational responsibility of maintaining the cultural honour. By the same logic, their bodies reduce to being sexualized and objectified. The waves of feminism have tackled numerous issues; however, the idea of body rights remains as one of the most hotly-debated ones. When do bodily practices stop being in the domain of private and enter the public realm, open to State and societal interference and to what extent, and the extent to which these rules are gendered.
As Trump rolls back the Obamacare, one of the hardest hit sections of the population are women. Given the conservative streak, abortion has been converted into a moral issue rather than a gender one. The new Healthcare Act has dramatically cut the Medicaid, which was responsible to provide access to contraception and maternity care, especially for women from economically weaker sections of the population. The lack of access to these services further disadvantages an already vulnerable section of population. In fact, anti-abortion/contraception views of the Trump administration will have a spill-over impact across the world, as aid to the developing countries especially concerning health and contraception is limited. Planned Parenthood has been made a pariah and women’s bodies and reproduction is back to being viewed through the medieval lens of “sin”. Another crucial point is regarding insurance being denied to some people with “pre-existing conditions”. These pre-existing conditions leading to denial of health rights includes pregnancy, recent pregnancy, C-Section and even rape, thereby not only robbing women of reproductive choices, but making motherhood even more difficult than it is.
The act of one of the super-powers of the world, one of the pioneer democracies shunning rights of its women sets forth a dangerous precedent. India itself, even in its modern avatar witnesses women as the overwhelming target of sterilising strategies to achieve the goal of family planning, surrogacy being driven underground on claims of gifting a child only to married, infertile couples as an altruistic act, the “lahu-lagaan” on something as natural as menstruation, slut walks being denied permissions as they might harm the “moral framework” of Indian society. Not just reproductive and sexual rights, the very idea of how to look at our bodies is designed often by the power relations circulating within the society. What to wear, how to wear it, how to stand, walk talk, wear make-up, not wear it, be “fair, wheatish, dark”, virgin or not, everyday women’s bodies are catalogued, categorized and ranked. Rape survivors are “slut shamed”, the act of violence blamed on their callousness, or mobile phones or god forbid noodles. Infertile women are denied the status of “complete women”, women consciously making a choice to not have kids are equated to Satan. Prostitution is seen as a “dirty, immoral act” with those forced into selling bodies vilified rather than those aching to buy them. Post marriage, a woman is added to the rest of the properties of husband, so often marital rape or abuse is seen as understandable. Body rights and consent of women become the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Our bodies are a spectacle, the great big circus of patriarchy taming women’s bodies, crystallizing our sex into gender.
The present canvas paints a picture that is not my portrait;
The cracked mirror will not be my destiny;
I have my own tales to tell.
Give me my body back, I deserve it;
I will have my body, it is my right.