This is the debut of Elisabeth Horan’s column, Arsenic Hour. Here is its namesake poem.
Here comes a bad one. Pearled teeth, gnarled hands, knife fingers, bomb breasts, snake limbs, tortoise pelvis, wolf anus, pronghorn genitals. Here comes the malfeasance. Ivory ban, fingernail grind, tusked cheeks, flat bill palette, five toes times five legs, monstrously amphibious, heat seeking whore platypus. Squat and jealous. Here comes the lady in red. Competitive. Hormone pinch hitter, estrogen wane, progesterone filler, wants things of testosterone nearby her; a dildo toy killer. Hypothyroid gets her best, statin spies through this fat girl’s dress. Here comes young queen bee, she’s queen till tomorrow’s sorrows. Hippocampus dehydrated, frontal lobe sliced mango, cortex, correct me, umm, sliding unstable, emotions hostage, child for ransom. Speaking of gloves, here’s the kid, here’s the mother. More immature this ovary banter, this Questcomm demeanor; Elvira thong, Judge Judy pants, this earth-bitch wishes for a pod like Mrs. Jetson’s. Dishes, cuticle crack, thumb condom, mustache wax. Pajamas, pantiliner, low slung breasts, boring penis, always Mr. Right: flaccid. Middle age mayhem: anemic theater. Of war and love, no date is cheaper than this female, dullard woman; dial up trauma-hype and penitence; frugal.
Or it is only our minds that can change our bodies?
Throughout history there have been many different definitions as to what constitutes our bodies. Some theorists of the social body regarded physical bodies as objects that need to be “trained, manipulated, cajoled, organized and in general disciplined” (Turner 15). Similarly, some considered the body as “a play of forces, a surface of intensities, pure simulacra without originals” (Braidotti 21).
This thinking becomes a problem as it conceptualizes the body as simply a biological object that is apart from rational faculties and furthermore, a gender biased object, which leads to a conception that “[w]omen are somehow more biological, more corporeal, and more natural than men” (Grosz 14). As a result, women become relegated to being apart from reason and culture and their bodies are conceptualized as passive objects for others. In addition, this thinking enforces a false belief in which the true essence of human nature is information and that human bodies are limited and thus, humans can be still human by uploading their consciousnesses to a vast computer network.
Can this transhumanist utopianism be achieved?
Can we still call ourselves humans when our minds and bodies are separated?
In order to answer these questions, I would like to introduce some materialist feminists’ thoughts. Refusing to see our bodies as passive objects, Claire Clorebrook calls for thinking of our bodies as a form of “positive difference” (71). Moreover, Karen Barad introduces a concept called “agential realism,” in which she sees matter or the natural world as a “substance in its intra-active becoming—not a thing, but a doing, a congealing of agency” and that all bodies “come to matter through the world’s interactive intra-activity” (139, 141). Barad further encourages us to dismiss the inherent difference between human and non-human, subject and object, mind and body, discourse and matter through emphasizing that “we are of the world” (147). Similar to Barad, Donna Haraway attempts to blur the boundaries between man/woman, machine/organism, culture/nature, and representation/real that have been enforced by modern scientific thought through using the cyborg as a hybrid tool (1991: 149-150).
All these modern feminist thinkers are tying to tell us that our bodies are active agents and thus they should not be neglected when we are talking about our mind. More specifically, mind and body should not be separated because they are a “collective.” In fact, there are evidences showing that our bodies can actually change our minds and therefore, shape our future. In 2012, Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a speech at Ted Talk about how our bodies could shape our minds. In the talk, she claimed that our bodies actually hold the power to change our minds and “our minds can change our behavior and our behavior can change our outcomes.” But how? She then told her personal experience about her “change” and further suggested a small experiment: do some powerful postures—stretch your arms or spread your legs—for two minutes whenever you are nervous. For instance, right before a stressful job interview. Does this really help? It does! Because when you are in a high-power pose condition your bodily hormone does actually change—the decrease of cortisol or stress hormone—and therefore you feel more powerful afterward. Cuddy concluded her talk by emphasizing that we could fake it until we become it; “do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.”
To sum up, Cuddy’s study and those material feminists’ not only come to deconstruct the thinking that privileges minds over bodies but also deliver an important message to us, which is our bodies are our future.
Barad, Karen. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter,” in Material Feminisms. ed. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009. Print. 120-154.
Braidotti, Rosi. Metamorphoses: Towards a Feminist Theory of Becoming. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002. Print.
Colebrook, Claire. “On Not Becoming Man: The Materialist Politics of Unactualized Potential,” in Material Feminisms. ed. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009. Print. 52-84.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print. 149-181.
Turner, B. Regulating Bodies: Essays in Medical Sociology. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Yesterday morning at my local coffee shop, I had the sudden urge to tell the woman sitting by the window that her body was beautiful. You see, her body looked like mine, and not many others do. I suspect many people feel the same way about their own bodies. And, since we can’t see ourselves except transposed, it’d been awhile since I’d seen a body like ours.
I instantly recoiled at the thought of a woman I had never met telling me that my body was beautiful at 8:30am while I was trying to work before working through my first cup of coffee. And so I didn’t.
I didn’t tell her that I was so happy to see her beautiful body. Our beautiful body.
Afterwards, I thought about writing this piece and how exactly I would describe our bodies.
The first word that came up was “womanly.”
I hate that word.
What bodies aren’t “womanly”? And what’s worse are all the things that a “womanly” body implies: Full hips and lips, grace (whatever that is, anyway), shaved, waxed, toned into submission. Soft yet powerful. Sound like a Dove ad yet?
Womanly bodies also mean womanly functions. Specifically, in a very non-intersectional heteronormative able-ist way, womanly bodies who are “built” to bear children.
My womanly body does not want children. As far as I’m concerned, my uterus is about as important to my daily life as an appendix or a gallbladder. Sure, it does stuff, but I don’t really need it.
In fact, I’m fairly sure that my womanly body was built to house me. And it’s my choice if I want to share that space with another lifeform, whether that be through penetration or impregnation. My womanly body has no responsibility to anyone but me, and I get to choose how and when to alter the perimeters of that relationship.
The second word that came up was “contoured.” No, I thought. Contouring is what you do with make-up and jet-engine designs.
But how to describe our bodies? I realized there was absolutely no way to describe our bodies without somehow drawing upon their (supposed) sexual or reproductive functions or some other sexualized or mechanized functions.
As a feminist, I’d known for a long time that it’s difficult to divorce sexualization from bodies—especially from women’s bodies. But it hadn’t occurred to me until recently how difficult it is to divorce reproduction from women’s bodies. Women’s bodies are seen as always already reproducing. In the public eye, we could be pregnant or potentially pregnant at any time. This follows the assumption of wanting to be pregnant at any time, especially those of us who are…so “womanly.”
And I don’t shame or look down on any woman who does want to use her body to have children. In fact, Western society does not do enough to support women who make this choice, and even more so the women who did not have a choice to make and found themselves in the same position.
Just as we have gone a long way in separating sex from reproduction, it’s important to begin to think of the ways we can rhetorically separate reproduction from the body.