Saturday, July 28, 2012

The vagina demagogues

“Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it?” If you said yes to both, “Congratulations! You’re a feminist.” - How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

One book that I am very much looking forward to reading is How to Be a Woman by Caitlin (She pronounces it cat - lin) Moran. You would perhaps think that I might have figured that out by now but I think this book might have a few things to teach me.

Ms. Moran's book was a huge best seller last year in Britain, her home country where she is a columnist for The Times of London, and, at last, it and she are coming to the States. I've seen her in a few interviews and read reviews of the book and, frankly, it seems just what the complacent women in this country need to shake a bit of sense into them.

As proof of this, there is a frequently cited survey which shows that only 29 percent - 29 percent! - of American women self-identify as feminists. What part of feminism do you suppose the other 71 percent object to? Is it the right to vote? The right to own property? The right to equal pay for equal work? Perhaps they object to the right to decide how one dresses. Or maybe it's the right to control when or if one marries or when or if one has children that they think should be held by some third party. Do they object to the right to drive a car or to go out in public without being accompanied by a male relative? Truly, the mind boggles.

But I suppose we shouldn't really be surprised. The reactionary right-wingers have spent decades denigrating women and women's rights in every form, especially the right of women to control their own bodies, and this constant drumroll of negativity has had its effect. Since the 2010 election, Republican legislators at the state and national level and governors all over the country have felt free to legislate the most draconian laws regarding women's bodies, from forcing their doctors, on pain of prosecution, to lie to them about the effects of some medical procedures to requiring medically unnecessary vaginal ultrasounds prior to an abortion. Republican women legislators have joined in this assault on their own sex. They have felt secure in the knowledge that they would not have to pay a political price for such actions because 71 percent of American women have been brainwashed into believing that it is unfeminine to demand their rights.

Into this dystopian landscape for women steps the colorful Ms. Moran with her polemic against, among other things, bikini waxes, g-strings, the pornography and stripping industries that dehumanize and objectify their subjects, stiletto heels...and the list goes on. She is a breath of fresh air in a very stale environment. Her book, The New York Times reviewer opined, is "a glorious, timely stand against sexism so ingrained we barely even notice it." 

That ingrained quality of sexism is what is so disheartening and why I'm excited about this book: Sexism in this country has become just a part of our everyday lives, something that we barely even see anymore, where rape jokes, for example, are an accepted form of humor. We need to awaken to the very real danger that our rights as women are being eroded day by day. Perhaps Moran's book can be a first step in doing that.

I just had a thought. What if all those millions of women now reading the Fifty Shades of Grey series should decide to pick up another book to read this summer and what if that book were How to Be a Woman? It might be the start of a revolution. 

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