Saturday, 7 March 2009

cutting out the shame

Livia Indica posted a comment to my last post which spoke about some rather extreme genital modifications. I looked at the link she supplied and, although I felt physically repelled by many of the images, would not want to say that such things should not be allowed. But there is a strong proviso to this and that is that such drastic procedures are undergone with full, informed, consent. If an adult woman or a man has made a free and conscious decision to mutilate themselves - for whatever reason- then that is a matter for them and whoever wields the knife. The fact that I cannot understand - and am repelled by it - is neither here nor there.

The people who choose undergo such modifications, however, do so in the full knowledge that they are deviating from the norm - however that is defined. They know that what they are doing is transgressive and have chosen that way in order to express themselves. They have that right. This is very different from the message being promulgated by plastic surgeons whose profits depend upon the instillation of anxiety in women who fear that their entirely normal genitals are in some way pathological and repulsive. For this feeds into the state of chronic shame that rules our culture and of which women are the main recipients and transmitters. Shame, with its mythological origin in Eden, is located within the genitals in general but in women's in particular. It is women who are the recipients of the language of shame - a man may be a "rotten prick" but this in no way carries the same weight as "filthy cunt".

For there is a perceived intrinsic wrongness about the vulva that does not pertain to the penis. A man may indeed be anxious about size but this is a question of degree and comparison, not of essence. Culturally and liguistically, the cunt is taboo. It is the source of pollution. It is, intrinsically, pollute. It secretes. It bleeds. And it is from where we all have emerged.

It reminds us that we are human. And mortal. We were born and we will die. Womb and tomb may only rhyme in English but there is a strong correlation. Long barrows, to give just one example, are modelled on the female body. it was, I think, for this reason that Sheela-na-gigs were carved on churches. "Gaze", they invite," upon your beginning and upon your end. The Alpha and the Omega. Before both, you are powerless".

Barry Long. in at least one of his tapes, speaks disparagingly of cunt power and of the "fiendess". There is a sort of equation between the two. And both emerge because of the failuire of men to exercise their natural authority. He says. I am not sure what he means but I wonder to what extent his ideas are rooted in his fear of the cunt - in his fear of women's power which he sees as having its roots in hell. But, of course, his fear is, in this case, not surprising and in a sense rational for Hell is a goddess.

There is no way that I can see of avoiding the accusation of essentialism. Our culture is predicated upon genital difference and the privileging of one set - the male - over the other - the female. However it is glossed, this still applies. And the privilege and the taboo have their origin in one inescapable fact and that is that all human life emerges from between a woman's legs. Sure, men have their part to play - but that can seem trivial and minor when compared with birth. Besides which, how many men can relate the child with any specific physical action of theirs? How many men can be 100% certain - without the very new science of DNA testing - it was an act of theirs? We cannot. And this, I feel, has a major part to play in the way we have acted to denigrate and revile women.

In order to control women, we have striven to deny their ownership of their own sexuality. In our fear of the power we perceive, which we see as cunt-power and demonic, we have told women that their genitals are filthy pits of disease and decay (lest you think I exaggerate. read some of the church fathers). Such language can seem out of place in our modern world - but the message is still there in such practices as labioplasty, where young women, who have absorbed the wordless shame which underpins our civilisation, are encouraged to have that shame cut (literally!) out.


Livia Indica said...

Well said my friend. And can I just say, I'm continually amazed and endlessly pleased to read these words typed by the hand of a man. You are the living proof that all is not lost as far as gender equality is concerned.

I have to wonder how much body modification as a whole plays into the female body as source of shame theory. Many body modifiers start with the more accepted and obvious things like tattoos and ear piercings. The way I understand it genital mods take years to get to and, hopefully, only after long and serious thought. I pray, pray, pray that young girls aren't jumping into the fray because they saw a picture of one woman's genitals and decided theirs didn't stand up. I know this may sound weird but I think a good way to encourage acceptance of one's own genitals is to simply see a handful or more straightforward photos of the genitals of others. As you've pointed out, no two vulvas are alike and shouldn't be; if young people could just realize this I think my fears would be greatly eased.

Brian Charles said...

Thanks Livia

I fully agree with you - yet the depiction of vulvas is generally considered the domain of pornography. Thus, by default, ownership is shifted to the male gaze. There is something deeply wrong about this - women being denied the right to celebrate the reality of their own being - the sheer beauty of who they are - unless it can be defined in relationship to he male gaze - and I do not know how to square this circle