It’s out of stock.
But when I saw this patriotic-themed burqa, I couldn’t help but think of the discourse on women’s bodies in the United States. This became news when a Facebook movement sprang up recently seeking publicity about breast cancer. Utterly without explanation, mostly women began setting their statuses to a single word, a color. It turns out this was supposed to be the color of their bras. I think Tracy Clark-Flory, writing for Salon.com, mostly gets it right:
I’m having a hard time imagining that “guys” don’t “give a crap about breast cancer.” Any who don’t surely deserve the insult. But there is another, considerably less benighted reason for men to hold their tongues.
In our society, men tend to drown out women. This is one reason for the persistence of women’s colleges. Moreover, our discourse entails an epistemology that Lorraine Code spends an entire book, What Can She Know?, debunking. I’m not a philosopher, so I’m not even going to attempt to summarize her work here, but the way we think we know needs to change–and men’s dominance of women is at the heart of the problem.
This is particularly apparent in the area of women’s medicine, where male physicians and medical researchers have diminished, demeaned, dismissed, and discounted women’s health problems for decades. And that’s actually an improvement. According to Barbara G. Walker, in The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, “In the United States, the last recorded clitoridectomy for curing masturbation was performed in 1948–on a five-year-old girl.” In the vernacular, that’s female genital mutilation, not in Africa, but right here in what so many of us think of as “a shining city on the hill” for the world.
More recently, British researchers declared that the G-spot–a region in the front of a woman’s vagina reputed to be particularly sensitive–doesn’t exist. That’s quite a surprise to many women who have found pleasure in their G-spots for quite some time. The researchers’ method relied on female twins, whose genetic similarity they thought should produce identical answers about sexual experience. Phrasing it the way I have gives it away. According to Martha Lee, writing for Carnal Nation, “[Beverly] Whipple dismissed the findings of the British study as ‘flawed’, saying the researchers had discounted the experiences of lesbian or bisexual women and failed to consider the effects of different sexual technique. ‘The biggest problem with their findings is that twins don’t generally have the same sexual partner,’ said Whipple.”
To say the least, men’s discourse about women’s bodies is problematic. From Plato on down, men have often required women to dress modestly. In this masterful logic, not only are women themselves incapable of philosophizing, but with their appeal to men’s sensual instincts, they distract from “higher” thinking. Of course the premise that privileges philosophy over sexuality is placed beyond challenge. But it is to this that Jack Holland, in Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, traces a hatred and suppression of women that persists to the present day. A large proportion of us would rape women if we were convinced we would get away with it, leading Catharine MacKinnon to conclude that there is no way to distinguish a “normal” male from a rapist. And particularly when we’re wealthy and powerful, an awful lot of us have an awful lot to say about a woman’s right to choose an abortion. It’s hard to argue with a feminist criticism that many men see women’s bodies as places for others, that is, (especially male) babies, male penises, and male control.
So when women demand that men speak up about breast cancer on Facebook, I’m sorry to say their request is simplistic at best. Because this isn’t just about breasts. It isn’t just about health. It isn’t even just about sex. It is the entirety of our discourse that needs to change.