Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Love Your Body

Here I am, sitting with the Nana Charlotte, in Hanover, Germany.
This Archetypal Everywoman is the creation of French artist
Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 - 2002)

Perfect Madness: Motherhood In An Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner: Last fall, in the months preceding the presidential election, I read a number of very good articles by Warner (before she went a little crazy) and was intrigued enough to buy and read her entire book in a couple of days. I think the subtitle just about says it all. It is easily the best book I've ever read concerning the politics of motherhood. No, I don't share every single one of her views, but for the most part, I just wish I'd written this book! It was so accurate about so many things in my life. She points out that unfortunately the early feminist movement distanced itself from traditional wife & motherhood to the point of not supporting women in those roles. Thus choosing kids & home life is now considered inferior to pursuing revenue - generating work.

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy. An excellent expose of all the mixed messages that girls and women are given today by the media and the popular culture, disturbing, enlightening, and sad. A good book for men and teenage boys to read, at least certain parts, to help them understand how hard it can be for women, especially young women, to make rational choices about their way of being in the world, in light of all the misogyny and greed and nastiness that we are bombarded with every passing moment. Levy analyzes the plague of distorted body image that continues to poison American culture and skew the way that girls and woman see themselves. Why is it that so much of a girl's coming of age is learning to dislike her sexuality and perceive her appearance as inadequate?

Her Blood Is Gold: Celebrating the Power of Menstruation by Lara Owen. This is a book I've been meaning to read ever since Sam was born and finally got around to it last year -- that's how long a book can stay in the "hopeful" stack beside my bed -- haha! But see, there really is hope, if you don't mind waiting for over a decade. Anyway it's also very meaningful menopause reading, so the delay doesn't matter all that much and is, in fact, rather timely. Here's what Owen says about PMS & feeling depressed:

"My breasts are tender and so is my heart. Everything hurts more -- I watch a movie on the television and weep, I cry myself to sleep, I worry about the world. I feel colder than normal, and vulnerable in a raw and aching seemingly never - ending way. I have felt this feeling so many times in my life -- and yet here I am, warm and dry, with food in my kitchen, clothes on my back, in a better situation for survival than most people on this planet. Yet nonetheless . . . I am weak and anxious . . . I find myself in more self - doubt at this time. Am I making a great big mess of my life" (140 - 41).

During these low, unhappy times, she tries to reason with herself and move on with her life. Her period comes, and she "goes easy on herself," knowing that this is a temporary hormonal depression that will go away when the hormones shift gears once again. Menopause can also be a huge hormonal shift that causes these same feelings, but the problem is that menopause lasts a lot longer than PMS or a menstrual period.

I was so excited about this book that I had to keep updating my family (all boys except for me, oh well) about it, chapter by chapter. During one of these conversations, my son said, "Mom how many times do you have to say menstrual cycle; can't you just say it? I just laughed and said, "No, in fact, that's the whole point of the book." Of all the things that do bother me in this life, saying menstrual is not one of them. Luckily my husband joined me in this little consciousness raising exercise. "Mom is right," he said,"those are just words to describe a fact of life."

In The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler makes the same point about the word vagina: "What are we saying about our bodies if we can't say vagina?" (150). One of the women interviewed in the book reports that she "said VAGINA at least a dozen times a day for two months" until she was able at last "to reclaim it as a word" (159).

Ensler points out that if our culture could normalize and fully accept female sexuality, then there would be so much less violence toward women. Likewise, in Her Blood is Gold Owen says: "Ignoring or despising menstruation is one of the ways that misogyny manifests itself" (159). She suggests that instead of being turned off by a woman's period, men should "bow to it from every cell, with deep feeling" (130). Over and over, she says, just imagine how different the world would be if this were so. How long oh Lord, oh Goddess, oh Nana?

Giant Goddess! Nana Sophie [and Kitti, 2006]

Sophie & Charlotte (above) are two of three "Nanas" created in 1974
for permanent outdoor display near the town hall in Hanover, Germany
by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 - 2002)

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