It Isn't Polite to be Human in Public
Your stories of hiding the signs of your bodies
Last year, I spoke at Notre Dame’s Fall Conference on “Woman Annihilating Transhumanism,” making the argument that while most famous transhumanists are men, most practicing transhumanists are women. Because women find the world is not built to welcome us as women, we have to decide whether and how to reshape our bodies to suit a male-normed world. (This is major theme of my Plough essay, “Let the Body Testify.”)
I asked Other Feminisms readers about your own experiences:
Is there’s a practice you’re recently taken on or abandoned that is about making your body fit more easily into the expectations of others?
Monica offered a good example of a quotidian transhuman practice:
I quit shaving a while ago for basically political reasons (in particular, to get away from the idea that being or looking "feminine" means involves removing a part of my female body) but I've never thought about these "beauty" practices in terms of transhumanism before. That's an interesting framework, and I think it's especially interesting to look at how people's apparently individual choices still contribute to an ever-stiffer competition for everyone else, and what it costs to walk away from that competition.
Like the Sun Belt or the Bible Belt, there exists, on this multifarious earth of ours, a Hair Belt. […]
Sing, Muse, of Greek ladies and their battle against unsightly hair! Sing of depilatory creams and tweezers! Of bleach and beeswax! Sing how the unsightly black fuzz, like the Persian legions of Darius, sweeps over the Achaean mainland of girls barely in their teens!
I’m from the Hair Belt on both sides (Jewish and Italian) and I’ve married into the Greek line. I had such a feeling of kinship reading this, and I think of the unruliness of hair as cousin to the general ungovernableness of my ancestors. (My family got kicked out of several countries for political reasons above and beyond the general hostility to our being Jewish).
But it’s a wrench to have the thing that makes you feel sisterly be sharing stories about hiding what you naturally look like as a woman to fit an imagined (blonder) vision.
It goes back to a question we’ve discussed before on Other Feminisms:
If you cut womanhood away from a biological identity, does womanhood get defined down to “being the object of sexism”?
Laura (in her first comment!) pointed out a paradoxical demand women face:
Dieting seems to be primarily (or sometimes exclusively) about making our bodies meet the expectation of others. And that expectation is to look like you’re at peak fertility your entire life. Maturity, growth, and moving into other stages of life are not allowed.
The funny thing is that we’re supposed to look like we’re at peak fertility but we’re not actually supposed to be fertile!
And, for many makeup trends that involve red lips and flushed cheeks, we’re asked to look constantly aroused, while not necessarily being interested.
My suspicion is that frequently, when there's a conflict between us-as-we-are and a new shape we could fit into, baseline humans are assumed to be the problem that has to be fixed.
I like how L.M. Sacasas puts it here:
What Illich and Ellul would have us consider is that the human-built world is not, in fact, built for humans. And, of course, this is to say nothing of what the human-built world has meant for the non-human world. What’s more, it may be paradoxically the case that the human-built world will prove finally inhospitable to human beings precisely to the degree that it was built for humans without regard for humanity’s continuity with the other animals and the world we inhabit together.
The demand to be other-than-human isn’t only asked of women, but some of the ways this is demanded of us are more obvious and more intimate.
Finally, Laurie had a very funny compromise:
When I was in my early 20's (50 years ago), I opted for compromise: one unshaved leg for me and one one shaved for the world. Now I shave them both, with longer periods in between.