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What Can the Body Bear?
A writing roundup on Encanto, abortion, and the Olympics
Other Feminisms will return next Monday from maternity leave. In the meantime, here’s a little roundup of some writing I’ve been doing (mostly before the baby came, though I certainly twisted some editors’ arms to get timely edits back: “Hi, yeah, don’t mean to rush you but I could have a baby at any moment so do you have notes for me?”).
“Encanto and the Benedict Option” at First Things
I enjoyed the film (“Surface Pressure” is the best song) and, although I have some issues with the structure of the musical (not enough reprises/development of the siblings!), I really liked way the show was framed around the absence of a villain.
The family’s fractures are magically reflected in their surroundings: The casita begins to show cracks, and starts to crumble. But even when the house is whole, there is already something slightly wrong. Even in safety, the Madrigals’ lives are shaped by fear—of the outside world, or of being worthless, or imperfect. This is the same challenge that faces those who are attracted to thick Christian community primarily as a refuge from the outside world, rather than as a means to live abundantly for God. The aim of a refuge is to make space to offer an open, joyful witness, not to pull up the ladder behind you. But it is difficult to break habits of fear and despair.
“No Neutrality on Abortion” at Deseret
The piece was prompted by my reading the Dobbs oral argument, and the discussions of whether the state must remain neutral on the question of when life begins, because the topic is contested. I have a very particular hobbyhorse on this topic (not limited to questions of abortion) which is that we are always making claims about philosophy and metaphysics.
It’s easy to catch or throw a ball without ever having studied the physics of how, exactly, the ball tumbles through the air. The physics are still real, whether or not we can rattle off the equations. But, in moral and material things, we often rely on a strong sense of what is true, without having to know why it is true.
It’s the harder or contested cases that force us to go back and examine the foundations, although our easy choices are as rooted in religious and philosophical questions as the hard ones are. There are no neutral or unrooted moral facts. Every claim about morality, just like every claim about an object in motion, is rooted in a theory of how the world works and where we stand.
I wrote this piece before Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned substance and fell during her free skate. But we didn’t need that overt scandal to know something is dangerously wrong in figure skating (and several other Winter Olympic sports).
Quads don’t work for older skaters. The physics get hard once a skater is past puberty and begins to develop a woman’s body. Restrictive eating can forestall puberty and growth, but this strategy is abuse of the body, not celebration of its potential. Pushing a child’s body to the limits results in serious injuries that send them into retirement before they’re out of their teens.
Sustainable strength and excellence is found in sports where the athletes are able to compete for years, rather than just a narrow window of a few years before their bodies give out. The Paralympics hew closer to this model, celebrating a range of bodies and excellences.
I’ll see you next week with a more usual Other Feminisms schedule, but, in the meantime, what have you been enjoying reading?
Also, please recommend better things for me to read while nursing—I have gotten unlucky with the timing of my library holds and wound up with Full Surrogacy Now and Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955. I’m feeling more optimistic about The Orchid Thief, which just came in.