On having body parts that are “inappropriate”

September 24, 2009

I am not going to name my school or any of my professors in this story. If by chance you can figure it out, please note well that everything has been resolved and there is much respect all around.

I’m in 4th year engineering. In 4th year, or if you’re American, “senior year,” every engineering student must complete a 4th year design project. Most people design car parts. I’m contributing to a really cool project that is designing amphibious houses for areas that are prone to flooding or hurricanes (specifically New Orleans) and that makes me happy because it is important to me that I use my technical skills for good.

A female classmate of mine decided she wanted to design a better speculum, because everybody knows that pap smears are basically the worst, and surely there is room for improvement on that mechanism, right? On Friday we all submitted our project outlines for approval. My female classmate was told to pick a new topic, because hers was inappropriate.

Again, let me stress here that everything has worked out, and she will be designing a speculum for her design project, and I bear no ill-will to the male prof who said it was inappropriate. Things are a-okay.

BUT. I doooo want to make a note on what is and is not inappropriate.

My body is not inappropriate. Clinical procedures are not inappropriate. Health care is not inappropriate. Checking your blood pressure is not inappropriate, taking vitamins is not inappropriate, and therefore getting a pap smear is not inappropriate.

Uncomfortable? Yes, which is WHY this girl wants to redesign the speculum. Oh, you mean it makes YOU uncomfortable to talk about? Well, deal with it.

Pap smears aren’t sexually explicit. It’s clinical. I feel like sometimes, anything to do with female sexuality, that isn’t about the male consumption of it, is considered inappropriate or taboo. I’m so proud of my female classmate for pushing the boundaries of what makes certain males comfortable, and asserting herself on behalf of what is right.


Roundtable: Thoughts on the Omega Women + Power Conference

September 19, 2009

Welcome to the F-Wave Blog!  This is a space for seven young women to talk about issues of importance to our lives and communities, and to learn from each others’ experiences (and have a little fun while doing it.)  We met last weekend at the Omega Institute’s Women + Power Conference, and so we thought it would be appropriate for our first “roundtable” post to be a wrap-up of the conference.  You can learn more about us on the “About” page.  You can also follow this blog using the RSS Feed link to the right, or follow us on Twitter @thefwave. We hope you enjoy reading, and always feel free to give us your feedback in the comments section, or by e-mailing us (e-mails found on the About page).

Val:

This was the feminism my father warned me about.  Or more specifically, these were the feminists my father worried about.  Gloria Steinem and her bra-burning gang of man-hating , castrating, abortion-loving Feminazis.  This is not to say that there was any bra-burning (just bra abstaining) or castrating (that I know of) at the Women + Power Conference.  But these were women of all ages, who threw around words like “heteronormativity” and discussed female power and subjugation with flagrant abandon—and they were certainly more than this OC girl had ever seen together at one time.  Perhaps that is what struck me most about the conference.  Sitting on the shuttle, winding through the mists and the mountains of upstate New York, I was electrified with excitement at my realization that I was sitting on a bus full of young women JUST LIKE ME.  And not like me at all.  Dozens of women from all backgrounds who were brought together because we believe in Feminism, not as an antiquated study of generations past, but as a living and vital force in our own contemporary culture.  We are not too distracted by our iStuff to notice that women are still not receiving pay equal to men, that we are still afraid to walk the city streets alone at night, that we still feel the eye of the male gaze.  And not only that, but these we young women see the injustice of a world where heterosexuality is the standard by which all else is judged.  We see that people of color continue to be treated as second class citizens, even in states like my own, where they are the majority.  We see all of these things, and we will not stand by.  That refusal to be complicit, to be silent, to be complacent was the bolstering impression that I took with me from Omega.  Yes, there were shortcomings.  White, middle-aged, upper-middle-class women still comprised the majority of the participants.  Young women (meaning under the age of thirty), were given a shockingly small voice.  Issues of gender and sexuality went largely unmentioned.  But the truly young women were not of this nature, and coming from a generation who has supposedly tuned out from the pressing issues of the day, it was exhilarating to find that we are everywhere, and we are fighting.

Lisa:

So much of my feminist learnin’ comes from reading books and blogs. The conference really reminded me that discussion and actually making opinionated statements are much more valuable than sitting at a computer screen, nodding your head in agreement with the text you’re reading.

Becky:

Omega was a transformative experience for me. I’ve been feeling very burnt out this year, and was even questioning my commitment to my program and school in general. Spending this weekend with all these wonderful women was just the kind of energy boost I needed. Everything seemed more than I could possibly dream, like getting to speak to Gloria Steinem, meeting and hanging out with the wonder women of Feministing.com, hearing from women across the board on issues of interest to me. Most of all, getting to meet some new best friends from all over Canada and the U.S. was my absolute favourite part.

We spoke a lot of the communities that feminism creates among women. And even though we had only just met hours before, and we had very little in common as a group other than our feminism, we were able to connect on a level that allowed us to share our thoughts, voices and experiences without any fear of judgement, reprisal or rejection. One of my most overwhelming experiences was getting to talk about body issues in the sauna. For the first time in my life, my body was just a body, not for anyone’s consumption, and I loved it so much. It made me realise how important these woman-woman connections are to understanding and accepting ourselves. And in light of the inter-generational dialogue theme of the conference, I think it’s reflected in our need to interact with and hear the stories of women of all ages, from all backgrounds and experiences. There was an energy on that campus, and it wasn’t just the estrogen permeating the air, lol. There was an air of possibility and hope and power. Sure there are a lot of issues we still need to work on, like the representation of non-hetero sexualities, but overall there was a feeling that no matter what, we can overcome any obstacles in our way. The movement is strong within us. 🙂

Mary:

The Women + Power conference was kind of attitude-altering for me.  Having the privilege of seeing some of my heroes (Gloria Steinem, Samhita and Jessica of Feministing) and finding new role models (Sakena Yacoobi and Helen Thomas), and making friends with other young women who relate to me geeking out over powerful interesting, motivated at talented women of all walks of life really made me realize I am much more interested in being PART of the feminist movement.  I might not end up protesting down the streets of DC with a bullhorn and a battle-cry (which is awesome) but I do think that being active in some way, verbally on a blog, politically by voting, etc, or socially by simply making waves when someone in my home says something racist or sexist is imperative.  I like the idea of being more conscious and feminist in my daily life even if I don’t make a career of it.  As a young, broke, brown woman from a different walk of life than many of my fellow conference attendees, I feel getting my perspective in the mix on the general blogosphere is an important step in creating a holistic community.

Judith:

For me, the conference was a mixture of feeling very empowered at times and dealing with a lot of anger at other times.  On the one hand, I had a great feeling of being in this “safe” space.  Not only was it safe in the sense of not worrying about the negative energy that comes from being stared at on the street, or safe in the sense of being able to express my views, but also safe in funny little ways like not having to worry about accidentally eating meet in the dining hall.  It was wonderful to get away from my life, to recharge, to do some yoga, to meet some amazing women, and to assess where I am in my life and where I’m going.  I also enjoyed connecting with women of different generations, even though some of that experience was colored by the heteronormativity and privilege of it all.

On the flip side, I found myself frequently questioning my own reactions, especially to the women on stage.  Interspersed with wonderful wisdom and insight from Gloria Steinem, Helen Thomas, Isabel Allende, etc. were some comments that sat funny with me.  There was a lot of talk about how women, while trying to empower themselves, have become too aggressive, not embracing their “feminine,” caring side.  This was often linked to children and family and (sometimes) men.  There was also lots of talk of mentoring, which I think is great, but where does one find a mentor on the street?  So I reacted to a lot of this with a mix of “hmm, maybe I do need to allow myself to be more emotional” and the more abrasive “fuck that shit.”  The juxtaposition of these groups of traits as “masculine” and “feminine” was especially troubling.  I felt some essentialization of “woman” creeping in, and it made me feel like an outsider at times.  That said, the conference has given me a lot to think about, and I’m so excited about blogging with these amazing women.