Embrace And A Reminder That the Personal Is Political

I went to see a special screening of the documentary movie "Embrace" a couple nights ago with some friends. It's a doc by Taryn Brumfitt, following her as she meets and interviews people from around the world who have something to say about women's body image. You might know Taryn from a pic that went viral a while back. It's how she got into this game.

Taryn Brumfitt's 'Before and After' viral photo she originally posted to Facebook
So, the movie is about something very simple that we all somehow know and don't know at the same time. It's about that ideal female body that the world tells us we need to strive for, and it's about how unachievable that ideal is; how draining of our emotion and time it is to pursue; how that ideal female body does not necessarily coincide with a healthy body. It's also about how deep and all-encompassing the feelings of insecurity about our appearance are - how none of us are immune.

It was a touching movie. It, as you might imagine, rang true for the audience, and it sparked some discussion certainly among my friends, and I'm sure among others in the audience too. You should fo sho check this movie out if you get a chance - and take your friends and kids and nieces and nephews with you. It's a good way to pull this subject to the forefront so you can speak it out loud with yourself and your closey-close people.

The Personal
It brings to mind a phrase I've been thinking about a lot lately. The Personal Is Political. People use that phrase with varying meaning, but in my head I see it as having to do with realizing that there are things we feel as very personal shortcomings or failures that are actually things springing more from our cultural situation than from any personal choices. I've read about the feminist Consciousness Raising Groups from the 70's and how women, when they started talking #RealTalk about their lives and their worries, found all the other women around them shared those same worries - and that gave them a clue about what kinds of issues were feminist issues that could improve with activism.

 I imagine in these Consciousness Raising Groups there's a woman named Alice or something talking about how pathetic she felt for the sorry state of her housekeeping skills compared to other women, and all the other women were like;
"Hells No!!! All us other women here have felt like you were the epitome of housekeeping, and we were all like - 'wish we could keep our house like Alice. She does it all effortless and shit.' Now you tellin' us you spend an extraordinary amount of time on that, and it's exhausting, and you try hard to make it look effortless and you still feel like your housekeeping doesn't compare to ours...Shit...our minds are blown."
Then they start talking about how all the advertising makes them feel lesser than their peers, and how they are encouraged in varying ways not to show that kind of weakness to other women, but what mindblowingly amazing relief it is to share all that with other women - to know you are not alone - to know you are normal and not crazy or pathetic. And then just that simple step of really knowing that their worries stem from something much larger than themselves changes so much about how they experience their life and how they will interact with the culture - politics included.

Our Bodies
Women's position in our world has expanded and improved in a lot of ways since the 60's, but in some very important ways we have not made much progress. I venture to say the more personal they are the less progress we've made.

Embrace hits on one of those more personal issues - pressing us to acknowledge the insanely unattainable level of youth and beauty we are expected to strive for; showing us how many women internalize and suffer from the process of obtaining or maintaining that high level and how even those we think have obtained it still suffer. It's like we're in a sort of modern Consciousness Raising Group and getting that kind of solidarity that reminds us we are not alone and that the culture needs to change in order for us to really affect our personal situation...and just the fact of actively knowing that, begins to change the culture.

Our Orgasms
And since everything for me gets seen through the lens of female orgasm, it made me immediately think about the deeply personal topic of a woman's ability to gain pleasure and/or orgasm from sexual interactions - particularly with men. This is still a topic that women feel incredibly sensitive about. There is still a strong sense that admitting weakness in this area, to both our male partners, to our female friends, and even for ourselves, could be more harmful than putting up a strong, effortless sexual facade.  In fact, the feeling that a normal woman should (when with a man she loves) be happy with her sex life and be orgasmic through normal male-female intercourse has such a strong and all-encompassing hold over us that it's hard to even see our experience in a way that isn't colored heavily by what we believe is normal.

So, I hope the feelings of personal shortcomings and failure that often plague women's sense of their own sexuality can also be eased by learning that most other women have some level of those feelings too and that the way we fit into cultural norms is more the problem here than our personal actions and capabilities. In that spirit, I think women need to keep hearing (and I'll keep saying)...
  • that the way we tend to have sex puts women but not men at an orgasm disadvantage
  • that our clitoris, not our vagina, should be the focus if orgasm is the goal
  • that oh yeah, men almost always have their organ of sexual pleasure stimulated during sex but the clitoris, women's organ of sexual pleasure, tends only to get direct stimulation in the context of 'extra' stuff - 'extra' giving us a clear indication lady orgasm is simply not deemed as important; 
  • that clues big and small all over our culture tell us that 'other women' have no problem being orgasmic during sex and that it's a problem if we aren't; 
  • that it's actually completely sensible if you have no real idea about how you or other women physically orgasm or how all your parts work down there because there is such a lack of accurate information and such an abundance of misinformation out there; 
  • that there is every indication that female bodies are as capable of quick, reliable orgasms as men, so the fact that women tend to have more problems than men orgasming in partnered sex but not when we masturbate means the problem is with how we are doing the nasty together and not with our bodies.
  • that we need larger cultural activism to fully address these feelings of personal shortcomings and failure;
  • that actively learning about all this begins to change how we interact with our world which can then change the larger culture

More Talk 
Anyway, I think what really struck me after watching Embrace was how important it is for women to speak with other women about deep shit. How we feel about our bodies and our ability to orgasm and our sexual life is deep shit. It's deep shit because it is embarrassing and because for those topics there is such a distance between how we're supposed to be and how we are. We are not sure footed. We don't know how to straddle these subjects properly, and I think learning that other women are similarly shakey about all this can ground us and help us find strength to look at our situation in a different, more realistic way, and that in turn will change us, change our activism, and change the world...because sometimes the personal really is political .

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