I’ve spent a fair amount of time around here going after my conservative compatriots, so today I’m going to turn my poison pen on liberals. Odds are good that by now you’ve heard of wackadoodle Yale art student Aliza Shvart’s senior project. She claims that she repeatedly impregnated herself using artificial insemination, induced miscarriages, video taped it and collected the bloody mess. She made a large plastic cube with the miscarriage matter mixed with petroleum jelly between plastic sheeting and played the video onto it. The school says the miscarriages were faked. Shvarts insists they are real. Remember when art was about beauty?
Any ways. my point in bringing this up isn’t to get into nonsense posing as art. What interests me, is what this woman claims the “purpose” of her project is:
to assert that often, normative understandings of biological function are a mythology imposed on form. It is this mythology that creates the sexist, racist, ableist, nationalist and homophobic perspective, distinguishing what body parts are ‘meant’ to do from their physical capability. . . it is a myth that ovaries and a uterus are ‘meant’ to birth a child.”
As Joanne Jacobs put it, “she should have taken more bio(logy), less art.” Shvarts seems to be working within a peculiarly misogynistic strain of feminism here: one which views anything which is particular to women as demeaning and which often views a woman’s body as an enemy to equality.
You can see this in the claims by radical feminist Linda Hirshman that work done by mothers at home is self-evidently inferior because men don’t choose to do it. Because what men do or don’t do is the measure by which we judge value, apparently. If Ms. Hirshman were truly interested in a feminism which sought equality and freedom for women, she would be insisting that women’s desires and choices are just as valuable and admirable as anything a man would choose to do. However, like too many radical feminist thinkers, she has absorbed a world view which at its core is extremely hostile to women.
The same hostility towards that which is female also animates some of the support for legal abortion. A few years ago beliefnet had a liberal blogger who went by the name Swami. I don’t remember exactly what he had said that got my dander up, but it had something to do with the idea that a threat to Roe v Wade was a threat to women’s equality. This is part of what I wrote to him:
“I’m not going to try and convince you to change your mind about Roe, but there were a couple of thoughts which permeated your writing which I wanted to address. The strongest and most pervasive idea is that Roe represented freedom for women and that without it women were second class citizens. You didn’t explain the logic behind it, but the only sense I can make of such an idea is that you are saying that the natural functioning of a woman’s body renders her inferior to men and that it is only when she is able to work against her body’s natural functions that she can be free and achieve equality in our society. This is such a blatantly misogynistic idea that I’m sure you would never put it in such terms and would couch an explanation in phrases such as “control over her reproduction” or “freedom from male patriarchy”. However, at it’s bottom you are talking about what a woman’s body does naturally and saying it renders her inferior and enslaved unless she has the means to counter-act it.
“If the issue was simply the right to avoid producing offspring, then the same argument would be made about men’s role in reproduction – say a moral imperative to give men access to a easily reversible procedure which prevented them from producing sperm or ejaculating. However, the functioning of men’s bodies, while even less in their control than a woman is over her body, is not seen as problematic while the functioning of a woman’s body is seen as not only problematic, but also relegating her to the role of second class citizen. Like I said, I’m sure you would never put your thoughts in these particular terms, but at the bottom, the way a woman’s body functions is what you are talking about.”
I have often said that the cardinal sin of radical second wave feminists was that they took their cues about what liberated women would look like from the fantasies of 15 year old boys. “I want a woman who will have sex without putting any demands on me, walk around half naked, get really drunk at parties so it’ll be easier for me to get some of that strings free sex and make lots of money.” Anyone who thinks that this is not the message which has been put out there needs to talk with 20 something men and ask them if those are their expectations for women. They won’t put it in such crude terms, but at the core, that’s what they often think. Far from being liberating, this has left many women feeling that they have no choice but to engage in behaviors they may not want. Talk to a young woman about abstinence and in the back of her mind she will be thinking that she’ll never be able to keep a boyfriend, much less find a husband if she doesn’t put out. When my husband tells people that I stay home with our kids, women frequently say, “I wish my husband would LET ME stay home with the kids.” (emphasis mine.) So much for independence and free choice.
Much has been said about Ms. Shverts’ stunt as it relates to abortion. However, what her project really shows us is the face of liberal misogyny in which a woman’s body is the enemy, in need of control and redefinition and women’s choices are inferior. This isn’t liberation; it’s just slavery to yet another worldview that hates women.
BTW, Charles Lane has an excellent column in the Washington Post which puts this incident within the context of our dysfunctional academic institutions.