So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

23 January, 2010

Keeping Abreast of the Subject

I'm not sure I have anything to say on this Shapely Prose guest post about experiences with fluctuating breast size that isn't kind of tangential of the subject, so I'm pulling my ruminations back here.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, I started to enter puberty.

This was, as you might be aware, a touch on the late side. (Further, I was in high school, due to getting skipped up a grade, and thus that much further out of synch with people whose physical development had started, typically, two or three years earlier.) And, as longer-term readers may recall, I was not well-positioned for good social skills development especially around sexuality, nor particularly ept at it.

I had been sexualised and objectified prior to that point; one of the driving forces behind my schooling decisions for high school was wanting to avoid any further exposure to the boys who had made an avocation of attempting to grope my undeveloped breasts or taunt me with sexually charged commentary. But the actual physical stuff didn't really start to kick in significantly until I was actually in high school.

The androgyny of childhood gave way to an androgyny of early adolescence, one too lean and light-boned to show any of the broad paintstrokes of womanhood, with bare hints of the swelling of breasts. I learned how to change shirts in the gym locker room without ever quite seeming to be topless in the selfconsciousness of knowing that I was braless, puerile, exposed. My mother harassed me to wear a bra despite the fact that I had the barest suggestions of curves, and I humored her for two or three days before discarding the thing as an uncomfortable mass of useless fabric.

Despite all this, I was bemused by notions that I should want larger breasts; the pectoral workout scenes in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret left me laughing at the strange implausibility of adolescent females rather than reassured that I was not alone. I did not think larger breasts would make me attractive; attractiveness was such an unreachable goal that such physical transformations did not occur to me. I hardly thought about breasts at all, beyond a near-subliminal discomfort with a sense of sexualisation and exposure that came of admitting to having them - a discomfort that was eased by the fact that, compared to most female people I knew, I didn't have them.

It was strange to me to hear discussions of breasts (and bras, and similar), because I was ... not precisely dissociated from mine, but had them as tightly associated with my identity as my kneecaps. And so I missed out a lot of importance and had a rather funhouse-mirror perspective on a lot of things, a perspective that perhaps matched the lopsidedness of my actual breasts. (One of which, I have joked for years, never made it out of Tanner stage 4.) Perhaps this was rooted in or a root of my later understanding of myself as genderqueer; gods know.

I picked up a few sports bras from a friend a few years ago, not because I needed sports-bra support of the breasts, but because there were times that going shirtless for exercise was too cold and a shirt led to overheating, so half a shirt was the right scale. They ached some at certain points of my menstrual cycle. My partners found my nipples notably more interesting than I did, overall (experiments with things to do with them mostly led to me wondering when something worthwhile was going to begin). And so on.

All of which made pregnancy ... interesting.

There are stretchmarks on my breasts to go with the stretchmarks on my belly and thighs. I wear a nursing bra most days as much for support as for the protection on my nipples when they've been moderately abraded. The larger one actually folds over, which is frustrating for finding positions to lie down. There is an actual curve between them where there used to be a breastbone; it's possible to imagine corsetry giving me cleavage without me having to put one hand on the side of each boob and shove them together (which was the prior methodology for achieving 'cleavage').

It's honestly a bit confusing. My lion commented that some of the photography of me with the baby suggested a curve, and I was very much, "Yes, it's so weird." Not weird enough to be dysphoric, at least, just perplexing and faintly off-kilter.

And I'm again reminded of the person over at Renegade Evolution's who was horrified by people not wearing bras because People Can See Your Nipples, which left me in a bewildered, "Don't you wear clothes where you come from?" sort of state. Which has to be linked with my mother's insistence that there was some moral necessity to clothe my barely-adolescent chest in additional totally unnecessary layers, somewhere, in the department of socially normal things that make no sense to me.

It's a horribly fraught subject and one where my investment is minute, which is a fascinating experience.

None of this is anything I know how to talk about in a way that's relevant for Shapely Prose, honestly; I'm pretty sure I didn't quite talk about what I meant to when I started here, either. Just ... all the investment people have in breasts, I guess, and I'm limited to faint aggravation at unnecessary clothing and preferring it when I don't get kicked in them.

19 January, 2010

Or A Serious Expression In The Middle Of July

The Mother's for Women's Lib carnival linked me to this post, which contains this paragraph:

Not only are traditionally female fan objects and fan engagements devalued, the very gender identity of the fan thus becomes problematic: reading done in private by women is a selfish and time-wasting activity, and fannish investment is a selfish and time-wasting squandering of emotion. Mothers, however, are meant to focus their activities and emotions on one target only: their family. Capitalist culture has long been undergirded by domestic ideology: the man’s primary domain is the capitalist world, where selfishness and aggressivity are rewarded, while the woman’s primary domain is home, where she creates social awareness by selflessly volunteering and providing moral guidance for the next generation. I’m taking this directly from my domestic/bourgeois ideology lecture for the British nineteenth century, but frankly, living in a white middle class suburban area with two kids in private school, the ideological structure of my community doesn’t really look all that different.

And that's an interesting thing.

I have gotten, since Little Foot was born, profoundly jealous of what time I get to spend on myself. And it's hard, on a lot of levels - I mean, starting with the comment "being selfish is one of the worst crimes a woman can commit without breaking the law" but also all the ways in which my time is circumscribed - whether because I actively need to be minding Little Foot or, like now: she finally went down for a nap, after a fussy day in which she largely refused to sleep. I should go, for example, grab the towels out of the bathroom and wash them, but if I put her down she might wake up. (She has been very, very easy to wake of late, alas.) Which necessity - the dirty towels or the unrested infant - rules?

I have always struggled with taking time for myself, seesawing between complete self-sacrifice and a tendency towards indulgence without ever quite knowing where the range of legitimate behaviour fell. It is not something - growing up in a context where any time spent on myself was proof of my selfishness - that I learned well. Nor a culture designed to help rational thought on the subject, even if I were not kept from learning it at home.

And there are the half-spoken assumptions: that of course the lion and I would stop playing games when we have children, for example. That our recreations will become proper, whatever that means. I already watch baseball games, maybe we'd have to take up more television sports? Or - to really buy into the mythologies of adulthood, that his world would be consumed with Job and my world would be consumed with Baby and neither of us would ever have scope for our own pursuits again, except maybe a movie every year or two when the stars align and someone else could mind the babe.

I find myself strung up by the self-doubt, neither counting off tasks - fold the laundry, clean the bedroom, catalogue the crate of books, whatever else - nor taking time to relax, poised between the two because I have no space to give myself for either.

I think maybe this is why I'm tired.

14 January, 2010

Ignorance and Bliss

I was, for various reasons, having That Conversation the other day. The interminable one, with someone who almost certainly means well, but hasn't quite managed to claw up to spitting distance of social awareness. You know how it goes; you ask, "Look, do you worry about whether you'll be raped if you go out?" and get a response like, "I totally worry about being mugged, I live in a bad part of town." (Because we all know that women totally don't ever have to worry about being mugged; it's one crime or the other.)


One of the other people in That Conversation commented that her moment of revelation was a Savage Love column in which someone had written in asking for advice for how to deal with anal tears, because she'd been mucking about with bondage with her partner and he took advantage of her helplessness to do something she'd previously refused. It hadn't occurred to the writer that she'd been raped.

And, well, it hadn't occurred to the person relating the story that that was rape either. Because she had internalised the "sexuality is like this: resist resist resist resist resist lie-back-and-think-of-England-in-the-end". So: revelation! That is rape!

My first thought on this was relief that I had never been that naive.

My second thought, following immediately after, was that actually, I had been.

Because the cascade that led into my assault was, as I've ruminated before, a long chain of violations, minor building up to major, where I hadn't figured out if I wanted any of them - and by the time I realised I had wanted to say no long ago, it seemed so pointless, so cruel; he expected to be able to do that stuff now, it would be so nasty to suggest that I didn't like it, right? It wasn't nice to lead people on like that. All of the minor transgressions were written off as the price of my failures of promptness, and anything built upon them likewise, not because of resist-and-submit per se, but the same complex of expectation. The things already lost cannot be a crime against person, because they are lost already. And that is what sex is about: resist-and-submit, and if I wasn't able to articulate the 'resist' right on, well, that left me the resolution to do.

Tied for third thought, cascading out of this moment of someone else's enlightenment:

That I didn't know what happened to me was almost rape, and denied that word for many years because I didn't want to appropriate the experiences of "real" victims of assault, but I knew it was wrong, and that's why I wouldn't have been surprised by the opportunistic rape from the letter-writer being named as it was;

That there is a bonus complex narrative about the consequences of being female and kinky (reminded as I was of a friend who was raped under similar circumstances), too;

That for all that I missed out on a lot of the social expectations of femaleness (all the things women are supposed to do 'by default' when they go out because of the risk of rape are things that don't occur to me most of the time - perhaps because I'm a shut-in by preference, perhaps because I was assaulted by a supposed romantic partner and not a stranger and none of them would have protected me) I ... have no idea ... how to show this world ... to someone who does not already see the space in which it inhabits.

I often feel that I don't live in the same world as other women who are talking about the world women have to move through; that was not the case yesterday.

I'm looking at my daughter, now, and it matters that she is female-bodied whatever comes after, because I look at her and think about this world she has no idea exists, snugged as she is now in the arms of her loving family. I have the tears welling up, knowing that she will have to learn to navigate that godawful world, however it looks when she gets older, my happy, sweet child who has never known cruelty, whose sense of betrayal is keyed to a diaper left unchanged a little too long, not ... all the world can wreak.

And I wish for all the world that she could remain as sweetly unaware of the awful things that humanity will do to women as that annoying guy who wanted to know better. That her education could be as gentle as a heated conversation with a handful of frustrated women on the internet, women armed only with domestic violence stats and a fistful of personal experience.

(And I am worlds further away from understanding my mother than I have ever been.)