Monday, November 16, 2009

Those deadly pincers

The Magical observation has previously been made that Family Valuez and Porn Nation are close allies in the war of Bullshit against humanity, and in particular against women.

The battles in this conflict, and other combatants, sometimes take unexpected forms. Consider this case from Zambia:
The trial of a news editor in Zambia, accused of distributing obscene material, is coming to an end. Chansa Kabwela says she sent photos of a woman giving birth without medical help to senior government officials to highlight the effects of a nurses' strike. [...]

So far, it has amounted to a succession of trembling ministerial secretaries expressing their humiliation and shock that a woman in childbirth, the most private moment of her life, had been photographed.

Shock, not over the fact that she had given birth in a hospital car park. Or that her baby had suffocated. But that the pictures had been seen by men - an absolute taboo.

This is not to say the photographs are not terrible. When I saw them, it took me several seconds to focus, as though my brain was refusing to process the images.

The most graphic shows a woman from the waist down, lying on a plastic sheet, with the bloodied torso of a baby between her thighs. The head is still inside her.

This is what Zambia's President, Rupiah Banda, declared pornographic, when he called for the photographer to be arrested. [...]

Fred Mmembe is the editor-in-chief of The Post newspaper. He hates the government and his paper shouts it loud and clear.

Stage whispers hint that he is the real target.
On the one hand, the idea that pictures of a woman giving birth are "obscene" or "pornographic" is unmitigated bullshit. You can only consider these visual images obscene, in the sense that traditional obscenity law means the term, if you consider the female body obscene - if, addled by dietary and atmospheric sexism, you are unable to look upon the vulva without reading it as sex.

The vulva is not sex. It is sometimes used by the woman to whom it belongs, in sex. But it is not, itself, sex.

So the dehumanising characterisation of pictures of childbirth as necessitating suppression because somehow of prurient interest and corrupting tendency is an anti-woman act, performed by a government - a familiar entity in the pantheon of oppressors - seemingly in order to suppress criticism of women's healthcare and the state of healthcare workers' rights. This is not intuitively difficult to grasp as potential institutional misogyny.

But wait a minute. On the other hand, these bold governmental critics, with their noble aims of spreading awareness of a vital political issue, and asserting their freedom of speech against the heavy arms of the state: surely they don't hate women too?

One issue which appears to have gone largely unreported in major newspapers is whether the woman whose suffering was to be the subject of this burning crusade for justice actually consented to the pictures being taken, or to their subsequent circulation.

If this was done against her will or without consultation, what the world has witnessed is the objectifying exploitation of her body, in a private moment, for a political cause. However well-intended that cause may be in principle, this Magical Chicken cannot help but wonder if it is making gains at the expense of a woman's dignity, or by positioning her as a pawn.

1 comment:

  1. It's like people who complain about women breastfeeding in public. OMG OBSCENE! But when it's done provocatively in men's's totally fine!

    - angry alpaca


Please avoid (1) victim-blaming, (2) justifying any particular instance of oppression/exploitation, (3) explaining that we live in a post-feminist/racist/ablist/enter-oppression-here world, or (4) Mansplaining at all. Barn writers are free to moderate their own posts how ever they deem fit, and not obligated to entertain any comment. If you suspect it might seem offensive, don't comment.

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