It’s your home, your body, but not merely a container—and it doesn’t really shelter you. It’s your surface. It’s your capacity for touch. I want to second-guess every word (like capacity) because really this is the first time I’ve tried to abstract what-all I’m getting at when I begin to think about bodylife. Not to mention what it feels like to do things with our bodies, through our bodies. Walking, kissing, yoga, running, sweating, anything that makes you sweat.
I haven’t even begun to touch on the things women’s bodies do and experience throughout menstruation-reproduction processes. The range of experiences happening day by day when it comes to your period, pregnancy, birth, post-natal life, post-menstrual life…is varied and personal and flat out awe-inspiring—and shunned out of view, co-opted and controlled by politicians and other non-science-based thinkers.
Then there’s the violence (one in three women will be beaten, raped or killed) and discrimination based on gender, our non-male bodies. And the objectification, and endless assessments and comparisons, by them, by us.
What we were and weren’t told, the beliefs and assumptions and expectations we formed, regardless of what we wanted. What we did and felt. What was done to us. All this comprises our bodylives.
Each of us holds so much history in our bodies. So many stories. I wonder how it is for men, or anyone who self-identifies their gender in another way. It’s just I’m focused on female bodylife with my work. Trying to get to normal. And to completely undermine it.
I took a morning workshop on diversity, equity and inclusion recently. It was led by Paloma Medina, Performance Coach and Founder of 11:11 Psychology, Work & Life Supplies. It took place at the World Domination Summit in Portland, OR. Today, I wrote up my notes and read through the slide deck. Not sure I have ever done that before! I could probably boil it down to one (huge) idea: Inclusion is a core human need. What we do to get it, or when facing the absence of it…that’s where things get
This talk was science-based and unexpectedly profound. I don’t know what I expected actually. I don’t have a team I want to build (yet), or a company diversity-box I want to check off. What drew me to the workshop is that it’s time to break my habits around listening. This seemed like a super-relevant line of inquiry. I don’t usually think about how we’re wired, or consider what is useful from an evolutionary – survival view.
We feel things first.
All data/information goes to the amygdala first. The amygdala is part of the limbic system. It’s the older, emotional, fight or flight center. That’s where we register threats and rewards. It’s where we notice patterns of threat.
Next, there’s the prefrontal cortex (PFC), where we handle complex matters, think things through. The PFC is the more recently evolved part of the brain that handles rational and creative thought.
When something threatens a core need, the amygdala shuts downs the PFC. It’s been referred to as amygdala hijacking. There’s no time for the PFC to think through the situation. The amygdala is way faster and has already identified a threat. And it feels threatened by things like exclusion.
Belonging, or inclusion, it turns out, is a core human need.
Think of what we do for family, or for love, that puts us at risk. It’s not Maslow’s hierarchy of needs working here. We care about belonging, about our people, first.
Experiences of social pain, like exclusion, are akin to physical pain. They feel the same to our brains, and we do what we need to do to avoid them.
Emotions rule and our reactions are all signs of our nervous system moving energy and focus to where it can best protect us.
There are culturally accepted (and rejected) expressions of emotion (like no crying in baseball—is that still the case?), but no one is actually less emotional than anyone else. We just deal with it differently. Some withdraw, some shout, for example. Most of us, when threatened, experience tunnel vision, increased heart rate and tensed muscles. We are all emotional beings. About a third of our experiences are PFC-based, while two-thirds are our emotional life, ruled by a more primitive part of our brains. Think about that…
This helps to make sense out of (way too many) experiences I’ve had losing my cool, to put it mildly. It also helps to explain why so many conversations where we have not been able to connect and just talk things over. One or several of us was, no doubt, in a completely different emotional state than the others. Whether you could tell or not. I don’t mean just the hot-headed outbursts, tears, or storming off. I mean, we’re all endlessly dealing with feelings that I don’t think we’re trained to identify, understand and handle.
We have evolved. We do have the PFC. Just, all things being equal, the amygdala will run right over it every time.
Unless—we rewire our brains.
This can be done.
The workshop ended with homework.
Every time I hear about another setback, my reflex reaction is to tense hard and run away.
There is, as of yesterday, another restriction on abortions in our country: in Georgia from six weeks on, they are banned. So, that’s you missing one period to give you the heads up about your pregnancy, and then a max of two weeks to make the decision and make it happen, while maintaining your life —family, work, commitments, restrictions and considerations, like privacy and safety and money and time. Time. Enough time for everything and everyone you will need to do, think about, talk through and actually getting there to wherever there might be a clinic or hospital that will take care of you.
It’s not going to stop, this active pursuit of us. It feels like pursuit because indeed we are, being chased down. State by state, region by region. Hunted like slaves who got away. Temporarily safe in the next country over. Only we’re all here. And we’re not safe. We never were. Safe.
We have yet to be mentioned in our Constitution.
I have been taking so much for granted.
Image: Bleeding Hearts / Lovewall by jgoldcrown and passersby.
Something that should just be normal.
“It’s so important that people see these + that women start to unlearn all the shame that we’ve been taught. It amazes me that in our culture the female body is so over exposed / sexualized + yet vaginas are so taboo + shocking. I think so many women feel disconnected from this part of our bodies + try to avoid or ignore or wish away something that should just be normal. I feel so lucky to see this exhibit. Thank you.” —IRL post from Saturday’s exhibition: Normal Is Diverse, NYC.
It’s not just that we don’t expect diversity among our bodies. It’s that it’s not normal to get to see womxn’s bodies as we are. Ourselves. Not as object. As being.
There is no right way to look.
A man at the exhibition told me that this exhibition was just for women because men seeing this wouldn’t want to have sex again, because it isn’t attractive. I couldn’t begin to reply. I waited to see if he could hear himself claiming vaginas for men like that. His wife was standing next to him. I waited. He pointed out that I did say that I wanted to hear people’s thoughts. (I do.) I was only able to point out that he can speak for himself, but probably not for all men. I was winding down by then. I kind of had cruise control on, enjoying that people were looking, and talking with each other. I didn’t have it in me to cross a gap that wide. My mind was racing reacting. I am standing right in front of you. There are mainly women standing in front of the vagina portraits you’re pointing at. And, still, when you look, you only see a body part, an object for some man’s use?
I know. I know. I need to be more prepared for the conversations I want to have. Most of my training (when not totally avoiding or hanging behind my camera) is in growling an incoherent rant and stomping off though. Often that all happens in my head. I have a lot of work to do.
I spent the day after the exhibition, yesterday, in zombie slow-motion mode, wandering around some, and I haven’t really begun to absorb the experience. All of this hindered by the mind-numbingly bad smell of the cleaning solution the studio used, that many places are using, is this a conspiracy? My apartment is filled with the smell because it got into the boards backing the images and the papers used by viewers to post their thoughts IRL. I’m told by a friend who’s banned the stuff from her business that it’s called Fabuloso. It’s really bad. Why do people think this smell = clean?
So, I’ll be unpacking my mind bit by bit. It was, otherwise, such a good night. For me, for the work, the release of “normal is diverse”. For us. Because this really is about us, and making space to look at ourselves, this important aspect of ourselves, and reflect, discuss, not be alone with how we see ourselves in relation to others. How we compare ourselves as if we are the sum of our parts. And why. Why do we compare?
Just wanted to share one thought today, from vagina vérité viewers:
“Thank you! I never knew I needed this until I came!”
Thank you back! I want to thank everyone who came and who wrote down their thoughts to share with everyone else, attending normal is diverse, and who will attend future exhibitions. I kicked off our posting space with thoughts from attendees of early exhibitions. Looking forward to the next one and including Saturday’s IRL posts there.