Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reproduction, sex, pleasure: defining a woman

I once saw a birth depicted in a movie. As a child, the lengthy and painful process made a powerful impact on me: I could never understand why anyone in their right mind would subject themselves to this willingly. That memory stayed with me throughout my adolescence: if there was one thing to be avoided, that was pregnancy. There was always abortion, but that in itself was yet another invasive procedure at the time (plus the social stigma associated with it). Not to mention the whole anguish associated with a mere visit to a gynecologist: I always wondered why nobody would come up with less invasive methods for a checkup. I had a hard time believing that, with all the other non-invasive methods of investigation and even surgery, women's reproductive apparatus could only be properly tended to through invasive methods.

In time, I came to realize that I may be part of the problem too: why did I take it as invasive? What was the root of my horror, disgust and fear with gynecological checkups, pregnancy, abortion? Beyond the sheer fear of pain, a disempowering vision of women's sexuality was lurking behind my understanding of 'being a woman'. After all, it's still called the 'reproductive apparatus' - why not the sexual apparatus? Or the pleasure apparatus? And then again, maybe calling it a 'reproductive apparatus' focuses the medical profession only on its 'reproductive' function, stripping it of any other possible understandings.

What's wrong with reproduction, you'd wonder. Isn't it the most wonderful thing on earth, the possibility to bring someting into being? But 'wonderful' is not exactly the word I'd use: it's part of the cycle of life, I do agree with that. But it's as common as breathing: look around, everything gets to reproduce, then die. There's no transcendental mystery to it. It's intriguing how it happens, but it does happen a lot, on a daily basis, and no other species gets to fuss about it so much as humans do.

And then, maybe that's precisely the problem: that all other living creatures are doing it, but then nobody gets to tell them if they 'should' and how it 'must be done'. Nobody gets to define them as the 'reproductive pool' of the species (well, nobody except humans research them, of course).
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