Why women’s personal autonomy is not comprimisable
In 2015, there are still an alarming amount of forces working together to control women’s bodies. Underweight models in advertisements sell women products, setting up impossible standards about what their bodies should look like, and then profit off their insecurities.
Politicians — who are often white and male — lobby for anti-choice legislation like HB-2 in Texas and other laws targeting regulations of abortion providers. According to RH Reality Check, these laws create strict regulations for clinics like proximity to hospitals, required sizes of rooms and hallways that are medically unnecessary, which causes clinics to close because of the costs.
For women, being stripped of their reproductive freedom and autonomy over their bodies contributes to an environment where women are expected to present their bodies in a certain way to avoid sexual violence. This creates insecurities, and makes it incredibly difficult for women to love their bodies.
Melissa Fabello, body image activist and co-managing editor of Everyday Feminism, said ever since Ancient Greece, women have been associated with the body while the mind has always been associated with men. This sets the stage for women to be valued based on their bodies and for those bodies to be controlled.
However, in an effort to control women’s bodies, there’s a bigger underlying issue here — loss of power. Constant scrutiny and attempts to control women’s bodies makes women second-class citizens in society. This control is one of the main forces that keep women from achieving gender equality.
While people are quick to jump to the more physical ways that women’s bodies are controlled like through abuse, rape and physical violence, women’s bodies are also controlled in less obvious ways.
Fabello said narrow standards of beauty cause women to obsess about their bodies, go on diets, purchase products and possibly develop eating disorders. These actions may seem like they’re a choice but they’re frequently the result of a culture that scrutinizes women’s bodies.
“There are many systems playing together to make women feel bad about themselves,” Fabello said. “These industries like media, advertising, fashion and beauty are controlled by men and aimed at women.”
Furthermore, as women’s bodies are presented in an unrealistic light and sexualized in the media, female sexuality is simultaneously policed through blame for sexual violence, the belief that women don’t like sex as much as men and shaming women for having sex by calling them “sluts.”
Because of this, women struggle to freely enjoy their bodies without social consequences and are often shamed for accessing sex education and reproductive care, because of the stigma attached to a woman taking control of her health and future.
Activist and member of Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Young Leaders Advisory Council, Lauren Shuler, got involved with reproductive justice because of the sex education she received in high school.
“They didn’t talk to us about healthy relationships, birth control or values. They just showed us photos of STIs and told us not to have sex,” Shuler said. “It’s even illegal to have a condom in a Tennessee public high school.”
To make matters worse, the law is not looking to protect women’s bodies — it’s looking to control them.
“When seeking an abortion in North Dakota, state-mandated counseling to discourage abortion is required by law, after which a 24-hour waiting period is enforced before a woman’s appointment for an abortion.” Kate Black, student organizer for Planned Parenthood based in North Dakota, said.
A report by Guttmacher Institute reveals that in the last four years, states have enacted 231 abortion restrictions.
National Campus Organizer for Planned Parenthood Generation Action, Kate Cartagena, said constant pushback against women and attempts to control their bodies comes from the fact that women are claiming their power.
As women come closer to equality professionally and personally, the more they have been objectified in the media and the more restrictions have been placed on reproductive care in order to put them back in her place.
“This pushback is because of what women have gained,” Cartagena said Anti-abortion legislation is not about morality or about being “pro-life.”
Cartagena said it’s about taking away a woman’s right to make decisions about when to parent, to get birth control and whether to end a pregnancy. Each of these choices allow women to have autonomy not just over their bodies but also their futures.
Fabello said if larger social institutions — like our laws and the media — treat women and their bodies like they don’t matter, then this is also going to show up in smaller, every day interactions. For example, if most advertisements depict extremely skinny models, people will expect real women to look like this and pressure them to strive for this — creating a cycle that feeds on itself through daily reminders to women that they are valued less in our society.
The big question is: What can we do about this?
“Society thrives on women feeling bad about themselves,” Fabello said. “The best thing you can do is be okay with yourself because that’s exactly what these industries don’t want.”
Another antidote to this is to learn about feminism and to get educated on these forces that hold women back and are obsessed with controlling their bodies. Understanding and recognizing the motives behind this control is the first step in breaking it down.
Christina Tudor is a Junior writing and politics major who refuses to relinquish corporeal control to the man, you can contact her at [email protected].