Last week, I attended birth.art an exhibition of art inspired by birth and the discourse which surrounds it. The art is brilliant, I was so moved by so many of the installations. I particularly enjoyed the “Hey Hetero” collection, highlighting the heterosexist assumptions which underlie much birth discourse and indeed the health system which is supposed to support women through pregnancy and birth. I won’t detail everything I liked, as it was all fantastic, and I encourage Melbournians to get on down and check it out! There is a good discussion of the exhibition and related culture/concepts at The Age.
What struck me though, and was a little disappointing, was the speech, welcoming and introducing the exhibition. And it wasn’t even all of the speech, just two tiny turns of phrase. I arrived late and heard only the last half (or so) of the speech. I am fairly sure the woman who was speaking was Rachel Power, a writer and editor, with interests in feminism, art and motherhood – clearly a perfect choice for such a launch. And I loved almost all of what she said and how she said it.
But! Twice that I heard, the idea that women have been reduced to only porn-subjects was raised. I can see that pornography (most especially bad porn that reduces women to passive objects) can contribute to the way women currently are disconnected from the reproductive functions and processes that their body is capable of. I do not reject this idea – but when we talk about this, lets not reduce the whole argument to black and white assertions of porn = objectifying women and therefore women aren’t connected to their bodies, and it’s all the fault of porn. Lets talk about this issue in the context of women as being a multiplicity of things – mothers, sexual beings, colleagues, friends, aunties, grandmothers etc etc etc etc etc, and from this, lets talk about the complexity. There are many things which contribute to the situation we currently have, where women often experience pregnancy and birth as something that happens “to them” rather than a positive, connected, embodied experience.
It is time that feminists, including the fabulous feminist mid-wives I have the pleasure of knowing, acknowledged that that pornography is not a black and white world of good and evil, and that contributing the whole of a problem to porn is not a helpful strategy. Lets talk about reembodiment of women, what that means across a spectrum of issues, and how that might look.
**Disclaimer: I’m sure not all midwives are anti-porn, or that all midwives don’t know there are many things that lead to women being disembodied. I’ve had many discussions with midwives about how there are many other factors, like the body-mind dichotomy which contribute to this. What I’m talking about here is lumping all pornography together and blaming all of a problem on that.