Whose Body is it Anyway?
Content warning: in this blog post I will be discussing themes of gender violence, murder, racism, bodily harm, physical violence, transphobia, violence against transgender persons, and other themes that may be difficult to encounter. There will also be mention of the police, MMIWG injustice, and transgender injustice.
In drafting these blog posts, I am constantly thinking about when I'm writing. Not the time of day, but the sociological "when", the political "when" and the historical "when". Essentially, I think a lot of my writing is situated within current events.
When writing about feminism and femininity, I've been thinking about attacks on feminine bodies. Specifically, the ones that go unpunished. I don't know why my brain wants to go there, but it does time and time again, drawn to the surmountable violence that has been unchecked and unrecognized.
It's obvious to state that feminine bodies are attacked. Which, in writing that, the issue should speak for itself.
Why is it obvious? Obvious to whom?
For merely presenting in a feminine way, bodies are met with violence. On a deeper level, when a body performs as feminine in a way that is subversive, "wrong" or "perverted" to the male gaze, there is a greater chance they will be the victim of a violent attack. On an even DEEPER level, when that feminine body comes from a community deemed as precarious and expresses as feminine with "unacceptable" expressions, the possibility of violence increases tenfold.
Art by María María Acha-Kutscher
This is why (amongst many other shitty reasons — here's looking at you racism, transphobia just to name a few) many crimes against feminine bodies go uncared for by mainstream media outlets and unsolved criminally.
The list below contains murder victims—women, persons with feminine bodies—whose cases are unsolved.
Domonique Newburn: body found in home, California 2013
Chynal Lindsey: body found in lake, Texas 2019
Muhlaysia Booker: body found on golf course, Texas 2019
Brittany White: body found in car, Texas 2018
Beatrice Adam: body found in river, Saskatchewan, 2014
Cheyenne Fox: body found in stairwell, Toronto, 2013
Azraya Ackabee Kokopenace: body found near Kenora hospital, Kenora, 2016
Delaine Copenace: body found in lake, Kenora, 2016
This list is nowhere near complete. I could write blog posts, on blog posts, on blog posts of all of the women who have been attacked for simply just... BEING. That fact alone is a monstrous, insane one that is difficult for me to process and wrap my head around. While all of these victims identified as women, this (small) list points to the larger deep rot of violence against feminine bodies embedded into the soil of North America and elsewhere.
It is why white feminine bodies belong to and are championed by mainstream media outlets, such as in the case of Sarah Everard—a white cisgender woman who was attacked and murdered by a police officer while walking home in the United Kingdom—while bodies of colour and trans-bodies are forgotten about and neglected in mainstream media coverages.
We will remember what happened to Sarah, but we will never know what happened to over five hundred Indigenous women in Canada.
"Only 53% of murder cases involving Aboriginal women and girls have led to charges of homicide"
"Aboriginal women are almost three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Aboriginal women are."
- Native Women's Association of Canada, Fact Sheet
According to Kristen Gilchrist in The Law and Society Association, Indigenous women who go missing are twenty-seven times less likely to be focused on in the news than white women. All of this information results in the institutionally created sickness that is missing white woman syndrome, a phrase coined by PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill. This term refers to the extensive coverage of missing or murdered white upper-middle-class women or girls from "good" upbringings.
With all of this going on, I ask, whose body is it anyway?
In Bitch, Slut, Skank, Cunt: patterned resistance to women's visibility in digital publics, Sarah Sobieraj writes:
"The threat of unwanted sexual attention and violence has long constrained women's use of public space. Whether via the fear of sexual assault that hovers over women in nature, the sense of vulnerability and embarrassment that accompany street harassment, or the labyrinthine challenges presented by sexual harassment in the workplace, women's use of public space is shaped by the looming possibility of gender-based incidents that threaten to undermine their freedom, comfort, and safety."
Being a woman and having a (stereotypical) feminine body, I constantly question whether or not my body is really my own. Sure, I know I have one that thinks and feels and eats and sleeps and moves me throughout my day—but when I step out into this world, is my body mine as an individual, really? Or is it something that is slipping beyond personhood into a codified image waiting to be appraised by a lurking set of eyes?
Am I less of a person and more of a thing?
Does my "thingness" depend on what my body looks like? Or how I dress it?
It's 2021 and my inner teenager still shudders at the memory of Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti addressing York University students by saying that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized." As if I, as if anyone, deserves to be the victim of violence. As if a person's worth and right to safety is relative to the clothing they wear.
Those words gave way to the SlutWalk, a movement that traversed over two hundred cities and forty nations—resulting in the cries of thousands of people, screaming for safety and respect regardless of dress or gender performance. Together, a battle cry that fought against the oppressive watch of the male gaze.
This taught me something that I was very grateful to learn from a young age.
Even if our feminine bodies are not our own, we will claw, kick and scream for the day that they can all be celebrated with safety, respect, and rightful dignity that comes with personhood. We will force the memories of the feminine lives lost onto the monuments of the abusers who would rather ignore them, and embrace in the streets wearing whatever makes us feel powerful.
Maybe it sounds dumb, idealistic, and way too marketable, but right now it's all I've got that keeps me looking forward to the future.
Gilchrist, Kristen (May 27, 2008). "Invisible Victims: Disparity in Print-News Media Coverage of Missing/Murdered Aboriginal and White Women". AllAcademic.com. Archived from the original on October 6, 2013. Retrieved June 8, 2011.
Mendes, Kaitlynn (2015). "SlutWalk: Feminism, Activism, and Media". Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sobieraj, Sarah (2018). "Bitch, slut, skank, cunt: patterned resistance to women’s visibility in digital publics", Information, Communication & Society, 21:11, 1700-1714, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2017.1348535
Sommers, Zach (Spring 2016). "Missing White Woman Syndrome: An Empirical Analysis of Race and Gender Disparities in Online News Coverage of Missing Persons". Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. 106 (2): 275–314. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
NWAC. "Fact Sheet: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls". NWAC, www.nwac.ca