The Sashay Project #2: Swinging the Thought Bubble

[Part 2 of a series – you’ll probably want to read Part 1 here for context]

To sashay, or not to sashay?

That is the question.

Where I grew up, there was a saying: “Check out the swing in that backyard!”

Spoken exclusively by a man/men about a woman, this was definitely sexual objectification, but I noticed, even when I was very young, that there was something in the way that this particular phrase was uttered which seemed different from the usual cat-calls and whistles.

For one thing, I don’t recall ever hearing it expressed loudly enough for the woman being objectified to actually hear it – and I think this clued me in, young as I was, to the fact that this commentary was different somehow – I seemed to grasp instinctively that this was commentary on a woman’s essential sexuality.

It wasn’t just a commentary on a lone body part (“Nice tits!”) – it communicated something about how that woman was perceived to be presenting herself – about how she moved through the world.

When I contemplate the maze of cultural messages implied in the backyard swing catcall -- “That woman is sexy/desireable/unashamed/brazen . . . ”, and think about how this intersected with all the other cultural messages I was getting at the time -- “Sex is BAD.”
The body is shameful.”
Women who are sexy are slutty whores.
BE sexy.”
Be chaste.”
Don’t draw attention to yourself.
Make sure people notice you.
Make sure your appearance is acceptable.
Be beautiful.
Don’t be too beautiful.

. . . . . I can’t help but think it’s a miracle that I didn’t require more therapy.

When I found myself (as described in the first post of this series) feeling self-conscious about my big, beautiful, bubbular ass swinging and swaying through my neighborhood, I recognized immediately the “don’t take up too much space with your fat self” meme at play, but the “don’t look like a sexual being – especially a sexual woman” meme was subtler and far more complicated for me.

There was the simple, seemingly autonomic programming I had absorbed about my safety as related to living in a female body (Swing those hips at your peril, little missy!), but there were also echoes about how I “should not” appear as a sexual being at all – because I’m fat – because I’m “old” – because I’m a dyke.

Which led me to gasp at how completely and automatically I had associated the notion of swinging my hips with a display of sexuality.

You need to understand – I don’t think of myself as a person who has all these completely-internalized judgments about my age, or my fat, or my sexual orientation – or as a person who has absorbed and adopted puritanical attitudes about “modesty” or “wantonness” with regard to natural physical expression -- when these thoughts arose in me, I was genuinely shocked, and utterly appalled.

I'm usually the person in my social group who is known for saying the outrageous thing, for being forthright and "shockingly honest" about subjects like sex -- I've often said that the level of mental health I have around my sexuality is kind of miraculous, given the sexual abuse I experienced as a child.

Yet here I am, noticing that I'm hesitant to swing my hips because it might look "too sexy" -- suddenly aware of attitudes I didn't know I was carrying.

I didn’t think I was restricting my gait, much less restricting my gait in an attempt to hide or appear in a certain way.

I thought the way that I walked was . . . . just the way that I walked.

There’s a woman who I have known for years. I’ve watched her go through many changes over the past decade, and last year, she told me that she was consciously working on improving her posture. She’s nearly six feet tall, she’s got a big frame, and she’s fat.

I’ve always admired how she seemed to fully “occupy” her body, and it was really cool to see how she began to move even further into her form as she worked with a Rolfer and consciously shifted how she stood and walked. It was as if she was living right out to all every edge of herself, and I found it beautiful to behold.

As she went through her process, she talked about how her body seemed to be releasing things into her consciousness as she worked with moving differently – old family-of-origin patterns, thoughts she hadn’t been aware of previously – emotions that she felt had literally been “locked in” to places in her body.

I suspect that this may be what I’m experiencing now – as I allow my hips to move in new ways, it’s as if the judgments and myths and fears and programs that bound my hips up in the first place are popping off and flying up in my face to make themselves known.

If it’s true, as some researchers say, that people can identify others from a huge distance just by their gait, and mine is changing, I can only wonder what this might mean for my personality.

Perhaps “walking my talk” will take on a whole new meaning. Maybe my “life path” will be altered or enhanced by the way I move on it at a purely physical level.

I’m excited about, and a bit daunted by, this experiment. No doubt I’m going to bump into things along the way, both physically and mentally – obviously, that’s already happening – but I feel ready and willing to embrace the adventure.

So far, I've realized that when I walk in the manner my body finds most easeful:
I feel self-conscious about how my body looks to others.
I feel worried that I'm taking up too much room.
I feel like I'm displaying myself sexually (and am, consequently, more noticeable and less "safe").
Oh! -- And here's a weird one:
I feel afraid that people will think that I think I'm "hot shit".
I have no idea where that last one comes from -- it was a complete surprise -- but somewhere -- somewhere lurking in my pelvis, there is apparently some poor kid who was told to never, ever think they were "hot shit", lest someone else tell them they were just a "cold turd".

I will not only Free My Ass. I will Liberate that Kid and say: "Well, you ARE Hot Shit!"

Then I will sing them a few verses of Laura Love's "Mahbootay" (for which I wish I had the singer's permission to put an mp3 sample here -- but buy it at Itunes because if you love this series, you'll adore this song):
Mah Bootay, Mah Big Ol Bootay. Mah Bootay, Mah Big Ol Bootay.
I take it -- I take it shopping.
Mah Bootay, Mah Big Ol Bootay
I buy it -- I buy it presents.
Mah Bootay, Mah Big Ol Bootay
I feed it . . . . on peanut butter.
Mah Bootay, Mah Big Ol Bootay

(Series note for the Sashay Project: This is a series of posts that explores the way I locomote through the world and how it is affected by sexism and the gender binary -- people who locomote through the world by means other than walking are welcomed and encouraged to share their insights about how sexism/gender performance might impact how they move through the world.)

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus