Because You Have a Belly-Button

Or: How Contemplating Your Navel May Lead You to An Understanding of Why Feminism is Fundamental

I observed the primary season of early 2008 with a fair degree of dismay. I saw what I believe was an intentional effort by the media and the powers-that-be to pit various oppressed populations against one another through the use of racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, and xenophobic dog-whistles.

I’ve since heard countless reports of people who have either abandoned or been “chased out of” blog-communities where they used to feel at least somewhat safe and allied, of rifts between meat-world friends who now no longer speak, and references to the “Oppression Olympics” which seem to have become a main event in many comment threads and dialogues.

I believe that it’s impossible to say whether this group or that group is “most oppressed” by our current system, because, in the end, the actual experience of being a member of an oppressed class is, at once, both recognizably shared and uniquely individual.

In addition, these forms of oppression have become so intimately interconnected that disentangling them is virtually impossible (especially for those who, by virtue of their race, gender, orientation, body-size, physical ability, and/or class, might get double-whammied, triple/quadruple/quintuple/sextuple-etc.-whammied by intersecting oppressions).

However, if I were pressed to make such an impossible judgment-call, I’d say that a fat, born-poor/raised-poor homeless trans-intersexual quadriplegic schizophrenic lesbian illegal immigrant of color over the age of 60 would probably take the Gold at the Oppression Olympics.

And you know what? It’s a fair certainty that such a person actually exists -- but there's a very good chance that she doesn’t have an internet connection, doesn’t know she’s entered the competition, and probably will not be showing up anytime soon to collect her medals. Because -- you know . . . . . she’s probably busy -- trying to fucking find something to eat and keeping fucknecks from beating her to a pulp on a daily basis.

See, the problem with figuring out who is really at the bottom of the Perilous Pyramid of Privilege[tm] is that it changes nothing about the Pyramid itself.

And even if you could win the Oppression Olympics?

All the prizes suck.

However, just because I don’t consider myself qualified to sit on the judges panel for Ms./Mr. Most-Oppressed of 2008 doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about this question:

If one single oppressed population had to be chosen to “go first” and attain absolute Revolution, which would I choose?

My answer is: Women.

(Proceeding in bold text for emphasis.)

I believe that a totally successful Feminist/Womanist* Revolution resulting in the complete eradication of inequality between the sexes would change the world more profoundly right now than the eradication of racism, classism, homo/trans-phobia, able-ism, xenophobia, or any other single "ism" that I can think of at this moment.

Brash words, you say?

Let me be clear about this – I am not saying that the oppression of sexism is worse than any other form of oppression.

I’m saying that I believe that liberation from that oppression would have the largest immediate impact on how the world goes.

Here’s why: You have a belly-button.

I’m going to let you sit with that while I talk about some other shit. Later, I’ll get really, really obvious about this whole contemplate-your-navel thing – but if you haven’t figured out where I’m going with this yet, then follow instructions and think about your mid-section a bit as I wax on.

For years, I’ve been aware that sexism seems a very, very tough nut to crack.

As a rational human, it is actually incredible to me -- incredible (in the true sense of the word) --that I’m still having arguments with people about whether a nine-year-old girl could possibly be responsible for her own rape, that equal pay for equal work is something that is still being debated, and I am regularly astounded at the absolute terror some people seem to have when asked to take a look at the reality of inequality between men and women in this and other societies.

I think I understand why this level of terror exists -- because eradicating sexism would mean changing nearly everything.

One of the many reasons that I think that attainment of absolute equality between men and women would wreak the most profound level of change in humanity is this: It’s the revolution that would have to take place everywhere – it’s the revolution that would strike at the heart, hearth, and home of human society, regardless of geography, culture, race, religion, or creed -

- because you have a belly-button.

It’s common for oppressed populations to gather together – often because they literally can’t (as in, "are not allowed to") live in certain places, but also often to simply experience a sense of increased solidarity, community, and safety -- however illusory.

I have chosen, at various times of my life, to reside in “gay districts” (Vaseline Flats, The Swish Alps, etc.) – I even lived in a wimmin-only community at one point.

I have friends who are Hispanic/Latina/o who would never consider living outside the barrio, friends who are Black who could afford a house in a “better” neighborhood but who choose to remain in the ‘hood, friends who choose to commute long distances because they want to reside in a community that resonates a part of themselves that various systems of oppression ask them to hide, suppress, or otherwise make “acceptable” to the status quo.

This gathering-together/sequestering of oppressed populations -- often a vital life-line for those of us who deal with oppression on a day-to-day basis -- also has the unfortunate effect of reducing the "Regular Folks’" contact with the "Unregular Folks" in the most intimate part of their lives -- their home life -- which, I believe, often serves to accentuate the sense of “otherness” that facilitates oppression.

(Special Note for the Privilege-Awareness-Impaired: In this case “Regular” Folks=white, middle-to-upper class, able, straight, etc., and “Unregular Folks”=people of color, poor people, queers, differently-abled/minded, etc.. If you want to argue with me about that, you have five million other posts to read before I'll even consider talking to you about it. Start by reading this.)

While I embrace the fact that my years living as a queer-among-queers was an absolute necessity for me in terms of surviving my coming-out process and establishing my identity as a self-respecting queer, I also recognize that homogenizing my life (pun intended) probably resulted in me losing some opportunities to interface with “straight” people in ways which might have been eye-opening and consciousness-raising for them (and for me).

But see – that’s why I think that a successful Feminist/Womanist Revolution would be so powerful – why I believe that it could serve as an irresistible wedge in helping to bring down the entire Perilous Pyramid of Privilege – because you have a belly-button.

Unlike other oppressed populations, it’s not really possible for all, or even most, women to simply move into their own neighborhoods and create self-contained communities -- and have the human race continue.

The issue of whether human beings born or transitioned into female bodies are equal to those born or transitioned into male bodies runs through every culture, race, and nation.

The issue of whether anything can truly be classified or characterized as innately “male” or innately “female” has never been definitively answered, even though Patriarchal structures throughout human history have either just made up answers to this question, or hoped desperately that science would provide something that would help them justify the abuse and subjugation of women (and those perceived to be “like” women).

The issues that arise from institutional and personal sexism cook on every stove, and eat at every table. They sleep in every bedroom, resonate in every lullaby sung in every nursery, and issue forth from every television set in every living room. They linger around every campfire, and dangle under every roof.

I think that this is why contemplating and shifting inequality between men and women is so threatening to those who are invested in maintaining the status quo -- because it's so personal, and so present.

It isn't on the other side of the tracks, or the other side of the world -- it's here, and everywhere you could possibly go -- and coming to real cognizance of all the nooks and crannies that it infests, all the relationships that it has tainted and spoiled, and all the corners of your own consciousness that it inhabits requires a monumental amount of awareness.

In some ways, I believe that every woman who partners with a man in our society is essentially in a "mixed marriage" -- and faces all the dilemmas that those who are part of an oppressed class face when they marry or couple or parent or partner with someone who possesses greater privilege by virtue of being a part (happily or not) of the oppressing class.

And since each of us owes our very existence to such a coupling -- an egg from a woman and a sperm from a man -- it means that attaining true equality of the sexes affects each of us -- that the cultural and societal problems arising from the oppression called sexism reside smack dab in the middle of every home in the world.

Yes, even in the home of two gay men who have only male friends and work in an all-male business -- because one of the primary reasons gay men are harassed is because they are "like" women, and without institutionalized sexism, that really wouldn't be a problem, now, would it?

Yes, even in an all-male Catholic monastery -- because the primary reason that such institutions were created was because of this whole pesky egg/sperm thing, and those bad, bad women who brought sin upon the world.

And, obviously and especially – yes, in the mosque where women are not allowed to enter, and the golf-course where women are not allowed to tee off.

It's everywhere because every human being has (or once had) a belly-button.

Every single human being on this planet has a billboard on their abdomen that says this:

“I was once so connected with a female human body that we shared the same blood, the same oxygen, the same food. If it weren’t for that woman, I would not exist. Look – here is the evidence.”

So, if you think Feminism is not your issue:

Contemplate your fucking navel.

(*Blog Note re: Feminism/Womanism -- I really don’t care which term you use, as long as you mean this: Male and Female humans have equal rights, equal protection, and equal respect in all aspects of life.)
Blog Note 2: This blog-post offered with sincere apologies to my readers, one of whom sent an impassioned plea for Portly-Dykeness and got me off my ass to post. I'm still working on "The Project", but there is light at the end of that thar tunnel. Sorry it's been so long. FWIW, I've been pining to post -- which is a good sign.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 7:09 PM  


NameChanged said... August 3, 2008 at 9:49 PM  

Blam! There it is. I knew it would be worth the wait, but I now feel like some kind of Portly Dyke groupie because I am in awe of this post.

I think it is very brave to assert that sexism should be the number one issue.

I agree that eradicating the world of sexism and sexist practices will do much to change experiences for all people. To look at one racist issue as it is tied to sexism; if women are considered equal and autonomous beings, the fear of the "dark skinned" "sexual beast" coming for "fair" women would vanish.

I am proud of you for being bold. And thank you for a return. :)

PortlyDyke said... August 3, 2008 at 9:58 PM  

Yes, NameChanged -- you ARE that ass-kicker I referenced. Thank you. It worked. :)

I have been cogitating on this idea for months, and wrote it up in a few hours. Nerve-wracking, that.

liberalandproud said... August 5, 2008 at 9:43 AM  

I have been cogitating on this idea for months, and wrote it up in a few hours. Nerve-wracking, that.
Well if that doesn't just sum up my work process, I don't know what would. Phenomenal post, PD. Worth the wait, but every post doesn't have to be phenomenal. You could just check in with some kitteh pictures or something.

The Cunning Runt said... August 6, 2008 at 6:32 PM  

I'll second that... though these particular words are important ones and worth the wait. There are much more horribly abusive "isms" in the world, but only sexism affects over HALF THE PEOPLE ON EARTH.

Fixing that ought to have a positive effect on the world.

By the way, I've read this post several times, reveling in your use of words. Well Said, M'Lady.

ouyangdan said... August 7, 2008 at 9:23 PM  

Way to come in w/ a bang! Just count me one of the PD groupies!

I linked you in my Thursday Blogwhoring. This is such an incredible piece! I want everyone I know to read it!

konagod said... August 9, 2008 at 9:20 AM  

Marvelous post. And condensed down to something as basic as our navels. Or fucking navels!


kkryno said... August 9, 2008 at 4:30 PM  

You've hit one out of the park! You made it all make perfect sense, and handed it to all of us with fail-proof instructions. Thank you.

kkryno said... August 9, 2008 at 4:34 PM  

Oh, yeah. Please don't stay gone as long next time. We'll all be going through withdrawals. :)

Anonymous said... August 11, 2008 at 9:23 PM  

OK! When can we see this on billboards everywhere??? In schools, on the buses, etc....
In my opinion, your writing is breathtaking!
And Goddess knows, it is fucking time for this to change!!!
Thank You Beloved Portly!!

Fannie said... August 12, 2008 at 11:52 AM  

This sentence is perfection:

"I was once so connected with a female human body that we shared the same blood, the same oxygen, the same food. If it weren’t for that woman, I would not exist. Look – here is the evidence."

I'm glad you're back, portly!

futurebird said... August 14, 2008 at 11:08 PM  

Can't say I agree. I can't choose a number one issue. I think it's stupid to even try.

PortlyDyke said... August 15, 2008 at 12:31 AM  

can't choose a number one issue. I think it's stupid to even try.

Yeah, you're probably right. I mean, ending the one oppression that affects half the population of the world -- what a bother.

Anonymous said... August 17, 2008 at 8:46 PM  

One other reason to consider sexism primary (on a world-wide basis) is that literate or otherwise empowered women have more chance of a relationship that practices safer sex, more ability to ensure that girl children are educated, more ability to control family size and concentrate on health and education of fewer children. In general, women are more responsible about spending money on necessities - too many men piss it away on alcohol. Even a mild reduction in sexism in the worst affected communities can lead to big health and education gains. These in turn lead to increased political power, and ability to demand less corruption and fairer government. So, from a developing-world standpoint, sexism is a hindrance to development.

Non-white, non-Anglo people may differ, but on a global basis, many developing countries suffer from (Big MAN Syndrome) cronyism and corruption that exacerbate effects of colonialism. Reducing sexism is something that would be under the control of the countries themselves, and wouldn't depend on the whims of the developed world.


Alaster said... August 19, 2008 at 12:41 PM  

I must say that's a great way to look at oppression and its eradication, and extremely well-put. I wish this was accessible to more people because it would be great if more people could think about it. You made it truly open to any person to contemplate sexism in a way that applies to all people.

However, as much as I do agree with you that the elimination of sexism would improve life for a vast number of people and help break down other forms of oppression, i also have to disagree just a bit. I think in theory it sounds brilliant, but on the ground, in reality, the intersectionality of various oppressions is so inextricably tangled up and intertwined into a huge systemic monster, that there is no way to prioritize tackling one before another. Hierarchy itself must be attacked, as well as the multiplicity of its forms, and as long as we are blind to the fact that a black woman with AIDS, a gay white man living on the streets, or a disabled migrant worker from the Global South are all under the weight of the same system of interlocking oppressions, we will be prevented from achieving solidarity and from making large, lasting strides towards freedom.

Although it is useful and important for each oppressed person to find solidarity within the groups that they feel oppressed, I think it is absolutely vital for the freedom of all people to work together in solidarity to eradicate all types of oppression and domination. Whoever said "no one is free until everyone is free" was correct in more than one way. Not only are we imprisoned even when having privilege while others suffer, but we cannot secure our own freedoms when they are interconnected with others' oppressions.

hope that made sense, I tend to ramble.

satchild said... August 29, 2008 at 1:22 AM  

I think this is a wonderful statement of the issue, and do agree that reducing/eliminating sexism is potentially the most powerful way to drive out oppression across a range of communities. Coincidentally I wrote in my own blog this week about how we choose where we live as an expression of our needs (with some personal unease about the fact that I have chosen to move "back to my roots" of white, middle-class England). Having reversed direction, as it were, I feel gaps in my life previously filled by living in more "mixed" environments.

I have been worried for the last few years about what I perceive as anti-feminist reactionaries taking back the ground we won in the 80s and 90s. And I feel tired. This post has given me a real boost. Thank you.

magda said... September 14, 2008 at 2:10 PM  

I understand what you are saying here, but I have trouble seeing your point. Why do we have to choose a single oppressed population? You yourself noted the intersections of the different oppression.

Also, to insist on the importance that every person came from a woman smacks of gender essentialism. As you probably know, there are men who have given birth to children and women who cannot or choose not to ever become pregnant. These people experience oppression as well. I don't understand the importance of linking the act of giving birth to oppression.

PortlyDyke said... September 14, 2008 at 3:13 PM  

magda -- I don't think that you do understand what I'm saying here - I'm not saying that we "have to choose a single oppressed population". I posing a hypothetical, and saying that, if we did, this is what I would choose (and explaining why).

If you will notice my choice of language, I did not say that every person came from a "woman" -- I said that every person came from a female human body. I chose those words specifically to reflect my understanding that anatomical sex and gender are not the same thing. Even those who identify as women but choose not to bear children and those who identify as men and choose to bear children still came from an anatomically female human body (unless you know of some technological advance of which I am unaware).

I was not linking the act of giving birth to oppression -- rather I was arguing that, by virtue of each human's intimate connection to a female human body, oppression of women and females is a universal issue for every human. To deny that anatomical femaleness is not one of the roots of misogyny and sexism is, to me, as disingenuous as saying that perceived skin color isn't a root of racism.

Anonymous said... February 28, 2009 at 3:46 AM  

(Special Note for the Privilege-Awareness-Impaired: In this case “Regular” Folks=white, middle-to-upper class, able, straight, etc., and “Unregular Folks”=people of color, poor people, queers, differently-abled/minded, etc.. If you want to argue with me about that, you have five million other posts to read before I'll even consider talking to you about it. Start by reading this.)

Porty I was just wondering why you did not include women under the unregular folks category. Surely women, even white women don't belong in the regular folks category.

PortlyDyke said... February 28, 2009 at 9:26 AM  

"Porty I was just wondering why you did not include women under the unregular folks category. Surely women, even white women don't belong in the regular folks category."

Because the post is, in its essence, about all women, and sexist and misogynist oppression.

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