Thursday, 21 April 2011

Symbols, power and woman's place in the world

I always enjoy Maria Popover's links and articles. Her Brain Pickings blog has fascinating and often obscure articles which are relevant to my interests. I follow Maria on Twitter  - her twitter name is @brainpicker

So it was with great interest that I followed this link  to Maria's BrainPicking site to see Symmetry, a short vimeo film by Radiolab that Maria said "explores the dualities of human existence, best short film you'll see all week".

The film is very clever - it juxaposes images concerning the dualities of existence to explore

"What the origin of the universe has to do with gender identity, binary parallels and anatomy"
I felt disturbed by the juxtaposition of hot chips and tomato sauce, pepsi and coke, popcorn and movies as typical of life on this beautiful planet of ours, but this following image really bothered me

Why does that bother me?

Positioning these images as the gender divide and to represent masculinity and feminity bothers me because of the inclusion of the disabled sign with the woman figure.

Maria says that:
"Symmetry is a mesmerizing split-screen short film exploring the poetic parallels and contrasts of our world — birth and death, heart and brain, masculinity and femininity, all many more of humanity’s fundamental dualities. It’s the best thing you’ll watch all week, we promise"
Given the producers and Maria are cluey in regards to the messages we receive from the visual stimuli around us, it is hard to believe that they didn’t recognise the way this image can subliminally erode women’s sense of self and personal power. Perhaps they didn’t ‘see’ the message the film is sending because that view of women is 'normal' and that makes it all the more fascinating and concerning.

Maria explains that:
"The film was inspired by Radiolab’s Desperately Seeking Symmetry episode, which examines how symmetry and its pursuit shape the core of our existence, from the origins of the universe to what we see when we look in the mirror"
Is that how you see yourself when you look in the mirror?

Here's the film so you can  make up your own mind

Read more:

Symmetry from Everynone on Vimeo.

Those of us who are birth workers are very aware of the way that in western culture at least, women are being progressively disabled to birth normally. Women are embodying the messages that birth is something to be medicated... avoided... that being delivered surgically is preferable and 'safer for the baby' even though it is certainly not.

Our connection to 'nature' is eroding and our birth DNA, our wild side, is getting switched off and put under the lock and key of medicalisation.

The grunting, groaning, sweating, swearing, movement and effort associated with giving birth is increasingly perceived as unbefitting modern women. Birth is now sanitised with pretty delivery room decorations and epidurals on demand. I've noticed many partners and other family members feel relieved when the woman is neatly in bed, unable to move and 'painfree' for labour. The fact that they can't push or move and end up with baby extractions either with abdominal or perineal cuts doesn't seem to be an issue. The disablity accompanying the pain and difficulty moving for some time after the baby extraction doesn't seem a problem for anyone either. '

We have to ask what it is about the birth process that causes all this angst about 'pain' in labour. That's probably a topic for another time.

Back to the images in this short film and what they represent.  My perception is that the unconscious coupling of a woman with the disabled sign positioned as symmetrical with the male symbol is a striking indicator of how women are culturally constructed as disabled in our world. 

The fact that the message is subliminal and that neither the producers, nor those who understand subliminal marketing and neuroscience recognised the message makes it even more powerful and dangerous to women's sense of self, power and place in the world.

And then there is the message about what it means to be female in western society fostered by the likes of  the ubiquitous Child Beauty Pageants.  As  Heidi Davoren, in her column Dirty Laundry for Life & Style section of the Brisbane Times wrote:

"Shame on us as a society that our daughters are groomed into submission, objectification and sexualisation at such a tender age, in the name of entertainment. In fact, in the name of ‘building self-esteem’."

The rampant sexualisation of girls is another powerful and dangerous threat to women's sense of self, power and place in the world.


Anonymous said...

The symbols of power are all around us and constantly tell us the so called "woman's place in the world".

My daughter asked me recently "why does the Iron man commercial show only boys being iron men, cant girls be strong too"

The medicalisation of birthing puts women in a "submissive role" encouraging them to be passive and to be saved by the medical system.

If birthing is put back in the home, women can again use their strength to birth naturally and be with people who respect and encourage their ability to do it.

Carolyn Hastie said...

How wonderful your daughter noticed the absence of girls from the commercial, that shows good conversations accompany your parenting! I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about submissiveness and medicalisation of birth and life. However and whereever women birth, if their needs and desires are at the forefront, if the health care practitioner truly respects the woman and values and expects the woman to have sovereignty over the process and her body, then women's sense of self is rightfully and fully expressed to the good of all. I agree that those who birth at home, both the woman and her partner have a very different sense of self to those who choose alternate and other venues