Men’s ownership of women’s bodies
For countless centuries, patriarchy has affected how we women walk, dress, and inhabit our bodies. We seem to fit into two broad categories (or each of us into either, depending on circumstances): on the one hand, we avoid appearing fecund lest we invite unwanted attention. On the other hand we display the accouterments of fertility in order to attract attention or seek protection.
But what do we actually feel—sense—within our bodies?
It’s in the water
As an “elder” I’m not subject to unwanted attention. I sort of miss it, to tell the truth. I’m one of the lucky few that have walked through the world unscathed by sexual harassment. Consciously unscathed, but perhaps unconsciously scathed. It’s in the water, it seems.
The other day I was bending over a parking meter to see what my card was being charged, frustrated by the glare of the sun on the tiny screen. Just then a dear male friend came up to greet me. As I explained my problem with the meter, he broke in, “Oh, I’d know that ass anywhere.” This is an aging, safe, good-hearted man. I’ve been drinking the water for so long that I failed to notice that his comment was inappropriate. I took it as a compliment. My ass, after all, is in its 76th year.
Movement generated from within the pelvis
Later that day, restless during a meeting, I stood at a second story window idly watching pedestrians on the street below. It was a lovely Los Angeles winter day—warm in the sun but with a cool tinge. A young woman in shorts and ankle boots was passing by. After decades doing therapeutic gait analysis, I can’t help noticing how people move. Integrated movement is homogenous, an orchestration of viscera and bone that produces a harmonious kinetic melody. There are no solos—no single body part leads the motion. When trauma or pain holds an affected part in abeyance, compensating motions of other parts—a jutting hip, a thrusting arm—stand out. Solos indicate coordinative imbalance.
This woman’s gait was all-inclusive and harmonious. It was about Saturday sunshine, about having a destination without rushing, about feeling good in her body. Oh, I thought, she’s just had satisfying sex.
Either my mirror neurons were reading this right, or having a “recognizable ass” had stirred a somatic memory. In any case, what I observed was a pelvis that seemed to express its deliciousness. Her steps seemed generated from her uterus and ovaries, although her sexual energy was present privately, not on display. Movement spiraled through the woman’s hips and lower spine, smooth, buoyant and integrated into the whole of her kinetic signature.
Cherish the lushness
Is satisfying sex a prerequisite for moving this way? I can draw on kinesthetic memories of my own tender mornings. By bringing awareness into my gonads I can tap into this succulence of myself. What stops me? Not just the lack of a partner. Nor do I muffle my sensuality to protect myself in public spaces. Rather, I let the world’s seeming urgencies extinguish the time and attention I need to sustain this aspect of myself. It’s a habit of inattention that seems to come with growing older.
But I can experience it: weathered as my gonads may be, tapping into their energetic presence within my pelvis generates healthy motion in my hips and spine. Perhaps this is one of the secrets of youth that those of us over fifty long to recapture. (Our foremothers, not living so long, perhaps never lost this.)
When I'm relaxed, I can cherish the lushness within my pelvis. But numbed by the sensory contradictions of contemporary life, I must make an effort to seek that deep energetic center.
The current climate of female empowerment makes it safer for us to treasure our profound femininity. As we reclaim our social boundaries, let us also reclaim these inner realms.