Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reproductive Identity

Over this summer I finished reading this amazing collection of essays, in a book titled, Writing on the body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory, edited by Katie Conboy, Nadia Medina, and Sarah Stanbury.

An essay titled, "Medical Metaphors of Women's Bodies: Menstration and Menopause" by Emily Martin, discusses how women are identified by their reproductive ability, whether that be during their fruitful years or not. I found this essay to be not only biologically specific and informative, for someone who has never studied medicine, but also parallel some commonly presented notions of desire based on a woman's ability to reproduce.

Although this book is full of amazing perspectives on seeing the female body, I wanted to post about it because I had this amazing experience in Thailand and China over the summer that relates to this text. In several Buddhist temples in both Thailand and China there are these enormous dog-like creatures that guard the entrance ways (the ones in Thailand were gifts from the Chinese Imperial government).

There is always one creature on the left of the doorway and one on the right of the doorway. I didn't even really notice at first that they were different (there is SO much to look at in these places) until our tour guide asked the question, "Can you tell which one is the boy and which one is the girl?" After inspecting them carefully I responded, "There is a penis and testicles on that one, so that one must be male." To which our tour guide responded "We don't look at things like that," so the delicately carved anatomy that someone spent countless hours articulating doesn't matter. What he pointed out was that in both figures the animal has one paw rested on an object, in the male statue the paw is rested on a ball, a symbol of freedom and fun, while the female counterpart has her paw rested on a baby dog-like creature.

So we disregard anatomy and look instead for a symbol of woman's reproductive ability. I found this to be extremely interesting, especially since I had just read about it. And it continued, I saw this creature everywhere, and the female animal was always confirmed as female by her ability to reproduce a child.

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