“But, as I now realize, the political will never truly change unless it is accompanied by a parallel fight in the realm of the personal–the double revolution.”–Mona Eltahawy
Today is Feminist Utopia Day, well at least I’m declaring this informal holiday. It’s the day that The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-Seven Visions of a Wildly Better Future comes out. I’ve had the pleasure to work with editors Alexandra Brodsky and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff for the last five and a half months to help bring their bold and important work to fruition. Their anthology collects essays, stories, poems, interviews, and art from a range of amazing feminist voices whom each have a unique, challenging, and thoughtful version of utopia.
I’ve been thinking about feminist utopias a lot lately as I discuss this book with colleagues, the editors, and the media. I think about big picture issues like equal pay and reproductive justice, down to the day-to-day utopias like being able to walk down the street without facing catcalling and sexual harassment. Then I think of how my life could look like a feminist utopia, and I realize that for me it means having ownership over my body and my story.
I recently finished reading Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. Everybody should read this important book. The takeaway for me was the intersection between the political and the personal–an oft repeated concept in feminism. I’m paraphrasing here, but what stuck with me from Eltahawy’s book was the idea that the very act of talking about our bodies and our lives, as women, is revolutionary. “It is often the power and rage of personal storytelling that can begin those necessary revolutions,” she says.
As a sex positive feminist writer, bodies and storytelling and the ways they interact is something I think about almost daily. I write about my body; I write about my experiences. I’ve faced the backlash (Internet trolls) that comes with being a woman who writes about her body and her experiences. The fact that strange men on the Internet believe they can police what I say about my body and my experiences proves that I must continue to talk about them. It bothers me in much the same way that it does when men feel they can say hyper sexual things to me on the street just because I’m wearing running shorts and a sports bra (a world in which I can go for a run on a hot August day in said clothing choice without being sexually harassed is a big feminist utopia for me).
I recently had a conversation with a male friend of mine in which he told me about a short story written by a man that he read in a prestigious literary magazine. The story, in short, was about a man sexually harassing a woman. My friend described it by saying it was like nothing he had read before. I asked what qualities of the story earned such high praise. He said it talked about issues other people didn’t write about: shame, sex, and women’s bodies. I was quite taken aback by this. The story immediately brought to mind “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, a story that came out thirty years ago.
When I argued that these themes are not new in literature, he responded, “I don’t really read the same kind of books as you.” My response: “Books by women?”
Women have been writing our stories about our experiences and our bodies for as long as we’ve had bodies and experiences with them. In my feminist utopia, men will realize that our bodies belong to us, and so do our stories. I don’t need you to tell me what to where or that I look beautiful today, and I certainly don’t need you to tell my story for me. My body, my story, my utopia.