This morning, I posted the following status on Facebook:
I have boobs, and I can grab them whenever I want to.
One of my Facebook friends commented on the ineffective shock value of such a statement, calling it ‘Lady Gaga-esque’ and purposeless. We got into a discussion that I personally found to be pretty inspiring, on the value of posting such things in a semi-public forum, and whether claiming they have socio-political purpose is just a flimsy excuse for posting purposeless statements that do not reflect real talent or effort towards realizing socio-political goals.
My take is that it’s socially and politically meaningful to publicly say such things. To give a parallel example, there are entire protest movements founded on women publicly baring their breasts and touching themselves and while their method, reasons, and effectiveness can be discussed and challenged, to claim they’re purposeless without investigating the reasoning behind them is shoddy mental work. I’m here to provide the reasoning behind my silly, ‘shocking’, ‘Gaga-esque’ Facebook status.
I’d first like to clarify that I do not claim my Facebook statuses to be comprehensively representative of what I do and believe but more of particular expressions of my values, and that I have several running and past projects, commitments, goals, and investments–teaching, writing, speaking, translating, research–that are intended to realize my academic, personal, and activism goals. This is not about whether simple expression can replace or compete with other forms of socio-political work, but how and why it is meaningful on its own or added to other things. Another quick clarification is that I am not advocating for all Facebook statuses to have meaning and purpose–there is nothing wrong with expressing silly, shocking, annoying, or meaningless things simply because they give you personal fulfillment and joy–your voice does not exist for the comfort or edification of other people. Turning serious struggles into the silly and shouting it to the world to help fight stress, or depression are good enough reasons in themselves.
But in saying that I like my boobs and I like touching them, I’m saying a very socially and politically meaningful thing.
Last night, I gave a public reading. I almost cried on stage reading about my struggles against suppression and taboo to an audience of friends and strangers alike. I read a version of my popular post, “What it is like to be a Muslim woman,” and it was a difficult and momentous event of self-expression for me. When I went to bed, I had this anaphora from my essay, the first line of my essay, in fact, floating around in my head, this song of my own construction… I have keys, and I can open my front door whenever I want to… imbued with incredulity, with joy, with determination:I have this, I have that, I have ALL of these freedoms and I can have them, and they’re mine. My own words, my own mantra, my longtime struggle trembled in my head while I slept.
In the morning, I posted I have boobs, and I can grab them whenever I want to on Facebook. Posting this light-hearted version of that struggle was fulfilling and meaningful to me because it represents the hard-won and suffered-for ability and freedom to express the taboo, the restricted, in a sillly, matter-of-fact way. The silliness is a crucial part of it, because it challenges these matters of taboo and restriction as precisely *not* worthy of second thought or comment, knowing that they are the very ideas and actions that Muslim women are violenced against for having, for doing. Women are beaten and threatened for touching their breasts or delighting in their bodies–
I was one of them for far too long.
Publicly claiming ownership of your own body, breaking the taboo, and finding joy, peace, and celebration in doing things that you would have had your blood spilled for thinking of or attempting to do– and doing it publicly when you were denied self expression your entire life– this is meaningful in the way that poems and stories are. It carries legacy and hope, it is an unbridled, unashamed commitment to personal freedom, to the ownership of your own body, to autonomy and the right to self-determination… my boobs are mine. And nobody can stop me from touching them, liking to touch them, and talking about touching them. Because I want to– because I am a human subject with a will, and because my will regarding my body was stolen and constrained by other people, and because that is not only a personal struggle I have faced, but one reflective of a larger social and political phenomenon that women worldwide struggle through.
Because people find it worth commenting on, find shock and stigma in somebody saying they touch a part of their own bodies.
And that’s not even touching upon the social struggles attached to public expression of same-sex attraction. I’m bisexual. I like girls. I like boobs. The homoerotic undertones of this status, even though it’s so simple, direct, are ones that so many live in fear of other people detecting. Female bodies are shamed, yes, but and queer and LGBT people are also shamed, restricted, stigmatized, denied rights. And until queer and female and LGBTQ bodies are no longer shamed and stigmatized, public expression of affinity towards them is socially meaningful, politically meaningful.
I love being able to finally say these things without grave consequence, and it’s a freedom hard-earned. My Facebook status might seem silly and pointless, but what is really silly and pointless is that my ability to express affinity for my own body has been so utterly restricted.
Now that I’m no longer in silence, voiceless, now that I have a voice– I’m using that voice to write, teach, do research, work, strive, fight, yes– but I’m also using it as a relentless banner of uninhibited expression of love and joy and affinity to what was only and ever mine and nobody, nobody will take that right away from me.
I want it to be seen.
I like boobs.
Ohai!! Catch me on the Drew Marshall show tomorrow Saturday at 2pm EST! I’ll be talking about ex-Muslim stuff and my blog in general, and some secular activism goals.