I was struck by this article, in which American journalist Penelope Trunk defends her decision, despite an unanticipated global barrage of hate mail, to post the following to her Twitter feed:
"I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there's a fucked-up three-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin."
That right there, in >140 characters, is possibly the most succinct and effective piece of feminist gonzo journalism I have ever read. Personal, factual, shoving the meaty political details of women's everyday life right up in your face. Plus, it quite delightfully manages to combine in 32 words most of the big taboos of modern misogynist thought: women bleeding in the boardroom. Women being candid about the parts of our physical lives which aren't to do with fucking but also matter to us. Women's bodies being, in fact, more than just tools for baby-making and delivering sexual pleasure to men. Women being outspoken and proud about reproductive self-determination. Women reacting to the termi,nation of unwanted pregnancy not with horrific, life-stomping mental breakdown but with what most of us actually feel: relief. The radical truths that women, with their bleeding, messy cunts, can hold high-powered jobs, make decisions about our own bodies, own our own moral compasses and face pain and humiliation with our heads held high.
Still, Ms Trunk was somewhat surprised at the vehemence of the uproar that followed. "Television, blogs and newspapers around the world reported what I had written. People posted critcisms on my blog. My boyfriend's extended family called to make sure he was dumping me... I was even interviewed on CNN where the news anchor asked me, "Young lady, do you have no shame?""
To which the obvious retort is: why, was she expected to? Was she expected to be ashamed? Of what? Of suffering through a miscarriage? Of not wanting a third child? Of doing both of these things whilst having the temerity to have, gods forbid, a job?
Shame about our bodies and our choices is inculcated in women from birth. We like to think that, because you can turn on MTV or open a newspaper on any given day and look at scantily-clad ladies gyrating appealingly for the camera, we live in a sexually open society. We do not. And there are certain aspects of bio-female experience - miscarriage, for example - which are still horrendously taboo, about which we are still expected to feel shame - moral shame, physical shame, political shame. We are expected to shut up about it, get on with it in private, clear up our own mess and not ask for any help or understanding, because we are women, and shame is our birthright.
Well, fuck that, and fuck the thousands of busybodies who saw fit to try and foist upon Penelope Trunk the shame that she so bravely and publicly refused to own. This is not about privacy, or modesty, but about shame, and what we are and aren't expected to feel shameful about.
Hundreds of thousands of women use the internet to discuss their sexual exploits in detail and are not condemned. Belle De Jour talks about her experiences as a middle-class sex worker, and there has been no witch-hunt over her lack of 'shame' - indeed, books and a TV series have been made about her life. Penelope Trunk posted about experiencing the pain of miscarriage at work and the emotions that that stirred in her in the same way that she posts about her life on a farm in Winsconsin, her upcoming marriage, her work as a journalist and mother. All of these things are part of her life; why should she feel shameful about them?
Down with shame. Down with ignorance, secrecy and silence, down with female experience being lived in fear and embarrassment, and down with shame. Penelope Trunk should be considered a feminist hero for her contribution to telling women's truths without apology or embarrassment, as John Stuart Mill advocated in The Subjection of Women:
"The knowledge which men can acquire of women ...is wretchedly imperfect and superficial, and always will be so, until women themselves have told all that they have to tell.
"And that time has not come; nor will it come otherwise than gradually. It is but of yesterday that women have either been qualified by literary accomplishments or permitted by society to tell anything to the general public. As yet very few of them may tell anything whic men, on whom their literary success depends, are unwilling to hear".
For anyone who still thinks that Penelope Trunk is unfittingly 'shameless', immoral or simply self-promoting, I'd ask you to consider that George Orwell was talking about women as well as men when he said that "if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."