Babies, body fluids and the “bizarre”

[image from the Daily Mail]

Mostly, I just wanted to blog this story because I love this photo. Nadia is on the left. But there is stuff to say, too.

Melissa at Shakesville has been blogging about the way in which news about women, gendered violence, and the trafficking of girls keeps getting categorised under “Oddly Enough” or “Odd News” at news sites – the category where they put fluffy “human interest” stories written to elicit a chuckle.

Aren’t the travails of womanhood just so gosh-darn odd?

This strikes me as one of those nuances of sexism that many men don’t notice or understand. To have women’s experiences like this trivialized as “Odd News” is just infuriating, and being obliged to think about someone chuckling over the hilarious oddity of a girl being used as a chip in a poker game by her father can make a gal angry as fuck, particularly as she recognizes that the constant positioning of humiliated women as the butt of jokes humiliates us all. This shit is important, and even as I say it, I know why it doesn’t seem like it is, or should be.

Something I’ve been noticing is that reproductive bodies are written about as bizarre, aberrant, and contaminating. Women’s bodies get Odd-Newsed all the time; but especially so if they’re exuding fluids or a small person. Because the default body is male, reproduction, menstruation and breastfeeding are “odd”, frightening, unusual, out of the ordinary. And any way in which a reproductive body transgresses the “norm” is considered especially bizarre – even freakish.

The Daily Mail reports on a large baby born in Russia. Nowhere near Guinness Book of World Records large, but large. Internet forums and comment threads are abuzz with SHOCK and WOW! and OUCH!! (why so much more ouchy than any other C section, which one-third of birthing women here go through?)

Fox News filed this under “Entertainment“. The Post Chronicle: “Strange and Interesting News”. The Daily filed it under “Rants & Raves”, along with these blips:

“Australian John Allwood smashed 40 watermelons with his head in one minute, and Germany’s Thomas Vogel unfastened 56 bras in 60 seconds using only one hand.”

Kudos to the news outlets who filed it under “World”, “International”, or “Kids and Parenting”.


[image credit: Lactation Education Resources]

While we’re on the women’s-bodies-are-odd theme, This Is Leicester has a story headlined “Exposed: Shoplifter in Breast-Milk Scam”:

A thief tried to evade a store detective by exposing herself and squirting her breast milk at him.

It is believed the woman was trying to leave traces of her DNA on the guard in a bizarre attempt to frame him for sexual assault. The woman’s actions appear consistent with a disturbing new trend of thieves attempting to make trumped-up allegations of sexual assault against staff.
Graham Collins, Citywatch’s intelligence officer, said: “It started off with people picking their noses until they bleed and then accusing security staff of assault. Then, some female shoplifters began touching themselves intimately in an attempt to frame guards for sexual assault. The breast milk incident, we think, is part of the same thing and it’s all about them trying to turn the tables on security staff when they have been caught stealing. We’re advising security staff to always have a colleague with them when they have detained a suspect, to give them some back-up and corroboration.”

A spokesperson for Midlands Co-op said: “Thanks to Citywatch, Midlands Co-op had been made aware of the activities of this particular group of women, and our security guards were informed about this potential threat.

“Unfortunately, one of our Leicester security guards was targeted by a woman who expressed breast milk at him. Thankfully, the incident took place in the company of a female colleague who was able to act as a witness, so we were able to negate any allegations that were likely to be made. It is quite alarming the lengths individuals will go to, but we are confident that we are well aware of a range of tactics thieves will adopt.”

A city centre business owner said: “Thieves will often scream and shout and try to assault our people, but this is in a different league. I can’t imagine how awful it would be if one of our people was accused in this way. It could literally destroy lives.”

It should be a SotBO[1] that I deplore shoplifting scams, fake sexual assault allegations, and similarly criminal activities. It’s the language in this article that I find interesting. The bodily-fluids aspect is described as “bizarre”, “disturbing”, and “in a different league”. Crims threatening people with syringes of blood is well and truly mainstream news, barely worth reporting, but bring breastmilk into the picture and there’s a circus of “Freakish!” outrage with a barely-concealed undercurrent of pornhound sniggering. The article uses the euphemism “touching themselves intimately”, but media happily use the word “semen” in sexual assault cases. “Vaginal fluid” is apparently just too beyond the pale to commit to print in public.

As an aside: do we know that what is described are attempts at sexual assault framing? Have any formal allegations of assault been made? Have the body-fluids allegations been confirmed? As a commenter at Dollymix noted, it’s a whole lot quicker and easier to get your DNA on someone by spitting on them than it is to get a breast out or stick your hand in your pants. I wonder if what we’re seeing is an urban legend in the making. And even more speculatively, I wonder if it’s a racism-motivated one. Any Leicesterians around who can report on the in-person rumour mill?

[1] Statement of the Bleeding Obvious

Categories: gender & feminism, health, language

Tags: , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. You should see the comments on the Marie Claire article about freebirthing. The comments about women’s birth choices are bad enough, but some of the comments on the practice of eating a tiny piece of placenta to prevent/treat post-partum bleeding are bizarre. The commenters obviously feel that there is nothing so gross as something that has come out of a woman’s body.
    And they weren’t talking about people who fried up the whole thing with onions!! Just a tiny piece to prevent bleeding. Weird that it would freak people out so much.

%d bloggers like this: