Thursday, June 22, 2006

Continuing the Conversation: On Fasting

From Wikipedia, here's an interesting overview of fasting, both religious and political.

Codepink has a really good article called Hunger Strike History.

To answer Karen's question about women suffragists and fasting:

British women were the first to fast in prisons for the vote. Alice Paul was one of the first American women to fast for the vote. (She was also author of the Equal Rights Amendment.) It seems to have speeded up the process because now politicans understood that women were willing to die for their beliefs, but that was only after they realized that force feeding wasn't going to win them any brownie points. I plan on viewing Iron Jawed Angels as soon as possible.

The tone of this article at Hermenaut is weird and hard to take serious at first. But if you hold on and keep reading, some very good points are made about fasting and women. The last paragraph really brings it home:
There was a time, you see, when a woman starving herself represented a dangerous and courageous political tactic. Today all self-denial represents for women is an effete, cowardly pity-party. Imagine a woman starving herself today to draw attention to real contemporary examples of injustice against American women—like the lack of adequate protection for victims of domestic abuse, the pervasive sexual abuse of female prisoners by male guards, or the ever-present earnings gap. Pacing in front of the White House, her pelvic bones jutting stylishly through her slacks, old high school chums stop her, exclaiming, "Omigod! You look fantastic! What's your secret?" Anxious parents and body image counselors circle around: "You don't need to do this. You have our attention." Jenny Jones stops by: "Don't you know you're hurting the people who love you very much?" No matter what your political aim, anorexia means that women's bodies can never be anything but sites of ghettoized women's issues.


Blogger Karen M said...

What bothers me about the Hermenaut article is the way it conflates anorexia with fasting for a political purpose. The women who will be fasting to bring home the troops, first, are not skinny waifs, but real, full-bodied women, and they won't be trying to make a fashion statement or saying "look at how miserable I am," but rather, once someone looks at them, will be essentially pointing toward the others for whom they are fasting, in this case, the troops who are literally dying overseas for no damn good reason.

Another thing that bothers me about it is, that by conflating the two, and making a fast equivalent to (i.e. something lower than its intention) it's also trying to frame the discussion around anorexics by scapegoating them and making fasting less meaningful. If fasting is less meaningful politically, there are probably other reasons for it.

And, although it's true that anorexics are most often from financially comfortable families, that doesn't mean these women-- whether young or old-- are not suffering some kind of oppression, i.e., being denied self-determination. Or, as some recent research suggests, they may have a genetic predisposition.

After the fuss the GOP made over Terry Schiavo's feeding tube, one wonders what their reaction will be to this fast.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Thursday Next said...

So, the way I took the article was that society has been so warped that it can be very easy to conflate anorexia and fasting.

The world has become so "image" conscious that the Kate Moss' of the world have become the role models, not Dawn Wilson and Medea Benjamin.

No one says, "oh my gosh you look fabulous! How much weight have you gained?" or "You look wonderful just the way you are."

It's easy for me to imagine a political faster who has lost a lot of weight being inundated by clueless people wanting to know how she did it, which completely negates the purpose of the fast.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anne said...

Interesting... You might be interested in medievalist Carolyn Walker Bynum's book on excessive fasting by medieval religious women: Holy Feast, Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Thursday Next said...

Anne, thank you for the recommendation. I'll add it to the list.

11:31 AM  

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