Tag Archives: privacy

Pregnancy, Performance, and Perfection


Laurie and Debbie say:


We are both fans of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s writing, so we noted last month that she is now a mother, and were impressed with how and why she kept her pregnancy very quiet,.

… only a few knew about her pregnancy and the ensuing birth of her child, and explained that her decision to withhold information about it to the public stemmed from the ever-growing performative aspect of pregnancy.

“I have some friends who probably don’t know I was pregnant or that I had a baby,” she said. “I just feel like we live in an age when women are supposed to perform pregnancy. We don’t expect fathers to perform fatherhood.”

Adichie … refused to answer further questions about her child after her prescient take. When the [Financial Times] reporter asked about the baby’s name, she simply replied, “no, I won’t say,” accompanied by what the interviewer described as a “disarming smile.”

In this very audience-focused age, many human experiences have become performances. Most life performances, however, at least can be done by people of both genders. Pregnancy is limited to people with biologically female bodies, and is most commonly the experience of people who identify as women.

And like all things women do, it provides the patriarchy with an endless source of ways to oppress women. A pregnant woman is known as an “expectant mother,” and here are some of the things she can expect:

  • Complete strangers will feel free to judge her failure if she drinks alcohol in public.
  • Her boss and colleagues will simultaneously hold her to at least as high a work standard as she has ever been held to, and to a complete, unwavering commitment to being delighted at the prospect of having this child. Failing at either counts as failure.
  • Her medical advisors will often hold her to a ridiculously high standard of diet, weight, and exercise, while also again demanding that complete commitment to delight. Failing at either again counts as failure.
  • Everyone will feel free to tell her how well she’s doing, and where she’s falling short.

Historically, there have been periods when visibly pregnant women were housebound because they were “unseemly,” periods when maternity clothes were supposed to hide the pregnancy as long as possible, periods when (affluent and rich) women were instructed to do nothing during pregnancy and periods when they were advised to be extremely active, regardless of how they felt.

Most cultures have some level of claiming pregnant women as a social resource, an unspoken “You’re breeding for all of us, so we can manage your pregnancy.” In 2016, that claim takes the form of “let us see your performance so we can decide if you deserve a 10.”

Adichie is, in a very powerful way, refusing to play in the cultural sandbox. She claims her life as her own and no one else’s, and it would appear that she will do the same with her child’s life. She is forcing the world to treat her as the fine writer and thinker that she is.

We salute her.


WTF?: “Smartphones are Emasculating”

Debbie says:

I’m not an early adopter and I didn’t know that Google Glass was coming out. I don’t even have a smart phone. I am, however, a lifelong science fiction reader and I think that having an earpiece that hooks to your glasses and gives you the internet is essentially–at least theoretically-super-cool. I want to try one!

What makes this a Body Impolitic topic is Sergey Brin’s stated reasons to use Google Glass. Brin, co-founder of Google, could  could be giving Google’s response (stock or thoughtful) to the extremely serious privacy concerns raised by the new device. Instead, he chooses to play on the insecurities of his expected purchasers,  saying that that “Smartphones are ’emasculating.’ You’re standing around and just rubbing this featureless piece of glass.”

To start with the obvious, standing (or lying) around and rubbing something to make it respond is basic masculine behavior (okay, okay, I do it too; it’s still culturally associated with men).

Remember when cell phones (now “dumb phones”) were new? A common joke was that they were the first thing that ever caused men to brag “mine’s smaller than yours!” So cell phones have been a test of masculinity from the beginning. In fact, new tech is a test of masculinity. How new is yours? How small is it? How much better than the next guy’s is it, and can you see from across the room that yours is smaller/faster/newer/shinier than his? Of course, “how much disposable income do you have?” has been a test of masculinity since the early days of capitalism, and maybe earlier, but this goes further than that. Boys (some boys) do, in fact, judge each other by their toys, and most boys are constantly aware that they are being judged.

At the move from cell phones to smart phones, the questions change, but the litmus tests remain the same. Now it’s “what generation is your phone?” and “do you have the coolest apps?” “How quickly and deftly do you use it?” When smart phones were new, no one was talking about them as “featureless”; the features were the point.

But now Brin is hawking something that he hopes will supplant smart phones, so he has to define the new test early. What, you’re still rubbing your smart phone when you could be fiddling with your eyeglasses? What is the matter with you? Why are you such a failure? Why are you such a wuss?

Mark Hurst, before he gets to the point about privacy (link above), points out why Brin is taking the offensive about making the device cool:

The immediate, most visible problem in the Glass experience is how dorky the user looks while wearing it. No one wants to be the only person in the bar dressed like a cyborg from a 1992 virtual-reality movie. It’s embarrassing. Early adopters will abandon Google Glass if they don’t sense the social approval they seek while wearing it.

In just a few words, Brin establishes that he doesn’t expect any women to buy Google Glass any time soon. New toys aren’t for girls, after all. We can still sit around rubbing those featureless pieces of glass (or something more responsive), while the real men prove themselves. Then they’ll release one in pink and expect us to join the party. The reason he can make this statement so efficiently is the years of groundwork he and his cohort have laid, defining geeks as a male-only club, men as the sum total of early adopters, and women as uninterested in anything that doesn’t come in pink (or frills). These underlying assumptions go deep enough that Brin can get away with this kind of sexist bullshit in a TED talk, in a responsible venue; he doesn’t have to save it for a press conference or a boys’ night out.

Even more sinister, by setting up this masculinity test, Brin is diverting the conversation away from the deeply troubling issues with Google Glass. Basically, Hurst argues that Google Glass (or its inevitable followers and competitors’ improvements) could result in tagged, stored, indexed video, audio, and text conversion of everything that happens within eyesight and earshot of everyone wearing Google Glass.

Welcome to the future. Maybe it’s inevitable. But we could be talking about it, and thinking about how we want to handle it, if the co-founder of the company wasn’t diverting us with the terrifying threat to masculinity that is the smart phone.