Global

On Women, Power, and Bodily Autonomy

Readings from Tehran, South Korea and Texas


Hundreds of protesters chanted outside the federal courthouse in San Antonio on Friday. Photo by Alejandra Sol Casas for The Texas Tribune

As a women-owned and led publication based in the US, we’re grappling with the devastating implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a constitutional right to abortion. While we in the US look for ways to make our voices heard, we encourage you to look around the globe for examples of women and marginalized communities creating change and reasserting their power. As a Polish reproductive rights advocate said in a recent NPR interview, “There is a saying in Polish: If I cannot get through the door, I will get in through the window. And that’s what we are doing.”

In that spirit, we’re highlighting excerpts from our guides to Tehran, South Korea and Texas that each speak to the ways women navigate power and bodily autonomy.

Tehran

Over a year after the revolution’s success, Mina stood in front of the mirror in her bedroom, a scarf in her hand. “Is this how I do it?” she asked. Mamani and Darya sat behind her on the bed.

“Here, let me show you.” Mamani took the square piece of cloth from Mina and placed it on the bed, folding it into a triangle. Then she put the triangular-shaped cloth on top of Mina’s head and tied a tight knot at her neck. Mina looked at herself in the mirror. A headscarf. She looked like one of her Russian dolls.

Darya tugged nervously at a baggy gray tunic that lay on Mina’s bed. The sleeves were long and puffed out; the length was long. Buttons went straight down the front. “This is your new uniform, Mina,” Darya said quietly. “Your roopoosh.”

“My uniform for school?” Mina asked.

“Yes,” Mamani said.

“Mark my words, before long they’re going to change the law so that it’s her uniform for going anywhere. They want to make hijab mandatory by law.”

“We don’t know if they’ll succeed,” Mamani said gently.

“Oh, they’ll get their way. By force. You just wait.”

Mina picked up the heavy roopoosh. With her tenth birthday coming up, she was approaching the dangerous threshold of adolescence. She looked at herself. All of this—the long hair under that scarf, her round bottom, the tiniest hint of developing breasts—was considered a threat now. She had to cover up for school by law. Her body had become a liability.

—Marjan Kamali, Together Tea

Texas

I’m riding off into the night because two days from now in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I’m going to be married. Bill Richards is his name. He has brown hair and a gentle touch and a barbershop. He thinks marriages are made in heaven. He thinks Matthew is my mother’s son.

She’s young enough. She married and had her first child when she was 15. So did I, but I wasn’t married.

Matthew was born on Uncle Harry’s tree farm in East Texas where I went with my mother after she told all her friends she was pregnant again. She needed fresh air and a brother’s sympathy, she said, and me to look after her.

I was skinny and flat-chested and worked after school in the aviary at the zoo mixing up peanut butter and sunflower seeds and feeding fuzzy orphans with an eye dropper. Most nights I studied. What happened was just a mistake I made because I’d never given much thought to that kind of thing and when the time came it caught me without my mind made up one way or the other.

So we went to the tree farm.

Every day while we waited my mother preached me a sermon: you didn’t pass around a child like a piece of cake, and you didn’t own him like a house or a refrigerator and you didn’t tell him one thing was true one day and something else was true the next. You took a child and set him down in the safest place you could find. Then you taught him the rules and let him grow. One thing for sure: you didn’t come along later just when he was thinking he was a rose and tell him he was a lily instead, just because it suited you to.

What you did was you gave him to your mother and father and you called him your brother and that was that.

Except for one thing. They let you name him.

—Annette Sanford, “A Trip in a Summer Dress” from Lasting Attachments

Seoul

Hyun sucked in his breath. They had agreed on announcing their infertility. There should be no question of what she had to do.

“My idea of hell is kindergarten. You know that was our agreement.” He became cautious, contrite. “I won’t be around to change diapers, but I support what matters to you. It’s your decision.”

It had started as a joke. Over beers, the two friends speculated that if they married, they could split the deposit on a spacious apartment, share cooking duties and, like heterosexual couples around them, save money and gain the legal rights denied them. What remained unspoken was how they were afraid as friends retreated into traditional marriage and left them behind. Afraid as public awareness grew and their community was baited in the military and hunted down at school. Afraid to be 50 years old and loving and losing love without an end or beginning in sight. Afraid, especially, of being outed and losing their jobs, their families. Last winter, Chorong caught her parents sifting through ancient photos albums and was struck by how much they had aged. The next week, she and Hyun had a long talk, and she told her parents that they were engaged to be married.

“Are you all right? You must be shocked…”

Chorong didn’t feel anything yet; she was numb from feeling too much the past few months.

Keeping her eye on the door, she lit a cigarette. “Then I’ll need some phone numbers. Your doctor friends must have information about clinics…”

Kris Lee, “A Normal Life,” Stranger’s Guide: South Korea


Contributor

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