I’ve run into yet another unsuspected example recently of how, as Twisty succinctly put it, “Femininity is learned behavior that fucks women up.” This example definitely falls into the physically painful category.
I finally twigged to what is seeming to be a major perpetuating factor in my knotted hamstrings and inner thigh muscles: keeping my legs too close together to be mechanically sound. I first noticed this when sitting; it’s hard to ignore when your muscles start screaming every time you hold your legs in a “proper” (i.e., socially mandated) position. Applying some mindfulness and consideration of body mechanics while moving around, it became horribly obvious that I’ve been spending most of my time tottering around trying to keep my balance–not having a stable base to work from–with the painful muscles compensating like mad. (Yep, very much like wearing high heels, without the added calf muscle insanity and immediate pain feedback.) I would not be at all surprised if balancing a ribcage wider than my hips–over a narrow, frequently rocking base–has aggravated this instability.
Is it any wonder that women are, by all accounts I’ve run across, far more prone to problems with our inner thigh muscles? We apparently also have more hamstring tightness, and the lower back pain that cascades from that, but almost every report of inner thigh pain outside poorly conditioned male weekend athletes comes from a woman. More blatant strain of already stressed muscles frequently makes itself known when we’re turning ourselves into pretzels in bed, so that’s a convenient thing to blame. (Not to mention the popularity of pointing to women’s sexuality and general body design as a snake’s nest of problems, to begin with.) If the muscles were not already strained, with restricted range of motion, they would not be so prone to injury. For that matter, who says it’s necessary or desirable to act like a human pretzel on a regular basis, especially if it keeps injuring people? Again, it takes about two seconds’ reflection to figure out that this is not mechanically sound, and it’s easy to avoid.
Men aren’t trained to keep their legs close enough together that their balance is unstable–and the leg muscles are not allowed to move as they are intended–nor, for centuries now, to totter around in crippling shoes. Our legs do not somehow magically stay closer together in every body position any more than men’s do. One would think that, on average, having a wider pelvis would mean that the legs would also be spaced more widely. It takes a lot of effort to keep them pulled toward the center, even if we don’t notice it after a while.
This mechanically unsound posture also increases susceptibility to knee injuries. I am restraining myself from going off on the frequent perception of women’s inherent “deformities” (here’s just one example; lack of emphasis on muscle development and weird encouraged stances aside, someone does at least get points for mentioning the damage caused by heels) and inherent muscle weakness as the sole reason we get an awful lot of ACL tears. Says the woman with two ACL reconstructions. Encouraged weakness aside*, moving from an unstable base does not enhance joint stability, and tight muscles pull on joints painfully. Having a knee buckle from tight thigh muscles at the wrong moment can lead to serious damage, as I know too well.
Not surprisingly, this learned unstable stance seems to be contributing to a much larger cascade of musculoskeletal problems. Another similar contributor: mostly unconsciously hunching my shoulders in an attempt to appear less conspicuous, much more severely over the past five years–since I’ve been living where not many people are built like me. Being built like a 5’8″ linebacker is definitely not feminine here–there are enough of us adult human sized** NDN women back home that I don’t get honest-to-goodness stared at on the street. I have, indeed, experienced much less pain since I started paying attention to how I was holding my shoulders. Folding, spindling, and mutilating them is not going to make me look smaller and less threatening, and it didn’t cut down on the stares and reflexive “sirring”. Besides its just being based on a ridiculous and damaging set of assumptions, in the first place.
It distresses me that I am having loads of musculoskeletal pain brought on by learning to use unnaturally restricted movenents, and then I go out and see how most women here in Greater London have been trained to walk. I am hurting, and my usual mode of locomotion is not knock-kneed mincing, with as little shoulder and other upper body motion as possible. (I still get startled by the exaggerated pendulum-like arm movement required to maintain balance.) You don’t need heels for that to hurt, over time. My gait has made other women walking in front of me after dark glance back with fear and suspicion, it comes across as so unfeminine by the standards to which they’ve been trained. Sometimes I want to cry.
I firmly remember the posture segments of the wétiko training pushed on me once I started school. A lot of people took umbrage at my standing too straight, and responded in a less hostile manner when I showed less physical confidence. Part of this came from still socially accepted racism, but minority girls are at the absolute bottom of the hierarchy. Girls raised to be uppity are the worst. I didn’t know I needed to show submission. I got outright called on sitting with my legs the way they naturally wanted to arrange themselves, on many occasions. Apparently, I looked too comfortable a lot of the time. This had its effect even before the media barrage did most of its work. I still suck at performing Western femininity, but am sufferering physical pain from what I did absorb. Then there’s the emotional and spiritual pain. What of girls/women who are better performers? Joint hypermobility does make me more susceptible to screwing my muscles up, but these encouraged postures and movements are not good for anybody.
What has very possibly amazed/upset me the most about what I’ve found since I’ve been paying more attention to my body and how I hold and use it, is how little I had noticed before. Finding out that unhappy, abused muscles–rather than osteoarthritis and other actual joint/spinal damage–were causing a lot of pain was quite the revelation, in itself. I honestly could not tell that my muscles were tight, until I learned (a) to pay a modicum of attention to them, and (b) how a healthy muscle felt. I still have to pause and think through how a body movement works, mechanically, and it continues to amaze me that I did not learn to do this before. Most of it is just so obvious, once you pay attention.
This is an excellent example of humans’ physical wellbeing, not to mention happiness, taking a back seat to social constructs: femininity, in this case. What’s required in order to completely ignore signals of distress from your body? How can you not notice that your muscles are spasming, and your gait is dangerously unstable? The same kind of encouraged mental distance and disconnection that allows a person to starve herself and deliberately rip out her body hair–and gain a feeling of accomplishment. It takes a disconnection between body and self, a serious distortion in self-image–and not in the watered-down pop psych sense. Your perceptions of self and what you are seeing in the mirror may as well be coming from different dimensions, and our society demands that the body must change. Denial and control of your body is presented as the main form of control available to you.
It’s a particularly nasty twist on–and logical result of–the Cartesian mind/body split, further filtered through wétiko, and used as a bludgeon. A woman’s body is not important, except as it is used to attract men. If you truly feel like your body is important, you will not abuse it in this way. You will certainly not be so numbed that you don’t even notice anymore that it is being abused. If you love yourself, you will not knowingly harm yourself. (Here’s an excellent related video, which gave me food for thought.)
Performing femininity as a wétiko society dictates requires that you abuse and neglect yourself–in body, mind, and spirit. It requires that you render yourself suitable for consumption. This is just another illustration. Femininity hurts.
* I thought I’d mostly missed out on the “weakness is only to be expected” theme, and thought I was in pretty good shape. Then I caught myself considering my upper body strength “pretty good for a woman”, rather than questioning how great it really was for an individual human built to be strong as the average team of oxen. How good a shape were my thigh muscles really in when I tore knee ligaments?
** Before someone takes exception, I am pointing out that “adult human sized” does not equate with “tiny, if you’re female”. Adult humans come in different sizes, exaggerated by factors such as restricted food intake and an encouraged lack of strengthening exercise–part and parcel of femininity performance. Some of us adult humans get to hear that we’re a completely inappropriate size on a regular basis, and I call bullshit once again.