Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.

Global Wars On/For Women’s Bodies

Alternative titles: Beauty as Distraction and the Global wars on/for female bodies; OR

Newest bodies, avatars, sex scandal and global wars; Savage Beauty, Savage Wars


“El Cuerpo Descifrado”, The Deciphered Body

5th International Congress

Mexico City, October 2011

Zillah Eisenstein


In the war torn globe—imagine living in Afghanistan or Iraq just now; or in tsunami ravaged Japan; or flooded Pakistan; or in 20 percent unemployed Spain; or in the drug war sites in Mexico;  would I be asking about theories of beauty; practices of beautifying; or even the beauty industry?  What is this thing called beauty?  Maybe it is not a thing at all but rather a politics of misogyny that focuses on body surfaces.  Maybe it is a process of diversion—pacification—the nullifying of female political selves.


Beauty—as a myth, as a desire, as an industry—is a perfect decoy for this moment.  It privatizes us to ourselves, thinking that happiness can be found in beauty while commitments to world peace and social justice are abandoned.  Of course, if I am to be fully transparent I must say that any one who is lucky enough to have the calm to wish for things other than essential survival would wish to be beautiful, to have beauty.  I love feeling beautiful.  Aging is hard because I become less beautiful however that it is inscribed.


But what is this thing called beauty.  It is a form of desire for acceptance of and with one’s body. Bodies are terror filled.  They are what make us vulnerable.  Pain and grief and suffering are bodily affairs.  Beautiful bodies are avatars of a sort.  They do not know illness and suffering.  They are not merely ordinary, and they are oppositioned against ugliness.


Beauty is not a dialectically fashioned creation.  It is oppositioned; bi-polar, set up in dichotomous fashion with ‘the’ other who or what is not beautiful.  It is the realm of the unreal, of fantasy/ies; of romance and lightness; of modernity and civilization—NOT horror, and death, and darkness and aggression and savagery.


Beauty positions on the side of silencing; it allows us to think of one side and not the other or others.  Instead of seeing the wholes of which we are a part we see segments; parts, one side.  Beauty as such is exclusionary and silencing of the polyglot of humanity of the multiple proletariats who have no country to call home.


Beauty and the process of beautifying women is an open secret of sorts, and often even an open lie.  The female body is commoditized as a site for profit making while gender and race are encoded through it.  Today women are cut, injected, starved on diets, cut and pasted, denuded, draped, reshaped, and deciphered into avatars that become something other than the human being. These avatars are multicultural and global while they are disembodied.


Female Bodies are these incredible things….every one wants a piece of them.  They are always in motion—busy laboring, consuming, warring, loving, creating, changing, doing.  They are power-filled which are why they are sites for constant surveillance, and control, and devastation, and punishment.  Once in a while they are celebrated, but usually in these instances it is an individuals and not as members of the incredible class of people identified as females.


Do not get me wrong….females as a sexual class is not unitary, or the same.  Each female is different from each other in endless ways.  They/we come in all different races, economic classes, genders, sexual choices, sizes, physical ability, cultural uniqueness, religious beliefs, etc.  So are political resilience is that we know how to be unique and similar at the same time.


It is just TOO interesting to me that female bodies and what they do are almost always naturalized and therefore normalized as such for what they do and therefore are given little or no political recognition.  Political means power-filled with consequence.  It means that female bodies do absolutely necessary things for survival.  It is most often females/women as wives, mothers, daughters, sisters who cook and feed, and nurture, and sustains life and the networks necessary for human existence.  No surprise that the history of fire, and cooking as essential to the reproduction of the species is sidelined. Or that food production until it became corporatized and profitable was ignored.  Or that …


Ok, this is my start.  But then/now I need to say that female bodies are changing and are never remaining the same.  Fatness, thinness, botox, change the way female bodies are thought of and ignored and manufactured. Beauty and beautification is an endless hopefulness, always open to newness and incompletion which is unattainable.


Women are militarized for war and neutralized for the cosmetic industry.  They are part of a food economy that creates globesity and then those with money buy diet pills.  Starvation is probably one of the top crises for the globe, and Michelle Obama narrates programs on childhood obesity.  This is an integrated cycle.


Simultaneously women are tortured, raped and killed in the Congo and gender apartheid is practiced in Saudi Arabia.  I have not heard of global boycotts to stand against this apartheid, and instead we are told that Saudi women are not allowed to drive—as though it were some middle class woman’s unnecessary desire.  Women in Afghanistan have been bartered over and over again in the Taliban wars but they are no simple victims.  It is their stance to demand their rights that has the blue Burqa being pulled tighter.  There is no beauty to be seen here, just coverings and missing faces.


The Arab spring makes clear that women in Egypt and Tunisia, and elsewhere expect their rights as human beings, who also happen to be women relegated to a misogynist society.  Women in the U.S. military have exposed rampant sexual violation and harassment in our armed forces—in Afghanistan and Iraq especially—and yet the U.S. government says that “we” must bring women’s equality to these countries.


Female bodies expose the OPEN SECRETS of misogyny which allow and permit the continual invisibility of women’s lives in their structured sexual class derivation.  There is continual struggle to revise and modernize this system so that it remains invisible in new forms.  Beauty narratives are a deep sourcing of this process.


The new technologies allow for new sex/gender and racial formations.  Nothing is as it looks.  So the polyversal class of women can include male bodies today.  And successful women occupy positions which allow them to be decoys for patriarchy.


Drug wars, border wars, militarization, violence operate with and through the bodies of Mexican women.  Migrant women laborers create transnational families where women mother from afar.  They are murdered as punishment.


Sexual scandal and sexual violence are an open secret.  But the secret is that female bodies are always fluid alongside their staticity. They remain the icon, the fantasy of beauty itself.


A new politics is needed for the globe.  Without recognition of the politics emanating from and with female bodies of every kind and sort there can be no democracy for the globe. We need to enter a post-beauty era.  We, the big we, need to be in search of new idealizations—not anorexia, or bulimia, or wars fought with drones, or life filled with avatars. War is not peace. Corruption is not democracy.  And beauty is not life for girls and women or boys and men. Instead we need to dislocate gender and race as systems of power and find a full heterogeneity of desire that is not located in racialized misogyny nor consumerism but rather in a fully just and principled  inclusive desirous humanity of us all.

Comments are closed.