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February 09, 2005


La Lubu

yeah....I made it through the whole thing! I don't quite know what to say about it, seeing as what you call "self-restraint" seems a lot like asceticism to me! But, y'know, to each his or her own.

I get the distinct feeling from this post though, that you've never been disabled or infirm in any major way....the idea of the body "betraying" you wasn't addressed. I mention that because that was a phrase my mom used concerning her cancer...that she felt betrayed by her body. I felt the same way when I had to go on bed rest during my pregnancy, and still delivered premature; there was this nagging feeling of "this isn't supposed to happen to me! I work out! I eat right! I eat organic, for cryin' out loud! I don't smoke! Why me?!" I think that feeling of body privilege is familiar to "healthy" folks, and that we don't generally think of what it would be like to experience life with a severe illness or disability.

So, when I read this post, I got the feeling that you kinda take your body for granted Hugo....and I'm not coming down on you for that, because I always took my body for granted too, before my delivery. I got the "classic" c-section, which means any future births would have to be the same way (not like I have any plans for such a thing, I'm just saying). So, I had to rethink my relationship with my body....me, the uber-healthy, hate-doctors, no-medical-intervention-until-it's-time-to-call-a-priest....and now I have to admit that I'm vulnerable. And I didn't like that a bit.


The fact that your college's students comment on female instructors' clothing and body in written course evaluations suggests that the course evaluations are near-worthless. At least I get comments about "boring labs format" (along with "great labs format" for the same course), and not rude personal comments. Of course, the students are 23-24 years old or so at minimum.

You need to find a good Hindu cook for some vegetarian recipe tips, and a good Indian grocery store.


RE: being infirm

I've posted before about part of the reason why I'm pro-choice - I have a 50/50 chance of dying should I get pregnant again (rare condition amped by familial pregnancy patterns). This, to me, is a betrayal of my body against me and my desire for more children. No matter what I do, no matter how I abstain (except from sex, obviously) I will never be able to have another child without putting myself at serious risk.

This is disappointing because having had my son so early, I feel I didn't and don't get a chance to enjoy him to the fullest. I'm still trying to get on my feet and get us independent of outside sources.

This may explain my reason for being disinterested in "justice with the body," in part because my body does no justice, in this sense, to me.

That being said, I do what I can to make sure that my existence on the planet does little harm, and as much good as I can muster. Your class, Hugo, both social and economic, are a privilege in this regard. You have the time and ability to think about and enact a one-man movement. Many don't have that privilege (though I'm certainly sure you acknowledge this).

Good post. A lot to think about.


Ooh, bad grammar and unfinished thoughts galore. Must proofread before I hit "post."


I appreciate your points about body betrayal, La Lubu. When I was growing up with severe asthma, I struggle with those feelings before I had language to articulate them--my very body was trying to kill me. Yet... The people that have had to deal with deep body betrayal that I know in my life tend to have the firmest, most easy-going grasp on desire of anyone I know. Once you have the experience of having your body take control over your experiences in a way you never thought possible...I don't know.

I have a deep, firm respect for desire and a I think a handle on how easy or hard it is to manage. I spoke for a long time with a friend the other day about her struggle with a disability that she thought for sure was permanent and then suddenly...evaporated. And she, like me, doesn't take shit for granted any longer. I appreciate that people want control. I think people should control themselves in the sense of doing as little harm as possible. But I am suspicious of asceticism. I know all too well, I think, that if you don't grab life by the horns today it may be gone for you tomorrow. Now of course every person defines what "grabbing life" is. But I hesistate to judge men for what is often good-natured lustiness, the kind I indulge in frequently.

Sorry to ramble, but this sort of thing brings up many thoughts.

La Lubu

Lauren, thank you for your comment on eating choices and privilege. I was thinking along the same lines, but couldn't really think of a way to say something without being snarky. It's a privilege to be able to take your body for granted enough to be able to think of how your choices affect others, rather than how your choices affect you. I mean, altruism is good and all, but sacrificing your body for the good of others is something women are taught from a very early age. Frankly, I like the "selfishness" of being able to make choices for my body that are good for me, y'know?

And that includes eating meat. And it also includes working out, and stretching, because my body is necessary to my work...one of my "tools", so to speak. If my body becomes infirm, it means poverty. I don't think of my body as just a "shell" for my soul...my body is inseparable from me!

La Lubu

Bam!! That's exactly it, Amanda!

I'm suspicious of asceticism too, for that very same reason. I can't help but think of how my mom denied herself this, that and the other...all her damn life. And now, she has cancer, and a limited amount of time left. I know a lot of women like that....a lot. They gave everything they had of themselves, and denied themselves the simplest pleasures....and for what? Would the world have fallen apart if they had taken a little more enjoyment out of it?! Shit.

Hugo Schwyzer

Well, the excellent comments above are among the reasons that I'm leery of pushing still more self-control on women. It's why these comments are self-directed, and directed at my brothers.


I tried to be vegan for a week and lasted for about a meal--however, the experience made me realize that veganism is pretty class dependent. Vegetable protein sources are expensive and hard to find in most small urban grocery stores, whereas milk, cheese, and eggs are plentiful and cheap. Additionally, I'm leery about teen girls going vegetarian when their bodies really start to need iron--and then doing badly on their math exams.

I'm trying to cut down on my meat consumption, and I'd like to buy organic, humanely farmed meat when I'm no longer a poor college student, but I'm not going to apologize for my body's need for red meat.

That being said, our countrymen (especially the "men") eat too much food without being conscious about its production, and I'm glad you're trying to increase awareness.


The points made by several posters that Hugo's reflections and options here come from a position of privilege are surely correct. But as I read this lovely manifesto, I thought that was central to his point. I read this essay as the beginning of an exploration of the responsibility that comes with privilege. This is a bit of an underexplored frontier in moral and political theory, especially in a global context, where the focus is more on questions of rights than questions of responsibilities. As such I'm delighted to see someone take on the question in such a personal way. I hope you'll keep working on this.


In response to the comments about disability: I think that there is a profound difference between the "body issues" one confronts as a woman and the body issues one confronts as a disabled man, although there is some overlap.(On a personal note, I am a young woman who is married to a paraplegic man.)

Obviously, both women and the disabled face physical limitations that perhaps healthy young men do not face. (I can't go on a 10 mile run the day I give birth and my disabled husband can never go on a 10 mile run.) But women face the unique problem that other individuals and society as a whole at times seem to claim a degree of ownership over women's bodies. Examples include: 1) the students who feel entitled to criticize female professors' choice of clothing; 2) more widespread debates over what constitutes appropriate dress for teenage girls or rape victims; 3) individual men who have felt "entitled" to sex with particular women; 4) the pejorative labeling of women ("slut" "whore) who choose to have sex in ways that are not socially sanctioned; 5) controversies over whether women should have access to contraception; 6) controversies over women's reproductive choices-- the list goes on and on.

No one tries to tell the disabled what to do with their bodies. The disabled have to struggle with being accepted and given access to opportunities that everyone else takes for granted. Depending on the nature and degree of an individual disability, one's physical limitations and society's difficulty in accommodating those limitations can have a profound effect on daily life-- but the basic nature of the issues faced is quite different than the issues women face. Disabled men may be limited by their biology and they may face indifference to their struggles, but they do not face others trying to control their biology.

Nonetheless (as an afterthought), I would expand Hugo's thesis to all human beings (except perhaps children). How we choose to use our bodies (whether in terms of taking care of our bodies, what we eat, or sexual ethics) is a moral issue for everyone.


Oops, that was 353 words. Sorry!


I'm unsure how much bringing in the issue of the body really adds to the discussion of some of the issues you raise. Ethical arguments about vegetarianism don't typically mention bodies -- after all, the cow is just as dead whether you eat the burger or throw it away. And while it's true that sexual misconduct uses the body, so does practically every crime -- you need to use your body to pull a trigger or pocket something in a store. So I don't see greed and lust as being especially bodily sins in a way that wrath or envy aren't. I wonder, too, about the way your phrasing seems to attribute desires to your body, as if it's this unruly thing welded onto the "real you" of your mind.

Where you do get at what I would consider a distinctly bodily ethic is where you talk about your duty to care for your body in order to still be there for your loved ones.


In the interest of following the rules (no sidetracking, no overly long comments) - I am going to answer your two central questions:

Hugo: To whom does my body belong?

You. And nobody else. You can rent it out as much as you like (e.g. paid employent) - but in the end, you own all the shares in "You, Inc.".

Hugo: What limits must I place on its desires and my actions?

The uncomplicated and short answer is that individuals need to operate on the core truth that my rights end where your rights begin.

The long answer depends on the values you subscribe to - and the core beliefs you have. If you believe killing animals for meat is cruel, then you should not do it. And perhaps you should demonstrate (as you do, very eloquently I might add) - why it is wrong in writing and other avenues that might influence people. However, you should not be suprised if, on most things, people have other beliefs. For example, I believe we are, by design, omnivores, and therefore, we need a balance of animal and plant based food. I personally see it as somewhat arbitrary that we draw a line at animal vs plant when deciding what is ethical to eat or not... but that's just me.

That all said, there seems to be a shortage of "mindfulness" in our culture about these things. Our culture has become more crass and self-serving (or at least seems to have). If you have ever been in a large crowd (e.g. on a crowded subway, traffic jam, etc.) - you have first hand experience.

My contention is this. Worrying about the ethics of eating meat in a culture whose members too often lack the much more fundamental ethics of "treat others how you would like to be treated" is a bit like trying to learn to play piano by starting with Chopin's most complex pieces.


I was chatting with my priest yesterday, and something like this came up. Not the food part of it, but that living for others rather than selves is the very essence of what we are called to do as Christians.


"The link between calorie restriction and longevity is increasingly well-documented."

So is the link between calorie restriction and feeling hungry most of the time. lol

La Lubu

jic, I agree that considering others is one of the key points of Christianity, and other religions also. In my earlier post, I was referring to the specific way in which females are taught that we have to do harm to ourselves in order to do good for others, or that we don't deserve the simplest pleasures in life---everyone else does, just not us!

I really think there is a cross-cultural female-specific "suffering Olympics" that we are taught; that suffering is inextricably bound with the condition of being female---that you're not really a woman until you 1.)are physically suffering or damaged in some way, 2.)don't own your own body---that others have a greater claim to your body than you do, and 3.)give everything you have to others (time, energy, money, love, food, etc.) and leave as little as possible to yourself.

How does this manifest? Think about birth stories. Think about the hypercritical gaze on female bodies, and distorted body image. Think about mothers who give their husbands and kids the best food, and always eat what is left...even though they can afford to buy good food for themselves, too. Think about magazine articles that advise women how to "give and give" more. Or emails from your mom (please don't tell me mine is the only mother who does this!) that list all the attributes and sacrifices of mothers throughout the ages...gahh!

There are just so many ways that we are told that others=everything, we ourselves=nothing.


For example, I believe we are, by design, omnivores, and therefore, we need a balance of animal and plant based food.

souraaron, I'm puzzled by why you treat this as a matter of personal opinion. You're correct, we are, historically, highly omnivorous, but to state that it's your opinion that we "need" animal based food flies in the face of existing empirical evidence. It's like saying "In my opinion, all cars get under 45 MPG." It's mostly true, but a glance at existing empirical evidence shows it's not true in that form. Vegetarian and vegan diets can be structured in such a way that promotes human health and flourishing, and the evidence is....millions of humans doing just that, today and historically. That this is possible isn't really a matter of opinion.

Now what people should do is another matter, but what they need, nutritionally speaking, isn't simply a matter of opinion.


Well, I liked it, Hugo. It seems like an especially appropriate meditation for the beginning of Lent, though I don't know if you were thinking of that.

Hugo Schwyzer

Absolutely right, DJW. On issues like meat (and sex) "need" and "want" are all too easily jumbled.

The Birdwoman

Ultimately, I believe a man's body is fully his and his alone in a way that a woman's generally isn't.

I think this is where we differ most, Hugo. I feel bad posting solely to point out that I disagree with this comment, but I disagree so very strongly that I couldn't just lurk (as I usually do). This phrase makes me very uncomfortable. I believe that a woman's body is hers, and hers alone. And where I hear this argument most is, of course, in arguments about abortion. I - and so many others - rightly find the idea of pregnancy terrifying. That women go through that physical and (potentially) emotional/psychological trauma willingly is an awe-inspiring thing. That educated, intelligent people like you should insinuate that women's bodies are not entirely their own implies that you would be happy to take that choice away from them. There are few things I find more chilling and, yes, inhumane.

Hugo Schwyzer

I think I need to clarify that, Birdwoman. I'm not making a statemnt about the way things ought to be! Rather, I am pointing out that in our culture -- and given the biological realities of reproduction -- men experience their bodies as being more "theirs" than women do. I meant it as a statement of cultural analysis, not moral fact!

The Birdwoman

Fair enough, Hugo. And in that context, you are absolutely right. I'm just exceptionally twitchy to statements like that!

La Lubu

Birdwoman: I agree with you, that our bodies are ours, and ours alone. But let's face it....we receive a helluva lotta messages to the contrary, and sometimes from so-called progressive sources, too. Our physical presence in the world is criticized and questioned in a way that (most) men's isn't. And it seems that every choice we make regarding our physicality is up for grabs, even by total strangers!

Think about how fat women are criticized because others have to see their bodies. Think about how women are criticized in their choice of not just whether, but how to give birth. Or breastfeed. Think of all the plastic surgery marketing directed at women, to fix "flaws" that were either negligible or weren't even considered as flaws a generation ago. Think about the medicalization of femininity.

With all that, is it any wonder that we have to continue the fight for bodily integrity?

The Birdwoman

Excellent points, La Lubu. As I said to Hugo, I'm just a bit twitchy at the merest suggestion that women aren't in control of their bodies!

I have noticed that, in recent years, there's more pressure on men to also look good, to be thin and young-looking, etc. Look at all the cosmetics (moisturiser, etc) that are marketted at men these days. And I'm sure I heard somewhere that men are a fast-growing group of cosmetic surgery clients. I think this is a very bad thing - as a society we need to start respecting everybody's right to feel good about their own bodies, not chipping away more people's self respect.

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