The Body Rights Movement

Posted by on Dec 9, 2014 in Politics of Writing | No Comments


By Lisa Samuels.

I’m seeing a Body Rights Movement rising up and gathering cogency. The U.S. woman with the mattress on her back, protesting her university’s unwillingness to expel her rapist; young women in Aotearoa/New Zealand chaining themselves to the police station to protest the dismissal of charges against the RoastBusters; recent U.S. public meetings about sexual misconduct around literary events, often “house” readings; the implosion on a U.K. poetry site attendant on painfully inapt language about rape. These are mostly anti-rape interventions, and the right not to be raped is certainly part of the Body Rights movement. A profound part, since it still seems to be the case that rape is treated as an unfortunate by-product of power differentials between bodies. “Having been raped” is almost coequal with “being a woman.” Changing minds – so that rape becomes as unacceptable as acts of pedophilia, bestiality, and other violations of another’s body, so that thinking rape is as unacceptable as thinking homophobia and racism – is part of what the Body Rights movement wants to accomplish.

The movement rises in part out of the rich conditions of the end of privacy. Consider the transformation of the naked calendar fundraiser associated with the U.K. Warwick Rowers Club (WRC). From positive voluntary nudity, the WRC has moved in to Sports Allies, an anti-bullying and anti-homophobic program. The rowers are putting their nude bodies in the posture of rectitude. They are exercising their Body Rights in support of others’ Body Rights.

What does this have to do with writing? When one moves into a public zone of writing – publishing, visiting, encouraging other writers – one’s body is not only topic but also medium. Publication is intensely embodied, with gender announcements attached to names, expectations attached to age and appearance. The Body Rights movement is considering not only gender and sexuality rights but also what it means to present one’s body and bodily identity in the public sphere of writing. When I perform, my body and clothing are scents in the room that perfuse the sounds and semantics of my writing. I want that presence to be empathic: not transparent, but integrated with acceptability. It would be interesting to conduct imaginative attentions to language in something like the way U.S. symphonies now conduct their tryouts for new musicians. The number of women in U.S. symphonies has quintupled since this practice was instituted: the musician performs behind a curtain, and all you have to do is listen.

Lisa Samuels has published nine books, recently Wild Dialectics (Shearsman 2012) and Anti M (Chax 2013), as well as multiple poetry chapbooks, CDs, and essays on writing and critical practice. Her experimental novel Tender Girl is forthcoming with Dusie Press, and her current projects include collaborations with film-maker Wes Tank and with composer Frédéric Pattar. Some of her work can be found via the Electronic Poetry Center ( & pennsound ( & (