Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What's Up Down There?: Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend by Lissa Rankin

Rating: 3/5

Okay, this is going to be a difficult book to rate and review, because I loved most of it, but the last chapter and a half made me want to scream. So I'm going to review it in sections.

The first half of the book was fantastic, I couldn't put it down. It was entertaining, informative, easy and fun to read. Starting with the chapter on fertility, I found it less enthralling, but still very interesting. This was to be expected, since I have no personal interest in fertility or pregnancy, and haven't yet reached perimenopause. I particularly enjoyed the author's stories about her gynecological patients and personal experiences. There were some questions I felt she didn't fully answer, but for the most part this was a great read and I'd recommend it to every woman and any man who is interested in women.

When I first picked up this book, I was afraid the Pink Power stuff would turn me off, but it wasn't over the top at all - until you get to the last two chapters. The second to last chapter was about developing a relationship with your "Yoni", which I thought was corny but I could see how it might be useful to women who are very uncomfortable with their nether regions. I value my vagina, but I don't need to have conversations with it, and I don't see my reproductive system as "sacred" any more than I do the rest of my body parts. But whatever. If you need to see it that way in order to be more comfortable with yourself, fine. But then, as I was reading, my throat started seizing up - a very clear somatic sign that I wanted to scream and have my say against what the author was trying to shove down my throat. Primarily, throughout the entire book, she comfortingly reassured me over and over that I was a normal woman, but then she took it all back. Because a "normal woman", apparently, is someone who "gets to wear sparkly, frilly pink things, carry new life inside us, resonate on a deeply emotional level, hold the family together, enjoy long lunches and phone calls with our girlfriends, and be cheerleaders for the world." This does not describe me one bit. I don't do frills, I don't enjoy gossip or talking about every detail of mine or my friends' lives, and I will probably never have a family or even a baby. According to this definition, I may as well be a man inside a woman's body. I know I'm probably not the only one, but the author sure doesn't make it sound that way. She makes it sound like unless you are a 'girly girl', you are not a real woman. Which I think is bullshit.

Then, to make things worse, she does go all Pink Power in the last chapter, talking about "owning" your femininity and loving your body and giving birth to your "authentic self". I'm not convinced that your "authentic self" (if there is such a thing), has anything to do with your genitalia. Further, Rankin makes it sound like the only barrier to loving your body is in your mind. Which, for someone whose body fails her daily (I have chronic pain and fatigue), is rather dismissive. I'm sure the author didn't have me in mind when she wrote this chapter, but there are a hell of a lot of us chronically ill women out there for whom loving our bodies is next to impossible, regardless of whether we have lumpy butts or a big fat belly.

In addition, I consider myself to be a feminist, but this Girl Power Sisterhood makes me cringe. It just seems like another ego trip, another label to wrap around your identity. Why can't we just accept ourselves without having to wave a (pink) flag and call ourselves especially divine? I'm all for empowering women to demand equality, to respect themselves and each other. But I think there's something defensive and childish about the Pink movement. I prefer to see people as individuals regardless of their gender. Being a woman isn't "special" any more than being a man is. We are what we are, and what we are is human.

I very much enjoyed the vast majority of this book, which makes the final chapters an even more bitter pill to swallow. If it ever gets re-released, I'd recommend leaving out or at least vastly rewriting the ending.

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