Rib by Alexandra Van Der Veer

Posted on April 19, 2014 by


Genesis 2:21


So the lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man and he brought her to the man. “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man.”


I went to Toys R Us in Riyadh today to shop for my son’s birthday, and there was an inflatable pool by the checkout counter with a happy blond family on the front of the box. The kids were playing in the water, and the father looked on, smiling happily. He was shirtless and handsome, his bare, chiselled chest facing down the camera. Next to him was only the smiling blond head of his wife, because her body had been obliterated by permanent marker – a black blob from her chin all the way down to her fingertips. Her body had been replaced with a noxious cloud of ink, afraid to leave even a trace of forearm, for fear it might incite lascivious feelings in Toys R’ Us patrons.


I have been thinking lately about the world’s major religions and how much they desire to control the body. They have all sorts of rules about sex. Clothing. Abortion. Masturbation. Jewish orthodox women in New York City shave their heads and wear wigs when they get married. The men should wear yarmulkes or hats. Don’t eat pork. Or shellfish. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t drink coffee. Don’t eat meat. Fast. Deny yourself something pleasurable during Lent. Wear an abaya. No kissing in public. Don’t use birth control. According to Orthodox Judaism, women who are menstruating shouldn’t touch a man or they will make him “unclean.” My friend once accidentally touched her brother-in-law on the shoulder, and he had to go say special prayers to purify himself because she might have had her period (she didn’t). Don’t look a woman in the eye. Don’t dance. My Southern Baptist friend told me there is no dancing at their weddings because it’s a sin. “What do you do?” I asked. “Talk,” she replied. Don’t fuck someone of the same sex. Don’t fuck someone before marriage. Don’t fuck yourself.


And doesn’t it seem that so many of the religious rules relating to the body have to do specifically with women? All these Adams all over the world, keeping tabs on their Eves. Abortion laws, abaya laws, birth control laws. Even Facebook bans breastfeeding pictures.



I wonder if it isn’t a sort of envy, that throughout history, men are jealous that we are the source from which all life flows; women do not need men to conceive, only their seed. But no man has ever conceived without a woman. It is the ultimate freedom – the ability to produce a new life, to be the doorway from which all children enter the world. Maybe there are men who are so threatened by that freedom that they must remind us, every day, that we are just borrowing that rib. Our own body is not fully our own because some of it belongs to them. Our flesh is their flesh, so they can tell us how to use that flesh. And so they cover it with a sickly matte black permanent marker as if to say: if we can’t have that kind of power, no one can.

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