the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

Where do you Poop?

In human behavior, politics on April 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm

That’s one of the first Q’s that any NGO head or Paul-Farmer-like Uber-Doc or Student Service Organization should ask of the people in the community they’re trying to help. As this really quite beautiful (for its subject) article over at the NY Review of Books illustrates, human detritus represents (forgive the untactful analogy) a digested, compact version of a community’s larger public health. And, perhaps more importantly, where people poop gives us an idea of where one stands in the sociopolitical hierarchy of a village:

Conspicuous defecation, however, is restricted to males. Female modesty—enjoined by Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism alongside age-old patriarchal codes—dictates that women may relieve themselves only after dark, or in the most secluded reaches of the forest, a practice that exposes them to violence or even snake bites. The consequences for women’s health can be devastating. Women of the poorest classes notoriously suffer from a range of urinary and bowel disorders born of taboos about pollution and other social constraints applied to the most basic and banal of bodily functions.

If there’s one universal measure of dignity—and I doubt it, even as I state it—it’s the ability to defecate on your own accord. The female body has always been a site of cultural and political contention, but I cannot think of a more discouraging illustration of the extremes to which a male/religious/class hegemony attempts to control a woman’s most basic act of free will.


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