Some Ideas on Women's Liberation and Health- Edited






Norie Neumark

The media assures us that happiness lies in cream cakes and juicy steaks. And so we must work to get the money to buy better ovens to bake the cakes and bigger freezers for our he-man's steaks. And then we must persevere even at miserable jobs to pay for the doctors, and the pills, and the hospitals, and the looney bins to patch up the ills of this diet and this work and to drug us up if we should scream out that it's terrible and beyond our control or even if we just scream out in question.

Since the big steaks and cream cakes are the only legitimate happiness that we are allowed, to condemn them means you must be either: 1 so physically sick that you are desperate ; or 2 a spartan impelled by a philosophy of self-denial (like those right wingers to whom the disparagers of natural health love to point); or 3 people who wish to control their own lives, to be strong and healthy enough to have the time and energy to think and to question and generally to liberate themselves from a society which tries to woo submission with cream cakes. Liberation involves freeing ourselves from the conditioning society imposes (and we accept).

Conditioning is more than just ideas. It includes the actual physical conditioning of our bodies and our minds to constant pain and exhaustion to poor health. This physical conditioning is as harmful as the sexist conditioning we all deplore. For health is essential to liberation; just as essential as raised consciousness and moral support from the movement and friends. We all have felt how hard it is to deal with confrontations between our emerging liberated life and our old conditioned life when we are tired and tense. And bad health means we are tired and tense much of the time—and vice versa.

So we must think about changing both our health and our conditioning together if we are really to change either of them. Freeing ourselves from self-hatred and from hatred and ignorance of our bodies is part of women's liberation. And understanding and liking our bodies is part of good health. The right to control our bodies is surely more than just the right to abortion. It also means the right to enjoy our sexuality, to free ourselves from the uncomfortable encumbrances of fashion and makeup and crash diets—in short, the right to control the health of our bodies.

One step toward controlling our bodies is to free ourselves of profiteering experts with their mumbo jumbo and their expensively elaborate equipment and esoteric -drugs whose side-effects neither they nor we understand. We can seek instead people who advise us how to help ourselves and help each other. What else can we do to regain control of our health? The answer seems trivially commonplace: proper diet, clean air to breathe, adequate exercise, restful sleep. But we find that these simple means are in fact denied to us in our capitalist, masculinist culture.

For instance, this culture offers us not healthy food, but processed muck, designed to provide maximum profit to industry and to keep us mere sickly cogs in the consumer cycle working mindlessly to produce the processed food and to earn the money to buy it. We are exhausted with this unhealthy work until we are too tired for useful exercise. And our relaxation is assaulted by the ugliness of the refuse from the processed food and the pollution from the industries which create it. And then our sleep is interrupted with noise and worry. The 'normal' sort of 'health' which we are allowed is the 'comfort' of backache suppressed by pills, eight hours of drugged 'sleep' after 'exercise' of monotonous housework or heavy factory work or dulling office work.

Capitalist consumerism has in fact simply turned 'health' into self-destruction. For example, we are told we can save our teeth by ingesting the drug Anticay, which the sugar industry will market and put in the very sweets which are known to promote decay. This idea is so clearly absurd from a health point of view that we can only see it as an act of self-maintenance on the part of the industry it enables sugar and derivative industries to continue with righteousness. And, by the way, it contributes to overloading our system with drugs which help us stay sick enough to keep going to doctors (and to keep eating sweets to console ourselves).

But there's a much bigger industry aimed at keeping us sick, in the name of a phoney health—the medical industry. It's a huge industry, totally determined to maintain that sick society as its consumers. It's an industry so expensive to its consumers that we are tied all the more into the capitalist treadmill to earn the money to fix the ills that the treadmill produces. In this treadmill, the factories churning out the painkillers, contribute to the noise and boredom and frustration which give us the headaches which we go to doctors and chemists to get painkillers to 'cure'. And we must dutifully consume all the painkillers because the treadmill deprives us of the simple few spare minutes of relaxation necessary to ease our pain. And so we kill the pain with drugs (destroying our kidneys while we are at it), destroying the symptoms and forgetting that the real causes are still there, in part in the miracle-drug producing society itself.

Society keeps us so busy producing and consuming that we never have time to think about the causes of the bad health, which we take for granted and whose causes are so easily masked with miracle drugs. It labels issues like health as freaky to divert us, or turns them into fads to take their sting out. These labels prevent us seeing that the causes of bad health are part of the capitalist masculist culture which we are in fact, so critical of otherwise.

The only way we will break free from all the self-destruction and consumer 'health' and see real health restored for everyone will be with a revolutionary change from capitalist masculinist culture.

Meanwhile, though, we can try as individuals and groups to regain as much control of our health as possible, if we are ever to be strong and well enough to make the revolution.



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