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Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.
Jews recently recounted Queen Esther’s courage while celebrating Purim. Esther risked death by breaking palace protocol to approach Achashverosh unbidden. Her firm faith and willingness to risk all for the sake of her people made her a role model for generations of Jews. Modern feminists can also take inspiration from her refusal to accept the submissive role that Ancient Persia expected queens to play. She realized that it was her right to approach her husband when she wanted to.
An oversimplification of history says that humanity progressed linearly from supporters of oppressive laws and societal pressure to an enlightened community that guarantees freedom and prosperity to all. The reality is more complicated. There were times and places in the West when life became more difficult for women in certain ways. A woman’s right to control her own body must be defended in every generation.
Women in more recent history faced pressure from evolutionists to make their bodies conform to societal expectations that remained even after people forgot the origins of that pressure. Charles Darwin was so respected during his lifetime that he earned a burial in Westminster Abbey upon his death. This respect is appropriate given his accomplishments as a scientist. Biological evolution is a reality, and his writings brought this knowledge to the world. However, admiration for Darwin should not blind people to flaws in his books. Many of the details in those works were later disproven, and positions taken by his fans are morally repugnant today.
The 1871 publication of Darwin’s Descent of Man inspired a war on women’s body hair. Citing his theory, scientists proclaimed that the physical differences between men and women, a form of sexual dimorphism, were greater in the “superior races of humanity”. Following their advice, American women with ancestors from Northern and Western Europe spent the next few decades removing their body hair, sometimes at great risk to their health, so that they could appear racially superior to people of color and the American families that had immigrated more recently from Southern and Eastern Europe.
This war on women’s body hair is particularly disturbing when one considers that body hair is a secondary sex characteristic. Pressuring women, but not men, to shave their legs makes as little sense as demanding that women, but not men, keep their shirts on. Modern Americans are fortunate that feminists battled for a woman’s right to control her own sexuality in the mid-20th Century.
Staunch feminists at the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective published Our Bodies Ourselves, a different type of biology book, to empower women to make their own choices by educating them about sexuality, health, and reproduction. Praised as a feminist classic, Our Bodies Ourselves includes advice for having pleasurable and satisfying sexual experiences. It is not a text for Puritans. Their attitude is echoed in a 2009 Guardian article that wonders why British women don’t sunbath topless the way French women do and a 2014 Huffington Post article in support of Go Topless Day.
Older fans of Our Bodies Ourselves should feel proud of Millennials who now hold the torch for feminism and gender equality. When leaders such as Emma Watson announce HeForShe at the UN or stand up to slut shaming they deserve support from Baby Boomers and Generation X. Less privileged women, such as the models in the Sun’s discontinued Page 3, are equally entitled protection when societal pressure threatens to control their sexuality. Queen Esther stood up for every Jewish woman when she broke gentile gender norms by entering a king’s chambers uninvited. Given the treatment Emma Watson received in the press over a bit of bosom, it might be time for Le Pen to stand up for women everywhere by holding a topless press conference in Westminster Abbey.