Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Women and bodily functions: poop

My fella is pretty modern-thinking. He’s well-acquainted with the necessity of my diaphragm, and he is not afraid of my period. When we camp out, I get pretty smelly and greasy, and often piss within his visual and aural range. Farts are not a big deal. He understands that I am a person and thus have bodily functions. He is comfortable with the processes of my existing.

But he does not like evidence of my bowel movements. If something does not sufficiently flush, he is upset. If I mention being backed up, he is visibly uncomfortable. If someone brings it up in conversation, he goes suddenly silent.

Though poop, feces, bowel movements are common conversational fodder for men in social conversation and in media depiction, for women they are taboo. In society with men, poop is something we don’t mention unless we’re desperate to shock, desperate for laughs. Discussing it in public is crass and uncomfortable. “Everybody poops. Except for women,” as Sarah Haskins says in one of her hilarious Target: Women sketches.

Women and poop are supposed to stay very far away from each other. We’re supposed to be on opposite ends of the spectrum: uncritical unblemished object Women at one end and messy stinky human Bodily Functions at the other end. We’re not supposed to do it. We’re not supposed to talk about it. Though there’s an entire industry around making us poop - Metmucil, MiraLax, etc - it’s about Fiber or Cholesterol or [Euphemism], as Haskins ablely points out in the video quoted above.

Women are instilled with a sense of shame about a regular, necessary bodily function. Everybody poops, but we’re not supposed to. We’re not allowed to talk about it, even as a measure of our health (especially since the only acceptable measure of female health is demonstrated by falling within the narrow range of “reasonably thin”). Bathrooms are a highly-fraught place, particularly for women at an intersection. Bathrooms were once segregated by race. Bathroom panic is a common expression of cissexism and transphobia. Bathrooms are often inaccessible for women with disabilities. Bathrooms are not easy for women anyway, but the stigma surrounding poop makes bathrooms particularly uncomfortable.

Men pooping is funny and normal. It’s a part of their lives - it’s a little gross, but it’s a common comedic note and point of discussion.They talk about it, they brag about it, they joke about it regularly. How many poop-themed episodes has the male-dominated universe of South Park had? But it’s a shocking, off-putting note for women in comedy. Since we’re not supposed to poop, and unexpected juxtaposition is at the core of comedy, it’s effective - but the effect is to remind women that pooping is somehow wrong. It’s most often paired for shock value with narrowly-defined beauty, as with Jenny McCarthy above. Because the bodily function of sex is on one end, the bodily function of waste must be on the other. When they come together, it’s not funny because it’s part of the human experience, as with the normalized poop of men. It’s funny because we’re not supposed to poop, because poop and women and particularly beauty are supposed to be far apart.

When I wasn’t busy hating myself in high school, I was so ashamed of doing something literally everyone does that I would not poop outside of my home bathroom. Wouldn’t at school. Wouldn’t at friends’ houses. Wouldn’t at restaurants. Though I had the cis and able privilege to use the bathroom easily and safely, I pooped as little as possible in public. Until I got to college, I pooped infrequently and shamefully.

But through healthy conversation with other women, I got over it. My college friends and I started talking about poop. The experience of pooping, different kinds of poop, poop problems, poop remedies. We talk frequently, and lately more and more in the presence of men (who look uncomfortable, but whatever!) about poop, hemorrhoids, skid marks, and other digestive side effects. My pooping is better, my digestion is better, and my conversations are better, all from discussing poop with women.

Pooping is awesome, and I like discussing it without shame or disgust. Men, my boyfriend included, will have to get used to it.


  1. Pooping is necessary! I'm grateful it's been a topic up for discussion in my family (of mostly women) because a few of us have digestive issues and it's been really helpful to talk about it.

    I don't know if my husband was shocked when I first discussed bowel movements openly, but he didn't really show it. And that's awesome and the way it should be. Talking about pooping helped me figure out that some of the foods I was eating were causing my body distress, and I feel much better for it in the poop and mental regions now :P

  2. For what it's worth, as a guy I support your bowel movements and discussion there of.

    Then again, I recall having many conversations with my last girlfriend about poop and pooping (both hers and mine) so perhaps I missed this one growing up. *shrugs*

    In any case, societal attitudes about women and bodily functions ought to change indeed.

    And my first reaction is that I ought to more frequently talk about women pooping so that people have a chance to acclimatize to the concept. But being a guy, I can imagine that making women quite uncomfortable for other reasons. So I guess I'll just... keep not being offended.

  3. You need to come hang out with me and my friends. When a hefty percentage of ladies have IBS or some symptoms of it, poop and gas and the related bloating are fair game (as are many, many, many Activia jokes).

    However, my circle of friends wasn't always like that, so thank so much for making this discussion public!

  4. OK, now I *finally* get what the Candies ad was supposed to be saying. Having grown up in a house w/ few poop issues, I hadn't even realized that she was being 'transgressive' by implying that she was taking a crap. I still think it's a stupid ad, but at least I get what they were going for now.

    I'm not really sure why I have few-ish issues around this; I've internalized a lot of other social messages about What A Chick Should Be Like, but this wasn't one of them. Huzzah to a great roomate who was totally into her poop, and to the desensitization that happens when you change a lot of diapers in preschool, I guess. And a bonus huzzah to everyone else who pushes against these kinds of restrictions, because everybody *does* poop, dammit.

  5. "Men pooping is funny and normal. It’s a part of their lives - it’s a little gross, but it’s a common comedic note and point of discussion.They talk about it, they brag about it, they joke about it regularly. How many poop-themed episodes has the male-dominated universe of South Park had?"

    RMJ, I have to throw in a new angle here--as a PERSON, I am grossed out and unimpressed by the toilet humor present in shows like South Park (it's why I don't watch South Park, actually. Which is a damn shame. The shows I HAVE seen have made me laugh, but they seem to ALWAYS resort to crass humor, which to me is quite lazy). I was totally grossed out when women discussed it openly in college (hahaha), and I'm totally grossed out when men discuss it.

    I don't think that this makes me a bad feminist, or someone who promotes censorship (I don't--in fact, there was a whole section in one of my film classes that discussed why women URINATING on-screen is taboo). I think that folks like me and your boyfriend would just rather accept that some things (like pooping) are necessary bodily functions and leave it at that. I don't want to discuss the contents of my vomit with my friends, either.

    You're right, though--men do tend to get a free pass to be gross and crass. It's "normal" for a man to discuss shitting, but totally unladylike for a woman to do so. That SHOULD be given attention, I reckon. But, damn, why can't EVERYONE just keep poop to themselves?

  6. my (male) partner won't poo outside of the home bathroom if he can help it. he also hates me talking about my bowel movements, so naturally I do so at every opportunity! he won't let me be in the bathroom when he's using it (urinating and defecating) as it makes him really uncomfortable. me tho, I don't really care who's there and will use any toilet if i need to.

    it's bizzare the way people feel so differently about this stuff.

  7. I'm used to seeing women talking about poop in health/support communities because sometimes bowel problems overlap with pelvic problems.

  8. In later medieval Europe, one common slur used (by men) to describe women was "sack of shit."

    This was pretty much a literal reference--women's bodies were perceived as porous and leaky, and pretty much containers of fluids and byproducts (blood, breast milk, excrement).

    It's kind of creepy the way the laxative industry appears to be trying to revive the idea that women are "full of shit"!

    (There's your useless historical trivium for the day, by the way.)

  9. While I do not wish you and your bf to actually get a brutal case of gastro, I swear it will be awesome for your poop discussions.

    In march my bf and I both got a nasty stomach bug. For two weeks I was pooping liquid with white chunks (that looked like little pieces of fat from a steak) Every bowel movement was discussed to see if we were getting worse/better. Since then, poop is not a big deal for us.

  10. Pooping and having periods aren't the only thing women are supposed to avoid... we aren't supposed to be eating in public (unless its daintily eating a salad), we aren't allowed to sweat or get dirty, we aren't supposed to be in pain (yay high heels), etc.

    Seems like there are many things women aren't supposed to do that are really natural to us. Maybe its because we are objects, sex toys, and not human beings like those awesome menz? Who knows.

    Btw, your blog is awesome <3

  11. Oh man, seriously. A good regular bowel movement is one of the great underrated pleasures of life. Sex, on the other hand--love it but it's kind of overrated.

  12. I've had IBS my whole life, which for years gave me a terrible, terrible complex about traveling that I'm only now just getting over with in therapy (it'll be years more until I can handle this without freaking out, I'm sure). My boyfriend, on the other hand, LOVES to travel, so we're constantly engaged in this dance around my poop-needs. He's a "no I'll wait until we get home" kind of guy, while I'm a "if we don't stop the car RIGHT NOW it's going to be real bad for all of us!" kind of girl. We have no choice but to bring up pooping in our conversations.

    The first night we got together we were hammered, and of course the next morning I woke up with the inevitable post-drinking results and ended up in the bathroom that shared a wall with my bedroom. Still, when I came back to bed he happily wrapped me up in his arms to tell me he loved me - poops and all.

  13. I also used to be a little shy about this, but like many of the above commenters, some gastro problems ended that. Digestive disorders and stomach aches are actually really really common among young women, so I wouldn't be surprised if this shame is not so widespread in the population, but more of a media take on things.

  14. poop is just one of those things that I DO NOT LIKE TALKING ABOUT or HEARING ABOUT or KNOWING ABOUT. And fiance and I both have digestive issues! But still, hearing potty humor makes me :-( and hearing about poop makes me a little nauseous. Whenever it's my turn to scoop after the cats, I spend the whole time gagging and trying not to puke.

    I don't know what it is, it certainly isn't like this for the women I grew up with, but I, in particular, have always been extra disgusted by what is a normal and necessary bodily function.

  15. I have a very sensitive GI system (among other things, getting my period or travelling out of my timezone can send it into a tizzy for days - this week I did both!), but fortunately I come from a very scatalogical family, so I grew up with regular broadcasts on everyone's bowel movements and products. Poop is a huge part of my life, especially when I'm experiencing it as debilitating, like right now, because I *need* to be able to communicate my poo needs, and to do so in a way that does not make me feel ashamed or reluctant to bring it up. I don't have the time or energy for euphemisms and dancing around.

    I've grossed out a few friends by being too TMI sometimes (I try to avoid freaking out their parents, but c'est la vie), but I've also had people come to me with their deepest, darkest poo woes because, as they say, "I know you'll understand!"

    That being said, I have a pretty extreme reaction to expectorant (not saliva - just spit, once it's out of the mouth), so I also understand that some things just make people queasy.

  16. I found out, after having a baby, that women are more likely to be open about talking about their bowel movements after they've split themselves open pushing a baby out. You kind of lose the TMI switch once you go through the indignity of childbirth. Not to mention the fact that dealing with another person's poop on a daily basis (i.e. diapers) makes one a lot less squeamish.
    I found more chat rooms for "mothers" with topics of poop and farts than I'd ever seen for single women.
    I finally found out I wasn't the only person who'd had a fart re-route into her vagina. Or a fart that ripples through her labia becoming a fart/queef hybrid.
    There needs to be a word for that, like "vlart" or "vajurple." Now that skinny jeans are popular, I imagine a lot more women are becoming familiar with this particular phenomenon.

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