Ever since Descartes, the mind-body dualism debate has been in vogue. But perhaps nevermore than in the case of a woman, whose body is presumed to have a mind of its own, incapable of thinking beyond the body. Margaret Atwood’s poignant and hilarious satire The female body, first published as a response to a letter in the Michigan Quarterly Review (1990), is a sublimation of pent up frustrations and resentments to such hollow presumptions.
Margaret begins by referring to her body as a topic. A topic is a matter dealt in a text, discourse or a study and calling a body, a topic slyly mocks our reluctance to look at the body as something real and concrete, rather than an abstract ideal to romanticize.
In the second vignette, she describes the accessories for the female body. In the long list of things, Margaret makes us feel that the female body is but a hanger or an empty vase to hold the accessories. In the list, she reflects upon the history of our troubled relationship with the female nude and our desires to cover it up, be it for modesty or for fetish.
The female body is anatomically presented as a plastic container of color coded organs, pretty much like a toy, that lights up with the turn of a key. She hints at the universal dilemmas surrounding the reproductive system as well as the absurdity of the choices made (and not made) on it. She takes a dig at us for being offended by the simple and brutally honest nudity of the female body, all the while shamelessly capitalizing on it and subjecting it to endless exploitation.
Atwood roasts the blunders we commit in the name of sex. She expresses disdain for our neglect towards the female pleasure. She turns to the animal world to extend her mockery for our confusion regarding sex. We are half way through when it comes to sex. We are neither totally pair bond nor entirely tournament species because of which we are torn apart between love and lust, the soul and the body, trapped in monotonous monogamies.
The satire reaches its peak as she uses the neuropsychological narrative. Contrary to scientific evidence, in pure sarcasm she writes that the male corpus callosum is thinner and that their worlds are rigid and disconnected. On the other hand the female brain with its rich networks acts fluidly, like life renewing chaos. She concludes by mocking the desperate man trying to trap this enigmatic and evolving feminine so as to erase dullness from his life. The cynical tone in this passage clearly indicates the frustration of being judged and reduced for years. The desperate attempt to ridicule men is an indication of a hurt, neglected soul’s desperation to be seen and heard beyond her body.