June 4, 2019

'My Body Is Mine': tracing a feminist slogan

On June 4th, we launched our campaign #MyBodyIsMine. But we are far from the first to use this slogan – it’s been used by feminist movements since at least the 90s, if not earlier. And as our Director of Partnerships and Communications Amanda Gigler put it, “it’s important to be aware of our histories as we recycle and elevate concepts and words that have been developed by others in the movements we serve.”

 

After all, whether in the arts or the sciences or even activism too often women are not recognised for their work and contributions. But bringing that labour to light is not only about giving credit where credit is due - it can also be a powerful tool for helping us understand where we are today, where we want to go, and how we might get there.

 

‘A name for our experiences’

“’Mi Cuerpo es Mío’ - or in English ’My Body is Mine’ - has been used as a slogan to protest violence women in Latin America and the Caribbean for many decades and in many contexts,” says Gigler. “What Nicaraguan feminists have told me over the years is that the phrase didn’t start with them, but it was definitely visibilised by them in the early 90s.”

 

 

In this 2015 video (above) director of Nicarguan feminist organisation Puntos de Encuentro's publication La Bolentina Vanessa Cortez explains why ‘My Body is Mine’ became such a powerful slogan in the feminist movement in Nicaragua at the time:

 

“For us, it was a great revelation to learn that what we had experienced had a name [violence] and that, on top of that, we had a right to talk about it in public as such and we also had a right to overcome and say that we did not want to carry on living in that way.

 

“This slogan of ‘my body is mine’ has ... been a commitment to carry on shining a light on the physical and psychological violence that we as women live with.”

 

“This slogan of ‘my body is mine’ has not only been a commitment to carry on shining a light on sexual violence, domestic violence and intimate partner violence, the physical and psychological violence that we as women live with, but also an enduring commitment to explain, based on the experiences of many women, what ‘my body is is mine’ means in many areas of our lives.

 

“For example, it has been taken up by women working in maquilas expressing their right to be free from sexual aggression or sexual harassment within their workplaces. It has been taken up by girls to be able to live lives free from sexual abuse [and] in recent times by our fellow workers, women sex workers.”

 

Translation and travel

In the English-speaking world, the phrase was first popularised in the US by the book My Body is Mine, My Feelings are Mine (1995) by Susan Hoke, which was designed as a guidebook for children and adults for detecting and preventing child sexual abuse. In the years since it has been adopted by feminist movements, in particular as a rallying cry for abortion rights, reproductive rights and reproductive justice more broadly.

 

To name just a few examples: In 2013 the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights used ‘My Body is Mine’ in relation to a petition calling on UN member states to ensure the right to safe and legal abortion; in 2016, Mama Cash ran a pilot of our current #MyBodyIsMine campaign in the Netherlands; and in 2018 ActionAid UK used ‘My Body is Mine’ as a framework for a campaign about ongoing sexual violence and supporting survivors. Many feminist artists have also taken inspiration from these words, including Jade Anouka in 2017 and Cuban feminist group Krudas Cubensi in 2014.

 

 

The power of interpretation

One of the reasons ‘My Body is Mine’ has had such lasting power is perhaps precisely because there are so many different possible interpretations of its meaning. It can be an expression of defiance to gender-based violence, non-consensual sterilisation or the criminalisation of sex work. It can also be an affirmation of the right to dress how you choose or love who you like. There are as many interpretations as there are experiences. We hope that with our #MyBodyIsMine campaign, we can bring the power of those different interpretations to light - and use this power to make this collective claim a reality.

 

Learn how you can join #MyBodyIsMine!

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