Girl Uninterrupted: Purity Out Of Place
“Crying is a beautiful thing. We’re never so close to God as when we cry.” Suzanne looks down at her hands. The beauty she longs for does not lie before her tear stricken eyes, the beauty she longs for does not exist. She is covered almost perfectly, by a white veil.
I watched The Nun, a French film based on Denis Diderot’s novel, with my friend, while we endlessly discussed obedience, virtue, and the lengths we would go to if we were in Suzanne’s situation. The film follows Suzanne Simonin, who is forced to wear the veil after finding out that she is an illegitimate daughter who must atone for her mother’s sins. The film follows the slow, almost curative attempt to define and to drown a woman.
“The body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious. The body is a complex structure. The functions of its different parts and their relation afford a source of symbols for other complex structures. We cannot possibly interpret rituals concerning excreta, breast milk, saliva and the rest unless we are prepared to see in the body a symbol of society, and to see the powers and dangers credited to social structure reproduced in small on the human body.”
–– Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger
Becoming a woman means also having to learn what our boundaries are. The world tells me that certain parts of my skin is a boundary, that there are borders that signify who we are based on whether or not it has been trespassed. Yet these borders are invisible. They do not light up, they do not make a sound, the most that they do is tremble, when they are touched. The first thing I learnt is that I am a landscape.
It is much too often we attempt to preserve the beauty of a landscape in the face of destruction. There is nothing that moves us more than the knowledge that a park will be demolished, a museum will be destroyed, or a woman’s body is no longer pristine. I use the word “pristine” here, synonymously with “destruction”, “demolished”, and “destroyed”. I use the word “pristine” here as a recognition that as women, our body is not ours. Our body is a landscape, and more often that not, our body has been destroyed.
For women, having a body is a constant and often, painful, experience. We are, more than anyone in the world, aware of the way we move, the way we carry ourselves, and what every gesture means towards our identities. We are, at the same time, bound to our bodies and yet we are so incredibly estranged from it. It is because we exist in a world that places value in our bodies yet forgot to ask us for our consent.
“The impure is that which does not respect boundaries.”
–– Julia Kristeva, The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt
Suzanne has barely had time to experience her own body before it was explored for her. Her body has been assaulted, caressed, loved, hated, and stripped bare, all without her consent. She is removed, of even the most basic rights of a human being, and her body stays wounded and unwashed for months. She forgets that a woman cannot be, without a body to live in.
“My body is here, but my heart isn’t.” Suzanne looks up at the windows. The beauty she longs for does not lie before her tear stricken eyes, the beauty she longs for does not exist. She is covered almost perfectly, from the world.