Five Dunns sit squished in a white Prius, bellies bursting with lime margaritas and bean burritos. As we turn onto Denver St. and pull up outside our house, Papa Dunn rips a big one. Noses wrinkle, eyes roll, disapproving groans ensue. He lets out a chuckle and quickly exits the vehicle as I, trapped in the middle seat in intense olfactory discomfort, must wait for my sister and cousin to move before I can escape. Once clicked free from the sulfurous inferno, the suffocating bath of toxic air, a gaseous microcosm of patriarchy, I confront the inconsiderate culprit: “Really? You couldn’t have held that for two more seconds?” Call me ageist but I think it’s OK to assume a 60 year old still has adequate autonomy over his anus. This is a matter of unabashed privilege.
Mama Dunn, the all too modest breadwinner in our family, nods in silent agreement with my grievance. She has dealt (more like smelt ha ha) with this for almost thirty years now and knows protest is futile. But strangely, she never attempts retaliation. No all fiber diets. No wake-you-up-with-a-fart-to-the-face radical resistance to rude flatulence. You see, no matter what, Mama Dunn doesn’t fart. Like, ever. For a long time I’d thought her incapable. In our household, the precious rare occasion she let something escape was a spectacle! No matter how weak the squeak, it was a big fucking deal. The two times I remember it happening, my sister and I went bonkers. Through riotous laughter we’d scream to everyone around “GUESS WHAT??? MOM FARTED!!!!!!!” She smiled sheepishly while scolding our hysterical reactions and “dirty” language (the f-word was forbidden, we had to soften it to “fluff”). Farting, both as a concept and an action, is a highly censored subject, and is undoubtedly the next frontier for feminist critical analysis and deconstruction.
From birth onward, I’ve had a gendered understanding of acceptable farting. Experiences in college have further supported this notion. I’ve heard and observed several men fart with impunity. They are often even rewarded for the behavior with respect from their fuckboi squad, like “damn bruh that was a manly ass fart”. In Sayles, in the Libe, after sex, they let it out whenever. They seem to think themselves comedic geniuses. But what would make their farts funnier and more acceptable than mine? Furthermore, why don’t they feel pressure to subdue their bodily processes the way we do?
As women our bodies and their functions are under constant scrutiny. We’re pressured to modify our natural states with products, potions, plucking and poise in order to increase our implicit price as pieces of sexual property, far beyond what would be healthy and practical personal hygiene, far beyond what is psychologically propitious. Even when physically unthreatened on the outside, we are socialized to fear the un-pretty realities on the inside that our human-ness entails, especially in the presence of a male audience. Experience repeatedly teaches us we must be perfectly manicured and aesthetically modified in order to obtain and sustain “romantic” and/or sexual interest, and that we need this interest to feel fulfilled, despite the fact that it’s a completely unreliable, deceptively appealing but ultimately false avenue toward personal fulfillment. By allowing our farts to flow in all their natural grace, regardless of our audience, we subvert the socially constructed, self-imposed standards of proper femininity and affirm our agency as free bodies.
I just let one out right now in the middle of Sayles and instead of feeling embarrassed I feel limitless. My digestive track is hard at work, fulfilling its essential function, making soft music. Every organic, unbridled fart is a new surprise; the sphincter’s ephemeral symphony. In releasing this tiny gust of gas I feel free and powerful, and sexy in my power and shamelessness. You smell that? Yeah, it was me, you besta believe. Those chemical compounds were inside my body, and now your nose is detecting their disseminated glory. My bowels informed the air you breathe. Our beings are in wordless dialogue, and at this moment the microphone is mine.
This kind of farting is an act of political warfare against the policing of female bodies, against oppressive norms of feminine self-restraint. The patriarchy is self-perpetuating and self-preserving: it concedes nothing. Men will keep farting rudely, suffocating passive bystanders with their brazen privilege until the end of time, while we sit tensely, legs crossed, squeezing our cheeks in, squeezing ourselves into unnatural molds of properness and bodily “purity”. We have the capacity to resist. To all my fellow women of the world who are repulsed by gender oppression, who want to see a change: fart ferociously, fearlessly, and frequently.