Girl Talk: On Farting And Feminism

In my new book, The Harm in Asking, one of the chapters, “The Boogie Rhythm,” is dedicated entirely to the topic of farting. To be a bit more specific, it is all about what we, as women, go through when it comes to our gas.

In the run up to the book’s release I’ve done a handful interviews and without fail, each one of these interviews has focused on this particular chapter of my book. This surprised me considering the book itself is 306 pages long. The chapter on farting is 7.

As I was writing, it did not occur to me that devoting seven pages of a 306 page book to farts would garner such such dramatic reactions. I never imagined it would be the only thing my interviewers cared to talk about. I hoped it would be funny. I knew some readers would find it un-funny. Lewd. Offensive. That I had prepared for, but I hoped that by keeping it brief, light, to the point, intentionally amusing and so on, I would seem like less of all those things. 

What I did not prepare for was being treated as though I was out of my mind for addressing the subject in the first place. For these seven pages have pulled focus to such an aggressive extent, it’s as though the rest of the book was not written. Or was written, but with a sole focus on flatulence. The central question of nearly every interview I’ve done – sometimes asked directly, sometimes more obliquely – goes like this:  “How could you possibly write about … farting?”

The implication, of course, is that I am either disgusting or bizarre for my willingness to do so, and while I am happy to acknowledge that, yes, I am, in fact, disgusting and bizarre in a variety of ways, I don’t think this is one.

Initially, it occurred to me to write the chapter because I, for one, have always been a problematic farter. My need to fart is constant, and has given me the lifelong sense that I live on borrowed time. How long until I fart again? How long ‘til that next bomb goes off? It’s a sense of impending doom, and it’s with me every second that I’m not alone.

The topic had been knocking around in my head for the length of a lifetime, pretty much, and then one night a couple years back I went out to dinner with a friend, and we had a bit to drink, and I got onto the story of a vintage fart, which is to say a fart from 2006. I told the story of traveling with a couple of friends over Labor Day weekend to a hotel in the Hudson River Valley. A few hours into our evening, my friends ordered up, not room service, mind you, but rather a roll-up cot for the sole purpose of forcing me to sleep outside on the balcony of our hotel room.

Because, well, that’s how bad my gas was on that night.

Because, well, we’d had a lot of beer and vegetables that day.

Anyway, I told my other friend this story over drinks and she laughed and then said, “You should write that.”

And I said, “Huh. Maybe I should.”

In the weeks that followed I thought about how I could do so effectively. How I could make the subject funny instead of just gross. I thought about the Philosophical Divide of Farts: that the world is divided into people who find farting funny, and people who do not. I thought about how best to appeal to the former group. I tried to forget about the latter. I thought about why my friend had suggested it as a topic in the first place and why it resonated when she did.

I arrived at the following conclusion: there’s a lot of latent, insidious sexism surrounding farts, and farting. Most men and women I know love to run their mouths about gender equality, and yet undercut these messages with seemingly benign but nonetheless dangerous actions. We let men fart while pretending we’re not capable of such things, and in so doing teach ourselves and our children that – despite identical biological predispositions – men are allowed to be gross, while women must be demure. We attach a boys-will-be-boys mentality to a man’s fart…to a man’s acknowledgement of his fart, while attaching a she-must-be-crazy mentality to a woman’s acknowledgement of the same. What this does, then, is teach us that men can be funny on this subject, while women cannot. It teaches us that farts are masculine, when in fact they are merely human. And attitudes that do that, that assign a quality to one of the genders that in fact belongs to both the genders, are harmful and corrosive, a toxic instructional manual that reads: Girls, you be like this. Boys, you be like this. And isn’t this attitude patently anti-feminist?

I do not mean to say that the path forward is to encourage all women to fart on public transportation, for example, and have a good laugh about it, and call it a feminist act. (Although that does sound pretty awesome.) What I do mean is that is that there is value in women gathering their strength and pushing aside their vanity, and approaching the topic in a manner that is identical to that of the men in their lives. I mean that there is value in ensuring that a woman who does so is treated no differently from a man who does the same.

It was with these thoughts in my mind that I wrote 7 pages on The Plight of Lady Farting. It is my hope that these 7 pages are funnier than they are gross. It is my greater hope that if they are gross they are not perceived as crazy by virtue of the fact that they were written by a woman.

Sara Barron is the author of The Harm In Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race and People Are Unappealing. For more info, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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