With a recent post exploring the anthropology of burping, it seems only right to follow up with discussion of another expulsion of bodily gases- farting. Flatulence is cross-cultural but unstudied due to taboo and stigma of unimportance attached to the issue. Anthropologist Kirsten Bell treads down this uncelebrated path of research, determined to unravel the complicated relationship that we have with our farts.
Her article mentions anthropologist Mary Douglas who states, “bodily refuse is seen as a universal symbol of power and danger as it crosses the boundaries of the body.” Philosopher Julia Kristeva similarly states that matter expelled from the body “disturbs identity, system, order.” Bell argues that in one ‘foul swoop’ the fart “destroys the integrity and autonomy of the human body” and “attacks the boundaries of others.”
Furthermore, Bell states that “not all farts are equal” – the farts of children, sick or elderly are easily forgiven. A study showed that loud and intentional farts are viewed more harshly. The farts of women were less easily forgiven and women were also seen to find farts less humorous and forgave easier than men.
Examples of negative attitudes can be seen in Morocco where “it is traditionally held that breaking wind inside a mosque will blind, or even kill the angels within.” On the other hand, Japanese fart (He-Gassen) scrolls from the Edo period (shown above) depict intense “Fart Battles.” The farts highlighted political and social changes and were a metaphor for “rampant xenophobia of the Tokugawa sogunate” as evidenced by portrayals of “Westerners being blown home on thunderous toots.”
In conclusion, there is a need to explore the notions of body and ownership that are related to bodily expulsions. To do this we must move away from the idea that only immature schoolboys should be interested in farts.