Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Woman as womb

One of the most horrorfying aspect of moves like making miscarriage a crime, is how they reduce women to being no more than a womb.

A lot of it seems to me to elevate an actual human being over a potential human being. A living breathing woman, whether she is pregnant or not, actually exists. She has thoughts and opinions; her life is real and now and it is undeniable. Embryos and fetuses have the potential to be all those things, but they are not there yet. I know this will be a controversial point to some reading this blog, who oppose a woman's right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, but I wanted to clearly state that this is where I am coming from. To put what's in the uterus ahead of the person with the uterus seems bizarre to me.

Some of this seems to stem from a weird concept of innocence that is rooted in the idea that the older we get the more sinful we are, and therefore the less worthy we are as people. This view seems to be surprisingly widespread, and sometimes even results in the frustrating use of the term "women and children" as a shorthand for a special class of people who are "the innocent"*. As if some people could be more deserving of being blown up than others, because of some quaint idea that they are less sinful. But I digress.

I can understand how people look at a significantly pregnant woman and find it hard to look past her gravid state. I remember when Wriggly was about three months old turning up to something and having an acquaintance do a double-take that I was no longer bulging out the front. His gaze went straight from my face to my belly. Then he asked where Wriggly was, as if we were somehow still physically attached, looking around behind me. I had actually seen this person since my son's birth, but somehow it was taking him a while to get to grips with me as a non-pregnant person again. My defining characteristic for so many months, my distended middle, had gone and some people found it difficult to relate.

And it's an easy topic of conversation, an icebreaker if you will. For the observer, it's the first time you've talked about this with this woman and so it's still interesting to you. It may be the tenth time she's discussed her pregnancy today, been asked the same well-meaning questions ("do you know the gender?" "when are you due?" "are your ankles swelling yet?") and listened to horror birth stories she really didn't want to hear. Don't get me wrong, it's nice that people care, but sometimes you really don't want to talk about your uterus All The Time. Sometimes you want to make up a FAQ handout, give it to people along with five minutes of SSR, and then start a conversation about something else entirely. Because a woman is so much more than her pregnancy, and it's not the only thing she wants to talk about (or is capable of talking about either).

I look forward to a time when women are treated like full agents in charge of their own lives, whose fertility is just one facet of their lives. The sooner the better.

*In a more trivial example I heard on the radio a few weeks back that some of those supporting a city-wide liquor ban in public places in Wellington were arguing for it on the basis that "women and children" (or sometimes "mothers and children") shouldn't have to see drunk people in their playgrounds. Because everyone knows that if you are a lady who has responsibility for caring for a child you will swoon on the spot if you see someone who is intoxicated. /sarcasm


Hugh said...

Unfortunately this idea that mothers are somehow more fragile is not something mothers are so eager to dismiss when there is a chance they can make some positive claim for privileges or power based on it.

Sure, it's easy to scoff about the idea that a liquor ban should be passed because it'll benefit those poor, fragile, suffering mothers.

But many of the policies advocated for on this blog, such as more financial support for non-working mothers by the state, if they ever are enacted, are likely to be based at least partly on this premise. How does that make you feel?

A Nonny Moose said...

Hugh: Fighting for those policies is undertaken so that women CAN have agency and advocacy as a pregnant woman or mother, not victim status.

Hugh said...

I realise that Nonny, and I didn't argue those advocating these policies were doing so out of a conception of women as victims. Simply that if these advocates are successful it may not be entirely for the reasons they'd like.

I suppose what I'm really getting at is that it has to be acknowledged that the line between 'mothers as fragile china dolls who need all the protection they can get' and 'mothers as hard-working, vulnerable, but nonetheless critical components of society who need all the support they can get' is a pretty wavery one.

Often I've felt, when people call for certain levels of support, which I regard as excessive, to be extended to mothers, that they're operating on the 'ridiculously fragile' paradigm, but I'm sure the people calling for said levels don't see it that way.

stargazer said...

i don't know if you referring to it or not hugh, but my post on the discrimination inherent in income-splitting referred to sole-parents all the way through, and i did so in comments as well. so, yeah, in that particular instance your current comments don't make much sense.

Julie said...

Hugh, it's not unusual to end up arguing for the same thing for different reasons. Take women's suffrage - some of those who argued for it did so because they thought women would be a positive, civilising influence on politics because of our gentler kinder nature. Patronising much?

I'd also point out that a lot of the policies I've advocated for on this blog have also been about improving access for men to areas traditionally seen as women's work, as I see that as not only a good idea in and of itself, but also because it means a less sexist attitude towards who can do the work. Does that mean I therefore think men are weak too??

I don't agree that the line between a paternal approach to protecting women and a proactive approach to supporting women (and men) is "pretty wavery". There is a lot of shame in our society around the concepts of seeking or needing support, which I consider both unfair and counter-productive. Take within the workforce for example - in many cases a worker who needs support doesn't seek it because they don't want to look like they need support, because it's seen as a sign of weakness. Nevermind that actually the best outcome, for everyone, is that that person is supported to do the job right. And too often when a worker asks for support they don't get it. And lots of managers don't offer it, or even look to see if it needs to be offered. I think we need to change that.

So when seeking support for parents (not just mothers as you seem to be implying I say) I don't see it as seeking "privileges" for them, but as a logical response to some of the issues our society faces, like domestic violence, and poverty.

Actually this is all quite a long way from the point of the post, which is that each woman is much more than her uterus, whether she is pregnant or not. Not clear on how we got here from there.

Katherine said...

I play on making some Tshirts for myself if/when I get pregnant that say things along the lines of "Mummy is a person too!", "I'm up here ^" and "If I wanted your advice, I'd ask for it" etc.

Doesn't help with the policies, but hopefully I'll get a rise out of some people ;)

Eva said...

This reminds me a little bit of how brides are treated. It's like there's some sort of script, "show me the ring. have you set a date yet? what does the dress look like? I remember planning my wedding..." etc, ad. nausea. It's like people can't imagine that you want to think about anything other than this one highly stressful event who's preparations going to define you for months on end.

I can see it as a right of passage and I can see it as people needing to place you relative to themselves socially, but it still becomes... frustrating. You are still you. Being engaged, married, pregnant, a mother, those things don't make you some alien different person.

Eva said...

Also, in response to Hugh:

That line is generally choice. Are we giving women resources or are we legislating how she must behave? If the choice belongs to the woman, we're probably on the right side of the line, regardless of intent.

Hugh said...

Eva, maybe, but I've seen a lot of criticism, not least on this site, of stuff that's seen as infantilising pregnant women without straying into compulsion - nobody has ever tried to ban pregnant women drinking, for example, but a lot of the authors here still feel that the advisories against pregnant women consuming alcohol fall within the realm of patronising and controlling even if they're only advisory.

On a more positive note it's always nice to meet a fellow Changeling player!