Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why It's Sexist to Think Women Should Love Pregnancy

"But I loooooved being pregnant."

My community of friends has been universally supportive of this blog, and of the challenges associated with pregnancy (particularly when you're nine months along in 105-degree Atlanta heat). But every time a friend shares a blog post, at least one comment expresses befuddlement that I don't love every single second of pregnancy.

It usually comes from a woman who is well past her childbearing years. Occasionally there's also a comment from a guy calling me a bitch or a shrew. They're ultimately just two sides of the same sexist coin, borne of the notion that biology is destiny, and that women must universally love the bizarre and often frightening changes that accompany pregnancy.

I love my baby. I love that my body can undergo this incredible transformation. When your superpowers include making a human, it's difficult to accept lies our society tells us about how women are weak. I feel stronger than I ever have, more in love with my body than I ever thought possible, and more dismissive of sexism than I have ever been able to be.

Still, I am not under any obligation to love being pregnant. Telling me otherwise is sexist, and assuming that women don't love their babies if they don't love being pregnant is woefully reductive. Let's talk about why.

Your Experience is Not Everyone's Experience
I hate being pregnant. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I also know that not everyone hates being pregnant. Some women truly derive pleasure from the process, even when it is physically or emotionally taxing. I understand this because I understand that my experience is not every woman's experience. Women are human beings. Human beings have subjective experiences that vary greatly.

It's not that hard.

Something about pregnancy, though, brings out the idea that the experience of womanhood is universal, and that this experience universally hinges on a shared biology. Which is essentially dictionary definition sexism.

If you want to be a decent person, you must accept that you only know your own experience. That means believing people whose experiences differ from yours.
  • Being pregnant in the summer is different. 
  • Being pregnant and working full-time is different. 
  • Being pregnant and impoverished is different.
  • Being pregnant with a chronic illness is different. 
  • Being pregnant and going to school is different. 
  • Being pregnant with diabetes or another complication is different. 
I shouldn't have to spell out all the ways pregnancy varies from woman to woman. Great for you if your pregnancy was easy; not everyone's is. And if we really want to unite under the umbrella of womanly sisterhood, it should be in an attempt to support our varying experiences--not an attempt to try to force all women's experiences to be the same. 

Privilege is a Real Thing 
I've written briefly about the privilege of not being pregnant, as well as the many forms of sexism our culture expects pregnant women to just deal with.

There are also huge privilege differences between women. Being pregnant and wealthy is a fundamentally different experience from being pregnant and struggling to pay for medical care. Having paid maternity leave is vastly different from unpaid maternity leave, and light years away from no maternity leave at all.

If you loved being pregnant, if you found pregnancy easy, then maybe you need to think about why. Then maybe you should work to ensure more women have the privileges you have, whether it's paid maternity leave, quality medical care, or a spouse who shares in the household labor.

We Don't Expect Women to Love Other Biological Functions
If you believe Facebook posts and popular media, periods are universally loathed, and menopause is a nightmare. These too are transformative physiological processes, and by most accounts are objectively easier than growing a human and then pushing that human out of a tiny hole.

Yet somehow women are supposed to hate their periods, which last a few days, and love the nine months of ever-changing torture that constitute pregnancy? Seriously? Of course, it all makes better sense when we realize that society conceives of women as little more than baby machines. And it's much easier to resort to biological determinism about said baby machines if we also insist that those baby machines must loooove every second of baby gestation.

The Weird Victim-Blaming of Pregnancy Culture 
I don't think I fully understood victim-blaming until I became pregnant. I heard stories about friends' horrible pregnancies, and constantly devised reasons those things wouldn't happen to me: she's too thin; she's too fat; she doesn't get enough exercise; she doesn't take care of herself; she chose a bad doctor.

Pregnancy taught me that victim-blaming is really a form of self-protection. If you believe short skirts cause rape, then you can convince yourself you won't be raped. If you believe that only people in poor health have miserable pregnancies, then you can convince yourself your pregnancy will be great.

We tell women their pregnancy difficulties are their fault, and then when they don't enjoy pregnancy, we tell them that's their fault, too. It's exactly the same way we treat every other female experience: women are prudes, and they also tempt men into raping them. Women belong in the home, but they shouldn't expect paid maternity leave. Women at work need to be attractive, but sexual harassment is their fault.

Women can't win, and pregnancy is just one more manifestation of this double standard. So next time you find yourself irritated with a pregnant woman you think is complaining too much, consider her lived experience: would you complain, too? Do women deserve to voice their feelings? Unless you're a sexist who sees women as something other than human, or pregnant women as somehow less important, the answer will almost always be yes.

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