The Gender Agenda

There has been a marked rise in the publicity of Gender Neutrality, Transgender, identification as Cis-Male/Cis-Female, to name only a few variations of the discomfort some experience with gender labels in modern society. Unfortunately, I have been privy to throwaway comments and ridicule overheard from others about how ridiculous it is, and how ‘they’ are only ‘attention seeking.’ On the contrary, if “they” are doing anything at all it is with respect to the fact that these individuals are drawing attention to the complications of the labels ‘Female’ and ‘Male.’

These different ways of self-expression in the world are beginning to start a conversation we must have as we embark onwards in our process of civilisation. Furthermore, it is desperately sought antidote to the sexist, bi-gender divide we still endure in 2017. “[T]here is no reason to assume that genders ought to…remain as two.” (Butler, 1990: 9) The fact that we so unflinchingly accept this bi-gender divide as the norm is concerning in a world which is founded upon questioning the status quo. The individuals who forgo traditional gender roles, or even those who identify as cis-gender, highlight the need of an overhaul in the traditionally accepted means of gender expression and a thorough analysis of what it actually means to be male and female in modern society.


Explaining ‘Gender’

A basic dictionary definition states “either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female.”[1]

At present, we have two gender established based on social and cultural construction and relating to sex and/or biological difference.

“Can we refer to a ‘given’ sex or a ‘given’ gender without first enquiring into how sex and/or gender is given, through what means? And what is sex, anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such ‘facts’ for us? Does sex have a history? Does each sex have a different history, or histories?”

(Butler, 1990: 9)

The concept of gender is not so straight forward as first suspected. If anything, however, gender is very much a performative expectation embedded in social values and cultural expectations. From birth we are socialised into the ‘correct’ gender roles. Pink blankets for girls, blue for boys. It’s present throughout their childhood as they learn their place in the world and how they fit in. We encourage our boys to be adventurous, courageous, bold, and fast. We enrol them into Rugby, Boxing, and Football. We encourage them to be competitive and to win. We teach them to fight and wield toy weapons. We tell them to be strong and “big boys don’t cry.” There is little emphasis placed on encouraging them to declare love for their Fathers; the ability to be emotionally vulnerable is not stereotypically male.

On the other hand, girls are encouraged to be safe and responsible. We enrol them into Ballet and, if we’re reckless, Horse Riding, at most. We worry when they climb trees, when they wrestle, and when they fight. We buy them small make-up sets and Princess dresses. We allow them to cry, to show a deep emotional vulnerability. We encourage their compassion and concern, but dissuade their frustration and anger. We tell them to be caring, considerate, and think of other’s needs. We let them look after Tiny Tears baby dolls, be the housekeeper of Barbie’s bright pink apartment. Girls are sugar, spice, and all things nice.

This is not just happening in Primary Socialisation but onward into Secondary Socialisation where these values are established as the norm. Wider society readily accepts these boxes called ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ and subtly manage the two categories. For example, look at the Argos catalogue or any modern Toy Store; a strictly divided space where boys and girls toys are separated by Navy Blues and Baby Pinks. They are informing and reinforcing gender expectations through obvious segregation of activities that girls and boys are ‘allowed’ to play with. This, of course, serves a double purpose in ascribing the roles we are to eventually adopt as Male and Female adults.

Little girls are given plastic babies to look after, complete with ‘real’ urinating mechanisms and are programmed to sound distressed in their false hunger. Imitation kitchens with their plastic foods to prepare. Vulnerable animals to look after and take responsibility for.
On the other hand, little boys are offered Lego to construct things with and allow their imaginations to run riot with possibility. Superhero Marvel characters with their fighting actions. Dress up Iron Man with his metal abs. “Boys are encouraged to individuality. They are trained to be independent in thought and action, while girls are taught obedience, dependence, and deference.” (Rosenberg, 1982: 79)

This means of subtle guidance into acceptable gender boundaries that adheres to cultural expectations is not without victims. At some point, we have all been one. We may have been the girl who was discouraged from shouting, play fighting, and being wild because it’s not ‘ladylike.’ Perhaps we were the little boy who was met with anger when he cried from falling over in the playground. Maybe we have been the married women of ‘child-bearing age’ who was turned down for a job or promotion because her fertility meant the threat of maternity leave and less profit. Or, more close to the heart, we know of the men who commit suicide because displaying emotion is a masculine sin.


Our Men

On some level I believe that these gender roles are contributing to the uphold of patriarchal standards that are harmful to all of us. It is wifely known that men have a longstanding apathy toward freely expressing emotion and the ostracization from others in such situations is a very real threat. Being unable to weep from the heart or discuss their problems openly with other men is damaging. The Office of National Statistics reveal that three out of four suicides are male and is the biggest cause of death in men under 35. Moreover, men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women and this is followed by the fact that men are 50% more likely to be compulsorily treated as psychiatric patients. And, contrary to popular belief, 73% of adults who go missing are male.

Women are encouraged to be emotionally vulnerable and, as a result, it produces a protective factor in that it is likely many women would experience a stronger social bond with friends and relatives. However, one of the best ways to insult a group of men having an open and honest conversation is to liken them to a “Mother’s meeting.”

But what of our little boys living in this emotionless world and an environment that expects outgoing behaviours, loudness, physical aggression through play fighting, and a general uninhibitedness? When they are afraid or hurting, we tell them they must be brave and ignore the pain. After all, big boys don’t cry. However, we then have the audacity worry when our boys turn violent, displaying levels of emotional dysregulation, fail to express their emotions in a means that we can understand, act impulsively, have little awareness of danger, and are seemingly out of control.
Instead of reflecting upon the wider influences, we believe that there is something wrong with them and, thus, the term ‘ADHD’ becomes part of our conversations. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is mostly diagnosed in boys and, though symptoms can vary, it generally presents as hyperactive and aggressive. In look at statistics, what causes curiosity is that in Austria for every sixteen males diagnosed with ADHD only one female is which is a high comparison compared to other Western European countries. Whilst I am uncertain of the reasons why, it is interesting to note that further research into Austrian culture reveals that the concept of traditional gender roles, influenced by Roman Catholicism, still pervades to a certain extent. This naturally inclined my mind to consider the role of religion in upholding gender roles. (What I am trying to emphasise is that I do not believe there is a link between Roman Catholicism and ADHD…)

It is of no secret that Christianity upholds a sense of traditional gender roles; females are ascribed roles justified as part of “God’s” natural order. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5 v. 24) That is to say, women are “made” to be naturally submissive, mild, empathetic, compassionate, non-violent, quiet, and have a general bias toward children.

“The Rites are archaic and primitive so that part of the core of female consciousness can be kept archaic and primitive. […] By instilling in women an internal police force, the new religion often does better than the older ones at keeping women in order.”

(Wolf, 1990: 87 & 90)

Men, on the other hand, are forced to take control, to lead, to be submitted to, and are the “head” of the family. “Now I want you to realize the head of every man is Christ and the head of every woman is man.” (1 Corinthians 11 v. 3) Such ingrained is this as the expectation within churches and excused as part of “God’s” intended way, it becomes the key to holiness.


Gender Dysphoria: A Mental Health Problem?

If we consider what we have thought about so far, it should come as no surprise that when the gender boundaries are disrupted, society has cause for concern. Should we be concerned when our boys desire to wear dresses? Should we be outraged when our girls want to get into wrestling instead of Barbie dolls? Or, more importantly, should they be concerned? Whatever our opinions may be, what becomes of gender boundary invasion is summarized as a mental health condition. The DSM-5 states that Gender Dysphoria is:

‘a marked incongruence between  one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least 6 months’ duration, as manifested by at least 6 of the following:

  1. A strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender
  2. In boys (assigned gender), a strong preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong preference for wearing only typical masculine clothing and a strong resistance to the wearing of typical feminine clothing…’ […]

‘in boys (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically masculine toys, games, and activities and a strong avoidance of rough-and-tumble play; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically feminine toys, games, and activities.’

As opposed to a disruption in the individuals healthy mental state, it would not be unwise to consider it may be, and speaking frankly, everyone else’s problem. Would it be so reckless to allow our children to consider how they want to present long before we begin to carve a path for them? Perhaps in doing so we would reduce the amount of children, teenagers, and adults who feel misaligned within themselves with their assigned gender. Thousands upon thousands of individual’s lives have been ruined by their perceived internal flaw in not feeling comfortable with their gender when, really, we ought  consider the problem being external.

Erving Goffman spoke a lot about the social individual in The Performance of the Everyday Self. He argues that everyone is performing as they would like their audience to perceive them. Likewise, gender can be summed as a set of performative values embedded in a cultural script. We offer our children this script long before they are born; a script passed down from generation to generation.

“The view that gender is performative [seeks] to show that what we take to be an internal essence of gender is manufactured through a sustained set of acts, posited through the gendered stylisation of the body. In this way, it [reveals] that what we take to be an ‘internal’ feature of ourselves is one that we anticipate and produce through certain bodily acts […] [and] an hallucinatory effect of naturalised gestures.”

(Butler, 1990: xv)

Unfortunately, when we forego our expected performance and dare venture into the incorrect gender role, we are punished, ridiculed, and socially excluded to some extent. We find that there are certain jobs reserved for Males (Electrician, Doctor, Tradesman, CEOs, etc.) and others for Females (Teacher, Nurse, Babysitter, Care Worker, etc.) We reject the man who dares to wear dresses as ‘a bit weird.’ The woman who cuts her hair short and wears strong suits are ‘butch.’ Female CEOs are untrustworthy bitches. Male Beauty Technitions must be homosexual. In rejecting the gender status quo the individual highlights the external, macro opinion of a society clearly disturbed by those who invade gender boundaries, usurp expectations, and carve an unknown path. “In such a case, not biology, but culture, becomes destiny.” (ibid.: 11)

Surely, in modern Western society, there is no doubt that gender roles are limited, create unnecessary boundaries and, additionally, a whole host of unnecessary problems. Gender can be empowering or soul destroying, it can be helpful or debilitating, it can save or ensnare. Those who choose their own expression of gender, in whatever form it may take, are bringing to the forefront the reality that gender is a spectrum and that it is not binary. The gender choices made by individuals today will fuel the conversations tomorrow. Perhaps there is hope yet.

 

References and Further Reading

1 Oxford Dictionaries (2017) Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gender [Accessed 26 April 2017]

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Butler, J (1990) Gender Trouble, NY & London: Routledge.

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, London: Penguin Group.

Rosenberg, R. (1982) Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism, United States of America: Halliday Lithograph.

Weeks, J. (1989) Sex, Politics & Society, Essex, England: Longman Group LTD.

Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth, Reading, Berkshire: Cox & Wyman Ltd.

The Average Girl on Instagram

Most people nowadays are familiar with the perfectly square image on the social media app Instagram. Who knew that such a simple concept would erupt into a worldwide phenomenon? On a personal level, I love it – mainly because I have easy access to numerous cat memes and shit. On top of keeping up with friends…but, first, cat memes.

One thing about Instagram is the celebrity accessibility. There was a time when celebrities were the untouchable gods and goddesses that graced the covers of urban bibles (magazines to us peasants.) They’d offer us their image, bestow their gracious wisdom on how to achieve their physique that even Venus would envy, and perhaps give a hint toward their latest high-profile relationship. “Why do [we] care so much what the magazines say and show? [We] care because, though the magazines are trivialised, they represent something very important: women’s mass culture.” (Wolf, 1990: 70) However, times have changed. Now Kylie Jenner snaps straight to our phones while we’re waiting in the pissing rain for the next bus to go to work and she’s flashing us her impossible figure. Suddenly, it’s as though she’s like us…human, or something. I mean, she’s a real human instead of an inaccessible goddess…

Essentially, she is the celebrity Jesus.

Due to this phenomenon, celebrity has become less mysterious. Quite literally anyone with a bangin’ face or rockin’ bod’ can gain followers and become a blue ticked celeb on Insta. Instafame. Or, for the sake of metaphor, the holy celebrity spirit has the potential to embody us all. In effect, instead of celebrity becoming the #bodygoals of our generation, the average girl on Instagram has. Which is bad fucking news for our guilt levels – more than ever – because if Sarah from Ediburgh can have killer abs and a body that would make even Hercules cry, why can’t we?

Flesh: A Brief History

The earliest I can remember of becoming aware of my body was when aged around three or four years old. These are happy memories; with my grandparents in their house. Like any other family, my Grandparents were very much on hand to support throughout my earliest, most fundamental, years of development. During these years, a child learns of their place in the world, a sense of identity, and how the life around them works. They learn whether they can trust adults, or need to be self-sufficient. They establish whether this world is a chaotic place full of fear and loathing, or a joyful place where mistakes are corrected and forgiven.

During these formative years were also my first impressions, gained from other people’s reactions, of how others perceived me at a surface level.  I would gain comments from the close individuals in my life like “Lovely legs. Lovely long legs you’ve got there, Laura.” The way they said it – tone of voice, facial expression, and the overall warmth of affection by which they reinforced what they were saying, made me realise that this was good. I would smile; I did not fully comprehend what ‘lovely long legs’ meant and, frankly, my childish mind did not care whether my legs were long, medium, or short. I was still concerned that these legs were not able to run fast enough to get away from the other kids playing ‘tag’ on the school yard. (I am now a half-marathon runner and would like to say a big fuck you to all the children who laughed at me and saw me as an easy target.) Nevertheless, it made an impression.

Likewise, I am not certain how but I also knew that when I was four years old I weighed four stone. This, I learnt from the responses of the adults around me, was good. An object of shame and fear, as well as obsession, in the female adult world is the weighing scales. Even in my young, early formed mind, I understood that weighing scales were very much a feminine piece of equipment for the reactions that were gauged from using it were more or less women gushing or groaning whilst looking at that glowing red number between their feet.

My four stone frame was also adorned with comments like “So skinny! Look at her, Skinny Minny!” This, I learned, was good. They said it smiling. They said it with envy and pride. Being four stone at four years old, being a ‘skinny minny’ with ‘lovely long legs’ was all very good, indeed.

Guilt

It’s not a new thing to say that women are constantly at war with their bodies due to the dissemination of media bullshit aimed toward females. We are made to feel guilty for our natural state – fat, cellulite, aging, wrinkles. It’s all a pile of crap but, nevertheless, it is a powerful pile of crap. Don’t deny it. No matter how hard you fight against it, it gets in your fucking veins. Literally.

Foucault stated that power is not held by one particular person but is the result of an interconnected system based on visibility; power ‘coerces by means of observation.’ (Foucault, 1984: 189) We are observed and we observe. Feminism back in the day would’ve recognised this as the ‘Male Gaze’; and women are just as susceptible to gaze at other women. ‘The modern arsenal of the [beauty] myth is a dissemination of millions of images of the current ideal…’ (Wolf, 1990: 16) The norm is created and a ’micropeniality of time…of activity…of behaviour…of speech…of the body…[and] of sexuality…’ (Foucault, 1984: 194) is simultaneously created to reinforce this norm. Basically, if we deviate from this norm subtle procedures are used to ensure that we understand our crime, mainly humiliation and an exclusion from the female luxuries of society (ibid.)

In layman’s terms; we see the fit bodies, the abs, the glutes, the thighs, the hair, the skin colour, etc, and these are presented as the female norm. The moment we see a hint of fat rolls, cellulite, or age, we are humiliated and punished by exclusion; goodbye body con dresses, crop tops, skinny jeans…you get the gist. As such, this essence of visibility has an effect on every woman – we are aware that we are being analysed from every angle and, thus, we aim to adopt the ‘normal’ body types expected of us…

With me so far?

The Average Women Aint So Average

‘The qualities that a given period calls beautiful in women are merely symbols of the female behaviour that that period considers desirable. […] Competition between women has been made part of the myth so that women will be divided from one another.’ (Wolf, 1990:13 – 14) No more obvious than the norm being perpetrated over social media. Nowadays, my feed is blowing up with images of half naked women in gym attire, flexing their abs, and talking about fucking gains; all the while the hash tag #strongnotskinny pervades as a means of rebellion. This bullshit hash tag just further covers up the fact that we have become an Instagram nation of desperates who spend hours in the gym to – yes – match up to the norm we’ve all come to loathe and love. We want to be #strongandskinny…Let’s just be honest about it, yeah?

We have been told time and time again that women’s currency is the body; that we are first female, second flesh, and third a human. The more we are able to prove our worth through the body, the more culturally rich we are, and the more cultural influence we have. People will listen to us. People take notice of us. People praise us. Don’t believe me? Look at the amount of followers on a woman who frequently shows her body; if it’s under 10k I will eat salmon. (I fucking hate sea food and I follow a vegan diet so I am so serious right now.) People notice.

In the back of our minds, back in the days of magazines having the monopoly of media, we understood that celebrities paid good money to have these bodies, that they had personal trainers, countless surgeries, and all because their body was their job. Before we blamed Kate Moss for bringing a brand of heroin chic to our society and, with it, an assumed influence over young girls and a rise in Anorexia Nervosa. Now, through the perpetuation of gym-honed bodies over Instagram, it seems that anyone is capable of influencing women to have some kind of eating disorder; so much so there is a newly christened one recently popularized by raw diets and ‘clean eating’ – Orthorexia. Relating to eating disorders, ‘[t]he Health and Care Information Centre published figures in February 2014 showed an 8% rise in the number of inpatient hospital admissions in the 12 months previous to October 2013. The Costs of Eating Disorders report found that this is indicative of the trend in increasing prevalence over time: a 34% increase in admissions since 2005-06 – approximately 7% each year.’1 I would hazard a guess and state that this is more or less the pressure social media has created amongst our generation; pressure from the girl, literally, next door as opposed to the next new celeb…But, even then, with the familiarity Instagram gives us, even Kylie Jenner seems to be our friend.

BoPo

“It is very little to me,” said the suffragist Lucy Stone, “to have the right to vote, to own property, etcetera, if I may not keep my body, and its uses, in my absolute right.” (Wolf, 1990: 11)

The words that have been praised by Lucy Stone are a double edged sword. We show our liberty hard won by our historical sisters in a number of ways in modern society – I shan’t list them all – but revealing our bodies is definitely one of them. We have thrown off our cloaks of oppression and revel in our right to undress our flesh freely. Ariel Levy explores this notion further in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs and states that the development of this way of life for women marks an achievement for feminism – elsewhere she declares ‘we skipped over the part where we just accept and respect that some women like to seem exhibitionistic and lickerish, and decided instead that everyone who is sexually liberated ought to be imitating strippers and porn stars.’ (Levy, 2005: 27)

Fortunately, there is a movement of women who are aiming to transform this way of thinking and respecting all women regardless of culture, religion and, most significantly, body size. Where there was once competition, these women are appealing for acceptance. This movement is growing in momentum and falls under the title Body Positivity (BoPo).

By searching Instagram for #BoPo you will find thousands of images of women who are waging war against popular ideals and expectations for female body image by revealing what a woman’s body looks like without the photoshop. Cellulite, fat rolls, acne, dry skin, lumps, bumps, hair, and all things that we have been taught to feel ashamed of through clever advertising. The BoPo movement aims to call bullshit on ‘the $33-billion-a-year diet industry, the $20-billion cosmetics industry, the $300-million cosmetic surgery industry, and the $7-billion pornography industry’ and reveal them as ‘the capital made out of unconscious anxieities [and] their influence on mass culture to use, stimulate, and reinforce the hallucination’ (Wolf, 1990: 17) that women need to reduce, enhance, and realise their “imperfections” ought to be “fixed” to match the norm. BoPo warriors, as is their rightful title, aim to project the ideal that all bodies are hot bodies; all bodies deserve to be loved and honoured. Girls, regardless of your abs or lack thereof, you are fucking goddesses.

However, whilst I can appreciate the efforts of the BoPo movement in terms of raising visibility of the natural female body in all forms, there is something about it that has always sat uncomfortably with me. Likewise, by searching #BoPo, numerous images of women in their underwear inundate my screen. Some are more natural shots but I would hardly call them candid. This is where my discomfort with the BoPo movement comes in as ‘for women, and only women, hotness requires a projecting a kind of eagerness, offering a promise that any attention you receive for your physicality is welcome. […] Proving you are hot, worthy of lust, is still exclusively women’s work.’ (Levy, 2005: 33)

The message is trying to be different but the framework remains the same: get naked to get noticed. How does this differ from what we have seen already in the media of naked women with the highly celebrated bodies? Yes, obviously, the image is different and more ‘natural’ in terms of the lack of photoshop but, overall, you’re still in your underwear at the end of the day trying to say something. Because the framework remains the same, we can’t expect different results and we run the risk of becoming another expression of the same thing; female body commodification. ‘Why can’t we be sexy and frisky and in control without being commodified?’ (Levy, 2005: 43) Whilst the BoPo warriors who do reveal their bodies on Instagram do post liberating messages alongside their pictures, when the caption is taken away, what are you left with?

Moreover, this movement has gained momentum on Instagram and other social media outlets but there is another risk associated with this; the fact that it is simply that…social media. It is not the houses of parliament, it is not a female speaker in the house of commons, it is not a localised event over the weekend like Mardi Gras, and it is not a march through the streets of London declaring that all bodies are good bodies. ‘Revolutionary movements tend to be co-opted – swallowed up by the mainstream and turned into pop culture. It’s a way of neutralising it, when you think about it…it makes it all safe and palatable, it shuts up the radicals. Once that happens, the real power is pretty much dissipated.’ (Levy, 2005: 196)

Despite this, the movement is a refreshing change and a showcase of reality against the picture perfect world of Instagram and the threat of photoshopped images becoming the unrealistic ‘real’ woman. Flaws and all, the BoPo reminds us all that, indeed, all bodies are beautiful bodies simply because YOU inhabit them. Fuck the number on the scale. Fuck the measuring tape. Fuck it all – be effortlessly, wonderfully, and loudly you. The movement preaches, simply, love; love for oneself and love for one’s sisters. And, quite frankly, I cannot argue with that.

 

 

References

Levy, A. (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs, Reading, Berkshire: Cox & Wyman Ltd.

Orbach, S. (1978) Fat is a Feminist Issue…, Aylesbury, Bucks: Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd.

Rabinow, P. (1984) The Foucault Reader, England: Clays Ltd, St Ives plc.

Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth, Reading, Berkshire: Cox & Wyman Ltd.

1 B-Eat (2017) ‘Eating Disorder Statistics’ Available at: https://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-beat/media-centre/information-and-statistics-about-eating-disorders [Accessed 3 January 2017]

 

Motherhood & Madness

Conversation 1

A: “Do you want children?”
B: “No, not really.”
A: “Ah well. I guess it’s not for everyone.”

Conversation 2:

A: “When you have your own…”
B: “…Actually, I’m not having children.”
A: “You don’t want any? I don’t know…You’ll change your mind one day.”

The difference between these conversations?
Conversation 1 is a typical conversation between a man and anyone. Conversation 2 is the usual correspondence between anyone and a female. Both conversations myself and my fiancé have encountered countless times since we got engaged. Why is it when a bloke is asked about children it’s posed as a perfectly rational response that he may not want any; and yet when a woman is having the same conversation she is inadvertently told she will change her mind?

Why is it when women are asked, and offer their honest response, they are regarded as immature in their thinking and told they will change their mind? I suppose it’s inevitable though, isn’t it, considering we have ovaries and womb which obviously control our desires and feelings…

Bitch, please. I was actually told by someone quite recently that I would definitely change my mind owing to the tick-tock of my ‘biological clock.’ (I am actually sighing deeply and shaking my head whilst I type the absurdity of that statement.)

I don’t take this personally. In fact, I am intrigued as to why this is the case for so many countless women who have decided that child rearing is not for them and would prefer to have other endeavours in life other than motherhood.

I once read an article about a 29 year old woman who was adamant she did not want children; she would seek partners of similar values, purposefully avoiding the potential wannabe Dad’s of society, in order to avoid being pressured to go down a life path she did not want to walk. As such, she went to her doctors on numerous occasions to ask for tubal ligation (the fallopian tubes are cut or sealed to prevent pregnancy.) The doctors refused time and time again. Why? Because she would change her mind. In the Western world, women have access to things that our great female ancestors fought for. In 2016 we have education, birth control, and legal abortion. Surely this idea of inevitable motherhood is a little…out of date?

I’m of the opinion that this attitude is a deeply embedded ideology that is taking an awful long time to shift. As far back as the nineteenth century, once the industrial revolution had successfully severed the domestic and working spheres, women were regarded as the moral guardians of the home. This is practically engrained in societal thinking through our attitudes and actions. Women are child-rearers, men are breadwinners. There have been some shifts in this way of thinking but, overall, I remain unsatisfied.

I know what you’re thinking – banging on with a man-hating feminist agenda. Well, you’re (half) wrong. I believe in equality of the sexes and, quite frankly, my dissatisfaction  speaks for itself; Statutory Paternity leave is either one or two weeks consecutive leave which cannot begin before the child is born. On the other hand, statutory Maternity leave is fifty two weeks. This is optional; two weeks can be taken as a minimum or, in factory work, 4 weeks are granted as a minimum. Women are also entitled to 11 weeks off prior to her due date. [1]

Altogether now…what the fuck?

Well, there we have it. Women are the child-rearers as well as the child-bearers. We’re just a one-man fucking band aren’t we? Thus, I can only hazard a guess that our refusal to have children more or less produces a discomfort in people in that we are refusing our role as a woman. We’re essentially throwing our middle fingers up at our basic societal duty as females and, heaven forbid, making our own choices.

But still this does not answer the why in “Why the fuck does this keep happening?”

This pervading ideology – that women do not know their own minds well enough to determine their futures, that they cannot trust themselves to be certain because of their biological clock, that their wombs will inevitably determine their fate and not their minds – has historical roots…

You’ve heard of the word ‘hysteria‘ right? Not just a banging song by Teignmouth’s finest boys, Muse, but the psychological disorder itself. Hysteria means ’emotional excess that is uncontrollable.’ The word itself has Greek origins where it can be translated to ‘uterus’…

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, hysteria was very much a woman’s problem back back back in the day caused by nothing else than her womb. It was actually christened ‘wandering womb’; Greek physicians became obsessed with it as the main mental and physical difference between a man and a woman. This was much more than your usual ‘ability to multi-task’ bullshit; Aretaeus of Cappadocia considered the womb to be ‘an animal within an animal.’ Furthermore, Aristotle stated that a woman was a ‘deformed male.’ [2]
Cheeky bastards.
(Yup. Just called Aristotle a bastard. And what?)

“Aristotle’s characterization of woman as a ‘deformed male’ and ‘a mutilated male’ is well known, as is its persistence in Western culture. However, Aristotle’s biology may be seen as only one manifestation of the classical Greek belief that women are both fundamentally different from, and inferior to, men.” (King, 1993: 17)

Wandering Womb was the belief that the womb would literally move around the body, causing other ailments, due to dryness. What was the solution? Other than scents to be placed within the cervix, “for the writers of Hippocratic texts […] intercourse and pregnancy rightly belong to the domain of pharmacopoeia…all disorders of women may be cured by intercourse and/or childbirth, to which marriage and pregnancy are the necessary precusors.” (King, 1993: 24)

It’s hardly surprising that the dominant means of being female in society are The Virgin or The Whore. The Whore – a woman who is sexually active – is frowned upon and distrusted. Perhaps this fear stems from the fact that sexual intercourse was a solution to a female psychiatric disorder. For example, the trial of Amanda Knox was a media frenzy once her sexual history became public knowledge. Nicknamed ‘Foxy Knoxy’ and painted as a sexual addict, it was obvious that a woman with such a ‘loose’ sexual preference would have the ability to murder, surely? [3]

Are we uncontrollable unless tamed? This notion is even Biblical; Paul of Tarsus, the alleged predominant author of the New Testament texts, was born of a devout Jewish family. Tarsus, heavily influenced by Greek langugage and culture, allowed Paul to be exposed and educated in classical Literature, philosophy, and ethics. He drew upon stoic philosophy in his letters to help Gentiles understand the concept of Jesus and God. Stoicism itself was founded in the Greek capital of Athens and you can hear the Hippocratic sentiments echoed in 1 Timothy 2: 15 – “But women will be saved through childbearing – assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.” Thus, the very salvation of a female would be as a result of reproduction – it is a moral obligation.On the other hand, “[t]he childless woman, due to lack of spaces in her body in which moisture can be stored, above all if she abstains from the ‘moistening’ activity of sexual intercourse […] the abdomen legs, and feet will swell: Death is imminent.” (king, 1993: 18)

You may be thinking I’m pulling together loose strands but I am of the opinion that this is relevant. Even though we have moved on from shoving herbs and spices up our vaginas (I hope) and Freud settled the dilemna by stating that psychological disorders are of the brain and not the womb, there are still pervading notions of the aforementioned in our society.

Moreover, the concept of of motherhood remains problematic. I would hazard a guess and state that it is not the actual child that women refuse (although some are entitled to dislike children altogether) but the acceptance of motherhood as a social role. In the past women were “to be a good wife, a good mother, and an efficient home-maker […] women’s expected role in society was to strive after perfection in all three roles.” (Wolf, 1990: 63) Nowadays, women work – but that 37 hour week is also on top of those social roles. Being a mother means being a chef, counsellor, nurse, live-in nanny, driver, house cleaner, tutor…etc…and a recent article determined that a mother should be earning £159,137 annually for these roles. [4]

The true cost?
Free.

“[I]n child-rearing, nurturing and housekeeping – their actions are not seen as defined and delineated because they are described as natural and inevitable. If it is natural you must do it. If it is natural it does not count.” (Orbach, 1978: 71 – 72)

(The irony is that “while considered the essential figure in the infant’s daily life, the mother is not considered expert on child rearing” (Orbach, 1978: 73) and will often have her opinions undermined by those who are ‘experts’)

Nowadays, women are expected to become mothers and, whilst the domestic abode is slowly becoming not just the women’s role (emphasis on slowly), there is always another ideology to replace it and keep women confined. “Of the women’s culture of the 1950s, [Betty] Friedan lamented that ‘there is no other way for a woman to be a heroine’ than to ‘keep on having babies’; today, a heroine must ‘keep on being beautiful'” (Wolf, 1990: 66)…but when she does have kids, she must be a MILF.

…I feel like I’ve wandered off topic a bit but I hope I’ve managed to answer the why of our previous question. So please forgive us for our choice (please don’t. There’s no need.) if it makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s sad that so many women should have to continually justify our choices. It’s our right to exist in the world as we see fit and that compliments our happiness, our uniqueness, and our lives. If you think that this is selfish, then you probably have proved a point…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be looking at Kittens on Gumtree and deciding what one to adopt when I decide to, um, ‘settle down.’

 

{NB: I am by no means insulting mothers…or those who have chosen to become mothers. I know many women who are mothers and they are all wonderful at being mothers and, generally, being themselves. You’re doing a bloody brilliant job at raising another human being and you deserve to be proud of yourself. So if you’re wondering whether to treat yourself to That Thing, I suggest ‘hell yes’ you should. Just do it.}

 

1 Maternity Pay and Leave and Paternity Pay and Leave. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/paternity-pay-leave/overview and https://www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave/overview [Accessed 12 November 2016]

2 Simon, M. (2014) ‘Fantastically Wrong: The Theory of Wandering Wombs that Drove Women to Madness.’ Available at: https://www.wired.com/2014/05/fantastically-wrong-wandering-womb/  [Accessed 12 November 2016]

3 Amanda Fox Documentary [Accessed 10 November 2016]

4 Goldhill, O. (2014) ‘How Much is a Housewife Worth?’ Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/11164040/How-much-is-a-housewife-worth.html

King, H. (1993) “Once Upon a Text: Hysteria from Hippocrates” in Gilman, King, Porter, Rousseau, and Showalter (1993) Hysteria Beyond Freud, Oxford: University of California Press.

Orbach, S. (1978) Fat is a Feminist Issue, Great Britain: Paddington Press Ltd.

Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth, London: Vintage Books