Tuesday, 25 June 2013

War on Pregnant Women

It seems that once more what pregnant women do and ingest is public property. The latest gem is from Professor Stephen Pilling and the harm that taking anti-depressants could do to unborn babies (unborn babies, you note, not foetuses). More about that particularly disturbing piece later.

A couple of weeks ago it appeared that pregnant women really just aren't doing enough to keep their foetuses safe from harm. So much so that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists decided to be done with it and just make their advice so vague that it could pretty much cover coming into contact with everything at home or work. OK that may be a teeny exaggeration but take a look for yourself. The list is a little unrealistic to say the least. My particular favourite:
  • avoid buying new furniture, fabrics, non-stick frying pans and cars when pregnant or nursing
              Yes you did read that correctly. When pregnant, don't buy a non-stick frying pan. Not being a chemist I wouldn't like to speculate on the exact reason that is on the list but I am wondering whether the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists had a rare bit of insight. Maybe they realised that pregnant women might become inclined to start chucking the frying pans around in frustration at the lack of life they suddenly find themselves with and the information overload they experience. Who knows who those irrational, hormonal women may hit and what damage they may do with a frying pan in their hand? Best just keep them strapped down, I say. Except of course that's no good for you either. This little gem appeared on my Twitter timeline last month:

              Now, how much exercise is required to achieve this 25% increase isn't clear. Nor is what a 25% increase in neurons actually means. Presumably it is a good thing, probably something to do with IQ that well known measure of intelligence. I'll let him off that though, in this case. After all he only had 140 characters to work with. So pregnant women don't even get to laze around in bed all day being waited on hand and foot. Never mind. Getting up and cleaning the house should give us a good workout. Oh wait...

              A couple of weeks before it was all about iodine (also linked to IQ). That one was really serious. The male-dominated media didn't decry that one. Maybe that was because they weren't in danger of having to take responsibility for cleaning the house in the same way that this latest statement could imply (given that responsible pregnant women will be naturally in current, heterosexual relationships, preferably married and not on benefits). Yes that is truly cynical of me, but to be honest we have reason to be.

              The Daily Mail, not wanting to lose out on women judging gave the Duchess of Cambridge their seal of approval (she must be so relieved) for not being too posh to push. If you don't want to open a Daily Mail link Glosswitch does a great take down without you having to read the article.

              So back to Prof Stephen Pillling and SSRIs. The piece is disturbing on several levels. He frames the discussion as though taking SSRIs were a lifestyle choice like drinking or smoking and in fact directly compares them. No alternative or support is offered and any implications for stopping medication are dismissed. Finally he thinks that all women of child-bearing age should be considering this:
              "It's not just when a woman who's pregnant is sitting in front of you. I think it needs to be thought about with a woman who could get pregnant. And, that's the large majority of women aged between 15 and 45."
              So women are now in a state of pre-pregnancy. And that, as a woman is a very frightening thought. How much of women's freedom could be curtailed by using that argument?

              This is all beginning to look much more like control. We just can't be trusted. Again that may seem cynical but you don't have to look that far back in history to see how pregnancy, childbirth and feeding babies, exclusively female tasks, have been co-opted by medical personnel, law enforcers, religion and anyone else who had an opinion on how women should be doing things.

              But it isn't 'anyone' that has these opinions is it? It is, in the greater part, men. Men wanting to take control of something beyond their control. Breastfeeding being a perfect example. Male doctors decreeing that breast milk just wasn't good enough, backed up by a capitalist society to create formula. Men wanting to punish women when they feel they have transgressed from their advice or move out of their control. It is deliberate and it is part of our oppression.

              This eradication of autonomy and not being allowed to take responsibility for ourselves has had the added bonus of being accompanied by objectification. Whilst running the story on avoiding chemicals when pregnant, Channel 5 showed picture of a pregnant belly - no head or even legs and feet, just a torso. So now we are walking wombs (a popular but apt phrase) or if you prefer, breeders, nicely illustrated by those pictures. The lack of autonomy, the attempts to take control of pregnant women's lives all adds to the general objectification of women in society. We are seen as lesser humans on this planet only to fill particular roles e.g. being objects for men's desires or in this case giving birth to babies. This also has a knock on effect into motherhood. A father's role seems to be able to also encompass his needs and wants. A mother's role is supposed to sacrifice those needs and wants. We are no longer human beings in our own right. Our needs and wants and our children's needs and wants are intertwined in ways a father's is not. And I am not just talking about those early days. A mother's role is to be there for their children, not to be selfish and not to be a burden on anyone, whether that's their partner or the state, especially not the state.

              I don't know whether these roles women are slotted into are as a result of objectification; whether objectification leads to women being put into roles or even whether the two are too intrinsically linked to tell and therefore does it matter? One thing is for certain, both aspects are part of oppression and help maintain it.

              So what's wrong with just giving us the facts and then letting us make up our own minds? Well, in theory, nothing. But the fact that even needs saying shows how far down the road we already are in losing control of our choices and bodies. I also feel that this is too simplistic in the context of the society that we live in and have a couple of issues with it as a concept.

              Firstly not all the information given is accurate, complete and can even be contradictory or offer impossible choices (mental health vs very small risk of damaging the foetus being the perfect example). Plus the sheer volume of information makes it difficult to decide on priorities. Who has time to sift all the information out to see which is important or should be prioritised during their pregnancy? Most women have jobs to do. Some are just trying to survive day by day through their pregnancy.

              The second point is that by instructing women on what they should and shouldn't be doing through their pregnancy, there seems to be a definite shifting responsibility for raising new generations from society to individual woman. Rather than looking at the way society has been shaped, we are looking to individuals to change their lifestyle and overcome their social conditioning to get around the obstacles society has put in front of us. Instead of questioning why we have toxic food and household products that pregnant women can't eat or use we are asked to avoid them. That then conveniently absolves the state out of any responsibility for the damage caused. Then there is the contradiction of advertising cleaning products predominantly to women (fit, young women of child-bearing age, no less) and then instructing them not to use those products when pregnant, which has not gone unnoticed. Will there be adverts directed at male partners of pregnant women to take over the cleaning now? I think not. Just like there aren't campaigns to tell men to avoid alcohol as it may increase their chances of committing abuse and violence and therefore damage their foetus and its mother. Or that SSRIs may damage sperm too. Nor will there be efforts to make these products and foods safer. It is all the woman's responsibility.

              So a juxtaposition is created. On one hand there seems to be a healthy dose of absolution of responsibilities from society on to women. But then they are implying that we just don't trust women with all that responsibility and bearing children so we need to interfere and give them an impossible set of guidelines to adhere to without the proper support.

              It is a lose-lose situation for women that's for sure. It keeps us running round in circles whilst men get on with running the world. Because that is what oppression does to you. Keeps you preoccupied whilst your oppressors are freer and lighter of responsibility and guilt.

              So just to reiterate. Yes, we are fully human, not objects to be used. No, we aren't breeders. Yes, we have wants and needs. Yes, we have rights. Yes, we want the fact that we have a life to be recognised and valued. And yes, be scared of pregnant women brandishing non-stick frying pans.

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