pregnancy

TW: Mental health in pregnancy can kill

A woman lost her life and her baby did too. We don’t know why. All we can do is empathise and lie awake despairing at the world that allowed such a thing to happen. She left the hospital in slippers, no coat, odd considering it’s almost Christmas, an irregularity that would surely have made someone look up and notice something was terribly wrong. Nobody did though. She was allowed to leave the hospital with the baby wrapped in a few blankets. There was no proud dad by her side, with his chest puffed out like a pigeon, babe in arms, she didn’t roll out in a wheelchair. Nobody checked to see if she had ordered a taxi.

In saying all this I’m not revealing myself to be some kind of undercover nanny state advocate, I’m merely describing every single birth of a child I’ve had the privilege of being involved in, and even my own early induction (medical miscarriage). Especially my own experience being as it was mentally fucked up. Surely someone would have noticed the woman who didn’t look like all the others, one whose eyes are empty, can barely lift her head to see where she’s going. She might be dressed inappropriately for the weather, in hospital slippers minus the usual winter attire. If this wasn’t an immediate concern, then the baby wrapped only in blankets would have raised an eyebrow. It’s not like you can get out of a hospital very fast, there are so many nobs to pull and buttons to press to get anywhere, especially on a maternity ward, measures introduced to prevent people just strolling in and stealing babies. Nurses stations are usually by the doors, they had to have seen her.

Unless maternity services are so stretched no one has any time to see you as a person, just a number taking the total down, if only briefly. Where was the prenatal screening for depression and appropriate support if she needed it? Health professionals, in my experience, are usually on it from the second you meet them, how you must tell them if you’re feeling low, the sort of services they can refer you to and tend to be very sympathetic to the ‘baby blues’; all this at barely 10 weeks pregnant (in my experience and practically everyone I know).

Why didn’t somebody notice? We’ve heard all the judgments this past week, of women who abandon motherly love, how, even if it had been that bad she could have handed the baby in to someone, how selfish it was of her to leave the baby so callously and justice should be served. I have been praying (to something, not sure what) that she would be ‘ok’, though I feared not. It is heart-breaking that this mother and her baby died a death that could have been prevented. An alternate ending where she lives happily ever after, supported by all those she comes into contact with could have been her reality. I know because I have had that support and everyone did the right things and I lived.

This death doesn’t make sense to me. There are so many people in your face about keeping your foetus and to their exacting standards (no smoking, no drinking or evacuating) with no acknowledgment of the hell pregnancy plays on your mind and your body, and yet LITERALLY the second they’re born, they’re invisible. No more badgering mum to watch her eating habits or put on a coat and some shoes, or checking to see if you’ve put the nappy on properly, or teaching you how to breastfeed or bringing you painkillers, or a sandwich, cup of tea or toast. Or the millions of test they do on a baby when it’s first born.

Why didn’t anyone notice? Will ‘lessons’ be’ learnt’ on this occasion?

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Blue Valentine

Surviving in a patriarchy is a daily struggle, which is why I’m instantly suspicious of anyone who thrives in this kind of environment. The people at the top are the ones to watch; success is not something that comes with complete honesty and integrity in capitalism. It infects every little corner of the society we find ourselves in, permeating every creed and culture so that somehow, wherever you are (in most parts of the modern world), women are considered inferior and incomplete without men to shield them from other men (70% of the entire world’s population of women in fact). We literally cannot escape the monster; it’s in our beds whilst we sleep at night. It’s in the workplace, the gym, outside your front door. It’s in our homes on our TVs and not just in the films with explicit content notes at the start but out of the mouths of our British darlings; the ‘comedians’ and soap ‘stars’ with their freedom to speech that actually physically harms the vulnerable; this little island is heaving with perpetrators of violence against women and girls.

I am so wound up by the film I just watched I started blogging before it ended. I wanted the disgust and fear to feel fresh when I pinpointed why my reaction felt so visceral. Firstly, I have established it is not cos I’m a man hating shrew, I quite love a few of them actually, it’s you other pricks I cannot abide and it’s all your own fault cos patriarchy.

With that out of the way, I want to get the WTF? lessons in structural patriarchal oppression off MY chest. The film Blue Valentine starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling centres on the relationship of a “contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods” – IMDB. Now I don’t know what other people saw but I saw patriarchy ignore a woman’s bodily autonomy repeatedly until she caved. I have spoken to countless women who have done this, me included. To feel so battered and exhausted by the onslaught of unwanted sexual attention, you step outside of yourself and give in. At no point did Williams’ character ask for her space to be invaded but then neither do most targets of patriarchal entitlement, we’re just conditioned to believe it is something we should expect and tolerate.

I wanted to scream/punch the TV because of the way the film attempted to sweeten their ill-fated tale with flashbacks to their miserable beginnings. They were trying to depict the heady romance that brought them together and how it started in earnest but y’know relationships break down because people stop needing each other. Except that’s not what happened. I wanted to see what other people thought about so I googled (much easier than asking people I find…)

I found this piece and decided not to look any further. For the record, we cannot change the common dysfunctions we find in relationships if we refuse to acknowledge first the role patriarchy plays. The phrase ‘common couple violence’ describes a situation where people are equally to blame for escalations of violence and aggressive behaviour, incidents rarely result in serious injury or the other person fights back. This, in contrast to ‘patriarchal terrorism’; which, to be honest, is my understanding of all domestic abuse not just the ones where the survivor looks like a victim. It’s possibly telling that the person to coin this phrase is a man. There is also the fact that Wikipedia presents a criticism of his idea suggesting that he was accused of reporting bias but who knows, maybe an angrier feminist got there before me.

Let me explain something to the many men presenting their own truths about matters that affect people affected by patriarchal entitlement. We didn’t ask to be born only to witness our mothers being physically and sexually assaulted. We’re so used to seeing men strutting around, their chests puffed up all pigeon like, invading the space of the person we love most in the world, despite our very early protestations before we were even able to verbalise. When we cried, he just ignored us. After a while we stopped crying because we realised it made no difference. Some of us will have learnt to tune out our surroundings and ingratiate ourselves with the man whose hand felt like a frying pan on impact. Best not to say anything, better to pretend it didn’t affect you, maybe this is normal life, who knows? This is what happens to some victims of child abuse; they internalise the toxic relationship as being something that is within the boundaries of ‘normal’ because of how it is widely accepted in society.

I cannot watch a single film from my childhood without critiquing the impact of the messages I was being fed about my role as a female. Everything revolved (and in many cases, still does) around relationships; this belief that there is a princess out there for every man, someone to cherish and obey them. It’s not something that is restricted to any John Hughes/Mickey Rourke movie of my childhood. Gosling’s character makes a remark about how men marry for love whereas women just settle for someone with a good job. In the context of the film he snaps her up when she is most vulnerable. She’s absolutely terrified; when she finds out she is pregnant, possibly by another guy, that he’ll react angrily so she doesn’t immediately tell him. He then threatens to jump off a bridge (as you do if you’re a menacing, manipulative privileged male). Threatened with the possibility she would be responsible for his death because she didn’t jump to his command she blurts out her news. He reacts in the way no male should ever react to a pregnant person; he shouts her and demands a decision about what she is going to do. Not in a supportive way, just belligerent he was not having his needs met. In fact, this was the whole premise for their relationship. He repeatedly makes advances on her and she is not exactly coquettish in her repeated rejection of him yet senior practitioners of human psychology, the people we turn to when we want to behave ‘normally’ are telling us that guilt and innocence shift depending on which person’s perspective you look at it from. It is no wonder we allow patriarchal abuse in societies and in many cases actively encourage men to assert their dominance when we have the attitude that sometimes, women are just asking for it. Williams’ character opts for an abortion but just as the speculum is inserted, she changes her mind.

On hearing this news, Gosling’s character scoops her up, obviously thrilled that he finally has his own little family. Now, contrast the two ways in which he reacted to being told what her intentions were. When she didn’t respond he became aggressive; men don’t have the best reputation for handling sensitively the subject of them potentially inseminating anyone or the fact that it might not be theirs (cos human beings are property like that) and she hurried away, afraid at what he might do. After the trip to the abortion clinic he sweeps her off her feet and then carries her in his lap on the train home. SHE apologises to him for getting pregnant, telling him it isn’t his fault. I think you’ll find it probably was though.  It is possible that he was attracted to how vulnerable she suddenly was and knew she wouldn’t leave him; a tactic often used by emotional abusers, pregnancy creates an immense amount of dependency. Or perhaps she behaved in the way she did because she is accustomed to men turning when they don’t get the answer they want, like her father for example, smashing his plate of food on the table because it wasn’t prepared to his exacting standards. Even her grandmother advises her on matters of love, stating she was never really that in love with her grandfather indicating a sense of duty to explain why she stayed in the relationship.

Williams’ character has been socialised into believing that what HE wants, goes. She looks almost afraid in her early run ins with the future father of her child. Alan Ravitz MD argues that Williams’ knew what kind of character she was getting involved with because she was aware of his personality from the very start. He suggests that she chose to be with him because of how he fulfilled her needs at the time; “pregnant with an abusive father and passive mother”. Historic victims of child abuse, even the ones who weren’t being directly abused themselves but witness their mothers suffering it hear warning bells regarding abusive partners, like most people, but their brains do not interpret them as a negative thing. The need for stability and love mutes the voice flagging up any concerns. For them it’s so familiar in how it reminds them of their childhood for example that many don’t even question inappropriate behaviour until it is pointed out to them (even as a domestic abuse worker, I was unaware of the fact I was still experiencing abuse in my own life). The psych also suggests that the relationship perhaps soured when she no longer had any use for him completely disregarding the fact that Williams’ character is holding down a full time job yet still doing all of the ‘women’s work’ too. The scene where Gosling spoons cereal onto the table to encourage their little girl to eat at least the raisins; Williams comes across as rigid and without a sense of fun when she insists the girl use a spoon. Is she being a killjoy or is this a nod to the fact that she has to clean it up (which she explicitly states)? Also, when fathers give their children the impression that fun is there to be had but mum won’t allow it, this pits a child against their mother creating a special relationship for the feckless father and his child where they can be mad at mum instead of ever examining their own behaviour. The little girl pleads with her mother with the logic that dad says it’s ok.

Dads, by all means get stuck in with the child rearing and be as silly as you like but think about the poor mug who has to clean up after you. What about her? Is anyone really that surprised when a relationship breaks down for seemingly no good reason, except for the fact that we live in a patriarchy? How many times is Williams’ character approached with sexual intentions when all she wants is to have a drink or get some sleep? How many times is she touched without her express consent? He doesn’t cuddle her; he gropes her at every opportunity, pulling at her flesh, kneading her breasts. She is slimed on at the supermarket, when she’s visiting her grandmother in an old people’s home, on her own front porch. She gets her child and herself ready for work. She is the one to cook the food and put it on the table. In practically every scene she is buzzing around the room, tidying, organising, planning. She isn’t comfortable with any of the attention she receives from any of the men in the entire film but do they care? No, they just put her down for being so ungrateful.

Like, she should be grateful he gets jealous of the thought of her with other men. It is her duty to assuage him with reassurances that other men do nothing for her even though she is frightened whilst she does this. He demonstrates has no regard for her professional working life when, after she repeatedly tells him that she cannot go have sex with him in a sleazy motel because she is on call (as a nurse at a hospital) he goes against her wishes and books it anyway. HE made the decision he was going to use her body, it didn’t matter that she might be needed in an emergency or that she was tired, they did what HE wanted to do. Alan Ravitz MD downplays this patriarchal control by labelling it ‘pathological romance’ instead. There’s nothing romantic about men wanting to take at will and asserting their right to this at every opportunity, in fact, that’s called harassment, it is male privilege and entitlement.

Williams’ character separates from her husband because she suddenly becomes aware of the influence her father abusing her mother had had on her as a little girl. She won’t speak to her father in the closing scenes where the couple go their separate ways. Her dad asks her what is happening and she specifically says she won’t be discussing it with him emphasising she means him in particular. Here is a grown woman who is suddenly furious with her father for shaping her into the woman another man could take advantage of. In that moment she grows as a person. How could a senior psychiatrist miss something as glaringly obvious as this? Simple really; he IS the patriarchy. It is men like him who control the moral compass. How else do you think we got into this mess in the first place? Men have been tripping over themselves to depict women as deranged, hysterical, out of control for simply asserting their rights to autonomy. Of course they wouldn’t want you to think like this, it would mean having to fend for themselves, making their own goddamn sandwiches, having a cry wank instead of raping you.

Patriarchy is protected by the law (check out rape statistics), by healthcare professionals (as we have discussed) and perpetuated by the ways in which we view unacceptable behaviours on the part of men, choosing to reward them for it (see all the rich and famous exonerated by the law, cherished by their fans). This won’t change until we call patriarchal oppression when we see it. There are some very basic links missing to achieving equality.

Call out culture may have been ridiculed by patriarchy but we always knew it would, it makes taking advantage of the vulnerable a lot more difficult.

From an angry feminist to the men up to no good (TW)

It’s a simple world where the good man dwells. He has ideas about the role he plays in society and he works hard to maintain the way he is perceived. He loves his children and brings breakfast to his wife’s bed. He talks to other men about their balls because men don’t talk enough about their balls so he seeks to redress this, and for all his endeavours, he expects a pat on the head. What’s the point in being so damn good if nobody notices it?

The Good Men Project falls short at its name. We all know a ‘good man’ or a ‘nice guy’ who is keen to point out their goodness and niceness from the first time they speak to you. They’re so good, EVERYONE takes advantage and they always finish last. They’re just waiting for the right woman to come along and it will have all been worth it. But the reality being what it is, she doesn’t exist to please him (and why the hell should she)? This is when good men go bad. Much like teh menz over at The Good Men Project, good men have an idea of what they need in their lives to enable the good man to flourish from within.

Good men like a good woman. Don’t be angry now wimminz, good men don’t like it when wimminz shout. Or have an opinion for that matter. Actually, a good woman is allowed an opinion because ‘naturally’ that opinion will echo that of the good man. In this way, the good man is free to work out his biceps whilst the good woman is happy to play wifey to her man. It’s not like it’s his fault 1 billion women across the world are experiencing violence or oppression because of their sex. And just because there are billions of men beating and humiliating those other women, doesn’t mean we have to be angry at the other billions of men who are not abusive, we just need to be better at seeking the good ones out. Oh wait, which ones were the good ones again?

To paraphrase: “I was really angry right, cos some men sexually abused me once but I got over that cos these other men do these lovely things for me”. Nondescript men, or decent people, do nice things for other people cos it’s being human. Many men have been nice to me but I tell you what, they didn’t make the pain of being violated more bearable.

Oh, thank you for my perfect birthday weekend nice man, it really made up for that time the mosque teacher slid his hand up my 9 year old thigh. All better now.

Gosh, those flowers are amazing! I don’t think I’m ever gonna think about the time I was gang raped EVER AGAIN. I can stop being angry now; I know not all men are the same. I love all teh menz!

Are you fucking kidding me?

The Good Men Project published this piece in all seriousness. As if sexual violence was the only thing spurring on billions of women to fight against the oppression they face, they found a poor soul with an all too familiar story and a warped sense of her role in a patriarchy, so much so she believes these minor gestures of love and affection (that are her RIGHT and a bare minimum of human decency) are somehow to be commended, and ran with it as their answer to the angry feminist threatening their male goodness.

Feminism exists for more reasons than a good man can fathom, evidently. As feminists we are fighting for bodily autonomy. We are angry for the demands put on our bodies, from puberty through to pregnancy we are controlled by the patriarchy. Our breasts aren’t big enough or they’re so big we tempt strange abusive men into having a go. Pubic hair is more often than not groomed to please the eye of the beholder; we have very little choice over how we look down there. Teh menz invented labiaplasty for those whose vulvas resemble that of a grown woman. I’m not a big fan of porn (ahem) but in the interests of research, I’ve seen the patriarchal ideal shift. Women’s bodies have changed drastically from the 70s to present day, in appearance and also the ways in which they are used. Newspapers and magazines bombard us with images of ridiculously tall white cis gendered wimminz with tans in ridiculous suggestive poses (legs akimbo/shaking a tail feather) and anyone falling short of this ideal just isn’t worthy. We are constantly fighting the battle for the right to choose what happens to our pregnant bodies. Some of cannot be pregnant, some of us will be forcibly impregnated and many more will break their backs working right up to the birth for fear they will lose their jobs in this patriarchal man’s world. And before Junior cracks his first smile, we’ll be leaking breast milk at work, crying in a toilet cubicle, torn between needing to be with our young and needing to work in order to survive. But wait, patriarchy has an answer! You need a manz to provide! He’ll be earning more than you for a start. Even if he beats you, cheats, uses your body at will. Know your place woman; pregnancy is vulnerability and teh menz like the sound of that. Good Men will even do the hoovering, cos they’re good like that. Just keep your gold stars handy and they might even do it again.

“I certainly had a lot of reasons to be angry. I was sexually assaulted”. That’s one reason, Good Men Project writer. Where were your words regarding the systematic control of women in the workplace, the streets and at home?

“The truth is that most men are not rapists.” That is not what my male friends tell me. But then I guess this depends on your definition of rape. Do you mean rape or ‘bad sexual etiquette’?

“Of course, I had a right to be angry at the men who hurt me. But I didn’t have a right to hold all men everywhere responsible for what happened to me. And by being angry, I was shutting down the possibility of love”. I have every right to hold patriarchy responsible for the ways in which it controls women. Unfortunately the patriarchy is mostly made up of men. I am angry but there is love in my life. It surrounds me and supports me. Anger at the patriarchy is one of my redeemable features and shock horror; there are men that get why! And totally dig it.

“For example, my brother steadfastly believed what happened to me and validated..” STOP. Were your experiences more or less validated because he is a man?

“And so did the mac and cheese he made me when I was sad, and the hours of Nintendo-playing we did when I was too down to do anything else.” This is why I love my girlfriends. I don’t need to thank them for providing me with distractions; it’s just how we roll. All of the time, and mostly with little significance.

“He turns up the heat when it’s cold. He walks the dog when I don’t want to go outside. He puts gas in the car.” He basically functions as humans do. Respect.

“Men love survivors of sexual violence every single day” Can you believe it? Have they no shame..? I’m sorry, but what exactly does this line mean?

“Most men are horrified by sexual violence and its impact on those they love.” Unless you’re asleep and it’s the second insertion of the day, you’ve already given consent and it can’t be violent if there weren’t any bruises.

“They want to help, but feel powerless – and afraid to say or do the wrong thing.” They feel this way because they are aware of how big patriarchy is and they know they can’t battle it alone. They stay silent because it’s too risky.

“If we want men to join the movement to end rape and sexual violence, we have to stop talking about all the things men do wrong, and start talking about all the things that men do right.” I know a few honest men who deserve genuine praise. Generally they read, retweet and shut the fuck up. They don’t dare to presume what women need in order to achieve equality. They are there to support us, not take over (take note you fucking good men). They have an appreciation of what thousands of years of subjugation has done to womankind. As our allies, they are happy for us to take the floor.

Unlike the good men and the nice guys who, under threat that the wimminz might take over (we’re a few hundred years off that sonny jim), use every vulnerable/disillusioned woman (who may or may not have listened to angry feminist folk music..)  they can find to undermine our crucial movement.

Feminism isn’t fun and sexy, it’s angry. Fighting oppression and for our basic rights does this to us.

May your anger over floweth and the good man/nice guy fadeth away. A-wo-men.

The First Obstacle To Equality

“I don’t want to say anything cos they won’t believe me.” A sentiment almost exclusively owned by women. Whether disclosing rape or thinking of telling our pals their boyfriends are womanising scum, we fear repercussions on speaking the truth. There was an incident in which we were victim, we were hurt physically and/or emotionally, we know what happened wasn’t right. Yet it’s instinctive to bottle up and withhold justice for ourselves because we know, society will simply not believe us. What makes us so unbelievable?

Bro code, an unspoken agreement between men that their woman is their property and brothers must not risk the woman coming between them. Yes, she is damn fine and tempting but don’t fall for her, instead, give that big man chest a primal thump and a knowing look; “bros before hoes”. They will believe each other before they believe you, in some misguided solidarity with the brotherhood irrespective of the offender’s track record. Whereas, a woman; her reputation, her previous record says everything there is to know about her morality.

Do women who have had sex always tell lies? Jane Clare Jones asks for the Guardian.

“In the patriarchal playbook, a woman’s moral virtue is synonymous with … well, her virtue. Good women are chaste and pure. And the others – those who express their sexuality in ways not sanctioned by church and state, those who are sexual at all – are quite simply not to be trusted. They seduce and entrap. They’re dirty and diseased. And, above all, they are deceitful and duplicitous. If they want to moralise, they should, as Rogozin told us in his second tweet, put their pants back on. And if they refuse, nothing they say is to be taken seriously or believed by anyone. A simple sexual slur, and, as if by magic, a woman’s word is instantly devalued, divested of authority and discredited.”

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/13/women-sex-lies-pussy-riot-madonna)

This makes sense. Rape victims, sexually assaulted against their will have actually had non-consensual sex. Despite the fact that they did not agree, potentially fighting off the perpetrator with every bit of strength they had, men will instantaneously believe they must have brought it upon themselves. “They love it really.” By the mere fact they own vaginas. If she wasn’t doing a good job of keeping her vagina shut, i.e. sewing it up so it’s not a “gaping pocket” or covering herself so that she looks just like any other Dalek, then she must have been “asking for it”. How patriarchy has twisted the way we view women, their bodies sexualised even when breastfeeding their infants. People are disgusted by the most natural act of them all. Because, well, it’s private, for a husband’s eyes only. Only on humans though, we are more than happy to guzzle back billions of gallons of other animal’s bodily secretions, quite happy to munch on the reproductive efforts of birds. Females, whichever species, are to be gorged on, to satisfy male bellies and sexual urges. It’s their only function. Do you know what human breast milk smells like?..Isn’t it time you found out? Why don’t we talk about it? Is that why breasts are so sexualised? Is it also why we push sugar laden formula milk on people who can’t afford it, because breast milk smells so.. womanly? It smells as it does so that visually impaired newborns can recognise their mothers. It’s NATURAL.

So they forcibly impregnate and take what they can from the female form. Rape it at will. A vessel, it carries through new life, but the womb is pure filth. Full of dirty blood, it smells. In many cultures, they shave off the downy soft hair on small babies, coming as it did from that evil place deep at the core of woman. She must take 40 days’ rest, unwashed and unmade; cleanse herself of all impurity when her time is up. Reintroduce her into society as a born again virgin, God put the baby in there, they have no idea how it came out. Vaginas, they smell bad too. Why don’t we ever talk about semen? It’s not an odourless, colourless gas we can’t see. Boys start off by teasing girls about their periods and how they can “smell when you’re on”. I don’t remember teasing the boys back just feeling utterly ashamed at being afflicted by this curse I thought was going to bypass me, being as I wasn’t like all the other girls…

Nuns. People believe them (unless they too are raped). Mothers who never remarry, sacrificing everything for their broods; they are exalted in my local community. They are however, also called ‘rundhi’ in Punjabi. ‘Rundhi’ means both ‘widower’ and ‘whore’. For a woman without a man (having already experienced sexual intercourse) must be like a whore?

Will you join me in an unspoken celebration of the female form? Not to ogle it and take from it what you want to satisfy your own desires but marvel at its resilience and adaptability, the ability to create life, sewing together all the parts that make a human… Magic, no? And what might it be like to be with a woman who is proud of her body and what it can do too? Not just reproductively but sexually. And if there were more men who knew and appreciated female sexuality, maybe then we’d be happier sharing the truth about when we were violated?

Our bodies are not shameful. Patriarchy is.

I never write dreams or nightmares.. I write my own reality

“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”

There’s something about Frida Kahlo that touched my soul from the first time I laid eyes on her work. Her honest self-depiction, mono-brow and all, thrilled me and saddened me too. I was thrilled to see a brown woman with such a distinction in the world of modern art, adorned in splendiferous colourful materials, her hair drawn tightly off her determined face. She certainly wasn’t a shy girl but a beautiful woman, bold and proud of her sex. And more than a little bit ‘ethnic’. She wasn’t worried about silly things like facial hair.

But I felt sad for the woman Frida, and felt a parallel with my own life. Like Frida, I had problems with the parts that make you a woman. Two operations for a humongous ovarian cyst left me considerably shaken and uncertain as to whether I would ever become a mother. It hurts more than you expect it to. You set the standard pretty high in your head but it surpasses that.

The hardships she suffered were of no consequence to her work, if anything, they made her art more accessible to women. Shocking, yes, but then isn’t that life? Madonna purchased Frida’s painting entitled ‘My Birth’, a fan of Kahlo; she has many of her other paintings. It is this one in particular though, that her ex husband Guy Ritchie is said to be ‘creeped out’ by. Admittedly the sheet over her mother’s head can be interpreted as somewhat sinister but Frida painted this to mark the passing of her late mother. She commented in her diary that she gave birth to herself.

Childbirth is pretty gruesome but also amazingly beautiful and magically overwhelming. What can seem hopeless in one moment suddenly becomes a miracle. It’s real. It is what it is. It’s how Guy Ritchie’s children were born too.

During her drawn out period of convalescence Frida started painted having given up on a career in medicine. Of all her artwork, 55 pieces are self-portraits. I feel an affinity with her here too. In ‘The Broken Column’ she expresses her confinement and pain, a picture that could best describe my own predicament. Having recently had a 2nd operation to fix a faulty disc in my back, I have been limited in what I can do. My movement is quite restricted, I have been told to never attempt to touch my toes ever again. But I am able to type. A lot of my writing is what I have experienced for myself, whether personally or professionally. It is, for me, a never-ending story. Frida expresses some of that in her work.

Frida Kahlo inspires me to keep going, whatever the obstacles. She is thought provoking and emotionally charged. She is vital. And also, very vulnerable. But you only see her vulnerability through her eyes.

For her first solo exhibition in Mexico, she was too unwell to travel and had been advised to stay at home and recuperate. With dogged determinedness, she shunned the doctor’s words and arranged to be transported to the opening, her bed followed behind in a truck. I don’t idolise many people, or connect with the famous or even infamous but I have to say, she sets a shining example to women and feminists everywhere. She was way ahead of her time. She painted things people were too afraid to discuss. She had opinions, raw emotions. She did not care about what they thought of her life and her loves. She was strong and compassionate, assertive yet very feminine.

…one of history’s grand divas…a tequila-slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker, bi-sexual that hobbled about her bohemian barrio in lavish indigenous dress and threw festive dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller, and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

I wish Frida had lived a little later. It would have been a resplendent honour to have her as my fantasy dinner guest. I wouldn’t need to invite anyone else.

When you think like a feminist..

 

..You draw like one too

Why Do We Abort?

Jane* was a client at one of the places I worked. She was a working mum, barely making enough to break even with childcare costs but she preferred to work. She had been accessing our service for a while. We provided support to women still in abusive relationships, safety planning so as to reduce the frequency of abusive incidents.

She adored her small child; she was maternal and caring and would often begin a conversation with an update on how her baby was doing. Except on this occasion she was fighting to get her words out. She’d called me at the office, asked for an emergency appointment, she’d just found out she was pregnant. I asked her what she wanted to do. “I can’t keep it.” She repeated this sentence a few times. I asked her why. “Because the last time I was pregnant, I lived in fear for my baby’s life.”

30% of domestic violence starts in pregnancy.

Between 4 and 9 pregnant women in every 100 are abused during and after their pregnancies.

(Women’s Aid Statistics)

That’s right. When a woman is at her most vulnerable, most in need of support to protect and nurture the life she is creating within, she has an increased likelihood of experiencing violence at the hands of the father of her child. I’m reminded of a training course where a male middle manager responded to this fact by saying “women are a nightmare when they’re pregnant; I’m not surprised some men react”. An acquaintance shared how his father had beaten his mother when she was suffering postnatal depression. He’d grown up believing his father had been pushed to the limit. It is only when I challenged his belief by pointing out that pregnancy is a difficult time for women, many people appreciate this and make allowances, decent people at least, that he began to see it differently. Personally, I could not understand how he had ever felt his father had been justified. But then, this acquaintance had also been beaten.

Jane felt guilty she had already subjected one of her children to this man. She had been taking steps to leave him, setting a little money aside each week, moving her baby’s toys out one at a time. She did not want to have sex with him. She tried to say no at the start but knew better than to say it again. And so she became pregnant.

“I can’t keep it”. I had to respect her wishes so I arranged for her to attend a Marie Stopes clinic. I went with her. She held my hand whilst we waited, but barely spoke. I wanted to say it was OK if she changed her mind but didn’t want to sound like I was suggesting anything. I just reassured her that I was there to talk, without judgement, if she needed. She smiled gratefully whenever she looked at me and my heart broke a little for her. She was a good woman and an exceptional mother. She shouldn’t have to go through this. But I knew she had no choice. The alternative would mean reinforcing their relationship, enduring another nine months of physical and mental torture, the effects of which would leave a lasting impression on the foetus inside her womb. Attachment and dependency on a person who seeks to control and manipulate and abuse, even his own children should he see fit. She wanted a better life for her children.

I stand by her choice because I have seen the alternative. Abigail* had three children and was expecting a fourth from her new partner. He was a known sex offender. Because of her faith, Abigail did not have the choice to abort. She was however frightened for her life. She endured being dragged around by her hair in the 8th month of her pregnancy. Whilst she was in labour, she had to defend herself from an attack, struggling to prise his fingers from her neck as she experienced another contraction. Following multiple agency intervention, her children were eventually removed from her by social services for neglecting the needs of her children by remaining with her partner. It did not matter that Abigail had been warned she would die if she ever did. The perpetrator was not being brought to justice through a lack of physical evidence, yet they had enough evidence to call her a bad mother and take her children away. How many pregnancies start off unwanted and end up in the care system?

And then there was Sarah*, a very close friend of mine. Following a casual relationship, she discovered she was quite happy to be expecting. She hadn’t known her partner very long but he seemed nice enough and in agreement about the pregnancy. They sailed through the first few weeks, excited about their little secret. One day she called me. “I can’t do it”, she simply said. They’d been out together at the work’s Christmas do. She thought he’d had enough to drink and attempted to hold his arm. He responded by pushing her down. My brave and strong friend did not want a child with a man who did not care about harming her or the baby. She was upset before the termination. And through it. But she maintained she’d made the right choice.

One of the main reasons we abort is to protect the future. Pregnancy is vulnerability. No longer are you only responsible for yourself but innocent new life that does not deserved to be abused. “Pro-lifers” argue that the foetus has rights, more rights than that of the mother. Despite the mother’s mental and physical well-being, she is a vessel bringing forth Mr Man’s seed and effectively signs over her rights. Is it preferable that unwanted pregnancies are forced to continue thus resulting in unwanted children who will have possibly been abused, growing into abusers themselves when they are big enough?

When a 12 year old school friend had to abort, where were the “pro-lifers” and their campaigns to make fathers more accountable?

How many domestic violence refuges offer mother and baby units? Not very many.

This war on women and our wombs is not about the brazen baby killers. It’s about control.

And patriarchy.

Again.

*Names have been changed

** I am aware that this entry has received some attention from ‘no choicers’ who think I have chosen to justify ‘killing of the unborn’ by using domestic violence as some sort of get out clause. They have made the assumption that this is an easy option rather than tackling the abuse and helping mothers leave abusive relationships. *sigh*

I have been involved in women’s services almost 10 YEARS as a refuge worker, outreach floating support in the community and advocate for women at risk of domestic abuse, at crisis point and survivors. I am fully aware of the support available to women both through the state and various charitable organisations.

No choicer comments:

“The fact that these women DO have a choice, i.e. to leave their abusive relationships”

NO THEY DON’T. 76% OF WOMEN LEAVING ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS WILL FACE ANOTHER INCIDENT OF VIOLENCE FOR DARING TO LEAVE THEIR PARTNER. WOMAN IS PROPERTY, WOMAN HAS NO AUTONOMY.

“If she is helped to extricate herself from the abuse and domestic violence, then so will her children be too!”

EASY SPEAKING AS A MAN ISN’T IT? THE ONUS IS ON A VULNERABLE WOMAN TO GET HERSELF AND HER CHILDREN OUT. WHERE IS THE PRESSURE ON VIOLENT MEN TO STOP BEING VIOLENT?

“If there is a lack of mother and baby united in women’s refuges, campaign and fundraise for more!”

MAKING ASSUMPTIONS AGAIN.. NO CHOICER, DO YOU KNOW THE DEVASTATING EFFECT TORY GOVERNMENT CUTS HAVE ALREADY HAD ON WOMEN? DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW RECESSION OFTEN HURTS THE MOST VULNERABLE, IE WOMEN AND CHILDREN LEAVING VIOLENT RELATIONSHIPS? SUPPORT FOR VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS NOT CONSIDERED IMPORTANT UNDER RICH WHITE MEN.

“If society is lacking in holding fathers to account, campaign and politically lobby for a change in the law so they can be – but don’t think that you can say “father’s have no rights” if then you wish to make them accountable, it doesn’t work!”

NO CHOICER, THESE THINGS WILL NOT HAPPEN IN MY LIFETIME. IT PAINS ME THAT PROTECTING VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS MY LIFE’S WORK AND YET I KNOW, DESPITE MY BEST EFFORTS AND OF THE THOUSANDS OF WOMEN WORKING TIRELESSLY EVERYDAY, WOMEN EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE WILL CONTINUE TO ABORT THEIR PREGNANCIES BECAUSE.. PATRIARCHY.

THAT’S YOU SIR. WITH YOUR JUDGMENT AND CONTROL. YOUR RELIGIONS AND YOUR PATHETIC OPINIONS.

Solidarity with my sisters. It is your body, it is your choice. #Feminism