Tag Archives: feminism

Gendered from birth: our obsession with baby junk


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I’m 33 weeks pregnant on Sunday and there’s one question I’d be pleased to never hear again.

Is it a boy or a girl?

A variation of this question includes what is it? And my personal favourite: do you know what you’re having?

I’ve begun laughingly answering to those with whom I feel comfortable enough oh, we’re having a whale shark. A puppy. A wombat. It’s a semi gracious way to sideline the question and convey that I’m uncomfortable with it, with levity for good measure.

With those I don’t feel comfortable I usually say oh we just want a surprise. I loathe saying this because it is untrue – we actually aren’t telling anybody what junk our baby has, much less allowing others to make that the basis of gender delusions – yet this is the only socially acceptable way I can squirm out of the question without getting into a huge treatise on sex and gender politics. Which I’m not always up for – sometimes the person asking me is a midwife, or a co-worker, or a neighbour, and I’m tired and sore and hungry and just don’t want to get into it right then and there.

This question means a lot though. It tells me so much about how far we have to go when the list of questions about a baby’s identity begins with gender interrogation. It shows how little we know collectively about gender and how it works. How we effortlessly conflate sex and gender, and how sex and gender really still matter. Even though we try to convince ourselves that we’ve evolved, I’m not sure we have.

This mattering, this essential base need to know what a baby’s genitals are before we can respond meaningfully to them or connect with them, is so troubling to me. It is rife with projection and reproduction of stereotypes and roles and bio-essential notions and it is the ground zero of all of that. It is where it begins.

Just as a baby’s life begins as cells divide (disclaimer: I am pro choice! Don’t get distracted, I’m being figurative here), I feel their gender journey begins with people putting them into pink and blue boxes. And encouraging parents to with that relentless bloody question, what is it?

It is a useful question from a social function perspective, in that it is a tool for constructing identity from birth, but time and again evidence is showing us how gender stereotypes are toxic and punishing to children. Yes, you can gender your child at birth based on their physical sex characteristics and still work against stereotypes and rigidity and there are many ways to parent in a gender neutral, or gender questioning way. But as parents we should never forget that gender is assigned. It is not, at birth, who children are. We grow into gender, work it out, or don’t. Gender is a mess and nobody decides but us.

Our choice to not assign gender at birth or disclose our child’s physical sex characteristics to anyone beyond those who may need to know for physical care reasons (such as doctors) is a very personal one, and I don’t think it is more “right” than people who assign gender at birth and work on challenge gender notions along the way. There’s a lot of different ways to go about this stuff, and gender is a mysterious muddle we all blunder through together. For us, it feels weird to announce what our baby’s junk is, and all that it would invite to do that feels even weirder.

Cordelia Fine blew my mind when she talked about (in her book Delusions of Gender) how we speak to boy and girl assigned children differently. How we provide for them differently, nurture them differently, teach them differently. I don’t know if I can disrupt all of these things in myself but I can certainly deprive everyone else, for a while, of the main lens through which they may interpret my child. I want them to have a chance for a while at least to just be a child. To just be a human. A person.

I’ll respect, also, whatever my child indicates about themselves. And I acknowledge that some gendering will inevitably happen along the way because we are all subject to and swept into this gender “stuff”. However, I won’t accept rigidity around gender as a fait accompli. I know agency is a myth (thanks Foucault) but you still have to have a crack at things. Do what you can with what you have. And hope for the best.

I resolve, first and foremost, to never ask my pregnant friends what they’re having. It’d be nice if every one else could stop caring about this too – because it shouldn’t matter what’s between a baby’s legs. If it does matter to you, enough to continually hound an expectant parent, that’s on you, not them.

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Bodily autonomy: from birth


It interests me how much right people feel to cuddle a newborn.

The desire to is understandable – they’re cute. They have smooshy, squished up, grunty little faces and they do baby farts and their tiny fingers are delicate and amazing.

But when this desire to hold a newborn tips over into a feeling of entitlement to hold them, I think we see something very different.

When you get huffy or upset or pressure new parents about not “getting a hold” you’re really saying that this baby is an object that exists for your gratification, instead of a person with needs and rights that you holding them may not meet in that moment.

It seems radical to some people to say that babies are people with rights. They are, though. Their bodies aren’t consumables and they don’t exist for our entertainment and pleasure. In fact, babies have no duties to us. Nor do the parents of newborns. Their role is instead to keep their babies safe, and sometimes “safe” means comforted, calm, close to their parents, and not in the arms of strangers (and yes, close family are strangers to a tiny human who has been in the world not long at all).

At 31 weeks pregnant I know I will never feel guilty for denying people cuddles with my baby once they are born if I feel it isn’t right for them to be held by someone else at that time. As their guardian, it’ll be my job to work out when being held by someone other than me is appropriate or not.

As they age, it’s going to be part of a larger patchwork of teaching them that their bodies are their own; and nobody has a right to touch them if they don’t want to be touched. There’ll be no forced cuddles in our house.

Bodily autonomy from birth means that we are our own; and touch should always be invited, appropriate and optional. Until babies can show us – and they do, quickly – who they want to be held by, and who they don’t, it’s our job to watch them closely for cues, and make decisions based on them.


In bed with Dr Google (and ok with it)


Triggering for mentions of miscarriage, stillbirth and fertility difficulties

I’ve tried a few times lately to blog about this fertility rollercoaster but with little success. There’s so much to write about, and knowing where to start or finish is a problem. Disclaimer: everything I’m about to write about is subjective, and this is a sensitive topic, so if you think reading about someone else’s fertility “journey” or whatever is going to upset you in some way, stop reading now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the feminism of how we think of and talk about women who are experiencing fertility “issues”. Here I include everything from difficulties falling pregnant to finding out you are categorically infertile for some reason through to pregnancy loss, recurrent pregnancy loss, and stillbirth/the death of babies shortly before birth. I also include women who have fraught pregnancies due to complications and disability.

I was finishing up reading J.J Keith’s book “Stop Reading Baby Books” yesterday on the bus while doing that “crying strategically behind sunglasses” thing as I read how she described what it felt like after she’d had three miscarriages before carrying her first babe to term. She talked about how she began to think about doing other things with her life; and about how deeply awful it felt to think that her urge for the motherhood of a living baby might never come to fruition.

I’ve now had two miscarriages, and still no baby has come home with me. It does something to you, that. Everyone responds differently of course, but in my case it has fundamentally changed how I approach life events – that capacity to relax and take good things for granted is completely gone. My counsellor said that something many parents grieve as a result of recurrent pregnancy loss is “the death of the carefree conception and pregnancy.” No truer words were spoken.

Yes, I’ve become the stereotypical hyper-vigilant woman who obsessively checks forums and web.md and knows everything you could possibly know about cervical mucus. I’ve watched youtube videos that demonstrate what egg-white mucus looks like, and I know all about how to thin it (Robitussin, but only in the original variety), how long sperm last in it (3-5 days in fertile mucus; 1-2 hours in dry mucus), what an open and tilted cervix looks like, and I’ve pissed on sticks twice a day for a week to pinpoint exactly when I’m ovulating. The things I could tell you about sperm motility and lubricants! About implantation cramps and spotting! About how HCG works, when you start producing it, how quickly it doubles, what a low or high reading means, and how to calculate your expected implantation date, your luteal phase or the best apps to track symptoms. And let’s not even get started on blood thinners and vitamins and iodine and spinach or the impact of the acid in saliva on sperm.

When I think back to the light hearted young lass who got pregnant all those years ago, in 2009, I mourn the death of that bright and breezy sureness that “things will work out.” I sometimes look at my browser history and it takes a good few minutes of scrolling before I get to any links that aren’t pregnancy or fertility related.

I’m sure some friends and maybe even my partner are quietly critical of this now rather intimate relationship with Dr Google, but I am interested in how images and ideas of the “good suffering woman” are constructed when it comes to fertility troubles.

I think our culture is set up to judge and condemn whatever women do, and fertility is one area in which women are often told they are feeling ‘incorrectly’. Firstly, if you have a miscarriage and you’re not that emotionally effected, this is seen as unforgivably pragmatic – as though you’re a cold individual who is incapable of feeling anything at all towards children or the events of your life. And then, when taken to the other extreme, women who are deeply emotionally impacted are seen as taking it too seriously.

If you fall into the camp of someone planning a pregnancy when you’re having trouble getting or staying pregnant, you may find yourself obsessively reading forums, articles, blog posts, and musing constantly in your own head and aloud with interested (and maybe not so interested) others. Let me tell you now: this is normal. Of course you bloody are. Needing to understand and find some answers among the inscrutable mysteries fertility difficulties throw at you is NORMAL AND OKAY. Doctors give scant support at best; hell, even fertility specialists shuffle you in and out speedily. Needing some control and grabbing for it via information addiction? Yep, taxing. But a part of life. You’re not alone, or strange, and if the plethora of users of online forums discussing recurrent pregnancy loss is anything to go by, you’re far from in a minority.

What I find interesting is that when you express exhaustion or emotional disturbance as a result of the massive head-trip this constitutes, you invariably get a lot of judgement from people about how you’re handling things. You aren’t suffering right. You need to just let it happen and just put it out of your mind and you’re just putting pressure on yourself and you want it too much are some of the tidbits of “advice” people offer.

Women who are embroiled in fertility woes are often painted in the media we consume as the pained obsessives who track every basal body temperature in a spreadsheet (pfft, we have apps now) and stand alone staring at a pregnancy test/ovulation test in despair and emptiness. We are supposed to feel sorry for this figure; to pity her and quietly pass judgement on her for “wanting it too much”. Often these women are painted as shrill, partner-organising/bossing harpies who poke and prod and chart and are somehow deeply insecure. Because you couldn’t just be having mundane, fair enough feelings about difficult circumstances, am I right? It is the same sexist, hetero-normative trope of the nag and the high maintenance, highly strung wife delivered through the lens of reproductive issues. It works effectively to erase the legitimacy of women’s experiences.

What winds up happening I’ve found is that many women flock to online forums because here, at last, they can somewhat lay down their burdens and be with their people – other women who are also struggling. Because of the endless judgement and platitudes, stigma and discomfort of others, they address their isolation by finding a  flock online to share information and feel understood – and this is kind of beautiful (while also being kind of problematic and filled with flaws).

While I’ve gotten quite a bit of support from within my immediate friends and family, I’ve still been judged by some I considered close friends. When it happens – when you are told you are suffering wrong – you shut off, go inward, and wind up reading 15 articles on egg quality before crying yourself to sleep wondering if you’ll ever have a baby and then wake feeling guilty for the reading and the tears. You start to buy in to the idea that you are doing this wrong. Cue more worry and anxiety you don’t need.

As I grow more and more aware of how “struggling correctly” with fertility issues is a fundamentally misogynist way of viewing this experience, it is helping me to let go of some of my apologist feelings and encouraging me to keep toxic people away. I’m getting better at just feeling my feelings, obsessing about what I need to, and being ok with my resting smartphone scroll reflex.


Snarling #12wbt: fitness, pregnancy and failure


There’s lots of inspiring posts by bloggers and feminist commentators on the web about the way pregnant women are monitored and socially controlled. Notions of success and failure as pregnant women (and as parents) are omnipresent and heavy to shoulder, and many of us uncritically and despite-our-critique internalize and suffer through them. If you’re a feminist who is or who has been pregnant you know what I’m talking about.

During our most recent appointment with the fertility doctor, I willingly (because I want to have a baby) entered into a space where no critique was off the table. My food intake, movement, use of substances like alcohol, sleep and weight were critiqued. Pretty painful and non evidence based statements about the relationship between weight and miscarriage were made (for the record, there is no link between being overweight and miscarriage although there is to being seriously underweight). I was told to make my body like “fertile ground for a baby to grow”. My male bodied partner was asked two questions and fleeting attention was given to his diet. It was all about how I might succeed or fail in my fertility and it was, almost 100 percent, about how that was squarely on me.

This is not really radical or harsh. It’s the norm. Women’s bodies, always under scrutiny, become even more pressured and framed as public property open for discussion (by family, co-workers, friends, doctors, strangers) when people become aware that you are trying to become or are pregnant. If you are already fat, people feel incredibly entitled to comment. Every mainstream book and article drips with judgement for fat bodies. And to resist this in any way is seen as irresponsible and un-motherly. People will give you props if you wholesale drink the koolaid, no questions asked. Be a good girl, be ashamed of your fat.

Here’s where it gets complicated for me. I want a natural birth as much as possible. I am very medically phobic and want to minimise the involvement of obstetricians and interventions in my birth journey. This means doing everything in my fucking power to avoid gestational diabetes, which pretty much boots you from the birthing centre. I am very, very worried about GD. Medically I’m in a “risk category” (we could talk for a long time about how these are used to frighten mostly women, and mostly women of colour regarding pregnancy).

I’m choosing to address my concerns by exercising and eating well but I have to wonder at how much GD is shaken like an angry fist of the gods (mostly by obstetricians, GPs and birth lit) rather than just put on the table as a necessary thing to negotiate much like fatigue and morning sickness. It’s a thing that bodies do, but unlike nausea and tiredness, GD is directly linked to weight and weight is an issue through which we can control women.

It features more thought, but the politics of pregnancy are pretty deep. I am privileged in that I have enough able bodiedness to avoid some of the worst of it, but I definitely get some blowback.

For some interesting reading about how fitness is a site of failure and success in fertility and pregnancy, you can always read Alice MacLachlan’s words over at Fit Is A Feminist Issue.


Snarling #12wbt: One month in – what’s stuck?


I’m now a month into the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation. What’s the verdict so far?

Not as triggered as I thought…but by design.

I knew going into this program that there would be loads of triggering shit in the videos and the forums and the articles, so I’ve chosen pretty carefully and wisely what I read and when. I’ve basically avoided reading anything on days I’ve felt like crap, and just followed the food plans and done a bit of moving.

I’ve definitely had more “weight loss-esque” thoughts and feelings than I’d like, and there’s definitely moments where I’ve been more focused on my moderately shrinking body and how it looks in the mirror than the joy of moving and eating with joy and structure. But I would say those moments have been in the minority. And because of the intentionality with which I approached re-ordering my eating (I’m surprised at actually how big a part that has played in making me not go off the compulsive deep end), I think I set up some good decisions that have shaped my approach throughout. I’m coming back to my mantra of “happy habits” (doing things that make me happier in the short and long-term) rather than worrying about my waist.

For instance, I’ve worked out that I just generally do not want to work out five to six days a week. I get that some women doing this program “religiously” follow the exercise plans, but I can’t be fucked. Really, if that’s your bag, go for it. But ill health and exhaustion aside, I simply just cannot be bothered getting to the gym full time. I’ve discovered that it is more important to me to be ENJOYING and WANTING the movement I engage in, than to go hard and slam myself. I am just not interested in that.

I’ve also discovered that unlinking my brain from any kind of feeling of obligation to the program (oh I’m paying for this! I should be following everything it says!) is of less value to me than being a grown ass woman who makes decisions for herself based on what she can and wants to be doing, guilt free. Don’t want to go to the gym? Want to go for a short walk instead, or crochet and decompress from a crapper of a day? Don’t mind if I do. We are not obligated to move. It should be a joy. And when I’ve done it over the last four weeks, it has been increasingly a joy, not an obligation.

I like exercising with people AND THEN AGAIN, alone.

Oh the duality of this! I have discovered that some days I want to be walking and chatting with my honey, and some days I want it to just be me and the cross trainer. Makes sense that movement can be a lot of different things, and that it doesn’t also have to be the focus but instead a backdrop to social engagement, chatter, thinking aloud, laughter, or time alone. Just as eating is more than fuel, I’m discovering that movement is more than reps and time goals.

My eating is radically fucking different and BETTER.

Biggest differences to eating in this house for both myself and my husband include:

  • Low sodium cooking. I never realised how much salt I used in my cooking until it wasn’t there. I rarely use salt in my cooking now, and when I do I only use a very very small amount, and I really notice it when food had added salt (such as the presence of soy sauce, or when I eat a meal out). My husband says he’s finding some meals a bit bland (but then he can add salt. I choose not to and am perfectly happy). I’m enjoying how food tastes without being massively salted – it seems like my palate has reset, and I like it.
  • Much less oil, and when it is there, sparingly and deliciously enjoyed because it is appreciated for it’s own unique flavour rather than being the baseline of my cooking that drowns out a lot of other stuff.
  • Way more fruit and veg. WAY. It’s a joy to open my fridge and BAM, there’s so many pretty colours to look at.
  • A sudden influx of new recipes has meant I’m never bored, and I’m more creative in the kitchen. The cook in me is very happy with new ideas to tinker with, new ways to play with food. None of the food is boring or unattractive. It all looks very pretty indeed in my plate (especially things with red cabbage and snow peas. And we’ve covered my weakness for sweet potato.)
  • Satiety. I feel more full more of the time and the temptation to snack is covered by the two snacks a day inbuilt. I’ve finally broken my habit of eating all of my food in one go at lunchtime – the gorge effect – and I’m learning to pace myself so I can idle along at a nice rate of fullness most of the time. My pattern is somewhat addled by shift work, but mostly not too bad. I eat around 6:30am/7am, snack on fruit around 11am, eat my lunch at 12:30/1:30 and then have a proteiny snack when I knock off, as I’m catching the bus home. Then dinner happens around 7.30/8pm. Eating every few hours means I’m not hangry and much less likely to compulsively eat or teeter into weird ethereal low blood sugar highs which lead to fucked up OMG I’M SO INVINCIBLE WITH MY DIGNIFIED HUNGER, LOOK AT ME, I COULD STARVE LIKE THIS FOREVER. (Yeahhh…disordered eating thoughts are FUN.)
  • I always always always pack my lunch. And our wetbags from Planet Wise arrived so we can kiss disposable glad bags a big fat goodbye.
  • Husband is learning to cook, and is quite good at it. That man can really rock a wok. I love having dinner made for me!

kebabs

Veggie kebab skewers and a couscous salad (above) and our new PlanetWise wetbags for taking lunch to work - no spills!

Veggie kebab skewers and a couscous salad (above) and our new PlanetWise wetbags for taking lunch to work – no spills!

Gone are the days of eating at all hours, relying on takeaway, eating lakes of dhal and feeling sick aftwerwards, giving myself heartburn from using so much damn oil, and never kind of understanding what it meant to stop eating when full. Gone is the scavenging for protein at work and coming up with noodles. Gone is the snacking on random sugary shit from the seven eleven.

Just goddamn decent cooking and plenty of it. Pow!

I’ve still got eight weeks to go and I plan to start saving lots of the recipes and menus so I can keep at it once this round is done. I am beginning to get the inkling that doing the #12wbt will have been a game changer for me in many wonderful ways.

Bring on week 5!


Snarling #12wbt: on illness, balance and movement


I can feel myself getting sick again. Again! I work in a preschool, so I get sick fairly frequently because as much as I love them, children are the bringers of all the germs to the yard. No amount of hand washing and gloves can shield me against that many viruses (though it does cut the incidence of illness radically).

Something I’m sure loads of movement oriented folk can relate to is the bummer of getting sick when you’re really excited by or committed to a plan or habit of movement. I’m REALLY looking forward to my movement session tonight – I was feeling pretty pumped about the interval running and overall glow I get after a bit of huffy puffy.

So when I get sick, I’m always bitterly disappointed. But in the past, this has meant that my three days off has turned into three months off, because like most folk with disordered eating/exercise, I live in extremes. I get disheartened and I throw the baby out with the bathwater, throwing my hands up in frustration and giving up or just losing my routine. Then the accompanying guilt means I don’t get my walking shoes out for a long time.

In Mish Bridges recent mindset video about emotional eating, she talks about the importance of starting to change “all or nothing” thinking, and I really dug this. I have been with eating as I have been with exercise. Compulsive eating means all attempts at moderate, mindful, responsive experiences of food are drowned out by the harsh buzz of the disordered eating brain bees. “Well, you’re fucked now,” they buzz. And that’s it. I give up.
So learning to just calm the farm when these thoughts occur, and flow back to my centre, my solid chilled out moderate inner Sara Bareilles voice who is like “no biggie, just let it go. It happens, and tomorrow is a new day” puts a pause on the brain bees. And here Mish Bridges speaks the same words, for which I’m grateful: she encourages you to just observe thoughts and feelings without judging. To pause before acting, to move away from catastrophising. And wherever possible, temporarily divert a need to act on anxious or overwhelming thoughts, but acknowledge them – to not suppress them. That’s pretty damn emotionally useful. Good work MB!

One thing that’s not acknowledged by Mish though is that restriction and exercise bulimia are ways people suppress and control intense feelings as well. And I am glad that when she talks about using a walk to deal with feels, she also uses a non exercise based example of putting a pause – she cites driving home the long way. Because we need to be careful when encouraging people to handle feels with movement as a part of the toolkit that this tool is actually therapeutic and not promoting an exercise burn/feelings of bodily control as a way to suppress emotional feelings of being out of control.

Living in the middle is HARD but worth it.


Snarling #12wbt: Fat yoga & the importance of body listening


yoga mat

One of the things I love the most about being connected with movement, is really “listening” to my body.

I know this sounds like hippy dippy bollocks, but I woke up this morning early and didn’t fall naturally back to sleep, so I got up and did a morning yoga routine with Adriene over at Yoga With Adriene. She came highly recommended to me (along with Curvy Yoga and Yoga Glo by many friends – everyone has a great yoga favourite! I like her because she’s laugh out loud funny sometimes and makes me feel ok to experiment and trust my own instincts – which as a beginner, is important, because I have a LOT of anxiety about getting yoga movements “right”.

Fat yoga is hard, though. My body just isn’t a flat thing that can glue itself like a board to the mat. Laying prone is hard because I have an ass, and that ass gets in the way. I’ve finally kind of found a way to lay flat, which involves drawing my shoulders way back and in, and pulling my butt up to my knees. It took me a while though. Many yoga movements are not designed for fat bodies, but they should be.

I’m going to have a deeper look at Curvy Yoga and see if it’s for me. I really enjoy it when someone comes up with an idea and is like “hey! I’m going to make this accessible!” Accessibility is golden, man.

One of the things that I think could be encouraged and talked about more is “listening” to bodies, rather than wholesale listening to external messages. Bodies are not always, but often, good at telling us what we need. Mine said “wake up! do yoga!” and often it says “eat! I’m hungry!”. And learning to listen when full, or tired, or too sore to exercise, or about to pull a ligament, is really important too.

It may sound like crunchy granola nonsense, but I’m trying to get more adept at this.


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