The Middle-Aged White Men Making Decisions About Women’s Bodies

There is plenty that infuriates me about the recent bill that was passed banning abortion in Alabama. We can discuss ad nauseam women’s rights to their body, the ethical standpoint of an embryo/foetus versus the mother’s wishes, the deresponsibilisation of men in the gestation process or the straight-up reversion in human rights in the name of the pro-life movement. However, today, I would like to solely address the fact that 22 senators voted against including an exception for rape or incest in the bill.

Twenty-two senators did not believe that rape or incest was reason enough to have an abortion.

What did all these 22 senators have in common? They were middle-aged white men.

That these decisions on life and death are being made by the most privileged portion of society seems a complete oversight. If we look at rape statistics we notice that not only are men the common perpetrators but also, over half of the perpetrators are over the age of 30 and white. In conclusion, these 22 senators who voted against an exemption for rape or incest in the abortion bill are better representatives of sexual assault perpetrators than their female victims.

Of course all these issues are interconnected. It’s middle-aged white men making and passing these laws because the patriarchy is still holding its power grip and the more women push for their rights, the tighter their grip is becoming. This is not to say that every senator or member of Parliament or legislator needs to be a professional expert with life experience in every matter they deal with but when women are left out of the equation so blatantly in issues affecting them so profoundly, we can see that something very shady is going on. Representation makes a difference. This applies to every minority.

The bill has passed and has been signed by Republican female Governor Kay Ivey but it is expected it won’t get through the lower courts due to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalised abortion. However, Governor Ivey made it clear in her statement the new law was passed with the aim of challenging that decision. Undoubtedly, it will gain traction with the Trump era justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who give the Supreme Court of Justice a Republican majority. Let’s not forget that Brett Kavanaugh is not only another white, middle-aged man but also one allegedly accused of sexual assault.

All the signs are pointing towards a blanket ban of abortions in America with pro-lifers justifying that foetal cardiac activity is a sign of life. However, foetal cardiac activity can be found as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, which in technical terms means only two weeks after a woman’s period was due. It is not unlikely for women to miss periods or have them delayed, or even not notice their periods are late, especially if they are going through stressful times. At the same time, at six weeks, most women have no symptoms of pregnancy. This means that by the time a woman realises she is pregnant, there will already be an audible foetal heartbeat. My question is if these Senators and Justices are aware of these predicaments surrounding pregnancy and female bodies and if they are not, how can they be in the position to make these decisions?

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Motherhood Not Martyrdom


Motherhood is not martyrdom. I know we are sold this lie very often. We are supposed to sacrifice everything for our kids until we are depleted and a shell of ourselves. Our health, our wealth, our happiness, it’s all expendable. That’s what mothers do, right? I don’t know a single mother who wouldn’t die for their kids but let me stop you right there: being a mother does not erase who you are as a person.

Everything we do and give as mothers is also under scrutiny. We are supposed to do it all. Have clean homes, look amazing, have a successful career, a loving husband who only has eyes for us and kids that not only adore us but are always well-behaved. Society keeps a hawk eye on mothers and they are held up to ridiculous standards of perfection. In the midst of this trying to be everything for everyone, we end up losing our own real essence as women and as individuals.

It’s okay to have needs outside the scope of motherhood. It’s more than okay to make time to fulfil those needs. Sometimes, thinking of yourself first is the best choice for your child. Why? Children learn to perceive themselves and the world through their mother’s eyes. Notice I said eyes and not mouth. It’s no good telling a child what to do if every day they watch you doing the opposite. I realised this very early on and since then, I’ve been working on becoming the kind of woman I want my daughter to become. Brave. Bold. Kind. Confident. I want her to pursue her dreams fearlessly, to live fully. To seek joy unapologetically. To love herself completely.

So I have been making changes, working hard at shifting my own childhood’s learned behaviour– which is possible but harder work than learning better from scratch. I was taught from my own mother this same model of overgiving and depletion. My mother let everything and everyone else come before her needs and I grew up with this same pattern and looked for relationships where I could emulate it. Giving up parts of yourself for somebody else, child or not, is never okay. It’s not healthy and it promotes the toxic behaviour of co-dependency. Men, though they can also fall prey of co-dependent relationships, are taught that fulfilling their needs is important and because biologically nothing changes for them with fatherhood, they keep making time and space to pursue their own happiness.

Realising my daughter is watching my every decision is scary. You can end up second-guessing yourself so it’s a tough balance. I have withstood situations I’d abhor for her to be in because I thought it was in her best interest. Ultimately, when in doubt, I ask myself “What would I wish for my daughter to do?” Eventually, I chose myself. Sure, things may look worse on paper but there’s a lesson here, one I didn’t learn from my mother so I had to learn from life: choosing myself, loving myself is the best way to teach her to choose herself and love herself and to avoid her ending up in situations like mine. Never underestimate the power of modelled behaviour.

Why I Taught My Daughter the Correct Names for Her Private Parts

We’re at a public toilet at a shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon. My six year old daughter rushes to the toilet. She desperately needs it. I help her out and she shouts at the top of her lungs: help me wipe my vulva.

I am mortified but I realise that’s my own conditioning. The conditioning I’m trying to change with her. For her, using the terms vulva or vagina are natural and she sees nothing wrong with using that terminology, much like I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if another child complained about her “front bottom”.

Like most things to do with maternity, I never thought this was an important issue prior to getting pregnant. However, as I moved within circles of empowered and wisdom-filled mothers, I got to learn about the importance of calling a penis, a penis and a vulva, a vulva.

Why Is It Important to Use Appropriate Terms?

My first reply is “Why not?”

We teach our kids to call an arm, an arm, a leg is a leg, what message are we sending when we refuse to call a body part their real name? Moreover, we tend to use cutesy names like “willy” or “pee-pee” for something we want the kids to keep private. We send a mixed message of shame and endearment that confuses kids when we want them to have well-defined boundaries about this area of their body.

By not using the correct terms, we are implying there is something wrong with these parts of our bodies. Whereas it’s important to teach kids how these body parts are “a little different” due to their function, we don’t want to, inadvertently, teach body shame and build up on future sexual embarrassment.

Using euphemisms is a reflection of our own shame and it’s imperative to break the cycle. This starts with our kids.

Using the Correct Terms Empowers Children Against Sexual Abuse

This happens on two fronts. On the one hand, knowing the correct terminology discourages molesters. Child molesters prey on kids who are vulnerable and who are not fully aware of their body functions. A child who has a confident body image and uses terms like vagina, testicles, labia or scrotum, puts off a sexual abuser who prefers “innocent” children whose body perceptions are a little blurrier. On the other hand, a child who is well aware of their genitals and their function is better equipped to report sexual abuse and to tell the authorities exactly where somebody touched them inappropriately.

It’s no wonder then the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “In early childhood, parents can teach their children the name of the genitals, just as they teach their child names of other body parts. This teaches that the genitals, while private, are not so private that you can’t talk about them.”

It’s a Feminist’s Duty to Teach Their Children The Correct Terminology

This is even more important for girls. A recent survey in Britain showed that 44% of women were unable to identify where the vagina is located. Empowering women to know their body and, at the same time, foster their body confidence, prevents them from being manipulated into situations where their lack of precise knowledge and boundary-setting can become an issue. It is shocking that so many women aren’t well-acquainted with their sexual organs.

The consequences of this are devastating on so many fronts. We have women depriving themselves of pleasure through not knowing the location of their clitoris or their G-spot. We have women failing to keep track of their cycles and other hormonal changes through not knowing about their cervix and the natural progression of an egg. Later in life, women hide their menopause symptoms in shame, not fully understanding what it is happening with their body.

We need to talk about our bodies and we need to do it openly and factually. Disabling the male-orientated sexual system requires female sexual empowerment and we can only fully embrace our femininity if we are well-acquainted with it.

Breastfeeding: a Feminist’s Perspective

Breastfeeding is a mother’s first choice

By Inês Bridges

Often a hot topic within new mothers’ circles, breastfeeding has been polarising and dividing women for the last 60 years since the widespread introduction of artificial milk as an alternative to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding sparks the most passionate arguments because it speaks to the innermost core of motherhood. Portrayed as natural and instinctive, throughout pregnancy, women are bombarded with images of peaceful mothers sitting in rooms bathed in light, breastfeeding sleepy newborns wrapped in fluffy shawls, rejoicing at the opportunity of finally holding their baby.

According to 2010’s UK Infant Feeding Survey, over three quarters of mothers want to breastfeed. It’s their default choice before giving birth. Why? The health benefits. It is largely accepted that artificial milk fails to provide the benefits that breastmilk does. In addition to tailor-made nutrition, breastmilk provides antibodies, protection and is enriched with substances such as HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumour cells) which can kill cancer cells. Breastmilk also benefits mothers. Whereas women are able to cite breastfeeding’s weight-loss properties, they are less aware of how breastfeeding can reduce their chances of developing ovarian cancer by 30% and breast cancer. Artificial milk, however, is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, leukemia, infectious morbidity and SIDS. When the facts are presented, the choice is straightforward but the choice to breastfeed, prior to giving birth, is still largely emotional. The percentage of mothers that opts for bottle-feeding formula milk cites their perception of father’s attitude and uncertainty about quality of breastmilk as main reasons for their choice. Here we find two problems: one is the notion that men/partners/fathers have ownership over women’s bodies and the second is lack of information/education.

Whereas you can’t deny the powerful bonding experience of breastfeeding, it is a steep and demanding learning curve for which mothers are neither prepared nor supported as proven by the statistics. At birth, 69% of mothers in the UK are exclusively breastfeeding. A rate only slightly lower than those who say they wish to breastfeed prior to giving birth and easily justified by change of mind or birth complications or the need for medical treatment. Within these 12%, it is possible many are breastfeeding at birth but not exclusively. However, at six weeks only 23% of infants are still exclusively breastfed. This is a huge drop in numbers. By six months only 1% is exclusively breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. This means, ideally, infants would be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and then breastfed along with other foods until, at least, the age of 2, but with such low percentages, why are the WHO’s expectations so high and women’s expectations so low?

According to a Canadian study the most common reason for exclusive breastfeeding cessation is the perception that infants were not satisfied by breastmilk alone. Mothers are biologically designed to care for their children, assuring their survival and thriving is their biggest goal and therefore, from birth, mother and infant develop a close nurturing bond. A mother is, indeed, equipped to provide everything a child needs to survive but we live in a time where this caring is not done by the mother alone: there’s a medical team of nurses and doctors and there’s a family. As infants barely communicate and medical assessment is limited, their growth is measured in developmental milestones and quantifiable aspects: height and weight. Breastfeeding is not quantifiable. You can’t assess milk intake accurately so if a baby fails to meet their weight goals, all evidence points out to “low milk supply” or nutritionally deficient milk. Artificial milk is carefully measured and administered and therefore, better controlled by parents and the healthcare team and ends up being the fail-safe option. For decades, mothers have been bombarded with images of bottle-feeding in both the media and real-life. More than likely, mothers weren’t breastfed themselves.

Why are breastfeeding rates so low?

A study published in 2014 looked into the reasons why women stopped breastfeeding. The most commonly cited reason was “Inconvenience and fatigue”, closely followed by “concerns about milk supply” and “return to work”. Indeed, the cornerstone of breastfeeding success is breastfeeding on demand. In fact, scheduled feedings are associated with slow weight gain and early weaning. As breastmilk is produced on a supply and demand basis, it is important that the baby gets to feed as often and for as long as they need to. This is no easy feat though, in a fast-paced world where so much is demanded of women, it is difficult to sit down, abandon all hopes of a clean house, a healthy meal for the whole family, a hot shower and a satisfied husband. Women are so used to being on the go, it is hard to accept that during those first few months their role is to feed a baby. In fact, breastfeeding has been associated with lower levels of maternal wellbeing despite the overwhelming advantages to their mental and physical health and that of their baby. Breastfeeding is exhausting before it becomes rewarding and the pressure is immense. Bottle-feeding artificial milk provides the mothers with better control over infant weight gain, a chance to delegate feeding and more time to spend in other activities.

What can we do to improve breastfeeding rates?

By opting out of breastfeeding, women are consciously choosing poorer health outcomes for both themselves and their babies. If breastfeeding is the biological norm, what is missing to make breastfeeding rates higher? A study from 2017 corroborated by UNICEF seems to indicate that mother-centred support is the key issue. This support must be non-judgemental, ongoing and face-to-face. Mothers are naturally insecure, especially first-time mothers, and when nobody around you has breastfed, it’s easy to fall prey to the marketing ploys of formula companies and the stereotypes of bottle-feeding we see depicted everywhere. Doctors and nurses receive little training in breastfeeding during their studies and their time constraints often keep them from offering tailored and ongoing advice. Likewise, mothers need to be supported by their families, especially their partners. In fact, a study by Rempel and Rempel showed that men’s prescriptive breastfeeding beliefs predicted the strength of their partners’ breastfeeding intentions, over and above the women’s own breastfeeding reasons, and they predicted breastfeeding behaviour over and above the women’s intentions. Through empowering women to take ownership of their bodies and providing them with adequate support, we can improve breastfeeding rates and assure mother and infant health have the best possible outcome.

Ultimately, breastfeeding should be a conscious decision

It is important to note though that infant feeding should be a mother’s choice. The mental demands of motherhood are high enough and women should be able to make to choose whatever method they feel suits them best. This choice should be science-based at its core but we can’t ignore a mothers’ well-being and their personal choices regarding their bodies. What we have to strive for is that this decision is never made out of lack of information, support and empowerment.

Fully Embracing Our Femininity

Do Feminists Really Want to Stop Gender Differences?

by Inês Bridges

It is often discussed that equality is impossible because women and men are inherently different in the way they are programmed biologically. Their bodies look different, their hormones are different and their brains are different. We are told about how gender roles were crucial for the development of our species. Without discounting the scientific truth in all this, the goal of Feminism is not to annihilate the existence of the Female Gender (or the Male Gender) but, on the contrary, embrace it and have it accepted as an equal contributor, at times in slightly different ways, worthy of the same rights, addressing any limitations on both genders and holding their differences accountable as the rational and evolved beings we have become. Our society is no longer that of the hunter-gatherers living in caves and fearing for their life. Our brains have developed and we have honed other skills than just multiplying and surviving.

As women, we want our bodies to be recognised for their power of fertility and gestation, our ability to grow and nurture children. We want our role as mothers not to be a hindrance to our careers or our place in society. We want the time we take off to take on the role as mothers to be viewed as relevant and not have to pay the price for it professionally. We don’t want to stop birthing and nurturing children. We are well aware of the biological inability for men to do that. At the same time, we want fathers and men to share the load when it comes to raising a family. Yes, a man can’t breastfeed but there is so much more a man can do to support and nurture his child in the early days. This is why Feminism wants better parental leave for both mothers and fathers. We want our roles as nurturers and life-givers to be taken as seriously as our roles as CEOs and ground-breaking researchers. We also want our maternity choices to be respected, whether we don’t feel the need to have children or we choose to have half a dozen. We don’t want to be judged as cold-hearted if we decide maternity is not for us or as a “soft hormonal mess” if we enjoy being mothers.

We also don’t want our bodies to become androgynous, sexless or ungendered (unless that is, of course, a personal preference). Feminism strives for the female body to stop being objectified by men and, instead, wants the female body to return to its rightful owner. We want our bodies to be respected for whatever shape or form they take on. We want women over-50 to be seen in the media because post-menopausal bodies are just as beautiful. We want young girls to stop being sexualised from an early age. We also want to stop being shamed if it is our choice to wear less clothing and show off our bodies. If it is a woman’s choice to walk around wearing next-to-nothing that still doesn’t give men the right to grope her or to assume he can have sex with her. Our female bodies belong to us and many women would love their bodies more and be prouder of them if this body-shaming in all its variants stopped.

We want our bodies to be respected by men: the groping, the hassling, the harassment, the catcalling, the inappropriate gazing, the unwanted attention to stop. This doesn’t mean we don’t understand the nature of flirting and sexual attraction. It means we are holding the other person accountable for their behaviour and exercising consent. We want our sexuality to stop being shamed. If a woman wants to embrace her sexuality and have safe consensual sex within a non-committed relationship, she shouldn’t be shamed by society.

Ultimately, we want absolute freedom. We want to be the best version of ourselves, whatever version of us we wish to be. We don’t want to be told what to do, what to wear, how to behave. We want to follow our instincts and listen to our bodies and our desires. We don’t want to be held back by the Female label. We want to be Women. We don’t wish to be men (not in the Feminist sense, at least) or to replace them. We want to embrace our femininity in its purest form and not whatever dimension we are being handed down by the man-managed media. We don’t want our sex chromosome to define what we can become because that is no longer working for the advance of humanity and our progress as a species. Or, at least, not in the way we need it to be.

International Woman’s Day

Even though I’ve never cared for dedicated days, because I believe people should be celebrated every day, not on day x or y, today is a day that has a very special place in my heart. Not that I think women shouldn’t be celebrated everyday, indeed I do think we should be celebrated, respected, treated equally and fairly every single day or our lives, but that’s exactly why this day is so important for me.

This morning, when I was having my breakfast, they were talking about the International Woman’s Day and on the background they played  Bob Brown’s, “This is a man’s world”. The presenter asked if after #metoo and other similar movements we still live in a man’s world. I must confess I didn’t hear the answer, as I started answering it myself. Yes we do. Until we have very little women as big CEO’s, and the ones who actually get there are paid less than their male counterparts, yes we do live in a man’s world; until we have little women as Prime Ministers or Presidents, yes we do live in a man’s word; until we have women paid less than men for the same job, yes we do live in a men’s world; until the so-called female dominated jobs are paid less than the so-called male dominated ones, yes we live in a men’s world; until domestic violence victims are scrutinised and almost made feel they are the criminals by the courts, yes we do live in a man’s world.

I don’t want to reverse situations, I wouldn’t like to see men discriminated in favour of women. I don’t believe in quotas either, as I think it would give them more fuel to attack us and made us feel inferior. I just wanted the world to stop classifying us all by gender, and start classifying us all as people, because that’s what we all are. We all are capable to do or be whatever we want, regardless of our gender. So let’s give everyone a fair go. So I think this is a day to talk about this things, to make our voice heard and to let everyone know we are not going to stop, we will keep fighting for what’s right.

For my daughter, I wish she could do the job she loves, have a sucessful career, be paid what’s fair and not being discriminated against because she’s a woman. I would like her to walk on the streets without being scared of being attacked, use whatever clothes she wants without being called this or that.  I truly believe my generation may have the key for the change, as we are next generation’s parents, and we are the ones who can make the difference and educate our children to be equal.

To finalise this article I would like to wish all the women in the world a very happy International Women’s Day.

Cátia

Adressing People by Gender: a Case for Political Correctness.

By Inês.

“Hey, man!”

“Hey, girl!”

“Ladies and Gentlemen.

Every day we are addressed according to our gender. Depending on your language, this may even be more proeminent as some languages require gender specific pronouns and adjectives. Furthermore, many societies still insist on using titles according to age/civil status. Every day we are addressed by what we appear to be and are supposed to be rather than what we are.

This is not meant as an offence necessarily. Rather, it’s a product of a traditionally inherited system of values and expectations. However, people are pushing the boundaries of tradition quicker than culture or language can advance and that, sometimes, leaves us in a black hole which we can only navigate using the so-called “political correctness”. This irks some people. They argue they mean no harm when they enter a room full of what they perceive as women and greet them with “Hey, Ladies!”. Bad intentions may well and truly be absent but that doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement, for further inclusion. It is a small step forward in the way of welcoming someone, of making them feel safe, of simply acknowledging their unique existence.

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

Nonetheless, such an easy solution seems to find resistance. They call it “political correctness gone mad”. Some people put their foot down, they talk about how it makes them feel when being suggested that they change their form of address. They push back because they think it’s an attack on their action, not a reformulation. They wonder where this is going to end and claim to feel afraid to talk because now “everything is likely to offend someone”. Rather, political correctness is a way to safeguard everyone. It is a limiting gesture to respect different perspectives. Our freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. Is it too much to ask that a person entering a room of what they perceive or expect to be women just says “Hello!”? That room can have a woman who identifies as a man, transgender or non-binary who may feel immediately excluded with such a general address. The same with people who greet everyone with “Hey, man!” I am not a man. I do not identify as a man and although I am not offended by this greeting, it could as well offend another woman who has strong feelings about possibly being mistaken for a man.

So if it’s safer and easier to use a general greeting, why not do it? Why not follow a standard rule that protects the rights and feelings of everyone’s identity and choices? We need to reformulate this perception that political correctness has come to hinder our freedom rather than extend it. We inherit enough cultural references which we wouldn’t adopt these days. It is forgivable that we learn to accept these references and simply allow their meaning to fade instead of forcibly change them. A good example of this was the discussion surrounding the popular British nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, where the “black sheep” was taken as a racial reference. These elements are harder to shift but making sure we address everyone inclusively and respectfully is much more hassle-free and doesn’t require a cross-generational cultural shift like changing the verse of a popular nursery rhyme.

The choices we make in the actions we take and the decisions we make can have such an impact in inclusion that we must review them and choose to reformulate, to question ourselves and to learn to look a the world and society in an open way. Political correctness may as well be the forced process that forces us to reassess and reformulate towards a fairer and more tolerant society.