Pretty

Women are taught from birth that they should aspire to be ‘pretty’. From the giant bows stuck on their infant heads lest they inexcusably be mistaken for boys, to the constant barrage of media messages that girls receive throughout their childhood, by the time they reach adulthood, women have largely been conditioned to value their looks and how others perceive their attractiveness as their most valuable asset.

But woe betide the woman who has bought the messages, conformed to society’s beauty standards, and KNOWS she is pretty. She will be put back in her box quickly and viciously, slut-shamed and silenced for daring to acknowledge that she’s won out in the beauty sweepstakes. The message here is: ‘Be pretty, but don’t tell us you’re pretty. We will decide whether you meet our expectations but you are not allowed to have an opinion on the matter.’

Recently, a group of sorority girls attended a baseball game in Arizona. Moments after an announcement was made encouraging fans to take selfies of themselves in the stadium, the cameras trained themselves on this group of young women snapping away, making silly faces and holding hot dogs aloft. The two male announcers took it upon themselves to mock and deride their actions for several minutes, unbeknownst to the group of women, making it clear that their actions were vacuous and vain, despite encouragement from the sponsors to do exactly what they were doing. The selfies were reposted by one of the announcers on Twitter, where people tore them down with great merriment. How dare women attend a sporting event and then only sit on the sidelines caring about how they look? Umm, hello, what the hell are CHEERLEADERS then?

This exemplifies the struggle women face with wanting to be ‘pretty’ and then facing the consequences when they are either not pretty enough, or get too confident about their looks. The reason there is such a dichotomy is because our attractiveness is not ours. Beauty exists for the male gaze, and for male judgement. It is not ours to comment on or possess, for ‘pretty’ is a title we have to have bestowed upon us, not something we can claim to be. The amount of anguish that women feel over their lifetimes about not being pretty enough is time-consuming, soul-destroying and another example of the ways in which we are silenced and held back from achieving things with our minds, our actions and our personalities.

Katie Makkai’s poem remains one of the most powerful commentaries on what it means to be ‘Pretty’.

Questions of science, science and progress

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Someone said to me yesterday that midwifery is very clinical, and that it’s basically a study of a woman’s anatomy, and of pain and fear. That someone who studies midwifery may find it difficult to get out of her clinical head and in tune with her body. That because a midwife views a woman’s body impassively, she may see her own self as passive. I could not disagree more if I tried.

Midwifery is so much more than science, and body parts, and clinical skills. It is an ancient art and incredibly personal (sometimes spiritual) vocation. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the science is only a necessary by-product of the art. They co-exist together out of necessity, but the science should never overtake the simple but effective method of simply ‘being there’, the wisdom gleaned from communication and experience, and the love.

I have met some incredibly strong women in my time as a birth worker, women who have persevered through mental illness, drug addiction, abuse, poverty, refugee status, infertility, baby loss, grief, depression, previous birth trauma, medical conditions, financial strain, or just being really, really scared of what was about to happen to their bodies, their relationships and their lives. I’ve also met women who pop babies out without much thought or effort, who have supportive family, ‘easy’ lives, money and resources, no health or social issues and who conceive babies simply by glancing at their partner during a full moon.

Both deserve and get my respect, my care and my compassion. End of.

My ultimate goal is not to analyse a woman’s anatomy, ‘deliver her’ of her child, or practise clinical skills on her in the name of Science. What I am called to do is empower women to inform themselves, to voice their concerns, to seek out support, and to trust that they, and only they, can make decisions about their fertility, their families, and their lives. I encourage women to trust that their bodies know what they’re doing and to release themselves from fear and anxiety, though I know this is usually easier said than done. But when a woman gets it, when she completely surrenders to her body and to the process of birth, there is very little science involved. It is nature, it is instinct and it is a powerful, wonderful thing to witness.

Science is an important and integral part of midwifery, no doubt about it. It is the earth beneath our feet, the foundations upon which we stand. But the art is the tree that grows out of that earth, reaching up to the sky, its leaves and blooms and branches reaching higher and higher into the blue abyss above, towards the unknown infinity that awaits us. We grow, we expand, we burst forth….and life begins anew.

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100 Days of Real Bush

It’s January, which means it’s ‘Pledge to do stuff to improve your life for 100 days’ time. There’s loads of people on the interwebs promising to work out for 100 days, or eat only ‘real food’ for 100 days, meditate, get a new job, always be kind to their children, blah blah blah… But where are the women pledging not to shave, wax or otherwise remove their pubic hair until the first tender buds of spring are peering out of the ground? I certainly haven’t found any.

Therefore, I am boldly pledging to start the newest body hair revolution and am hereby declaring myself the first participant in ‘100 Days of Real Bush’. Seeing as I’m already about 30 days in, this should be a breeze. Keeps my thighs warm on these cold winter days.

Join the challenge…if you dare!

Incubators R Us

A pregnant woman in Texas is being kept alive, despite being legally brain dead, so that she can continue to incubate the fetus she is carrying. The woman in question, Marlise Munoz, who collapsed in November after suffering a suspected pulmonary embolism, was 14 weeks pregnant at the time of her ‘death’. She is only being kept (artificially) alive because Texas state law forbids the switching off of life support when the patient is playing host to a dependent being. Despite Munoz’s husband’s pleas to let his wife and child die peacefully, as per Munoz’s explicit wishes that she not be kept alive in such circumstances, hospital administrators are unable to allow it because of the batshit-crazy law that makes doing so illegal.

This is seriously some fucked up, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ shit right here. Margaret Atwood is an oracle of doom.

 

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Even when you’re dead, politicians will try to tell you what you can and can’t do with your vagina, especially if you’ve got a fetus tucked up there in your bone cave.*

Feminism isn’t needed any more, my ass.

*Another Margaret Atwood term, from her most recent book, MaddAddam. I think it’s catchy!

Rules for your boobs

Along with rules for your vagina, there are also copious rules for your boobs. Observe.

This is what your boobs should look like. High and huge, and positioned near or on a bucket of fries. Selling stuff (including hydrogenated fat-drenched fried potatoes) is what boobs do best.

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But those boobs are covered with cumbersome cloth. Let’s get these puppies out for a stroll in the open air!

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I know, let’s put stuff between the boobs too, and have some hands squeezing them! That will definitely get people’s attention! It is Perfectly Okay to use boobs to sell stuff because boobs are pretty and girls are pretty and pretty girls with boobs exist to please the corneas of the masses, amiright?

Oh, but actually? Boobs are cool but nipples are mundane because men have them too, and also they are pretty gross because they remind us of boobs’ primary physiological function….

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….which is to eject milk directly into the mouths of our young, for nourishment, comfort and growth. Huuurrrrgh. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

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WARNING: the boob you are about to see is not trying to sell anything!! If you are a hyper-masculine dude-bro or a sensitive lady pearl-clutcher, put your beer or mint julep down before you look, lest your retinas be damaged by the sight of non-objectified, non-consumerist, non-covered-up boobs.

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I mean, honestly. How is babies feeding from boobies making anyone any money in this economy, or creating a viable market in which to exploit women for pleasure and profit? I tell you, it’s simply unacceptable in this day and age that a perfectly good breast could just be thrown up there for all to see it, without even having the DECENCY  to try to sell us something. The baby could at least hold a beer or some nacho cheese dip near the boob while he selfishly deflates it and reminds us that it’s attached to a woman with an identity and a FAMILY. And where is her nursing cover?! What an exhibitionist boob nazi, shoving it in our faces. Ugh!

I wish I didn’t have to impart this possibly upsetting information to you, oh Gentle Reader, but I’m afraid them’s the rules and we’re just the poor fools living under them.

Rules for your vagina

If you’re a woman with a vagina, you know that there is a whole lotta politics involved with what goes in and comes out of it. People you’ve never met before, mostly those who don’t even HAVE magical lady caverns, want to tell you what to do with yours — how it should look, who can see it, what is supposed to go in and come out of it, how you should be paid and treated and behave on account of having one, and all sorts of other vagina rules that you didn’t ask for. Way too much of our time is spent worrying about what others’ think of our vaginas, what we’re ‘allowed’ to do with our bodies and how we can best please the patriarchy with our bewitching beavers.

This blog aims to break down some barriers and explore why the vaginal is so political. As an active feminist and birth worker who strongly believes in women’s autonomy and right to choice, I also aim to get women thinking about how their own actions, words, thoughts and beliefs can either add to or help destroy the Great Big Book of Rules For Your Vagina. This book does not actually exist (as far as I’m aware — there may be a self-published e-book out there somewhere just waiting to prove me wrong) but it exists in the power structures, cultural norms and societal standards that we all live under and within.

Subversive Owl is a pseudonym that I know not everyone will identify with or even like, but it is the one I’ve chosen so I hope you will stick around to read more content as I create it, and to join in the discussions that I hope take place.

I do actually have one rule about vaginas, though: I will not, under any circumstances, refer to a vagina as ‘yoni‘. Call me a hypocrite if you want, but I am not quite hippy enough to say or type that word with a straight face. Besides, yoni means ‘sacred origin of life’ and I believe that vaginas are more than that. They are like any other body part in that sometimes they are simply there, or in pain, or in need of a wash, or glowing with health, or bruised. Vaginas can be a source of pain, joy, pleasure, confusion, terror,  passion, birth, growth and even death. We are more than simply givers of life. We are people — women — with flaws and plans and dreams and regrets. We don’t just give life, we are life. We are more than our vaginas. It’s time to throw away the rule book we’ve been forced to read from and get a little…subversive.