Wednesday, September 7, 2011
It Is Not An Insult To Be A Woman
As I have watched my poor sweet (and very physically powerful) husband writhe in agony over the last few weeks from a health issue, I was struck by something. Language. Don't run away yet- The language that came to mind to describe somebody in pain, and showing pain. What are the words that pop into your head?
I will admit that the ones that pop into mine surprised me. Girly. Sissie. Take it like a man. Stop acting like a girl. (I wasn't thinking he should do that, I just felt sorry for him. Of course, I'm not that mean.)
I won't even touch the wide range of crude terms referring to female body parts that are used as insults.
I honestly consider myself a feminist. Not a bra burning, make tons of money, bottle feed because it frees you from the home, hated by Rush Limbaugh feminist. (Not that there is anything wrong with that kind of feminist, I just really NEED a bra at this point in my life and I make no money.) I am more of a housewife who thinks being a chick kind of rocks type feminist, if such a thing exists. (Although I wouldn't have a problem with Rush hating me...)
And yet when I see somebody suffering from intense pain the words that pop in my head were insulting to women, or used the feminine to denote weakness.
I have had four babies without any pain medications. Those were the most painful experiences in my young life so far. (I am not saying birth is painful, but I will say that there were moments of pain while I labored and gave birth. Don't be scared.) How did I handle that? Sometimes I just was able to be quiet and breathe. I appeared calm and "with it." Sometimes I wept in despair that it would never end. Sometimes I moaned. Swearing, (always a good fall back for me) may have crept in. Screaming definitely played a role, especially at the end.
There are a million ways to deal with pain, the intensity of labor or the trials of life. I am not sure there is a right way or a wrong way if it works for you. But I do know this. I never felt weak but I was definitely doing something womanly. It was also hard and it made me more aware of my own abilities, both as a person and as a woman.
I have three daughters. I hope they don't have to hear their gender used as a way to insult others or tell them they are weak, but they probably will. They may have already.
Women are not however any weaker than men, even though our language suggests- even perpetuates- that belief.
Sometimes women joke about how men couldn't handle labor. I think this is our way, as women, of pointing out in a subtle and sideways manner, that we are not in fact weak, frail, or easily broken. We are strong. I have never bench pressed over 350 pounds like my husband has, and I never will. But I am strong in my own way. I think that maybe we as women like to remind men of this on occasion. There are things we can do that they cannot, even though sheer physical strength is usually much greater in your average male.
Maybe the inherent sexism in our language has touched women deeper than we realize. Maybe the barrage of anti-female, women as weak, words that we hear throughout our lives sinks in a bit. Maybe that is why so many of us really believe that we will not be able to handle the experience, the intensity, even the pain, of childbirth without the influence of a man or a largely male institution to somehow carry that burden for us.
But let me tell you something. It is not an insult to be a woman. To be a woman does not make you weak. It does not magically make you incapable of handling difficult situations, enduring trials, or dealing with the sensations of childbirth. You are actually designed to do just that- handle childbirth.
Let's stop talking, even thinking, about weakness as a feminine trait. It is not. Weakness, pain, suffering, screaming, crying, bravery, strength, and courage- these are just HUMAN traits and responses, and we all have our share of each of them.
May our daughters grow up realizing that to be a woman is an amazing powerful thing- and a gift to be cherished, not an insult to be thrown.