Comments from December 2008

December's comments

, 25 January 2009

Comments on this month’s features and reviews

‘Hasn’t anybody ever told you a handful is enough?’, by Samara Ginsberg

From Carissa

i am responding to the article ‘hasn’t anybody told you a handful is

enough?’ because i thought it was brave and bold and honest and i

completely comend sandra for writing it. i cannot even believe the attitude

people had towards you for developing early and even more so the attitudes

of the people who were supposed to be looking out for you. i am so so very

sorry you had to go through that. there is so much more i would like to say

but i don’t know how or where to start. i’m really glad you wrote this

because this is definately an issue that is looked over way way too often.

From angry barbie

I sympathize with you, I had the same problem. As if being pretty gives

people the right to assault you. I suffered from incestuous sexual abuse

from many members of my family most of my life, and have been raped by

strangers just because of the way I look. Worse still, my I.Q. is over 140,

I feel unfulfilled even at thirty because I was only ever allowed to be a

sex toy for everyone else because I look like a porn star naturally. I

deeply resent the way society represents women, it’s destroyed my chances

of being seen not as an object, but as a human being. And I have been told

by other women that it is my fault I am constantly abused and harassed

because of the way I look. So now I don’t go out of the house much, never

on my own. Prejudice is never excusable, and can destroy lives.

From d.k. mccutchen

I appreciated Samara Ginsberg’s article “Handful is Enough.” I saw my

older sister going through something similar, and always felt lucky to be

less attractive, frankly. I fear for my girl-children growing up in the

midst of these damaging cultural stereotypes we’ve all been guilty of

perpetuating. Hopefully by processing these thoughts/reactions with our

kids, we can find a way to help them work through the pubescent fears and

jealousies and help them deal with inappropriate adults who don’t think at

all.

From Gerri in Iowa

I’m sorry for all that you’ve endured due to the screwed up views society

has. I have experienced a similar life. I can say it’s gotten better by 39,

but sheeze, half my life had to be over for that to happen.

I wish you the best, and think of it this way (I’m sure you already do)

you have more tools than most to MAKE it the best. At 25, make it

PHENOMENAL.

From John

thanks for raising my consciousness about this. no-one should be made

ashamed for they way their body looks, and I’m sad that you were. And yet,

clearly, its not just you thats made to feel this way. If all I can do is,

the next time I meet a woman with big breasts, think ‘well, thats a person

too’, and treat her accordingly, then I just hope that that is something.

From Stacey

thank

you! I am 24. I have had big breasts ever since I was 12 and went from

wearing vests and being completely flat chested to wearing a B cup in a

week. Since then I have continued to grow and am now a 34J (I’m also a size

20 so they fit in slighlty more with my figure now!). I think what people

(male and female) fail to realise is that big breasts are NOT as they

appear in Zoo/Nuts. My breasts have misshapen nipples (from growing so

fast), are fairly saggy already, are extremely heavy to carry around (they

weigh a stone by themselves) and have an inordinate number of stretchmarks

all over them. They also tend to get spotty because I have to wear a bra at

all times, except when in the shower. That is the reality of big breast,

not oiled up, perma tanned pieces of silicone. Real big boobs go under your

armpits when you lie down! For this reason one of my pet peeves is when

people tell me that they would love to swap breast sizes with me or when

people have tutted and told me “God, leave some for the rest of us!”.

Because you don’t want the realities of large breasts. Trust me. You do not

want to have to spend £30 every time you want to buy a bra because that’s

the cheapest that they make them. You don’t want permenant grooves in your

shoulders from your bra straps. You don’t want to not be able to feel the

bottoms of your breasts because they are so large that all the nerves are

damaged, broken and dead. And you certainly, in your mid twenties, don’t

want to be physically unable to stand up straight because of 12 years of

hunching over to hide your figure.

I was subject to the same harassment as your article writer, although to a

lesser degree because I went to an all-girls school. Still,I had to endure

sleazy comments from men everywhere I went outside of school, and was first

offered money for sexual acts involving my breasts at the tender age of 15

(when I was a size 10 and a 34 DD).

Im a fairly overweight woman (5’4 and 15 stone), I don’t wear make up

usually, nor have I ever been to a hairdresser. I seldom buy new shoes or

clothes. In short, I don’t care an awful lot about my appearance (I’m just

not that bothered). But it has been my dream, since I was 14 years old, to

be able to afford a breast reduction. And I personally think that is really

sad.

From Claire

Well I never got groped at school – though I did get a ‘are you holding

them up with your arms?’ when he saw me walking around school with my arms

crossed over my chest (familiar defensive body language I think). As well

as the usual toot toots from lorry drivers, but then they did that to all

us girls then, even the flat chested ones. This was in the early 1970s so

we were wearing mini-skirts so what did we expect, right? Also fashionable

in those days, skinny-rib jumpers and stretchy lace blouses! How unsuitable

for big boobs! Also bear in mind how difficult it was to get bras the right

size and suitable for a teenager rather than your grandma!

I really feel for the author of this piece. Being so tiny a 30E must seem

massive in comparison, at least I’m in proportion, almost, being a bit

plump, the 34GG boobs are big (huge) but the rest of me is curvy too.

The problems of having big boobs which some women envy (my sister said she

overheard a comment at the pool ‘not fair, is it’): the aforementioned

lack of decent bras, now thankfully overcome with the likes of the

fantastic Bravissimo (you are acquainted with Bravissimo, aren’t you?).

The pressure sores under the breasts if I don’t use copious amounts of

medicated talc. The unlikelihood of running for a bus without a sports bra

(don’t get me started on them, you end up with a mono-bosom wearing

non-wired bras). The assumption, at least if you’re under 30, of being

‘up for it’. Being addressed by males to the bosom, not the face. The

thoroughly awful embarrassment of being examined by an anaesthetist in

hospital (for removal of wisdom teeth!), not by his putting the stethoscope

under the gown, but by having me remove the clothing to the waist, and

seeing that ‘wow what huge knockers’ look flash between the doc and the

nurse. Like they couldn’t wait to get to the staff room to have a giggle

about my discomfort and had to do it there and then. Aaaggh!

Well the good news is, my big-breasted sisters, that when you get to

middle age you become invisible. I can vouch for that. Also, you may well

have a better idea of what flatters and what doesn’t. And more money to

spend on huge Panache bikinis rather than a £15 job from M&S.

From S

I definitely don’t think you are an airhead. Too insecure. As a person

with larger breasts and a younger age, I think its very brave that you are

prepared to talk about it.

However, as much as I’m agreeing with you-what kind of school did you go

to? I thought mine was bad.

Anyway, random spurge of words over. Please enjoy your boobs-they are

beautiful, I’m sure.

From Nicola

Thank you for your article. You have just described my adolescence to an

astonishing accuracy.

It saddens me to realise that others had such similar experiences, but it

feels so empowering to hear it explained so articulately. I have always

struggled to convey how isolating it was to be treated that way, not just

by adolescent boys and adult men, but by all my female peers, and even the

teachers I would have hoped would have intervened.

The experiences of being groped, assaulted (cornered, aged 13, by a naked,

masterbating 15-year-old, all the time referencing to the size of my

breasts), intimidated, leered at, hollered at every time I attempted any

sports, the unfounded gossip (and graffiti), the continual criticism and

comments about my body (I also repeatedly got ‘More than a handful is a

waste’ from an early age, also, ‘Breasts are just excess fat tissue you

know’), and so on … all combined to destroy my self worth and sense of

self between the ages of 12 and 15. My initial strategy of dressing

modestly (huge baggy jumpers and lots of layers) was so unsuccessful

(eating disorder and suicide attempt by age 14, again no-one appeared to

care) that I eventually discovered that becoming sexually agressive myself

– dressed in mini-skirts, high heels and make-up with faux-confident

put-downs and a sexy walk appeared to be enough to scare off the gropers,

leerers and gossips. Looking back, I am shocked that 14-year-old me had to

go to these lengths, against my natural personality, just because that was

the only way I could feel safe. Of course, none of my peers ‘got’ what I

was doing, I’m not sure I really did at the time.

Perhaps by exchanging our experiences we can help other young women in

similar situations feel less isolated, and possibly even help wider society

think about the judgements they make about appearances and what behaviour

is acceptable. At the very least this has helped me think about how this

issue has helped mould me into the person I am today.

From Mat

Samara, people say kids are cruel. But let’s face it adults can be just as

cruel. I guess I could go on about how sorry I am that people treated you –

that people treat anybody that way. Normally I have great respect for

teachers, but teachers who allowed that sort of behaviour to go on – or

actually participated in it – should be taken out back and shot.

But perhaps some attempt should be made to see a positive side to things.

You get to find out far more quickly than others whether a person is ok or

a jerk. At least for less cunning jerks anyway.

You sound like you’ve come through those days to become a woman with a

strong sense of self and the wisdom that it was all poor behaviour on the

part of others, rather than anything you had brought upon yourself. And

that is a good thing.

Don’t let the jerks get you down.

From Prodip Mitra

I thought my childhood was horrible, but now it seems nothing compared to

this story. Sympathies.

From Katherina

In the article “Hasn’t anybody ever told you a handful is enough?” you say

“I must say straight away that I am happy with the way I look. There are

things that I would change if it were easy to do so. I would like to have

longer limbs and yes, smaller breasts”.

First of all, if you are happy with the way you look then why do you want

to have longer limbs and smaller breasts? It seems a bit of a

contradictory thing to say.

Secondly, you’ve said that you still want smaller breasts but you haven’t

really specified why. Is it because of people’s comments? In that case

it’s not your body which needs to change – it’s other people who need to

grow up and stop making comments at you in the street. Is it because you

find it difficult to get clothes to fit? In that case, it’s not your body

which needs to change – it’s the fashion industry who need to change their

sizing policy.

I’m two sizes larger than you and wouldn’t change them for anything. And

to be honest, when I grew up I really got very few comments about it. It

seems to me that you live in a bad area where people aren’t taught that

harrassing people is wrong. But you can’t generalise the entire world.

From Larissa Perry

Re Samara Ginsberg’s essay “…a Handful is Enough”: it’s a common

experience of women with certain physical characteristics, eg blonde hair,

round bottom, etc, to become public property; the advertisers have enabled

that. I have a small body, looked after, useful, works pretty well, but it

has frequently elicited value judgements from other people, even strangers,

that make assumptions about my nature: “aren’t you so small and sweet”

(clearly doesn’t know me very well!); “…skinny bitch like you”

(affectionately, by a mature student on a women’s studies module); “you’re

just so little there’s nothing of you” (there’s plenty of me, thanks). I

was raised to never comment on people’s appearance as you don’t know if you

might offend, an old fashioned value with roots in liberty and tolerance.

From sarah

The thing i hate most about common media stereotyping of women is “the

real woman,” because models are often unhealthily skinny and thats now

supposed to be the fashionable size the media backlash is to say curvy

women are real women. An Australian size 14 is beautiful. My problem lies

in that i am a small woman with few curves, unlike in this article i have

fairly small breasts and often feel borderline androgynous. I hate that the

“real woman” is the media buzz word and its being deemed socially

acceptable.

On a side note I absolutely hate that the English version of the

television programme “how to look good naked” does not work with any women

with small breasts. period.

From Yarris

In response to Samara Ginsburg\’s article: Could you be any more

conceited? I hope you realize that you have an unconscious desire to equate

your large breasts with self-worth. You mention no fewer than 20 times in

your article that big breasts are \’enviable\’, \’ideal\’ and

\’attractive\’. Is that true, or is that what you want to think to feel

better than those flat chested women who bother you?

Get a life. Your piece is incredibly sexist and anti-feminist, and belongs

in Playboy rather than a prominent feminist site like the F-Word. It\’s a

conceited article that touts the virtues of your mammory glands, and does

nothing to further the cause of women who are legitimate victims of abuse.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I’ve included this comment because it highlights, for me, how far we have to go. We shouldn’t be ashamed of liking our own bodies; it’s not anti-feminist to state you like something about your physical self. Surely there’s enough pressure on women to feel bad about our appearances, without berating our sisters for daring to admit they like something about themselves? Isn’t the pressure to be constantly demure and play down anything good about ourselves part of the problem?

And that’s before we even get onto the ridiculous and damaging concept that being groped and sexually harassed isn’t “legitimate” abuse.

From Sandra

The piece about large breasts pulled at my heartstrings. Shame on the

teachers/friends/acquaintances who objectified you!

From Nancy

Samara Ginsberg- I just wanted to thank you for your article about your

breasts. It’s hard to believe this behavior is still going on today. I

was actually thinking things had changed since the 70’s when I was in High

School. Please don’t quit speaking. I think you were chosen to help

others. You’re not a bitch. You’re an angel.

From Bunny

Oh, how this resonated with me. As a 36G I know, very much, what you’ve

gone through. I’ve been sexually assaulted so many times; when I was in

school, out with friends, in the street and it really doesn’t make a

difference how I dress. When your breasts are this big, there are very few

ways to “dress them down”

Not that it should even be necessary, and I’m happy to say I’ve mostly

embraced my chest now. I experience fewer problems with unwanted attention

now than when I was 14. Which, whilst a relief for me, really just creeps

me out further.

From Amy Green

The boobie article was wonderful! I too suffered from a breast explosion

in middle school. All of a sudden boys started asking me if I liked to have

sex. I’d never even kissed anyone! I think its horrible that men are aloud

to influence what the world thinks. I’m pretty positive that if only women

inhabited the earth, that breast wouldn’t be anything more than what they

are to cows. Just a way to feed our babies.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Well, maybe not quite, Amy :-)

From Ruth Moss

I was lucky really that my breasts didn’t grow until my early twenties

(when they almost overnight went from B to F cup – then bigger again with

pregnancy) and as such did not experience the same kind of regular sexual

harassment as the author. I read some of the stories in this article with

absolute horror – some of the things described here about the author’s

teenage years are disgraceful! And surely if a teacher sexually harasses a

young teenage girl – isn’t that tantamount to paedophilia?

I loathe the way we sexualise breasts in our society. I think sometimes,

it’s easy to think it only affects those women whose breasts *don’t* fit

the “ideal”, whereas this article clearly shows it affects all women.

From Anon Male

Luckily, I never ‘groped’ in school, although I was guilty of starting.

My apologies to any woman who I made feel like this.

Great Article.

From Alexandra

I just read the article “Hasn’t anybody ever told you a handful is

enough?” by Samara Ginsberg, and I wanted to say I thought it was

absolutely marvelous. The reasons that women get attacked over, and

discriminated against aren’t limited to being over-weight or having small

breasts and it is hard to live in a world were we are judged on those

things at all. I have been overweight pretty much my entire life, and when

I finally started dating people were surprised because how could a “fat

girl” EVER get a boyfriend? It was unfathomable to the people I knew. I

hope everyday that people will change and that women will no longer be

judged on how they look, but I don’t hold out to much hope.

Thank you for this article, it meas a lot to me and gave me a little boost

today when I really need it.

From Meg

Really enjoyed this article. I had a similar experience and received

little support or sympathy from friends and family. Kudos to you for

putting it into words!! Thanks!

From tefelome

hear hear! i totally understand what you mean about possessing a “socially

desirable body” and being slated for it. i am skinny and a size 6 and have

been all my life, and gosh,the comments! even since i was a teenager,people

i didnt know in the street or at my school would feel it was ok to make

hurtful comments to me,and even though men made comments,it was the women

who were the worst. im happy in my body now, but im still aware of, mostly

womens,hostility towards me just because the way i look, but i just ignore

it now, its them who have the problem,not me! be strong and continue

ignoring these people,they have no right in attacking you this way!

From Flat in Detroit, USA

I am a feminist, and understand your poinIt. But as a woman who wears a

32A bra, I can tell you that the emotional response to large-breasted women

runs much deeper than one’s intellect. You, unfortunately, were dead-on

when you wrote that women would consider you to be bragging. My sister is a

30E and just spent the day shopping with me, “complaining” about her big

boobs. I just wanted to scream, “CRY ME A RIVER!!!” I won’t get into it

here. But you’re right. That line you wrote about us thinking women with

big breasts are smug about it is absolutely true. I didn’t know

large-breasted women knew that we flatties felt that way about them. And I

stare at them. Out of JEALOUSY that comes straight from my core. I always

wanted boobs. It so far hasn’t happened. I feel so ripped off every minute

of the day. My small breasts are the biggest tragedy of my life.

From Lydia von Berg

I just wanted to thank you for this article! I\’m a woman of similar

proportions, and I\’ve had very similar experiences to the things described

in this article. It was really helpful to read someone else\’s writing

about some of the things I\’ve thought about, but never really

materialized.

From Shannon

I watched my beautiful and still beloved first girlfriend endure a similar

experience to what Samara describes. She was a D cup in fifth grade when

most of the other girls were doing well if they were in training bras. She

was raised by a single, over-protective, father who told her she “would

have to be careful around men because the was different.” I wasn’t much

help, not because I was a groper, I wasn’t — either too well-bred or, more

likely, too terrified of a well-developed right hook. Still, once she and I

started dating, everyone assumed it was because of her cup size. She had to

endure scads of unwanted attention from men of all ages. I once, in a show

of completely unbelievable bravado, backed a full grown man into a wall

with a butterfly knife and threatened him with a “reduction” of another

kind if he didn’t quit staring. Ah youth! Still, I’m appalled at what my

girlfriend had to endure and wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone. Now, as a

middle school librarian, I see the same thing happen every day as

“early-bloomers” get harassed by piggish boys responding to the siren call

of mass media. I try to help these young ladies as much as I can with

encouraging words, but I have to be careful lest I be seen as a lecher

myself. I appreciate the article.

From Jessica Tollerfield

Your article makes total sense to me Samara. At school I was the first

girl to get breasts, and your experience of being harassed at school chimes

only too well with me. I too was held down on numerous occasions while my

classmates groped me, in full view of the teachers who just used to turn a

blind eye to it. On one occasion I was knocked out cold by the force of

being pushed over by tens of boys trying to ‘cop a feel’ – I was sent

home and nothing else was said, although the groping did stop after that.

With the benefit of hindsight, I cannot believe that my teachers did

nothing to intervene. What sort of hideous message does this send out to

young people, boys and girls alike?

Everything you have said rings true to my experience, I too have very

large breasts (I was nicknamed tits and ass at school – joy!) and face a

constant struggle for people to take me seriously. At the other end of the

spectrum I feel sick with nerves upon the arrival of hot weather because of

the comments and looks you get from total strangers who feel they have a

right to assess your body. I often avoid leaving the house on such days – I

get so tired with the constant rage I feel because six vans of workmen have

shouted ‘get your rat out’ to me in the space of 10 minutes. Grr!

From Sara E. Gold

In response to Samara Ginsberg’s article about how she’s been treated

because of her breast size: she writes that, “It’s the way that

mainstream, female, male and even feminist culture seems to conspire to

make me feel.” In my opinion, the fundamental problem here is the

assumption that “mainstream” and “culture” can be used in the same sentence

without one’s writing satire. The mass of the population thinks, for want

of a better word, with their gonads, and civilization has failed them, and

us, by creating a society that tolerates it. William F. Buckley Jr. once

said that civilization is a desperate attempt to dehumanize us before we

destroy ourselves. The problem should not be Ms. Ginsberg’s unless she

accepts it as hers. Her other choice is to deal with a very small subset of

the population that is actually capable of thought and respect, and

deserves the same in return. I wish her the best of the season and hope —

always hope! — for a better future. (You may publish my comment but please

do not publish or otherwise distribute my e-mail address. Thank you.)

From Anne Olson

Being a petite woman with large breasts seems to equate to being an idiot.

No I did not transfer brain cells to my chest, although this is a common

misconception. The large breasted sisters in the media, real or augmented,

Pamela Anderson for example, play up this image and do themselves and us a

disservice.

From ella

I’m responding to a feature called ‘isn’t a handful enough’, I also have

had large breasts which are a 32f or ff (depending on whether my weight

changes) and I’ve had pure hell with them since I was 12. When I gained

a lot of weight when I was younger they grew to a 32gg and the comments were

almost unbearable, I’m now 17 and I’ve taken control of my life and decided

to have a breast reduction for my own personal comfort (they ache whenever

I take off my bra) overall I’m glad that I’ve read that feature as it makes

me feel comforted by the fact that someone else has had the same

experience.

From Sue Sheppard

I thought the article on having large breasts and the problems with others

reactions was great. I went through a similar experience in the 1960s when

all teenage girls were supposed to look like Twiggy. Its tough,

particularly when my mother would not let me wear a bra although I was a

size 36D.

Its very sad that girls and women are still going through this experience.

Its one thing that we feminists failed to change.

From C

I have a very similar figure, 5 feet 2 inches, and a 30-E bra size, and I

was teased mercilessly through school. I was never groped, and my

proportions were never remarked on by my teacher, but I went to a private

school, and that probably made a huge difference. I was teased mercilessly

after school on the buss though, by one person who made lewd remarks, and

insisted I was wearing a waterbra, and that I had to show him to disprove

it. I never did, but I had to put up with this abuse for a year, and nobody

cared. The other kids on the crowded bus, the teachers, the principal,

nobody really cared. I started wearing baggy clothes, that made me look

like a sack of potatoes, and got less comments. I thought, ‘it’s the price

I have to pay for looking like a freak’. Now, at 18, I have had the

priviledge of knowing someone who helped me with my body image enough that

I can finally wear clothes that fit my form in the least, or that show even

a hint of cleavage. I owe them the confidence I have today. The only thing

I still resent is bra shopping, and thankfully I’ve found a little place

where the manager understands, and I can get a decent bra.

From Liz

I have been on both ends of the body issue. I have had both the size 2

semi-busty body of a model; and I have had the very overweight – possibly

verging on obese body of the butt of jokes.

The treatment seems to be the same on both ends of the scale, pun

unintended.

With the commercial view of how our bodies “should” look, it seems that

women who actually do have that body are reviled by those who are either

jealous orindignant.

Women who are in the pleasingly plump category are faced with “how could

you let yourself go like that” or “man the harpoons”

The truly sad thing is that the women who are not overweight and who are

not exceedingly well proportioned seem to be ignored.

So, very ‘stacked’ women and very ‘fat’ women are taking the front-lines

(to use a military analogy) while the Average Annies are all in the

trenches being overlooked.

I’ve received my share of melon awards; I’ve also been held down by

several boys at school to be groped – with the added addition of their

discovery of an erogenous zone in my neck (which was news to me).

None of my friends would help me. Finally, a TA came in and broke it up

(although if he hadn’t been dating me, he might have just taken a number.

The frustrating thing is that there are so few ethical ways to show these

people the way they are making these girls and women feel.

I live in the United States; but the issues are just the same here.

From Mysti

Thank you so much for writing this article. While I may not be a size 6

(I’m a 14), I am still a 21 year-old young woman with size 38 E breasts,

and I am 5′ 1/2″. I am constantly aware of people staring down my shirt

whether I like it or not. It is a common saying that I “would have

cleavage in a turtleneck.” I also have endured the groping and the notion

that my breasts are not my own. For the first time in my life, I have met a

gentleman who knows that they are a part of me… not who I am, and it is

the most refreshing thing that I could ask for.

From Mare Martell Stotler

When I try to explain why I got a breast reduction done when I was 24

years old, people thought I was being silly. I am now 40 and have never

looked back with regret on my decision.

I completely and absolutely agreed with the way it feels to be the “girl

with the huge tits.” Girls and women looked at me like I was a slut. Men

looked at me like I was lunch. It was all about my boobs, and nothing about

me. I was broken and hated my body.

I was glad to see them gone. I was glad to not have to buy special

clothing anymore. I was glad to not have gouges in my shoulders from the

bra straps. I was relieved to wear a bathing suit I didn’t spill out of at

the most inopportune moments. I was thrilled I could see my dang feet.

Never looked back with regret on the greatest choice I’d ever made for my

self-esteem, self-respect, self-image, and dang it…I love myself now

(physically, and emotionally)

From Hannah Nicole Simpson

I just wanted to write a response to Samara Ginsberg’s article about her

breasts. It was wonderfully written, and made my eyes teary. I would like

to proffer a hug or a cake, but at this distance all I can give are

compliments and thanks for this illuminating piece of writing.

From Demi Hungerford

Ms. Ginsberg won my heart mentioning that she felt her experiences were on

a par with fat women. So much of what she experienced is similar to my

life, overweight since the age of 8. However, I never did get to a point

where I was okay with my body until I met a man who taught me my humor and

intelligence were sexy. I’m still carrying too much weight but working on

it and not because I want to get a male companion, but because I want to

live somewhat longer than average. Other women who used to sneer at me for

my weight now look at me in confusion because I am so comfortable with who

I am. Men who never bothered to talk to me seem to find time to chat, and

it’s my choice whether to carry on the conversation or not. I wish I had

all this cool 40 years ago!

From Katie Halverson

In response to the story “Hasn’t anybody told you a handful is

enough?”…. I felt it was a wonderful article. I was always the “flat

chested girl” in school. I got teased for it. Guys actually called me

“flat chested girl” rather than by my name. Then after having my kids, I

now have quite large breasts. Now even my husband’s friends stare and make

comments about them. His own mother makes comments about how large they

are. I have never had this kind of attention before. At first I thought I

liked it, but then realized “Hey, I am more than my breasts!” This article

very well shows that due to our societies views on how a woman’s body

should look, women of all sizes are being treated unfairly. I hope more

women and men read this article so they can see just how unfair it is to

treat “hot-bodied women” as objects. Or to treat them as if they are

stupid or bitches just because they have the body most women would kill

for.

From Jessica

I want to say thank you for writing this. I’m definitely not a size 22

waist, nor have I been groped in the hallway, but as a 38H cup, I know the

feeling of limited dressing, being perceived in a very particular way based

simply on curves and on lecherous stares. Thank you for writing this, it’s

always nice to hear personal things being said aloud (and more eloquently

than I am capable of)!

From A different Helen

As someone with breasts at the other extreme of the size spectrum, it was

interesting to read Samara Ginsberg’s experiences of having a voluptuous

figure. I have to say that I have never been bothered about being

flat-chested, and this is probably because my figure (or lack of it) is

hardly ever commented on, which considering Samara’s experiences, seems

weird. The only disparaging comment I have ever received from a male (to my

face at any rate) was at the age of 12, when a rather rude French boy

gesticulated to make it clear that I was wanting in the breast department.

I do get the occasional comment or stare from women though, but even then

its very rare. Of course I also have never had men queueing up to go out

with me either, but as a young woman it always surprised me how much

attention I did get, considering my obvious deficiency. My daughter is now

15 and is also rather flat-chested. I tell her to regard it as a blessing,

since it means she’ll get men who love her for her, rather than for the

size of her breasts. I tell her this to cheer her up and boost her

confidence mainly, but reading Samara’s article, there’s maybe more truth

in it than I thought.

From Georgie

I think you are completely right. Some women may think that it is stupid,

but I have those exact same problems. It’s silly to steriotype people for

the way they look. People should just get over their jelousy and predjudice

opinions and see people for who they really are.

From Patti H

Bravo to you!!! I fear for my fifteen year-old daughter who is in the same

predicament. Extremely well endowed, smartest in her honors math class,

sweet, shy, never wears make-up, never swears, goes to scripture study

every morning, abhors drugs. She already resorts to wearing over-sized

clothes to cover-up. One good thing about living in the states, sexual

harassment in schools and the workplace is forbidden. People get sued.

Students get expelled. Still the ugliness of negative perception still

comes through.

From Ruth

More people need to hear your story. I’m so sorry about what you’ve been

though, I’m *very* glad things got better. And I identify with the parts

were you say you cringed at writing you were good looking, just like me

thinking as I look in the mirror “hey! I’m pretty! My eyes go with my

gorgeous red hair!” And a part of you his horrified and tell you not to be

such a vain bitch.

From Rachael

Thanks so much Samara for highlighting the sexism that attractive women

face. For my part: I am 5ft 9in, long legs, big tits and pretty…..and I

may as well be the spawn of all evil!!!

Women critisize me, or talk down to me…I actually had to tell off a

woman who kept telling me to “shut up – what problems do you have” in front

of five other people!!

I have had “feminists” say with obvious bile “Why do YOU need feminism?”

And constant physical and emotional sexual harrassment from men since I

was very young, like you. In fact if you hadn’t done so – I was about to

write an article entitled “We all hate beautiful women”!!! Thanks so much

again!

From JENNIFER DREW

Spot-on Samara – it is the classic male-centered stance which puts all

women into different boxes and encourages nay, praises women who do men’s

work for them. Women who presume a woman who has large breasts must be

sexually insatiable, immoral etc. etc. is reinforcing patriarchy’s

domination and control over all women.

Likewise any woman unfortunate to be born with what men think is female

physical beauty are assumed to not have any intelligence whatsoever because

their sole attributes reside in their physical appearance. It is in a

nutshell misogoynistic attitudes and behaviour. No, men are not confined

to little boxes with regards to their physical attributes because we do not

call men ‘air heads’ if they happen to be physically attractive. Instead

they are perceived as capitalising on their ‘assets’.

Patriarchy is a very clever system of keeping women oppressed and

subordinate to men because as long as we believe these male-defined myths

concerning female physical bodies then we are effectively upholding and

maintaining male power and control over women. See the woman not her body

– and it might just surprise you.

Male sexual harasment of females beings at school and it is still widely

condoned and justified because ‘boys will be boys.’ Likewise many girls

call other girls sexually insulting names because these girls wrongly

believe they will gain male praise and support. Little do they realise

they in turn can easily be called sexually insulting names by the boys –

because no female is free from male sexual harassment.

Look beyond the misogynistic stereotypes and see the real person – not

just their disembodied body parts. Do we look at males and say – he must

be an airhead because his body part conforms to a stereotype. No we do

not.

From Clare

Thank you for writing this! I belong to the tall and large breasted

category and since the age of 14 I have had constant comments and

inappropriate behaviour from adult men. People do seem to confuse having

breasts which are physical features with breasts being sexual features. So

if you’re physically well-developed then you must be sexually

active/available/etc. Society needs to stop attributing value or worth to

different body shapes and celebrate all bodies and the people in them,

instead of perpetuating ignorant and crass stereotypes.

From Lynsey

I’ve always thought stunning women must have it hard. I am average looking

and like being invisible with the very occasional stare. On occasion I’ve

gone out with above-average looking friends, and men really do leer. I

would hate to have that sort of attention all the time.

From JC Metheringham

I read Samara Ginsberg’s article about having big breasts with horror.

I’m a UK size 10, and like Samara, I’m 5’2″ and have E cup breasts. I

recognise all of what she says about the small, subtle assumptions other

people make on meeting me for the first time. It’s a real effort to find

clothes which don’t make me look either waist-less or like a glamour

model.

I consider myself very lucky that I had to put up with only a small part

of what she describes as her school days. This is only, and I repeat only,

because I had the muscles to match. The boys in my secondary school class

stopped groping me after the first month when I gave a boy two years older

than me a black eye, badly twisted a classmate’s ear and threw another

classmate off my lap and on to the floor.

As a general rule, I haven’t been harassed much by strangers, despite my

figure. Why? Because I was a teenage goth, and few idiots ask someone

wearing that many spikes to fuck them. And I now wear a suit, and no fool

makes comments to someone who looks as if they would sue them. The times I

have been whistled at? I’m always wearing non-threatening, non-powerful,

non-important jeans. It’s a shame that my ability to be left in peace is

down to how powerful I look.

Rose Gnap

I completely empathise with Samara’s situation. At my largest I was a 36K

and even after losing a stone and am down to a 34/36J, I still don’t see

much of a change in reaction. I feel like my breasts are so much smaller

losing 2 cup sizes but it only takes one ill-judged comment and I feel like

I’m carrying around baby elephants again. Unfortunately, social etiquette

in the modern world seems to allow the ideal of “being up front and not 2

faced” to actually mean – “say everything you think of, as and when you

think of it”. It’s as though people forget about basic common courtesy and

politeness. I wouldn’t dream of going up to someone who was 6’7″ in a pub

and commenting on his height. Why would I?! It’s irrelevant and he doesn’t

need to be told what he has to live with 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I

feel as though when someone mentions my breasts, my personality loses all

its validity. There is a time and a place for comments about chest size and

unfortunately people do not seem to be able to judge this correctly. It

would be nice to be just Rosie once in a while and not always Rosie (with

the boobs).

From Sara A

In response to “Hasn’t anybody ever told you a handful is enough?”—yep,

I get it. When I was young and shy and “cute,” I got lots of unwanted

attention. Now that I’m middle-aged, I’m invisible, or else people seem to

think I’ll be absurdly grateful for any attention at all. None of that has

a thing to do with anything I did or said or was.

From jhoolya

I wish to thank Sarah Ginsberg for her article “…a handful is enough”.

I too suffered from this syndrome where I was judged, insulted, degraded

and molested because of the size of my breasts. It wasn’t enough that

clothes, school uniform and swimming costumes didnt fit, that I either

looked like I was dressed in my grandmothers clothes, or I was a blatant

slut, flaunting it for all to see. It was the unwanted attention.

Teachers stared, boys groped, girls laughed, male “family friends” tried it

on, and men in the street called out rude comments as if it was their

right. Although I am almost twice Sarah’s age, a friend recently told me

that she always “hated women with big breasts…because they were out to

steal your husband”. I hadn’t known that she considered me a prospective

adulterer because of my mammary glands. Such sweeping generalisations are

sad and demoralising. Besides the women her husband ran off with were all

small breasted. Thank you Sarah for bringing this out in the open, and

reminding one and all that large breasted doesn’t mean small brained.

From Gráinne Tobin

I was really interested in tha article about women being blamed for their

breasts. think Samara is right that the problem is to do with the idea that

women’s individual bodies are everyone else’s to comment on. I too have big

breasts, and as she says, they just came with my body and I don’t usually

notice them. At the school where I work, a visiting father ridiculed them

in front of a twelve-year-old girl I was with, and I was so horrified I

could not really retaliate as I would have wished, but because I worried

that the child had been put in her place as a female, by seeing me made to

look so powerless, I did make an official complaint and the man was

immediately banned from coming into our building or volunteering to ‘help’

our students. Girls need all the back-up they can get with this sort of

thing. I also think it is true that some women can be less than helpful to

each other about issues like this, unfortunately.

From Joni

Thank you for sharing this article. It has

given voice to some things I’ve felt, but not really articulated, for

years.

There is a woman in my social group who is universally liked, and justly

so. She’s intelligent, funny and generally enjoyable to be around.

I cannot stand her, and have always felt bad for it. I’ve never admitted

this dislike to my friends, because to tell them that I dislike her for

repeatedly making “more than a mouthful is wasted” comments in my presence

would make me seem insecure and petty in their eyes.

I have shared this article with many of my friends, and perhaps I’ll pluck

up the courage to be honest with them, after they’ve read it.

From Amy A

I just wanted to say about Samara Ginsberg’s article that the problem is

how our culture puts so much value on women’s looks over any other

characteristic. People idolize only certain body types and that is rubbed

in our faces so much that we end up feeling resentment for those who have

the so-called ideal body. I used to get the same kind of comments mostly

from women when I was very thin. In a way I don’t blame the women who said

these things because I know that women are constantly told they have to be

thin to be worthy, and seeing someone who actually fits the ideal is just a

reminder of your so-called failures or flaws. What we need to do is stop

letting people pit us against each other.

From gem

Samara Ginsberg article – a million thankyous for making me feel more

‘normal’ – a sorry state of affairs that i hanker after something to make

me feel normal but hey ho. (!) At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, which

God forbid one should never do (tee hee), i too understand your annoyance

at having the baps women want/hate (in equal measure) and men also want but

would be reluctant to consider you ‘meeting the mother’ material. I still

feel sad that when i visit the area i grew up in (which is rather rough

round the edges) to see my lovely mommy (big boobed, incidentally) that i

purposely and consciously make myself appear as ‘ugly’ and as

unapproachable as possible as the attention i receive when looking even

half way shaggable is simply disturbing and on occasion terrifying. And

yes, including being brazenly molested in broad daylight in the street. I

spend as much time and effort trying to look crap on those occasions as i

do when i’m actually going out and trying to look nice! ridiculous and

infuriating that i have to. As for becoming more comfortable with my self,

getting there i spose!??

From K.D.

I am responding to the article about breast size. I completely and utterly

agree with the author! I would love to pass this on to anyone who mentions

wanting bigger breasts….it really nails how I feel about my mammories! I

grew up with a Grandma who had very large ‘Dolly Parton’ breasts and always

knew how painful and annoying she felt they were, and then experienced the

same kind of harassment when I started to develop. What I actually found

more disturbing was when my two younger sisters started growing

breasts….they both ended up with larger breasts than I did as teenagers,

and the amount of times we would be out and about and have anything from

other teenage boys to grown men, feel the need to make some lewd suggestive

comment about my little sister’s breasts was unbelievable. I would always

stand up for them and tell the men where to go.

It IS totally ridiculous to be categorized by the size of your breasts. I

have found (being Australian) thatn men are actually alot more ‘breast

obsessed’ in the UK than in Oz—the fact that Page 3 models still exist

over here really does set the tone for how men in the UK feel that breasts

belong to them, and are there for their viewing pleasure. I actually hate

wearing anything that gives me cleavage, as I do feel as though I am then

asking for men to stare (and other women to snort in derision). I am only a

34B/C (I am a speed skater in a roller derby team so mine have shrunk due

to excercise!), so luckily I don’t have to worry so much anymore, but I

completely understand the author’s predicament, and want to send her my

congratulations for being so brazen as to complain about her ‘perfect’ (if

you want to be treated like a porn star) body!

From Camilla

Thank you for your honesty. I too, am an E-F cup and understand all too

well. I hit puberty at age 10 and was a large C by age 12, which turned me

into a sex object for pervy old men and cruel young boys alike. Unlike

yourself, my low self esteem (which was masked by an outgoing personality

and intellectual maturity) morphed into embracing my new identity as a

sexual object at 12 years old.

I felt that it was because I was ‘a woman’, that my parents were trying to

baby me because they didn’t want me to be ‘fuckable’. Having been taught at

school that girls wanted to be virgins and boys wanted sex, I couldn’t

understand why I had all of these urges. I didn’t understand puberty, all I

knew was that having breasts and being developed defined me so I ran with

it.

Harassment and assault followed for many years, and I remember the

conflicting waves of pulsating hormones, shame, thrills and fear under the

gaze of salivating wolves whenever I left home.

I think one of the reasons I am a feminist is because I know what it feels

like to feel violated and internalise and normalize that because I am a

woman. Sometimes I look back and I wish I had loved myself more, that I

hadn’t been on my knees giving blowjobs in public toilets in pigtails, or

fucked mean little boys who I knew didn’t like me, or thought that

teachers/uncles and other old men trying to rape me was a compliment.

But having those experiences has made me wiser and smarter. It has made

me a compassionate and good woman who questions everything and stands up

for other people and myself. These days I don’t need to be a steak in the

lion’s den to feel attractive and valuable. When I have sex it’s empowering

because I own my body and my sexuality. I can love men who love me back,

not because I want to punish need approval. I hope you find the confidence

I have, and all my best to you my busty comrade.

From Kristen

I do not think you are an airhead. I think you are a brave, intelligent

woman who has put up with more than anyone should ever have to. I’m another

one blessed (cursed?) with large breasts, but I was much luckier. With the

exception of one rumor in gradeschool, I had kind enough classmates to not

make fun of me to my face (or at all, to my knowledge). Your article

touched me, and I wish all women that want bigger breasts would read it.

From Cate

Samara – I too am a size 6 with 30e breasts. Reading your article was like

reading about my experiences growing up, and still I was shocked! Unlike

you though, I was a c cup until I was 15 when I grew to an E within a few

months. Before long the rumours were spreading about how I was a slut and

as I had lots of male friends, of course I was ‘sleeping with all of them.’

Your stories about being groped by boys at school also sounded familiar to

me – even now I avoid walking past the local secondary school around

hometime because of all those walks home with schoolboys scoring points for

who could grope me for the longest. In fact, it was after one particularly

horrible time this happened that became a feminist; I was just so angry

that so many young boys thought that it was acceptable to treat girls/women

like this. I would also like to add how sad I was to read that, given an

easy option, you would want to have smaller breasts. PLease remember that

size 6 women with small breasts have their own problems, eg. everyone

thinks you have an eating disorder.

Now That’s What I Call Misogyny!, by Molly Lavender

From Hannah

I received a marketing e-mail the other day from Sony BMG suggesting

Christmas gifts. I can’t remember how I ended up being on the mailing list

but I’m a huge fan and quite keen on hearing news and new releases so it

would have been off the back of one of those CD inlays a while ago that I

filled out and sent in.

This particular e-mail irked me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there

were sections titled “Gifts For Him”, “Gifts for Mum” and “Gifts for Dad”,

but there was no “Gifts for Her” section. Do they not think women would

like to receive music as a Christmas gift?

Their suggestions for “Gifts For Him” were largely ‘trendy’ chart indie or

rock artists. Mums like Il Divo, Celine Dion and three priests singing

religious classics, while Dads like “the gift of rock” – AC/DC and The

Clash are suggested.

To me, it doesn’t seem relevant or necessary to add the different

“sections”; if there are certain releases they want to promote or think

would be suitable, I’m sure we’re all capable of deciding who would like

that gift. Incidentally my mum can’t stand any of the artists suggested to

her.

This e-mail does explain why every year my brothers get sent money or

vouchers to buy what they wish and I end up with cosmetics or perfume from

estranged, clueless relatives. I’m still considering e-mailing Sony BMG for

an explanation.

From Shaziya niamh

I thoroughly enjoyed Mollys article on music and misogyny. I myself am

hugely into ounk and hardcore music but you can see the mouths wide open at

these gigs when people realize your not a girlfriend or groupie your just

here to watch the band or take photographs (which is part of what I do) The

stuff out in the popular domain that women are supposed to like tends to be

pretty generic almost like our little ears cant cope with anything hard or

fast which is a shame because the feeling you get from seeing a great band

live is something that more women should experience. I’m not saying to

completely step out of thier comfort zone but who’s to say that rock is for

guys and pop is for girls.

My friend and I went to see Gorilla Biscuits last year and went to a club

afterwards in camden we were the only two on the dance floor and they just

happened to be playing our favourite tracks. The promoter later wrote a

blog on myspace that said thanks to the two girls who came to listen to

Interpol but ended up listening to jr ewing. i felt a strong need to

comment and put the guy in his place. It sucks that rock music is still

sexist but hopefully we can change that. Twas a good read!

From Nina

Your article “Now That’s What I Call Misogyny!” was my first contact

with your site. Excellent stuff! I will be returning to this site, although

frankly I find it depressing that there is such a strong need to state the

obvious and to have sites like yours. Equality should go without saying.

Thanks so much and keep up the good work!

From zak jane keir

Spot on! Bleeding Love is an appalling song: the first time I heard it I

said to a mate: so are they really going to release a song about glorifying

domestic violence?

From Allison

Thank you, Molly Lavender, for your insightful article on gender

segregation in pop music. I appreciated your ire at the cds for mom and

dad, and the placement of music mags in stores (which I agree is pretty

damned offensive). I’m writing my PhD thesis on feminist issues and pop

music. It is dismaying the way that music by women gets labeled again and

again (by critics and the publishers of this music) as self-involved,

obsessive, pathological, soft, inevitably about love rather than politics,

full of confessional revelations rather than universal truths. Music by men

(and “for men”), in contrast, is often seen as powerful, political, strong.

Power to you for being critical of categorization. Power to you also for

making music!

From Lyndsey

I take your point about rock music being pushed as a boys-only club. Just

look at music games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which feature a

pitiful number of female artists for people to play along too. I can only

presume this is because the game-makers are under the impressions that few

women play these games and that men don’t want to cover songs produced by

women. ‘Female’ is not a genre, and neither is ‘male’!

From Rose

I thoroughly enjoyed your article, but I have a couple of points to make:

you make the (correct) claim that women in bands are often bass players,

and this is due to the belief that bass is an easier instrument to play.

But you then admit that bass is far more difficult to master than a guitar!

Surely the sidelining of bass and female bass players is related to the

simplistic nature of many bass lines, due to the privileging of guitar over

bass in most rock music. Nobody is going to dismiss Bootsy Collins as a

poor musician who couldn’t hack it as a guitarist; this is because the

genres he plays, funk and r&b, place a great deal more emphasis on bass

lines. In this way, women as bass players are allowed to be involved in

rock music, but not lead it.

Secondly, any instrument is as easy or as hard as you make it. You can

play Chopsticks on piano; you can play Chopin. It all depends on how

prominent the instrument’s contribution to a song is. The fact is, bass

gets underused, and that is why it is considered to be an “easy”

instrument.

From Tori

I’ve been aware of this Site for a few years now and wish I had more time

to read all of it. In regards to the ‘Now that’s what I call Mysogyny’

article it is disgruntling and yet so hackneyed that we are still having to

deal with these issues. I would have written something very similar about

ten years ago while I was still moshing in my DMs. Oh well, here’s to

hoping we can maybe one day overthrow Commercialism. Tori Lawson

From My name is Jose

Good article indeed but the sub editors seem to have phasers set permantly

to ‘kill’ on here, with regards to us blokes. The news stand point you

brought up is something that certainly never occured to me before, I’ll

have a good look around next time I’m in WHS. One thing I’ve noticed from

my own experience ( played saxophone and now do various sampler/synth stuff

) is that there’s a hell of a lot more girls/women playing classical music

than you do see on the indie/rock circuit. I just wonder if there’s an

element of peer pressure at play here, because it does seem more

‘respectable’ for a girl to play with more traditional sober musicans than

to be hanging around with a bunch of rough-arse smelly blokes.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I’m not sure what makes you think that, MNIJ – Molly’s article is about the cultural pressures on girls and women.

From Hayley/DJ Moonlight

I just want to thank Molly Lavender for her very thought provoking

article. I am in complete agreeance with everything she says.

Some of what she wrote about, are some of the reasons I do an internet

radio show only for female fronted or all female music. The majority of

what I play is rock based and it is defintely mainly females that listen

from what I understand.

I hope to promote through it that females rock just as hard as males, and

get the female bands that don’t normally get any attention some airplay and

hopefully new fans! if you ever want to check it out, its on www.mtjr.co.uk

on sundays 5-7pm

I agree about music magazines too, if you actually look inside most of

them as well, they are very sexist, especially mags like Kerrang and metal

hammer.

From JENNIFER DREW

The article ‘Now That’s What I Call Misogyny analyses very succinctly the

extent to which women, girls, men and boys are bombarded with misogynstic

messages. The messages are always the same – being female means all women

and girls should devote their lives to serving male needs. Women are not

supposed to have any needs or desires because this is ‘selfish.’ Instead

they should always be ‘selfless’ even when they are abused by violent

misogynistic males.

Popular culture is the easiest way to maintain the status quo because it

is seen as ‘common sense.’ However, it is very easy to learn media

literacy and critique the innumerable messages pop culture sends women,

girls, boys and men. Unless we become media literate we cannot see the

endless ways patriarchal propaganda is being promoted as ‘just common

sense.’

Popular music is a very effective way of maintaining male power and female

oppression. The article provides excellent examples of how this operates

and whilst there is no ‘individual male conspiracy’ there most certainly is

a group one – because we need to ask who benefits by ensuring women’s

subordination continues. Is it women or is it men? Linked in with this

are the immense profits being made at the expense of ensuring women and

girls remain in a constant state of insecurity and worry, because too many

women and girls are not adhering to male supremacist notions of ‘feminine

behaviour and myths.’

From Janna Rose

I wanted to write and tell you job well done–I enjoyed your insights on

the misogyny of pop songs. I wish all women (and men) would question their

work places, their fields of interest, and popular culture according to

your terms. As a 30 year old, I am often upset by pop songs that teach my

4 year old daughter to equate hurt with love. At other times, though I

find some pop songs interesting–such as Beyonce’s If I were a Boy. What

do you think of that song? Also…I don’t really think of Madonna as pop,

as I find her music somehow empowering. What do you think of her? I am

just curious to know. I am American, if you can’t tell, and I have much

more expericence with Britney and the likes than I care to admit.

From K.D.

I grew up in a great era of

women’s rock music in Australia, bands like Spiderbait, Magic Dirt, Def

FX….there were so many women in rock music that I really didn’t think

anything of it. What I find bizarre nowadays, is the obsession with ‘women

in rock’ as if they are some kind of ‘genre’. It’s always assumed that they

are singing about ‘women’s stuff’ and asked about how they feel about being

a ‘woman’ in the music industry. I mean really, why is this an issue?!

Women were revolutionary in the 60’s for crying out loud—performing and

(gasp!) WRITING their own songs…..why is it STILL a ‘thing’ about being a

woman in rock music? In some ways it’s great that women can speak about

women’s issues, but it’s only really asked about in the ‘rock’ genre. ie:

No one asks Leona Lewis what it’s like being a woman in pop music. And

alternately, no one ever asks a man what it’s like being a man in rock

music.

From Lucy Gollogly

I couldn’t agree more with Molly’s analysis of Leona Lewis’s ‘Bleeding

Love’. The lyrics are indeed disturbing and feed into the idea of women as

masochistic, helpless and willing to endure anything for ‘love’.

From Rachel

I have a few minor comments on this article, which may or not be all that

relevant but I feel the need to share!

Firstly – I understand the author’s frustration with music mags being

placed in the men’s section in shops, and I feel that too, but I’d just

like to point out that the majority of bike mags do not have pictures of

scantily clad women on the cover. At least, not the ones that contain a

good standard of writing and journalism. I realise that’s a petty argument,

but I didn’t like to see my beloved Bike magazine tarred with that brush!

Secondly, as a woman who is absolutely fanatical and anal about all sorts

of music I probably don’t have the eyes of an impartial bystander, but in

the musical circles I am part of I almost never experience overt sexism.

True – the majority of gig-goers and musicians are male, but the balance is

not nearly as skewed as it is in mainstream music. I do see the imbalance

though.

As for pop lyrics, in my teens I would often latch onto lyrics similar to

those dissected in the article to justify sticking with partners when with

hindsight I really should have kicked them to the curb. The influence pop

songs can have on people really shouldn’t be underestimated.

Choice and disability, by Victoria Al-Sharqi

From Ceri

In response to Choice and disability by Victoria Al-Sharqi:

I am absolutely humbled by the courage and integrity that Victoria has

shown. In a society which deems most forms of natural genetic mutation as

‘defects’ and ‘disabilities’, Victoria has achieved an amazing sense of

self-acceptance that most of us don’t have the strength for, whether

‘disabled’ or not. I often grumble about having to conform, but really, her

battle is much harder than mine and as far as I am concerned, she has won

it. ‘Disability’ itself is a negative word and with it come totally

negative associations. Our society is a shambles in many ways, but in it’s

accomodation of biological change it’s truly ghastly. Victoria, your

article demonstrates that you are a pillar of strength in a way that most

feminists can only aspire to. Although I am pro-choice, I totally disagree

that a child should be aborted on the grounds of ‘disability’.

From Anonymous

I read with interest the quotes from Susan Senator and “Jen” regarding

prenatal testing and disability.

I have a handicapped son of 34 who is severely autistic. He needs 24

hour supervision and lives in special accommodation. I have two other

children of 30 and 29.

Knowing what I know now and what his life has been like – in fact what all

our lives have been like because if this, if there had been prenatal

testing and I had found out was to come, I would have had an abortion

before he was born. I would have felt very sad and unhappy to have done it

but I would have done it.

I know that this sounds very brutal but it is the truth. Before the

autism took full hold when he was a tiny baby he was lovely but it was

obvious that there was something wrong. I have not seen him for 25 years

but know what his situation is. I still love him very much and miss him.

It’s impossible to explain everything in such a small space as it was all

very complicated.

To add to the complications I am now handicapped myself due to autoimmune

disease and if I had not let him go as a child I would have had to let him

go now.

What is the point of it all?

From Nem

The article on choice and disability was really fascinating. I live with

adults with learning difficulties and physical disabilities and it’s made

me reconsider a lot of things. Thank you for allowing space for such issues

to be raised.

From Nick McGivney

Victoria Al-Sharqi – the Choice and Disability article was excellent.

Informative and clever, it succeeds on its own merits and I hope it finds a

wide and receptive audience. I’m resisting a barrage of clichés (oops,

there’s one) but it has opened my eyes to some new sides of the debate. In

a desperately muddy pool, it hasn’t done anything to improve clarity, but

it certainly gives a different perspective. As a father to a one year old

with Down syndrome, I am increasingly drawn to the viewpoints of those at a

disadvantage from the herd. Not meant disparagingly, but I can see too

clearly these days that majority rules sums up an awful lot – and is the

battle that interest groups everywhere must fight. No difference if it’s

against doctors, men, women, able-bodied, whatever. Ignorance in general

can only be combatted from a position of rounded knowledge. Yours shines

like a beacon in the desert. Respect.

From Naomi Mc

I want to firstly thank Victoria Al-Sharqi for her thoughtful article

‘Choice and Disability’. The pro-choice movement has not adequately

engaged with disability and there is a need to do so. But as a pro-choice

campaigner, I think you know what’s coming, I have to disagree.

Again I thoroughly agree that we live in a prejudiced world in which

people with disabilities are disabled by society and by ignorance. Changing

the abortion laws would not change this.

If we lived in some dystopian future where all congenitial abnormalities

could be identified before birth and terminations enforced, this would not

end disability. People would still become disabled during their life in

numerous ways; accident, disease, old-age, etc and so disability

discrimination would still need to be tackled.

Abortion is the not the cause or perpetrator of disability discrimination.

Ignorance, power, patriarchy and fear are all to blame.

Abortion hasn’t been ‘put’ in the sphere of liberty by feminists as a way

of getting out of the disability argument. It is there because women are

trying to reclaim their reproductive autonomy. Women have the right to have

power over their womb and should not be answerable to patriarchy,

feminists, or people with disabilities.

I support abortion on demand and would support a woman living in poverty

who wants to terminate a healthy pregnancy of a disabled or abled foetus on

the grounds that she could not economically support the child. That

doesn’t mean that I don’t also campaign against poverty. It doesn’t

mean that I despise poor children. It means that I respect that woman’s

decision and her capacity to make a decision about her own abilities to

care for the potential child.

On the issue of the abortion of a foetus with a cleft palate, this is a

story that has been massively manipulated by the press and I think it is

very unfair to refer to it as an issue concerning a ‘hairlip’. A cleft

palate can be anything thing from a hairlip to the foetus’s head being

split in two with no brain development. We the public, rightly, have no

idea about the status of that foetus but plenty of people have pontificated

about the vanity of the woman with absolutely no idea about the details of

the case of the reasons she came to her decision. I understand

Al-Sharqi’s scepticism of the medical profession but the doctors in this

case certainly know more about it than we do and ultimately it was the

woman’s decision.

I can reconcile a social model of disability with support for selective

abortion. I support the rights and freedoms of individuals, to their bodily

autonomy and their right to live without prejudice and discrimination.

Restricting a woman’s right to end a pregnancy does not further

disability rights, it simply impoverishes the rights of all women.

From Suzannah

Thank you so much for this article. I do not know how much I agree with

Victoria’s final conclusions on selective abortion but her views and

experiences I greatly appreciated. This article is certainly a thinker, and

that’s what I come to the F-Word for.

From Sabre

What a fascinating insight. Shamefully I have never really thought about

this issue. It is definitely time to reconsider what being disabled means,

in terms of the Abortion Act. A lot has changed since 1967. Really

excellent article, and certainly should be a focus for all feminists

From Sam D

I would just like to say how thought provoking your article was and how

uncomfortable I feel about my previous assumptions. I really don’t know how

to respond and that is good, because some times you just need to stop and

think. Thank you for writing this and lets hope that feminism can stop

ignoring important and valid opinions.

From Victoria

I’ve just read Victoria Al-Sharqi’s article on disability and abortion two

weeks in advance of a blood test I’m having for Down’s Syndrome screening.

It has not made me rethink my decision, nor has it made me feel remotely

“defensive”. Just more than a little angered at Al-Sharqi’s total failure

to engage with the issue of abortion itself, and her arrogant assumptions

about what women who have screening and may go on to have terminations may

or may not believe about her and others. As is so often the case in

arguments about what is and isn’t a “justification” not to continue with a

pregnancy, there is no effort made to distinguish between the reason why

someone wouldn’t want a child and the reason why a woman should be

permitted to have an abortion if that is the case. These are different

things, and engaging with this pokes rather large holes in Al-Sharqi’s

arguments. It is not about whether a disabled woman should or should not

have ownership of her body; it’s about whether any woman should, and if we

believe in this, we should not believe in obliging any woman to continue

with a pregnancy without her consent. This is not about some fetuses having

fewer rights than others; it’s about no fetus having the right to trump

this essential ownership. I don’t think any pregnant woman should have to

scrabble around proving that she has the right not to carry on being

pregnant. Pregnancy is a huge, risky imposition on anyone’s body and as

long as no one is obliged to give blood to save a life, the idea that

someone should be obliged to do something far more dangerous not merely to

save one, but to create one, is obscene. Nothing is more justifiable for

the granting of an abortion than just not wanting to continue with a

pregnancy. Full stop. It’s not for Al-Sharqi or anyone else to sit in

judgement on what is and isn’t the right reason for this state of not

wanting.

Clearly, even though it shoudn’t be, personal experience is all to the

article’s author, so I would point out that my own, growing up with a

disabled sibling, has convinced me that as reasons go, disability is a very

logical one for not wanting a child. The massive needs of others can ruin

people’s lives and ignoring this or arguing that your own existence

disproves this (while the existence of millions of others doesn’t) is

pointless and actually quite heartless. You are not walking in the shoes of

countless carers, many of whom do, with justification, feel that their

lives have been ruined by the life of another. Funnily enough, they’re not

lining the streets demanding immediate euthanasia of all those born with

disabilities. They are, however, sympathetic to those who don’t think they

should be obliged to continue with a pregnancy which risks similar burdens

being placed on individuals and families. Al-Sharqi has no interest in the

voices of carers, as her response to the Minette Marrin article shows. She

is more interested in how pain not yet suffered, people not yet born,

should be safeguarded and ringfenced to prevent her own hurt feelings, at

the expense of other people’s real, not potential, lives and bodies and

freedoms.

Al-Sharqi thinks pro-choice feminists won’t engage with the disabled,

dismissing them as burdens. So she dismisses such feminists as ignorant and

perhaps assumes we won’t answer back, as we’re obviously so intimidated and

unable to deal with articulate disabled women such as herself. But there

are indeed “plenty of able-bodied people who understand severe disability”,

certainly in terms of the impact it has on their lives and the lives of

others. If this makes her uncomfortable, it’s no excuse to totally fail to

engage with arguments on the spurious basis that others are doing the same.

But let’s get back to the real issue of abortion (which I know Al-Sharqi

doesn’t want to discuss, but still…). Al-Sharqi does not want to feel

dismissed as a burden rather than a person. I don’t want to actually be (as

opposed to feel) dismissed as a baby carrie rather than a pregnant woman

with full ownership of my body and its contents. We’re both people, and if

that truly matters, the right to selective abortion needs to be protected.

Victoria Al-Sharqi, author of the article, replies

I think that you have misunderstood what I was trying to say with my article. I wasn’t trying to suggest that a foetus should have more rights than a pregnant woman, or that any woman should be forced to continue with a pregnancy ‘not to save a life, but to create one’. The main subject of my article was not the rights of the foetus at all, but the effect that selective abortion has on the lives of disabled people – by which I mean people who are already alive and walking (or wheeling) about the planet. I outlined some of these effects, both psychological and practical, before going on to ask how feminists who support selective abortion and yet take an interest in disability rights can reconcile their convictions in one area with their support for the other.

Your first criticism of my article is that it is too personal. This is because prejudice and discrimination are always experienced personally, never theoretically. The struggle for equality is about empowering people, not the creation of theories and hypotheses that have no practical bearing on individual lives. This is why any piece of writing that deals with disability rights (or human rights more generally) will be ‘personal’.

But while my article may be personal, it certainly isn’t anecdotal, as the numerous quotations from books, articles and surveys should make clear. My views are the result of many years of questioning, and they have been shaped by my involvement in the emerging field of disability studies, my interactions with other disabled people and their families, and my work in education, among many other things. Ironically, the inclusion of more anecdotes might have deflected one of your harsher criticisms (“Al-Sharqi has no interest in the voices of carers, as her response to the Minette Marrin article shows”). I am a live-in, unpaid carer to a friend who, like me, is classed as severely disabled. I also work at a residential college for young adults with learning disabilities. My dual role as a carer and an educator in the field of special needs informs everything that I write, even if I don’t refer to that role explicitly.

I’m unsure why you have chosen to use agreement with Minette Marrin as your litmus test for sensitivity to the voices of carers, as I can’t see how her use of degrading language and her propagation of dehumanising stereotypes can be said to benefit carers in any way. Marrin suggests that caring is about carrying a load rather than working in partnership with another person, a demeaning portrayal that undermines the value of the carer’s contribution and denies the uniqueness of each caring relationship. Furthermore, the widespread belief that people with certain disabilities would be better off dead (a view that Marrin puts forth with robust enthusiasm) has given birth to a second disturbing idea: that caring is all about making the best of a bad job, that disabled people lack potential, and that their lives will never be truly fulfilled. The result of this attitude is that resources are channelled into the development of prenatal tests and other preventative measures when they could be much better employed in providing decent supported living placements, respite care, a higher standard of specialist education, a wider range of therapeutic options, and better and more affordable assistive technology. In stridently telling the public that termination as the only viable choice when a foetus has impairments, Marrin and those who promote her views are helping to maintain a deeply troubling status quo. This is what I meant when I asked whether it will be possible to achieve genuine equality as long as selective abortion exists.

As I require a lot of support, it would be impossible for me to tune out the voices of carers even if I were not a carer myself. I have an early memory of lying in bed and hearing my dad in tears on the other side of the wall, repeating, “It’s all so difficult for her,” while my mum made comforting noises. I wanted to give comfort too, although I had no way of doing it. I was overwhelmed by a sense of my own powerlessness, and I decided then that I would do whatever I could to protect my parents. (As I was only five or six at the time, I obviously didn’t articulate it to myself quite like that.) The result was that when I was sexually abused at the age of nine, I did not tell anyone. It was my way of trying to make my parents’ lives easier, a silent apology for causing them so much trouble.

When I started to receive psychiatric help, years later, I was astounded to find myself in a room with other disabled people who spoke of the same emotions – guilt, shame, a heavy sense of personal responsibility towards their carers, a near-pathological fear of disappointing people, and yes, a belief that their needs had ‘ruined people’s lives’. These experiences are so common amongst psychiatric patients with disabilities that numerous books have been written on the most effective psychotherapeutic approaches. Unfortunately, the sense of liberation that I felt when I discovered that I was not isolated in feeling like this was tempered by the outraged confusion that overwhelmed me when I came across a newspaper article in favour of selective abortion for the first time.

The author painted a bleak picture of life with disability, emphasising in particular the risk of abuse. The implication was that disability is inextricably bound up with abuse; that the vulnerability caused by the former leads almost inevitably to the latter. At this point I had never even heard of the social model of disability, but I knew that there was something gravely wrong with this man’s argument. That he should advocate selective abortion instead of campaigning for a change in the type of circumstances that lead to abuse seemed to suggest that the problem lies with disabled people, not with the abusers and the flawed system that makes it possible for abuse to happen. So many of the arguments in favour of selective abortion are essentially about blame, and this has a profound psychological effect on disabled people. When I challenge these arguments, I’m not trying to preserve my ‘hurt feelings’. I’m trying to preserve things that are of slightly more weight than hurt feelings, such as basic human dignity.

You write, “The massive needs of others can ruin people’s lives and ignoring this or arguing hat your own existence disproves this (while the existence of millions of others doesn’t) is pointless and actually quite heartless.” As I have already written, I don’t ignore the difficulties experienced by carers. I also haven’t argued that my existence ‘disproves’ other people’s difficulties. I have simply argued that my existence is not responsible for those difficulties – and neither is the existence of those millions of other disabled people. It is situations and attitudes that are disabling, not our impairments.

Ignoring this, and with it their own contributions (advertent or inadvertent) to the problems experienced by disabled people, supporters of selective abortion feel quite free to take our bodies, thoughts, and experiences and put their own interpretative spin on them in order to justify their stance. You say that I shouldn’t ask any woman to justify her decision to have a termination, but in reality I don’t even have to ask – disabled people’s bowel movements, lack of proficiency in IQ tests, lack of sex life, lack of speech and lack of mobility are all proffered as self-evident reasons for having an abortion, without me needing to enquire after specifics. Recently I saw a video in which a woman explained that she had chosen abortion because she didn’t want to condemn her son to a life in nappies. Along with millions of other adults, I wear nappies (or incontinence aids, as I like to call them, given that my bowel problems haven’t reduced me to babyhood). They are tools in the same way that sanitary pads are tools. There is nothing degrading about needing them, yet they are frequently used as a primary exhibit in arguments for selective abortion – and all because people’s squeamishness about shit leads them to conclude that life isn’t worth living if you aren’t toilet-trained.

Next up after bowels, the five senses. “Imagine a world without sound,” the Royal National Institute for the Deaf says soberly. “Imagine if you couldn’t hear birdsong at dawn, enjoy wonderful sounds like a baby giggling or listen to your favourite music.” According to the RNID, this sort of fantasy will give people an insight into what it means to be deaf. The fact that the campaign provoked anger in the deaf community, with numerous deaf people protesting that their sensory experiences are different as opposed to limited, is irrelevant.

Now for Exhibit C. “Imagine giving birth to a child who will never be able to tell you that he loves you,” quavers a husky voice on an emotive video produced by Autism Speaks. Non-verbal disabled people might argue that not being able to speak is not the same as having nothing to say. They might say that they don’t want to speak, that they prefer to use modes of communication that come more naturally to them, that their way of self-expression is no more inferior to speech than French is inferior to Japanese. Again, this doesn’t matter. A life without speech must be dreadful, and no parent should condemn a child to that if they can possibly avoid it..

Finally, sex. People with certain disabilities will never enjoy sexual relationships, or indeed romantic intimacy of any sort. The Sunday Times (30 November 2008) has an article reiterating this well-known fact, specifically in relation to selective abortion and Down’s Syndrome. What an impoverished life. How painful for the poor things who are forced to endure such loneliness. The fact that people with Down’s Syndrome can and do form relationships, which can and do involve sex, and that sexuality can be explored and enjoyed in other ways than intercourse…that’s too shocking even to contemplate. There is something distasteful about the thought of retards screwing and getting screwed, don’t you think? It can’t be true.

This is what I meant when I talked about disability and self-ownership. Disabled lives are dissected in the public sphere and pieced together to form a tragic mosaic, without any input from the people who are actually living those lives. Everything from our incontinence pads to what might or might not be going on in our bedrooms are held up as justifications for selective abortion. In response to the RNID’s ‘Imagine a World Without Sound’ campaign, a member of the deaf advocacy group Grumpy Old Deafies wrote, “I am fed up to the back teeth of some hearing marketers who basically don’t have a bloody clue, portraying me and others to the world.” I can relate to his anger. The arguments for selective abortion encourage people to see those of us with disabilities as less fortunate, less capable, and ultimately less human, fostering pity at best and revulsion at worst, and I don’t want to be a part of that. But because my voice, my brain, my personal history, and even my bodily functions have been so ruthlessly co-opted, it’s not as if I have any choice in whether or not I’m used as a poster girl. Is this really a climate in which equality can flourish?

I don’t think so, but you might disagree – we seem to have different ideas about what constitutes equality. You write that while proponents of selective abortion might accept that the ‘massive needs’ of disabled people can ‘ruin lives’, they are not “lining the streets calling for the immediate euthanasia of people with disabilities”. The gap between believing that a person would be better off dead and taking active steps to bring their death about is not as wide as people would like to believe. Mencap’s ‘Death by Indifference’ campaign, which has led to an independent inquiry into the needless deaths of people with learning disabilities in NHS care, highlights the story of nine-year-old Daisy, a child with a severe learning disability who was admitted to hospital for a tooth infection. Due to the hospital’s neglect, she developed septicaemia and died. The following was written by her mother:

“After Daisy died, we discovered that staff were fully aware that Daisy’s life was in danger. They did not try to save her, they just documented her decline. This was not an accident, and it wasn’t the case that they did not realise how ill she was. They told us ‘they had misjudged her quality of life’.”

The decision to have a termination on grounds of foetal abnormality is taken after doctors have made a judgement on the ‘quality of life’ that the child would have if the pregnancy were brought to term. Such judgements are not rooted in objective medical fact, but in the doctors’ personal (and often prejudicial) opinions what it means to be disabled – in other words, how they happen to perceive people like Daisy. Given the efforts that are made to screen out foetuses that have the potential to become another crip, another gimp, another retard, another Daisy, where is the guarantee that an actual Daisy will be treated properly when she is admitted to hospital? After all, she’s not a person. Her doctor made that clear when he said to her parents, by way of comfort, “It’s almost like losing a child, isn’t it?” She’s a justification for selective abortion. She hasn’t got the ‘quality of life’ to be anything else.

And if you judge somebody to have little or no ‘quality of life’, are you going to make it your priority to preserve that life?

This is what I’m talking about when I oppose selective abortion. Not my ‘hurt feelings’. Not the rights of ‘people not yet born’. I’m talking about how supposedly private choices can contribute to prejudice that is endemic in our society, prejudice that can affect everything from the medical treatment that disabled people receive to the educational provision that is made for us to the way that prospective employers view us when we go for interview. I wrote my article because I don’t hear feminists discussing these issues, even though disability rights activists have been trying to raise the subject ever since 1967. (Has somebody pressed the mute button?) Instead, I hear feminists trying to turn it into a simple matter of the rights of a woman versus the rights of the foetus. It’s not that easy.

“Al-Sharqi thinks pro-choice feminists won’t engage with the disabled, dismissing them as burdens. So she dismisses such feminists as ignorant and perhaps assumes we won’t answer back, as we’re obviously so intimidated and unable to deal with articulate disabled women such as herself.”

I don’t think that feminists who support selective abortion won’t engage with ‘the disabled’. However, I did observe that I haven’t seen many such feminists making the attempt. Why I would think that such feminists won’t ‘answer back’ is a mystery to me, as it’s not as if disabled feminists with my views have such a monopoly over the abortion debate that we have cowed everybody else into silent submission. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What interests me most about your speculation about my train of thought (guesswork that solidifies into certainty with your use of the word ‘obviously’) is your mention of my articulateness. Rather than concentrating on the ideas that I have to communicate, you seem more preoccupied with the fact that I can communicate at all. I don’t want to speculate on why this is, in case I’m mistaken, but I would like to draw your attention to it.

Congratulations on your pregnancy. I hope that your prenatal screening has the outcome that you want. I also hope that you will be able to better understand why I take the stance that I take after reading this clarification, even if you can’t agree with my viewpoint.

From Victoria

Thank you for your response to my feedback. As you suspected, it doesn’t alter my viewpoint generally but it is very thoughtful and I did want to get back to you, especially as I now feel my initial feedback was quite sharp (I think because this is an issue that is, to be honest, very close to me personally, even if I was reluctant to admit the validity of this in my first response).

My feeling that you ignore the voices of carers arose due to your response to Minette Marin’s article, where you take her to task for not including the voices of disabled people (and then in the next paragraph seem to question whether you should listen to “able-bodied experts” claiming to know more about some severe disabilities than you do). I think many able-bodied do know more about many severe disabilities, at least from the carer’s perspective, than you do. I also think they may know more about what it’s like to be an unwilling carer (correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that you are a carer by choice, and that is very different, especially if, like you, you are a carer to a friend – far harder to be a carer to someone who is incapable of even forming friendships). Nothing in your article suggested genuine understanding of what it is like to live with someone and feel totally and utterly trapped by them in the way that many carers do. For many, it is not a partnership and never will be, and this isn’t due to a lack of understanding or support. If you are caring for someone who has no independance at all and no ability to interact with you on a meaningful or progressive level, there is no dressing it up as “partnership” – there can be love there, but it can be swamped by huge amounts of misery. It is defintely more like carrying a load.

Obviously disabilities and indeed caring relationships take lots of different forms. In general, I think people prefer to believe in your representation of such relationships than in mine (both are, I know, representative of some situations). This does, however, really trouble me. It lets people who don’t deal with disability on a daily basis off the hook. They can decide everything’s fine while families fall apart and present their lack of concern as not being prejudiced about disability. They can make smug comments about not having testing during pregnancy, safe in the knowledge that most of the time everything’s fine, but all the while implying that anyone who does is selfishly seeking “perfection” (and let’s not help the aged pensioner down the road struggling with her tantrumming son in his 50s, since all she’s dealing with is a bit of “imperfection” and hey, it takes all sorts and we love diversity…).

It is true that more resources need to be channelled into enabling anyone with a disability to achieve their full potential (although I don’t necessarily see why pro-choice feminists in particular should be responsible for leading the charge). But at the same time, fetus who will become a baby with a few pain-filled months to live, or an adult with the mental capacity of an infant, don’t actually have that much potential to be developed, and it is wrong to pretend that the capacity to grow is universal. It is also wrong to pretend that there necessarily has to be direct competition for resources between prenatal testing and providing greater care for disabled people. Furthermore, greater care and support is not a solution for many families. It’s not enough, or rather, it’s not enough to justify the implication that you might as well have a baby you don’t want as not do, as it will all be okay in the end, once society’s got it all sorted. For some disabilities and some pregnancies, it won’t ever be sorted enough.

My own personal experience is this: my brother does not have the independance you have. He has never left home, is cared for totally by my parents but has a totally normal life expectancy. He cannot form the kind of friendships which would enable him to have the carer bonds that you describe. My parents are in their sixties and getting infirm themselves. They are also utterly worn down by caring for someone who lacks the capcity to appreciate it (his disability includes severe behavioural problems, which is the worst of it). To talk about “situations and attitudes” as disabling in this scenario, rather than the impairments themselves, would be utterly meaningless. Believe me, it’s the impairments. I dread the day when I am left to take over the reins. I imagine it will be when my own children are in their teens, if not sooner. Growing up with him was hard enough; I don’t want my children to be affected by his demands and behaviour and if I can avoid it, I definitely don’t want to add to the load and risk passing things on to another generation, which is why prenatal screening is so important to me. This isn’t about squeamishness or fear of difference – if someone could say to me “your baby will just need incontinence pads” or “he just won’t be able to hear” or any of the other things you list, it wouldn’t be hard to look ahead to a positive relationship, but so many disabilities don’t fit into neat little lists of symptoms to be accomodated, but can be complex combinations, some of them utterly nightmarish.

I don’t suspect my brother feels the guilt and shame at “being a burden” you describe. Ironically, I would argue that the fact he can’t feel or express it is a large part of what makes his disability so much more burdensome to others. It’s the lack of reward that comes when someone is not able or even willing to connect with you, despite all that you do. This was why I made reference to your own articulateness. You make a point of disabled people not being listened to or not having a voice on this matter, but to me, your voice does anything but represent the type of disability that people struggle most with and this affects how representative what you say can be. This is not an accusation – it is, however, a concern that you are the voice people want to hear, while those who don’t speak in the same way – and are harder to care for because of it – can be ignored, along with the struggles of those around them. Obviously I can’t take issue with you for being intelligent, but at the same time, if I’m being honest, I read your article and worry about how other people might respond, people delighted to latch onto anything which gives them the excuse to see the world in black and white terms (e.g. disabled people are all like this therefore being a carer can’t be all that bad). One of my brother’s many disorders is autism and I am dismayed how eager others are to leap onto examples of high-functioning autistics they’ve read about or seen on TV, somehow suggesting we’re living with a genius and just haven’t appreciated this yet. People just want to believe this – it makes their lives easier and moral decisions less complex – so they do. But I obviously accept you being articulate is not your fault or something you should ever want to rein in, and am sorry if I sounded like I was suggesting that.

When you argue that “it’s not as if disabled feminists with my views have such a monopoly over the abortion debate that we have cowed everybody else into silent submission”, I don’t think you necessarily understand the silence that surrounds prenatal testing for many women (probably because we’re so busy being, um, silent). My parents don’t even know I’m pregnant yet because I want to wait until I have test results and know what I want to do. And even then, I suspect if there was a problem and I did decide to have a termination, I would be out there pretending to everyone that I’d had a late miscarriage. I have had enough hostility from people when I say what I’d do hypothetically. Much as I want to be someone who stands by what they believe in and do, if I’m in a sitation that’s already very distressing, I don’t think I’ll be bothered to fight further battles and risk discrimination where I can avoid it. And I do accept it’s not just disabled feminists with your views who create this situation. Every pregnancy magazine or book I own refuses to feature something on testing without the couple featured saying they “just want to know” and won’t ever have a termination. And often they’re as good as their word and have a lovely baby (and okay, pregnancy magazines never look ahead to adulthood for any of their cute babies, but if you are the one thinking ahead – the one thinking about having, not a baby, but an adult with this disorder when you’re in your 50s, 60s, 70s etc – you know you’re the baddie here since we’re all just meant to be saying “aah!”). I think more women should speak out about having prenatal testing yet I’m too scared to do this myself. There’s also the fact that if you are someone like me, you don’t want to put your full name to anything to do with your reasonings, because you can’t speak about the person you care for without their consent. Even if what you say is true, you can’t identify someone publicly as a huge burden on your life and describe the ins and outs of caring for them, as it’s not fair on them. To be honest, I think it is easier for you to put your name to an article on this subject than it would be for me, because the truth is, while you can put yourself on the line, I’m not in a position to hold another individual’s life up for public scrutiny. It’s not my right. This doesn’t stop me scrutinising said life anyhow, since I’m not in a position of being able to turn away and live beyond its influence. Nor does it alter my right to think about future lives and what I want my role to be in producing them.

Sorry this has ended up being quite long. In an odd way, I find it easier to write to you about this issue than to someone who would be more inclined to agree with me! I suspect this is because having read your response below, I don’t doubt your sincerity either, even if it comes from a totally different perspective. And it is better to be able for once to talk about real lives rather than listen to abstract mutterings about “perfection”.

From Claire

Abortion is, the destruction of a collection of living cells that have the

potential to become a human.

A woman needs the right to decide whether she wants to continue a

pregnancy depending on the impact rearing that child will have on her life.

This is the only thing that is relevant.

It is not a decision about the worth of a disabled child – and women that

decide that they want the pregnancy to continue when it will result in a

disabled child should receive lots of support so she can be a great mum and

the child have a great life.

The issue at stake is not the quality and worth of disabled people, it is

the quality and worth of the women’s lives.

I have a committed husband and could provide for a child. If I was forced

to sacrifice the life I enjoy to rear a child I would probably kill myself.

If I knew the child would be disabled and my life subsumed by its care I

would certainly do so if abortion were not available (actually I’d have a

backstreet one, as so many women around the world do).

I have had to be a carer before because there was nobody else available.

I did the best I could, but the impact on me was such that there is no way

I am ever doing it again.

From Mary

This is a very thought-provoking article, and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve

never thought about this issue before. As someone who is pro-choice but has

contradictory ideas about abortion, this is definitely something that I

will try and bring up in discussions in the future!

From Alex T

Thank you so much for this. You have articulated so well what I have been

struggling to express for years now. It touched so many nerves for me as my

sister is disabled and I am now 3 months pregnant.

My sister (also called Victoria!) has a number of physical and mental

disabilities and would be characterised by some as one of your “poor people

who can’t speak or even wipe their own bottoms, let alone appreciate life

for what it is”. Despite people’s ignorant perceptions, she’s a really,

really happy, settled young woman. Yes, she requires round-the-clock care,

but because we love her, we do it. Simple as that. I think that many people

who don’t “feel able to cope with raising a disabled child” are simply

misinformed (though perhaps not really through any fault of their own)

about what that entails. Really, bringing up any child is difficult, and

having had a hand in bringing up my sister, and noticing how my parents’

lives didn’t grind to a halt, I would say that you really don’t know how

you’ll cope until you try. I’ll probably end up caring for her myself when

my parents get older, and I’m more than happy to have her.

My family had no idea Victoria would be born the way she is, and whilst my

mum would never have had a termination anyway, I’m so glad she didn’t have

to put up with people pressurising her to get rid of my sister. So often

the abortion of a foetus with ‘impairments’ (whatever they are) is

presented as the only sensible course of action. Needless to say, I have

declined all screening tests for my baby, regardless of the family

history.

I’m sure I had a lot more to say than this, but can’t remember any of it!

Once again, thank you for your article, and best of luck in everything you

do.

From Katherine Dunne (Kath)

I was very disturbed to see Victoria Al Sharqui’s article attacking

women’s right to choose. I am surprised that the F-Word would choose to

serve as a platform for such an opinion as Ms Sharqui’s. The ONLY feminist

position is that women should be free to choose a termination on any

grounds. If a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy which would lead to

the birth of a child with, for example, down’s syndrome then it means that

that potential child, who may have led a happy life, will not be born. But

that is the same as in any other aborted pregnancy. I do not accept it as a

valid argument against abortion. Ms Al Sharqui asks “How does Abortion

Rights reconcile its support of the social model [of disability] with its

belief that a decision to abort for reasons of impairment should always be

respected?” Well, presumably in the same way that feminists who support the

right of women to abort any foetus do not have a problem with respecting

the human rights of every human being once born.

Victoria Al-Sharqi, author of the article, replies

Thank you for your comments on my article. I think you have misinterpreted what I was trying to say – I wasn’t arguing that the rights of the foetus should take precedence over the rights of a pregnant woman. I was writing about the impact that selective abortion has on the lives of disabled people, by which I don’t mean foetuses.

Selective abortion contributes to negative and damaging myths about disabled people that not only have an unsettling psychological effect, but make it much harder for us to access high-quality services and support. The primary reason for this is that selective abortion is grounded in the notion that having a disability means that you have a poorer quality of life, which means that valuable resources are spent on the development of prenatal tests and other preventative measures when they could be much better spent on improving the support and services that disabled people need. On a psychological level, selective abortion promotes the idea that living with disability is all about making the best of a bad job, and that disabled people are fundamentally damaged in some way. This is incompatible with the stance taken by the disability rights movement.

This is why I questioned Abortion Rights on its attitude towards disability. If somebody believes that it is morally acceptable to say, “I want to have a child, just not a disabled child,” can they sincerely claim to believe that disabled people are equal to those who are ‘normal’? This question takes on even more urgency when you consider the tangible impact that selective abortion has on the lives of people with disabilities.

I’m a little disturbed by your suggestion that there is ‘only’ one feminist approach to this issue. I realise that some feminists will disagree with me entirely. Others will acknowledge that selective abortion ‘reinforces negative stereotypes about disability’, as the Disability Rights Commission puts it (mildly), but will disagree with me on the best way to go about rectifying the problem. Others will be in complete agreement. I’m not trying to achieve conformity here. I’m trying to spark a discussion that badly needs to be held, and that has been postponed for the past forty years.

Why feminists shouldn’t have to keep mum, by Victoria Dutchman-Smith

From Aimee

This is a great article. Me and my partner don’t really buy into any of

this ‘division of labour’ stuff. We just do the stuff that needs doing. If

it’s dinner time, or sleep time, or nappy-full-of-poo time, the one of us

who is the least busy will attend to it. I’m currently doing a degree and I

work in an environment dominated by women who are forever harping on about

how difficult it must be for me; going home, doing ALL the baby things and

then getting on with my study. The assumption is that my partner does not

help; that it’s all up to me, when in actuality, my partner picks Felix up

from nursery, and if I need to study, he will take care of all the baby

duties. Similarly, if Phil needs to study (he’s currently on a BEd course),

I will do all the baby things. Gender and ‘what we’re supposed to do’ never

comes in to it, and as a result, neither of us feel that we’re burdened by

childcare. All this gender business needs to be thrown out, because it’s

not conductive to the best interests of the child OR the parents. People

need to do what’s best for them in their situation, regardless of what the

societal norm is. That’s equality and, in my opinion, feminism is being

completely oblivious to gender roles and simply doing what you feel is

best.

From Amy Vachon

I loved this article. You found a way to say what has bothered me for so

long. My husband and I recently wrote a guest blog for Lisa Belkin’s

Motherlode parenting column on those horrid ‘martyred mommy’ chain emails

that glorify motherhood and all its mundane overwork, while cutting down

fathers.

I was dismayed at some of the commenters who were offended that we would

not want to glorify all that hard work moms do. Arghh!

From Jade

I think I have the worst baby in the world. But I agree with everything

you say.

From zak jane keir

Excellent article. I am amazed by the way so many women seem to let men

get away with being shitty lazy fathers and jackbooting around the house

because they Earn the Money – many men are great parents and equal

partners, and there is nothing ‘natural’ in the idea that women have to

take second place just because they have wombs.

From Wasp_Box

What a whining article. You should try being a Dad who has taken on the

traditional role of a Mum. I have no support network at all. All your

lovely feminist Mums view me as a freak and offer nothing. Luckily, I enjoy

bringing up my son and my wife (sorry, partner) enjoys her job.

Victoria Dutchman-Smith, author of the article, replies

In response to this comment, I’m glad my partner shows a bit more maturity and empathy than this during the times when he looks after our son while I go out to work. And he has found support networks in the end – perhaps not being bitterly antagonistic towards “feminist mothers” is a good starting point. And also not elevating yourself to the status of “a Dad who has taken on the traditional role of a Mum” (thanks, noble one), but regarding your role as that of a parent taking responsibility for his child — that might help, too. Other than that, if your life truly is made more difficult by the current gender imbalances and assumptions surrounding parenting (and it sounds like this is the case), having a go at other people who point out such imbalances for “whining”, while adopting a whinier-than-thou, my-life’s-much-harder-than-yours tone, isn’t the way forward.

From Caroline

I found this article very interesting, although I would add ‘Women who

have taken a look at what contemporary motherhood entails and decided not

to have children, but who might have them if things were different’ to your

list in the last paragraph of non-mothers whose views shouldn’t be

discounted.

If anything things seem to be getting worse when it comes to equal

involvement in parenting. Twenty years ago when I was wee I was aware that

my Dad was considered a bit of a a Neanderthal for being so uninvolved. Now

I often see such behaviour accepted as inevitable, preferable (because men

can’t be trusted not to mess up) or proof that the man in question is a

‘real man’, courageously rebelling against PC nonsense.

From Ruth Moss

There’s been a lot of discussion recently on the F word about mothers’ /

parents’ / family issues.

I wrote an article, which I think this one alludes to at one or two

points, asking amongst other things, for more understanding and empathy

from those feminists who are not parents themselves.

I do – to some extent – agree with the tone of the article, in that I

think that some women have been sold the “it’s the hardest but the best job

in the world” line to make them feel better about taking on a job with no

pay, no pension, no holidays and no perks.

BUT – and it’s a big but – at the same time, I genuinely don’t believe the

roles of mothers and fathers are *completely* interchangeable, as it

stands, at this moment in time.

When men are able and willing to grow breasts and lactate as in “Woman on

the Edge of Time”, and when men are able to grow babies and birth them,

then I will happily hang up my hat and campaign for “parental” rather than

“maternity” leave, and talk about “parent” rather than “Mum” or “Dad”.

But for now, there really are one or two jobs that only the mother can

do.

Breastfeeding also brings with it the added “problem” of prolactin, the

so-called “mothering hormone”. In Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s “mother nature” (in

which the end conclusion is – if I’ve read it right – that there really

isn’t such a thing as a maternal instinct) the one area she finds

problematic is that of prolactin. To my mind, she never quite gives a

satisfactory answer; she too suggests it’s “problematic”, but then seems to

ignore the issue.

I don’t, however, think it’s a case of just blithely writing all parenting

duties however dull against the mother’s name just because she “has the

hormones for it”. However, I do think that at the same time we shouldn’t

say “there’s absolutely no difference” just because it makes us feel uneasy

and because it is unfeminist.

I think the area needs further research. Does prolactin/breastfeeding make

a difference? Does the fact the mother has carried the foetus for nine+

months and then given birth make a difference to her ability to somehow

understand that baby’s rhythms and wants? I don’t think those questions

have been fully answered, certainly not by any unbiased party.

However, if it does make a difference, I think that the onus should be on

the baby’s father (if the mother is in such a relationship) to work harder

to make up for any small “lack” in his hormonal makeup.

I also think there is not enough support for mothers. Other apes have a

large bank of “alloparents” to look after their offspring. We have a Mum

and a child, sometimes the Mum has a partner and occasionally one or two

parents herself.

We have… erm… playgroups. And as you point out, at most of them the

topics of conversation are so banal it’s no wonder some mothers prefer to

stay at home with just them and the baby!

(Although at my local breastfeeding support group I found intelligent

conversation and learned more about biology, how research is carried out,

media and advertising and many other topics than I ever learned at school

or ever discuss in the workplace!)

So I do not agree with everything I think you are saying (I could have

read it wrongly) in that I don’t think I am “turning a blind eye” to

mothers who believe their role is different than a father’s role, because I

don’t actually think there is enough clear cut evidence to make a case

either way.

I do agree that the “cult of motherhood” is a poor substitute for real

support. Yes, it’s like a pat on the head.

But at the same time, I don’t think we can discount the experiences of

mothers just because they differ from ours.

For example, I do full time paid work because I can’t afford not to, but I

hate every minute of it as being away from my child has contributed to my

PND for which I now take medication. I’m not the only one in this

situation. Betty Friedan in “The Feminine Mystique” era might scratch her

head at this, though I suspect she might have more sympathy if she was in

“The Second Stage” era.

However I’m well aware of others who can’t afford TO do paid work (because

they aren’t subsidised for childcare, or because the childcare there is in

their area is poor quality).

I think as feminists we hear a lot about the latter, but not so much about

the former. Just as there is something of a “taboo” within mainstream

motherhood against saying how much you hate it, there is almost a taboo in

some feminist circles against saying that actually, you love it, you’d much

rather mother than do paid work, and actually, no, you don’t even mind the

nappies.

Your article certainly is thought-provoking anyway.

From Karen

I read the article ‘Why feminists shouldn’t have to keep mum’ with

interest. I agree with much that Victoria says, for example that parenting

should be shared by everyone. I have recently returned to work and know

just how hard and isolating it is at home full time. However the following

statement has pulled me up short:

‘It might upset some mothers to say that their femaleness is not intrinsic

to how they act as parents. But it isn’t, and to claim otherwise isn’t

to take a neutral “all things are equal” approach.’

As a breastfeeding mother of an 8 month old I can’t agree with this

statement. It is a fact that only I can breastfeed my daughter. It is a

fundamental aspect of our relationship and the way she is parented. Of

course it won’t always be the case but at this early stage in her life it

is and will continue to be so for some time to come.

Of course for older children and those who are formula fed this is not

such an issue. But if a mother chooses to breastfeed then only she can

perform this function. It is after all her body, her breasts which are

required even if it is to express milk to be given in a bottle.

Yes, I do wish I could share the burden at times (say at lunchtime as I

rush to nursery to feed or run for the breast pump or at 4 a.m. when my

daughter wakes for a feed).

I don’t think it is helpful to brush this issue aside. I believe the

shockingly low rates of breastfeeding in this country are due to the

vacuun in support for women who do breastfeed and the idea that you can

share all parenting. Well, no actually in the case of breatfeeding you

can’t. Yes you can express (if you are able to and maintain your supply)

but you still have to find time to do it.

There is one solution of course – feed your child artificially. But

breastfeeding brings a myriad of benefits for both mother and child,

including increased levels of protection against a raft of illnesses from

ear infections to breast cancer.

I don’t think that denying this unique and special role that mothers

perform in the name of feminism is particularly helpful. I would rather

see a discussion of how this role could be properly supported than pretend

it doesn’t exist because it is inconvenient to admit that there are simply

some things that only a woman can do.

From KNorton

Thankyou for this refreshing article.

From apu

As someone who is very much interested in having children, but petrified

of the work that motherhood involves, this article said it all to me. I

think it is to important to say that while respecting individual choices,

we shouldn’t missing out the gendered nature of these choices – and the

burden they place on many women; to point that out is not to devalue

motherhood, but to insist that parenting is not some sacred duty assigned

only to women.

Time to end parental leave discrimination, by Jennifer Gray

From Ruth Moss

Lots of good points especially comparing the UK to some of the

Scandinavian countries where parental leave is well-paid and therefore does

away with the myth that being a parent is unproductive and not real

“work”.

However, and I know I’m probably sounding like a broken record here, there

is one incredibly important issue that hasn’t – unless I’ve missed it –

been mentioned at all.

Breastfeeding. Something that (with a few very rare and noteable

exceptions) only a woman can do

Babies that aren’t breastfed are at higher risk of various illnesses both

in childhood and in later life ranging from discomforts like allergies to

serious conditions like type two diabeties. Even life threatening

conditions like cancer are at a slightly higher risk in adults that weren’t

breastfed as babies. A non-breastfed baby has five times the chance of a

breastfed baby of being admitted into hospital with gastroenteritis in its

first year of life.

And that’s before you get to what not breastfeeding does to the mother; it

brings her periods back almost immediately; it gives her body much less

time to recover from the birth and also it increases her risk of certain

cancers including breast cancer.

And while it is true that some women are able to go back to work and pump

milk, many women struggle to pump. To maintain a full supply before a baby

is started on other foods (around six months) it is necessary to pump

several times during the working day. Some women struggle to pump enough

milk for their babies, and there are even some have a high concentration of

a certain enzyme in their milk which makes it “go off” much faster and

therefore is almost impossible to store / transport.

And pumping does not always have the same protective effects, health-wise,

on the mother, as breastfeeding.

Bottle feeding and dummy use, regardless of what is in the bottle, can

change the shape of a baby’s developing jaw and can cause speech and oral

health problems. There is even increasing evidence that bottle feeding can

change the shape of the baby’s palate so much that she or he is at risk of

sleep apneoa in later life, which can be a life threatening condition.

(I know every time someone talks about there being a real, and in some

cases large difference between breastfeeding and bottle / formula feeding

accusations of “breastfeeding nazi” or “making women feel guilty” are not

far behind so let me make this clear. These are simply the facts. There is

a difference between the two. I am not saying this to judge as there are

all sorts of various reasons why a woman might choose not to, or might stop

breastfeeding. I’m just stating the facts about the difference.

If you require references to support these facts I am more than happy to

provide them.)

So breastfeeding actually is pretty important, and the longer a child is

breastfed, the more the health risks (to both mother and baby) are reduced.

Longer maternity leaves contribute to longer-term breastfeeding.

Having said all the above, it is not that I am 100% “dead against” the

idea of calling maternity leave parental leave and splitting it between two

partners.

All I’m trying to say is that I really don’t think that not addressing the

issue of breastfeeding is going to help either. It is an issue, it is

something only the mother can do, and it is something most women (over

three quarters) start out wanting to do, so it’s not as if I’m talking

about a minority here.

Unfortunately, “going back to paid work” is one of the biggest reasons

women wean their babies

So what to do?

If you’ll humour me for a moment, I personally think the issue is far

wider than the paternity / maternity leave split.

I think that the workplace needs to change out of all recognition to

accommodate the fact that bringing up children is actually an incredibly

important job and needs to have time and effort put into it. It also needs

to be recognised as such, including by those who choose not to have

children.

And I think that the point about some Scandinavian countries misses out

the fact that children and parenting in general are viewed in a very

different way there.

(For example, in Sweden it is illegal to hit a child. Ever. End of. Not so

here where it is still legal under the guise of “reasonable chastisement”

which reinforces the old “children = property” idea).

I think that once we change that perception of children so that their

rearing, raising and yes, breastfeeding and nurturing, is seen as important

and vital to the improvement of society, and we change workplaces in

alignment with this, we will see a push for things like flexible working,

home working, even on-site workplace creches and even far more flexible

maternity / parental leave (including the opportunity to come to work with

the baby on occasion, or to do some paid work at home etc.)

I think what I’m trying to say is, I like the Swedish model. (And Sweden’s

breastfeeding rates, funnily enough, are sky high in comparison to ours.)

But I’m just not sure we’re in the kind of place, in terms of our attitudes

towards children, where it would work. I could just see the UK government

cutting up the current nine months paid (at just over £100 a week)

maternity leave and divvying it up into six months mother, three months

partner, which would just make things even worse.

I could even see us going the way of America where the non-essentialist

model of parenthood has in part led to women getting no paid maternity

leave at all in some cases.

We need a new way of seeing children. We also – sorry if this makes me an

“essentialist” – need to recognise that a breastfeeding mother’s

contribution to baby rearing is important and is uniquely female. What we

don’t want is the false logic that then says “and therefore she should do

everything else, too” but we do need to say that sometimes this might mean

that the mother will need a longer leave than her partner, and will need

different terms and conditions than her colleagues if/when she returns to

work.

I think that the article makes some important points but I think the issue

is a lot wider than just the difference in leave.

(For what it’s worth, personally I would like to see both parents – if

there are two parents – given an equally long length of well-paid leave and

then both given the opportunity for an incredibly flexible – including the

opportunities for part-time and home-work – and staged return to paid work

without suffering any prejudice from their colleagues.

But I’ve a long feminist wish-list and maybe I’m just an idealist.)

From Clare

Agreed!

My partner was initially refused parental leave point blank due to the

fact we were not married. Only by going in with a print out from a legal

website of his rights was he able to get the Human Resources rep to agree

and he works for one of the big four accountancy firms.

Two weeks is nothing. Barely a drop in the ocean. The baby has barely

woken up yet and the mother is usually still riding high on offers of help

from family. Its a month later that the loneliness and stress sets in.

The father/partner has no time to bond and is back at work before they and

the baby have barely been introduced.

I was lucky. My partner was keen to be hands on from day one but the

message he gets from work is that he shouldn’t be asking for time “off” and

that he is something of a minority interest.

His friend recently also became a father. He was back at work within a

week. The company said it wasn’t their responsibility to find cover. He

is not unusual.

From Emma Hadfield

I wholly agree with your article. I am often frustrated by this issue.

How men can be expected to play more of a role in the upbringing of their

children is beyond me, when they are not entitled to the same leave rights

as women. How women are supposed to carry on their careers if they choose,

when for their partner to stay at home would mean a significant financial

loss. I firmly believe that the length of leave time allocated after

having a baby should be flexible in that it can be shared by both in the

partnership if they choose. I was unaware of the petition running and have

signed it and forwarded the link to everyone I know! Hopefully we will see

a change one day soon.

From Amity

Great article Jennifer, thank you for highlighting this issue and working

towards thinking of a solution instead of just moaning about it, as so many

of us do (me included)!

One thing I would like to see with regards to parental leave is the

ability for paternity leave to be deferred to a later date, perhaps until

the child is three. I say this because as a mother who practices child-led

weaning, it is much easier for me to be the sole at-home parent for the

first 1.5 – 2.5 years since I’m the only one who can breastfeed. My

daughter breastfed until she was 18 months and it was important to us that

she receive that breastmilk. However, once she had weaned my husband

would’ve *loved* to be able to take his leave at that point instead of in

the very early days when really his only job was to help tidy up the house

and fetch me food and drink while I fed our newborn constantly.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important for partners/fathers to be able

to bond with their babies in the early days too, but I know that for

mothers who aren’t pumping and/or going back to work within the first year,

it would be nice to be able to do so once the child is a bit older but

still too young to go into pre-school or full-time care.

From Victoria Dutchman-Smith

I really appreciated Jennifer Gray’s article on parental leave

inequalities. I find it shocking that the imbalance in this country is so

great. When I have mentioned this to people of my parents’ generation, the

response is always that “women will want to stay at home…” (no one says

“apart from you”, but they don’t really need to). Yet the fact is, if that

were true, a law change to make things transferable would still allow women

to make that choice. We’d just get to see whether it really is a choice.

My partner and I would have loved to share looking after our son in the

first few months of his life more equally. The fact is, though, while I got

paid over £100 a week and had my job kept safe for me, had we swapped

places at any point, he’d have received no money and had no job to go back

to at the end of it. And this isn’t something anyone wants to do with a new

baby just arrived. The next time someone justifies the pay gap on the basis

of women preferring to stay at home, I’d like to see them explain how male

and female preferences can be assessed at all given that there’s no way of

telling what people would do if all things were equal.

I think I’ve been waiting for things to just “evolve” in this country, but

Gray’s piece has made me realise this isn’t enough. I will definitely be

signing the petition and writing to my MP, so thank you for this piece of

inspiration.

Comments on older features and reviews

‘The useless organ’, by Maggie Lee

From Gráinne Tobin

This is so horrible for Maggie – I suspect that the customary comforting

noises about hysterectomies may conceal a lot of casualties like her. I

imagine anyone with her test results would have accepted the need for the

op. But what an aftermath… I am 57 and have all my original bits but what

do other women think, who have experienced hysterectomy? 22 years ago I met

someone at the University of Ulster who was researching exactly this, and

she told me her preliminary findings were that women’s reactions depended a

lot on whether they thought the medical need was genuine and urgent and

whether symptoms that bothered them had actually been lessened. I would

love somebody to be able to do something for Maggie, especially to help

repair her feelings for her children. But mayeb she is right and this just

is not possible. it is heartbreaking.

Is Tarantino really feminist?, by Emma Wood

From Catie Gutierrez

Thank you for writing this article on Tarantino’s Death

Proof. It bothers the hell out of me that people can’t imagine a depiction

of a woman that is more empowering than these overly-sexualized women

Tarantino comes up with. It just goes to show that we have a long way to

go.

Confidential?, by Karen James

From Rebecca Anderson

I recently read your article in which you told us about the “walk of

shame”. I was toatally shocked by this! And would like to congratulate you

on standing up for yourself and ringing the NHS and writing to the centre.

I cannot believe that people would act like this! You should never have had

to suffer that humilation!

From Sophie

I think that is awful! I am glad you complained, maybe it will mean that

other women don’t have to experience the same.

I have had 2 experiences with the morning after pill in the last few

years.

The first was standing at a counter at a pharmacy when a young woman

approached the counter looking slightly embarassed. She asked to speak to

the pharmacist and the shop assistant demanded to know what about. She said

she wanted the morning after pill, and looked like she wanted to sink

through the floor. The assistant said that there wasn’t a dispensing

pharmacist able to give it free there, and that she would have to go to

another pharmacy or pay. By this point the poor woman looked really very

embarrassed and left. She had obviously wanted to speak to the pharmacist

privately and there was even a sign on the wall saying that you could do

that! I was horrified, especially when the assistant commented on it to her

colleague that was serving me

My experience was much better. I went to Boots, asked to speak to the

pharmacist, I was directed to a private window with a screen around it.

Filled out a form, was given the tablet and some water and that was that

The form itself assumed that you exclusively slept with men, but then

given what I was asking for I decided that wasn’t SO unreasonable.

From Joanna Gill

What a load of rubbish. I am mildly concerned that you find this an

outrage. I couldn’t care less if someone knows I’m having sex. Of course

I’m sure my dad still likes to think I’m a virgin, but to be honest I think

even he is over that. If we are strong enlightened women, why are we still

afraid of our sexuality? Why are you complaining to NHS Direct about your

own psychological incapacity to deal with this situation. If they asked you

do have a colposcopy in the waiting room then I might understand your

embarassment. I think you should do more reading into female sexuality and

spend less time listening to what strangers say under their breath.

Goodness, if all women listened to what men said to them under their breath

and cared we’d be in a right mess.

Karen James, author of the article, replies

Frankly I think you are totally missing the point! I love my sexuality – hence why I used my full name for the article – and if there is one thing people say about me is that I am DEFINATELY not ashamed of it!! This was always an issue about my rights to privacy in the NHS – and I also think you know that.

From Claire

I was in hospital for removal of wisdom teeth under GA. This was in around

1982. For some reason, it was essential for the anaesthetist to examine my

chest, not by putting the stethoscope under my gown but by my removing all

clothing to the waist. Yes, the curtains were around the bed. But the look

that flashed between the (male) anaesthetist and the (female) nurse when

they saw my boobs (rather on the large size) made me flush scarlet. It was

sort of ‘wow look at the knockers on her’ sort of look. Just having teeth

extracted! A different sort of embarrassment admittedly but nevertheless

thoroughly unprofessional and embarrassing and I’ll never forget it. I

didn’t complain at the time, I just wanted to forget it, but clearly I

haven’t.

My sympathies to you and glad they’re sorting it out at the surgery.

From Samantha

In response to your Confidential article, when I went to my chemist to get

the Morning After Pill, I was told to take it, and was handed a cup of

water and the pill, in the middle of the very crowded room. I was burning

with shame and have never returned there, it was one of the most

humiliating experiences of my life.

Karen James, author of the article, replies

Thanks for a very thoughtful and intelligent response to my article. You know, some respondents did not get why I was angry. That just says to me that humiliating women in certain circumstances has become normalized. But clearly you understand how I felt.

That was a disgusting way to treat you when you are already worried enough about pregnancy and you have the absolute right to access those services and to enjoy privacy. I do hope you complained to the manager, but I can also very much understand if you didn’t. You already feel totally humiliated and just want to get away, don’t you? It is also painful to have to think about. However, whatever you did in the situation – I do hope that you are now ok.

From not an object

i’m glad rachel brought this issue up. i’ve had the same experience

although for me the worst part has been trying to say in a stage whisper

that i want an appointment for the morning after pill or to get free

condoms. however quietly you try and tell the receptionist however people

will doubtless hear what you’re asking for. i do think there should be a

more subtle way of doing this, perhaps even indicating on a form out of

sight what you’re there for if its a sensitive issue. i find it so

embarassing that other people over-hear these rather personal issues,

particularly if the receptionist then decides to converse in a loud voice

about the issue!

Karen James, author of the article, replies

Thanks very much for your response to my article! You make some excellent points about how these facilities are set up. They are meant to promte total privacy but they really don’t. Have a great example of that: my local GUM clinic (where you go to get tested for STI’s) has the men’s section downstairs and the women’s upstairs. You may think that this is a good way to make women feel their privacy is being protected – apart from the fact, that you actually have to walk right through the men’s waiting room to get to the stairs to the women’s! I felt bad enough having all these men staring at me – now imagine if I had been a woman who has been raped!!!! AGH!! And yes, I have considered complaining about this too, it seems to be all I have done with the NHS lately!

But many of your points are one’s I raised with the head nurse at the walk-in centre when I complained. The “stage whispering” (great way to put it!) one is one that I think every one hates! I did mention this and the head nurse told me that they are looking into ways to remedy this at present. But as to whether this is country-wide, I really don’t know. It’s ridiculous that some facilities still use names, and that they have those silly signs “please give people privacy and stand away from reception” because not everyone cares enough to give you space! So I think your idea about a private room, out of sight is great! perhaps mentioning that to your local NHS facility may make you feel good? I just wonder because complaining to the head nurse made me feel amazing and that I had got some power back after such a humiliating experience!

The Perfect Vagina, a review by Amy Clare

From Nicky_G

I just read your articale about libia plasty you watched on TV, so did I.

I understand where you are coming from as I thought Rosies Vagina was

wonderful as every womens is. But I am only 20yrs old and thinking about

the op as I have major disscomfert during sex and other activities.

All in all I think Womem should be proud of what they are but if it hurts

and you can do something against it go for it! But please check out your

surgeon!

XoXo To all the girls be yourself! Unless it hurts!

The British Woman Today: a qualitative survey of the images in women’s magazines, a review by Catherine Redfern

From Annie MacNeill

I’m afraid you’ve just made me actually want to read the book now (and

apart from anything else, I’m thinking of doing a more sensible analysis of

women’s magazines myself so it’d be good to see what bad stuff has gone

before…) any idea if this book is still available anywhere?

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Sorry, Annie, we don’t have any suggestions – you could always try searching on a second hand book site, like Abe Books, or at the library.

In the name of the father…, by Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams

From Jessica

I actually agree with your new naming system. I’m not married, and have no

intention of marrying any time soon, but I have often wondered if I would

change my name on marriage. My instinct was that I’d keep my name and my

future husband would keep his, but then the issue of children’s names is

raised and yours seems like the perfect solution! I also intend to fight my

whole life to be referred to as Ms, not Miss or Mrs. I’m about to become a

teacher and I think this will be a long struggle! Thanks for coming up with

such a good solution to the naming problem.

Where the 1967 Abortion Act doesn’t apply, by Siún Carden

From Izzi

I would just like to comment on the “Where the 1967 Abortion Act doesn’t

apply” article. I found it very helpful and easy to understand the current

law (I’m studying on abortion rights). So thank you for posting.

Every girl wants a stalker, by Rachel E

From Lisa

Well said. I am frequently stalked by men and have been trying to

understand the psychology of it so that I can somehow get them to stop.

Your assessment of the motives underlyingn stalking are right on.

However, I must say that HEALTHY men do not do this. They are whole within

themselves and will meet a woman, even offer an introduction. And then see

where it goes. If she resists, he will accept her refusal.

Sick men need, want, and hunger for female companionship. They seem pretty

indiscriminate in their choices. The only discernible factor seems to be

that they are somehow attracted — and therefore demand that she

reciprocate. Despite her telling him she is not interested, physically

bolting from him, he will follow her to her car, stare, leer, memorize her

schedule, hoping to catch her — and then when she refuses, he will

retaliate, get angry, “punish” her….to incite any kind of reaction and

then will move in for the key, as if teh woman is prey.

Do you have any strategies on how to carry yourself or respond in order to

deter stalking? Since I am a professional woman who often frequents public

places alone, I am often targeted for this type of behavior — and must say

it is taking an inordinate toll on me, and leaving me feeling incredibly

stressed.

The Virgin Daughters, a review by Dawn Kofie

From Kris

I’ve never, thank the gods, been party to one of these “purity balls”.

Have I, however, been pressured to conform and be a good, straight, pure

little Christian girl? Oh yes; I’m 18-years-old, and as my hormones rage,

the pressure increases.

I was given a “purity ring” for my 15th birthday; it had three little

hearts bearing my mother, my, and my father’s respective birthstones. I’ve

since lost the ring and have no interest in wearing it, but the message

that was sent with its giving is still clear: “have sex before marriage,

and you’re a shame to us.”

As a bisexual, academically oriented woman, I honestly can’t see myself

settling down with a man. I can see myself making a home with another

woman, but my parents are as rigidly against homosexuality as they are

against my losing my virginity. Ironically, though, my mother pressures me

constantly about finding a nice boy and giving her grandbabies.

I’m sure this all sounds like a poorly worded rant, but honestly, I just

needed to get it out to someone. I’d like to add, though, that there’s been

no mention of purity rings for any of my three teenaged brothers.

General comments

From leslie gardner

suppose i am feeling my age (a 60th birthday coming on 5th january) but

it always irks me that particularly young UK women are requested to

participate in feminist forums like yours (which i enjoy very much) – in

some ways all the world is aimed at young women – it is an AngloAmerican

and European obsession – someone told me once that 45 year old and up women

become invisible – surely, therefore, they need specific solicitiation more

than a young hormonally potent woman who is organically, and properly so,

designed to attract attention for propagation of the species among other

things – what happens later? signed off, with love, from the invisible

woman…

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

We want to encourage new voices, who may not have been published elsewhere before – which often, but not always, means younger women. But that doesn’t mean we don’t also encourage and frequently publish work by feminists of all ages.

From Lynsey Rose

Something that might interest you. I met my boyfriend on a morrissey

message board and have been an infrequent poster for several years, mainly

chatting about pop culture or trying to educate people a little about

feminism. Yesterday someone posted a thread about Britney Spears, to which

two men replied she was a ‘slut’. I very politely explained that this was

not very nice language and the reasons why. In return, I was called a slut,

a dirty slapper and a cocksucker. When I complained to the moderators, the

male one said he would ban that person for ten days, which I felt was fair.

But the female one intervened, and said I should not have reported those

posts, as it did not constitute harrassment, like racial harrassment, for

example. Apparently sexist harrassment is perfectly acceptable, and I

should jus put up and shut up.

I have now left the board, as I do not wish to be associated with a place

that has those rules, or lack of. The poster who insulted me was a brand

new person who was just being glib, and could easily have been dealt with,

whereas I have been making a contribution, however small, to the board for

years.

It seems minor, but I actually feel quite hurt that standing up for what I

believe in means I can no longer visit a place where my boyfriend and I

met.

No one backed me up; not least the women. Another victory for the trolls,

another loss for feminism.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Sounds to me like you did the sensible thing – tried to report what happened to the mods, and then when they didn’t intervene, left.

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