Fainting, mothering and other stories…

// 16 January 2009

Natalie Antonova has an article up about fainting, not the most obvious feminist topic, however this little excerpt tells us an important story. It’s a conversation between her and her boyfriend about the experience of fainting fits (syncopes).

“You know what I’m always terrified of? I used to pass out a lot when I was younger, due to being underweight, I guess, and I’ve always been afraid that one day – someone will grope me when that happens, or worse.”

“You’re morbid.”

Let’s just run that back – so being concerned about your safety when affected by an illness is “morbid” is it? How odd because when women appear to have not taken amazing precautions about their safety they are considered culpable if anything happens (the wrong place, wrong time; what was she doing there at that time of night and so forth responses).

As someone who also has syncopes, I feel kind of passionate about this. My experience – when they’ve happened in public places men have, quite literally, stepped over me and only women have stopped to help. But I’m lucky, mine pass in a matter of seconds and I am not left unconcious and therefore vulnerable for any length of time (I think here of what happened to Christine Lakinski who was urinated on, filmed on mobile phones and covered in shaving foam as she lay dying). Antonova is right, thought, fainting is seen as a sign of weakness in men and women rather than as a sign of extreme physiological stress. It’s also often used as a way of re-emphasising a woman’s incapacity and vulnerability – as I said mine pass in seconds and other than the embarrassment and ocassional injury caused by the fall I am fine. But that didn’t stop a former male boss of mine using them as a way of justifying making it virtually impossible for me to do my job -“oh” he said “what about if you faint?” at almost every turn and in discussions of situations in which I couldn’t possibly have fainted because of the nature of the condition that causes my syncopes (like when I’m sat down).

Anyway onto more serious stuff – the BBC are reporting UNICEF figures that women in the developing world are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in the developed world.

The lifetime risk in a developing country was one in 24, compared with one in 8,000 in richer countries. About 99% of the 500,000 maternal deaths in 2005 occurred outside industrialised nations, more than half of them in Africa, Unicef said. It adds that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, the agency said.

The UN has called for a 75% reduction in the maternal mortality rate by 2015 as part of its Millennium Development Goals programme.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has launched the search for the Muslim Women Power List 2009.

The Power List is a celebration of Muslim women within the working community in Britain who have already reached the top of their chosen field or are on the fast track to success. Any British Muslim woman over the age of eighteen and in employment may apply – nominations may be submitted by or on behalf of an individual. Nominations can be submitted until 16 February 2009 via www.thelist2009.com

Shortlisted nominees are required to:

  • demonstrate significant results through strong leadership;
  • illustrate successful performance in their chosen career;
  • demonstrate how their actions have made a positive difference to their work and the work of others
  • demonstrate that they are viewed as a role model/figure of leadership/inspiration to their colleagues and peers;

I am kind of shocked to find out that Health Visitors are being asked to spot the signs of post-partum depression – didn’t they do this already? THis is based on a study by University of Sheffield which found women with post-partum depression supported by Health Visitors fared better than women being supported by their GPs. In a different study in Canada it’s been found that women who receive telephone support post-birth develop less post-partum depression. In short – targetting support without stigmatising women works and makes for happier mums.

Also on parenting, 70% of women in China want the one child rule revoked. Which is a timely reminder that not all maternity/fertility campaigns are about access to abortion, some are about freedom from it.

Feministe reminds us that sometimes just going to school is a major step for the liberation of girls and women. Especially in countries like Afghanistan..

“My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” said Shamsia, 17, in a moment after class. Shamsia’s mother, like nearly all of the adult women in the area, is unable to read or write. “The people who did this to me don’t want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things.”

Abyss2hope has some apposite interventions in the consent to sex/rape debate.

Nobody who goes to a car dealership needs to be empowered to always say no in order to avoid unwanted car ownership or car ownership which comes at too high of a price. If a shopper says, “maybe” or “I’ll think about it” or says nothing everybody gets that there is no consent. So this concept is not a difficult one. Yet many people — including those who vocally oppose rape — continue to have trouble with this concept when it comes to sex or sexual contact.

Meanwhile a US-Canadian study has proven the bleedin’ obvious – white folks don’t feel the emotional anguish of racism, there’s a surprise!

Apparently, people who are not on the receiving end of racial slurs are not compelled to correct those who say them. Also, the opinion of those use racial slurs doesn’t seem to change the opinion of the receiver, despite their obvious bias.

Comments From You

Natalia // Posted 16 January 2009 at 4:12 pm

Thanks for the link-love!

Boyfriend is an absolute darling – but, being a man and all, he can ignore the little things a woman must think about every time she leaves the house, and how there will always be at least one asshole who’ll say it’s her fault anyway if something should happen.

In another sense, he is right, I *am* morbid – fear of sexual assault is just the tip of the iceberg. Having been also violently attacked as a child, I spend even more time worrying about people taking the opportunity to kill me (for no reason at all – like, “I don’t like her hair, *boom*”).

We live in Amman right now, which is very safe compared to most American cities. From what I’ve seen here, neither women nor men will ignore a situation in which someone needs help. Instead of running horrifying scenarios through my head 24/7, I want to feel alright – “if something happens, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

As much as I need him to comfort me when I feel afraid, sometimes what I need more is for him to look me in the eye and say “you need to pull yourself together right this second.”

Whatever works.

Your former boss sounds toxic – I’m glad that person is in your past. I had a guy treat me like that when I was volunteering one summer. I fainted once from the heat, and, a few days later, the same thing happened to another dude. The dude got it even worse than I did, fainting being so “unmanly” and all.


I’ve been wondering lately, about how much any sign of vulnerability is despised, derided, or even punished.

ThisIsMoreComplex // Posted 16 January 2009 at 5:00 pm

…than it might seem.

The racism study is not valid – and before anyone shouts at me, I don’t deny racism exists.

It is (as the writer herself acknowledges) shocking to hear overt racism.

In that situation I can see myself being too shocked to respond.

I have been in that situation twice, faced with overt racism. Both times I was just too taken aback to say anything.

On one occasion, I was only 16 and looking at houses with my parents who were looking to buy. The estate agent remarked (uninvited) that another client she’d shown around homes the other day had been ‘black as coal’ and she had not expected a black person ‘as he sounded educated on the phone’.

Another time, I was buying my morning paper on the way to work shortly after 7/7 and another customer began to abuse the shop worker behind the till (who appeared of Asian origin), saying ‘if you don’t like it here &*(^ off home’ etc. Racist moron left the shop before I could say anything. I didn’t know what to say to the guy behind the till, if anything; rarely have I felt guilt for being white, but that was one time I did. In the end I just rolled my eyes and made sure to smile and thank him extra politely.

It doesn’t mean the person wouldn’t address racism from a friend, acquaintance, colleague, etc. they see every day.

This is not uncommon; in other studies, participants do not help anotehr participant they think is having a fit, for example. In Milgram’s study, people will administer what they think is a severely painful electric shock to others. In a study by Asch, people literally deny the evidence of their own eyes; saying two lines that are not the same length, are.

Psychologists aren’t entirely sure why, but it is to do with conformity, socialisation, fitting in.

(I am not saying just fitting in and not standing up for one’s own beliefs is a good thing, by the way).

Once the participant has not protested the racist comment, for example, they then justify it to themselves. It’s painful to think ‘hey, I didn’t say anything, I don’t really know why, what an idiot I am’ – the notion that ‘I did not protest against that racist remark’ conflicts with our belief that we are not racist, so, in what is called cognitive dissonance, we then justify our actions to ourselves, deciding the remark wasn’t that bad.

Again, not saying any of this is right. But it is how people are.

Undoubtedly, some of the participants were just out-and-out racists and had a fun time. I suspect most just felt awful and awkward.

Just saying; this study does not in fact prove that all white people are nasty racists.

Ruth // Posted 16 January 2009 at 5:28 pm

I wouldn’t be too sure that Health visitor support will necessarily be non-stigmatizing. Mine nearly induced depression (and certainly a lot of tears and anguish) in me by utterly failing to spot that I was not, in fact, merely a crappy mother (her obvious opinion) but had an autistic toddler…and mine is not an isolated case, from what I have heard. Sadly, female health professionals have also bought heavily in to the idea that mothers who are not shining beacons of happy domestication are personally flawed.

Maia // Posted 17 January 2009 at 3:18 pm

It sounds awful, but if I was a man and I saw a woman faint, I’m not sure I’d help her because I’d be afraid I might be wrongly accused of sexually molesting her.

There was a horrific story a while back about a little girl who wandered out of her nursery school, down the road and then eventually fell into a pond and drowned. A man driving past in a van saw her and wondered what she was doing alone in the street, but he was afraid to intervene in case he was accused of molesting or trying to kidnap her. I’m not condoning his behaviour but I can understand it.

polly styrene // Posted 19 January 2009 at 11:40 am

I hear someone’s got a research grant to find out what religion the pope is.

A fear of fainting in public is entirely rational. Especially since in the past men have been acquitted of raping unconscious/sleeping women on the grounds that they thought she consented.

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