Well, it was International Women’s Day yesterday. I enjoyed reading many profound comments and ‘shares’ on social media, and I wish I had something equally profound to share. I don’t think I do. But I did feel the need for a woman-affirming song this Tunes Tuesday. Thanks #tracychapman . I will share with you why.
In my life it feels like every day is all about women. Poor hubby. (Not really, he loves it.) I’m a midwife becoming increasingly desperate to get back to the original reason I got into midwifery in the first place 10 years ago: Help women help themselves have better birth outcomes and a more positive, empowered start to family life. I’m a mother to two young girls, Chab and I doing our best to support them navigate the challenges of growing up way too fast, despite our efforts to preserve their childhood as long as possible.
Last week I had a big chat with Phemie, our 9 year old about “the process of how babies actually come out”. A friend of hers had asked her the question, and her response was “Pain, pain, pain, and then there’s the baby.” Er, no, I couldn’t let that one fly. It may have been 10pm (she always wants to talk at bedtime) but I had to explain, with a strong focus on the importance of the language we choose to use, what is actually happening to the cervix and the uterus during these contractions (or surges or waves), and how, most importantly, women’s bodies are amazing. Women’s bodies are made to grow and birth babies, and we as a society have lost sight of that. We’ve forgotten. If we remember that and understand and appreciate the incredible process of childbearing, we can approach it with wonder and enthusiasm rather than fear and ignorance. She hung on every word.
The next day I had to have a long chat with my 7 year old who revealed to me in tears that a boy in her class has been teasing her about her appearance. She was so reluctant to tell me exactly what he’d been saying, and said she didn’t want him to get in trouble. She told me in the end. I suspected from the start it was about her corpulence. To get there I asked her if he’d been making comments on her beautiful smile? (no), her curly brown hair? (no) Her big brown eyes? Her strong muscly arms? No, no, no. “Is he commenting on your size Reina?” (yes).
Sigh. It’s so hard.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being a heavier body type and somebody noticing that the way they might notice another’s hair. Unfortunately, we are all aware, that this little boy was not repeatedly telling my little girl that she’s fat because he’s simply sharing what he considers to be a benign observation. He’s saying it to hurt her and make her feel ‘less than’. That is what I focused on with Reina- that nobody should be allowed to say or do something purposely to hurt you or make you feel less than. She said she’s just been walking away. I told her that’s not enough. It’s clear to me she feels shame that she’s being taunted in this way and suddenly a confident spunky little girl becomes meek and mild. She is silent. She doesn’t go to the teacher. She doesn’t tell him off even though she knows he’s being unkind.
Somehow, she feels she has to just take it.
NO. I told her he needs to know that’s not on and her teacher needs to be told. I told her she has our full permission to tell him LOUDLY in no uncertain terms: “Don’t you ever say that to me again little boy!” We had fun practising that one. There are many other options of course, she could laugh and thank him, she could shrug and say yeah, so what, she could retaliate with “Well I may be fat now but you’ll always be stupid!” LOL. I can’t take credit for that one (you know who you are!) .
But I like my suggestion best. I want my girls to stand up to bullies. With strength and conviction. I want them to show them that they won’t be messed with. “Reina,” I said, “this is not a time to be nice, quiet and polite. Do you think boys are taught to be nice, quiet and polite?” “No!” No, I don’t think they are. I also sent her teacher and the deputy an email all about it. You might think involving them both is over the top, but I really don’t. There needs to be zero tolerance to this kind of insidious behaviour, right from the start. The boy needs a clear message it’s not okay. Our daughters need the clear message they mustn’t stand for it. They need to see that they are backed 100%.
Six years ago, we were enjoying a very sociable gathering at our friends’ place. Lots of parents and kids all around the same age. My beautiful healthy baby Reina was rocking a onesie. It was warm. I think someone had made a comment how well she was growing. Rolls for days. She was 3.9kg at birth and showed no signs of getting off that 95th percentile. Another friend made a comment about her solid thighs. “Are you worried?” he quipped, laughing. What. The. Fuck.
Yes mate, yes I am. But it’s not what you think.
Happy International Women’s Day folks. We’ve come a long way but damn there’s a long way to go.