- Sex & Drugs
- 28 May 18
Tomorrow, the day after this article is published, we will go to the polls in Ireland. The referendum in which we will mark our Xs on the ballot papers is — ostensibly at least — about the 8th Amendment. But there is more at stake than that. Fundamentally, the electorate is being asked whether or not the women of Ireland can be trusted.
The answer as far as I am concerned is emphatically ‘Yes’. And therefore I will be voting ‘Yes’.
Historically speaking, women, here and around much of the world, have not been trusted. And they still aren’t. This is something we have to change. Don’t believe me? Of course you don’t — I am a woman, after all. But there are many, many examples. Here are a few.
To a very large extent, doctors don’t trust women. For example, women are often assumed to be lying or exaggerating when they complain about pain. In the US, a 2008 National Institute of Health study found that women are less likely to be given opioids for pain, and doctors are slower to give them any pain medication at all.
In the UK, women live in severe pain for an average of seven to eight years before they are diagnosed with endometriosis. This may seem extraordinary. But it is what the figures say. And that’s despite the fact that as many as one in ten women suffer from this condition. The only explanation is that doctors assume that women are misrepresenting their pain. Endometriosis can be particularly painful during menstruation. As a result, many sufferers live with debilitating pain for years because doctors assume that the woman is having a bad period and inflating the amount of pain she is in. This is interesting. Because it suggests that, never mind their bodies, we don’t trust women’s emotions either. Women are, supposedly, prone to hyperbolising their feelings — if not outright lying about them. Women are routinely accused of “turning on the waterworks”? A quick Google will inform you that many, many people assume that women cry as a power play and a form of manipulation. Now I am not saying that all women are as pure as driven unicorns, but you know, most of the time when we cry, it’s because we are upset. When a woman is crying because she is upset, it doesn’t follow that this means she is sad. It is just as likely that these are tears of anger. That’s because, as a general rule, women are socialised not to display anger, where men are taught that “big boys don’t cry.”
Although women supposedly weaponise their tears, we are also — conversely — seen as overly emotional. To a considerable extent, this stereotype relies on the assumption that men display the ‘correct’ amount of emotions, as if there were such a thing.
Interestingly, there really are some gender differences between men and women when it comes to displaying emotions. A large scale 2017 study found that women are not universally more ‘emotionally expressive’ than men. Women smile more often and for longer periods of time. Women also display more sad expressions than men. Men, on the other hand, demonstrate more angry facial expressions. Does this mean that women should not be trusted? You could convincingly argue exactly the opposite. Biological Reality
And now to the nub of the issue: we certainly don’t trust women to make the right reproductive choices.
Much of the fear-mongering around repealing the 8th Amendment is that women will use abortion as another form of contraception. This is absurd as well as horribly patronising. The idea that women — feather-headed nitwits that we are — would rather forego easy, painless contraceptives for the sheer pleasure of undergoing an abortion is too stupid to take seriously. I mean, who the hell wouldn’t want to spend days cramping and bleeding after taking the abortion pill? That’s just good girlish fun, right? But perhaps not as much fun as a surgical abortion, where they use suction.
Where does all this mistrust come from? The truth is that there is a long history of believing women to be shameless liars and devious harlots. If these are the foundational ideas of our culture, they must mean something. And what they mean, inescapably, is that, historically, our social institutions have been built on the fear of women.
There is, perhaps, a very good reason for this. Because the truth is that women have power over life itself. No child can be born without a woman. That biological reality makes us terrifying, valuable, desirable and dangerous.
That is why reproductive rights are a battleground — here in Ireland; in the US; in Poland – and, indeed, in so much of the world. At the centre of it is the desire to wrest control of fertility from women and to give this power to whatever the dominant church might be, or to the State — both institutions over which women, historically, have had little or no control.
A Final Call
Here is another important thing. When I say ‘we’ Here is another important thing. When I say ‘we’ don’t trust women, I mean ‘we’ as a whole — not just men. Lots of women mistrust other women too. This, I believe, is a form of internalised misogyny. But whatever you choose to call it, it is a core part of the problem.
By the same token, many men are staunch allies, who trust women to make the right reproductive decisions for themselves. Many of them have been canvassing every evening for a Yes vote.
This is the battleground in the Referendum at its most straightforward. Are we going to place our trust in women? Or are we going to treat them as hysterical creatures, incapable of making informed and conscientious decisions?
Even those who would not want to have an abortion themselves must know in their hearts that it is sometimes the right thing to do. Because, even for those women, it may come down to having to deal with a fatal foetal abnormality; or to being the victim of rape; or to the kind of tragic circumstances that killed Savita Halappanavar. There are times you can choose. And there are other times when, for some women, it is absolutely essential.
A lot of us – men and women – really do trust that the women of Ireland are capable of making those decisions. I can only hope that there are enough of us to seize the day. And so this is a final call to VOTE YES.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 06 Feb 20