A piece by Camilla Long in today’s Sunday Times:
Everywhere I look, it is the same: women falling to the ground, clutching their bodies in misery. Periods aren’t minor monthly annoyances — they’re torrential, life-altering horrors. Pregnancies aren’t simply a bit of a ballache — they’re prisons of shrieking woe. As for the menopause, well, let’s just say I think we left Kansas the minute Nottingham police installed crying rooms at police headquarters, where menopausal women could “cry or talk with a colleague” before returning “to the workspace”. Don’t normal women just go to the local café?
You look at these fainting Victorian consumptive dolls and think: are crying rooms really what feminists died for? In public life, in private conversation, at work, at home, online and off, I’ve noticed a whole generation of women is slowly being taught to treat the fact that they were born female as some kind of devastating and life-limiting event.
On Thursday, for example, it was reported that a teacher of an Oxford sixth form had to remind her pupils that periods were no more than an “inconvenience” and “all part of being a woman”. “Any female student asking to be sent home ‘ill’ or phoning in ‘ill’ who has a period will not find this is a suitable excuse,” she said, quite reasonably.
Of course she was crucified: there is one sin in this non-brave new world, and that is not showing enough “compassion” or “sympathy” to people who believe themselves victims. By emailing the boys as well as the girls, said a pupil, the teacher was “just making boys think it isn’t bad and they shouldn’t be sympathetic”. But who believes periods ruin your life — genuinely? This isn’t feminism 2020, it is feminism 1853.
You find this princessy poor-me language creeping into nearly every corner of female experience. Even in court documents for the many celeb trials this year we are invited to view women, especially pregnant women and “young mothers”, as hand-flapping, vulnerable, wet, passive vessels who are owed the sympathy of the court simply for being female. Rebekah Vardy was “seven months pregnant”, said her barrister, when Colleen Rooney accused her of leaking stories. Never mind the fact that Vardy looks as if she could kung-fu her way out of any labour ward in a cape and goggles — we had to accept that, as a pregnant woman, she was automatically a victim.
Often it is rich, bored, kept women who promote this idea of female passivity and surrender, as it works well on social media. In her submissions to the court in her privacy trial, the Duchess of Sussex encouraged the judge to protect the anonymity of her five friends on the grounds they were “young mothers”. In Meghan’s world, using one’s status “as a mother” or even simply a woman is a legitimate way of seeking control over anything — it is possible she believes this is feminist, but it isn’t and never will be, any more than having your period means you must deprive yourself of learning.
And so in further womb news on Wednesday we learnt that the duchess miscarried five months ago while she was changing her son’s nappy. My general view on miscarriage is: do write about it, don’t write about it, whatever feels right. But I think we can probably say we’ve got past the point where any article is purely “awareness-raising”, after what happened to the model Chrissy Teigen. Her story was stinging in its honesty — she made no attempt to disguise the minute-by-minute horror of losing a child at 22 weeks.
Meghan’s story felt strangely glossy and idealised by contrast. It united frankly unbelievable little-wifey descriptions of her life in her mansion with digressions on the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd by police. The guiding notion was that women are inevitably “silently suffering” — mute, helpless, weak basket cases who cry on the street and need rescuing with the words, “Are you OK?” You just think: is this for real?
“I felt a sharp cramp. I dropped to the floor with him in my arms … I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, I was losing my second.” As one commenter put it: this reads like a novel.
What would an Oxford schoolgirl think while reading this? She might admire Meghan for sharing her feelings. She might wonder whether a duchess really picked up “rogue” crayons or “missing” socks, as the piece claimed. She might also question whether one woman’s private experiences can really be equated to the horror of global riots and a deadly plague. Is being a woman really that awful?
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