I know I’m not alone feeling gutted every time I check my Twitter feed these days. The news is depressing, it’s triggering, and it’s infuriating. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be pregnant and about all of the silent sacrifices that women and mothers make. It’s hard not to consider womanhood when the news has been what it’s been lately.
I am a woman and I am a mother and I am very happy to be both. But I am about to bring a female baby into this world and this is a world where women are vulnerable, both physically and emotionally to the power of the patriarchy. (Sidebar: I’m having a PAL pang here where I’m feeling scared to assume that everything with the rest of this pregnancy will be okay. Deep breath. . .) The news these days has been heartbreaking on so many different levels, but I’m here thinking about what it means to be a woman. In Hollywood, women who have been fearful and silent are coming forward to tell their stories of harassment and abuse at the hands of powerful and influential men. It’s starting a conversation about a hidden, accepted, systemic problem with how women and men are socialized. I am inspired by the strength the victims have to come forward and horrified by what’s happened to them. I know that there are so many reasons to feel grateful and lucky to live where I live and to have the privileges I do, but I am also scared for my girl.
I hate that she will walk down the street and be catcalled. I hate that some guy at a bar will slip a drug in her drink. I hate that men will tell her she should smile more. I hate that the mandatory uniform at her first job will be revealing and uncomfortable while her male coworkers wear jeans. I hate that she will face judgment and opposition when she makes choices about her body as if it’s anyone’s business but her own. I hate that she will never feel 100% safe walking alone at night.
People ask if we know the gender of our baby and it makes me defensive for a variety of reasons, despite their honest intentions. I am proud to be carrying this baby and proud to be her mother but I worry for her and what it means to be a girl in this world. I mask some of that fear behind a vocal and light-hearted disdain for the colour pink, but it’s much deeper than disliking a colour. For me, dressing our girl in pink feels like allowing the labels and limitations of what it means to be a woman to start before she even has a choice about it. For me, the problem is what’s tied up in baby outfits that say “Mommy’s Little Cutie” vs. “I Am a Superhero!”. It’s how we write on the bodies of babies the gender roles which we fight against as women and as adults. To me, dressing a baby in pink feels like adhering to society’s view of what is arbitrarily feminine based purely on my baby’s sex organs. Our daughter’s worth is not determined by what she looks like but by who she is as a person. We know this, we preach this, and yet. . . The retail market is overrun with the idea that a baby needs bows and sparkles to signify her femininity (what even is femininity in an infant??) There seems to be this strange need to add pink and ribbons to make it clear that a baby is a girl. And I don’t understand it. A baby can’t choose. I will definitely be sure that our girl knows that she does not ever need to demur to the assumed entitlement of boys in “Daddy’s Tough Guy” t-shirts. We will do our best to teach her these lessons while society shows her otherwise.
I am so excited for that wonderful day in the future when people stop asking pregnant women, “is it a boy or a girl?” as if it matters. It doesn’t matter. The answer should always be, “it’s a human baby!” My child can do or be whatever she wants to be whether she is dressed in blue or pink; whether she identifies as male or female. But even as I say this I know that she will be limited. Unless feminism is accepted in every facet of our society over the next 20 years, she will make less money than her male colleagues. She will be overlooked for promotions. She will be judged for her appearance. She will make career sacrifices and take unpaid leave to raise children, if she chooses and is able to become a mother. She will be victim to the male gaze, no matter what she looks like, what her sexual orientation is or how she dresses or behaves. And all of this makes me so angry. I feel powerless to protect her and I want this world to be better for her. I suppose that’s where motherhood starts.
(I want to acknowledge that my point of view is from a place of privilege. I am a cisgender, straight, white, middle-class, Canadian woman and that, inevitably, impacts my world-view. I try to stay aware of what my privilege means and hope that I haven’t said anything here that is offensive to anyone. I also know that life is a journey and on the way we learn things. If there’s anything I’ve said that you find problematic, please send me a message.)