Introducing: The Pregnant Feminist Series

The Pregnant Feminist at Work!

The Pregnant Feminist at Work!

On January 20, 2013 my life changed forever – I was blessed by the birth of my first child, a precious daughter.  During my pregnancy I faced challenges regarding my identity as a feminist, which resulted in a three-part missive, The Pregnant Feminist Series.  I didn’t publish the posts right away (I wanted to be sure that I still agreed with my assertions post-pregnancy hormones haha), but have chosen to share them now.  Hopefully this series will eventually give birth (hoho, pun intended) to a series on feminism and motherhood.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, please enjoy The Pregnant Feminist Series:

  1. Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public
  2. Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life
  3. Part 3: The Postpartum Feminist and the New Normal
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The Pregnant Feminist Series: Part 1

5 months

As I write these words, I am 22 weeks pregnant, which is 5.05966 months pregnant for those who are not week-literate.  It’s my first pregnancy: with every passing week, new sensations and social phenomena blow my mind; I am becoming increasingly convinced that pregnancy is the feminist’s final frontier.  In fact, I have had so many hormone-fueled thoughts on the matter, that I decided that I would need to break this down into a series of blog entries.  Aside from Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public, please see also Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life and Part 3: The Postpartum Feminist and the New Normal.

Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public

I find it horribly unfair that I have to be the one that is pregnant.  My partner and I have often bemoaned that fact that he is in a far better position physically, professionally and geographically than I am to support a pregnancy.  An avid runner, he is in the best shape of his life.  I gobble down sachets of instant oatmeal as I run from meetings to networking events.  He is an entrepreneur that works from home and can self-manage his time and workload.  I am just beginning year two of a two year contract that keeps me hopping days, nights and weekends (not to mention jobhunting at the end of the contract).  We live 10 minutes walk from his family.  I am separated from my family by an international border.  But alas, I am the one with a uterus in this couple, and so tag – I’m it!

It hasn’t kept me from grumbling to myself – Equality is a feminist illusion.  And we will never truly gain equity until we can reconcile this whole child-bearing thing.

But that, my dear readers, is another rant.  Today, I make the grim observation that in North America, the pregnant body is public property.  Oh yes.

And we all know how people treat public property.

It’s not so much the belly touching for me.  Although the belly touching does make me uncomfortable (thoughts that run through my head – is my belly too soft?  Were they expecting a firmer baby bump?  That’s not where the baby even is, but please don’t go poking around 4 inches lower…), I have accepted it as something that people can’t seem to control themselves from doing.  It started at the dawn of month 4 when I was just barely starting to show and hadn’t even come to terms with my own changing body yet.  And it’s not just your old Aunt Matilda that does it – I have had my belly stroked, patted or poked at family barbecues, yes, but also at networking events and at the office, at restaurants by waitstaff, and at the locker room at a public pool.  It’s like I have this giant magnet strapped to the front of me and people run from all directions to put their hands on it.  Ok, I shouldn’t say people – women!  The day a strange man puts his hand on my belly without my consent will be a very unpleasant day for him, I can guarantee it.

Like I said, though, it’s not so much the belly groping that I take issue with.  I have been far more put off by some of the insensitive comments, observations and questions.  My body is now a point of speculation for the self-appointed pregnancy experts, the uninitiated in the wonders of child-bearing and the curious.  I’m not to say that all comments, observations or questions are unwelcome.  I have encountered very many kind, gentle and tactful people in the past several months and I heartily welcome their insight, shared experiences and well-meaning queries.  In fact, one question I love to hear is “How are you feeling?” – when asked sincerely by someone who really wants to know, it is a relief for me to be able to vent about the variety of new sensations, physical and emotional, that I am experiencing.  But when I am asked, “How much weight are you allowed to gain?” or told, “You don’t look very pregnant”, I have to wonder what planet these people are on.

I haven’t gained very much weight at all, mostly due to the fact that I was vomiting multiple times a day for the first 4 months and just desperately trying to get nutrients into my body.  It was really worrisome to not be able to keep down every attempt at providing a balance of vitamins and minerals, proteins and carbohydrates.  And hard to not count pounds and calories and to focus on how I feel.  I talked about it with my doctor, read some books on the matter, developed game plans with my partner – things are going better now, and we have things under control.  So then to hear from some random acquaintance that “you really should try harder to gain some weight”, I feel like killing them.  Like I want to have to explain my concerns and strategies to this person I barely know so that they can feel like I’m not intentionally trying to not gain weight.

I’m not the type of person that needs other people’s approval – but then again, I’m not used to be confronted so directly on issues that I am already feeling vulnerable about.

I gave a presentation to a room full of regional managers at work.  At the end of the presentation, I announced my pregnancy and intentions regarding leave and the continuation of my project.  One of them shouts out, “Where are you hiding it?”, and they all laugh.  Yeah, yeah, it’s really funny that I am 5 months along and just look like I’ve had a few too many beers.

Like a lot of women, I have always had a difficult relationship with my body image and weight (see: Having a Positive Body Image: A Feminist Devoir).  When the morning sickness subsided and I started to put weight back on instead of shed the pounds, it was the first time in my life that I have been happy to gain weight.  Relieved, even.  And it has taken nerves of steel to reaffirm to myself everything that I believe about my body, and owning my experience, and believing in myself in the face of criticism.

So here is my advice to other first-time pregnant feminists out there:

  1. Focus on intention.  When some awkward dope in your entourage says something that makes you want to unfriend them from Facebook, just try to remember that 99% of the time it is well-intended (believe it or not).
  2. Rally the troops.  Bring your confidantes in closer and build a network of allies.  If you’re finding social situations hard to handle, check out Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life.
  3. Make self-care community-care.  You are not alone.  No, seriously, remember – you are not alone.  All of that public property awkwardness stems from the fact that in North American culture, having a baby is a community event.  Work that to your advantage.
  4. Stay true.  Just because you are the pregnant version of you and are probably not feeling quite like yourself these days, don’t forget that you are still you – all of the boundaries and beliefs that you held pre-pregnancy may be evolving, but they are still your own.  Don’t give them up or hand them over to anyone else.
  5. Take the time to fall in love.  You are going to be a mother!  If you are a gen-y feminist like me, that probably scares the crap out of you as much as it energizes you.  Take the time to marvel at the wonderful weirdness of your body and the life that you are creating.  This is what’s important – the rest of what’s going on outside of you and your body right now, it all takes the backseat to this.

Namasté!

MissRep Review: An Unanticipated Reaction

The documentary Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. The film explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.

Ok, let’s be honest, this is not actually a review.  Rather, it’s an anecdote of this girl’s response to watching the documentary for the first time – one that took me wholeheartedly by surprise.

I have the best husband there ever was, that ever will be.  It’s Saturday night, I’ve been working all day (yes, on a Saturday), and I come home about 2 hours later than originally planned.  The woodsy odor of toasted almonds greets me as I open the door – Sole amandine, my favourite.  He tells me that we’re having a movie night.  Perfect.  What’s on the schedule?  First up, Miss Representation.  I melt.  I have managed to marry the most feminist man on the planet.  (Second up is Dédé à travers les brumes, another great choice, btw).

One of the reasons I was so psyched to be seeing MissRep right then was because I am planning on attending a screening and panel discussion on the documentary for International Women’s Day (March 8th).  I thought it would behoove me to see it for myself first, reflect, and then have intelligent things to say or questions to ask. I’m not that good on the spot.

Plus, I’ve been dying to see it since watching the trailer.  The trailer was sent to me by a fellow Girl Guide back in October.  Her commentary was short and sweet: This is why girls need Guides.  Watching it back then was like getting punched in the stomach.  Alone in my office, eyes wide, it made me feel sick, physically nauseated.  Powerful.

So, my husband and I sat down with our dinner and away we go.  What was I expecting?  I thought I would be shocked, outraged, called to arms, indignant.  Yes, I felt that.  What I didn’t expect was guilt, affliction, grief.  3 minutes into the film I burst into tears, and they continued to flow for the duration.

I cried my heart out for the entire 90 minutes of Miss Representation.  I cried for myself, I cried for every woman I had met and those I hadn’t, I cried for men, for children, for America.  I even cried for Sarah Palin.

In my drama and despair, I told my partner that I could not bear the risk of bringing a child into this world.  I realized that the world that I believe in and dream of is generations away from reality, that my children will be victims the way that we are victims, without any way of knowing if it will get better.  I told him I felt like I was wasting my time with non-profits empowering women and girls – that my passion would be better utilized in the corporate world or in politics.

He stopped the film.  He’s not used to seeing me feeling hopeless, and I can see that I’ve got him worried.  He knows that I want to have children with all of my heart.  He knows that I believe that the struggle is not just necessary, it is essential to work to improve the lives of future generations.  He knows it.  I know it.  But for 90 intense minutes, the dark side caught up with me.

It is important to look at the dark side.  But it is also important to bring as much light with you as possible!

The light that you bring with you when you examine and explore the most painful parts of humanity is the love that you have for humanity.  You bring your friends, you bring your partner, you bring your family and even that jerk that cut you off on your way in to work.  You bring every ounce of forgiveness you can muster.

Saturday night I held on to my darling husband and counted my lucky stars.  I will keep up the fight and generating light.  Roland Barthes asks: Is it better to last or to burn?  I say you gotta do both – you need to just keep adding fuel.

*** TRIGGER WARNING ***

Miss Representation Trailer: It’s 8 minutes and 52 seconds that are worth your time.  Watch it.

 

Having a Positive Body Image: A Feminist Devoir

I love long car rides.  There is something about having a (literally) captive audience for hours on end that so completely satisfies my need for external processing.  During one of these vehicular conversations, my partner and I were discussing 5-year plans, career goals, and the professional development areas that would get us there.  We talked about financial literacy and fiscality, networking and personal branding, work-life balance…and then he hit me with a stunner – body image.  It was a good thing that I wasn’t driving because I was floored!  Not me!

Nevertheless, the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was dead-on.  The shame was instantaneous.

I spend my days working for a non-profit organization that empowers girls and young women.  Body image and self-esteem (two different things that are related, but are, in fact, distinct personal phenomena) are a HUGE part of our mission and programming.  I tout self-love and acceptance importunately!  I know all the sound-bites, read all the books, articles and rhetoric.  The societal repercussions of negative body image are vast and devastating.  Girls die from eating disorders.  We slather ourselves with toxic chemical beauty products.  We subject ourselves to risky surgical procedures.  And this is just body image – the results of low self-esteem follow right behind in a tragically frightening long list.  I truly believe that all women are beautiful – and that they should think so too!  

Except, somewhere in the deepest, most shameful part of my psyche, I was also harbouring the belief that all of this did not apply to me.

I have a complicated relationship with my body (oh, don’t we all).  I will make a long story short by turning into a mini pictorial:

When I was 2, I thought I was hot stuff!

When I was 2, I thought I was hot stuff!

When I was 22 I was ashamed because I felt that I "took up too much space".


When I was 22 I was ashamed because I felt that I “took up too much space”.

 

So I started running - lost over 100 lbs - and felt like a superhero!

So I started running – lost over 100 lbs – and felt like a superhero!

Nowadays it's all about BALANCE.

Nowadays it’s all about BALANCE.

Honestly, it was hard finding pictures of myself!  I avoided looking in the mirror or being photographed more than the neck up for years.  But to summarize – I started out thinking I was pretty cute, gained a lot of weight, lost a lot of weight, and still struggle with the way I perceive my body.  So, obviously body image doesn’t really have anything to do with the number on the scale.  In fact, it was almost like the thinner I got, the more insecure about my body I was getting!  What the heck!?

Then it hit me – you can only improve your body image if you try!

I wasn’t trying!  I mean, I wasn’t not trying, but I certainly wasn’t doing anything about it.  And ladies, I am here to say to you today – it is our DUTY to work on our body image.  How else are we going to raise daughters with a healthy sense of their bodies?  Girls that feel powerful and capable – that nothing can hold them back!  Well, it’s not going to happen just by hearing others tell us that we’re gorgeous or any other external source.  It must come from within and is within your control.

So how exactly do you do that?

1 – Fight the negative internal dialogue.  Start by observing it.  When does that little voice inside you pop in and say things you wouldn’t tell your worst enemy?  Once you’ve identified it, give it a name.  No, really…  Bertha.  Then, give yourself a you-champ, a voice that tells Bertha that she’s wrong.  Give her a name.  Belinda.  Then give Belinda every weapon you’ve got for the battles that will ensue.

2 – Believe your you-champs.  If your best friend tells you that you’re looking hot, accept the compliment!  When your partner says “you’re so beautiful” and you haven’t brushed your teeth yet, rejoice!  Trust the people that don’t otherwise lie to you.

3 – Exercise and eat your veggies.  When you are doing right by your body, you can’t help but feel better about it!

4 – Celebrate your successes.  Did Belinda just give you a compliment, and Bertha didn’t even have a comeback?  Yahoooo!  That’s one for the good guys!

Infuse yourselves with bold courage, my friends.  You are beautiful (and if Bertha just piped up in your head while you were reading that, send Belinda to go smother her in kisses).

What strategies do you use to improve your body image?  Comment!