This week, I read a number of things that consisted of demeaning attacks on women, and brutal assaults on women, and disrespectful treatment of women (funny how those things just show up in my news feed and inbox). And while each account was disturbing in itself, I found myself even more agitated by the response of criticism of the WAY THE WOMEN HANDLED THE SITUATIONS!
“Well, that was a childish way to respond.”
“It sounds like she still holds some resentment.”
“She should have chosen a midwife / doula / the right hospital / birthed at home…..”
I just finished reading a heart wrenching story that I haven’t yet shared on my pages because the woman who endured the violence used adjectives like “bitch” and “shit” repeatedly to describe her experience – to detail the anger and injustice and violation she was still newly processing. I know that many would be rightly horrified by the injustice of her story, but I also anticipate that enough would be hung up on her word choice. That the conversation would devolve from the issue at hand to analyzing the proper way she “should have” contained her words for better effect.
And I pause.
I think about the obnoxious expectation we place upon women. How we throw around words like “responsibility” and “ownership” as though individual women have the power to protect themselves from institutional violence. And to be fair, some do. Some succeed.
But, should escape from systemic violence be only for the privileged?
Is it only for those who are brave enough
or bold enough
or empowered enough
or financially stable enough
or fortunate enough to not encounter complications?
What of the women who opt out of the system, but have a situation arise that warrants a transport? Have they not been responsible or trusting enough?
What of those who don’t want to opt out? Who feel safest in the hospital? Have they somehow earned their persecution? Thrown themselves before the magistrate, self-sacrificing martyrs, guilty as charged?
What of those who just don’t educate themselves? Don’t know better. Don’t have any idea about the complexities that await pregnant and laboring women until it is too late? Do we chant “ignorance is no excuse!” and carry on throwing stones?
And what about all of them, battered and bruised by the very system they trusted? Are they now also responsible to process the right way, hold their head higher and keep a stiff upper lip all while toting a new baby on their hips?
What is helpful?
We may feel like we’re helping the movement by asking women to stake a claim to ownership over the co-opting of their bodies and their births. And certainly, women should be supported in their journey toward this end.
But, when we, as activists, center the focus on women and their responsibility, we heavily detract from the oppressive forces actively working against us.
We can’t JUST tell women to opt out of the system because not all women will want to opt out, and even some who want to, can’t; and others who do will find themselves in need of care within the system.
We can’t JUST tell women that they have rights in labor and they should fight for them because it ignores the complexities involved in advocating for one’s rights while vulnerable and exposed.
We have to stop blaming women for the repercussions of choosing a certain kind of birth because women are not convicts in their own abuse.
The SYSTEM, itself, is the only thing worthy of criticism or critique. The Institution is wrong and corrupt and damages women and babies in its wake.
Many women are taking responsibility and ownership – both personally and broadly – in powerfully claiming birth as pregnant people’s territory. But that fact doesn’t make women responsible for their own reprehensible treatment.
If we find ourselves saying things like, “if only she would have...” or “why did she let them….” we are fueling divisiveness amongst ourselves. We actually legitimize the culture of violence against women when we play into victim-blaming. And when we do, we turn the spotlight from the assailant to the woman.
What if instead of saying “women should ___________” we commit to keeping the focus on how women should be served? Any time you feel like a “she should have” comment is about to roll off your tongue, try one of these instead:
“No care provider should ever treat a person that way”
“Women should not have to arm themselves with advocates; they should be treated with dignity and respect and as competent decision-makers”
“Women should be offered respectful care regardless of where they choose to give birth”
“Care providers should offer true informed consent, and stop coercing women into procedures and routines with no basis in evidence”
“Women should be offered accurate information, not information to push protocol”
Slovak activist, Zuzana Kriskova recently said,
“…stop crying or wishing other people do better. We should educate ourselves, and do our part. If we can be leaders, then we should lead and learn how to do it better. And we all are leaders in some ways. If we are followers, then look for the bits and pieces we can do to help the change and learn how to do it better. And we all are followers in some ways. The system will change, because we will change it.”
Yes! It will change. And it will change must faster if we keep our eyes centered on the target. We’re all in this together.