The Conception Conundrum

Cait Findlay

CC

As much as I find myself entertaining for joking with a partner that I’m not ready to be a dad (see above), there is a darker shadow to it. People in long-term relationships with partners assigned the same biological sex as them at birth (for shorthand, I’ll use the term ‘same-sex couples’) face more challenges than most straight couples to have children. I say ‘most’ because, of course, this isn’t an issue unique to LGBT+ people; infertility challenges conception for many straight couples in ways that can be frustrating and heart-breaking. Conversations like the above, trivial though they may be, demonstrate the opposite challenge to a brilliant article already written for the FemSoc blog called ‘The Contraception Conundrum’. For LGBT+ people, one of the biggest reproductive issues we (will) face is more aptly called ‘The Conception Conundrum’.

At the age of twenty, the prospect of having children has figured as little more than a tiny spot on my radar. However, it does figure. In theoretical conversations with straight friends about what we’d be like as parents, to questioning whether we would even want to fulfil that role in the first place as well as considering how parenthood might fit into career plans, the obvious biological hurdles that face queer women are often under scrutiny. As a fifteen-year-old, barely out of the closet and still working to navigate my sexuality, I was questioned by my friends about my putative future family. In a society where partners and families are still understood to be an inseparable strand of the future, bound up with work and travel, the possibility of having a family is often taken to be more than a possibility and is thought of as a certainty. This is, perhaps, informed by the way that we are taught sex education, as well as by the silence surrounding fertility in our culture. Nevertheless, the inevitability of motherhood – for many see it as an inevitability – forces the conception conundrum into my thoughts as a future concern, while many of my peers are challenged by the immediacy of the contraception conundrum.

The ‘Contraception Conundrum’ arises from the fact that pregnancy, for many straight couples, is a real risk, particularly given that infertility issues often don’t arise until people start ‘trying’ to have children. Therefore, most straight people assume that they can have children until it’s proven otherwise. I’m going to have to disregard the difficulties faced by two male-assigned people here, because it’s almost certainly harder to negotiate surrogacy than impregnation. However, one option for queer women is a ‘homemade’ pregnancy, where insemination from a sperm donor takes place at home. Aside from the ‘ick’ factor that many women-oriented women would feel at this prospect, it’s more complicated than merely using the sperm of a friend or relative. How do you negotiate the donor’s relationship to the child when you have no legal or medical professionals to intervene? How often can you try it as an option, if, as is likely, you don’t conceive the first time? How might it change your relationship to the donor? It’s possible to find someone who is a stranger, but how might that affect things and what risks does it add? If you can’t screen the donor, known or not, for various medical conditions, what impact might that have? Some donors insist on ‘natural insemination’ rather than ‘artificial insemination’, which creates a transactional element to sperm donation: you can have my sperm, but only if I can have sex with you. Some of these men change their mind on the day. How do you respond to that? These are all questions which are either unanswerable or immensely difficult to navigate.

Given that ‘natural’ methods are largely out of the picture, for many same-sex couples, medical intervention is almost inevitable when they decide to have children. These are intrusive and expensive, and often do not work the first time; this isn’t limited to same-sex couples who wish to have children, and obviously some straight couples do not expect to have to go through IVF or any other ‘artificial’ means of becoming pregnant. It is, however, an additional concern – although it’s likely that the thought and effort required would ensure that parents are entirely certain and prepared for children, once they are born. Moreover, given the length of time it can take to conceive using IVF or other interventionist routes to pregnancy, it may actually become more urgent. Same-sex couples can’t just ‘try’ to conceive in the same way that straight couples can; at the very least, far more people and processes are involved in the ‘trying’.

A final emotional hurdle is the question of biological relationships, which is another issue I have been confronted with by friends on multiple occasions. I’m no scientist, but I would hope that the potential for three-parent babies, as used currently for preventing mitochondrial disorders, would be an option open to queer women at least in the future. For some, this would be a welcome and validating way to feel connected to their offspring. Some queer women might choose to foster that sense of attachment by contributing either eggs or their womb to the project of creating and incubating a foetus. Evidently, this isn’t the same as sharing half of your DNA with your significant other to create a child with your genetic fingerprints, but it’s a workable alternative. My personal standpoint is that people have been raising children that aren’t biologically ‘theirs’ for years, in the capacity of step-parents and adoptive or foster parents, and so it seems pointless to challenge non-straight people about the fact that their children may not carry their genes.

Of course, if you’re not attached to biological relationships and unconvinced by any of the processes detailed above, adoption is an option. Same-sex couples in the UK have been able to adopt children together since the Children and Adoption Act of 2002, which removed the necessity of marriage as a prerequisite to adoption. Interestingly, at the time the Act was passed, many supporters stressed that their interest in approving the Act was not for the improvement of gay rights in the UK, but rather to provide as many children as possible with supportive families and home environments. As of last year, the Independent reported that the amount of LGBT+ couples choosing to adopt was increasing, while their straight counterparts were decreasing in numbers; some have connected this to the legalisation of gay marriage in 2014. It may well be that adoption is the best possible solution, providing children with new homes and couples with children to raise and nurture. However, taking the argument to its logical conclusion would imply that LGBT+ couples should always adopt in preference to having their own children. No one should feel obligated to adopt, regardless of their sexuality and fertility status. It’s also immensely complicated to go through adoption processes. Adoption, then, is not always an ideal or satisfactory option, regardless of its other moral implications.

To conclude, there are a few options, some more appealing than others, but all seem to be slightly dissatisfying. We remain at an impasse. For many LGBT+ people, the prospect of conception is a conundrum, and one with no immediate answer or solution.

 

 

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Wokeness: A Re-evaluation

Finley Kidd

To say that Woke has become a left-wing buzzword would be an understatement. Wokeness is now the metric we use to evaluate one another as we attempt to discern who is trustworthy and, ostensibly, who ought to be shunned for their Bad Politics. I myself am guilty of this, casually asking my friend “Do you think X is woke?” as we idly gossip over a McFlurry. But what does it really mean to be woke? And why is this the question we’re asking, rather than whether someone is compassionate, or thoughtful, or committed? In general, when we talk about “being woke” we’re referring to someone who sees the world in terms of a series of interlocking capitalist, patriarchal, imperialist power structures that systematically exploit, oppress and marginalise certain groups. However, it’s important to note that the term has been bastardised from its original use by black organisers in community-led movements, and as the term has been iterated it has strayed far from this purpose. In practice, Wokeness is now rapidly morphing into an intellectual status based on your ability to say the right thing and hold your own in academic discourse, rather than constituting a genuinely active outlook that guides behaviour.

 

Being kind gets a bit of a bad rap in leftist circles. This seems to stem from the immense pressure placed on marginalised groups to be nice even in the face of violence, especially to their oppressors. Such an attitude is obviously never demanded of those who hold the power in society. It can be radical and important to reject this burden, to be angry, or to refuse to spend your energy pandering to those around you. However, we should be careful to understand that being nice and being kind are not the same. Most of the time, being nice is about performing a set of socially mandated behaviours which continuously re-encode the power structures from which they spring. To me, kindness is more about meeting people where they are with respect and honesty. This can mean being critical of them, asking for what you need from people, pushing yourself to do better for others, or disengaging when it’s necessary. I worry that by conflating this with mere nicety, we avoid thinking about how to re-route our activism through a framework of compassion.

 

The burgeoning brand of intellectual Wokeness, where having the correct opinions is enough, puts us at risk of fostering activist spaces that only reproduce the very power dynamics which they seek to eradicate. For instance, radically left groups are forever offering up platitudes about the importance of accessibility whilst in fact ignoring the ableism they themselves replicate by holding lengthy meetings which require you to be able to attend, let alone verbally articulate yourself, or not publicising accessibility information in advance, if at all. Similarly, people who are compassionate, empathetic and dedicated but who are at a much earlier point in learning about systemic violence may struggle to get involved in spheres that seem mostly concerned with who or what someone knows rather than whether they care.

 

It is not an act of kindness or self-preservation to treat people like their worth in justice work depends on how well they meet a pre-existing list of criteria: namely being charismatic, eloquent and able to be present on command. Interestingly, this seems far more aligned with the characteristics that elevate white masculine mediocrity in mainstream society than with any radical re-envisioning of what we should be valuing. This, then, is a model of solidarity based on capacity rather than one of vulnerability, welcoming people into a political community not on the basis of them needing that community but because they are useful to you; they share the capacity to organise, read heavy theory, speak confidently. Needless to say, this kind of capacity is often impossible for those from marginal backgrounds, who need these spaces the most.

 

In addition, the care-based work that goes towards mitigating these issues falls disproportionately upon the most marginalised individuals in these spaces, particularly women. If white, abled cishet men are serious about tackling injustice, they cannot leave it to the PoC, disabled and women and non-binary people around them to carry out the crucial acts of compassion and care that go towards making liberation campaigning viable. We also know from the rates of abuse on the left that being woke in the public sphere does not necessarily extend to treating the people in your own life with respect, and it is this false equivalence that abusers exploit in order to get away with abuse. Although liberation politics ought to be about compassion and empathy for real people in real life and not just a locus for theoretical discussion, taking someone’s politics as an indication that they can be trusted is, unfortunately, misguided.

 

To maintain that our politics should be compassionate is not to suggest we should do away with criticism or accountability. Everyone has a responsibility to educate themselves on institutional injustices, especially those faced by groups of which they are not a part. Making mistakes, being comfortable taking criticism and being held to account are essential parts of this learning process. No one is responsible for making you feel better about ‘offending’ them or dwelling comfortably in your ignorance. However, I think we stand to gain a lot by thinking about Wokeness as nothing more than a bare minimum baseline from which to build: reflexivity, self-interrogation, dedication and compassion are also required. Kindness can be just as radical as anger, especially if it is used to create spaces in which everyone feels they can have a stake in dismantling everything that currently functions to keep our world as violent, exploitative and degrading as it is.

 

On Lesbian Privilege

Cait Findlay 

The social media hubbub that broke out surrounding the short story ‘Cat Person’ by Kristin Roupenian, published in The New Yorker in December 2017, has long since died down, but it remains pertinent in discussions of modern dating and relationships. When I was sent the story, I was, as most readers were, deeply disturbed. However, unlike the friends I discussed it with, who found resonances of their experiences echoing in it, I couldn’t find a single shred of ‘relatability’ in it. A telling comment from one of my friends revealed why that was: she said that it was exactly what it is like to date men.

As someone who is romantically attracted to women, I found that distressing, given the controlling behaviour, lack of evident attraction, and blurriness surrounding consent which form the narrative. There is a debate about whether the story is purely fictional or rather a personal essay, but regardless, the fact that many young women were familiar with the narrative is uncomfortable and deserves the exegesis which has already been devoted to the topic about the ways in which misogyny translates into intimate, and particularly sexual, relationships.

In an unexpected turn of events, I found myself wondering briefly if such a thing as ‘lesbian privilege’ could exist, in the sense of a release from certain pressures. Evidently, lesbians are very much a disenfranchised group of people, caught in a no-man’s-land between invisibility and fetishization. Whatever advantages there might be to dating women does not compensate in any way for the experiences which make women-loving women feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Similarly, women are equally capable of controlling, intrusive, and harmful behaviour, and so, in a parallel universe, the Robert of ‘Cat Person’ could easily have been a Roberta. Awareness of these inarguable facts should form the white noise underlying this essay.

However, I was curious as to whether there are some ways in which women-oriented people, and indeed any queer people entering into non-heterosexual relationships, are liberated from the power dynamics that automatically exist between men and women in any interaction, let alone an intimate relationship. In addition, I wondered whether there are any tangible benefits to various aspects of life when you ‘opt out’ from compulsory heterosexuality. Of course, gender and sexuality are not the only factor that minutely affects how power manifests; race, class, educational background, etc, are all ways that affect our day-to-day contact with other people. Similarly, the myriad of ways of expressing gender and sexuality refract into myriad ways in which relationships play out.

All this led me, confusingly, down a train of thought processes which wondered whether I was somehow ‘lucky’, or, in a deeper sense, ‘privileged’, for whatever biological, genetic, pheromonal, social, or even random reason that I find myself attracted to women. This is, of course, most relevant in the realm of sexual relationships which do not involve men, particularly given the uncomfortable sexual encounter in ‘Cat Person’. When I searched ‘lesbian privilege’, the results showed mainly trivial lists of why intimate relationships between women are better than between men and women; understanding periods and supposedly being held to lower standards of appearance were two that particularly caught my eye.

On deeper inspection, however, these two things are not trivial at all. They are representative of the way men are brought up, which is in itself infused with a heady blend of entitlement and patriarchal privilege. Ignorance about women’s bodies indicates, at the very least, a lack of empathy, while the fact that straight women tend to hold themselves to higher standards of ‘attractiveness’, whatever that could mean, is body policing. If men and boys are brought up with a mindset best described as ‘women are from Venus’, and therefore immensely different and unusual creatures, no wonder they treat female bodies as oddities and commodities.

This lack of empathy with female bodies, and a refusal to understand them, extends, inevitably, into the sexual. A survey of over 7,000 women, the results of which were published by Public Health England in June 2018, revealed an (unsurprising) disparity between the amount of times lesbians had an orgasm during sex (75%), as opposed to straight women (61%). This disparity isn’t present between straight men (86%) and gay men (85%). Analysis of these results in an article by the Guardian explained away the difference as evidence of the fact that women understand each other’s bodies better, but this is reductive given that every women’s body and capacity for pleasure is different. And furthermore, by the same logic, you’d expect the percentage for gay men to be higher than for straight men, which is not the case. So clearly there is something here which demonstrates an imbalance in priorities in heterosexual sex.

Orgasms are not the hallmark of good sex, and numbers can’t tell us how satisfying sex is for a group of people in general. Nor is sex an accurate barometer for the other components of a relationship, though it may be connected to general emotional fulfilment. Regardless, these statistics reveal that female sexual pleasure isn’t a priority for straight men. Or rather, it might be – but they’re not doing the right things to ensure that their partners are enjoying themselves. If the latter is the case, as I hope it is in preference to the former, I would speculate that the problem comes from two things: men being unwilling to educate themselves, and women feeling unable to communicate their desires.

Ultimately, these two problems, and many more that may plague straight women’s love lives, derive from unequal power dynamics. If your satisfaction is culturally understood to be more important than your partner’s, or vice versa, it makes sense that overturning those expectations is an act of emotional labour which is difficult and time-consuming, and one for which no one has written the script. As such, this is not an attempt to vilify men; in many ways, the demands of patriarchy are damaging to them too, though they don’t seem to manifest in ways as concrete and detrimental as they do for women.

In considering, then, whether lesbians have some kind of ‘privilege’ in their intimate relationships, the answer must be that any degree of advantage is obtained from the work put in by each partner. Rather than playing out the same tired set piece as suffered through by Margot, and all the women who have lived through her experiences, a new narrative is born.

Solidarity In Ruins: White Womanhood Interrogated

Lina Zein

 

Cn: racism, misogyny, violence, mention of sexual assault

 

 

On July 4th of this year a mystery woman climbed 100 feet of the Statue of Liberty in New York, amid protests against US immigration policies that were separating families in borders with no guarantee of reunification. After a four-hour stand-off with the police, the woman was arrested and taken to court, where she was released without bail. Outside the federal building, she stood to give a speech whilst wearing a t-shirt that read ‘white supremacy is terrorism’. She then quoted Michelle Obama, saying: ‘When they go low, we go high, and I went as high as I could.’

 

The woman’s name is Therese Okoumou, a Staten Island activist and trainer. Her actions went viral online and on the news, where she was heralded as brave by supporters of her actions and her cause – as well as being called a ‘clown’ by Donald Trump.

 

I tell this story because I want to examine the racialised and gendered element of this site of resistance: what it tells us about the failings of the current feminist movement at large, where it leaves Black women and women of colour in general under a racist patriarchy, and how white womanhood is implicated in all this as a culprit.

 

When interrogating the feminist movement historically and contemporarily, we find that the category of ‘woman’ is universalised in white womanhood as the only form to exist. This stems from the fact that whiteness is the point of normality by which people of colour are othered. The term ‘woman’ within itself signals an image of a white, cisgendered and able-bodied woman unless stated otherwise.  As a result, white women become the point of reference whenever gender is discussed and their objectives and needs become prioritised, leaving behind women of colour – as well as the much-needed analysis of the position white women inhabit in the persistence of a racist patriarchal system. Black women and non-binary people have been fighting this erasure. In her powerful speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, Sojourner Truth, a Black female civil rights activist, reminded white women that while they fought for the right to work against the sexist assumption that they were too delicate to do so, Black women have been forced to work since the time of slavery for survival and sustenance. This was not an act of empowerment for Black women, as the racialisation of their gender constituted barring them from accessing white femininity by emasculating them, justifying their oppression as enslaved peoples and low-wage workers.

 

This is not to make the simplistic point that women of colour are being ignored in general feminist discourse, as that much we already know. I wish instead to highlight that this very marginalisation is a practice that empowers white women in a racist hierarchy they partake in and benefit from. The history of this mode of oppression in Britain is rarely discussed but that does not detract from its reality.

 

It should be seen as no coincidence that British feminism found its maturity during the age of empire and peaked during a time of imperial consciousness rooted in national and racial supremacy of white Britain. British feminism, like imperialism, was structured around the idea of moral responsibility toward women who were not allowed access to the accepted category of ‘woman’ (read: white). Historian Antoinette Burton reminds us that one of the earliest feminist periodicals in Britain, The Englishwoman’s Review, is an example of this. In it, prominent contributors such as Bayle Bernard wrote extensively about Indian women and the duty of white British women toward them:

 

Let them throw their hearts and souls into the work, and determine never to rest until they have raised their Eastern sisters to their own level; and then may the women of India at last attain a position honourable to themselves and to England, instead of, as is now so generally the case, filling one . . . [sic] with feelings of sorrow and shame.

 

Similarly, renowned suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst held the belief that Britain had a moral duty and a right to rule over the rest of the world: “Some talk about the empire and imperialism as if it were something to decry and something to be ashamed of. [I]t is a great thing to be the inheritors of an empire like ours … great in territory, great in potential wealth … If we can only realise and use that potential wealth we can destroy thereby poverty, we can remove and destroy ignorance.”  

 

This faux brand of sisterhood was a cloak for a more sinister attempt to justify imperial rule over India. Imperialism is often masculinised; only men are capable of something as evil and megalomaniac as colonialism. But the national and racial supremacist remarks that white womanhood is the epitome of modernity and civilisation, the ultimate brand of womanhood to be aspired for by all women, is just as entangled in this colonial project. Feminist ideals were structured upon a racialised caste system whereby white women were granted a position at the top – and to be at the top, someone has to be at the bottom.

 

This points to more than white womanhood simply being a tool of erasure of ‘other’ womanhoods. Instead, it shows that it is a dangerous and violent material category that upholds and benefits the oppression of women of colour within a racist patriarchal system.

 

White women’s racial identity is seldom discussed, let alone interrogated and this has dangerous consequences. The fact that they are awarded the status of being simply ‘women’ doesn’t give much room for nuanced analysis of the fact that they, in fact, belong to a racial identity that has its own position in the racial hierarchy of white supremacy. While white women have always resented the sexist stereotypes imposed on them such as being inherently docile, weak and delicate, those very same labels have been terrorising for black men historically and contemporarily. As white women were faced with such labels, black men have been demonised as inherently monstrous, sexually insatiable, beast-like creatures that target the weak, docile and delicate white women, creating a fertile ground for white womanhood to be mobilised as a tool of racial violence against black men. The case of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Black boy who was lynched for allegedly offending an adult white woman in 1955 Mississippi, is an historic example. And only a few years ago, Dylann Roof’s attack on a notorious African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina included witnesses testifying that he had said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

 

A more close to home and current example is the way white womanhood is mobilised to further islamophobic rhetoric that paints Muslim men in Britain as an imminent threat to the virginal white female figure. The Sun’s cover article titled ‘The Muslim Problem’ where detailed account of how it is Muslim men who are the prime perpetrators of sexual abuse in the country and that this problem must find a solution lest ‘our women’ fall completely prey to this racialised hypermasculine violent figure of the Muslim male.

 

I’ll never forget that on my second day at Cambridge, a white man came to the CUSU BME Campaign stall in Freshers’ Fair and expressed his concern that his daughter would probably be raped by a Pakistani Muslim if she lived alone. To this day I am rattled by this memory. White womanhood’s racist ramifications transcend the feminist binary of oppressive male versus victim female that white feminism operates on. It has the capacity to omit gendered racial violence towards men of colour, especially Black men. White womanhood has consistently allied itself with racist patriarchy, as shown by the infamous 53% statistic of white women voting for Trump in 2016, along with Hillary Clinton’s political record of supporting mass incarceration of Black youth, her role in the Honduran coup in 2009 and subsequent rejection of Honduran women seeking asylum in the US. In Britain, one is able to see how Theresa May’s position as secretary of state and Prime Minister is responsible for the continuous dehumanisation of migrant female detainees in Yarl’s Wood who are subject to rape at gunpoint by guards and restricted access to medical necessities.   

 

Therese Okoumou, to me, represents the constant state of struggle and resistance Black women are forced to take up, often for survival. Sometimes it takes risking our lives by climbing historical monuments for the world to pay attention because we are left in a precarious state by racist white patriarchy that everyone around us is subscribing to, leaving us stranded. White womanhood, among other forces in society, is responsible for this situation. Its responsibility lies in its historical and contemporary functioning as a force of marginalisation that has interests in maintaining the status quo.  
I want to dedicate this last paragraph to ask any white women reading this to reflect on a few points: what position do you occupy as a white woman in this racial hierarchy? How much of what allows you to navigate this world is dependent on the oppression of people of colour? How is your silence on those matters compatible with your feminist ideology? What work have you done to combat this in a meaningful way that goes beyond reading a watered down version of intersectionality theory and an intellectual hot take in supervisions? Is feminism just a theory for you?   

The Contraception Conundrum

Florence Instone

With a wider range of contraceptive methods on the market than ever before, an increasing number of women are turning to “natural” methods of preventing pregnancy. This is largely to avoid the side effects generated by hormonal contraceptive options, such as the pill, the implant and the injection.

One such “natural”, non-hormonal option is Swedish contraceptive app Natural Cycles. Founded by couple Elina Berglund and Raoul Schewitzl, the app markets itself as protection with “more sexual freedom – minus the side effects”. At first glance, Natural Cycles seems to be the miracle solution women have been waiting for. No more worries about headaches, mood swings or weight gain. Indeed, investing in Natural Cycles seems like a no-brainer, given the industry’s current lack of interest in solving the unwanted side effects of hormonal contraception. As it is non-hormonal, Natural Cycles comes without risk of these side effects. It is also relatively easy to navigate. Users are simply required to measure their temperature each morning and enter it into the app. An algorithm subsequently generates a “red” or a “green” day, with each colour corresponding to whether protection does, or does not need to be used.

So, is this the future of contraception? Well, yes, and no. On one hand, Natural Cycles represents just one app out of many designed to survey the body. As technology advances, it is becoming easier to track bodily functions such as sleeping, eating and the female menstrual cycle, at the click of a button. In this sense, apps designed to track fertility are no different. Natural Cycles joins apps like ovulation tracker, Flo, and calorie counter MyFitnessPal, in a sea of apps designed to increase our ability to monitor ourselves. Perhaps the digital monitoring of fertility represents the next step in this arena.

Yet, if this seems too good to be true, that’s because it most likely is. Recently, Natural Cycles has come under fire from the Advertising Standards Authority, after reports that women have become pregnant while using it. Indeed, it recently emerged that out of 668 women who sought an abortion at one Stockholm hospital between September and December 2017, 37 had been using the app for birth control. The ASA takes issue primarily with Natural Cycles’ claim that its contraceptive methods have been clinically tested. In fact, there is no verified independent evidence to support the app’s effectiveness. Claims of Natural Cycles’ certified status has also generated concern from the Family Planning Association. One representative remarked: “Many other apps focus on getting to know your own body, but Natural Cycles is specifically targeting itself as a contraceptive, which is concerning.”

The association’s main concern was that users would become overly reliant on Natural Cycles as their primary form of contraception. Crucially, however, Natural Cycles is not a contraceptive in itself. Rather, it is a fertility tracker. The two are not the same. Natural Cycles simply uses readily available data to advise users on whether or not contraception should be used. While the idea of natural birth control is undeniably attractive, users in fact have to be incredibly disciplined if they are to ensure the app works effectively.

So, we come to the contraception conundrum: as women, do we risk the side effects of hormonal birth control, or risk the enhanced possibility of pregnancy that can come with relying on natural contraceptive methods? The answer to this catch-22 largely revolves around personal preference. Some experience no side effects from the oral pill, whilst others prefer the hormonal implant as there is no possibility of forgetting to take contraception. Others prefer to shun hormones altogether, going down the Natural Cycles route. Consequently, there is no obvious solution. And whilst innovations in male contraceptives are currently underway, the necessity of clinical trials means that we are unlikely to see a “male pill” on pharmacy shelves in the near future.

Hence, despite an increasing number of options when it comes to pregnancy prevention, the problem of the contraception conundrum remains. And until the pharmaceutical industry recognises this issue as one worthy of investment, it is a conundrum that us women must continue to navigate.

In Response to Women Against Feminism

Maia Cohen 

As a female student at an all-women’s college within the bubble that is Cambridge University, I was (with hindsight) naively shocked when I came across a well-educated woman, with whom I had many mutual friends, who grew up in London and is now of university age, taking to social media to openly attack the very concept of feminism.

 

Specifically, this image was posted:

 

femsoc pic

 

Feminism in the popular culture of today very much portrays the movement as ‘girls versus the world’. While the media may have prepared us to expect nothing less than sexism and misogyny from a stuffy middle-aged white man who is stuck in the nineteenth century, we tend not to expect anti-feminism from our female contemporaries. Indeed, my initial response to the post was shock and anger, but in the time since I have attempted to try and find a more constructive way to tackle anti-feminism from women, rather than resorting to a knee-jerk ‘f*ck you’ response.

 

It comes as no surprise that the women who believe they do not need feminism are largely white, able-bodied and straight and enjoy a privileged position where they have not encountered large amounts of discrimination in their lives and have, consciously or otherwise, closed their eyes to the discrimination other women face. If there are women who feel that they do not need feminism, then we can view this as a great win for the movement, but it is their duty to look beyond their own situation.

 

It is my opinion that anti-feminism largely comes from a place of ignorance. Ignorance as to what feminism is and the ways in which women today still suffer from gender inequality. There are, beyond a doubt, aspects of the historical movement of feminism that one may take issue with. However, anti-feminism among women largely stems from misconceptions about the movement and the aversion to being associated with certain apparent prescriptions of feminism.

 

The idea of feminists as men-haters is an outdated cliché but it is not uncommon for feminism to be seen as an opposing, rather than a promoting, movement. In her book We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the stigmas that surround the term ‘feminist’ in her community in Lagos. She writes that ‘The word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage: you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don’t wear make-up, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humour, you don’t use deodorant’. Feminism is about liberation, and the idea of pigeonholing women into a narrow stereotype is contrary to its aims. While there have been incidents where women have told other women what they can and cannot do in the name of feminism this is a misuse and abuse of the ideology. Feminism promotes the freedom of choice: and in this context it is apparent that there is no contradiction between being both feminist and unapologetically feminine if one choses to be so.

 

Finally, and rather obviously, to dismiss feminism is to undermine the centuries of hard work and turmoil that women have gone through in order to provide our generation of women with the rights we possess.  As Mark Ruffalo took to his tumblr to respond to the ‘I am not a feminist’ movement, he wrote ‘you know not what you speak of. You reap the rewards of these women’s sacrifices every day of your life. When you grin with your cutsey sign about how you’re not a feminist, you ignorantly spit on the sacred struggle of the past 200 years. You bite the hand that has fed you freedom, safety, and a voice’.

At the end of the day we will always be faced with views we do not accept or agree with. In regard to anti-feminism, in order to avoid letting the matter weigh us down too heavily, I would advise, when prudent, to take this approach:

 

Take feminism seriously, and anti-feminists lightly. 

“I’m just pregnant, not incapacitated” – In 2018, it’s time we stopped conflating women’s careers with motherhood

Flo Instone

Whilst New Zealand’s standing on the international stage may be small, the message of the country’s fledgling Prime Minister is anything but. Nicknamed the “anti-Trump” by Vogue Magazine, thirty-seven year-old Jacinda Ardern’s political message is that New Zealanders will continue to stand up for what they believe in.

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Ardern is no stranger to having to stand up for herself. As a woman in a profession notorious for its internalised patriarchy, she faces constant media scrutiny. Ardern has had to be fearless. In August 2017, mere hours into her new job as Labour leader, she was grilled on motherhood plans. The AM show’s co-host Mark Richardson asserted that new Zealanders had a right to know whether there “was a possibility” that their then-potential Prime Minister might take maternity leave. Richardson continued, posing the question of whether it was “OK” for a Prime Minister to take maternity leave in office. He reasoned that “if you are the employer of a company, you need to know that type of thing from the women you are employing…” Ardern, noticeably irritated by this, branded the question “totally unacceptable” – to the applause of AM co-host Amanda Gillies. “It is a women’s decision”, Ardern affirmed, “about when they choose to have children and it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities.” It is worth noting that the right of New Zealand’s women to keep their plans for motherhood confidential from their employers is upheld in the 1993 Human Rights Act, in which pregnancy is prohibited as a ground for discrimination.

 

Unfortunately, this is not the only instance of overt sexism that Jacinda Ardern has come up against during her first months in office. If anything, such remarks have been exacerbated since January, when Ardern announced that she, and her partner Clarke Gayford, were expecting their first child in June. This makes Ardern the second elected world leader set to give birth while in office, after Benazir Bhutto, who welcomed a daughter while serving as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 1990. Like Bhutto, however, Ardern’s announcement has left her subject to intense scrutiny. Whilst young male political leaders are rarely asked by the media about their plans for balancing political life with having a family, it seems that anyone and everyone wants to have their say on Ardern’s pregnancy announcement. Last month, in an interview for Australian current affairs show 60 Minutes, Ardern was asked by presenter Charles Wooley “what exactly is the date that the baby’s due?” – A query he labelled as a “really important” political question. He also remarked that it was “interesting” that many people had been counting back to the conception of the child (Ardern found out she was pregnant just six days before she won the election). Visibly unamused at Wooley’s question, Ardern rolls her eyes: “the election was done… not that we need to get into those details.” Viewers were also left unimpressed – Twitter user @RugbyReg described the interview as “painful” and “cringeworthy”, whilst another, @JessEtheridge, asked “What the f*ck is wrong with this Aussie journalist?!?!”

 

If there was an award for things not to say in an interview with a world leader, Wooley would get it. Quite frankly, his questions were inappropriate, ignorant, and enough to make viewers squirm in their seats. However, his interview, and indeed that which Ardern had to endure on The AM show, are demonstrative of a wider problem. It is 2018, yet society continues to question whether women can really “have it all” – can she really balance home and work life? Has she sacrificed having children in favour of pursuing a career? Should she really be taking just six weeks off after giving birth? Duncan Garner of news site stuff.co urged Arden to “take six months instead of six weeks” after giving birth. Would he say this to a male Prime Minister whose wife was expecting? My prediction for this one: probably not. It is time to stop denying women their autonomy. Every woman is different. Whether Arden had chosen to take six weeks off, six months off, or decided to put her political career on hold for six years, it should not matter. It is not our business. What matters is that her decision is respected.

 

I propose that rather than commenting on what Ardern should, or shouldn’t be doing in her role as both Prime Minister and mother, it proves far more productive to analyse what she actually stands for. What sort of politics does she represent? According to Vogue, she’s the “real deal” – “forward-looking and unabashedly liberal”. Ardern’s stances on some of the most important issues of our day certainly seem to confirm this view. Not only has she placed tackling inequality, climate change, affordable housing and student debt at the forefront of her agenda, but she has also been outspoken on issues of feminism and mental health. On World Suicide Prevention Day 2017, she pledged to start as early as possible on her party’s policy to place mental health teams in every school, stating that she “didn’t believe” in setting a suicide target rate “that is anything other than zero. Anything else suggests that we have a tolerance of loss to suicide, and we shouldn’t.”

 

Although her tenure is still in its infancy, one thing is clear: Jacinda Ardern means serious business. The fact that she is due to give birth this coming June does not change this. Ardern herself summed this up perfectly, when she was asked by a reporter how she managed to set up government at the same time as having morning sickness. Her response? – “It’s what ladies do.” Given that at this very moment, the Trump administration is in the midst of deciding how best to cut funding to Title X, the US national family planning programme, we must not underestimate the power of our ladies.