No longer silenced

A week of freefalling into truth

Well it’s been quite the week.

As you probably all know, a week ago I decided to talk about how I’d been bullied and attacked by members of the so-called ‘birth world’ for expressing the view that ‘obstetric violence is violence against women’. I’m not going to revise the story here, I already wrote it in full and you can read it here:

'“I will not be silenced”

The response to the post has been phenomenal. I have now lost count of the messages of support that continue to pour in, but they have been in the thousands and I am reading them all and trying to reply to as many as possible. If you have sent one and I have not replied, please know that your message meant a lot and I am grateful. And of course, a supportive tweet from a woman I admire greatly gave me the shock of my life. What a week.

Today I just want to address two of the questions that have come my way the most this week. One (just briefly) “How come you are in all the papers if you’ve been ‘silenced’?” and two, “What’s wrong with saying ‘women and birthing people’?”

First question. No, I am not ‘silenced’. I was. Now I am not. For eight months I have said nothing about what happened last November, and been absolutely terrified to do so. Even prior to that I did not dare to properly discuss this issue (and every time I tried I was aggressively shut down). I was made an example of in the birth world so that others knew it was not ok to ask questions, and there are still plenty of people in maternity who don’t dare express their views on all this. But, personally, I’ve decided to come forward and say what I think, and this still feels like a risk. As a self employed person, I have no idea what the long term effect of this week will be on my book sales, my journalism commissions, my relationships with publishers, my ‘career’. But I decided to ‘freefall into truth’, as a good friend put it, and that I’d rather be true to myself, no matter the cost.

Secondly, ‘women and birthing people’. As I said in my original blog, I’ve got no problem if another individual wants to use that phrase - as I don’t agree with the policing of language. But will I use it? Only if I’m asked to by someone in the room with me - only at an individual level. Because I feel that, if we change this language at the population level, and use it across the board, we are changing the meaning of the word ‘woman’, and the ramifications of this are huge.

If we say ‘women and birthing people’, we are agreeing that ‘woman’ no longer means ‘biological female’, but instead is simply an ‘identity’. We are saying not only women can be pregnant. We are no longer using the word in the ‘sexed’ sense to mean ‘adult human female’. We change the meaning, and ‘woman’ therefore becomes a category to which anyone who wishes to belong, can belong.

Why does this matter? Some would argue that how a person feels inside, their ‘identity’, should be more important than their DNA, sex organs - their ‘biological sex’. Isn’t it just progressive and ‘kind’ to let everyone just be what they want to be, no questions asked?

If this is what you think, let’s imagine we all agree to put identity first and sex second, and ponder (by which I mean, go away and take some time, hours, days, weeks, to turn over in your mind) a few questions:

  • How will we be able to identify or fight sexism or sex based oppression if we can’t refer to biological sex any more?

  • What happens to people who are ‘same sex attracted’?

  • What happens to data collection and research? Didn’t we just come out of a long phase of history in which no proper data was collected on women’s lives, bodies and experiences? If we stop collecting data on sex (and this is already happening) but collect on gender identity instead, we won't be able to see sex based differences. And who might this impact the most?

There are many, many more considerations, but I’m assuming some readers are new to this topic, so that’s enough to be going on with for now. Ponder away.

The comment that started my social media ‘shitstorm’ was that ‘obstetric violence is violence against women’. In their statement the organisation Birthrights have falsely claimed that I ‘disputed that obstetric violence could happen to trans or non binary people’. This certainly makes me sound like a terrible bigot, but it really isn’t true: because I was and will continue to use the word woman in the sexed meaning of the word. Of course obstetric violence can happen to a trans or NB person - but if it’s truly obstetric violence (rather than hate or discrimination grounded in their gender reassignment), it’s happening to them because they are having a baby. It’s happening to them because they are, biologically, a woman.

Obstetric violence (mistreatment of women during childbirth) has a huge history, with very deep roots. It’s part of misogyny (dictionary def - the hatred of women), it’s part of patriarchy (dictionary def - social structure in which men hold power over women). It’s part of disregarding women as full humans and treating them as ‘vessel’, a reproductive container to be cast aside once they have served their purpose, a means to an end. It’s part of the much bigger and wider and very real problem of violence against women - it’s sex based violence. It happens to women, not because they ‘identify’ as a woman, but because, in the sexed sense of the word, they are a woman.

If we are not allowed to say that ‘obstetric violence is violence against women’, if it’s discriminatory or even bigoted - then what next? Are we no longer to be allowed to say ‘violence against women’ at all? What does ‘violence against women’ even mean, if anyone can be a woman? Ponder it. I’ll be back with more - because I’m no longer silenced. And I can’t tell you how good that feels.

FiLiA Podcast - I was so happy to talk to the amazing Raquel Rosario Sanchez this week about what’s been happening. I am such a fan of hers and love love love her essay about how gender ideology epitomises ‘white feminism’. You can listen to the podcast with me here and FiLiA also spoke to Helen Joyce this week which is a fantastic listen. FiLiA also have a conference in October, I’m thrilled to be returning to speak having spoken there in 2015 - find out more here.

If you are interested in obstetric violence and birth as a feminist issue, then do get a copy of my second book, Give Birth like a Feminist. You don’t have to be pregnant to read it, it’s suitable for anyone. And it’s also 99p on kindle til the end of July!

There’s going to be more from me on all of this but that will do for now. Until next time, happy pondering!