The misogyny of This Is Going to Hurt
I think it was about two or three weeks ago that I started to get messages about This Is Going to Hurt.
“Have you seen this bloody trailer?” would be a cleaned up summary of what most of them said, and also: “What kind of shitty next level misogyny is this?”.
It always seems a bit flouncy and diva-like to say, “Yes, I know, I wrote a book about this”, but in this case, it’s pretty much a fair response.
Give Birth like a Feminist isn’t entirely about Adam Kay (although he does get a couple of mentions), but it is about a birth room power dynamic that sees woman as rather unfortunate, leaky, and sadly all too often opinionated objects, misguidedly taking an interest in what will undoubtedly be one of the few days of their lives they will always remember. Soon they will abandon their high ideas and hopes for a water birth or an experience in which they felt honoured and cherished, and beg Adam for an epidural, which, God-like, He will bestow.
As Adam himself puts it in This Is Going to Hurt, the bestselling memoir on which the current BBC series is based:
“Patient HJ needs an emergency caesarean for failure to progress in labour. This has not come as a surprise. When I met her on admission, she presented me with a nine page birth plan, in full colour and laminated.”
What a silly girl. As far as I know, in reality women don’t have nine page laminated birth plans, but in this story the birth plan stands for something. It stands for a woman who stupidly thought she could have a say. The idea of her doing it in colour further infantilises her, giving the reader the impression of her at her kitchen table with the felt-tips out, like a child doing her homework. Then she laminates it to show what a controlling little diva she is. But of course, unlike her, Adam knows exactly what will happen next.
“Two centuries of obstetricians have found no way of predicting the course of a labour”, he explains, “but a certain denomination of ﬂoaty-dressed mother seems to think she can manage it easily.”
The misogyny here lies in the idea that Kay holds the wisdom and the power from the start, and that the run up to His life saving interventions is just a little game of ‘let’s pretend’ that everyone has to play to humour the woman into thinking her ridiculous hypnobirthing classes were worth it. It’s rather horrible to see Adam’s schadenfreude hanging out so unashamedly, as if every woman he wheels off to theatre is a just another tick in the box, confirming him to be utterly right that women really are as stupid as they are defective.
However, it’s important at this point to say, we cannot see Adam as an outlier. We cannot scapegoat Adam and let him carry the can for all this - and as the backlash against the series grows on social media, this is definitely what is in danger of happening. “Let’s CANCEL Adam! That will really help!!”
No. Hold on a minute here. Let’s remember that this book was a MULTI-MILLION copy bestseller. It spent 8 months at the top of the Sunday Times bestseller list, was translated into 37 languages, and has a long line of celebrity endorsements and major book awards. And of course, it’s now been made into a major TV series with the multi-award winning Ben Whishaw. Clearly, an awful lot of people took no issue with it and found it hilariously funny.
I think that’s what we need to shine a spotlight on. It’s not helpful to make it all about Adam. It’s also not helpful to say, ‘Oh the NHS is so over-stretched, nobody can give decent care in a system like that’. Both of these ignore the fact that, until a now-growing group of women said, “I don’t find this funny”, the majority of people were laughing their heads off about it. It’s amazing, when you think about it, that nobody involved in the TV adaptation paused, even for a moment, to say, hang on, what about the women in this story - how are we portraying them? How is this going to land with those who have experienced birth trauma? As the wonderful Victoria Smith pointed out, where were the ‘sensitivity readers’?
The truth is, a sensitivity reader for obstetric violence would be difficult to find, due to the fact that so many people have bought the lie that this is how birth has to be. They actually think like Adam. They think, ‘birth is inherently traumatic, women’s bodies are faulty, doctors are gods who know best, birth plans are pointless, only a mad person would give birth at home, you have to leave your dignity at the door, and a healthy baby is all that matters’.
None of these things are true. But they are woven so deeply through our culture that a book like This Is Going to Hurt can sell millions and get adapted for the BBC. Fish can’t see the water they swim in.
It’s this that we need to challenge - this collective shrug at birth trauma, an acceptance that it’s ‘just another crap thing about being a woman’, something we just have to unquestioningly accept or even find funny. Because birth does not have to be traumatic. If your birth was, you were almost certainly failed, let down by a self-righteous system that, like Adam, is so busy mocking and blaming women that it fails to look in the mirror.
Birth is a feminist issue. Women are getting a raw deal and it’s so accepted that it’s on prime time telly for your entertainment.
And if you want to explore this more, well - I wrote a book about this.
Thanks for reading. Want to support me? I have 3 books which you can buy from any good book seller!
My Period is for girls age 9 to 13 and is filled with information and positivity about periods and puberty.
Give Birth like a Feminist is for anyone interested in why birth is a feminist issue. You don’t have to be pregnant.
The Positive Birth Book is a comprehensive guide to getting ready for birth with lots of humour and a dash of feminism thrown in. Oh and it’s 99p on kindle this month!
Links to a few ways to purchase via my linktree - or just search the title name via your usual book shop.
Or you can buy me a coffee. :-)