I wasn’t going to post about this. In fact, I was going to try to keep silent on this entire topic. However, something really does need to be said. So here goes.
I’m pregnant. (Yeah, yeah. I know.)
My pregnancy is not the reason I’m angry. The reason I’m angry? My “delicate condition” has provoked an unwelcome response among people I hardly know.
In the past month, since I’ve started showing, I have been poked, prodded, rubbed, inappropriately questioned and, in one case, interrogated in front of a roomful of my students by a co-worker.
I am not a person who invites personal contact. I never have. My personal bubble is large and – I thought – difficult to penetrate. I was lucky to have been born tall and I’ve always been a little aloof, and that was always more than enough to keep unwanted physical contact at bay. I’ve also been able to dance around personal questions I don’t want to answer. I’m good at it, or at least, I was.
But now, it seems that my pregnancy has made me and my body public property. People dart in for a quick bellyrub on the sly, like X-wings attacking the Death Star. It’s like they know I don’t want to be touched, but they can’t help themselves. The excuse I hear most? That touching my belly is “lucky.”
It’s not. I am not the Buddha. (If you can’t tell the difference, I’ll give you some hints: the Buddha is bald, laughing and nonviolent.) Your superstitions are no reason for you to touch me uninvited. You are not ever entitled to touch another person’s body, even if that person is pregnant.
Worse than those who feel like they can touch my abdomen are those who feel like they can now question me about every life choice I’ve ever made. “You don’t smoke, do you?” “You have a pediatrician, right?” “You’re not coming back to work?” “You are coming back to work?” “Is your husband good with X, Y or Z?” “Is he good, period?”
While I don’t mind answering questions when they’re asked by a friend, I do mind when I’m being asked by someone who barely knows me. And I’ve been asked a lot. I don’t even mind answering a few questions or having a conversation about my pregnancy, but some strangers have been downright confrontational with me about what choices I’m making when I’m not in their lines of sight. (I’m tempted to answer that yes, I smoke, drink a six-pack a day, and use recreational drugs in the parking lot at work before driving home without a seatbelt on, but I’m actually a little worried that someone might call social services on me if I gave them that answer.) I’ve tried to defuse these encounters with evasive maneuvers and humor, but my interrogators have been dogged.
And weirdly, most of the people who have been invasive, both physically and verbally, have been male. I didn’t expect that. I figured that women – who have been through pregnancy and childbirth and might feel they had some right to touch and question – would be the offenders. But they haven’t, by a long shot. It’s been mostly men who question my choices, and men who grab at my belly.
This may be a matter of being blinded by privilege. Are these the same people who feel entitled to touch people of color or question people because of their age? I have no way of knowing, but now I suspect.
No one touched my belly, or even looked like trying (I must have a vibe, and if I could bottle it, I would) BUT what annoyed me were the ones who cut me off, wouldn’t give up seats, hold elevator doors etc. And they were men, every time. When someone gave me a seat, it was always a sympathetic woman.
The other thing that drove me nuts were the well-meaning comments. I had extremely difficult pregnancies (severe, constant pain, almost bedridden, virtually crippled) and men (again, not women) would bithefully say things liek ‘Isn’t themiracle of life grand?’ (no, what would be a miracle AND grand would be if this was easier, or if YOU had to do it) and ‘It’s only 9 months of your life’ (you try doing nine months in constant pain while still working full-time, and then tell me how ‘short’ it is!).
My advice to deter people. Half brick in a sock.
The “miracle” people get me, too. Although I have to say, most of the people who have thrown the “miracle” thing at me have been other women who have had children.I always feel like yelling “it’s not a miracle, it’s biology!” I know that they mean well, but impending motherhood is terrifying. When people seem to be telling me how I should feel about it, I want to scream.
I’m new to your blog but saw this post on Facebook and can completely relate. My personal bubble might not be as large as yours, but the bizarre shift in behavior when a woman is pregnant and therefore deemed ‘public property’ never sat well with me. I think the time has come for women to stop being polite and to very clearly and forcefully say “Back the hell off from my physical person.” or “I don’t want to answer your rude and invasive questions.”
I totally agree. (Although it make take me a while to actually change my own tactics from Evasive Maneuvers to Forceful Offensive. Habit.) This is my armchair historian take: I think that for generations no one said anything or thought anything when women’s bodies – pregnant or otherwise – were touched without consent. It’s only in the last century that we’ve started to make noise about our rights and consent at all. So yes, the more we speak up, the more the offenders will realize that what they are doing is not acceptable.
Just piping in from the position of white male privilege here, so I may be speaking out of turn, but it is my suspicion that you may be unnecessarily assigning sinister motives. The touches, though unwanted, may be merely a matter of evolution. As we developed into communities, we became conditioned to care for pregnant women as gestation (particularly before the advent of modern medicine) was a very dangerous thing. It was up to other community members to care for a pregnant member of the community. This was advantageous to the members as they would have a new generation, but did present a burden on the existing members, especially during hunter-gatherer scarcity. People are driven to touch in order to create an emotional connection to the fetus they’ll likely be expected to provide for during the better part of the year. It’s a behavior we, as a society, should outgrow, I do agree, but I think jumping to the conclusion of paternalistic, physical assault in order to claim ownership may be ascribing some pretty despicable motivations to otherwise very kind people. The motivation to protect and be affectionate with a community member we perceive to be in a weakened condition is, in my opinion, one of the last vestiges of the better side of our human nature. It just needs to be properly channeled. White guy out.
No matter how good the intentions, the very act of a person touching a another person uninvited is paternalistic and objectifies the person being touched. In the case you described above, it reduces a pregnant woman to a walking womb. The woman is already out of the equation as a human being. The man touching her is establishing contact with the fetus, not the woman. Even if men seek to protect or care for the person who is being touched, without consent that touch is degrading. And while the intent might be pure, the act itself becomes sinister.
Privilege tends to blind those who have it, however I will say that I’ve been confronting the people who have been touching and interrogating me, and on the whole the guys were apologetic. One said he was just concerned about me and that’s why he asked so many invasive questions, however, when I told him those questions (one of which was, basically, “have you picked a good husband”) undermined me as a person, he apologized. So basically, I think that in most cases all we need is some frank, reasonable discussion.