We’ve all seen the memes and heard the jokes and challenges issued by women. Women who have given birth telling men “I’d like to see you squeeze a baby out of your …” insert orifice here. Video clips of men seemingly over-reacting to menstrual cramping and pain, being overly sympathetic towards a member of their social group who is menstruating, or exaggerating food cravings pop up on Facebook pages, and cartoons of women mocking men, challenging them to go through what they go through every month abound.
I’m not sure who’s behind most of the video clips and memes, but I’ve certainly heard women comment that a man would never be able to endure the pain of childbirth, labeling them as whiners, and presumably crowning themselves the stronger sex in pain tolerance. But are we, as women, insulting our own gender and our body’s special functions by putting men down in this way?
Think about it. Men do often belittle women for their menses, saying things like “she must be on the rag,” or, “it’s that time of month,” if a woman expresses a strong opinion or seems cranky. I’ve heard the husbands of some of my friends comment after the birth, ‘I’ve seen it – I can’t unsee it.’ That doesn’t give women the right to challenge men to endure what we endure with skepticism and outright mockery.
Our bodies perform a very special role in reproduction, and yes, along with that comes cramps, mood swings caused by hormonal changes, and, inevitably for many of us, the pain of childbirth. Women should be embracing our ability to carry life, and while the menstrual cycles themselves and the pain of childbirth can be a heavy burden to bear, and one that men don’t have to bear, by comparing a man’s ability to tolerate it with our own, we are stooping to the levels of the men who accuse us of “being on the rag” when we seem too opinionated.
What is the message? If women are saying that men couldn’t tolerate these things as well as women, are we putting ourselves in a situation where we have to deal with all these things with a false bravado just to prove a point? Women who compare in this way are literally projecting onto men that which they themselves feel they have to tolerate with grace and secrecy.
But I would argue that we don’t really tolerate it well. If a pregnant woman sits down in a group of women who’ve had childbirth experiences, the first thing you’ll notice is that everyone in the group wants to tell their birth story. This is because sharing their story is therapeutic, and they have a captive audience to listen to them.
Worse yet, in my experience of five pregnancies, women who had natural deliveries weren’t as likely to share their birth story as women who had painkillers, epidurals, and other medical interventions during childbirth to help manage pain without invitation, and even worse, bad birth experiences. (Gee thanks, I’m going to give birth in a few months and I have to listen to how horrible it can be.) I had to seek out friends and relatives who had natural births to see how they felt and what their birth experience was, and found them to be generally more positive.
I believe that all women experience a degree of emotional trauma when they give birth, but they all cope with it differently. The community sharing of birth horror stories seems to be a natural way of coping with the trauma of birth. Perhaps there’s an element of guilt associated with their decision to use medical interventions, or a sense of failure that goes along with a planned natural birth that a woman just couldn’t’ follow through on.
However we give birth, we have to find a way to cope with the labor and delivery, and then with the feelings that come after the birth. A woman in labor sometimes feels very vulnerable, and out of control. Any presumption about a woman’s inability to cope with pain clashes with the message we send to men about how they would not be able to cope. Not be able to cope? Women DO cope in one way or another, and if men were in our position, they would cope too – there is no way to opt out of the pain completely! There are only decisions to be made about we each feel we would like to manage that pain.
And where does this presumption that men could not handle menstruation come from? Do women really handle it that well? Perhaps some do, but others experience a great deal of painful cramping and heavy periods that do interfere with our lives, and, yes, it can make us miserable. So why do some women presume that we’re handling it so well that no man could possibly handle it? Is our way of dealing with our body’s functions really that fabulous that we can make that kind of statement? Or is it because it’s one thing that men can’t dispute? Men are, by nature, physically stronger than women in most ways; is this the only way women feel they can empower themselves?
Flipping the roles, where are the memes and insulting videos from men about women not being able to cope with prostate cancer, the pain of being kicked in the testicles (for the record, a good kick between the legs of a woman is pretty painful but I have no way of comparing that to a man’s experience of the same) or a woman’s inability to lift as much weight as a man?
Ladies, don’t belittle yourselves by participating in the shaming culture of comparing our experiences with our bodies with a man’s ability to live with what we live with. What makes women unique also gives us a special bonding experience with our babies while in utero, and the flood of happiness that comes from successfully giving birth to our beautiful babies. It’s an experience that men never get to share. It is ours alone, and it is precious. Don’t belittle that experience and cheapen it by saying that men aren’t capable of living with the body of a woman. It’s irrelevant and only serves to demonstrate insecurity.
Guys, on behalf of anyone who has ever thrown your inability to deal with the bodily functions of a woman in your face, I apologize. We don’t all feel that way, and most of us truly appreciate the support we get from the men in our lives (like when you run out in the middle of the night for pickles and ice cream that we MUST HAVE when we’re pregnant). Most of us do know that you support us, and our bodies, in their reproductive cycles. And most of us acknowledge that we don’t always take the pain of having a uterus and a pair of ovaries that emit hormones that make us feel crazy sometimes isn’t all that well. It’s not pleasant for us. Why would it be any less or more pleasant for a man?
On another note — guys, stop making jokes about women having their periods just because we express a strong opinion or are upset about something. Not everything we do is caused by hormones. We’re every bit as entitled to our opinions and emotions as you are. Some of us may just be better at openly expressing them.
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