Word to the wise: “I wish somebody would’ve told me/warned me/prepared me” is a shitty feeling. If we wanted women to succeed we would stop selling them fantasies. It’s not informed consent if you don’t know what to expect. We teach girls that they “become women” at menstruation, that they’re destined for motherhood (conveniently omitting sex as the path to said motherhood) and condition us our whole lives to become wives (“no one will marry you if… “) but somehow they still fail to tell us the truth. The whole truth. Fantasies are for children and continuing to perpetuate them robs us of our agency.
“I just wish we’d tell each other the truth”
I’ve spent a great deal of time with young mothers at various stages of their pregnancies in the past year and let me tell you: they are shocked. They are shocked by the delivery process yes, but are most shocked by everything that comes after. They are shocked by both the intensity and duration of the postoartum pain and bleeding (they say “at least I knew labour would be painful but I didn’t know about this *gestures wildly *), the incontinence, the nipple chaffing. They have no way of processing any emotion attached to the motherhood other than the ” immediate and constant joy and love” they were promised. We shroud these experiences of womanhood in mystique and mystery, saying things like” you’ll know what to do” when in reality doing this just means we aren’t prepared. And this starts all the way at the beginning.
In the beginning there was blood
Period poll: how many of you wish you had been adequately (or better) prepared for menstruation? I’m talking straightforward, clean scientific and practical knowledge. Many of us were (thankfully) taught the hard practical tips by our peers instead. I was in boarding school and have personally given (too) many pad and tampon tutorials, gently ushering young girls over the threshold of a biological inevitability. I myself was taught the nitty gritty by a group of kind grade 7 girls in Jade’s dormitory room on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. I “knew” menstruation was coming and that it involved bleeding of some sort but I was not prepared. It never once crossed my 12 year old mind that my vagina was capable of depositing such contents from the same place I peed from (and that there were in fact, 2 separate orifices). And by the time I got home on Friday, I didn’t actually say anything; my mother saw the evidence herself, called me into her room, told me I was a woman now. Not forgetting, she reminded me how to keep the whole ordeal shrouded in secrecy: “check behind you”. And by not telling our boys the truth we further enveloped a natural process in mystery and shame. Normalise human biology.
Part 1: Shock and horror
Every time a woman is robbed of her agency, things will go wrong. Every single time. And we’ll be “shocked”. Agency (or lack thereof) is at the root of rape culture, purity culture and (the failure of) contraception. So let’s talk about sex: way too much time and energy is spent telling us not to do it (and for many of us, that is the extent of our early sex education). We’re given arbitrary time lines that reinforce purity. Virginity is “lost” not given. Sex is taught first and foremost as a woman’s shame. As a thing that happens to us and therfore a thing that we both invite and must prevent. And then we magically expect women to shed their shame at the convenient moment. We never teach sex as a mutual experience, one with both reproduction AND recreation (and therefore pleasure) as an outcome. Daphne (lead character of season 1 of the Netflix smash hit Bridgerton) was a perfect debutant, a woman both excited about and “prepared for” marriage and motherhood who only realised AFTER marriage, to her shock that her husband pulling out during sex was tied to her (in)ability to conceive and fall pregnant. But Ntoetse, that’s fiction (and based in the 20th century) but We’re absolutely shocked that young girls “fall pregnant” when they are raped (yes raped) by older men. I can promise you, if you’ve ever spoken to young pregnant girls and women (and especially very young victims of sexual assault): they often a) do not know that what was happening to them was sex and b) those that do, have internalised the messaging that it is their fault and shame (and makes THEM dirty) all but ensuring that they they will be unlikely to confide in a trusted adult about what is happening to them or c) they know its sex, but had no idea that sex + sperm + ova = baby (making the lack of condom/contraception a non-factor). It’s why sleeping with a minor is always always always rape (petition to rebrand “teenage pregnancy” as “systemic failure/systemic rape”). And somehow society looks at pregnant teenagers with shock and disgust (because they tripped and fell pregnant right?)
We’re also somehow shocked by the orgasm gap, that women aren’t aware that sex is supposed to be fun for them as well (if you’re lucky enough to have received even the most cursory sex advice, it’s almost certainly been about” how to please him”) . And then we’re utterly shocked when church girls (or anyone with a strong religious upbringing) face a reckoning in their marriage beds (or more likely before that) when they eventually have sex for the first time and experience a shock and often traumatic loss of identity and purity that they weren’t prepared for because they’re unable to reconcile the purity message with their newfound sexuality. As if you can go your whole life internalising purity culture and then suddenly develop a healthy relationship with your sexuality overnight because you said “I do” one day. Are we seeing the pattern here? Lack of preparation then shock and horror. Every single time. We’re all bamboozled by the messaging around sex. Men are taught to expect pleasure and porn reinforces this while also teaching them harmful things about penis-size and ease (women’s body’s are for your exclusive use in your pursuit of pleasure) and nothing about skill and where woman’s pleasure enters the chat. And women are taught shame. And we’re shocked by rape culture. Always shocked. “but how did this happen?!” we say. Mxm.
Education (or lack thereof) is a weapon. Any time society has tried to get one over a group of people: the first thing they take away (or dilute) is literacy and education. Followed closely by art because the purpose of art is to tell the truth. The fear is that the targeted group in question will rise up and make decisions that may undermine the status quo if they know better. Millions (dare I say billions) of people are damaged by insecure attachment. By having parents and partners who don’t (or never did) want them. Not evey body wants, can, or should be a parent. Not everybody wants, can or should be a spouse. I have no idea why the idea of women reaching this conclusion scares society so much. We deliberately condition women to desire marriage and motherhood but do so with fantasies. It’s almost as if society is afraid that there won’t be enough women who want these things if we knew the truth. We are not children; we can do AND want hard things, but a heads up would be great.
Part 2: Choice changes everything
Death has shades of grey. One common outcome is shaded by the choices that preceded it. Suicide, Murder, Martyrdom. Choices matters.
And then there were 2:
The most important romantic ideal for me is the concept of being chosen. And not just chosen but chosen freely, willingly and upon their honour once they have gotten to know me well (pedestals frustrate me). Romance to me is in the choice to duty. The choice to do the work. The choice to be with me and I with you. Choice trumps feelings every time and choice is a gift. I tell my paramours all the time that, as someone who finds relationships both difficult at a baseline and mildly inconvenient (not because I hate relationships but because I’m aware that they are work and require tools that don’t necessarily come naturally to me): it is nothing but a compliment when I choose to be with someone. If anything, I think it is a bigger win to be chosen from a place of ‘want’ and not ‘need’. But when the men who have been conditioned to save a damsel in distress (a fantsay infantilised woman) who has been waiting for them, they are often disconcerted to find the dragon already slayed; and are out of sorts when all the woman wants is a partner who requires different scary things: maturity, emotional availability, accountability and support. Most people think I’m anti-marriage when it’s quite the opposite (I take marriage quite seriously) and I wish we women specifically would be more honest with each about the realities of these roles so that people enter into them knowingly, willingly, fully prepared and with their eyes wide open. This continued perpetuation of a fantasy is why we fail. And if we shared the truth we’d prepare each other, save each other.
And then a person exits a body becomes yours forever (often your own body but not necessarily)
There’s a mystical quality to motherhood. We’re not allowed to talk about the challenges, the sacrifice, the permanent change in identity and what that could mean. Whenever women start talking honestly about the personal cost of motherhood (physical, mentally, socially or emotionally). And when the discussion turns to whether or not they’d do it again knowing what they know, there are always people in the comment section freaking out saying things like “imagine how your child will feel hearing this”. Let me say this as someone who loves children and wants the best for them: a) that content is clearly not meant for children and b) once you outgrow childhood, subsequently stop seeing yourself as the centre of the universe and start seeing your parents as human beings, you’re able to process admissions like this pretty easily. Because it’s not about you [the child in question] or how they feel about you. It shouldn’t be received as regretting your existence but rather about the impact your existence has had on them as humans. For me it falls under truths I wish women and mothers would share with us so that when we make decisions about motherhood for ourselves, we do so with all the facts. And many would absolutely do it again, many women would absolutely choose motherhood time and again. And anyone who is threatened by the idea of truth and believe that people need not be coerced into parenthood need to rethink their parenting paradigms and whether or not they care about the wellbeing of children. I do not believe that every person has (nor should have) the desire or capacity to be a spouse and/or parent. And I for one, belive my future progeny and partners DESERVE a willing wife and/or mother. And I think too many of us find this out when it’s too late to do anything about it.
It is such a joy to witness wanted children being raised willingly and lovingly. Why would you want less for them? It is such a joy to attend weddings and bear witness to commited optimistic chosen love. It is such a joy to navigate intimacy, sex and pleasure with awareness and kindness. It is such a joy to know how your body works for your wellbeing as a human and as a member of the species. Why would you undercut that joy by withholding the truths required to experience it fully? It is long past time we told each other the truth and trusted people to make the choices that best suit their individual wants and needs. There is joy and revolution in informed consent.