I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough.
I can’t do it anymore. I’ve tried to ignore it, but I just can’t. I can’t keep reading articles about poor Northern Irish girls who cannot access safe and legal abortion when they need to, or about a male celebrity chef’s thoughts on breastfeeding , or even Djokovic’s thoughts on tennis prize money, without wanting to cry, or scrabble together a hasty plan to colonize Mars. Although Djokovic’s completely ham-fisted attempt at talking about female biology did make me laugh: “They have to go through a lot of different things that we don’t have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don’t need to go into details”. THIS MAN IS MARRIED WITH A CHILD, GUYS.
I don’t like to write angrily – writing should be inclusive; it should draw you into the writer’s world, warm as a hug from an old friend. It shouldn’t keep you on the sidelines and make you feel like you’re being harangued by a miserable cow who’s got hold of a megaphone. I’m just quite tired and bored of men having opinions about women.
Because there are so many opinions. I don’t know where men get the time to have all these opinions about women, I really don’t. Aren’t they too busy running 90-something % of the world, or something?
The big one is abortion. In the last week or so alone, we’ve heard Donald Trump say that women should be punished for seeking abortions (he did then backtrack, and it has since been established that the current tally of “stances Donald Trump has taken on abortion” is at about 5), we’ve heard of a Northern Irish woman receiving a suspended prison sentence for buying pills online because she couldn’t afford to travel to England for an abortion, and that Poland is considering tightening its laws, when it already has the some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.
The thing that drives women crackers is that because of the way the world currently works – (only 6.6% of heads of state are women; the global average for women in parliament is 22.1%) – it is white middle-aged men in suits who are tightening these laws, who are making it harder for women to make their own decisions about their own lives. It’s men who are leglislating willy-nilly for things that do not affect them.
I’m no sociologist – I’m an aspiring writer, which is far more useful, clearly – but I reckon if you picked a country at random, quietly gathered some women of childbearing age, and asked them if they were, on balance, in favour of having access to legal and safe abortions, they’d probably say yes. And it wouldn’t be because all those women wanted to shag around like Byron, or eschew contraception completely – it would simply come down to basic human compassion. These hypothetical women would understand that any and every pregnancy is a life-changing event. They would know that having a child ends your life as you know it and makes it, and you, something else completely. And if you don’t want that, if you’re not ready for it, then it might simply end you. They would understand that sometimes contraception fails; that men rape women; that sometimes unwise decisions are made. They would understand the cruelty in bringing an unwanted child into the world; that sadness begets sadness; that no-one should have to pay with their lives for one bad roll of the dice.
I don’t know how you can look a teenage girl in the eye, a teenage girl who was desperate and knew her only way out was to take dangerous drugs and hope that the worst thing they would induce was a miscarriage, and call her a criminal*. A young girl, who finds that she is pregnant, does the mental maths and decides that she cannot be a mother, is protecting herself, those around her and the unborn child from heartache and misery. What can possibly be achieved by forcing someone to go through with a pregnancy they’ve already decided they do not want? Why on earth, in 2016, are we still not trusting women to make their own decisions?
*It would be remiss of me not to point out that it was actually the girl’s two female housemates that got the police involved, which utterly beggars belief.
And so to Jamie Oliver. The chef’s new campaign is to get more women breastfeeding, and he was quoted as saying “We need to support the women of Britain to breastfeed more, anywhere they want to… It’s better for us, it’s more convenient, it’s free.” I can’t fault the first bit – women shouldn’t be made to feel bad or freakish for breastfeeding in public – and I know there’s fairly conclusive evidence that breastfeeding has health advantages over formula, however, anything that makes a new mother feel guilty and more overwhelmed than she already is, needs to take a long walk off a short cliff. And once again: men, this is none of your business. Why? Because you’re not the ones doing it. A quick Google will tell you that breastfeeding isn’t always that easy, that some babies and mothers don’t take to it, and that if using formula means that baby is well-fed and mum isn’t stressed out of her mind, then it can only be a good thing.
So if high-profile men could perhaps refrain from having opinions about women for a while – maybe a month as a trial period, see how it goes, see how much time it frees up – that would be great. Maybe if high-profile men stop loudly and boldly proclaiming their thoughts on women, other men could follow suit? Women could go about their day – walking to the shops, going for a run, walking home from post-work drinks, you know, normal stuff – without being asked to smile, or get their tits out, or just leered at in a creepy manner. Men who catcall women – what’s the success rate with that? How many women have responded to a call of “oi-oi, get your tits out” with “give me a second – oh, just hold my bag, would you?”
Women don’t have this many opinions about men. We really don’t. We don’t have the time, or the energy. We’re too busy having opinions about ourselves, to be honest, giving ourselves a hard time for not being successful enough, hard-working enough, pretty enough. We’re too busy remembering our own mothers’ birthdays and your mothers’ birthdays, remembering to send birthday cards and engagement cards to your friends as well as our own.
And if we assume, in a hippy, let’s-all-just-get-along-man sort of way, that we are all here to just crack on, work hard, have fun, fall in love and eat nice cheese, then having this many opinions on each other’s decisions and bodies and lives is doing bugger-all good. It’s pretty detrimental all round really – trying to live the life that you want against the tinnitus of other people’s opinions will make you tired, scared, and mad. We could try giving each other a break. We could try.