Category Archives: Feminism

Sexism, Entitlement and Santa Barbara

I live in Australia, almost as far from Santa Barbara as it’s possible to get, and tonight I felt my heart race as I walked from the house to my car in the dark. I felt as if someone was about to leap at me from the shadows, and I checked the back seat of my car for attackers before I got in.

If it seems weird or over the top to you that I felt triggered by the mass shooting in Santa Barbara yesterday, in which gunman Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured seven more before killing himself, you might be right. I certainly felt silly about it once I was in the locked car with the radio on. But on the other hand, when you think about the fact that Rodger appears to have committed this horrifying crime because he was angry that women wouldn’t pay attention to him, it’s not so weird. Men with a sense of entitlement to female attention aren’t that uncommon, after all.

If you think Rodger is an outlier, a fringe wacko or a “madman,” then you are over simplifying the matter. More to the point, if you think this sort of violence has nothing in common with everyday sexism, with rape jokes, with theendemic online harassment of women that we’ve seen getting media attention lately, you are not paying enough attention. Elliot Rodger’s views about women, expressed in videos and writings that are disturbing to read, are extreme in the sense of being awful but not in the sense of being unusual. Men say things like that to and about women on the internet all the time. Most of them don’t act on their threats – or at least not on a scale that gets them on the news, though I have no doubt plenty of them are real life rapists and abusers – but whether or notevery creepy guy ranting about how much he hates women really is a bonafide mass murderer, there are many more men expressing similar views out there. Since the shooting, comments have appeared on Rodger’s videos (Trigger Warning: violent misogyny) that call him a “hero,” express sympathy for his pain at being rejected, and gloat that women could have prevented his crimes by sleeping with him, as if it is women and not this entitled and deeply misogynist man who are to blame for his actions.

This is the extreme end of the Nice Guy phenomenon and the so called “friend zone”, the sense of entitlement to women’s attention and affection held by men like Rodger and a whole lot of other men who don’t think of themselves as scary or extreme, but justified in their anger. And as I saw someone else say on Facebook, every man who has blamed women for not being attracted to him has contributed to the culture that made this happen. If you’ve ever complained about women dating “brutes” instead of dating a “gentleman” like you, take a long hard look at yourself, because the proliferation of objectifying, entitled beliefs about women and who they “should” show affection to is where mindsets like Elliot Rodger‘s come from. Women do not owe you sex or romance, even if you’re nice to them, even if they’re attractive, even if you really really want them. Believing that they do or should is wrong and dangerous even if you don’t go out and murder anyone.

When men make threats like these and women express their fear and alarm, we’re usually told not to take it so seriously, that they’re just empty threats from internet trolls and if you ignore them they’ll go away.Obviously that’s not always true. Rodger had been seriously planning this killing spree for months, and he posted disturbing videos weeks ago in which he talked about suicide and killing people, and which concerned his family so much they called the police. But when police interviewed him and found him to be a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human” (in the words of his father’s lawyer) they pursued it no further. Rodger’s own writings tell that at the time of this interview he had already collected weapons and ammunition and had written extensively of his plans to murder large numbers of people. If the police had taken his family’s concerns and the threats he had already made on YouTube more seriously, he could have been stopped.

But the police saw a young, middle class man who was well-spoken and polite and assumed he couldn’t possibly be dangerous, that the threats he had made about killing other people and himself were just letting off steam or a harmless joke or a misunderstanding. It’s not a huge surprise that they came to this conclusion, because people often don’t take misogynist threats seriously and treat them as harmless posturing, but it is awful to think that if they hadn’t been so quick to accept that he was a nice young man this tragedy might never have ocurred. It’s outrageous and tragic that people had to die in order to make this clear, but misogynist beliefs breed hatred and violence, and threats of this kind need to be taken seriously.

Of course, because the “women cruelly overlook nice guys” myth is so ingrained, I expect most people will prefer to stick with the explanation I’ve already seen in several places; that Elliot Rodger was a “madman,” and that his actions were the result not of sexism but of personal defects. Lots of people have been quick to point out that he was being treated for mental illness and that he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. To that I will say that I happen to know several men on the autism spectrum, as well as several more who have experienced mental illness, and amazingly enough not a single one of them has ever murdered anyone. It is insulting to autistic people to imply that someone who isn’t neurotypical is capable of going on a killing spree at any moment because of the way their brain works. Autistic people are no more likely than any other group to commit violence, and as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network urged in a statement today, we must “fight against any attempt to exploit such incidents to advance an agenda of bigotry and prejudice.”

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Selfies, Beauty and Objectification

A big collage of my selfies!  I am: looking off to the side, drinking a slurpee in the car, showing off a new bra, poking my tongue out, smiling in front of books, wearing makeup and a quiff, looking downcast, eating ice cream, displaying elaborate eye makeup, smiling outdoors, wearing a hat and sunglasses, bug eyed in smeared makeup, wearing a blue santa hat, looking dismayed by One Direction branded conversation hearts, showing off another bra, wearing purple makeup and a floral headdress, wearing gold lipstick and making a kissy face.

A big collage of my selfies! I am: looking off to the side, drinking a slurpee in the car, showing off a new bra, poking my tongue out, smiling in front of books, wearing makeup and a quiff, looking downcast, eating ice cream, displaying elaborate eye makeup, smiling outdoors, wearing a hat and sunglasses, bug eyed in smeared makeup, wearing a blue santa hat, looking dismayed by One Direction branded conversation hearts, showing off another bra, wearing purple makeup and a floral headdress, wearing gold lipstick and making a kissy face.

This post was inspired by two different conversations, a facebook thread following a friend’s post of an old quote from The Reclusive Leftist and the wider conversation about feminism and selfies that’s going on across various locations at the moment.

Here’s the quote. The discussion that followed was out of context of the post it came from, but for the sake of attribution see this 2009 blog post.

“Look, if posing naked were empowering, then the rich men who run the world would be lining up for it. We would be awash in naked dick shots of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and Barack Obama; magazines would be filled with male politicians and financiers and moguls with their bits hanging out. Softly lit, perhaps; head coyly tilted, bunny tail on the ass. Power.”

It’s a zingy little paragraph. I laughed out loud and nodded my head when I read it, and was deeply entertained at the mental image of powerful men acting coyly flirtatious on the covers of magazines. But even so, men in image-based industries do appear as sex symbols. Consider David Beckham in H&M underwear or “Sexiest Man Alive” articles in magazines or images like this. The difference is that apparently women’s power is diminished by being seen in this way and men’s is increased.

The reason, of course, is sexism. In a patriarchy men who follow the rules always win and women always lose, no matter how little the rules make sense. I’ve never heard a man accused of “objectifying himself” for sending dick pics, but women whose nude texts are leaked get lambasted as fools for daring to think they could trust a lover or a device with their privacy. When a man shows someone a photograph of himself naked it is an act of aggression, but when a woman does the same thing it is seen as an act of submission, and even of consenting to become less than a person. Or consenting for all women everywhere to be seen as less than people. A woman who accepts money to pose nude in a men’s magazine is setting the cause back decades for all women everywhere because she’s colluding in the objectification of her own body, and theirs by extension. A woman who photographs herself and posts it on the internet where people can see it is vain and obsessed with her looks, and therefore also setting the cause back decades for all women everywhere because she’s colluding in the patriarchal plot to define women by our appearance.

I agree that culture where being sexy or beautiful is the only or most important way a woman can be accepted or have power is awful, and clearly excludes some women as well as limiting all women; even the conventionally attractive are always more than just conventionally attractive. But I do think it is possible for feeling sexy or beautiful to be a positive, empowering and not objectifying experience, working within the confines of the society we live in, and I also think that looking at yourself and inviting others to look at you doesn’t have to be about beauty.

Tumblr is full of women who do not fit into the mainstream beauty paradigm – whether because of race, body shape or size, disability or gender presentation – taking selfies and posting them to a public viewership, including naked ones and sexy ones and glamorous ones. There’s even a photography challenge along these lines, the 365 Feminist Selfie Project created by Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista. The project challenges participants to take a selfie every day for a year, at least partly in rebuttal to that infamous Jezebel article about how awful women who take selfies are (no linking for that one, google it if you’re curious).

Not unexpectedly, plenty of people are upset or concerned about women photographing themselves under the banner of feminism. I think there are interesting things to be said about how an act qualifies as “feminist” as opposed to simply “not anti-feminist” – for example feminism means women can choose whether or not to shave their legs so shaving isn’t anti-feminist, but it isn’t a feminist act either – but that’s not the discussion I’ve seen happening about selfies. The discussion about selfies seems to be much more focused on vanity, and on beauty and whether or not women should care about it. Take, for example, this article from concerned father-of-girls Black Hockey Jesus:

Put simply, all I’m saying is this: I see your need to redefine beauty and raise you one need to question the female defined by her appearance. Women can be more than how they look and deserve to be. Step away from the cameras. Seek new ways to appear. As you explore new adjectives through which to be defined, you will emerge as more complicated nouns than pretty ones. This is perhaps the direction toward a feminism beyond beauty.

Now, I recognise that Black Hockey Jesus is trying to be supportive here. He worries about the future in store for his daughters and wants women to be comfortable as complex, nuanced human beings. And I agree with him, women are more than how we look and the mainstream beauty paradigm does harm us, even those women who are privileged by it. I’m not even referring to this guy’s article so I can crow “Look at the white guy shaming feminist selfies!” as he fears (poor darling) but because that quote right there demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of a bunch of people that is being repeated over and over in the handwringing over “selfie culture”.

See, if the great diversity of women who participate in internet selfie sharing like the Feminist Selfie Project “step away from the cameras” a lot of us are plunged back into a world still saturated with images of beautiful women who don’t look like us, where we are not only told that we are not beautiful, but where it’s implied by the mainstream culture most of us are immersed in that we don’t even exist. We don’t have control over that to a great extent, that is the kyriarchy at work, and the capitalist beauty industry. And living in that world where we never see our own bodies or faces reflected back at us doesn’t make it easier to let go of the idea that beauty is a woman’s most important or powerful attribute, it makes it harder. Because beauty, a very specific and limited idea of beauty, is the only attribute of womanhood that we ever get to see.

What taking selfies and sharing them does is fill our immediate environment with a far more diverse visual language of bodies than we have access to otherwise. If I turn on the TV or open a magazine I’m lucky to see one or two fat people and a scant handful of POC. Maybe one person with a disability (more likely a currently able bodied actor pretending to be disabled) or one trans person (more likely a cis actor pretending to be trans). To Black Hockey Jesus, who appears from his photo and blogging history to be a thin white cis man, it probably wouldn’t even register that this is something which happens, because people who look like him are the default template from which all other people on TV diverge. If a person who looks like him is portrayed as a villain, an idiot or a joke it doesn’t matter, because the next person over looks like him too. It’s similar but a bit more limited for thin, white, cis, able bodied women, because most of the versions of themselves they see are hollywood pretty. But for anyone who doesn’t fit that mould, representation – especially neutral-to-positive representation – is hard to come by.

Black Hockey Jesus urges women to “seek new ways to appear”, but we already are doing that when we take selfies. In selfies we simultaneously determine the method in which we will be seen by others and get used to seeing ourselves in different ways, unlike looking to popular media where we are always portrayed in the same ways. If you take the time to trawl through the #365feministselfie hashtag on Twitter, or the Feminist Selfie Project pool on Flickr, you’ll notice women appearing in a lot of different ways. Rock climbing, watching TV and pulling faces with a friend were among those at the top of the Flickr page when I wrote this. And you should see the camera roll on my phone!

Assuming the Feminist Selfie Project or any enthusiasm for selfies is just about feeling beautiful is very limited. The thing about taking a photo of oneself every day is that sticking to glamour shots gets boring and time consuming, so the participants are increasingly photographing themselves doing things, or just being themselves as is, no makeup, pyjama clad, unstyled, whatever. Maybe when you just take one selfie for your facebook profile picture you’re going to be concentrating on looking pristinely pretty, but if you do it all the time you get used to your own face and (in my experience, anyway) get a lot more relaxed about beauty and whether or not you have it. Taking self-indulgent pictures of myself had a large role to play in the fact that I can now look at unflattering photos of me that other people post on facebook and laugh my butt off instead of feeling ashamed and miserable.

Two unflattering photos of me.  In one I'm sitting cross-legged in a yellow dress and appear to be mid-sneeze.  In the other I'm making a surprised face and look remarkably like George Takei.

Two hilariously unflattering photos of me. In one I’m sitting cross-legged in a yellow dress and appear to be mid-sneeze. In the other I’m making a surprised face and look remarkably like George Takei.  What even is my face.

Returning to the original quote about posing naked, another issue occurs. Ultimately, it’s not appearing naked or being sexy on purpose that makes women into sex objects, because women are objectified even when they’re not doing those things. Consider my friend and fellow fat blogger Kath, who gets angry hate mail from trolls complaining “you’re ugly and I don’t get a boner when I look at you.” That’s objectification based on the premise that to exist she should appeal to the sexuality of those trolls and their boners. Gross. What about the many stories of female gamers and sci-fi geeks who get harassed at conventions and online by male geeks and gamers? Those guys are casting women in their fandoms into the role of sex object. And then there’s young female performers like Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Emma Watson, who all had websites dedicated to counting down until they were 18 and “legal”, because the only consent you need to have sex with a woman is the law’s, right? In a patriarchy, women are objectified whatever they do. Blaming women for making sex objects of themselves by posting naked selfies comes dangerously close to blaming rape victims for dressing provocatively. The people responsible for the objectification of women are not the women who are objectified.

You might say that’s all well and good for fat girls, but those who are conventionally attractive and take pictures of themselves or pose for sexy shots are just adding to the flood of images that I lamented earlier in this article! How can that be ok?  Well, I know plenty of women who I would expect to be serenely confident in how well they fit the mainstream beauty paradigm who actually have poor self esteem (up to and including eating disorders and other mental illnesses) because the approval of the patriarchy is fickle and impossible to live up to.  If it’s ok for fat women – or other women who’ve been excluded from the mainstream beauty paradigm – to feel powerful by controlling the image of themselves, which I think it’s pretty clear I believe, can we really say it’s not ok for women who are conventionally attractive to do the same thing? Who gets to decide which women fall on which side of the line? Patriarchy certainly doesn’t agree. It comes down to the leg shaving argument for me, in the end. While the act of appearing nude, sexy, beautified is not necessarily inherently feminist in every context, individual women have a right to make themselves feel good in the ways that are available to them.

For me, taking and sharing selfies reminds me that I can challenge the received narrative of beauty my culture has given me and either place myself in it – which I’m not supposed to be allowed to do – or discard it completely as the situation warrants. If I look at my collection of selfies I certainly don’t think I look beautiful in all of them, and that’s frequently deliberate. Being able to look in a mirror or at a photograph of myself – even an ugly or unflattering one – and like the person I see there after a lifetime of being literally afraid to see my own reflection, that feels very powerful.

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In Defence of Feminism

I was recently linked to this article on the Independent about the unpopularity of feminism amount younger generations – Can Feminism Survive The Next Generation?

It’s a somewhat old article, from September last year, but it’s a topic that comes up again and again: the idea that feminism needs a makeover to make it more relevant or appealing to younger women. I disagree that this is a major concern facing feminism today, and here’s why.

I can actually completely understand why some people don’t want to align themselves with “feminism”. I think this can happen because they have been misinformed about what it is, because goodness knows there’s a wealth of misinformation about who feminists are and what we believe. But I also think it is the case for some people because they and others like them have been historically disenfranchised and marginalised by mainstream feminists.

The people who label themselves womanists aren’t going to stop being womanists and become whatever we decide to call feminism if feminism gets a new name. Their concerns with feminism are not superficial or image-based, they are systemic. And of course there are many different feminisms within the overarching school of thought and activism that is referred to as feminism; plenty of self-identified feminists have beliefs I disagree with and beliefs I think of as harmful, such as those who claim all heterosexual sex is rape or that trans* women aren’t really women. But since I am not the arbiter of language or of feminism, I don’t get to claim they’re not the real face of feminism. Feminism has plenty of faces.

But then the Independent article isn’t about appealing to people who have serious and legitimate anger about the way feminism has treated them. That article was about appealing to young people who believe feminists are man haters. But I honestly don’t think changing the name will help there.

For one thing, a lot of the words suggested as alternatives to “feminism” are either already taken or don’t really represent the thing I see as most important about feminism, which is the specific position of women in society and the struggle against misogyny. I like that feminism centralises women, women’s experiences and women’s liberation, because so much of the rest of the world does not and I think it’s important to have an ideological space that puts women at the heart of the conversation. “Equalism” and “humanism” are both perfectly good things, but they don’t centralise the specific struggles of women like feminism does. “Womanism” is already a term coined by Alice Walker to talk about the experiences and social realities of Black women who had been largely excluded from mainstream feminism. To appropriate that term would be obnoxious in the extreme. And since feminist is an identity label, there are a lot of people who are very fond of it and won’t be letting go of it any time soon. I’m one of those people!

I know a lot of women and girls in my own sphere of experience are or have been uncomfortable with the feminist label, and I have encountered plenty of women, especially teenage women, who seem to believe the “bad press” about feminism that the article describes. I never experienced that, myself. I suspect it is because for as long as I can remember my mother has described herself to me as a feminist, and has been proud of being a feminist. My mum and I don’t agree on all aspects of feminism, and I think some of my politics are more radical than hers, but she was a woman I admired growing up who talked openly and proudly about being a feminist, and I think that made a difference to how I perceived feminism as a teenager compared to many of my peers. I hope if I ever have a daughter I’ll be able to model proud feminism to her in the same way.

Returning to the idea of giving feminism a makeover, I am troubled by the argument that because misinformation has been spread about feminists based either on a very small minority of feminists or outright fabrications – see man hating, bra burning, etc – that it is the responsibility of feminists in general (a huge diversity of people with often very different views!) to “reinvent ourselves”. I demonstrate every day that I am not a man hater, and people who claim that my feminist identity means I hate men are, quite simply, liars. I shouldn’t have to prove that malicious lies spread about me are false in order to convince young women that things like campaigning against rape culture are good and will make the world a better place for them. Nor should any other feminist.

I am especially upset by the implication – not explicit in this article, but a point that always comes up when talking about feminism’s image – that we need to prove to young women that feminism doesn’t have to mean being a fat, angry, ugly lesbian with hairy legs who never wears high heels or makeup. As a fat, angry, hairy bisexual who never wears high heels, I’d really like feminism to support me in those things, not ask me to hide them to make myself and my politics more palatable. If a woman doesn’t want to call herself a feminist simply because she doesn’t want to be associated with women who look like me then, to be honest, I don’t really want to call her a feminist either. My feminism will not ever be one that centralises the experiences and ideas of conventionally beautiful, thin, heterosexual women over all other women, because I became a feminist in the first place to get away from that bullshit.

Where feminism is hurting people by being racist, transphobic, ableist, fatphobic or otherwise propping up systems of oppression and abuse, then feminists definitely need to work to change this. Note that I say work to change this, not work to make it look like we’ve changed this. We need to constantly reflect to make sure we’re not stomping all over other women and other marginalised people in our own fight for liberation. But we don’t need a makeover so that more girls will want to call themselves feminists. I’m not concerned about feminism being trendy, I’m concerned about it continuing to do good and not doing harm. And changing what we call it isn’t going to make a difference if we’re not willing to check our privilege and listen to the criticisms of women who feel like feminism is failing them.

Finally, I think social justice movements SHOULD rock the boat. I’m not saying I think we should work to be unpopular and reviled, but I do think that if feminism is doing its job then there will be backlash, unless we have achieved perfect equality when I wasn’t paying attention (*checks* nope, we haven’t). Feminism takes many forms, but I think it should be radical and subversive and transgressive. I see no point in a feminism that has been done up nicely to appeal to and not ruffle the feathers of non-feminists. Feminism is meant to ruffle feathers. And I don’t intend to begin shaving my legs or calling myself an equalist so the cool kids will like me.

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IT HAPPENED TO ME! I Changed my Mind About Wanting Kids.

A very young pale-skinned child is sitting in a pink car seat, apparently asleep, and cuddling a large marmalade cat (almost as big as the child!) who is also apparently asleep.  Awww.

A very young pale-skinned child is sitting in a pink car seat, apparently asleep, and cuddling a large marmalade cat (almost as big as the child!) who is also apparently asleep. Awww.

It wasn’t because of that image, but I really wanted to post it because it’s SO CUTE, and this is probably the only post for a while on which it will be relevant!

When I was eighteen, I decided I was never going to have children. I did not like kids very much. I didn’t feel comfortable around them, find their antics cute, or want to cuddle other people’s babies just because they were babies. I didn’t think I would be a good mother and, furthermore, I had no desire to become one.

I heard all the responses you can imagine. You’re so young, you’ll change your mind when you get older. Oh, when you find the right man, you’ll want to settle down and have a family. It’s different when they’re your own kids. I’m sure you’d be a great parent! At the time I developed a really negative attitude towards children and parenting that I’m not terribly proud of today; children are human beings who are learning how to be part of society, and “hating” them all en masse is pretty bigoted, even if you don’t want to be involved in raising them yourself. But I think this attitude was largely a backlash against the way everyone refused to take my decision about future parenthood – or rather, non-parenthood – seriously.

They were all missing the point. Like Christina Yang says in Grey’s Anatomy, “I’m not a monster. If I had a baby, I’d love it” but I did not want one.

I saw, and still see, parenting as something you shouldn’t just assume will happen to you eventually, but something you make a deliberate decision about. Sometimes it does come unexpectedly, and that doesn’t mean that unexpected parents can’t be wonderful parents, but I knew at eighteen that I did not want to be a parent. And a few years later when I started having sex with a man for the first time, I knew that if I accidentally got pregnant I would have an abortion, and I made sure he knew that too.

As our relationship got more and more serious, my feelings about having children did not change, but my position was complicated by the kind of relationship I was (and am) in. I’m polyamorous, and my partner had – and still has – another serious relationship with another woman. Over time we have developed into a family unit, and in the same time it became very clear to me that while he wasn’t so invested in having kids that my stance on parenting was going to be a problem, she was.

Even so, it wasn’t a matter of me thinking “well, my partners want a baby so I’ll just have to give in”. Parenting is an enormous, life-changing thing. I don’t think anyone should ever enter into it as a matter of compromise. I suspect that way lies resentment and horrible emotional trauma for everyone involved. But it did mean I needed to think about the situation again.

My perspective also changed, interestingly enough, as my lack of desire for a baby became less of an issue for the people around me. I got a new gynaecologist who was much more relaxed about me not wanting to get pregnant. I got older, so people in general were more inclined to believe I had given the issue real thought, and if not accept it, then at least leave me alone about it. I found I had other friends who did not intend to have children, so the assumption every woman will one day be a mother was less prevalent in my social group.

I also had friends who did have children, and got to meet some kids who weren’t just generic sticky babies that I resented because I was expected to love them (purely because I had a womb and they came from one), but individuals that I got to know and like as cool little people. The idea of my family creating a cool little person started to seem like it would be okay. And then from okay, it started to seem like it would be really wonderful.

But that troubled me a bit too, because it made me feel like a Bad Feminist. That’s not to say that mother are Bad Feminists, but that I felt as if I were capitulating to a sexist paradigm of what I was supposed to want. When I went to pick up something from my partner at his work and had a weirdly vivid daydream about walking into the office with a toddler on my hip to visit her daddy at work, I felt like I had crumbled under pressure and given in to a fantasy of a womanhood that I had never wanted. I worried that I was only entertaining it now because I wanted to make my partners happy, and most of all I was worried that everyone I’d ever told “I don’t want to have children” would suddenly shout “AHA!” and take my change of heart as proof that all ladies really want babies after all.

But that’s not what it means at all. It’s okay to change your mind. People aren’t ideas, we’re messy and complicated and we’re subject to all kinds of influences. Of course my decision – not to “give in” to the idea of being a parent, but to WANT to be a parent, and even daydream about it – was influenced by the world and people around me, because every decision I have ever made was so influenced. But that’s okay too. I have thought about this a lot and I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up. I feel like I’m looking at a new opportunity.

I still don’t want to be pregnant. It’s complicated.  If I were to get pregnant by accident (all but impossible for a number of reasons) or my partners were unable to conceive for some reason, that would be a serious issue that would require some soul searching for me. It might seem bizarre for me to tell you that although I now actively want to help parent my partners’ baby – and will think of that baby as “mine” also – I might still want an abortion if I myself were to become pregnant, but there it is. Pregnancy is not something I have any desire for, nor is it something that would be good for me, physically or psychologically.

I’m impatient to meet our baby, and that baby hasn’t even been conceived yet. It is a very odd place to be, when five years ago I did not want a baby at all, and felt really uncomfortable holding or talking about other people’s babies. I still occasionally wonder whether I am giving in to some broader social pressure, that on some level I am aware that the pop cultural narrative assigned to people like me – in a stable romantic relationship and nearing thirty – involves babies around this point and that is what’s driving me. But I don’t think that’s true (or the whole truth, anyway), and in any case I don’t think it matters too much. The decision I’ve made has changed the course of my life, of course it has, but it hasn’t changed me very much. I still applaud other women who have chosen not to have babies, and support their right to exercise autonomy over their own bodies and lives. I am certainly not about to start telling women who don’t want kids that they are “selfish”, because that’s ridiculous, or that they’ll change their minds like I did, because they probably won’t. I think I am actually quite unusual in this.

If for no other reason than to spare other people the angst of wondering if their decisions are their own, I’m quite happy with that!

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