Say Anything

Essays, Social Justice — By on May 7, 2012 at 4:40 am


Every woman who has experienced pregnancy knows that the condition automatically makes her an inadvertent public figure, allowing anyone to say anything to or about her at any time. Here are some real life comments made to pregnant women I have known (including myself):

-Wow, you are really huge!
-Are you sure you aren’t having twins?
-I have the perfect diet for you, after you get that kid out of your way.
-You look like you have a palsy. (whatever that means)
-Are you allowed to (eat/drink/do/watch/whatever) that?
-Don’t you know what causes that by now? (as though she had contracted a preventable disease)
-You’re a lot bigger with this one than you were with the last, aren’t you? Or did you just start out bigger this time?

You can sense the theme, I think. Not only do people make such wildly inappropriate comments, but they also ask probing questions into the deepest and most personal areas of her life. Are you going to breastfeed? Are you going to keep working? Does this change how you feel about abortion? When do you think you’ll start having sex again? Is your husband finally going to get a vasectomy?

It’s quite ridiculous, really, and frustrating. Some of this might be remotely acceptable coming from a close family member, but from a co-worker? A vague acquaintance at church? The nice old lady at the grocery store who had twelve of her own?

What is it that makes people lose all sense of decorum or boundaries here? Shouldn’t we actually be more sensitive and caring of women’s feelings at this time? My sense of justice bristles to see the vulnerable of the world steamrolled by sweeping generalizations and carelessness.

Politics is like pregnancy.

There is something about politics as a whole which causes atrocious behavior in people who are the most reasonable, polite, and intelligent in every other area. Sadly, social networking provides the most volatile setting for our vitriol. Nearly everyone with whom I have a very close relationship has made the “mistake” of posting a political statement or opinion as a status on Facebook and been subsequently ripped to shreds in reply for it. I’m not referring to reasoned or even heated disagreements; I mean hateful, pointed character assassinations – things no one would be caught speaking aloud to another in public.

Why in politics are we allowed to eviscerate those who disagree, or who merely don’t conform? Political opinions reflect personal issues and there is a deep vulnerability to holding and expressing them. Freedom of speech – the most overused and misappropriated excuse for poor Internet behavior – is a great gift in our country, but we are learning that just because we can do a thing, it doesn’t always follow that we should. If the Bible is right that reckless words pierce like a sword (Proverbs 12:18), then speech is like bearing arms: There is a time and a place for asserting our rights, and a time to shelve them. Much discernment and maturity are needed.

It’s a major election year, so we are not likely to see these qualities modeled in our prospective leaders, particularly with regard to this year’s hot issues of health care and the economy. I understand why people feel strongly about these things, and I invite intelligent conversation and lively debate about them. I would love for friends – no matter how obscure or distant – to engage me in actual personal conversation about their beliefs and the stories which shaped them. When we are through, we can pat each other on the back, shake hands, and part ways with our dignity still intact.

Otherwise, I politely decline to hear any assessment of my value as a person and/or member of society based on my viewpoint – or my Facebook status, for heaven’s sake. You might as well tell me how big I’m getting.

 

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    8 Comments

  • Being at the end of our second pregnancy, part of me wants to just high five you. At the same time, pregnancy is like death in that it reminds us of our common embodied being. Maybe it should make us more comfortable with one another. What our discomfort with things people say to pregnant ladies may have something to do with how small our communities have gotten, and thus how small the sphere of physical people who may appropriately speak about what is otherwise an obvious and positive condition. But you’re still right that pregnancy is like politics in that we need to remember to be civil to one another. We accept a certain amount of forthrightness about my wife’s belly, but still one wants to expect appropriate boundary keeping.

  • Stacy says:

    I love this article in entirety. I’ve been that pregnant woman receiving hurtful and inappropriate comments. My least favorite was when an acquaintance at church, who knew I was pregnant but not how far along, said I probably shouldn’t be eating any potato chips since it looked like I’d already had quite a few; I informed her that I was six months pregnant then I stewed over it for weeks. Similarly, I’ve felt just those ways about the poor manners and hostility people exhibit when discussing politics both in person and on Facebook. Thanks for writing this.

    • Lucinda S. says:

      It’s funny, I received hurtful comments like that, too, but was never incensed enough to write about it until I witnessed it hurting some one else I love. I hope you know you’re beautiful.
      Thank you, Stacy!

  • Nathan Bubna says:

    Pregnancy merely in and of itself is a big deal. A big, obvious deal that is the direct result of sex, which also happens to be a big deal. It also produces kids which are a really, really big deal. Everything about pregnancy from start to finish is loaded with life-changing emotion for those who are in it, those who’ve been through it, those who may go through it soon and even those who are merely close to it. It’s extremely difficult, and sometimes even inconsiderate to ignore it. And pregnant women’s attitudes and comfort about talking about it vary wildly in my experience. Speaking as a 4-time father, even when you know the pregnant woman very well, it is easy to say something you didn’t realize would bug them. Therefore, if you don’t know them well, you risk much if you don’t guard your pregnancy-related comments very carefully. Here’s a few typically safe ones:

    “When are you due?”
    “Is this your first?”
    “Are you finding out if it’s a boy or girl?”
    “Are you telling people name ideas or keeping it secret?”

    And of course, tell them they look beautiful, because they do. If you don’t see it that way, look again. You are looking at one of the most amazing things in all of God’s glorious creation. Don’t ever forget it. And don’t ever use words like “pop”, “burst” or other so-called witticisms unless she uses them first. If she doesn’t find it funny, you’d best not either.

    And for all of you now or someday pregnant women out there, thank you for your gracious forgiveness of the many old ladies who think your belly is fair game to touch, men who suggest you must be almost due at 20 weeks, and general foot-in-mouth awkwardness on the part of the rest of us. As you so kindly forgive the umpteenth person to do that this week, remind yourself that it’s not so much that we are all insensitive, intrusive jerks as that we are in awe of you and forget ourselves in the moment. It’s just better that way. :)

    Oh, and yeah, politics. My wife says she hates politics because it reminds her too much of junior high. I figure that pretty much nails it.

    • Stacy says:

      This was a nice post. I don’t agree with you completely, but I think it was written in a kindhearted way with good intentions. It’s true we’re hormonal and emotional when we’re pregnant. But it’s also true that sometimes, oftentimes, people are insensitive, inappropriate and kind of “jerky,” to be blunt. You may not be, but some people really are. I think the need to press the woman and discuss it at length and ask probing questions, unless obviously welcomed by the mother herself, is the most troubling and frustrating behavior. Telling her every story you know about pregnancy, especially the horror stories of awful and painful births, are the absolute worst. And some normally nice people will do this without much thought at all, maybe no thought at all.

      Same goes with politics. People who can be loving, nice, decent people in everyday life, when discussing politics can become cruel, heartless, judgmental to the extreme and very callous. An example that comes to mind for me in recent years is the healthcare reform issues. People whom I love and who love me and others spewed ugliness about any person, and especially Barack Obama, who might ever be in favor of such reform. As if the devil himself invented it. I normally consider myself maybe just right of center, generally conservative on some issues but not all, and I found myself somewhat in favor of the reform. I’ve recently had to purchase my own insurance, not through an employer, and it was awful. I was turned down once, and others were so outrageously expensive that I couldn’t afford them. In the end, I could only afford it by becoming a dependent on my husband’s insurance. And I do not have a major health concern like some, who are turned down altogether. There is something wrong with this system. Anyway, I digress. My point is that very kind people, good people, can turn menacing when it comes to politics, ready to fight anyone who disagrees with them. I think that’s messed up.

  • Kelli says:

    The key is “actual personal conversation” as opposed to social media conversation. By not looking the other person in the face, vitriol is easy to spew because you have no idea of the reaction it creates in the other person. I’ve been pregnant three times and each time I have had at least one comment that hurts/stings/infuriates. These did NOT come from people who love and care for me, but rather from strangers or fringe acquaintances. I think the correlation is striking -it all comes back to relationship contingencies. We should treat everyone as the stranger that God compels us to love unconditionally, whether we meet that stranger on Facebook or on the street.

  • Lisa Marie says:

    In the context of a close friendship, I have to say that I think some of these questions are entirely appropriate and show that you care about your friend and her opinions about things like abortion, breastfeeding, etc.
    While I agree with the overall premise of this article, I do think we can swing the pendulum too far sometimes to a point where it’s never appropriate to ask a pregnant woman anything about anything because it’s pushing her boundaries. That’s just inviting unhealthy relationships where there is no true community because it is seen as stepping on toes.

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