As a pro-choice activist (and person who reads the news), the fact that women’s bodies are objects of public discourse is no surprise to me. From birth control to abortion, our reproductive systems take the stage, front and center. We are put under the proverbial microscope, scrutinized and criticized on a regular basis for taking control of our bodily integrity and fertility. Continuing a decades-long trend (or centuries-long, even), this public inspection is at an all-time high, completely fixated on when we – gasp! – choose not to conform to gendered expectations and bear children when we “ought” to.
But what about when we do decide to become mothers?
Throughout the seven months I’ve been patiently baking my baby “bean,” it’s been rather shocking how much my pregnant body has opened the door for strangers and non-strangers alike to openly comment on – or touch — my stomach and otherwise infringe upon my personal space. I’ve always been hyper-aware of my non-pregnant body as a topic of interest, but I (naively) never expected this corporeal fascination to spill over to my rounded belly. After all, I’m fulfilling my “womanly duty” (*rolling eyes*), so that should translate to being left alone, right?
Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Case in point: At grocery store check-out counter.
Cashier: Oh wow, are you pregnant?
Cashier: How far along?
Me: Five months.
Cashier: WOW! You’re BIG!
Well, fuck you very much! Good for you for exercising your First Amendment rights to say what’s on your mind. But seriously, shut up. My gestational status and size are not your business.
Or today, for example: At nail salon.
Manicurist: Is this your first baby?
Manicurist: How many months are you?
Manicurist: Wow, you are SMALL! Are you eating enough?
OK, so admittedly, this lady is my new friend. But, the point remains the same: why is it ok to comment on my shape/size, even if it is well-meaning?
And then there are the people who don’t just comment, but touch you too. A waitress at one of my favorite joints in the city felt it perfectly acceptable to reach out and place her hand on my stomach and leave it there for what felt like an eternity. Yes, I realize I’m a frequent customer, but you don’t even know my name. And even if you did, touching me without my permission is still not ok.
Nor is making assumptions about my pregnant lifestyle – or should I say, imposing your beliefs of what you think my pregnant lifestyle ought to be. Note to wait staff: Just because I waddle into your restaurant and take a seat at a table does not mean you should immediately clear away my wine glass. I might have wanted that ½ glass of red wine, thank you. Sheesh.
These examples may not seem like big indiscretions or invasions of privacy, but I assure you they feel that way. And they – like the many others I didn’t mention – beg the larger question of why women’s bodies, pregnant or not, are considered public domain. At least, much more public than men’s bodies. While I don’t pretend to have the answer, I’d venture to say that it is wrapped up in the age-old tradition of women’s subjugation and our cultural history of being viewed as property. It’s incredibly frustrating, irritating, and makes me want to scream.
I know I can’t be the only preggo going through this, so let’s hear it. Have you had similar experiences?