This one is a doozy. I’ve had four months to think about this. And since we had very little actual medical guidance in the beginning (see Goddamned Pregnancy Rant Numero Uno) we jumped into the steaming cesspool of pregnancy advice early.
There are, of course, a zillion books about pregnancy. There’s a mountain of them. It’s hard to know where to even start climbing that mountain. Usually, you start with what you know, or whatever might be a part of our collective consciousness, meaning, whatever books have been around the longest, or whatever books have been written by celebrities. I am a stubborn contrarian, and a bit of a snot. So if a book is wildly popular with the masses, I’m going to assume there is something wrong with it.
I did start with some of the classics on pregnancy, with a healthy amount of skepticism. I don’t need to name which books they were, you’ve probably heard of them. And sure enough, they had a scolding, fear-inducing tone. I know I’m a pregnant woman, so I am the targeted demographic. Except that most of those books seemed to aim a bit…lower. Pregnant? Yes. Young and uneducated? Um, no. Nervous and scared? Uh, not at all. In need of a soothing authority figure? Certainly not. Prone to accepting conventional wisdom and old wives tales? Uh, who in the hell is reading this crap?
I was warned that there were awful books out there. I moved on from the classics, only mildly surprised that they were worse than I was expecting. We went to the library and spent some time looking over the titles. I picked whichever ones seemed informative and not woo-woo, non-medical, or flippant. I just wanted facts. Some looked like giant encyclopedias, with graphics and stock photography and all the weeks of pregnancy piled into a giant book. We brought these home.
These were a little better. I glossed over the photos of vacant, smiling women looking into the middle distance and holding their bellies. I read some new stuff I didn’t know. They felt like coffee table books, but for pregnant ladies, not urban hipsters. I gave Dave one of them to read because there were a few things in it that were interesting.
He couldn’t get through it. He looked at one book for ten minutes and tossed it aside. “I can’t believe how condescending it is,” he said. I looked again, because these books were actually better than a lot that I had read up to that point. I realized, these books are written primarily for women. They frequently have a chatty, conversational tone that you might find in a women’s magazine. They each had at least one photo of a woman in her PJs, somehow smiling while drinking a tall glass of water at the same time.
Dave may never have read a book or magazine that was meant specifically for female readers. I don’t often read them either. But I’m familiar with that tone. That casual, glossy, lighthearted and vapid tone that seems to want to tap into some universal “sisterhood.” Like we all understand each other. “Constipation is the worst, isn’t it, ladies? And how about when our men don’t pick up their socks? I know, right?” I wouldn’t say I’m a consumer of this genre, but I know how it works. And I’m sort of used to it. I’d like to think I block it out, or I am not affected by it.
But I didn’t even recognize that tone in the books I was reading. I’m so used to it. I read the information I thought was useful, and I didn’t think twice about how “glossy” it was. Dave recognized it immediately. It’s condescending. It has a whiff of authoritarianism. It has a lot of statements assuming the reader must be nervous or concerned about this, this, this, this, this, this, or this! Look at all the things you should be nervous about! There are more things in the world to be nervous about now that you are pregnant! You should be nervous about every bite of food! You should be nervous about every stranger on the street! You should be nervous about sleeping on your back! Bleeding gums! Farting! Drinking water! Ohmygod, drink water! Drink water! Drink more waaaaater! Waaaaaaaaater! But, ohmygod, not if it’s chlorinated! Jesus Christ, don’t drink that!
Have you ever gone on The Internet? The BEST advice is the advice you go find yourself. So I casually started to look, especially when we learned we were having twins. Wow. The shrillness was earsplitting. And that same condescending tone from “experts and authorities” escalated to cartoonish levels. I read up on some of the changes that take place in your body when you become pregnant. Admittedly, there’s a lot. And maybe there are some women out there who don’t know what to expect. One article talked about how some women may be more prone to urinary tract infections or yeast infections “down there.”
“Down there.” What the expert said was, “down there.” Are you goddamned fucking kidding me right now? DOWN THERE? How fucking old am I? Thirteen? Are you telling me you are writing for women who are pregnant, but might be startled to know that the opening between their legs is known as a “vagina”? Or are we too delicate to hear the v-word? Why not call it our pink flower? Or our hooey? Or Aunt Gina?
In a different article, but on the same site, the “expert” discussed how pregnant ladies may experience more vaginal discharge, and after that sentence added, “Ew.” ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Ew. Oh yes, you can’t talk about a natural biological function, a frequent occurrence in pregnancy, without adding “ew” at the end. Ashamed, much ladies? You should be! You have gross shit coming out of you! Gross! Ew!
Okay. I get that there are women out there who may want or need advice. There are women out there who are young, scared and pregnant. I get that not everyone has the same level of education. I get all that. But the overwhelming demographic is the lowest common denominator. The dumbest possible people. And it makes me fear for the human race. Not only is there bad advice, but there is stuff out there that has no basis in fact, yet it is accepted as common wisdom.
Or you may feel perfectly calm and rational, and there are plenty of people to tell you that you should be panicked and neurotic. You could feel perfectly healthy and happy, and there are people who will tell you that you ought to be ashamed. The women who most need advice are likely the most susceptible to this sort of condescension.
I was thinking I was pretty attuned to this sort of messaging. I generally get super frothy pissed off when I feel like someone is attempting to manipulate me, either personally in my life, or in the giant sense of the universe, and certainly with marketing and advertising. But really, when I thought I was disregarding obvious attempts to appeal to my sisterly womanhood, I was just so used to it, I wasn’t noticing it anymore. And I wonder how much of that sneaky bullshit got through my filters.
Now I notice it everywhere. Now I’m a stark raving pregnant lady. Now I’m a wild eyed bullshit detector. Now more than ever, I’m prone to question the conventional wisdom. By the same token, I question the attitude some women get that “Now that I’m pregnant, I know what’s best for me.” Or, “Now that I’m a mom, I know what’s best for my child.” No you don’t. You’re a dumbass. Plenty of dumb people have kids all the time. You don’t get magical powers because you are suddenly responsible for a helpless creature that depends on you. You just get to boss them around, and then you become a stupid authority figure yourself.
We are responsible for educating ourselves. There’s a ton of bad advice out there. And you really have to judge for yourself. And, oh my. That’s when it gets scary for the human race. Because there are loads of “experts” who are striving mightily to keep us stupid. Because who is going to read their stupid shit if we run out of dumbasses?