The weight of expectation

Good news, ladies all over the world! An injectable contraceptive for men has been developed that is just as effective as the female version. It works the same way, too: you get a shot, the effects last for a few months, you get depressed, have mood swings and acne. The only difference is that the drug has gone back to the lab because, according to an article in the Independent, out of 370 participants in the drug trial, 20 reported being unable to deal with these side effects. 20. Out of 370. In spite of 75% respondents saying they would be perfectly happy to take it, the drug has quickly been whisked back to the drawing board.

Aww. Isn’t that the cutest thing you ever heard? Women have been shouldering the responsibility for birth control since the sixties, depression and mood swings and weight fluctuations and all, but for them drug companies and doctors think “the benefits outweigh the risks”. For those twenty men, a few pimples and feeling sad meant that the drug needs immediate improvement but for women, you should just suck it up and soldier on if you don’t want to have a baby every year until you die or your uterus shrivels up. The benefits, after all, outweigh the risks.

Is it just me, or does it seem like women have to shoulder an awful lot of risks that men feel they shouldn’t have to? All contraceptive methods have been targeted mainly towards women, but interestingly the entire concept started with drugs that men could take. That was derailed, sharpish, because researchers felt women would be “better able” to deal with the side effects of contraceptive medication. Why? Do women have some magical powers that enable them to put up with discomfort better than men? Apparently the magic power exists: it’s called patriarchy.

It’s funny how this expectation extends to women on all levels. Did you take pain medication during childbirth? Tsk! Don’t you know natural births are the best? Somehow it’s perfectly all right to expect women to go through the excruciating ordeal of labour and birth without any pain relief, because “all women do it” or “women have done it repeatedly since the dawn of time”. Women and men have also had limbs amputated without anaesthetic, so does that mean you should have an operation with just a whiff of ether too? How about a “natural” root canal? No? Obviously, because men don’t deserve to feel pain but it’s okay for women, somehow.

The expectation that women can deal with pain easier than men seeps into everything else. Women are expected to be strong, for example. Women should compromise, because the subtext is that women can cope with disappointment better. Women should be gentle, because the expectation is that angry or loud or violent women should preferably not exist, and if one has these feelings then one should suppress them, because it’s easier for women to cope with upsetting emotions that human beings feel regardless of gender. It’s telling how of all the emotions that are “allowed” to women are primarily sadness and a restrained happiness. The happiness is a controlled one, being predicated upon the happiness of others: a woman can only be truly happy when her husband/children/mother in law/neighbour is happy with her. So either way, you’re doomed really, to a life of internalized resentment, medical care where doctors don’t take your concerns seriously and are perfectly capable of denying you medication that you insist you need just because they don’t think so. You’d be surprised how many women are denied pain relief in labour rooms because the people around them don’t think it’s necessary.

So men have a certain expectation for themselves: that their emotions are important, their pain must be mitigated at all turns, that their opinions count. This is all permissible because men are in control of our societies, and the submission of women to this idea makes it possible in the first place. So for every time girls are given the stink-eye by their parents when they try to speak up for themselves, we are teaching them that their opinion doesn’t count. Every time we stand by and watch when some smug doctor withholds medication, or condescendingly tells us that “it’s not a big deal”, we’re letting the system reduce women to non-entities. It is incredibly damaging when, as a woman, just having an opinion or getting angry at something will immediately earn you an “insane” or “hysterical” label, because women are supposed to absorb everyone else’s crazy. Human sponges that feel less pain, just the way ancient Athens thought women were inferior because they had less teeth. Time to sharpen some teeth, I think.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt