Like so many things in life, it started with a joke. Then came a piece of viral marketing. Followed by a dull thud as a sack of cultural truth plonked itself down in my consciousness.
I'll start with the joke. It's about poo. During my Wise Hippo class on Saturday morning we talked about the processes of birth. This inevitably includes a quick discussion about why some women poo during the second stage of labour, and then, chronologically, about how the placenta is passed and what it looks like. Much comical disgust & laughter about the potential presence of poo, and then about size and appearance of the placenta. One of the Dads announced he'd been told it's good if the baby gets the mothers poo on it. Silence. After some discussion we worked out this was what happens when you play 'Chinese Whispers' with bacterial colonisation as the topic. 'Thank you,' he said, 'for saving us from an awkward moment! Can you imagine! Us telling everyone we're hypnobirthers and we know what we're doing as we birth, and then merrily smearing our new baby with poo!'
It was funny.
And then came this viral. Don't tell me you haven't seen it. It's been everywhere online this week. 'Isn't it clever', people have been saying. 'Challenging cultural norms & enhancing the values around girlhood'.
But it got me thinking. The Always campaign might be saying it's ok to be a girl. But that's not what they really mean, is it? They mean it's ok to be a girl.....but whatever you do, don't trust your body. Your body is disgusting. Your (whisper it) *vagina* leaks. And that leakage is yukky. And probably smelly and disgusting. So smelly and disgusting that you need to spend your hard earned cash buying plastic and fabric pads to use everyday. Not only that, we're going to make them scented. Because you probably smell so bad you need to mask it. With a synthetic chemical compound. To make you platable, acceptable to everyone around you.
Nevermind that vaginal discharge is the apex of thousands of years of evolution, designed to keep us healthy. And alive. And procreating.
And that got me thinking back to my conversation on Saturday morning. Poo is quite funny - but it's a fairly natural and common part of birth. It's a sign that your baby is on it's way. And the placenta IS surprisingly large. But it's an amazing thing. It's a complete life support system. And we make one with every baby. Isn't that an extraordinary thing? So why do so many couples judge it to be a bit, well, gross.
And this is the moment that sack of cultural truth made it's grey, depressing, heavy way into my consciousness. We don't just leave our women & girls in ignorance about what their bodies do. We actively teach them to distrust and be disgusted by their bodies. And worse, it's insidious. It's by stealth. As Always have shown in their #likeagirl campaign it's in our language. And as Always have demonstrated it's not really a truth. It's commercial. We don't need scented pantyliners because we smell. We're told we need them because they make money. Filthy lucre.
I swear. Before I started this line of work I wouldn't have described myself as a Feminist. I had a good job, I went where I wanted, I made my own decisions, and I was (mainly) judged on my ability. But the more I do this, the more I see that the very essence of our woman-ness is consistently undermined and undervalued. (Don't even get me started on the trend for removing pubic hair - for goodness sake, even cultural icons like Cameron Diaz are questioning it). And I see the deleterious effect it has on women - not just when they're pregnant, or labouring, or birthing, but as they struggle to make their own personal choices about how they balance their work, their children and themselves amidst the endless binary judging about what's universally 'Best'.
Does this issue have anything specifically to do with birth? Well, yes. Two essential requirements to having a 'Good Birth' are a) feeling confident in your body's ability to birth, and b) being able to make informed decisions about it. If we teach our women & girls to doubt the way their body is designed, and don't give them adequate, appropriate information then we are setting them up to have unsatisfactory, if not traumatic experiences. Shame on us.