Kids, bear with me: I haven’t decided yet if this is a very well-thought-out post or not. I tend to over-think things in the first place, so the difference between well-thought-out and over-thought can be a very fuzzy line at times.
But here’s the thing. It’s been gnawing at me for a while now, and came up again today.
I got called out today for something I posted on Twitter. It looked like I had been out on the town, except that I had actually been sick that day, and the day before, and the day after. What really happened is that while I was sick, a friend stopped in to say hi. It had been years since I’ve seen my friend, so I took a pic. And I posted it on Twitter. The photo made it look like I was well, but I wasn’t, and I’ve been hiding out and easing up on activities and work to get well.
See, I’ve been in rather mediocre health lately. Among other ailments, I had a sinus infection and bronchitis that stretched over two weeks. I’ve called in sick, bailed on parties, etc., not just in the last few weeks, but over the last few months. I feel (mostly) fine, but you know, it’s a drag to not feel well. I’ve had a lot of doctor’s appointments and visits to urgent care, and it feels like I’ve been sick all of 2011 so far.
No, this isn’t really about being being sick. And it’s not about perception, though it really could be. (Also, I’m sure my boss will eventually read this. What up, boss man? Your bracket is killin’ it right now, holy moly.)
This isn’t even about what I post on Twitter.
It’s more what I don’t post, and why. It’s what I don’t talk about. It’s what women shouldn’t have to talk about. However, it’s about what women should be able to talk about if they want to.
When someone (a woman) bails on something, whether it be work or plans, on the premise of being sick, sometimes it isn’t cut-and-dry (sorry for the unfortunate pun). Sometimes there are things in play that aren’t straightforward, like the flu or a migraine, and those things — yes, that… and more — aren’t ailments for which you pop a pill (or in some cases they are), nor are they straight-up, bona-fide, stay-in-bed illnesses. But they aren’t convenient for work, a vibrant social life, or just about anything that demands a particular level of attention and uninterrupted put-togetherness.
Now, I’m not going to burden you with graphic details about reproductive health, intimate details about sexual health, moaning about ovaries and uteri and whatnot (sorry, had to throw it in there for effect), because… that’s exactly what I don’t want to do.
Not in social media.
Not in real life.
No, ladies. Nobody wants to hear about your ovaries. Nobody wants to hear about you being on the rag. Not even your boyfriend. And certainly not your boss.
There are privacy reasons for not wanting to talk about these things, even excluding the gross-out factor. But when you call in sick or revoke your RSVP to your best friend’s birthday party, those people who were expecting you there are going to want to know why you won’t be showing up. Sometimes a simple “I can’t make it” just doesn’t work. Quite often, love interests / dates / boyfriendish males don’t get it, either. For example, a few weeks ago:
Him: “You aren’t going to make it? But why not? I thought you wanted to go.”
Me: “I can’t, I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you.”
Him: “If you’re broke, I can pay for you. I was going to pay for you anyways.”
Me: “No, it’s not that. I have money, it’s all good.”
Him: “Really? Wait, are you mad about that one thing I said?”
Me: (thinking) Effing heck. Come on, seriously? What do I have to say? Jeez, do you want a lie at this point? You’re going to think the truth is gross. You’re going to figure it out anyways… or are you? Remind me, why am I dating you?!
Me: “Tee. Em. Eye. T-M-I. Too much info. You don’t want to know.”
Him: “Oh. Okay. Um, I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Sure, that’s easy. Sometimes it works. I’m not one to push even a white lie on anyone — I’m a lousy liar — but I’m also not one who wants to share with you every detail of my personal experience living in a female body.
But when it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Even if that initial avoidance skates you past once, eventually — when you bail for a second time, or your authenticity and credibility are questioned — it comes up again. Then what do you say? Can you really avoid it one more time?
And what if you actually do want to talk about it, minus the grizzly details, but it’s not about privacy?
I, like other females, have reproductive health issues, whether we like it or not, that can make or break health, but can also change (or create!) entire lives. (Okay, I know, that’s the point, right? All wordplay aside, it’s true.) Men have reproductive health issues, too, it’s the human condition — but they aren’t facing the same politicization, social stigma, or punishment regarding those issues. So this really isn’t about just me, either; it’s about other women out there. But I can’t speak for everyone, so I’m speaking for myself:
It isn’t really an issue of whether or I want to talk about it or not, it’s that I don’t want to be judged on how I handle reproductive health issues.
And a woman can and will be judged on it whether she chooses to remain discreet or not — damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
While a society that is almost entirely open about reproductive health is nice — I found that such a thing exists while living in Sweden — America does not constitute as one of those societies. Even in a typical, daily situation, minus the gore, the very mention of an innocent topic regarding reproductive health is bound to catch some flak. Some “ewws.” Some utterances of “gross” or “TMI.” And it really shouldn’t be that way — but it is.
And it won’t be changing anytime soon.
I’ve whittled it down to two three questions now:
1. Is it that we, as a society, as evident in our treatment of Planned Parenthood and Roe v. Wade, simply ashamed to maturely and reasonably discuss women’s reproductive health?
Or is it that…
2. …we, as a society (again, as evident in our treatment of Planned Parenthood and Roe v. Wade), are just that unwilling to treat reproductive health (and all things “down there”) as a legitimate, important, and reasonable health issue that demands care and attention?
3. Then I asked one just for myself: do I want this privacy because of social consequences, or have I adopted the view that this is unacceptable to discuss, only because society has decided it’s unacceptable? It’s a fine line, but the distinction is important.
The short answer: yes, yes, and both. The long answer is more about asking, “To what extent?” Who knows? But I think those of us who are asking those questions are not the ones who should be self-critical about the matter.
Unfortunately, the more I think about that long answer, the more I don’t like the answer, which brings me back to the reality at hand. What can I do if I can’t talk about it? Besides vote, sign petitions, and, well, vote?
Quite frankly, it leads me to think I can’t do anything. Because if I or any other woman can’t talk about even the smallest female reproductive issue without social stigma, without being afraid to merely mention how I as a woman fit into this puzzle of living with the goods I’m given, then there isn’t going to be any change happening. We might as well be stuck in the 1960′s, asking the red-headed office manager about the best – wink, wink — doctor in town.
Too much information, right?
Hardly. Too little. And if it doesn’t change soon, well — too late.