why must women be the bearer?


Lately, I’ve been reading some things that make it hard for me to maintain a grip on my feelings towards men. I realize, fully and completely, how stupid and pointless and unfair it is to tar an entire gender with the same brush.

And yet. The theme this week seems to be: woman as bearer.

First, a book I just finished this week called Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women. Little surprise, then, that gender and religion and outrages can get very tied together, particularly when the book is written by a Western feminist journalist, who tries & sometimes manages (but sometimes fails) to present a balanced view.
What amazed me most was not so much the restrictions on the lives and freedoms of women (these, I mostly knew about, at least academically) but the reasoning behind them. In case after case, these restrictions – from the intellectually offensive requirement that women speak at a whisper and at a minimum when around males, to the physically and emotionally repugnant genital mutilations – existed because women could too easily arouse men. If a woman smiles at a man, he will believe she loves him; if she speaks to him, he may become too aroused to do his work.

Fast-cut-forward to a NYT piece I read this week that described the “disturbing, frightening, traumatic” experiences of men who had seen their wives give birth, actually seen the little furry head popping out of the body, so to speak. They were upset by the view. They couldn’t think of their wives as sexual afterwards. Who wants to make love to that?

And in each and every instance, it seems like the unspoken text is this: women, you just have to deal with this. We men are just too sensitive to deal with your sexuality, your pain, your very presence. You will have to bear the burden of pushing this watermelon I helped create out all on your own, because my delicate fucking sensibilities are being negatively impacted by merely observing what you must physically endure. We’re sorry we’re so delicate, so quick to arousal and useless once we’re that way, so capable of watching men get blown to bits on screen or in person but incapable of looking at your hair or watching you give birth to our child, but it’s just the way it is, and you women, as you always have, will just have to take up the slack. So sorry. Apologies, and all that.

It, in a sardonic way, reminds me of the line Sharon Stone utters in Catwoman, probably the best line in the whole movie: “I’m a woman, detective. I’m used to doing all kinds of things I don’t want to do.”

I can’t help it. It just makes me want to take every single one of these men, the men in the book and the men in the article, and shake them, shake them in a way that would get a British nanny fired, until their useless soft little brains are mere putty against their thick skulls and they can no longer hurt, or even stress out, the women in their lives.

Oh, some days I just think the Amazons had the right of it…

About the author

Vikki McKay


  • Vikki,
    Sometimes I am embarrassed for my gender.
    Sometimes I read stories like this, and about the wars that men start and women clean up after, and I wonder how these people get up in the morning and face each other.
    I originally found your blog because of this post about the sexless marriage, because I worry sometimes that my wife had become “touched out” and, as I age, I am afraid of becoming unattractive to her. And instead I read this post that is pure poetry and a cry for justice.
    I have been present at six births; the first one was in my cab when I was driving a woman to the maternity. The next two were single women with no partners to help them and advocate for them. After that, I watched three of my children being born. Two of them were born at home. The last birth was Caesarean; they could not keep me out of the operating room. I had to be the first one to hold all of our babies. I also had to be with my wife as they were being born. I know I had the easy part. I know that my wife was powerful. And I loved her, more after the births than I did before, when I had no idea whether or not she could endure it.
    And, I wanted her, more than I ever have. More than she could bear at times.
    When I see cultures of cowards who call themselves men, I am shocked and amazed. And as angry as you are.
    I just want you to know that, even though we make little difference in the world on a grand scale, there are good men out there. I don’t know if I am one of them. But I am trying every day, to be better, and to raise my sons as gentlemen, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Perhaps we will raise our gender to grow beyond what they have been.

  • d’Artagnan, your post heartens me and shames me. The truth is I know there are so many men like you out there, men who are not afraid of women, their sexuality, their many facets (some good, some bad, like us all), but instead celebrates it. I should know. I’m dating one.
    I guess I wrote this for the same reason that part of my mind rails about it – I just cannot understand why. Even when being told why, the answers are unsatisfying, leading me to continually ask, like a child, “And THEN why? And why, to the answer after that?”
    Why are so many men (though not all, and I apologise to the chunks of the gender to whom this post is grossly unfair) afraid of women? Because truly, that’s how it seems from the outside. We must truly present a great threat indeed to require so much energy, so much angst, so much law and custom to keep us down, in our place, the menfolk safe from us. And how terrifying we must be in places where we are no longer quite as down, our place not quite as small, to men who feel this way.

  • I have noticed the woman-as-bearer thing before, but I definitely did not get it from that NYT piece.
    I find it curious that you read into it. Its basicly all about men in therapy dealing with their own problems with something that disturbed them, and somehow you get out of it that women are the ones who have to cope.
    About the only suggestion involving women was at the end there, when he basicly suggested that women not drag their men to the foot of the delivery bed.
    Why does a woman have to require her man to deal with every aspect of female gross anatomy, does talking about mucal plugs and placenta make for a healthier family? Why does every damn illusion have to be shattered?

  • Thank you Jeff, for making my point. Why should women have to go through these things alone, “spare” their poor, oversensitive, delicate men the details? Women have been dealing with these details a long, long time bub – and I’ll tell you, they didn’t make those babies alone.
    Mucal plugs are REALITY. Placentas, too, along with umbilical cords and episiotomies and every other damned thing that goes along with the concept of childbearing. You don’t want to have to deal with those realities, want to hang on to the illusion that we women are all delicate and airbrushed and hair-free and don’t fart, don’t smell, and aren’t tougher than you?
    Answer’s easy, bub. Keep that dick in your pants, zipped up, and away from any messy vaginas. It’s a long, slippery slope from that point on (mind the pun).

  • I don’t mind making your point for you, really.
    But if you think reality is all that great, you’re fooling yourself. Relations live in a sea of them. Am I fat? Do you like my hair? I love you like you are. You could stand to lose a little. I have a headache. I’ll get the door for you. Its a nice bookcase/spicerack/etc.
    We go out of our way to make life a little more pleasant, a little less yucky, for each other, and thats a GOOD thing. Why should we rub all of life’s messyness in the face of someone we care about?
    You have to look at what this intense need to rub reality in, really accompishes. Does it let us feel more comfortable? closer?

  • Jeff, I appreciate your desire to debate on the subject, so please don’t misunderstand what I’m going to say here.
    Rubbing reality in? Dude. Reality just *happens*.
    If you can’t deal with the reality of bodies, then really, you shouldn’t ever live with another one, other than your own. Because at some point (or more likely, several points) in every long-term relationship you end up being exposed to some of the less pleasant things that go along with them. Throwing up. Incontinence. Hemmorhoids. Cancers.
    First: you’re about to have something in your home (going with the giving birth scenario) that will expectorate from every end for at least two years. Snot. Piss. Puke. And other stuff. You get the idea. THIS IS WHAT A BABY IS (not all that she is, but a big part, particularly for the first six months). Sorry, guy, goo goes with the territory.
    Second: I’m forced to wonder how far this should go. Does this mean we should also go back to the days where women changed all the diapers? Deal with the illnesses? Are these men therefore needing to be protected from ALL goo, or just the ones involving their wife?
    Third: If it’s just the wife, then let me ask you this – should she also protect him from her illnesses? Run water full blast in the bathroom while she’s puking because it’s just silly feminist pap to expect your life partner would sit beside you when you’re feeling your worst, and maybe hand you a cool cloth for your forehead? What if she runs an incredibly high fever and ends up incontinent? Will he need to call his own Mommy to come clean up his wife’s mess from the bed, because men should be protected from this so they can still find their wives attractive?
    Utter ridiculousness, right? Except it amounts to the same thing. Actually, worse. Watching your child come into the world should be a *happy* thing. Rather than saying we shouldn’t force men into the delivery room, maybe we should hand them condoms instead until they’re man enough to deal with the consequences of their actions — ALL the consequences, not just the ones they like or feel OK accepting.

  • First of all, I gotta tell you that hospital and midwifery staff are happy to make accomodations for fathers during delivery but they’re not always enthusiastically encouraging.
    That said, I think it’s fantastic being there. I thoroughly enjoyed both times but probably would have been even better if I’d attended some other people’s births before our own so I’d know more what to do.
    It’s pretty wild watching a baby come out, first a little tiny quarter sized circle, then more, and more, all slowly till their head’s just at half-way out and then whoosh, a little jog to get the shoulders out and there’s your child, your new fellow citizen, you’re heart’s delight. I can say I didn’t cry like a baby because babys cry differently, but it’s a hell of a moment.
    My advice? Don’t go because you think you have to. Go because you want to. My experience was that if I’d missed it I might not have known what I was missing, but having been there I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
    As for changing diapers, big whoop. I certainly changed more of our first child’s diapers and at least as many of the second’s.

  • I’m just curious, exactly how many recent dads have you talked to (as opposed to read about) about their birthing experience?
    There’s nothing so helpless as watching your wife endure the physical exertion (more than the pain) of labor. There’s only so much you can do… be on hand to see to her every need, and not hover so much that you become an annoyance… adjust the pillows just so, bring ice chips, adjust her hair so that it’s back from her eyes, watch her sleep if she is able to catch a few moments rest, with one eye on the baby monitor, and all the while feel like you should be doing more but can’t… can’t hurry things along, can’t take away the pressure or pain, can’t give her a break. You feel awkward and out of place, even when you’re doing things right.
    But you’re just glad to be there and to do what you can. That’s the first birth… by the fourth one, you have your role down and you just do it.
    And yes the mucal plug and the placenta are gross… just don’t tell me men are the only ones who get squeamish – it took my wife four births before she even wanted to look at the placenta (if you’ve been in the roast aisle at the grocery store, it’s really not much worse looking than that… just more floppy). It took me as many to drum up the courage to cut the umbilical myself (it’s like stiff surgical tubing). But by the fourth birth, we had matured some and wanted to see everything.
    I don’t know a single dad who didn’t find his first birth experience to be amazing and frightening and humbling. Every one in awe of his wife, and just happy to do what he can in his clumsy way… of course, I really don’t hang around with guys who objectify their wives or who talk with horror about birth. I wouldn’t have much use for them, and I can’t help but wonder why their wives have much use for them either. Why stay in that kind of relationship?
    And as for whether men who are horrified or indifferent are in the minority or majority, drop by a hospital sometime and ask the staff who’ve been there a long time whether more or fewer dads are in the room during birth. And ask any of those dads who have been in the birthing room how awe-inspiring and humbling the experience is.
    Sure there are men out there who are so psychologically damaged or regressed as to be unable to handle birth… but surely they must have shown some sign of this kind of personality prior to the birth.
    And yes, there are whole cultures out there whose practices we look upon as barbaric… there’s a long way yet to go before common sense breaks into some of these cultural strongholds.
    Historically speaking, there’s no denying men have been sons of bitches, and some are still stuck in that rut… but I’m proud to be in a generation where a table full of men (and only men) are sitting talking about changing diapers and what kids shows they like and what they do to get their kids to sleep.
    That story, however, just won’t sell too many papers or books.

  • Ok, I know I already expounded on this too long (sorry), but this touches on a pet peeve of mine, and I think it’s relevant, so allow me to generalize for a moment, as well.
    First, I’m not speaking of the cultures that crush women under their thumb… that’s a tragedy, and I feel for the women who are born into that.
    Second, I’m not speaking of the seemingly normal, ordinary men who turn out in the end to be truly damaged goods. I feel for the women who get caught up with them.
    That said, it seems to me that a LOT of the men who end up unable to deal with the reality of childbirth are the same assholes who only see women as a piece of ass in the first place. These are the same guys that I watched in college spending every waking hour getting buff and preening before women so that they could get laid. These are the same guys that woman after woman went after, in spite of their obvious preoccupation with themselves and their total disregard of women as, well, people.
    Let’s face it, babies come from having sex, and except in the case of rape (again, those women have my sympathies), there are two people opting to have sex. So, it stands to reason that if a woman doesn’t want to be tossed aside emotionally or objectified to the point that the gory reality of childbirth puts a permanent bummer on the guy’s fantasy world, then maybe she shouldn’t be sleeping with one of these assholes.
    I’m sorry, but every year, hundreds, maybe thousands of perfectly nice young men get gently (sometimes not so gently) passed over by women for these testosterone laden idiots. These are the guys relegated to “big brother” status while women pursue the more “dangerous and mysterious” types. These women (and there are enough of them, it seems, to fill the beds of these assholes every weekend) get not one whit of my sympathy. If they don’t want emotionally challenged husbands and fathers of their children, then they should try using better criteria when choosing a mate.
    I’ll shut up now.

  • I never lost desire for my wife after watching her give birth. It was her who lost the desire.

  • You know after reading your post I must say it’s given me a bit more of an insight into the lives of islamic women. I’ve wondered why they stay in a culture that is so repressive to them but upon reflection I suppose if you’re brought up a certain way you grow up thinking it’s normal. Thanks for sharing this one.

  • My wife of 30 years told me about one of her early lovers, an Arab, who proclaimed that he was dazzled by her beauty, and that no Arab man could control himself around beautiful women. She dumped him, saying that unless he learned some self-control, that he wouldn’t be able to live in a “civilized” country like the United States.
    And maybe that’s the point about the book about Islamic women; they don’t live in a civilized place, and they know it. They do what they must to survive in a barbarian “society”, where men rape women who have offended them, in order to restore their “honor”.
    There are no easy answers, of course. Muslim men think that their ways are better than ours, but how do we prevent their barbarism from affecting our Western ways?

  • as a farm kid, i grew up delivering calves; try dealing with an 8-stone baby mammal; especially when its heart stops and you have to suck out its nostrils and give it the kiss of life etc; you just get on with it because the reward of seeing the new life thriving beats the band. human babies are tiny and all those guys are townie nerds. any women dopey enough to end up with a guy like that gets no sympathy from me.

  • Absolutely empathize with those men from the NY Times article. Women have made a very big mistake requiring their lovers to be in the birthing room.
    The miracle of life is one thing. The biology of it is something else entirely.
    Big mistake

  • I must agree with you on the birthing thing. I could think of nothing more beautiful than my wife giving birth to our child. It is so traumatic for her and I feel terrible, but wow, women can do something men will never have the power to do, to give birth. Now, I know my own limitations, and I know I would throw up to actually see the baby come out. But I will hold her hand, try to keep her cool, do whatever else I can. As far as the Muslim thing goes, I think they have a good idea, they just carry it too far. There is something to be said for modesty. For a womans body to be something to be enjoyed by her husband and no one else. I dont believe it is the root of all of our problems, but it would help many things if 11 year old girls werent dressing like street whores. But as far as gennetal mutilation and speaking restrictions? GM is a horrid practice that no one should ever tolerate. But I think we should all practice some speech restrictions. Too many times people talk until they have something to say instead of speaking when they have something to say and they end up saying things that hurt other people.

  • all of these restrictions on women due to men’s inability to manage their own responses is a classic example of demonization, whereby something that one does not want to deal with is made ‘other’ and reacted to as if it comes from the outside.
    Besides rattling skulls, which doesn’t do more than feed the cycle of retribution, and feel good, i spose [wink], there is also an internal method of engendering change. Of course this would need to be done by enough of the woman-blaming people, men and women, to tip the culture away from that view, and so, this change can only be creatd by meme-infiltration. In this case that might be thought of as ‘western ideas,’ many of which have their own embedded demons.
    The method I mention involves asking your own demons to come and talk to you, and seeing them as little kids who are hurt, have been rejected, have a valid point or fear, and need to be listened to, have their boo-boos kissed and bandaids put on them, with love, then be kept close by, and allowed to stand in the light of consciousness with the rest of your psyche. When looked at this way, even the nastiest demons look much less scary; they are accepted and understood.
    personally, none of the things that scare the men referred to in yr post scare me. all is yum.

  • I would not have missed the birth of my two sons for the world.
    Of course, it made me realize just how, for the most part, extraneous we men are to the whole process of life bringing itself forth … πŸ™‚
    Still, my desire for my wife never diminished as a result of the messy part of birth.
    I think there are a lot of men who are frightened by the power of women’s sexuality, as perhaps embodied in the vagina. Too frightened and they are homosexual (per Camille Paglia). Medium frightened: they are just straight fags!

  • Thank you for this entry. I’ve been feeling angry and somewhat depressed lately about the whole dating thing and men in general. You’ve typed a lot of my own thoughts and added to them. It may not solve anything but reading it, knowing another woman has thought the same way makes me feel less alone. πŸ™‚

  • I hadn’t read any of the comments before, I skimmed them now cause I came back to add a link to your post. Anyway, if men don’t want to be exposed to women’s “goo” shouldn’t that work both ways?
    I have never liked having his ejaculation on me. So, I would be quite glad to be spared from that. I don’t require a man to be part of my every bodily function like child birth, periods, menopause and etc. But, it’s only fair that he return the favour. Keep all your goo to yourself, if you want it swallowed, open up, open wide and work on your aim buddy. I’m not cleaning up your piss in the bathroom any more either. That’s yet more of your goo. Then, lets talk about the streaks you make in your underware.

  • “It just makes me want to take every single one of these men, THE MEN IN THE BOOK AND THE MEN IN THE ARTICLE, and shake them”
    This little phrase is crucial: it limits your homicidal fantasy to those people who have actually said or done something to piss you off, rather than generalizing to all the other men who (probably) would have done the same things in the same social environments. You are careful here NOT to tar the gender with one brush; you have waited to condemn people based on their actions rather than get the jump on them; which is the only way to motivate people to behave better than their group’s reputation. This civilizing detail is the kind of thing that allows a man to read this post without thinking “now wait a minute”.

  • Hmmm.
    I don’t know. Being horny most of the time, being preggers with my child wouldn’t turn me off- and I enjoyed watching them being born, though I have to admit I kept thinking to myself- “how in the hell is he/she going to make it out of there?” And then too, I kept cringing at the thought of how much that must hurt- for both of them.
    But, I must admit, there is a point in time where it just doesn’t seem quite “gentlemanly” to “poke” a mother- even if she’s the mother of your very own child. In my case, it’s because seeing her with our child made me think of my own mother- a huge turn off. I loved my mother, but not in that way- know what I mean?

  • While I respect your opinion, I can’t help but feel you have a certain anger toward men and are allowing things you read to reinforce that anger.
    Men get squeamish at all sorts of things that women don’t – especially things in the realm of medicine and bodily functions. Many men, maybe most, won’t have sex with their partners while they are menstruating. I think it has something to do with it being such a foreign thing to men – sexuality and blood. Sexually, men are very visual – sometimes more so than I think most women realize. Sometimes so visual that an image or thought can affect sex for the worse. The look of pleasure on our woman’s face during sex can make us come too soon. The thought of blood during menstrual intercourse can keep us from coming or even staying erect. Given that fragility, it doesn’t surprise me at all that men who view the birth of their children can be visually scarred. Let’s face it, it is so alien to most men – something they may only witness once or twice in a lifetime. Obviously, despite being designed for childbirth, it is still quite alien to the woman as well.
    Your article is interesting because of its outrage towards these men. But you discuss it as though we have control over how we respond to witnessing child birth. We can’t help it, and telling us that we should buck up and get over it is insensitive on your part. I once dated a woman who was inhibited in the bedroom because of sexual abuse in her childhood. Part of me wanted to say to her, “Come on, you’re safe with me. That was years ago… etc.” But, logically, I knew it wasn’t so simple. She was affected in a way I knew I’d never fully understand.
    I’m not critical of you for not understanding so much as I am of the fact that you THINK you do understand and can therefor point the finger at us.

  • I agree totally with C5C6’s comment. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of the complexities of life and therefore more accepting of the differences between people. I also have a lot less tolerance for those that think they’ve got it all figured out. Life and people are very complicated. That’s also part of the reason why I’m not quick to draw conclusions about foreign cultural practices in places like Arab Muslim nations. It’s just an over simplification to make the male gender central to the problems regarding women without also considering the challenging inter-dynamics of social, political, economic, religious, cultural, and historic factors involved.

  • Reading this post reminded me of what a unique husband I have. Sure, he’s never changed a nappy because it makes him queasy, but he sat with me through the 3 days and nights of labour except for when he passed out from exhaustion. He thinks that our daughter’s birth was the most amazing thing to happen to us, and is eagerly awaiting our next child. Housework? No problem, he does what I can’t without complaining after working a long, tiring day. He’s even mentioned that he prefers my post-pregnancy and birth body, saying the sex is better because of all the Kegel exercises. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but at least he tries to make everything roughly equal instead of dumping everything onto me.

  • Here’s a thought:
    There are two different acts of sex. There’s the Little Act, where two people put two small parts of their bodies together. It often feels really good; it has emotional significance to the two people; and various pieces of biology happen.
    Then there is the Big Act, where an entirely new person grows, entirely contained in the body of another one, and eventually comes out into the world.
    Everyone gets to participate in the Big Act of sex at least once, as the entirely new person. You may enjoy it, but you don’t get to remember it.
    Lots of adults participate in the Little Act of sex, but only women get to participate in the Big Act of sex as adults. Reflect on this a bit, and a man could even get jealous about it.
    Yes, the Big Act can be painful, sometimes very painful. Before recent history, childbirth was not infrequently fatal (though life for men was pretty dangerous at the same time). But many women report a post-birth euphoria that sounds pretty impressive.
    If there’s something amazing in the world that you can have, that I can never have, even though I can spend time around the edges, then perhaps I might want to say that I never wanted it in the first place, and that it’s yucky and disgusting anyway.
    But still, it’s one of the most amazing things in the universe, and you get to experience it, and I don’t.

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