For most of human history a woman was judged by her vagina, specifically what went into it.
As in the rest of the animal world, the male human’s greatest fear was of being cuckolded, raising another male’s child as his own. Hence the elaborate attempts to ensure virginity and fidelity, ranging from female genital mutilation to chastity belts, to burqas to honor killings. Women have been cut, confined and crushed, both literally and figuratively, in order to insure that their vaginae were not breached by any man besides their husbands. That extended even to forced sexual violation. Even today, women who are raped are married off to the rapist to preserve her “honor” or killed by the male members of her own family to preserve their honor.
In the past hundred years women have increasingly discovered what Sohaila Abdulai explained in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times. Writing in the wake of a horrific gang rape in India that resulted in the death of a young medical student, she proclaims what should be obvious to everyone. Rape is horrible because it is a violation:
It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina …
Here in the US we have undoubtedly made progress in divorcing a woman’s virtue from her vagina. That’s why it is very disturbing to find a group of women who continue to insist that women’s honor resides in her vagina, specifically what comes through it. Natural childbirth advocates have located women’s fulfillment and authenticity in her ability to push a baby out through her vagina. It is precisely this fetishism of the vagina that is responsible for the central tenets of natural childbirth advocacy, including:
- the veneration of process (vaginal birth) over outcome (healthy mother and baby)
- the insistence that vaginal birth is better for babies
- the desperate search for purported advantages in vaginal birth, ranging from supposed decreases in everything from chronic diseases to tooth decay
- an obsession with lowering the C-section rate
- a rejection of the autonomy of women who prefer C-sections
- hideous lies about the effects of C-sections on woman’s ability to bond with her baby
- the bizarre concepts of birth rape and obstetric “violence”
These ideas, which are central to natural childbirth advocacy, locate a woman’s virtue in her ability to pass a baby through her vagina, and her “shame” in being unable or unwilling to do so.
It is hardly surprising that the originators and greatest proponents of the philosophy of natural childbirth, Grantly Dick-Read, Fernand Lamaze, Robert Bradley and Michel Odent, were and are men eager to trap women in traditional gender roles. It is deeply distressing to me, however, that most contemporary natural childbirth advocates are women, wittingly or unwittingly seeking to trap women in traditional gender roles.
A woman’s virtue is NOT located in her vagina. She is not at her most authentic and fulfilled by pushing a child through her vagina. And no woman should ever be shamed into thinking that being unable or unwilling to push a baby through her vagina is a failure.
There is no honor in vaginal birth and it is despicable for anyone to insist that there is.