Apparently, I’m one of the few people who read Penelope Trunk’s now infamous tweet (“I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.”) who wasn’t even remotely bothered by it. I found it to be an elegant instance of the power of Twitter and the way people have learned to pack so much information into 140 characters. We as a culture applaud men who come up with choice quotes to describe death, courage, and war, but if a woman employs brevity to express relief at a miscarriage, suddenly there’s an outcry against the dangers of getting to the point.
Trunk has rounded up some of the responses she received on Twitter, in blog comments, and on other blogs . Mainly, the scolding seemed to be focused on her tone. She was instructed to be sadder, or at least perform emotions she wasn’t experiencing in order to placate those who want women to always be mindful that our reproductive functions are both disgusting and sacrosanct. She also got some anti-abortion sentimental nonsense, but Trunk understands that’s just the most severe expression of the idea that women’s bodies are both disgusting and sacrosanct. We as a nation are confused, and we expect women having “female troubles” to do a tap-dance around our confusion. Whether it’s pregnancy, periods, miscarriage, or abortion, we’re both supposed to adhere to the idea that the uterus is the most serious of organs (beating out the brain by a long shot), and to feel guilty and ashamed for being gross.
And it’s not just women who don’t want to be mothers right now who face this sort of nastiness. When I put the link of Trunk’s retort onto Twitter, I got a response from a woman who told me her recent hellish story of flying while pregnant. She got her boarding pass, only to discover that they had put her in the dreaded center seat, which would have been OK if she weren’t suffering from severe morning sickness exacerbated by the motion of the plane. When she politely asked her male seatmates if they would mind shuffling around so she could have the aisle, they acted disgusted that she even dare draw attention to her condition and refused. She did not say whether she punished them by using every slight bump of the plane as an excuse to get up and run to the bathroom, but I kind of hope she did.
When will we as a nation grow up and accept that the uterus is just another organ, even though it’s an important one? Female owners of uteruses should be allowed to regard them as we do any other body part, as part of our subjective experience in life. If I break my leg, I’m permitted the right to define that experience, and if I felt a lot or a little pain and fear, no one will insist that I do some sort of kabuki of the emotions they want me to have. Why can’t a miscarriage receive the same level of respect? Truth be told, I wish more women were open about their experiences with miscarriage. If the public at large had to face up to the fact that not every miscarriage is met with a vale of tears, that could have a dramatic impact on how we regard pregnancy, abortion, and women’s diverse experiences with our reproductive functions.