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Saturday
Jun302007

Shame

While many of us profess to not be influenced by society or our friends or even our partners when it comes to what we do with our bodies. The reality is, many of us are. I see it every day.

“Let me check with my husband.”

“My friends all swear by fill-in-the-blank book.”

“My boyfriend won’t let me do that.”

“The doctor said I can’t.”

Our friends become a gauge for our actions… are we nursing long enough? Do we do Elimination Communication with them? Or do we use cloth diapers? If I use disposables, will I be ostracized? What if I can’t nurse? What if I don’t go to the hospital they all use, have an epidural like they do, use the same doctor?

Many women struggle with these issues. If a woman uses her mind, she is often punished, even shamed into submission. Or at least, they attempt to shame her into submission. If the woman is strong enough, she plows on and often, in the process, she loses those friends and finds a new circle of friends that support her in her new hopes, dreams and desires. Not enough women have the option of finding support outside their circle of friends, but with the Net, at least it’s a little better, but you can’t always depend on cyber-friends to bolster you when real-life people are smacking you in the face.

But, what if it’s your partner that’s using psychological warfare? How do you work through the issues of circumcision, extended breastfeeding, VBAC, the family bed and homebirth if your husband is adamantly against what you so strongly believe in?

What if your partner says your breasts will droop and be saggy if you nurse past six weeks? What do you know? You’ve never nursed, you don’t know anyone else who’s ever nursed; all you know is what you’ve read on-line and in books and that issue isn’t addressed head on. Is he right? Is he telling you he won’t want your breasts/you anymore if you nurse after six weeks postpartum? Is it a threat? Do you even bother nursing at all?

I hear similar stories all the time. Partners can be the mom’s biggest allies, but they can also be the biggest antagonists.

- Mom is nursing a few-month old child and goes to the baby, who sleeps in another room, once or twice in the night, to soothe her with a pacifier or, sometimes, a short nursing. The dad, who barely awakens at night, rages during the day about mom losing sleep, howling that she immediately throw out the pacifier and quit going to the baby in the night. He brings home “How to Sleep” books and videos constantly and tells mom how to mother the infant. Mom swears she never complains about being tired and has no problem at all with waking with the child, two or ten times a night. The marriage is suffering.

- Mom realized during the pregnancy that she would never circumcise her son if she had one. Her husband, Jewish, but not Observant, insists that circumcision is required in their family and that’s it. When the baby is born, it is, indeed, a boy and the issue turns into an immediate fireball when in-laws, the family’s Rabbi and literature all descend on the newly postpartum mom, who still refuses to allow “her” son to be circumcised, using all the heated language she can – making the topic more and more inflamed. When I met mom, the baby was intact and she was in the middle of a divorce.

Who’s right? Is mom always right? Does she always have the Right of Veto? In the Pro-Choice world, she does. In the Fundamentalist Christian world, she does not. Somewhere, is there a middle ground? In such heated and black & white issues, is there such a thing as middle ground?

In perhaps the most vile, sad and disgusting episode of manipulating shame I’ve ever heard, comes that of a woman’s “friends” who decided to try and talk her out of a VBAC.

This mom, who was creating the most amazing VBAC scenario of her life, was approached by friends and questioned about her sanity. Why would she want a VBAC at all? Why wouldn’t she want to just schedule her surgery? Wouldn’t it be so much easier? The woman defended her choice eloquently by explaining the sadness in her last birth, a cesarean… her desires for empowerment for this birth and how hard she was working to make the stars align for her idea of a perfect birth. Instead of supporting her and applauding her amazing bravery for facing the VBAC naysayers in the medical field, they stepped up the derogatory reasons for why she shouldn’t have a baby come through her vagina.

Beef Curtains.

A horrid term that can actually be Googled. Also known as Roast Beef Curtains. Beef Curtains is a term used to describe a woman’s vulva in repulsive terms, well, let’s make that a REAL woman’s vulva – one that has folds and creases – not a pre-pubescent vulva that has yet to unfold from inside itself. Those “perfect” ones that are copied in operating rooms across the country when women have plastic surgery to “pretty-up” their pussy parts.

This woman’s friends tsk’d tsk’d her insistence on her VBAC by telling her that men just don’t want their women to have beef curtains or, another delightful vulvular term, Romaine Lettuce.

How can women be so cruel to another woman? How can women be so cruel to another woman working so, so hard to empower herself as a woman? How can women feel that the natural folds of a vulva can be so ugly and how can they participate in their denigration so thoroughly? How can women, in less than one generation, buy into the Hustler airbrushing un-reality of a woman’s body? What power do men have over women that they (women) acquiesce everything, even their most beautiful body part – the (proverbial) flower that opens to allow a lover’s touch, a partner’s semen, her own fingers and toys… and then, to allow the babies – the BABIES! – the babies to come through.

The babies come through from uterus through vagina and wear the vulva like a petal’d hat just before reaching the earth and inhaling our air and letting go of mom’s side of the umbilical cord.

Why would someone want to remove the petals from a woman’s body? How could a man not want to fluff with a woman’s labial folds? (Could there be a lesbian somewhere that would also insist on labiaplasty?) How can a woman find her own body disgusting unless someone told her it was? How come it’s always a woman’s body that’s defective? (Not that I think men’s bodies are, but for god’s sake, couldn’t there be some balanced see-saw somewhere?)

When, postpartum, this successful VBAC woman cried because she was worried she would need reconstructive surgery, her friends’ words reverberating in her head.

(And I know now this is one of the reasons women must be choosing primary cesareans, yes? Isn't this horrible?)

I say we all come up with prepared lines for friends like this. Ready?

1. Well, my days as a Hustler pussy model were just about over anyway, so I think a VBAC is worth the risk.

2. Well, you know all those times we sat on the dining room table and showed our coochies to each other at cocktail parties? Those days just might be over.

3. Since when are you so concerned about the issues between my snatch and my lover? Isn’t that between me and s/he?

4. Isn’t that a tad private?

5. My, you sure are bold talking about things you don’t know about in my relationship.

6. How do you know what my vulva’s gonna look like afterwards anyway?

7. How do you know what my man likes?

8. Not everyone's vulva is affected by birth... how do you know mine will be?

9. Well, actually, if the curtains aren’t big enough, I’m having surgery to make them into full-on draperies.

10. Are we going to show each other our stuff now?

11. My wo/man likes my cunt to look like a grown-up’s, not a child’s. A woman’s vulva has “curtains.” So will mine. A child’s has no folds. Is your man into pedophilia?

I think it’s time we stop shaming each other. It’s revolting.

I think we need to turn the tables and laugh the hell out of the women (and men) who try to shame us into thinking our bodies are wrong/fat/less than/ugly. We should all come up with a billion lines to use, put them on tee shirts, business cards, hats, bracelets, necklaces, tote bags, on the big butts of our jeans, across the flat chests - or saggy boobs - of our blouses and memorize them so they spew forth at any given moment that someone tries to make us feel less than we are.

Don't men and women know that beef curtains (let's de-sensitize the name, shall we?) happen in puberty or pregnancy, not just in birth? Just like saggy breasts happen with the hormones of pregnancy, not with breastfeeding? This is what we get for not living in a naked, non-tribal community... not seeing real live tits and ass.

A former topless dancer friend of mine told me she loved seeing the variations on a theme of women's bodies when she started out dancing. She saw women's labia that hung down several inches and was fascinated there was such a thing! She saw inner labia much longer than outer labia, inner and outer labia of all different sizes, shapes, colors and textures. She loved seeing it all and looked closely and often.

I remember seeing the vulva of a new woman who had a few weeks earlier been a man. It was incredible! I asked her to stand over me, showing me every nook and cranny, opening the folds, letting me see her clitoris, her hood, the labia, seeing how the hair grew... it was just so cool! But, now that I think about it, it looked so... un-used? Young? Small? Perhaps that's what women are wanting for their men, but that seems creepy to me. Anyone else?

It’s those that try to shame us that feel shitty about themselves. They are trying to feel better about their own cunts, so they are shaming women about theirs. They don’t want women to have VBACs and feel empowered because if they (the VBAC women) become strong, then that means they (the cesarean choice women) aren’t strong. (Of course, it doesn’t mean that, but in the psychological world, if someone is right, that means someone is wrong.) If the woman has a VBAC and still has great sex afterwards, then perhaps they will be left mute as for the reasons their own sexless, post-cesarean relationship is failing.

The circular thinking needs to stop. It’s useless, pointless and stupid. Let’s everyone leave everyone’s down-below alone, eh? There’s enough shame that comes from our parents, for goodness’ sake! We don’t need it from someone who calls themselves our friend.

Be a friend. Love my cunt the way it is. I promise to love yours the way yours is, too.

Reader Comments (31)

How ENRAGING. I'm pissed just reading this!

BEEF curtains?! Wtf! What genius came up with that and what kind of woman would even repeat it in anything other than complete disgust?

Unbe-LIEVE-able.

June 30, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRedspiral

God, I wish a woman like you had been in my life as a child.

You are AMAZING. Your writing....both heart-wrenching, and able to make me laugh (comeback #1) in the same post.

Your clients are so blessed. There's less shame in this world because of you.

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAngel

Thank you for the comebacks. I am done having kids myself, so I will be sure to insert a few of those comments if such discussions occur in my presence. Thank you for including both sides. I think there is a tremendous amount of pressure from both teams "Mainstream" and "Crunchy", but certainly more from mainstream because of the medical field and, well, the mainstream perception of birth in general.

Each woman should be able to decide what works for her, follow her dream of what child birth will be for her and include the father in the process when possible. My dh did not bully me. He and I discussed the plans, how things would play out.... I did not want a homebirth. And have made some other choices that were "disappointing" to my crunchy friends. It is funny, I had no problem telling my mainstream friends and family what my plans were (and I continue to spread my semi-crunchy ways in mainstream circles.)

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Beef curtains? BEEF CURTAINS?!? I feel so out of the loop and I'm only 27! Seriously, what the hell??

I so totally love you and this post is JUST what I needed to hear. Not just for all things vagina and birth, but for other aspects of my life. When *will* we stop trying to drag each other down? Just like the crabs do in the bucket. One gets a little higher up and the others grab her legs and drag her down, not wanting her to succeed. Or rather more importantly, maybe not wanting to be left behind? I think it's very scary and intimidating when a woman stands up for herself.

This post is just so *SO* relevant to me right now--I'm reading this booked "prescribed" by my therapist called "The Dance of Anger" and it is amazing.

Thank you for this post. I always love reading your writing and I know I rarely comment, but I want you to know how much I respect you and how I love your honesty and beauty.

Oh! And totally off topic, but in that photo of you and your client (from the Dr. Wonderful birth) is gorgeous! You look so so lovely and beautiful. Of course the mama does too, but I wanted to tell you. :0)

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRebekah

I need more distance from it, and it definitely needs more editing work, but I think this might be one of the best pieces I've written (at least the most relevant)... shamelessly spoken. :)

Thank you for the kind comment about how I look. It is the mother that is reflecting off of me that I can look so glowingly. It is me in that How-Is-This-Kind-Of-Birth-Really-Happening-And-Am-I-THRILLED-and-AMAZED-I-am-a-part-of-it look.

This birth was the polar opposite (reward?!) of (for) the birth I did last year - in the same county. Incredible.

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Angel: You made me cry with tender pride. Thank you for your kindness. (I am sooooo PMS, so it went extra deep this morning!)

With all the struggle with writing I have sometimes, it is comments like this that urge me on. Thank you.

Now to finish the two recent birth stories! I want to hear your comments about those, too!

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I am a real woman.

I am an adult.

My vulva and labia are smooth. They did not change with my vaginal birth of twins.

It is shaming and obnoxious to state that my partner is a pedophile for loving me the way I am.

This reminds me of the annoying tendency of women in the fat acceptance movement (of which I am a proud member) to say things like "real women have CURVES."

Real women come in all shapes and sizes and types of genitals.

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPsyche

I'm not trying to say your husband is a pedophile. *sigh* (Can I never not get in trouble!?) I have seen smoothER vulvas, but they look NOTHING like surgical vulvas. Please try and take what I mean in context.

I think what you have to say about your vulva not changing in birth is a great testament to not everyone's genitals are affected by birth! I should add that one on my list! I think I will! Thanks!

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Oh wow. Amazing the depths to which some people will go to drag others down.

In defense of my fundamentalist Christian husband though ;) he is the *only* person who fully supported me and defended me in my desire to have a natural birth. He was a sad as I was that our first child's birth was such a miserable experience for me, and with the next two he has taken off work any time I asked him to, knowing that I did not feel safe at the hospital for tests and ultrasounds by myself. When the doctor started talking about dead babies and trying to scare me into a c-section, my fundy dh was the *only* person in my real life who agreed with me that she was an idiot who's goal was not a great birth but a liability-free one. And he never, never, never complains about any part of my mommy-body or that my babies are generally in full command of my breasts, and will staunchly defend me to fellow fundies who think were a little nutty for not weaning at 6 weeks or any other of those "crunchy" things we do. :)

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCappuccinoLife

Dang woman! I have been reading your posts for, I don't know, over a year now? They are always interesting, and then sometimes they are like this one....a post where I can just feeeeeeeel your spirit and power coming through, loud and clear and beautiful (if even a bit uncomfortable for the reader).

Please keep them coming! They inspire me!

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterceline

I have never heard of "beef curtains" but I did laugh out loud at your comebacks!

I am 31 and am not familiar with this concern about vulva not looking the same after birth. I am totally thankful that my circle of friends is not concerned with each other's vaginas! We have a tight circle but please--that is going too far!!!!

I agree though that it would serve us well to stop shaming each other and to empower each other.

I hope I never hear anyone I know talk someone out of a vaginal birth because of a fear that the body
(vulva in particular) will change. I'll definitely be pulling out some of those comebacks!

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteramelia

::Passing tissues to NMW:: :)

This piece reminds me so much of The Vagina Monologues. I think it is definitely a good piece, you can tell it was written from the heart.

Can't wait to read about the births!

July 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAngel

I am a proud 28-y-o wife & mama of a wonderful 2 year old girl who was brouht to the world through my vagina and happily breastfed for 7 months.

My vulva has shrunk way beyond pre-birth, I have 10lbs more, my breasts are bigger and saggier and there's plenty of strechmarks on my belly.
And yet my husband and I enjoy our sex life even more since we became parents - this has brought a great new meaning to our relationship.
This is where I see the main difference: those, for whom making love has just a physical aspect to it, think in "beef curtains" mode. Those, who make love on the psychological side as well, never come to think of such a repulsive expression.

Exuse my mistakes please, English is not my mother tongue.

Mateja, Europe

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I am a proud 28-y-o wife & mama of a wonderful 2 year old girl who was brouht to the world through my vagina and happily breastfed for 7 months.

My vulva has shrunk way beyond pre-birth, I have 10lbs more, my breasts are bigger and saggier and there's plenty of strechmarks on my belly.
And yet my husband and I enjoy our sex life even more since we became parents - this has brought a great new meaning to our relationship.
This is where I see the main difference: those, for whom making love has just a physical aspect to it, think in "beef curtains" mode. Those, who make love on the psychological side as well, never come to think of such a repulsive expression.

Please exuse my mistakes, English is not my mother tongue.

Mateja, Europe

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

well the navelgazing one herself can attest to the fact that my hoochie looked like a baboon's ass after my baby's VBAC! midforceps delivery (for a short umbilical cord). had a second degree tear too. really impressive swelling and bruising, lemme tell ya.

yet, ye olde parts look just like they did before i got preg with my first child.

even if they still did look like a baboon's ass, though, i'd rather that than another c-section scar.

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered Commenternolabarb

This is my first read here - and I just wanted to tell you that I love you :) Now I just have to figure out how to save your page so I can read more later!!

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFertility Schmtility

I've been struggling some with post-baby body changes in the 14 months since my son was born. I have to say I never really thought about the changes wrought by childbirth on my vulva. I quizzed my husband who says if anything it feels better now! A few minutes ago I saw a picture of a not quite young actress, stick-thin with small high breasts. Mine used to look like that but fourteen months of nursing have changed them too. I looked at that actress and before I even thought about my own body-shame issues, I said to myself, "how sad, she doesn't have any children!". That feels like progress to me.

Thanks for being such a strong voice on behalf of women. I'm a physician and it's a struggle sometimes to remember that the prejudices in my field aren't totally pervasive, and that I can make a difference just be being open-minded and true to myself. I really needed to read this post today!

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

I don't agree that men's bodies are not considered ugly or imperfect.

My husband is mocked if he wears tank tops because he has a hairy back. Several of my girlfriends have told me it's gross and I should ask him to shave or wax. He has only a bit of a fluffy tummy (needs to lose about ten pounds) and is considered less than sexy because of it, yet my girlfriends (and several of their husbands) tell me I'm sexy and attractive when I'm ten pounds over weight (both numbers according to doctors, not my preference).

Many women consider intact males to be gross. There are tons of derogatory words for the normal penis. Consider labiaplasty to be the male counterpart in our culture to foreskin removal. Both done for cosmetic reasons, maybe we'll start doing labiaplasty in children for "medical" reasons, but really for cosmetics. A concerned parent will come up with some important reason to make sure h/er daughter's labia are perfect.

It is EQUALLY disgusting. Anybody who thinks we can't compare female genital modification with male genital modification b/c female is so much worse is totally devaluing the male genitals, male sexuality, and a male's rights to his own body and his own penis.

The word verification is ugijjj. Like a sound of revulsion. ;)

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLeosMama

This was such a beautiful and inspiring post. I am so grateful I found you!

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterradical mama

Am I the only woman who never took the time to compare before and after vulva pictures?

I don't get it. Since when is MY cooch someone ELSE'S issue?

Man I hate chicks sometimes...

July 3, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterthordora

I've got another comeback for you.
"You think my husband will leave me if vaginal childbirth wrecks my vulva? Well, if our marriage were that shallow, it wouldn't be worth saving, would it?"

As a doula, I share your frustration with the negative pressure and influence women are subjected to from various sources. I have heard husbands tell their wives many disempowering things; from "I don't think you can handle labor without medicine" to "You can't wear the baby in a sling because you're too clumsy." Why do so many men in our culture feel a need to belittle their wives? It is infuriating to me.

I have heard the term "roast beef curtains" used by a very crass stand-up comedian, but the idea that grown women are using this term in all seriousness is surprising to say the least. And the idea that women would be so unsupportive of each other at a time when support is so acutely needed just makes me ill.

Melissa F

July 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I've never heard the roast beef thing before, but I've heard of women wanting a C-section to "keep things tight." And two local (male)djs commented on the air a few years ago about the high number of C-sections being done-they said Thanks to doctors everywhere keeping our women tight! I've heard comments from men about that too-men are very afraid of childbirth ruining women's figures and vaginas. I have to wonder, why would our bodies be designed to be ruined and unsuitable for sex after having a child? That just wouldn't make sense!

July 3, 2007 | Unregistered Commentersajmom

I love your list of comments to share with friends and family! Thanks for sharing this post. I just linked to it on my blog. I am often amazed at how unsupportive "friends" can be. When I was preparing to VBAC at home, I marveled at the scary stories people were "compelled" to share. Not very helpful.

July 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKat

“Let me check with my husband.”

This is also nonconfrontational, passive-agressive code for "I am using my husband as a reason to say no to you and let him be the ass who disappoints you. This way we can still be friends."

July 4, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterfrectis

Patriarchy at its worst. And I second thordora's question, because IMHO, that most feminine part of our bodies should be strictly for personal pleasure and not subject to others' scrutiny. My response to some of the descriptors described here would be, "If you don't like the way it looks, then don't use it!" (Seems like if you frame it that way, many men at least would grasp to some degree the absurdity of being concerned with the mere appearance of the vulva.) And as for women that use such phrases, it just seems to me they've absorbed that general cultural sense of shame regarding the female genitals. (And it goes back a long time, as one of the Latin terms used to refer to them is "pudendum", which literally means "ashamed".) Why else would there be so many derogatory terms like "beef curtains"?

July 6, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermedrecgal

thank you (and the other much more eloquent commenters) for this post. i had a vb unmedicated. i have not had any problems with being stretched out! LOL in fact it's been the opposite. and knowing that pregnancy causes changes in my breasts, not the nursing, i have (and will continue to) breast feed my dd who was born 4/14/06. though even if the bf'ing was the culprit i still would. :D

now, i have to work on educatingdh about home birthing. thats what i'd truly like to experience when we decided to have a 2nd child.

i'll be linking your post in my blog as well.

July 9, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterjeanius

Quite the potent read. I consider myself a new fan! However, I must confess I have used terms such as: meat curtains, twat, cunt, and squishmitten, all as euphemisms/nicknames/what have you; however recently the most offensive word I've been rebuked for using? Crotch (more on that later).

Your blog post has all of the ring of an essay written by Germaine Greer, written many years ago, and by many years ago, I mean so long ago it was thought at the time women didn't own their own vaginas. Unthinkable! Anyway, the name of that essay is, "Lady, Love Your Cunt," and can be found in an anthology entitled, "The Madwoman's Underclothes." I got my copy on Amazon.

Keep up with the powerful writing and your care and empathy for your fellow sisters.

July 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterIt's Me... Maven

Okay I'm trying..but this is so ridiculous I'm having a hard time not laughing my head off. Besides I like romaine lettuce.

With the changes from puberty, I am 25 and have no clue what you are talking about. As far as I can remember mine was always curled up and wrinkly.

As for mom always being right? What difference does it make if she is? Mom wants to love and be loved that doesn't happen without cooperation from someone else. I guess I don't really understand the attitude of someone who cannot appreciate baby making and mothering as a generational thing. Can you have a successful relationship with someone who is insecure enough in their manhood and you're love for them to be threatened or offended by you taking care of a baby? It seems the troubles would go much deeper than that.

July 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

From Redpomegranate:

Barb, may I please have your permission to post this in several groups on myspace?

Marvelous, marvelous writing, I just adore you more each day, here's hoping I have the opportunity to someday meet you in real life. You inspire me.

July 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'm with my second husband - my first was NOT supportive of anything I did (except for the bad things, lol, but that's a different story).

My husband is ridiculously proud of my unmedicated births. And he loves to quote a friend of his, who says something like, "A woman who has never given birth is like a race car that's never been driven at full speed."

And really, people spend that much time looking at each other's coochies? The only ones I've ever paid much attention to were in porn.

August 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

The last comment by Judy included a very enlightening statement in her last sentence. I think the criticisms of how a woman's private parts look comes from some members of society that have an obsession with porn. If men and women focus only on their own partner, and stay away from porn, then there will be no comparison. I had 2 children when I met my now husband. He was younger and had never been with a 'mother' before, but was fascinated with the difference in my body. I had never thought about mine looking any different after giving birth. We have since had a child together and he was amazed at how my body adapted to deliver a 9 pound baby. After 14 yrs, our sex life is amazing and gets better every day. My body droops, sags, puckers, has stretch marks galore, and he loves every inch of it. That's called love. Any so-called friends that criticize their friends bodies or choices need to be kicked to the curb.

August 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

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