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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.