There’s nothing I can say to try to make it seem okay… Greer, Sexual Health, and Shame

On Monday night’s Q&A, Germaine Greer said:

 But there’s something quite important to say here. That it may be true that young people in American universities are horrified by the thought of abortion… But I promise you they will all go for the morning after pill. […]  Because they haven’t actually figured out that that is an abortion. People think abortion is there’s a baby, that is the rhetoric they use, and you are killing it. You are putting to death this little human creature but they don’t think that about turning up for the morning after pill, which is available in every university dispensary and where people who have had unprotected intercourse, which is pretty stupid for a start, given the 21st century, people who have had unprotected intercourse have got to turn up for the morning after pill. They’re not going to go home and say, “Oh, my God, I’ve just had an abortion”. That’s not what they’re going to do but that is, in fact, what they have done and it’s about time we got used to the fact that we can now cease a pregnancy very early on in the progress of that pregnancy. We’re not talking about 12 weeks or three months or six months. There’s always this extraordinary, horrifying notion that you’re killing a baby when, in fact, what you’ve done is take the morning after pill, which is kind of a mess and you should be ashamed and embarrassed and you should try not to do it again but the chances are that you will. I mean this is where we live. This is who we are and there’s no point in dramatising it and turning it into a three act circus. It’s ridiculous.

Despite being conservative, I have a lot of time for Germaine Greer because she’s thoughtful and insightful.  I mean that sincerely; I know the gut reaction from a lot of people is ‘Ugh, this is why I don’t call myself a feminist’ or ‘Ugh, feminazis’ depending on from which end of the political spectrum they hail.  But there is a massive gap between Germaine Greer the short-quotes-sans-context and Germaine Greer the unapologetically thoughtful and insightful social commentator.

I agree with the sentiment of the above quote.  We do play a trivially semantic word game when it comes to certain activities.  I think the outrage at the comment was that it seemed to suggest that Greer was anti-abortion, which is clearly not the case.

But the curious part, for me, was the line ‘you should be ashamed and embarrassed and you should try not to do it again’.

As a guy, I’ve never been made to feel embarrassed about going to the doctor or pharmacist.  Due to the fact that men are less likely to seek medical assistance when we need it (and I’m definitely in that camp: I was struggling to breathe for about a month before going to the doctor who asked why I hadn’t come in earlier.  My answer: ‘Oh, I didn’t think it was a big deal; I thought it would clear up.’), we’re even made to feel like heroes when we do anything about our health.  Campaigns targeting men to lose weight aren’t ‘You’re fat and this is bad’, they’re ‘You could be a champion!’  When we take care of our sexual health, the same messages are broadcast.  Condoms?  You champion!  Once, when I went for a sexual health check, I even got thanked for coming in…

There has only ever been one time when I experienced pharmacy staff treating me like less of a champion: when, once upon a time, I accompanied a partner to get the morning after pill.

I live in a world where any mistakes I make aren’t catastrophic.  I eat extremely undercooked meat because if I get some sort of parasite, I can flush those bad boys with an orange-flavoured pill.  I used to cycle across a construction site because if I had an injury, a tetanus shot was a GP trip away.  I also live in a world where I can cosmetically control everything about me if I want.  I can dye and style my hair, I can grow amazing facial hair, I can get tattoos and pierce various bits of flesh.

But when it comes to female sexual health, there’s this idea that you should be ashamed of your mistake.  You shouldn’t be able to maximally control your body like you can do in absolutely every other part of your life.

It was the morning after and things hadn’t entirely gone to plan.  To increase the likelihood that we wouldn’t be spawning tiny versions of me, we went to the pharmacy to grab the morning after pill.  I asked if she wanted some privacy, but said that she’d like me to come along.

When we told the woman behind the counter why we were there, we were greeted with a scowl.  She grabbed the questionnaire from beneath the desk, thrust it at my partner, and said nothing more than, ‘Fill this in’ and walked off.

I was utterly shocked.  This wasn’t the sort of treatment I usually get at the pharmacy.  I’m a guy.  They usually treat me like a god for even working out where the place is.

Worse, this attitude of ‘You have done something wrong and you are a terrible person for coming in here’ was directed entirely at my partner.  It was her fault, even though the other party in the ‘mistake’ was standing right next to her.  It just seemed to reinforce the idea that women were responsible for ensuring 100% successful safe sex.

About three minutes later, another customer appeared asking for the same pharmaceutical and was given the same scowl-and-thrust.

So when Greer says that women should be ashamed and embarrassed about getting the morning after pill, I wonder why.  I’m not ashamed when I flush the tapeworms to Hell.  Why should somebody feel in anyway remorseful for controlling their reproductive system?

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One thought on “There’s nothing I can say to try to make it seem okay… Greer, Sexual Health, and Shame

  1. Had a similar experience with the morning after pill. She had her shit together 100%, I was a total mess. But I was really surprised by how hostile the pharma staff were towards her.

    Regarding whether or not it’s an abortion, I think it’s hard to establish that an egg fertilised two hours earlier is a baby. What’s more, shouldn’t we be destigmatising use of the morning after pill so things like this can be knocked on the head early? Shame will only lead to the much more fraught situation of having to abort an actual baby with a nervous system etc.

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