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Monday, January 24, 2011

 

Gaspode's Law of Sexism

Arguing on another blog recently, I was thinking once again of sexism; this time, of the phenomenon of mansplaining.

Mansplaining, for those unfamiliar with the term, describes the behaviour of a man who assumes that he must be the superior intellect in a conversation with any woman, and thus will patronisingly explain to her something that she knows a whole lot more about than him. Any attempts by her to make it clear that she doesn't need him to instruct her will be met with paternal deafness or outraged offence, depending on how forcefully she attempts it - ie, if she says it in a way that he can't miss, he acts insulted; if she doesn't, he ignores her.

(There is a common problem mentioning mansplaining in an open forum, very similar to the problem of mentioning the Bechdel Test: some bugger will immediately leap up and ask, 'What's it called when it's done to men? / when women do it? / when there's an exception? / when you don't know the motivations?' or some other variant of 'How quickly can we redefine this to make it about something, anything else other than what it's actually talking about, which is female experience of sexism?' I will have no truck with that in the comments: do not make me open the can of Delete-Ass.)

There's a particular (and particularly maddening) variant of it that will be familiar to many women: the man who explains back to you what you've just told him with the air of teaching you something your little brain was previously incapable of perceiving. Of course, if you're debating with a man who doesn't respect women there are a lot of ways he can go - arguing against something you didn't say is a favourite, as is saying 'How dare you call me a bad person?' when you make a general point - but this one has a rather special twist. You start to wonder what on earth the man thinks he's doing, or if he's thinking at all: who tries to teach somebody something that they've just taught you?

But having run into it more times than I enjoy, I found it was reminding me of something. This being the internet I suspect many blog readers will be familiar with the works of Terry Pratchett; the character that comes to mind is Gaspode the talking dog.

For those unfamiliar, Gaspode is a small mongrel who has acquired the ability to talk. However, for most people the idea of a talking dog is just so difficult to credit that when Gaspode says something, they don't hear it on a conscious level. They take in his words, but assume they must be hearing their own thoughts. (Hence, for instance, if Gaspode says 'Give the doggy a biscuit', they automatically give him one because they think it's their own idea.)

When it comes to men explaining to women what the woman has just explained to them, it's the talking dog stories that come to mind. It would appear that some men find the idea of an intelligent woman about as plausible as the idea of a talking dog. It's so difficult to credit, in fact, that if a woman makes a good point, the man's expectations simply blot out any awareness that she's talking. He hears her words, but his subconscious immediately appropriates them, because a woman couldn't possibly be making an intelligent comment. It must be his own thoughts he's hearing - and shouldn't he do the nice thing and instruct the woman in them for the betterment of her own little mind? So what you get is a man who hears or reads what a woman says or writes, assumes he's hearing/reading his own thoughts, and then explains them back to her with the air of presenting his own invaluable insights.

Since the internet has laws of conversation, I think we need to be aware of Gaspode's Law: a man who explains a woman's point back to her is sexist enough that he's incapable of understanding anything a woman says, and should be deemed to have automatically disqualified himself from the conversation. For which reason it's all the more important that men call him on his behaviour, because if a woman says something, he'll either dismiss it or poach it. And in the latter case, he will genuinely believe he thought of it himself.


Note: I have no rights regarding the intellectual property of Terry Pratchett. If he or his representatives object to this post, please contact me and I'll take it down.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

 

Fleecy Mikalogue


(Editor's note: this is an old Mikalogue that I somehow never got round to publishing and unearthed recently. The photo is recent, though. Things haven't changed.)

Kit: Hi sweetheart.

Mika: 'Lo. Is comfortable. You okay?

Kit: Well, actually I wanted a word with you, honey.

Mika: Is receivin visitors. What can do for you?

Kit: You see, you're lying on my fleece.

Mika: Mika knows this. Knows many things.

Kit: Can I have it back?

Mika: No.

Kit: Please, honey? It's turning cold.

Mika: Mika knows. Is cosy and warm on fleece. Your point?

Kit: But I'm not cosy and warm, because you've got my fleece. And you've already got a beautiful plush coat...

Mika: Yay! Is tryin a new lick technique this week. You like?

Kit: You look gorgeous, honey. But I don't have a coat.

Mika: Is true. You naked and furless. Is bad choice. Must be chilly.

Kit: Well, I am. Because you're on my fleece.

Mika: Is Mika's happy spot.

Kit: Can't I have it back?

Mika: No. Would be wrong, as Mika the clever will demonstrate thus: Is not always on it. You could just steal it when Mika busy elsewhere. You do not do this. Clearly you recognise is Mika's fleece. Is pleased with you.

Kit: Well, I feel guilty, because you like it so much. But I'd like it back too.

Mika: Noo! Is Mika's happy fleece. Fills with warm feelins.

Kit: You remember how it was winter when we first got you? And I was wearing a fleece all the time to keep warm?

Mika: Is true. Was fluffy.

Kit: Is that why you always knead me when I'm wearing one?

Mika: Kneads you other times too. But yes. Fleece is Mika's mum.

Kit: That's why I feel guilty, my little rescue-cat love. You were taken away from your mum too young.

Mika: Wants fleece. Smells of you. Gives cuddles when you too busy workin to cuddle.

Kit: You're really working my conscience, sweetheart.

Mika: So Mika keeps fleece?

Kit: I'm gonna have to think this one over. Maybe I'll find another one for you in a charity shop.

Mika: Now play with Mika or go away.

Kit: This should teach me not to leave my clothes in the hall.

Mika: Why?

Kit: Because you lie on them.

Mika: Does indeed. Your point?

Kit: ...I love you, honey.

Mika: Good thing too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

 

Web award nomination

Monday, January 17, 2011

 

Mumview: The King's Speech

Quick summary

George VI never expected to inherit the throne: that was the right of his older brother David - but when David insists on marrying an American divorcee, 'Bertie' finds himself expected to speak to and for his people through the modern marvel of radio. Except that with a lifelong stammer, he can't speak - until he begins work with pioneering therapist Lionel Logue.

Does it work the way it should?

Biopics are a favourite genre of mine. In this era of competitive marketing and presold audiences, basing a film around an historical figure is a way of getting some brand recognition without having to remake perfectly good films or create sequels to perfectly bad ones - an opportunity to be recognisable without being unoriginal. The standard of biopics in recent years has been correspondingly high: Pierrepoint comes to mind (aka The Last Hangman), along with The Passion of Ayn Rand (if one is prepared to stretch the definition of 'recent' back to 1999) The Last King of Scotland, The Damned United, The Queen, Frost/Nixon and pretty much anything by Peter Morgan, as well as, of course, The Arbor, which I reviewed with such pleasure last November. If you're looking for intelligent popular filmmaking, I'm inclined to say that biopics are where it's at nowadays.

So The King's Speech is in some pretty good company. However, to be that good, a biopic needs to have a solid dramatic structure, and following an interesting life doesn't necessarily give you one. If you merely dramatise a biography without identifying some kind of thematic throughline, you can wind up with, for example, Wilde: a handsome series of events with some good performances and striking moments, but which taken in total feels more like a list than a shaped narrative. The commonest way of creating such a throughline is to present a character who is in some kind of denial: we watch them in their secure phase, the fallout as their denial creates consequences, and finally the moment of compelled self-knowledge.

On the face of it, The King's Speech doesn't seem to have this: our hero knows he stutters and that this is a problem. The stammer is undoubtedly made worse by the stress of dealing with his family, and he's not really unaware of that, either. Yet the throughline works. If it sounds sentimental to say that the knowledge he finds is that he's capable of speech, you'd think this was one of those tiresome sunny-side-up you-just-have-to-believe-in-yourself pieces of sentiment, but The King's Speech is not a sentimental film. Believing in yourself is not, in fact, the key to winning races or the hearts of fair maidens - it doesn't hurt, but it's seldom the magic bullet - but it's far less trite to assume that increased confidence would help with a nervous stammer. Too, there may be a speech that we build up to, but it's not a single moment of triumph. King George struggles through his final delivery and isn't exactly perfect, and it's clear that this isn't a complete happy ever after: his stammer will be a lifelong issue, and what he's learned isn't a perfect cure but a good coping method.

To keep on the right side of sentimentality takes good performances, in which The King's Speech is rich. Helena Bonham Carter does a delicate job playing the woman best remembered now as the elderly Queen Mother in her youth, and Geoffrey Rush as Logue has a captivating mixture of candid confident and obscure pathos. But it's really Firth who has to carry the film, and he does it splendidly. Just an example: Logue insists on first names within his consulting room, and resolutely addresses his patient as 'Bertie' despite objections. In Bertie/George's fragile moods, Firth manages to convey in his carriage and expression a man who can't be called Bertie, a man who seems to have no first name at all.

There's something a little curious in the film's view on relationships. On the one hand, Bertie/George is a figure of tragedy trapped in a loveless royal family (a new modern archetype, that), yet at the same time, David/Edward is played with unsympathetic skill by Guy Pearce as a self-centred man in undignified thrall to the appalling Wallis Simpson. Is love important in a royal family, or is it wrong to place love ahead of royal duty? It seems to depend on which brother you look at. Having said that, though, The King's Speech is a film very much on Bertie/George's side, and rather than going for the brought-low-by-a-woman stereotype, manages to portray David/Edward's relationship with Wallis as simply one more piece of casual obliviousness from an entitled brother. The story is all about being the sensitive one in an insensitive family - and as such, manages to cast David/Edward's love for Wallis as a love neglectful of other ties. It's a tricky business, but it seems to manage it.

It also manages to convey something extremely delicate: a reconciliation of the British imagination with the idea of duty. In our mourning-Diana phase, the nation staged a deep revolt against the idea of duty, casting it as the antithesis of love, warmth and human connection. A cinematic salvo was fired against that idea with The Queen, a splendid script that repositioned Queen Elizabeth in the role previously held by Diana: the fragile woman in pain, unappreciated by all around her. Watching The King's Speech, it's hard not to hear Blair's voice in The Queen, calling royalty the job Elizabeth 'watched kill her father' - especially as we see Bertie/George light cigarette after cigarette, following the foolish advice of his doctors. The Queen played duty as a sometimes-misguided attempt to honour the values Elizabeth had always been taught to uphold; a loyalty to the people and world you hold dear. The King's Speech manages to humanise it still further. Duty is what David abandons and Bertie takes up, and as such is something familiar to us commoners: duty is being the responsible one in the family because nobody else will. As such, duty becomes love of a sort, or at least closely intertwined: a form of relationship with those we love because we have to.

We in Britain have something of a love-hate relationship with royalty, and our films follow it. Possibly as our Queen ages we're starting to feel a nostalgic anxiety for what in the Diana days we demanded to leave behind. (Well, some of us; I was always a cynic about the Diana myth. Charity work? Wonderful. Panorama interview? Looked immensely strategic to me, and I was only eighteen.) These new myths are probably no more accurate than the old ones, but as a tale of duty and drama, it's a wonderful film. Put it this way: it got me looking up George VI, and it made me cry.


Ready for this?


After all the furore about swearing, I went in knowing only one thing: the King says the F-word! I was expecting a tale of therapy all about the cussin', but in fact that aspect has been overplayed: the effing and blinding only happens in two scenes as part of a much broader therapy in which Logue focuses on the suppressions and humiliations of Bertie/George's life. The result was an altogether more delicate and mild piece than you might think from the publicity.

Now it's getting a lot of attention, I would expect that 'uplifting feelgood' is probably the expectation people have. It is that, but it's a painful film as well, melancholic in tone, full of misty avenues, peeling wallpaper and blank, tense faces. There are laughs, and there are swears, but those are not the film.


Life amongst the groundlings

Being that this is a movie featuring an uplifting tale of personal development, historical drama and Colin Firth, it is perhaps not surprising that despite the rain, there were plenty of mums in attendance. Baby noise was less a matter of squealing interruptions and more a matter of constant background heckling - perhaps not inappropriately, considering the subject of the film.

While the film moved at a slow pace, it was also gripping, with quietly arresting visuals. I know this because every time I walked my baby up and down the aisle, I turned around as quickly as I could so as not to miss anything. I wouldn't have missed any plot, but I got less of the cinematic sweep, and I wanted to see it. It's one of those films where you only realise how absorbed you are when something interrupts you.

Any new mum will tell you that it's easier to wring tears from a mother when a maid. As Bertie/George haltingly describes his bleak childhood, I found myself clutching my son, tears pouring down my face. As I said, pretty much anything to do with unhappy children will get tears out of a new mother, but Firth's stiff unhappiness is genuinely moving, one of his best performances to date - which, as he's a fine actor, is saying quite a bit.


So, any good?

I was initially tempted to go for the easy joke and say 'Fuck, yes,' but it's a testament to the film's quiet power that actually I don't feel like making a wisecrack about it. Whether it quite ranks with Peter Morgan's best work I don't know - it's a different beast, more optimistic, more partisan and a bit soppier - but it's still a lovely movie, likely to have a wide appeal, beautifully filmed, and very much worth a look.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

 

Sexists: a spotter's guide for nice men

I've blogged about how I'd like to see more men smacking down sexists before, but the last couple of days I've been in embroiled in an online argument with and about misogynists, and something seems to have emerged:

A lot of men don't like misogyny, but find it difficult to spot in its subtler manifestations. Therefore, if a woman accuses a man of misogyny, they don't really know what to think. They don't want to support sexism, but they aren't sure if the woman is right or not ... so they stay silent, and inadvertently give the sexist man - who isn't going to care about the opinion of a mere woman - tacit permission. Because if he was wrong, somebody rational/sensible/devoid of those bothersome ovaries would have said something, right?

I've been talking about that, and I thought I'd put together a post compiled from my statements in that debate to help men of good will identify the early signs.


Here's the first thing: it is dispiritingly difficult for a woman to bring up the issue of misogyny. If she does, no matter in what context or however appropriately, she can predict sure as sunrise that the following will happen: a man or men will step in, assuming a tone of patronising authority, and explain to her that she's wrong. It wasn't sexist. It, whatever it was, was caused by other things. He will talk down to her, declare that whatever sexist incident happened was not something she has any business getting worked up about, and generally set her straight. Often he will also argue with things she didn't say, and that may in fact be the exact opposite of what she's saying. He may inform her of facts that are common knowledge and correct her about things she knows perfectly well, with the insulting assumption that she's incapable of seeing the blindingly obvious.

He will sometimes deny instances of misogyny so staggeringly obvious that it's hard to read his opinion as anything other than 'There is no such thing as sexism' - because if the thing he's denying is sexist isn't sexist, then nothing is. From this, a woman can easily read the implication: being treated badly because you're a woman is fair and does not need changing.

He will do all this based on no facts, evidence or expertise in the field. (Things that she might very well possess. She will, if nothing else, have a lot of experience of sexism: live as a woman, and that happens to you.) His dismissal of her concerns is generally based on nothing more authoritative than his own feelings - which he considers more authoritative than her feelings, knowledge, experience, education and expertise all put together. There is no kind of qualification a woman can produce that will convince him that her opinion is better supported than the opinion he's just produced off the top of his head.

At this point, the woman will get frustrated. But the men of good will observing will wonder why she's getting so upset. If they're nice they won't step in to 'correct' her, but they will start to wonder why she's so bothered by someone who, as far as they can tell, is just disagreeing with her about something. Women are generally more sensitised to tone when it comes to men talking down to women, naturally enough, and a man who misses the tone (which is almost always a warning sign that things will get worse if she sticks to her guns) will see it purely as a theoretical disagreement between equals. Because he thinks men and women are equal, and tends to assume other people do too.

So here's the first tip: when it comes to men patronising women, there's a difference between disagreement and dismissal. And a man using a dismissive tone to a woman on the subject of misogyny is a man acting extremely badly.

In the arguments I've seen recently, often a man dismisses a suggestion of misogyny when there's the allegation that a man did something violent to a woman or several women. He will do it with no knowledge of the case; again, his lordly feelings are his only guide - and those feelings motivate him to put down any suggestion of misogyny as a serious issue. From this, the women get an under-the-radar but definite message: 'We don't really believe in misogyny. Or at least, not on the word of a mere woman.' Chris Rock sarcastically asked whether you had to shoot Medgar Evers before you got called a racist, and there's an equivalent with sexism: it seems like you have to write a manifesto before some men are prepared to consider the possibility.

A man making such a pronouncement is saying that, in effect, a man has to provide tremendous evidence of misogyny before women's concerns about him will be taken seriously - and as very few men admit to misogyny, bottom line becomes 'Shut up about discrimination; I don't want to hear about misogyny even when it gets women raped and killed and mistreated every day and might have done so in this case.' The woman isn't upset because he disagreed with her. She's upset because he assumed misogyny was a dismissable concern.

And ruling out misogyny for bad reasons is dangerous.

A man who knee-jerk assumes a woman is wrong when she mentions misogyny is a man who is actively fighting against a woman's right to voice her concerns about anti-female bigotry. If he takes a look at the facts of the case and has a lot of information at his disposal and seriously considers the possibility and then comes to the conclusion that it wasn't a major factor, that's fine. But if all he has to say is 'Misogyny? Nonsense,' based on no evidence, the problem isn't his opinion about whatever subject is ostensibly under discussion; the problem is his opinion about women.

So that's Sign One for the guys: a woman mentions that she thinks something is sexist, and a man asks her, 'Who are you going to believe? Me or your girly eyes?'

Does this mean a man is a sexist, men of good will may wonder?

There are two answers to that:

First: intentions are not the issue. If an argument tends to support sexism, then we don't need to prove a man hates women to have a problem with what he's saying.

Second: check his reactions.

Nobody is asking men to spot misogyny all the time. Women have more experience of it, so are more likely to be the ones who spot the warning signs.

After the warning signs emerge, consider these two common patterns:

1. Man says something that puts women on guard.
2. Woman says something about it.
3. Man says, 'Oops, didn't mean to sound sexist, sorry. This is what I actually meant.'
4. Woman says, 'Oh, okay then.'

or:

1. Man says something that puts women on guard.
2. Woman says something about it.
3. Man ignores woman's obvious concern that he's belittling her gender, and repeats his point in a louder/more dismissive tone.
4. Woman objects.
5. Man starts implying she's a bad person for daring to do the worst thing in the world and call someone prejudiced, and again repeats his point in a more dismissive tone.
6. Repeat until woman either explodes or gives up in despair.

The difference between the two is easy to spot: the sexist is the one who either ignores or dismisses the woman's concern about whether he's implying degrading or dangerous things about women. A decent man may not like being accused of sexism, but he usually at least addresses the implication and tries to think about it. A sexist either puts on his martyr's robe or his teacher's hat.

So if a man wants to support women's equality, he doesn't have to be the first one to see, or even to understand, the subtle sexism in another man's initial words. All he needs to do is respect the fact that when women allege that a man is being sexist, they're often right - and even if they aren't, a) Their concerns are legitimate and they have the right to raise them, and b) a non-sexist man will respond to those allegations in a way that eliminates him as a suspect.

Basically: the easiest way to spot a sexist is in how he responds to a woman saying 'Hey, that thing you said sounded sexist.' A decent man may not agree with her - either her opinion about the subject initially under discussion or her suspicion that he's being sexist - but he at least takes the concern seriously. A sexist doesn't.

Because the thing is, a decent man respects women and doesn't want to make them feel uncomfortable or degraded. If a woman says 'Hey, you're making me feel uncomfortable/you sound like you're degrading me', a decent man cares. He may not agree with her theoretical opinion - and it burns me how often one has to say 'Women don't call you sexist just because you don't agree with them' - but when a woman says he's made her uncomfortable, he cares. Because he recognises that women are human beings. A sexist doesn't respect women, so if a woman says she's uncomfortable with what he says, then he doesn't care how she feels about it: he only cares about how he feels about it, because feelings are only important when the person feeling them matters. Ignoring a woman's concern that you're being sexist is sexist. You don't have to grovel, you don't have to let yourself be brainwashed, you don't have to have made her uncomfortable on purpose: you just have to care, like any decent person cares when they've upset another human being. If you don't, it's a pretty loud declaration that you don't believe what women think and feel matters.

If you don't find it easy to see sexism in a man's post, try looking for it in how he behaves when women bring it up. That's your biggest clue.

And guys, if you think a man is being sexist, please, please say so. Women can tell him he's being sexist till they're blue in the face, and he won't listen. Know why? Because sexists don't listen to women.

Some men worry that they aren't qualified to speak for women. Those are the decent men who respect women. If you worry that you're overstepping, you're the guy we want to hear from. Just say that you obviously can't speak for women but that as a man you think there's some disrespect for women going on. It's fine. If you are obviously speaking out of concern for women's rights, women will forgive you if you get something a bit wrong.

Some men feel that they don't need to step in because the women are doing such an eloquent job for themselves. This is because they have enough respect for women to hear what a woman is actually saying, to perceive that women may have intelligence, talent or competence. But you know what a sexist hears when a woman talks? 'Blah blah I'm a girl blah blah I have feelings blah blah I need a big clever man to instruct me.' Even if you have no faith in your own eloquence, say something. Even 'I'm a man and I agree with Woman X' is worth saying, for two reasons:

First, as I said, sexists don't listen to women. An awkward comment from a man will be heard by a sexist more clearly than the most eloquent comment in the world from a woman. It's a sad experience for many women that you struggle and strain to get a point across (not even necessarily about sexism), have a man or men ignore you in lordly fashion, then get your point repeated in very slightly different words by another man, only to have the men who were ignoring you turn around and say, 'Wow, good point!' This drive women to distraction, but if it gets the point across, use it. Say something.

Second, women aren't mind-readers. If you don't say you agree with us, we don't know we agree with us. Instead, we feel like only women care about sexism, that it's impossible to talk about it without being patronised, and that we're fighting against insults and degradation all on our own out here. If the men who understand that women can think for themselves stay out, all women hear from men is the sexists running their mouths.

This is exhausting. Women leave discussion boards and social groups because of this. Even strong-willed women with high self-esteem get tired. As my cyber-friend Will Wildman remarks, silent support is not actually supportive.

So guys, if you want the sincere friendship and appreciation of women: keep your eyes open for sexists. And if you see one, give him a whap. We need you here.


Note: I hope this post will trigger a discussion. I will be moderating it with a heavy hand: this is my blog, created by my time, my effort and my money, and I am going to stand no nonsense. Men who have questions or genuine concerns are welcome. Men who are sexist and wish to patronise, correct or insult me or any other woman poster will be summarily deleted. If you find it unfair, tell it to the Marines. Self-pitying whines will also be deleted.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

 

Anyone in Virginia?

So, a reader of a blog I'm a regular on has a friend who's about to be thrown out of her apartment with nowhere else to go. She's in pretty bad trouble, in other words.

This is her self-description.

Is there anyone reading this with contacts in Virginia who might be able to help her in any way?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

 

Please write to your MP

I will be talking about childbirth. It will not be a nice story.

If you've been reading the papers, you'll know that a national scandal is finally coming to light. The government promised three thousand new midwives to the NHS before the election, but have they done anything about it? Of course not; that would mean spending money. The reason they promised the midwives is that birth rates are high, midwife rates are low, and you cannot manage a birth with too few midwives. Women are in labour are being turned away from hospitals that cannot accommodate them. 22% of women in labour are left unattended - more than one in five. The papers acknowledge that this is a 'frightening' experience.

Speaking as one of those one in five, let me state that this is a grotesque understatement. I gave birth over four months ago, and here's what happened to me:

At 43 and a half weeks overdue, I went to the hospital to meet with a consultant for advice. That 'advice' turned out to be the information that if I didn't want to double my son's chances of brain damage, I'd let her book me in for an induction - and when I agreed, the information that the induction would take place the day after tomorrow.

I went into hospital. The first thing the midwife told me was that she was looking after ten women that day. She strapped me to a monitor to check the baby was doing okay before beginning the induction, and left. My husband had to go find her when it seemed the monitor wasn't working - which it wasn't. The allotted half hour passed, and my husband had to go find her again. She gave me a Prostaglandin pessary (the first stage in inductions) and disappeared again. After an hour or so it fell out and my husband once again had to go track her down to get another one.

Visiting hours ended at ten o'clock. At nine o'clock my husband had to go get her so we could insist on some kind of check, because by that time I'd been in pain all afternoon and all evening. Constant pain, not contractions, because that's often the effect of an induction. I didn't know this could happen, though, because she didn't have the time to brief me.

She monitored me for a while, didn't manage to get the time to examine how dilated I was, and disappeared again. At that point my husband was sent home and told visiting hours started again at eight o'clock in the morning.

The night staff was one main midwife and one woman on the desk - a bullying individual who snapped at anyone who asked her for help.

At this point, let me say that the daytime midwife seemed like a perfectly nice person. After the baby was born she came to congratulate me and coo at him. But do you know what happened because of time pressures on this perfectly nice person? She forgot to brief me about pain relief.

Then she went home, leaving me in the care of a skeleton crew with ten women to look after.

The staff shortages meant that my overnight care plan boiled down to this: isolate the woman without pain relief or information for ten hours. No one so much as put a head around the door to see if I was alive or dead. I had to drag out into the corridor in agony to beg for pain relief - which was, it turned out, available if only you knew to ask for it - and wait a long time before it arrived.

At four in the morning, I threw up from the pain. Pressing a call button for help, I was briefly attended by a midwife who examined me and said I was three centimetres dilated and could go up to a labour ward - which meant I could call my husband and community midwives to come keep me company. She said she'd call the labour ward and let them know. Then she disappeared, and I never saw her again. My husband wasn't there to look for her, and I couldn't do it, so she just vanished out of my life for ever.

That was the night shift.

Come the morning, the first midwife returned and tried to get me into a labour ward. Day shift began at eight o'clock. It was noon before I got into one. At that point I was requesting an epidural, so they called for an anaesthetist to come. While waiting, they suggested breaking my waters by hand so as to move the labour along.

'Is it going to hurt?' I said. 'I've been in pain for twenty-four hours, I can't take any more. Maybe we should wait for the epidural.'

'No,' they said, 'it's not painful.'

So they went ahead. They saved themselves a couple of hours in so doing, which probably cleared the room for another patient sooner. They also fucking lied to me. Breaking a membrane doesn't hurt, but what that rush of hormones does to an unprepared cervix is agonising. Between twelve and two I was in constant, relentless pain, because they decided not to wait for the anaesthetist even though I'd specifically said I wanted to if it was going to cause more pain.

So let me sum up. Understaffing meant that I was isolated while in labour for a full night shift, left there by staff who were so rushed they forgot to brief me on pain relief. Or to offer me pethidine, which I've since been informed by the hospital was what they should have done. Or to give me any kind of explanation about what was happening to my body and that of my baby, who, they had recently informed me, was at increased risk of brain damage if he didn't come out extremely soon. It then meant that they lied to me about how painful a procedure would be so as not to slow down the conveyor belt I was on.

This was not an unusual experience. A friend of mine from antenatal class tells me that the day after she gave birth, they had women giving birth on the public antenatal wards because there was nowhere else to put them.

I am trying not to cry as I type this. I can tell you here and now that while I had planned to have another child, now I am seriously questioning whether I can go through that again. I feel sick and terrified every time I enter that hospital - even when I was just returning some property. Heaven help me if I ever need medical treatment there again.

In short: the levels of understaffing and limited accommodations are at crisis point. The NHS needs more money. A lot more money. Something has to give, and if it's not the government's purse strings it'll be women. I'm going to be blunt about this: unless the government fucking pays out like it said it would, they are making the plain statement that they think preserving the pockets of the wealthy is important enough to justify the torture of thousands of women.

The government made a promise. Even if they keep it, it'll only go partway to solving the problem, but they made a promise and they're not keeping it. Please write to your MP and ask them to put on the pressure.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

 

Happy new year!

And a very pleasant 2011 to you all.

As regular readers have probably noticed, this blog has been rather inactive of late, due to the fact that I'm looking after a small baby (and legally speaking am still on maternity leave for another two months). I hope you'll excuse me. I'm planning a few posts, but they take longer to get written at the moment, so I'll just have to do my best. In the meantime, I'm throwing the floor open: does anyone have any questions they want answered or subjects they'd like to discuss?

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