In our culture, it often seems like when someone gets pregnant they cease being a person, and start being a thing for people to look at, criticize, and touch without permission. To make matters worse, in my experience, the things people said to me during my pregnancies were super sexist. And sadly, it's not just me. In my conversations with other moms, I have learned that pretty much every person who has been pregnant can share at least one sexist thing people said to them during their pregnancy.
When I was around my co-workers I heard comments about how I "probably wouldn't be returning to work." Then there were the comments about women failing to be adequate employees or managers because they "get pregnant and expect to take maternity leave." Somehow men never hear these questions and comments when they are dads-to-be. There were jokes about being barefoot and pregnant, and snide questions about how I got in that "condition," too. Men thought is was OK to comment about my pregnant boobs and belly, the number of children I have, and even catcalled me while I was pregnant. And don't even get me started on the ways people attempted to police what I ate and did with my body, because apparently, once you are pregnant, you can't be trusted to take care of yourself. In my opinion, this is a symptom of a cultural problem; a problem that keeps women from being viewed as autonomous human beings. Women don't stop being people when we become mothers, and we absolutely don't deserve to hear sexist comments during our pregnancies.
We have to change the way we view childbearing in our culture, if we want to achieve gender equality, and that starts from the way we treat women during pregnancy. Read on for examples of what not to say:
"I was nine months pregnant with my first and this guy comes into my building at work, and said, 'You know, you look really beautiful. I don't care what anybody says, I think pregnant women are really sexy.' This man was a complete stranger, and I was stuck in a building alone with him."
"My husband was arrested over a silly argument during a Halloween event, in a zombie costume, so seven-months-pregnant-me showed up at the police station to get him out. A police officer asked quite loudly if I wore that 'sexy pregnant lady costume' every year."
"That it was a good thing I was having a boy, because I wouldn't have to buy 'pink crap' (I wouldn't anyway, I can't stand the the color, but besides) and that girls weren't good for much anyway, except to make boys, and so that boys wouldn't have to use their hands."
"I received constant comments from male colleagues about how big I was getting (note, did not get any bigger than any average pregnant woman). One male colleague asked me point blank if I was planning on having a vaginal birth. Because my vagina was apparently everyone else's business when pregnant."
"In grad school I was told to not cancel a single class or I would get fired from my TA job. I had amazing colleagues who covered for me (uncompensated) so that when I went into preterm labor, I didn't lose my job."
"After I was far enough along that jeans were no longer comfortable, I was told by a guy in the grocery store that 'yoga pants are a privilege and not a right' and that it was 'not a good look' to be so big in yoga pants (never mind that I was wearing a giant hoodie that ended just above my knees covering the yoga pants).
One of my bosses also asked me if they needed to hire someone to fill my position because I was going to have a baby and would have to stay home. When I told them I planned to return to work, he said, 'Well, but what if the baby gets sick? You can't just leave a sick baby, you're her mom, and all kids get sick. You may need to rethink this.'"
"My first pregnancy, when I was about 35 weeks along, I ran into a supervisor at work. We were talking about how I was doing and such and when we were saying goodbye he said, 'Well, your breasts are huge now. So maybe they’ll stay that way!' I was speechless, and he just smiled and walked away."
"I never wore rings while pregnant, and not that it should matter, but when I was in the grocery store with my then 3-year-old and 1-year-old and very pregnant, a random man said, 'You are what is wrong with this world... I don't want to pay for that one (pointing at belly), too.'"
"That I was being over-emotional about my job (when discussing an issue with a new standard put in place) during a staff meeting. Told by my boss. In front of everyone. A week after I shared my pregnancy with them. Since when is caring about my job over-emotional?"
"My husband and I weren't married when I became pregnant. I didn't want to get married simply because I was pregnant. This conversation happened almost verbatim with almost all my coworkers. 'I heard you were pregnant. So are you two getting married now?'"
"Here in Canada we get a year maternity leave. When the head coordinator of our research found out I was pregnant she said, 'This is why Primary Investigators don't like to hire women. Hire a woman and then she gets pregnant and takes a year off.' I also went from being trained to be a research coordinator to being demoted to research assistant, despite having glowing, perfect performance reviews prior to being pregnant. When I returned from maternity leave one of the first things I was asked was if I planned on having more children. I said, 'Eventually, probably.' I was then moved to expendable projects and subsequently laid off. All to get around the Union and the fact that I had seniority and supposed job security."
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