Sunday, 18 August 2013

New lessons in life and feminism

I have been away. I haven’t been able to continue this blog for ten weeks, because in that time my life has changed beyond all recognition.

My story, which I won’t tell in detail, is that when I was 20 weeks pregnant, my husband left me for someone else. My story is neither unique nor uncommon – men have been leaving women ‘in trouble’ for all time. There are plenty of women out there who have been through this, and plenty of unsuspecting women and girls for whom this lies around the corner. I only hope that my unborn child (a girl) is not one of them.

The thing that happened to me has made its mark on my whole philosophy. Things I believed, and argued for, have crumbled away. I am now 30 weeks pregnant, and here are six things I have learned from this experience.

A word of caution - my thoughts have changed on a lot of things recently, and they may change again.  Basically, I reserve the right to change my mind - I think we all should.

1. You can never really know what’s going on in another person’s mind

No matter how close you are to someone, how in tune you may feel with them, and what you have given to them, you can’t ever know what is actually going on.

One of the beauties of human existence is our ability to surprise each other, but it is also one of the scariest elements. Every day we put our faith in other people, in small and large ways – we trust the bus driver not to change lanes and drive into the oncoming traffic. But we know neither what he nor the person we eat breakfast with every day is really thinking, nor what they are about to do next.

2. Your whole life really can change in an instant

This is one of these things you hear. You think that things like this don’t really happen to you, then they just happen. My entire future, and the life I had planned for my child really did change beyond recognition in the space of a few moments. You can’t prepare for it, so there is no lesson to be learned from it, but despite all those newspaper stories of death and destruction, I didn’t know it before and I do now. My life felt robust (it wasn’t), not easily dismantled (it was).

3. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

A close friend told me that the further I went through pregnancy the more I would realise that men and women are completely different. I didn’t believe her.

I haven’t actually read this book (I probably should), but as I understand it, the central proposition is that men and women are completely different creatures from different planets. It was quite a central part of my philosophy of life, and my feminism, that this wasn’t true.

I believed that we are all human beings, that men and women do have biological differences and these can make us behave differently, but that fundamentally we’re all people. I was wrong. We’re completely different and pregnancy is the point where that becomes unavoidable – some men can be supportive, they can listen, and they can help, but they have no idea what it’s really all about, when our entire bodies are willingly taken over by this other being, which consumes our blood, our air and our food from within. This isn’t men’s fault, they just don't get it. If I had known this before, maybe my life would have turned out very differently.

4. Pregnancy and feminism are uncomfortable bedfellows

Pregnancy eradicates some of the outward signs of feminism – I always have been fiercely independent and able to look after myself physically, economically and emotionally. Pregnancy takes some of this away, it makes us dependent on others.

I am physically weaker and slower, therefore more vulnerable than usual. When my child is born, she will be dependent on me to the extent that I will be unable to work for some time. Fortunately I live in a wealthy, liberal country with maternity pay to help with this, but as a single mother, I will undoubtedly struggle financially.

Pregnancy also gave me a need for security and stability, which I didn’t recognise as having experienced before. I saw this most strongly when I lost it. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have gone from feeling like a strong, independent woman, to an abandoned and vulnerable girl. I both need and want to be looked after, and the idea of that not happening is terrifying.

Does this mean I’m no longer a feminist? I don’t think it does, I think it just means I’m pregnant. But if I’m a feminist who isn’t a strong and independent woman, what am I and what is a feminist when there’s no girl power in sight?

5. Feminism is for women, and only women

I believed that men could be feminists too – particularly those brought up by strong women to believe in equality. I don’t actually think this is true. Like it or not, the battle for gender equality is a battle of the sexes, with men and women on opposing sides.

Biological differences mean that men are better able to rape and inflict violence on women than the other way around, and we get pregnant, they cannot. These three factors put us at a natural disadvantage, more vulnerable to sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Men can sympathise with our predicament and support our emancipation, but while they still have this threefold power over us, which can never easily be removed, they are also our greatest threat. They can encourage feminism, but they cannot be feminists, unless they are somehow able to relinquish this unequal power.

6. We shouldn't blame single mothers

I feel pretty ashamed to be bringing a child into the world that I’m not sure I can support. The single mothers talked about in the Daily Mail are painted as feckless and selfish individuals, who spend years taking money and resources from the state because they were stupid enough to get up the duff. But I can promise you from where I’m sitting, that very few women would choose to be going into this without a partner to support them. And I haven’t even got to the hard bit yet, where I have to actually care for a child.

My grandmother had known my grandfather just a few days when she decided to marry him and leave her family in India to follow him across the world to a new life in London. My partner and I had notched up 11 years together before we married, and another six before we started a family. Which relationship would you expect to last the course? But my impetuous grandparents literally lived ‘until death do us part’, whereas after years of caution, I’m up the creek without a paddle.

Love is a rocky road, and sometimes things don’t work out the way you’ve planned. It really can happen to anyone, and most single mums probably didn’t want it to be this way.


  1. You are amazing. Your daughter is so blessed to have you as her mum. Thanks for your honesty.

  2. What an awesome post. Going through labour & being a mother to 3 made (and continues to make) me realise that women truly have more strength (call it inner strength, if you will) than men could ever dream of possessing... And I believe you will find that out soon too :-) You are ALREADY the greatest inspiration to your daughter, so don't ever forget it x

  3. I hope you change your mind about paragraph five - replace men/women/gender equality and white/black/racial equality and you just sound hateful and bitter. Understandable given what's happened, but still ridiculous and simplistic.

    1. Fair enough, and I hope I change my mind too, but it's difficult not to feel bitter. I'm not saying all men are bad, but we're coming from very different places.