Poppie Johnson: Why I’m now a feminist


OPINION: I became a feminist the day I found out I was pregnant.

Up till then the term had always seemed somewhat redundant to me.

I knew it meant gender equity, not some bra-burning militant faction redolent of the 1970s.

I knew the theory behind it.

I heard about the gender pay gap and read articles about workplace inequity.

But I had never seen it and so it didn’t exist on more than a conceptual level.

Realistically it never seemed relevant because I never felt different.

I went to a co-educational high school, playing in the girls’ soccer 1st XI and the boys’ 3rd XI.

I raced in mixed snowboard race categories and was afforded the exact same education and opportunities as my fellow male students.

The pattern remained the same through university.

My working life has comprised of careers that were both male- and female-dominated.

And, in each, success was down to diligence and work ethic.

So why now? What has so dramatically altered my view?

There is no equity in pregnancy. It is the one thing that biologically cannot be shared with your partner.

After birth, that’s a whole different ball-game.

And with a willing partner there is much, if not all, that can be shared in some way.

Certain aspects depend on your own personal parenting philosophy but, at that point, they are things that our society has evolved enough to make choices rather than imperatives.

The inequity of pregnancy is not just physical.

The physical is a huge part of it – it is the most significant and the most obvious.

Your body changes, generally irrevocably, and it does so in an increasingly visible fashion.

Yet it also leads to unseen mental and social ramifications which can run much deeper.

There is a huge unspoken social construct around pregnancy and how an individual’s need for privacy and an identity of their own disappears when growing another tiny human.

That’s for the mother-to-be, not the father-to-be. There goes the equity.

Socially, friends, acquaintances, workmates, even people in this small town’s shops, feel entitled to comment on how you must be feeling and ask increasingly personal questions:

Have you experienced such and such yet?

How you are planning on giving birth?

They may even, in the later stages, dive in for a feel of your belly – uninvited.

At what other stage in life is it socially acceptable to touch another’s body without asking?

Pregnancy seems like a licence to lose consent.

These aren’t just solitary encounters either.

It can be upwards of 20 people a day asking the same questions, personal questions. That’s every day.

Sure, you could just say some-thing but it appears churlish and is uncomfortable to begin with.

After all, they were just being nice.

Equity, feminism, in practice, would be not having to face that situation in the first place.

There is no equity in pregnancy and it affects our mental health.

The World Health Organisa-tion’s meta data from studies in this area shows that 20 per cent of women in developed countries experience depression while pregnant. That is one-in-five.

That isn’t just feeling a little blue, that’s clinical depression.

Yet our society propagates a pervasive myth, expecting women to be excited about the changes, to be ‘glowing’ with the thought of the impending arrival.

Not one of my many friends who have had children and been pregnant has mentioned loving pregnancy.

In fact, the overwhelming consensus is pregnancy ‘sucked’.

Being a parent is rewarding, hard, magical and enlightening. But it’s hard work getting there and you’re on your own until they arrive. We can support each other by listening if women choose to talk about their pregnancy.

Some may love to talk about it and that is entirely fine.

But they should have the choice.

Let’s not force them into a conversation they might feel uncomfortable about.

Let’s not presume. Let’s not ask them anything we wouldn’t ask their husband or partner who isn’t visibly pregnant.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly excited about becoming a mother.

It is perhaps one of the most fulfilling things I will do in life. But it is one part – not all of me. There are other hopes, dreams and desires that make up the complete individual that is me.

It is an incredibly personal journey and one I may choose to share parts of with close friends.

Until then, thank you for being happy for me but please don’t assume I want to talk about it.

I’m hoping for equity.

Poppie Johnson is a Wakatipu High School English teacher