Ha ha …. or something. The irrational pregnant woman stereotype has reached almost legendary proportions. Crying more readily, getting angrier than normal, eating strange food? All normal behaviour for a woman who is growing a baby, all behaviour that is the result of hormones. Hormones make you irrational, right? Yes, they most definitely do. In fact testosterone is the reason that young men pay higher car insurance, but we don’t talk about that, we just talk about how women’s hormones influence them.
Hormones might make women pregnant, it would actually be impossible to be pregnant without them, but they don’t make them irrational. Expressing emotions isn’t crazy, it’s human. When an excess of testosterone causes a brawl after the football no one says that men are hormonal and irrational, when they do hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to public property, cars, shop fronts, or other men, are they irrational and hormonal? No, no one ever mentions hormones in relation to men. But a woman who cries in pregnancy, maybe about something seemingly insignificant like a sandwich? She is irrational. Avoid her.
Women bemoan their own “irrational actions” time and time again, and in every single case, their self proclaimed “irrational behaviour” is either totally harmless (crying doesn’t actually hurt anyone!?) or it is caused by people being insensitive, and not supporting her in the way she needs, sometimes being outright bullies, and then blaming an emotional response on her hormones. This neatly takes the focus of other people’s behaviour and puts it squarely on the pregnant woman.
The irrational hormone ideology is working very well for bullies. Our culture more or less forces pregnant women into accepting anything anyone can throw at them. If care providers, husbands, or families are unkind a woman is more likely to blame her emotional response on her hormones than on another person’s poor behaviour. The bullies themselves are also more likely to perceive her reaction as her hormones, than to examine their own actions. This leaves pregnant women totally unable to respond, unable to speak for themselves because … hormones! No one takes anything they say seriously. What an incredibly lonely place for a vulnerable women to be!
Perhaps people are afraid that pregnant women will take to the streets burning and smashing things? No, I don’t think so either.
People just can’t be bothered to care for vulnerable pregnant women in the way they deserve, with the necessary level of sensitivity. We label any expression of emotion as irrational, so we can just brush it off.
The law very clearly states that women are competent decision makers during pregnancy and birth, yet husbands, families, and even maternity service providers, think women are so insanely hormonal they probably shouldn’t be trusted to choose a sandwich filling, let alone the really important things like where, with whom, or how they give birth. The law recognises that progesterone does not cause insanity, it might cause the odd tear here or there, but when it does, why don’t we just offer a hug? Or a nicer sandwich?
When a bunch of men tear a street to pieces after a football match that their team lost, we brush it off as “bad behaviour”, the hormone testosterone is the last thing that ever rates a mention.
If a pregnant woman cries over appalling treatment at the hands of people who should be supporting her, we brush her off. We roll our eyes and say that everything she has to say is just irrational. People make it seem like being in the company of a hormonal pregnant woman is wholly unbearable, like nothing will ever make them satisfied, but I’m yet to hear of a riot started by a group of pregnant women.
Progesterone is the hormone that more or less sustains pregnancy. Without it our species wouldn’t be here. Testosterone has its place too, but interestingly when a new baby arrives, a man’s body lowers his level of testosterone considerably. This, in part, explains why football rioters tend to be young single men rather than middle aged fathers. Researchers believe that the drop in testosterone is even more prominent in men who are heavily involved in the daily care of their young children, and that it has something to do with promoting nurturing.
Our cultural claim to be deeply concerned for the welfare of pregnant women and their babies is in pretty stark contrast to our cultural dismissal of any and all the emotions expressed by them. Blaming every single emotion a woman expresses on “crazy pregnant hormones” highlights one of the many ways that our society blindly perpetuates discrimination against women. It’s so deeply entrenched that even women perceive their emotions as irrational. It’s true that hormones make you pregnant, but it is NOT true that they make you crazy or irrational, that is just a stereotype, a rather outdated one at that.
The truth is that hormones are linked to quite a fair bit of human behaviour, and biology. Without hormones we couldn’t carry a pregnancy, give birth, or feed our babies, without hormones we couldn’t fall in love. Pregnant women may cry more easily, they may like strange sandwich fillings, they may get cranky at their husbands more willingly, but this is not irrational. Irrational is tearing up a town when the football doesn’t go in your favour. Irrational is driving so dangerously that insurance companies routinely charge more to insure cars driven by young, testosterone fuelled males. When you look at it in that light, pregnant women are owed a whole lot more respect than they currently receive.