pregnancy

MIA FREEDMAN: Why are so many women suddenly telling other women to shut up?

Hillary Clinton needs to shut up. Stop talking. So does Lena Dunham. Yasmin Abdel-Magied should definitely be quiet. Or go away. Why did any of them write books or give interviews about them?  And Taylor Swift? And Zadie Smith? Enough. Hush. Just silence please, ladies. We don’t want to hear your songs or your opinions.

And the people doing this infernal shusshing of women most aggressively?  In many cases lately, it’s other women.

This week, Camilla Franks gave an interview about her pregnancy at age 41.  “A couple of years ago I went through so many different tests and got told I needed to do IVF and spent thousands of dollars all from fear of what I was being told,” she told the Sunday Telegraph. “I went to all these meetings and appointments all driven from complete fear that I couldn’t have a child. I think we need to take the fear out of it. It was the wrong advice and it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t true and I was told I had to potentially go down the path of IVF and it was absolute BS. So I think, take a lot of it with a grain of salt.”

Many people did not like this advice. Fair enough. Franks is a designer not a doctor or fertility specialist. But instead of arguing her points and putting forward their own, some angrily insisted she should never have voiced her opinion at all. Which is kind of censorious. She was branded ‘irresponsible’ and her comments were dissected and analysed and criticised. Again, fair enough. Argue. Analyse. Dispute. But think before you tell a woman she has no right to raise her voice about her own experience and or voice her own opinion.

One of those who spoke out against Camilla, was Lisa Wilkinson who wrote a personal and impassioned plea in the Huffington Post for women not to take Franks’ ‘just chill and it will be fine’ advice about their fertility. At no time did she tell Franks to shut up, she was very measured in her response, simply pointing out that it’s far more important to listen to medical advice than the anecdotal experience of one person when making decisions about when to start a family.

Lisa wrote movingly of her own experience of easy breezy pregnancies in her thirties only to fall pregnant for the fourth time on her 40th birthday and miscarry that baby 11 weeks later. Six months later, it happened again. And again, heartbreakingly, six months after that.

“As my gynaecologist gently told us, it was nature’s way of saying my eggs were just too old. An incredibly confronting moment for any woman,” she said.

Guess what happened next.  While many women welcomed Lisa’s willingness to use her own experiences with infertility to help educate women, others insisted that she shut up and stop making them feel bad about the fact they hadn’t had children yet.

And so it goes. Instead of arguing the point, too often lately I’ve noticed an alarming tendency for women to be telling each other to sit down and shut up. The gist appears to be this: if your worldview or personal experience doesn’t mesh with mine? Stop speaking.

Is this what our feminist predecessors fought for? The right to express ourselves freely only to have our voices policed punitively by other women?

Another woman being told to shut up this week is Hillary Clinton. She has dared to write a book about how she lost the presidency in last year’s shocking US election. It was the election nobody – including Donald Trump – thought a man with zero political experience who bragged about sexually assaulting women could win. She was shocked. He was shocked. Most sentient beings were shocked.

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But somehow, the consensus among many commentators, journalists and politicians from both sides of US politics is that she should just stop talking. Zip it. Writing a book and then daring to talk about it was, in the eyes of some,  ‘unneccessary’, ‘self-indulgent’, ‘selfish,’ ‘silly’. These are just some of the descriptors being used about one of the most important political memoirs of our time. In an astonishing column in the LA Times this week titled “Hilary I Love You But Please Go Away“, writer Melissa Batchelor Warnke opened with: “When I heard Hillary Clinton on the radio speaking about her new book, “What Happened,” I groaned.” She goes on to say she wishes Clinton hadn’t written the book and the only thing worse than the book is Clinton’s accompanying media tour. Graciously, she acknowledges, “Clinton has the right to her book and her media tour. But if she’d focus on herself rather than on advising and rebuking those on the left, she’d help the party she claims to love move forward into a winning future.”

How’s that for telling one of the most significant female political figures and one of the world’s most talked-about women to sit down and shut up?

A couple of weeks ago it was Taylor Swift being told to zip it. “Look what you made me do”, the first record-breaking single from her new album, Reputation, was panned by many critics who disparaged her pointed commentary about the feud she’d had with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. Because somehow in their view, as a song-writer and artist, she isn’t permitted to write about her own experiences, give her own version of events or express herself creatively about a hugely significant episode in her life.

She faced similar criticism when she released Bad Blood, the song widely thought to be about her deteriorating relationship with Katy Perry. Before that, she wrote some songs about her relationships and that too, was criticised as being ‘narcissistic’, ‘a cry for attention’ and ‘self-obsessed’. Funny that nobody says that about any song written by a bloke.

A few weeks ago, award-winning author Zadie Smith made news when she told an interviewer that she has a 15 minute rule for her 7-year-old daughter when it comes to how long she can spend in front of the mirror getting ready.  She says she didn’t want to give Kit “a big lecture on female beauty”, but she did want to save her time. “I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a sh*t if you waste an hour and a half doing your makeup.”

Smith’s comments were discussed that same week on the feminist podcast, Call Your Girlfriend .  Co-hosts Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow took exception not so much to what Zadie Smith had said but the fact she had said it.  “Don’t prescriptively tell other women what to do with their life,” objected Friedman before Sow called a piece Smith had written recently about African Americans ‘idiotic’ and Friedman added that she hates the way that “some women criticise other women’s choices under the guise of feminism.” Do you have whiplash? Same. There are so many women telling other women to shut up right now, it’s enough to make you want to, well, scream.

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On this week’s episode of Mamamia Outloud (which you can hear below if you scroll a little bit)  discussing the Camilla Franks and Lisa Wilkinson comments about fertility and being over 40, my co-host Holly Wainwright and Jessie Stephens and I had one of the most heated debates we’ve ever had. Holly became quite emotional. I was very passionate. Voices were raised. Our views were very different. But not for a moment did I want Holly to stop talking. Not for a second did I think she should shut up. As adult women we were able to listen to each other, put forward our own views and ultimately, while I certainly understood where she was coming from and was able to see things through her eyes (and hopefully she through mine), we agreed to disagree on the issue. And that was fine.

Personally, I’m very familiar with this odd perversion of feminism. Just a couple of days ago, someone left a comment on my Instagram:  “Mia, ugh. Just stop posting. Please.”

Holly, Mia and Jessie discuss babies in your 40s. (Post continues after audio.)

Look. I don’t know how to break it to you but the point of social media is to post things. Instead of me not posting, how about you stop following? That’s generally how it works.

And so it should be with the voices and opinions of other women – and men for that matter. If you don’t agree, say so, even just to yourself. Or unfollow if it upsets you that much. But don’t tell someone to stop talking just because you don’t like what she says. We need more women’s voices in the public arena not less. A rising tide lifts all boats. Just because someone has a vagina (or identifies as female)  you are not obliged to agree with her. Just please, don’t tell her to shut up.

Mia Freedman is the co-founder of Mamamia Women’s Media Company. She is a proud patron for Rize Up, the charity supporting women and children fleeing from domestic violence, an ambassador for Share The Dignity, the charity which provides sanitary products to vulnerable women who are homeless, disadvantaged or the victims of domestic violence and an ambassador for Sydney Dogs and Cats home, a no-kill shelter where thousands of animals are rehomed with forever families. She is also a proud supporter of Ladystartups, an initiative she began to support women who have started their own business.

She is the author of the best-selling book Work Strife Balance for every woman who feel like she’s the only one not coping (you’re not) and the host and co-host of three podcasts: No FilterMamamia Outloud and Tell Me It’s Going To Be OK (even though Trump is President).

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, right here: 

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The award-winning podcast Mamamia Out Loud is doing their first live show. There will be laughs, disagreements and you can meet the hosts afterwards! We’re also donating $5 of every ticket price to Share The Dignity  - the charity that provides free sanitary products to homeless women so grab your friends and come along to share the love and laughs, get your tickets here.

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