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.