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Sexism in midwifery: why we need feminism

Through a description of her average day as a student midwife, student editor Anna explores the issue of gender equality and how student nurses and midwives can address sexism.

It starts on my walk to the tube station. A van slows down and shouts some profanity at me. I give a tired and unimpressed look, sigh, and carry the burden of my anatomy on across the road.

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At work, seemingly innocent - and painfully common - remarks are made.

That baby boy is in the pink outfit. A boy in pink? Poor thing. The world will crumble around him. “We’ll tell this story on his wedding day”, says his mum.

“Are you married, Anna? Do you have a boyfriend?” You’d think there was an extra title on my badge underneath my name that read: student midwife; heterosexual; free to a good home.

I cringe when my colleague asks a woman if her “husband would like to cut the cord” as if all men are husbands and all babies have cisgender parents.

Passing jokes are made about putting an extra stitch in the vagina, but few people talk about the female libido after birth or shared leave.

Male circumcision isn’t an issue, whilst female circumcision remains an awkward taboo.

Welcoming a pregnancy by telling a woman her chances of experiencing domestic violence have just increased by 30% is an excellent way to start the day.

Listening to a woman disclose her failings in motherhood is an even better way to end it.

I was raised on feminism and by feminists. The wise words of my mum, English teachers and Caitlin Moran have gotten me this far - and now I owe something to them, the movement, and myself.

Working with women and their families on a daily basis informs my recognition of misogyny, sexism and gender inequality. Perhaps not everyone spends their spare time scrolling through the @EverydaySexism Twitter page shaking their head in disgrace, but we should all sit down and work out a way to reduce the amount of posts because I have better things to be doing. Nobody should have spare time for sexism when they can have spare time for cake.

Gender inequality surrounds us all. It is out there on the street. It’s in our homes. It’s in the systems that we work within. It is on the TV; it’s online; it’s on our bookshelves. All of this might sound slightly melodramatic. But to be honest, I wish someone would be more melodramatic about it.

I wish someone would stand up and stamp their feet, make a show of it all. It just doesn’t seem a coincidence to me that maternity services, run predominantly by female staff, are indisputably under funded across the globe. It’s no surprise that women have to make a conscious effort to get their rights in childbirth and training midwives and junior doctors have to make a conscious effort to get their rights in the workplace. It is also no coincidence that all of this has been said before, and will be said again. And again. And again.

Take a moment in your day to correct the inherent and insidious sexism in your life. Re-root your perspective. Call out cat-callers. Think twice about gender stereotyping. Throw out weight loss magazines aimed only at women. Raise children on feminist beliefs rather than rape-alarms and shoddy sex-education classes. Be a girl or a woman and eat a Yorkie bar when you want. Be a boy or a man and cry when you need.

I once read that nothing could be more feminist than the practice of midwifery. To be a midwife is to be with women. But it is not enough to just be. To be is a passive verb. To be is to exist. It is about time that we all, midwife or not, stand with women and men and everything in between.

So stand up. Please. Stamp your feet. Everyone deserves equality.

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