Thu | May 25, 2017

It isn't easy being a woman

Published:Monday | May 4, 2015 | 5:31 AMDr Michael Abrahams

Women, can't live with them, can't live without them. That well-known quote from Desiderius Erasmus indicates the complexity of the female sex. Women fascinate me. I admire, respect and appreciate them, and the older I get, the more I empathise with them and their struggles.

It isn't easy being woman. From birth, in many societies, male babies are valued more than females, and as girls grow and mature into women, they face a multitude of issues that are unique to their gender or are encountered with greater regularity or severity than the male of the species. Incest, child abuse, domestic violence, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and single parenthood are far more common in females than in males.

And, as if that were not enough, women are constantly being told what to do, especially with their bodies, as if they are children. They are instructed what to do with their own uteri, often by men, and can be punished for deciding not to proceed with a pregnancy. They are also told what to do with their vaginas. In some cultures, their genitals are mutilated to discourage their enjoyment of sex, and they may be stoned to death for having sex outside of marriage or beaten for being victims of rape.

If men have multiple partners they are studs. If women do the same, they are sluts and whores. As for charging money for the use of their vaginas, that is a no-no, and may lead to arrests, charges, convictions and incarcerations.

When religious doctrines rigidly dictate clothing and adornment, these mainly apply to women. No jewellery, no processed hair, no exposed hair or flesh, no make-up, no pants. Some religious leaders even tell them what type of undergarments to wear. In some cultures, women are severely restricted, are not allowed to hold certain leadership positions, and are treated like the possessions of their husbands, often being required to obtain their permission to perform even minor tasks.

It also appears to be a global phenomenon for women to be paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same jobs. Even in sports, male athletes consistently get more attention and glory than females who excel.

As for owning a uterus, that carries with it a lot of responsibility and potential stress. Being a man, I do not possess a uterus, and as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, I often wonder what it must be like to be blessed with such a fascinating organ, capable of inducing a myriad of emotional and physical states. The joy of carrying and delivering a child, the grief of losing a pregnancy, the sorrow of not being able to conceive, the complex emotions involved in deciding to terminate, the pain of labour and menstrual cramps and the inconvenience of monthly bleeding.

Several periods of hormonal fluctuation occur during a woman's lifetime, and these further complicate matters. The premenstrual changes, pregnancies, and the menopause with its hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Pregnancy, in particular, with its nine months of anatomical, physiological and emotional changes, in addition to its sequelae, takes a lot out of women. Nausea, a constantly enlarging belly, mood swings, back pain and swollen feet are all par for the course.

And then, after pushing the children out, or being cut open to facilitate delivery, the mothers are usually the ones who shoulder most of the burden of child-rearing. The waking up at night, the breastfeeding, the formula mixing and feeding, the bathing, the diaper changing, the homework and school project supervision and the PTA meetings.

And then there are the men. It is not uncommon for the same men who impregnate their women and cause the enlarged abdomens and sagging breasts to leave them because of their enlarged abdomens and sagging breasts, often for younger, firmer models. Some abandon them and their children and never look back.

The men in our society appear to have marginalised themselves, and many women suffer from loneliness, as the pool of single, straight, educated, intelligent, and employed men is rather shallow. And, in their pursuit of companionship, women have to constantly contend with men who feign interest in them, but are really interested in their vaginas and nothing else.

If a working woman does settle down with a partner and has children, the burden can be considerable, as in addition to performing on the job and being a spouse and a mother, she is often required to also be a chef, gardener, interior decorator, event planner, hostess, fashion consultant and ever-ready sex partner. Have you ever noticed that if a married man leaves his home looking unkempt, his wife gets blamed, but if she leaves her home looking dishevelled, she is also responsible? Unfair, isn't it?

And, as if the men are not enough, women have to contend with other women, too, which can be rather challenging. Women can be very unkind to one another, and those who are attractive, confident and intelligent are often the targets of catty remarks and bad-minded behaviour from other females. It is a regular occurrence for a beautiful, elegantly dressed female to enter a room, only to be given the once-over by other females, accompanied by dirty looks and bad vibes.

I thank God for my Y chromosome. My DNA has exempted me from many of the trials and tribulations that women face. Life for them appears to be akin to an obstacle course incorporating multiple roller-coaster rides and bungee jumping, which many navigate and endure with impressive skill and grace. And after all this, they outlive men.

The weaker sex? I think not. Women are remarkably resilient. They are to be respected.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.