Womb with a view: Amy Annette and Esther O’Moore-Donohoe talk feminism
Having a womb can feel like an unwanted superpower. You feel that its power, its significance, is bigger than you and question do you have control over it at all?
Esther O’Moore-Donohue: “It can feel like we’re constantly being monitored and observed and checked and having to check ourselves. ‘Eeek. I’m too young to have this power!’ ‘Oh no! Now I’m getting too old and my powers are fading’ and/or ‘I couldn’t be arsed either way’.”
I’ve recently had the privilege of working on I Call Myself a Feminist, a new book of essays from 25 women under 30 who share their responses to that title, on that is seemingly simple but one that provokes much debate. I co-edited the book which meant I was in the lucky position of being able to ask some of the interesting, funny and inspirational women I admired to write for us. Writers, bloggers and thinkers like Reni Eddo-Lodge, Caroline Kent, Sofie Hagen and more.
My own essay came from a revelation I had about daily life that I wanted to share. I wrote about the everyday politics of taking up bodily space. How something even as benign as a few centimetres of armpit hair can be seen as taking a stance – which indeed it could be, but perhaps it’s getting nippy and you’d just like a little extra layer between you and the oncoming winter cold. Or how having to go about your day accommodating groups of blue-toothed blue suits, who walk with total entitlement over the pavement we’re all supposed to be sharing, becomes something bigger than an annoyance. It’s an illustration of how those who think they are at the top of the food chain nonchalantly assert their superiority over others by taking up space – something that plays out even when everyone’s just out to get a sandwich. And how you refusing to move out of their way is, frankly, a ballsy move and worth congratulating yourself for.
It was such a pleasure to write – not only because I’m always pro any opportunity I get to express my own opinions. Oh yes, I kiss the tips of fingers at giving out constructive advice. But because being able to deconstruct the everyday politics of the female body was a dream and something that personally really helped me. I felt that every woman should be aware that their nervousness wasn’t a weird personal quirk but part of a much bigger battle over their body and entitlement to space in the world.
Rather than being the object of other’s opinions and gazes, their bodies could be their own: they could feel powerful in calling themselves feminists with something as simple as they way walk, the way they sit. I looked at my body and thought about what I was really saying with it… one of my favourite subtitles within my essay is ‘I call myself a feminist with my big butt’.
However, I realised after submitting the essay that I’d missed something out. I’d addressed my feminist facial hair, my equality elbows, my fair pay paunch, my intersectional stride but I’d not mentioned perhaps the most political part of me. Something that others – from the pope to political parties to a girl I went to university with who I haven’t seen in years – seem to have firm opinions about. Of course I could only be talking about everyone’s favourite organ, situated between the bladder and the rectum. My womb.
I mean, where do you start when it comes to wombs? Right now my friend Sarski is pregnant. (Congrats!) I’ve got her a super cool badge that says “Baby on Board” so that everyone can make way for her as she moves around town. A powerful womb, that. Able to make people offer her a hand and move out of her way.
My womb, in contrast, is pretty chill right now and isn’t going to be helping me get a seat on public transport any time soon. This I can talk about, this we can all understand.
But what about the sense that they are public property? People march for them and pray for them and that’s what’s not easy to understand. How my internal pear-shaped pal is such a hot item of political debate which so many people and politicians take a position on. I do feel the reality between it and the rhetoric about it hard to comprehend. I sometimes feel this part of my body is part of a global conversation that I’m somehow not invited to. But my womb too deserves a voice!
I wanted to give my womb a platform but it didn’t feel right not to bring in a fully fledged Irish womb to join it. So I asked my friend, the writer and radio presenter Esther O’Moore-Donohoe, how she and her womb were doing in Dublin? Esther was quick to let me know she was well and that her womb was “fine too. We have wifi and snack on almonds and kale every eight minutes so we’re doing okay.”
I noted that I’m aware of a surprising amount of differing opinions of my womb. From the political rhetoric to the personal, I don’t like to brag but the kindly doctor who gave me the world’s most efficient pap smear in the brilliant Wendy Cope centre in Archway, London assured me it was top notch. I wanted to ask Esther how she felt having an organ that was the focus of so much debate.
Esther, taking to the idea, let her womb respond, “Look, I prefer to keep myself to myself. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. I do have an Instagram account but that’s only for creeping. I’m just sitting here, trying to do my job but a lot of people have very strong opinions about me. I just want a quiet life. I’m nervous about having this conversation with you. I don’t want to be viewed as a magical, radical organ.”
I pressed the point and I pointed out to my favourite Irish womb that though Esther and I have much in common – we both find Amy Schumer funny; we both think puns are valid ways to end conversations, however serious the subject matter; we both like a nice jumper – it’s different when it comes to wombs… There are more restrictions on hers than on mine. I find it hard to describe how overwhelmingly, intrinsically wrong this feels to me.
Esther, taking back the conversation, couldn’t help but agree. “It makes me feel very uneasy. If the health of an Irish woman is in danger, everything should be done to help her.” Agree to an extent, that is: “I’m more of an Amy Poehler fan but Schumer is good too.”
I told her that I’ve recently come to compare my growing understanding of reproductive power, rights and responsibilities to the experiences of the Halliwell sisters in the first episodes of the TV series Charmed, when the sisters first realise they are witches. Stay with me on this one. It’s something that they hadn’t asked for which is exciting but also dangerous. I realised that having a womb can feel like that – like an unwanted superpower. You feel that its power, its significance, is bigger than you and question do you have control over it at all?
I put this to the womb of Esther, who concurred. “It can feel like we’re constantly being monitored and observed and checked and having to check ourselves. ‘Eeek. I’m too young to have this power!’ ‘Oh no! Now I’m getting too old and my powers are fading’ and/or ‘I couldn’t be arsed either way’.”
I felt Esther’s patience at my questioning of her womb fading so I instead turned to my own womb and asked the final question, did it have anything to say to other wombs around the world? The reply was womb warming; “Let’s dial in to this international private conversation about us and make it into our own image, into something great. An international conference call of cervixes... Let’s make this really about (uter)us.”
I Call Myself A Feminist: The Views of Twenty-five Women Under Thirty was published by Virago on November 5th