Last weekend I went to a music festival. On the Sunday afternoon, several ciders deep, we were lazing sleepily on the sunny grass, slightly jaded from the previous two evenings exploits. A fellow camper friend commented in passing how in awe he was of the female body, and how at times he felt inescapably jealous of women, their bodies, their minds, their sexuality. I found myself completely astounded by this confession, as ever since puberty, I have felt constantly at war with my reproductive organs.
When I set off aged 18 to drama school in London, I became trapped in an endless cycle of UTIs. Here’s the thing about UTIs, a full blown urinary tract infection (frankly I’m done hiding behind letters to preserve the modesty of grown adults). They’re more painful than any other ailment I’ve suffered so far in my 22 years, yet no employer considers them serious enough to warrant time off work, doctors see them as low priority, and unless you’ve experienced one yourself (those who know, know) you probably wonder what all the fuss is about. But when you’re writhing around on the kitchen floor like a snake on acid, or you’re camped out in the bathroom with your duvet waiting for the most recent gallon of water to pass through you so you can bask in the golden but temporary relief that is urination; it’s hard not to feel personally victimised by the receptionist that marked you as a low priority or the nurse that wouldn’t give you antibiotics because you’ve had them twice this month already and he doesn’t want you to build resistance. The degradation of walking through a waiting room full of strangers holding a paper bag-wrapped piss pot, only to be be told what you already knew, yes it’s a UTI, yes you will need antibiotics. These antibiotics will probably give you thrush, from which you will be in extreme discomfort and pain, and for which you will eventually need yet more drugs. The best part? You will repeat the entire cycle again in less than three weeks time, and at at least six weekly intervals going forward.
Every time a healthcare professional quizzes me on wiping properly, or urinating after sex, I die a little. I understand, they are doing their jobs. It isn’t their fault, it’s systemic. But in 2019, why aren’t we doing better? Why are women still having to fight so hard for people to believe in our pain? Why are we not trusted to know our bodies? To understand our own bodies?
I could tell you twenty stories of a woman, in pain, being told that what is currently happening inside her body, is normal. Natural. Nothing to worry about. In essence being told: You’re in pain, yes, so you should be, and this is the way you will live your life. And every woman I know, has 20 stories.
Maybe this is where innate, angry, screaming feminism comes from. The injustice of the pain.
True, most of us can carry babies. And if I ever have children, maybe one day I will appreciate what that means. But right now it’s not enough. Right now, I cannot take comfort from that. Because right now, it’s lying awake for three consecutive nights, wondering about that broken condom. Its passing out on the tube because the nausea side effects of Regivedon finally got too much. Right now its Toxic Shock. Don’t get me started on sex.
In a world where Trump and his minions are infringing on the rights of our transatlantic sisters in the most invasive and brutal of ways, perhaps I ought to feel grateful that I live here in the UK where contraception and family planning is readily available. But I’m not. Why should I? Why should I feel grateful for what ought to be a basic human right?
Instead I feel furious. When I read that development of the male contraceptive has been halted, due to side effects that are an immeasurable fraction of what countless women suffer each day, I am furious.
When a school friend, after seven years of being told her period pains are normal, is finally given a diagnosis of endometriosis, I am furious.
When I hear someone, anyone, remark: ‘She must be on her period’. I. Am. Furious.
The worst part, the best part, the beautiful part. Is that I love being a girl. I love being a woman. I love what femininity is, the power it yields. I love my body, I love to feel strong, to feel fragile, to be sexy, and beautiful and visceral.
And yet I struggle so much with my identity as a young woman. Even shaving my head, was, to an extent a desperate attempt to subvert what society says it is to be a woman. And why? My theory is this:
I love my femininity, but in that, I am expected to love the pain. To be grateful for all the pain and misgivings forced upon my sex. To see pain as a necessary side effect to what is an otherwise resplendent existence.
And maybe if we are allowed to break away from the acceptance of pain, the resignation, that pain is ours to bear. Maybe then we stand a chance of seeing in ourselves, the same things my lovely, pure hearted friend saw, when he told me he was in awe of the female body.