An unexpected side effect of COVID-19 appears to be that biological sex is both real and mentionable again! Who’d have thunk it!
It is becoming clear from global patterns of disease morbidity and mortality that men appear to be more vulnerable to the virus, and that this is critical and relevant in data collection and media coverage. News outlets which have been pouring gender kool-aid down our throats by the gallon suddenly know what men and women are again! Even the UK NHS, which has spent the last few years pretending that biological sex is imaginary, has re-embraced material reality when triaging possible COVID-19 cases:
It is becoming clear from global patterns of disease morbidity and mortality that men appear to be more vulnerable to the virus. There are many hypotheses as to why this is occurring – genetic or hormonal sex differences? higher rates of smoking among males? women take hand washing more seriously? In the absence of confirmed evidence for any of the possible explanations, all we can really do is observe and accurately record the sharp sex-based distinctions in the disease trends.
And about those trends – while men are becoming sicker and dying at a higher rate, women are emerging as more vulnerable to the social and economic sequelae of the virus. Professionally, women are more likely to be teachers, paid carers, nurses, supermarket check out workers, cleaners etc in ‘essential professions’ which are at high risk for exposure to COVID-19. They are also more likely to be engaged in casual or insecure work, and in sectors which are being most heavily affected by escalating closures and lockdowns. The contempt for the wellbeing of women in the sex industry was demonstrated perfectly in Sydney, where the first ’employees’ to be fined for breaching new pandemic regulations were three prostituted women working in a
brothel massage parlour which was clearly not about to let the risk of communicable disease get in the way of profiting from women’s bodies.
On the domestic front, if we thought the double shift was bad… sorry, it’s the age of the triple shift now, ladies. Women, who already shoulder more than a fair share of the mental and work loads, are finding the basics of daily life exponentially difficult. In the face of school and child care closures and home learning, shopping and food preparation during shortages and lockdowns, additional cleaning tasks and the complications of caring for elderly relatives or sick family members, women are drowning. For a particularly devastating flourish, add to this surging levels of domestic violence in a time where families are housebound, stress and alcohol sales are high, and community support resources are being closed or diverted to primary health care.
There is much to be written about the consequences of doing away with society in favour of growing an economy, about the devaluing of care work and the eradication of mothering as a viable option for women. I would love to have more time to walk through this but right now I am in the thick of it too – along with so many of you reading – taking days to get fragmented thoughts and responses down in snatched moments of ‘home school time’, teetering on the verge of losing my cabin fevered mind if one more person *who ate ten minutes ago* informs me they are hungry. This is, unfortunately, happening to some of us more intensely than others because of our existence as adult human female parents – AKA mothers – at this particular point in history.
Mothers are experiencing this pandemic in unique and sometimes frightening ways. Pregnant women are finding their antenatal care disrupted, facing the prospect of birthing without birth or breastfeeding classes, without a partner or support person, in a hospital overflowing with sickness and death. Mothers are being told – in ignorant and dangerous contradiction of WHO advice – that they will be separated from their baby at birth or swabbed with disinfectant before skin to skin contact. I have even heard stories of women threatened with being reported to child services for endangerment if they don’t comply. Once home, caring for a baby or young children with no postnatal visits, playgrounds, libraries or grandparents is the recipe for mental health breakdown. Food insecurity is an additional spectre for mothers whose baby is formula dependent at a time when supermarket shelves are being stripped (and worse, formula being onsold online for many times the shelf price).
At a time when the sex differences between men and women are headline news and the extent of our social and economic dependence on women’s invisible labour is being revealed, there remains a pernicious stronghold of mother erasure holding tight to the pretence that gender feelings are more real than women’s actual bodies and lives. I am speaking, unfortunately, of advocacy for breastfeeding and birth.
Surprisingly, after many years of ‘chest feeding’ and ‘human milk feeding’, the term ‘breastfeeding’ has re-emerged as permissible (for the time being anyway). The function that mothers peform is allowed to be named for what it is – but bizarrely it remains that mothers are not. Even during a global public health emergency, clear and objective reference to females is apparently more important to avoid than any virus:
I mean like, Wokeness Forbid we should actually be specific about which individuals are lactating and birthing and all that vague who-knows-who-actually-does-it stuff. Couldn’t possibly have our information and messaging be clear or accessible, ew:
The breastfeeding emoji is ‘a form of discrimination’? ‘Birthing people’, ‘nursing parent’? ‘Those with coronavirus continue breastfeeding’? This is RIDICULOUS. Essential and life saving information is being diluted and turned into incomprehensible word salads for the benefit not of motherbabies but appearances.
Of course, if you had spare time amidst a pandemic to question any of this, you would be sanctimoniously reminded that this language is Necessary and Important because the world will implode if we all aren’t constantly centring the delusions of
narcissists trans and non binary people. Well here’s a newsflash – the world is imploding, and it turns out that viruses don’t care about our identity when attacking our biology. And the social structures which are crushing women and children underneath their catastrophic collapse don’t have much time for gender feels or affirming anyone either.
Let’s be perfectly clear – it is not ‘people’ who are being forced into early induction of labour or surgical births as health systems divert resources from maternity wards to pandemic preparedness. It is not ‘individuals’ who are finding themselves wondering if their only choices are to birth their baby in an overrun disease ridden hospital or at home unattended. It is not ‘parents’ crying in the hoarding-emptied formula aisle wondering if it’s too late to rebuild the breastmilk supply they were told was optional. None of this is or has ever been done to any person on the basis of their pronouns – this is all a result of the status of women in patriarchy as less than people on the basis of belonging to the female sex class.
Protecting breastfeeding and defending birth while deliberately avoiding reference to the women and mothers who are doing it is beyond insulting – It is stupid to the point of endangering life. Women and girls globally, are in this very moment trapped in situations without a safe place to birth, refuge from abuse, or a secure food supply for their child. Does anyone seriously believe that the pressing task is to invest in ensuring that nobody feels misgendered?
At a time when the invisible lives and work of women are being rendered most visible, beware of any efforts to gloss over the aspects of this moment in history which are uniquely female. Virus or no virus, women and mothers exist.