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The lies we tell pregnant women

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    We're going to share
    a lot of secrets today, you and I,
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    and in doing so, I hope that we can lift
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    some of the shame
    many of us feel about sex.
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    How many here have ever been
    catcalled by a stranger?
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    Lots of women.
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    For me, the time I remember best
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    is when that stranger
    was a student of mine.
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    He came up to me after class that night
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    and his words confirmed
    what I already knew:
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    "I am so sorry, professor.
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    If I had known it was you,
    I would never have said those things."
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    (Laughter)
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    I wasn't a person to him
    until I was his professor.
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    This concept, called objectification,
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    is the foundation of sexism,
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    and we see it reinforced
    through every aspect of our lives.
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    We see it in the government
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    that refuses to punish men
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    for raping women.
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    We see it in advertisements.
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    How many of you have seen an advertisement
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    that uses a woman's breast
    to sell an entirely unrelated product?
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    Or movie after movie after movie
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    that portrays women
    as only love interests?
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    These examples might seem
    inconsequential and harmless,
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    but they're insidious,
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    slowly building into a culture
    that refuses to see women as people.
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    We see this in the school
    that sends home a 10-year-old girl
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    because her clothes were
    a distraction to boys trying to learn,
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    or the government that refuses
    to punish men for raping women
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    over and over,
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    or the woman who is killed
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    because she asked a man to stop
    grinding on her on the dance floor.
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    Media plays a large role in perpetuating
    the objectification of women.
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    Let's consider
    the classic romantic comedy.
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    We're typically introduced
    to two kinds of women in these movies,
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    two kinds of desirable women, anyway.
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    The first is the sexy bombshell.
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    This is the unbelievably gorgeous woman
    with the perfect body.
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    Our leading man
    has no trouble identifying her
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    and even less trouble having sex with her.
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    The second is our leading lady,
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    the beautiful but demure woman
    our leading man falls in love with
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    despite not noticing her at first
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    or not liking her if he did.
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    The first is the slut.
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    She is to be consumed and forgotten.
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    She is much too available.
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    The second is desirable but modest,
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    and therefore worthy
    of our leading man's future babies.
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    Marriage material.
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    We're actually told
    that women have two roles,
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    but these two roles have a difficult time
    existing within the same woman.
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    On the rare occasion
    that I share with a new acquaintance
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    that I study sex,
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    if they don't end
    the conversation right then,
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    they're usually pretty intrigued.
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    "Oh. Tell me more."
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    So I do.
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    "I'm really interested
    in studying the sexual behaviors
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    of pregnant and postpartum couples."
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    At this point I get
    a different kind of response.
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    (Laughter)
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    "Oh. Huh.
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    Do pregnant people even have sex?
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    Have you thought
    about studying sexual desire
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    or orgasms?
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    That would be interesting, and sexy."
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    Tell me. What are the first words
    that come to mind
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    when you picture a pregnant woman?
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    I asked this question
    in a survey of over 500 adults,
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    and most responded with "belly" or "round"
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    and "cute."
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    This didn't surprise me too much.
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    What else do we label as cute?
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    Babies. Puppies. Kittens.
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    The elderly. Right?
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    (Laughter)
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    When we label an adult as cute, though,
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    we take away a lot of their intelligence,
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    their complexity.
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    We reduce them to childlike qualities.
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    I also asked heterosexual men
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    to imagine a woman that they're
    partnered with is pregnant,
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    and then asked women
    to imagine that they are pregnant,
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    and then tell me
    the first words that come to mind
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    when they imagine having sex.
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    Most of the responses were negative.
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    "Gross."
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    "Awkward."
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    "Not sexy." "Odd."
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    "Uncomfortable."
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    "How?"
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    (Laughter)
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    "Not worth the trouble."
    "Not worth the risk."
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    That last one really stuck with me.
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    We might think that because we divorce
    pregnant women and moms from sexuality,
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    we are removing the constraints
    of sexual objectification.
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    They experience less sexism. Right?
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    Not exactly.
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    What happens instead
    is a different kind of objectification.
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    In my efforts to explain this to others,
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    one conversation
    led to the Venus of Willendorf,
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    a Paleolithic figurine scholars assumed
    was a goddess of love and beauty,
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    hence the name Venus.
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    This theory was later revised, though,
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    when scholars noted
    the sculptor's obvious focus
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    on the figurine's reproductive features:
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    large breasts,
    considered ideal for nursing;
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    a round, possibly pregnant belly;
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    the remnants of red dye,
    alluding to menstruation or birth.
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    They also assumed that she was
    meant to be held or placed lying down
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    because her tiny feet
    don't allow her to be freestanding.
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    She also had no face.
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    For this reason, it was assumed
    that she was a representation of fertility
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    and not a portrait of a person.
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    She was an object.
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    In the history of her interpretation,
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    she went from object
    of ideal beauty and love
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    to object of reproduction.
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    I think this transition speaks more
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    about the scholars
    who have interpreted her purpose
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    than the actual purpose
    of the figurine herself.
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    When a woman becomes pregnant,
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    she leaves the realm
    of men's sexual desire
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    and slides into her reproductive
    and child-rearing role.
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    In doing so, she also becomes
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    the property of the community,
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    considered very important
    but only because she's pregnant. Right?
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    I've taken to calling this
    the Willendorf effect,
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    and once again we see it reinforced
    in many aspects of her life.
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    Has anyone here
    ever been visibly pregnant?
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    (Laughter)
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    Yeah. Lots of you, right?
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    So how many of you ever had a stranger
    touch your belly during pregnancy,
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    maybe without even asking
    your permission first?
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    Or told what you can and cannot eat
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    by somebody who is not your doctor,
    your medical care provider?
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    Or asked private questions
    about your birth plan?
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    And then told why
    those choices are all wrong?
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    Yeah, me too.
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    Or had a server refuse
    to bring you a glass of wine?
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    This one might give you pause,
    I know, but stay with me.
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    This is a huge secret.
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    It is actually safe to drink
    in moderation during pregnancy.
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    Many of us don't know this
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    because doctors don't trust
    pregnant women with this secret --
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    (Laughter)
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    especially if she's less educated
    or a woman of color.
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    What this tells us is,
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    this Willendorf effect,
    it's also classist and racist.
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    It's present when
    the government reminds women
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    with every new anti-choice bill
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    that the contents of her uterus
    are not her own,
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    or when an ob-gyn says,
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    "While it's safe
    to have sex during pregnancy,
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    sometimes you never know.
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    Better safe than sorry, right?"
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    She's denied basic privacy
    and bodily autonomy
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    under the guise of "be a good mother."
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    We don't trust her
    to make her own decisions.
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    She's cute, remember?
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    When we tell women
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    that sexual pleasure -- excuse me.
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    When we tell women that sex
    isn't worth the risk during pregnancy,
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    what we're telling her is that
    her sexual pleasure doesn't matter.
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    So what we are telling her
    is that she in fact doesn't matter,
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    even though the needs of her fetus
    are not at odds with her own needs.
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    So medical providers,
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    such as the American College
    of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
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    have the opportunity to educate
    about the safety of sex during pregnancy.
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    So what do the experts say?
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    ACOG actually has
    no public official statement
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    about the safety of sex during pregnancy.
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    Guidance from the Mayo Clinic
    is generally positive
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    but presented with a caveat:
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    "Although most women can safely
    have sex throughout pregnancy,
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    sometimes it's best to be cautious."
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    Some women don't want
    to have sex during pregnancy,
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    and that's OK.
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    Some women do want
    to have sex during pregnancy,
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    and that's OK, too.
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    What needs to stop
    is society telling women
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    what they can and cannot do
    with their bodies.
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    (Applause)
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    Pregnant women are not faceless,
    identity-less vessels of reproduction
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    who can't stand on their own two feet.
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    But the truth is, the real secret is,
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    we tell all women that
    their sexual pleasure doesn't matter.
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    We refuse to even acknowledge
    that women who have sex with women
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    or women who don't
    want children even exist.
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    "Oh, it's just a phase ...
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    she just needs the right man
    to come along."
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    Every time a woman has sex
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    simply because it feels good,
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    it is revolutionary.
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    She is revolutionary.
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    She is pushing back
    against society's insistence
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    that she exist simply for men's pleasure
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    or for reproduction.
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    A woman who prioritizes
    her sexual needs is scary,
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    because a woman who prioritizes
    her sexual needs prioritizes herself.
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    (Applause)
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    That is a woman demanding
    that she be treated as an equal.
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    That is a woman who insists
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    that you make room for her
    at the table of power,
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    and that is the most terrifying of all
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    because we can't make room for her
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    without some of us giving up
    the extra space we hold.
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    (Applause)
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    I have one last secret for you.
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    I am the mother of two boys
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    and we could use your help.
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    Even though my boys hear me say regularly
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    that it's important for men
    to recognize women as equals
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    and they see their father modeling this,
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    we need what happens in the world
    to reinforce what happens in our home.
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    This is not a men's problem
    or a women's problem.
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    This is everyone's problem,
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    and we all play a role
    in dismantling systems of inequality.
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    For starters, we have got
    to stop telling women
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    what they can and cannot do
    with their bodies.
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    (Applause)
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    This includes not treating pregnant women
    like community property.
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    If you don't know her,
    don't even ask to touch her belly.
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    You wouldn't anybody else.
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    Don't tell her
    what she can and cannot eat.
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    Don't ask her private details
    about her medical decisions.
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    This also includes understanding
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    that even if you are
    personally against abortion,
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    you can still fight
    for a woman's right to choose.
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    When it comes to women's equality,
    the two need not oppose one another.
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    If you're somebody who has sex with women,
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    prioritize her pleasure.
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    If you don't know how, ask.
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    If you have children --
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    (Laughter)
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    have conversations about sex
    as early as possible,
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    because kids don't look up s-e-x
    in the dictionary anymore.
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    They look it up on the internet.
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    And when you're having
    those conversations about sex,
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    don't center them on reproduction only.
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    People have sex for many reasons,
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    some because they want a baby,
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    but most of us have sex
    because it feels good.
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    Admit it.
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    And regardless of whether
    you have children or not,
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    support comprehensive sex education
    that doesn't shame our teenagers.
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    (Applause)
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    Nothing positive comes from shaming teens
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    for their sexual desires, behaviors,
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    other than positive STD
    and pregnancy tests.
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    Every single day,
    we are all given the opportunity
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    to disrupt patterns of inequality.
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    I think we can all agree
    that it's worth the trouble to do so.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
Title:
The lies we tell pregnant women
Speaker:
Sofia Jawed-Wessel
Description:

"When we tell women that sex isn't worth the risk during pregnancy, what we're telling her is that her sexual pleasure doesn't matter ... that she in fact doesn't matter," says sex researcher Sofia Jawed-Wessel. In this eye-opening talk, Jawed-Wessel mines our views about pregnancy and pleasure to lay bare the relationship between women, sex and systems of power.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
14:56

English subtitles

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