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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 and 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 OBGYN 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 women 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:

more » « less
Video Language:
English
Team:
closed TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
14:56

English subtitles

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