When Sue Perkins made it public that she had a benign tumor in her brain and that she would never be able to have children of her own, the outpouring of sympathy was overwhelming.
But this is not about discussing Perkins’s medical history – it’s the doctor’s reaction when breaking the news to her that sent me raging, at least internally.
As she revealed yesterday, when the presenter told the doctor she was gay, the consultant said that made it ‘easier’ not to have kids; Perkins said she was heartbroken, and rightly so.
But the consultant’s response opens a can of worms heavily debated – and yet not debated enough – by feminists, ‘men’s rights activists’ (urgh) and all those with a reproductive system and an interest in what society expects of some of its members – in this case, women.
It’s a matter of gender equality that goes beyond the gap between men and women.
Often it seems as if a woman’s success is measured by what she achieved in the family; a shocking number of people still seem to think our place is by the stove, watching at least two, but ideally more, children and being a housewife.
In fact, I feel that many people still seem convinced that a woman’s ultimate goal is to become pregnant and subsequently give up her career to then exclusively care for her child until they’re grown up, by which point she’s often been out of a job for too long to get back in.
As Perkins’s example reveals, those rules don’t seem to apply for gay women – because, you know, they’re lesbians. They’re not into men, so why should they want children?
Newsflash: this is the 21st century and you’d think people should – by now – have realized humans are not all the same.
Of course there are women out there whose life goal is to nurture a family, much like there are women who don’t want children – not even adopted ones; some infertile women desperately want a child, while others don’t mind never having children of their own.
What’s truly shocking is that, where straight women face sexist expectations regarding their family lives on a daily basis, gay girls appear to be completely left out of the equation.
It’s as if lesbians, despite all the fascination with their sexual adventures, are still seen as second-class, or ‘less real’, women.
Because Perkins is not romantically or sexually interested in men, the consultant apparently assumed she wouldn’t want to have children – as if sexuality would directly influence one of humanity’s most basic drives.
And I’m afraid to think how many people may think the same.
There should be no need to spell it out, but by now we should all be aware that the stereotype of the butch, secretly-wants-to-be-a-man stereotype of a lesbian has long become obsolete.
Just go to a Pride, a club or a bar and you’ll see how diverse the community really is.
It’s sexist to reduce a woman to her childbearing abilities, but it’s cruel and dehumanizing to say infertility is ‘not so bad’ just because she’s gay.
By saying this, you create the impression of her being a lower class of woman, one who’s already been lost to the reproductive cycle because of her sexuality.
This heavily devalues her personal loss – something that can greatly affect a person’s mental health and quality of life – and her experiences and standing as a human being.
Telling a lesbian it’s ‘easier’ for her to be infertile heavily suggests it’s no loss, as she’s never going to contribute to the human race’s survival anyways, but just a fact to be taken on board.
I know people are going to disagree with me on this, but women face discrimination on a daily basis, from being told to ‘smile for us, sweetheart’ by a stranger in the street to catcalling, getting unsolicited sexually explicit pictures and messages, and the gender pay gap.
But the response by Perkins’s consultant shows one thing: while we’re all treated unequal, some women are even less equal than others.