The Innate Pain of Womanhood: the new dangerous and regressive trend.

Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash.

Gone girl, Lana del Rey, Botanica No.23 by Potocki, Mitski, Midsommar, Maddalena by Samori, Drinking sisters by Alm, Fiona Apple and above all Fleabag. Phoebe Waller Bridge’s immensely popular series speaks for the awkward, floundering masses grasping at the contrast between who they are and who they want to be. But in this, Waller-Bridge struck a particular, dangerous chord that recently has been taken to new emphasis.


“Women are born with pain built in”. This one line spoke louder than others and, as I have personally witnessed all over my TikTok and Instagram feeds, has spawned a new community of self-confessed fleabagian women: “I am her and she is me” many proclaim.


Branded our “physical destiny” by Waller-Bridge, pain is put forward as an innate part of womanhood. From birth we are branded inevitably woman, and thus inevitably will hurt. From sore breasts, menstruation and the loss of girlhood to childbirth and menopause, when you become “no longer a machine with parts” but “just a person”.  One YouTube comment on this clip reads, “as a woman, we get older with this learned fear of social irrelevance, of biological irrelevance. But this scene is of a successful older woman reassuring a younger woman that getting older is actually magnificent and freeing.”


While this scene appears inspiring and progressive, the narrative is highly troubling. Things get better as you get older! But, for the majority of your life, as a woman, you are naturally subject to incomparable suffering men will never understand. It doesn’t sound so romantic now.  


Perhaps I am oversimplifying. On some level, this can be seen as a reclaiming of womanhood, femininity, and all that comes with it. Biblical, patriarchal narratives claim the origins of our suffering is from the punishment of Eve. The pain inflicted by society is part of the female presenting experience, a cross we all have to bear – so why shouldn’t we take ownership of that?


From this has sprang new aesthetics, as certain quotes make the rounds. “My rage is a kind of domestic rage, I learned it from my mother, Who learned it from her mother before her” says Suzanne Buffam in her poem, ‘Enough’. “Often father and daughter look down on mother (woman) together…This collusion does not save the daughter from the mother’s fate” – from Bonnie Burstow, ‘Radical Feminist Therapy’.  Such literature, taken out of context, paints internalised patriarchal ideals as a genetic, unavoidable inevitability.


Online, feminist discourse meets fashion trends. An image appears of a woman sprawled in a silk teddy over her white linen bed sheets; the caption, emblazoned across the centre reads “pretty girls are always sleepy” while Lana del Rey’s ethereal, melancholy voice, as the chosen mascot for the aesthetic, imbues us with ‘light feminine’ energy. Angelic and coquettish, this form of ‘femininity’ is decorative: it is the want to possess the male gaze, to consciously fulfil it but have it be for us.


If the Lolita look is not for you, you should call on your ‘dark feminine’ says TikTokers: an aesthetic making ‘misandry’ seductive, oozing self-confidence and a don’t mess with me attitude. This desire to be cold and untouchable is of course a direct response to our experiences in this male dominated society. We fantasise about times we could have been crueller, could have stood up for ourselves, and yet within this desire, in this trend of course, we cannot shake the male gaze.


Beyond this, ‘depression pits’ have become homely and rotting in bed is a natural response. Depression is an aesthetic – don’t seek treatment, they won’t help you, women will never be taken seriously.


How can a trend that fetishizes female pain, diagnoses it as a genetic affliction to endure and romanticises the rage and melancholy it inspires ever be progressive? Being a woman is not an inevitable death sentence to occur when girlhood wanes and menopause strikes us down. It is not an inbuilt genetic rage that allows us to self-flagellate and wallow in sadness due to our so-called necessary pain. None of this is natural and such sex-based oppression should not be normalised. A defining experience of womanhood should not have to be that we have all been subjected to the cruelty and selfishness of patriarchy.


In the same breath that I condemn these thought processes as reductive, as dangerous, I acknowledge we cannot blame the women participating for its spread. Such pain and anger we can all relate to. This dangerous normalisation of female pain is absolutely an exacerbated symptom of a global societal problem.


I recently had a conversation with a close friend where we recounted numerous counts of unfair treatment in the medical field. As a teenager, I was given birth control as treatment for acne which, for me, caused the most horrific exacerbated period side effects. When I reported them to my doctor, my symptoms were minimised, and I was told I just had to wait until it balanced out. It never did. When I told my doctor of the exceptional pain I experience when on my period that pain killers will not touch, the nausea that I endure, I was once again told that lots of people have pain on their periods and birth control is an option, or just take some ibuprofen. My friend related similar stories back to me: having been refused a vital procedure the day of because she hadn’t had sex yet and therefore it would be ‘too painful’ for them to handle. I can even recount an earlier story. Needing surgery at age 11, I was told I couldn’t handle local anaesthesia and I would have to wait, in pain, for an anaesthesiologist to put me under general, despite me saying that wasn’t what I wanted. If I had been a little boy, I was told, the doctor would be willing to give me local, but because I was only a little girl, this was out of the question.


These stories are only a couple from our collection and represent the voices of just two extremely privileged women in early stages of adulthood. Online, it is easy to find the copious horror stories of unmedicated IUD insertions, postpartum pain that doctors refuse to acknowledge, and the valuing of a foetus over the health of the pregnant mother. Articles state comparisons like “period cramping pain can be as similar in intensity as a heart attack”, as though in order to listen the standard has to be something men can relate to; it can only be understood when given credit from a male perspective. Period pain simulators make for great comedic online content, while I’m near passing out from pain every month.


We cannot blame people for spreading and adopting this mindset when the world does create such pain for women to endure; when terrible menstrual symptoms are normalised, when we’re not supplied with appropriate medications, when we have to fear walking anywhere alone and when our own governments are actively stripping away our rights and freedoms. Our pain is unmotherly and unconstitutional and thus our rage is more than vindicated.


However, normalising this pain for young women as an accepted part of life is highly regressive. While for many it currently does, womanhood should not bring with it pain and to normalise this is to slow, and potentially prevent, the real change we need. Sorry Fleabag, but this won’t pass.


Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash.


2 thoughts on this article.

  1. Rebecca says:

    AMAZING!! What a brilliant article!!

  2. Ashleigh says:

    A very powerful and thought provoking article which I’m sure many can relate

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