6 Sep 2009, Comments (20)

Men, Women and Risk

Author: Helen

Anson Cameron glares truculently out from the AGE Saturday opinion page (photo, sadly, not featured on this online version) and dishes it out to all those panty-waists, girly-men, Deltas, Gammas and drones “with fat voices” who would dare to suggest that bushwalking by yourself in a remote alpine area minus emergency beacon, crampons and other necessaries? Maybe not such a great idea.

It’s sad to live in a time when a man is slated for walking alone on a mountain. A cowardly age where the supine pontificate through a spray of Cheezels crumbs. Could John McDouall Stuart have foreseen a day when Australians upbraided one another for going close to the edge? Could Albert Jacka have imagined so many of his countrymen would come to believe mollycoddling themselves through their allotted span and dying amid a symphony of chirps and beeps given off by medical machines was a life lived? What might Nancy Bird have made of an age where her fellow Australians sit there and tut, immersed in disapproval, while stunning themselves with whatever calorific high their lapbands allow? How despondent would Sir John Monash be to see so many of his countrymen lost in a Bermuda triangle of couch, TV and fridge?

…etc. Yes, I think we get the idea.

Other people were more about the positives of the Minister’s solo walk and the spiritual high which such an experience can give. A climber called Andrew Ramsay described the Mount Feathertop experience as like “a drug”.

‘It’s really spiritual. It’s communing with nature in a way, well to me, it’s like no other.

”I’m sure it’s the way surfers talk about big waves and solitary beaches. They’ve got the danger of getting washed on to the rocks or shark attack and things, and they’re out there surfing on their own in wild seas.”

One reason Tim Holding came in for criticism was the cost of his rescue, which was considerable (involving helicopters, 50-plus volunteers – with the concomitant risk to their lives and safety – plus a Super Seekrit spy plane which the owners, the Federal Police, hadn’t even unveiled yet. So, again the question was asked, and again the debate came down on the side of the bushwalkers, the solo boaters, the kayakers, and all the followers of extreme solo sports. Because awww, what a blow it would be to the human psyche if we weren’t allowed to push ourselves to the limit like that, even if in rare cases someone needs an expensive emergency rescue? How can we allow filthy lucre to dictate the extent to which we extend help to those who are prepared to go further than the next person?

Meanwhile, a debate with a very different tone was going on over at Crikey and the newspapers over the Victorian changes to the rules for home birth midwives, which turned, of course, into a debate about the pros and cons of home birth. The consensus on home birth seems to be that it’s terribly dangerous (which I haven’t researched in depth but appears to be untrue for properly regulated systems like the one they have in Canada) but also that it will direct taxpayer’s funds to the selfish wants of selfish, middle class (boo!) women!

Commenter “Chris Johnson”:

Since when did insurance companies hand out life policies to tight-rope walkers? If you use an unlicensed tradesman to build the family home you pay for the fall-out. So isn’t this debate about much the same? Improving birth options within the health system for the majority of users shouldn’t be interpreted as cracking down on a handful of people who prefer in this case to birth outside it. No one is preventing births from taking place at home or in the backyard swimming pool as long as liability for the outcome is accepted by those seeking the alternative. Directing taxes towards improved birth facilities in public hospitals where most births take place and where there’s a concentrate of medical and allied health professionals seems more constructive than handing out Medicare rebates to a minority opting for makeshift delivery rooms. We’d all prefer to be tucked up in our own environment when in need of family support but if we can’t offer the luxury to millions of ageing Australians it seems a bit rich to pander to .22% of our population. Our health system is begging for a revolution but there’s a national budget that can only go so far. Using taxes to install and upgrade facilities for the majority of birth experiences seems more logical and realistic to me. Wingnuts or selfish sods – take your pick Bernard.

What’s the difference between the two? Is it that extreme sports and exploratory solo journeys, while not exclusively done by men, are still dude-approved activities, while home birth is not something that any dude is thinking of participating in? Let’s line them up and compare:

Mountaineering dude: Very expensive for taxpayers. But it would be an inestimable blow to the human psyche if we discouraged people from following their dreams and pitting themselves against the wilderness.
Homebirths: Seen as expensive for taxpayers, so forget it. Selfish women.

Mountaineering dude: As the search and rescue leader told us repeatedly, Mountaineering dude could be responsible for the deaths or disability of others if there were further accidents out there as a result of the search in the terrible weather conditions. However, no injunctions against going out on Silly Walks.
Homebirths: If something goes wrong, a transfer to hospital is in order. If everything possible goes pear-shaped, it is possible that someone could end up dead or disabled. (The idea that this happens in hospitals too is rarely mentioned.)

Mountaineering dude: It’s a drug, it’s a spiritual experience. I need it to get away from the humdrum existence and relieve the pressure of my responsibilities. Chance to get close to something that’s bigger than myself etc…
The Plain People of Australia: Right on!!! And that spy plane is way cool boy-toy!
Homebirths: The experience of birth in the home environment will be immeasurably better for me and for the baby, although I always keep my responsibilities in mind throughout.
The Plain People of Australia: I’m not going to let the Government spend MY TAXES just so you can have YOUR EXPERIENCE, Lady.

And just a hypothetical – although one of these examples is true:

Mountaineering dude: Describes the Mount Feathertop experience as “a drug”. Is interviewed respectfully.
Homebirth mum: Describes her home birth experience as “a drug”. Is held up as an example of these irrational hippie moonbats.

Interesting, isn’t it? Mountaineering Dude and Homebirther seem to be a bit of a wash, risk wise. I can only surmise that it’s part of the tangled web of gender expectation. Men take risk, good; it all fits with the manly character (and the idea of venture capitalism) and is necessary and good. Also, their experience matters; they should be allowed to enjoy risktaking behaviour without criticism or undue financial …err, risk! (Wait, what?)

Women take risk, bad: Should shut up and do what we tell them to do. And their experience is neither here nor there. If they want a spiritual high they can do the Dude-approved thing and climb a mountain; Home birth, being very much womens’ business, can’t possibly be accorded the dignity – and tax dollars – that we assign to recreational climbing.

Comments (20)

  • kelly says:

    thanks. That was a great post. If i were more articulate id write a smashing response but all i can think of right now is ‘fuck em’ . Fuck fuck fuck and fuck. You hit it right on the head. thanks again. Im off to the beginning to read this post agina and most likely some cross posting.

  • lauredhel says:

    Great post, great comparison.

    I don’t know that I’d call them a “wash”, though, given the data that keeps coming out about homebirth being not just ‘as safe’ (which is how the mainstream media keeps headlining it), but a fair bit safer for many women. Including, in the Canadian study, women who Australian obstetricians would treat as bearers of Exploding Time-bomb Uteri.

    On the money, also, currently Australian women who homebirth with independent midwives are each saving the State system thousands of dollars. A completely State-paid system would very likely (though I haven’t seen clear modelling) still save the State money in hospital beds, excess surgery, etc.

  • Helen says:

    Oh, there isn’t any real way of comparing these two dollar for dollar; what I meant by “wash” is that there are risks to human life and potential high cost involved in both activities if things go really wrong. As there is in hospital. Or driving a car for that matter. Chris Johnston and people like him (or her) seem to think no one ever dies or gets maimed in hospital births/procedures! “Tightrope walker”??! WTF!

    I’m not as well up on the whole topic as you are L but I understand that the risky births get weeded out in the prenatal stages as far as possible. Then the backup of the hospital transfer if necessary.

    Oh, and a friend of mind who I saw last night had a “freebirth” because, you know, the bloody baby just decided it had to come really suddenly then and there and wasn’t going to wait around long enough for anyone to do, well, anything!

  • Bwca Brownie says:

    Gosh I wish I could give birth on Mt.Feathertop.
    Double whammy for all.

    and as for the dunce you quoted saying “nobody would use an unlicensed tradesman to build the family home” –
    1. he thinks parturition is a service industry?
    and 2.
    Exactly when has anybody ever asked to actually see the certificateof any plumber, electrician or builder they have hired? when? NEVER!

    Just lately there have been far too many reports of women trying for a ‘safe’ professionally supervised birth, and getting Hospital Plan B instead – alone in the halls and toilets.

    A man telling me I can’t deliver in say, a manger, because ‘something might go wrong’ is just demanding that a I provide a perfect product and am responsible to him if it all goes wrong.
    I want him squawking instead, about the safely ward-born toddlers, now beaten and starved by mum’s dealer-boyfriend.

  • lauredhel says:

    “Just lately there have been far too many reports of women trying for a ’safe’ professionally supervised birth, and getting Hospital Plan B instead – alone in the halls and toilets.”

    Or might-as-well-have-been-alone in the ICU.

    “‘Unnoticed’: Woman in coma gives birth to stillborn”

    I mean, I get how this can happen, and how it may very well have not changed the outcome, but that’s more or less the whole point, isn’t it?

  • jen says:

    fascinating parallel. great post.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    ‘Gosh I wish I could give birth on Mt.Feathertop.’


  • Kath Lockett says:

    Shit this is good Helen and I mean that it’s so good I don’t have the intelligence to think of a better way to describe my reaction to you comparing the two issues. Send this to The Age NOW!

  • Cristy says:

    Excellent analysis Helen. Thank you.

    Who’d of thought that plain old sexism was at the heart of this?
    What a surprise.

  • drnaomi says:

    Just brilliantly well said and well played (deliberate manly sporting analogy there) – indeed, publish!

  • Spilt Milk says:

    Fantastic. Love it.
    And I’d totally like to give birth on Mount Feathertop if I could be bothered doing any of that hiking type guff.

  • […] ETA: Of course, I posted and THEN I saw Helen’s excellent and related post, looking at the perspective of risk in a different way. Which possibly ties in with my comment about control, the one I didn’t elaborate on. […]

  • blue milk says:

    So so so so so so spot on. Fantastic, thank you.

  • […] September 9, 2009 by blue milk Blogger on the Cast Iron Balconey has a ripper post up. […]

  • michelle says:

    I dont agree with homebirth after having my daughter in hospital born dead and having to be resusitated. I can not say that having a home birth could be safe when your child is born from your body limp and lifeless you need all the intervention that hospital gives look at the death rates of babys born in other countries where mums dont have the luxury of a hospital. not saying that they compare to the wonderful midwifes we have in australia but a midwife would have had to of carried a heart defibrilator and a intubation pack to resusitate my daugter.

  • seepi says:

    the other astounding thing about these two issues is the level of media coverage.

    the homebirth rally in Canberra on Monday had thousands of women and babies chanting up at parlt hse is the freezing rain.

    yet – Nothing – on the tv news. Not a thing – with all those news gallery journalists right there.

    And there wasn’t much on the news either – some AFL thing led, which is wierd for a start in ACT / NSW, so slow news day.

    I could only conclude is was sidelined as a ‘women’s issue’ even though it was big in general conversation with both men and women, in the lead up – after all, huge numbers of couples have had babies and have a general interest in birth issues.


  • Helen says:

    Hi Michelle. sorry to hear your story.
    But we are talking about statistical risk for a well-run Western world system of homebirth versus the hospital system. Surprisingly, to me, the well-run home birth system compares very well. If no babies died in hospital, I’d probably agree with you, but they do, unfortunately.

    To the young-man-with-an-agenda who tried to use this thread to opine that it’s fine for women to choose home birth but not choose whether they give birth, nice try, feel free to air your opinions on your own blog.

    …Which I checked out. I sympathised with the blogger you quoted with the story about working in the cubicle farm. Try to imagine that the boss came to you and told you that you were compulsorily required to stay in the cubicle farm for the next 18 years, minimum, possibly more, with a possibility of promotion (not guaranteed) but no variation allowed. That might give you an idea of what it’s like to be a pregnant woman who’s denied a choice of whether to remain pregnant or not. And yes, it’s not a direct equivalent, it’s a metaphor innit.

    (Sorry for the derail, everyone!)

  • Shelley says:

    My brother and his wife had two lovely homebirths in Canada while I had two highly-interventionist ’emegency’ c-sections in QLd where the rate of interventionist deliveries is I believe the highest in Australia. I’m not even sure we should be talking about homebirth as a risk although you are so right for pointing out the risks that go on all around us unnoticed. It’s not like women homebirth for a buzz, adrenaline rush or to show how big their whatevers are like the colonizing urge that motivates some who have to go where no man has gone before. Childbearing is a risky business full stop but not something women do to put another notch on their belt, and, as you point out, properly supported with the best of western medicine to back it up, homebirths are not only equally safe (or risky) but have much better long-term health outcomes for women and their children. Unfortunately in Australia there still is such an unworkable ideological divide and unwillingness to bring the best of both models of maternal care together to support women in their choices that homebirthing is made intolerably risky …

  • […] Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony draws a fantastic comparison between men’s and women’s “risky” behaviour. […]

  • Boganette says:

    Great post.

    It annoys me when people state the low percentage of women who choose to homebirth in NZ and Australia as an argument (“it seems a bit rich to pander to .22% of our population.”). It’s not an argument.

    There would be more home births if women were able to have home births. If the resources were there and help was given women would be able to choose. Likewise if people stopped jumping down the throats of women who choose to have home births. It’s about women having the right to choose.

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