Lez Miserable: "Bed is the one place where shame wields no influence whatsoever"

Musing on the concept of Bedfulness, Eleanor Margolis finds her self questioning her own unhealthy relationship with her Ikea Malm.

Some mornings I have to roll out of bed. Literally. Sometimes hitting the floor is the only way of divorcing my torpid, jellified self from its pillowy joy nest. If I were less considerate of those who live with and near me, I’d probably spend most mornings screaming, “WHY?” repeatedly. I’m sure Freud would’ve had a lot to say about this daily re-birthing routine, complete with (albeit internal) primal scream. But he’s dead and thought that women are sad because their vaginas are excessively un-cock-like, so whatever.

An article last week about the Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori – young people who confine themselves to their bedrooms for months or even years at a time – left me questioning my own unhealthy relationship with my bedroom. More specifically; my bed. Even more specifically; the concept of Bed. Bedfulness, if you like. So, what does Bed mean to me? I was born in a bed, I lost my virginity in a bed and maybe I’ll be lucky enough to die in a bed as opposed to, I don’t know, being mauled by a school of disgruntled tuna. What’s more, whenever I can, I work from bed. I’m typing these words direct from my Ikea Malm. Proust famously worked from bed. I like to think this makes us kindred spirits, when in fact it probably makes me the kind of oversized infant who should don an animal onesie and give up on life.

Bed is the most private place in the world. It’s that anarchic realm where you can watch weird porn while devouring an entire birthday cake with your bare hands. It’s where you fart freely, cry over YouTube clips of cartoons from your childhood and get creative with masturbation techniques. In fact, Bed is the birthplace of the “crank” (a cry and a wank). What happens in Bed stays in Bed; it’s the one place where shame wields no influence whatsoever. But only when you’re alone. Introduce a second body to Bed and suddenly there are rules. If the second body belongs to someone you don’t know very well, for example, things can get very tentative.

For anyone with an elevated sense of bedfulness, one-night stands can be surreal. Almost dauntingly so. Not necessarily because you’re getting into another person’s bed, but because you’re getting into Bed with them. Bed is where they’ve spooned partners, where they’ve had their filthiest thoughts and where they’ve cried off broken hearts. It’s hard to get into someone’s bed without at least dipping into their emotional sphere. When this someone is a stranger you drunkenly got off with, it’s all the more bizarre. I once went home with a girl who turned out to be a hardcore sleep talker. I decided not to tell her that she’d woken me up at 5am with a dramatic monologue about Fearne Cotton stealing her pizza. Getting into a discussion about that night’s Bed experience with someone I barely knew seemed like it would overstep a serious boundary.

From Manet’s “Olympia”, to John and Yoko’s Bed-Ins, to those nauseating Dreams Bed Sale adverts where tall, athletic, Scandinavian-looking couples have euphoric pillow fights; Bed is an emotionally convoluted, addictive hub of sex and death. When a psychiatrist once suggested that I wake myself up by getting out of bed early every morning and going for a run, I practically laughed in his face. Let’s be realistic – why would I opt for a Spartan exercise regime over being extremely comfortable? It felt a bit like telling a heroin addict to try nibbling on a carrot every time he’s about to shoot up. I think that getting out of bed will always be terrifyingly birth-like for me.

Now read Nicky Woolf on why, despite it being awful, he can't imagine life without insomnia.

 

A woman lying on a bed, circa 1956. Photograph: Jacobsen /Three Lions/Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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This is the new front in the battle to control women’s bodies

By defining all of us as “pre-pregnant”, women are afforded all the blame – but none of the control.

For several weeks, YouTube has been reminding me to hurry up and have a baby. In a moment of guilt over all the newspapers I read online for free, I turned off my ad-blocking software and now I can’t play a simple death metal album without having to sit through 30 seconds of sensible women with long, soft hair trying to sell me pregnancy tests. I half expect one of them to tap her watch and remind me that I shouldn’t be wasting my best fertile years writing about socialism on the internet.

My partner, meanwhile, gets shown advertisements for useful software; my male housemate is offered tomato sauce, which forms 90 per cent of his diet. At first, I wondered if the gods of Google knew something I didn’t. But I suspect that the algorithm is less imaginative than I have been giving it credit for – indeed, I suspect that what Google thinks it knows about me is that I’m a woman in my late twenties, so, whatever my other interests might be, I ought to be getting myself knocked up some time soon.

The technology is new but the assumptions are ancient. Women are meant to make babies, regardless of the alternative plans we might have. In the 21st century, governments and world health authorities are similarly unimaginative about women’s lives and choices. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published guidelines suggesting that any woman who “could get pregnant” should refrain from drinking alcohol. The phrase implies that this includes any woman who menstruates and is not on the Pill – which is, in effect, everyone, as the Pill is not a foolproof method of contraception. So all females capable of conceiving should treat themselves and be treated by the health system as “pre-pregnant” – regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant any time soon, or whether they have sex with men in the first place. Boys will be boys, after all, so women ought to take precautions: think of it as rape insurance.

The medical evidence for moderate drinking as a clear threat to pregnancy is not solidly proven, but the CDC claims that it just wants to provide the best information for women “and their partners”. That’s a chilling little addition. Shouldn’t it be enough for women to decide whether they have that second gin? Are their partners supposed to exercise control over what they do and do not drink? How? By ordering them not to go to the pub? By confiscating their money and keeping tabs on where they go?

This is the logic of domestic abuse. With more than 18,000 women murdered by their intimate partners since 2003, domestic violence is a greater threat to life and health in the US than foetal alcohol poisoning – but that appears not to matter to the CDC.

Most people with a working uterus can get pregnant and some of them don’t self-define as women. But the advice being delivered at the highest levels is clearly aimed at women and that, in itself, tells us a great deal about the reasoning behind this sort of social control. It’s all about controlling women’s bodies before, during and after pregnancy. Almost every ideological facet of our societies is geared towards that end – from product placement and public health advice to explicit laws forcing women to carry pregnancies to term and jailing them if they fail to deliver the healthy babies the state requires of them.

Men’s sexual and reproductive health is never subject to this sort of policing. In South America, where the zika virus is suspected of having caused thousands of birth defects, women are being advised not to “get pregnant”. This is couched in language that gives women all of the blame and none of the control. Just like in the US, reproductive warnings are not aimed at men – even though Brazil, El Salvador and the US are extremely religious countries, so you would think that the number of miraculous virgin births would surely have been noticed.

Men are not being advised to avoid impregnating women, because the idea of a state placing restrictions on men’s sexual behaviour, however violent or reckless, is simply outside the framework of political possibility. It is supposed to be women’s responsibility to control whether they get pregnant – but in Brazil and El Salvador, which are among the countries where zika is most rampant, women often don’t get to make any serious choice in that most intimate of matters. Because of endemic rape and sexual violence, combined with some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, women are routinely forced to give birth against their will.

El Salvador is not the only country that locks up women for having miscarriages. The spread of regressive “personhood” laws across the United States has led to many women being threatened with jail for manslaughter when they miscarry – even as attacks on abortion rights make it harder than ever for American women to choose when and how they become pregnant, especially if they are poor.

Imagine that you have a friend in her early twenties whose partner gave her a helpful list of what she should and should not eat, drink and otherwise insert into various highly personal orifices, just in case she happened to get pregnant. Imagine that this partner backed his suggestions up with the threat of physical force. Imagine that he routinely reminded your friend that her potential to create life was more important than the life she was living, denied her access to medical care and threatened to lock her up if she miscarried. You would be telling your friend to get the hell out of that abusive relationship. You would be calling around the local shelters to find her an emergency refuge. But there is no refuge for a woman when the basic apparatus of power in her country is abusive. When society puts social control above women’s autonomy, there is nowhere for them to escape.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle