Swine Flu: Just Another Chance for Women to Fail Each Other

I posted a blog about the swine flu vaccine on BlogHer the other day. The vitrolic response was more than a little dismaying. Here’s my response…

Most days its all quiet on the western front. My two teenagers get along, even enjoy each other’s company. My pre-teen does what he can to fit in with his older and thus, by definition, cooler siblings. But some days fighting breaks out. Bombs are lobbed into the air, explosions rock the house. On these days, I find it best to hide from the warfare around me. Yeah, that makes me a chicken but I’ve learned from great war literature that heroes die and the spineless come home.

So, when the latest female warfare erupted, when female bloggers were sending snarky, degrading,dismissive comments to other female bloggers –in essence, bullying each other– I found myself doing what comes naturally, hiding. I’ve seen it before. It starts somewhere around middle school and later in high school when girls decide the enemy is no longer boys but each other. I saw it on my first job working as a fundraiser for a legal advocacy group for women. Our honorary board member, Betty Friedan, told me over dinner I was too “pretty” to be a feminist.  I saw it in my first corporate job, when women whose heads were bumping up against the glass ceiling preferred mentoring the bright young men to the bright young women below them. I saw it when I became a mother  and I continued to work outside the home. The stay-at-home mothers had nothing good to say about my choice. I saw it when, after the birth of my third, I decide to stay home for a few years and my still working for pay friends shook their heads in dismay: “What a waste,” they said.

And now, I see it with the Swine flu vaccination debate. Instead of turning our anger at a health care system in capable of handling the hundreds of thousands (perhaps even millions) of sick children (and their parents) across the nation, a vaccine delivery system that has failed miserably leaving the vast majorities who want to be vaccinated at risk, and a government that is hoarding Tamiflu in case we need it, we fight amongst ourselves.

We castigate women who send their children to school when they show signs of illness, even though these sisters might lose their jobs if they stay home with their children.  We accuse each other of failing the social contract for not vaccinating despite the fact that the evidence is proving the vaccination is unnecessary (or perhaps more aptly irrelevant because we can’t get it!). According to the CDC only 530 lives have been lost to Swine Flu despite the 5.7 million cases recorded. Those lives lost are tragic reminders that death lives amongst us but is that a reason for women to make each other the enemy?

Let’s get mad at those in power that tell us we are failing if we don’t vaccinate and then fail to give us enough of the serum to do so. Let’s get mad at the media for creating a sense of hysteria (you know that word, don’t you? It comes from Greek and refers to women who are overly excited, specifically whose wombs are desperate and thus, who simply can’t think for themselves…but I digress) around a health issue related to our children. Let’s get made at those who have made motherhood a profession, something we women must spend our time, twenty-four/seven, at the expense of our careers and ourselves (read Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety if you really want to get mad).

Let’s stop creating more reasons to belittle, demean, and divide women. Let’s stop lobbing bombs and start crawling out of our trenches to support one another. Let’s do it for ourselves, for each other, for our children. That would be the best vaccine around.


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