Swagga like her

M.I.A. on stage at the Grammys (AP photo from the Daily Mail)There are, like, eleventeen more important issues I’ve been meaning to blog about for weeks, but since it is not currently possible to draw a breath without hearing more about this story, I have to get this out quick.

Women are more than their wombs. Women do not stop being the people they are when they get their periods, when they stop getting their periods, when they get pregnant, or when they cease to be pregnant. And the massive controversy over M.I.A.’s 9-months-pregnant performance at the Grammys on Sunday highlights how incapable our culture is of understanding that simple fact.

M.I.A. is an enormously successful music star. Her career did not fall into her lap from thin air; she worked extremely hard at it for years and years, just like every other performer on that stage that night. She did not stop being ambitious, driven, or professional because a fetus took up residence in her uterus. Her pregnancy did not change the fundamental nature of her. She is still the woman she was 10 months ago, just rounder. So then why is it surprising that she would choose to perform if at all possible? And why do so many people find it unseemly?

We have this myth that women—at least some women—can be people as long as there’s nothing going on in their uteruses. But as soon as something changes in there, BLAMMO! Instant revocation of humanity. Women having, or about to have, their periods are shrill and hysterical, screaming for no reason one minute and crying for no reason the next. Women who no longer get their periods are shriveled and mean. Women who are pregnant put out a beatific glow, and do little other than mince around delicately while gently cradling their bellies. Women who have given birth suddenly find the domestic sphere more satisfying and more important than careers or social lives.

But did your mother stop making terrible puns when she hit menopause? Did your sister stop loving baseball when she got pregnant? Does the friendly barista at your regular coffee place start spitting in your latte once a month? Did the new mom at work forget how to manage the payroll when she came back from maternity leave?

Women are people, fully realized people, with widely differing personalities. Each will react differently to the various changes her body undergoes, but those changes are primarily physical. We don’t get brain replacements every time there’s a change in the status of our uteruses. Furthermore, these changes are all either regular (menstruation) or relatively long-lasting (pregnancy, menopause, parenthood). We adjust. Anything that’s a part of your life so often or for so long, you find a way to live with it, around it, through it, whatever. We make it work.

M.I.A. made it work. Yes, obviously, she could go into labor at any minute, but that was true two weeks ago, too, and every pregnant woman has to weigh for herself the costs and benefits of putting her life on hold while waiting to deliver. And the worst that could have happened would have been that her water broke onstage which, while embarrassing, isn’t particularly dangerous. So she went for it. And she was great. Not only did she take the stage with some of the biggest male stars of hip-hop and show that she belonged, she was confident enough to show off and play up the physical changes pregnancy has wrought.

She dared to be bold, be active, be the center of attention, be sexy, and be expecting. And in our society, that’s just not acceptable.