Of disposable males and dispensible females.

The BF and I got into an argument over this article, on the website Role Reboot.

The article basically examines death v/s gender from a historical persepective, and questions whether ‘dying for someone’ is an instinct to protect the ones you love or whether it’s a gendered ‘role’ played by men. I agree with the former , and pooh pooh at the latter suggestion- most mothers, of most species will risk their lives to save their offspring.

It also touches upon the concept of ‘male disposability’ – the notion that men’s lives have had less value than women’s- because men in times of war/sinking ships/natural disasters have had to ‘give up’ their chance at survival to save women (and children).

As the article ends up proving, this concept is utterly laughable at- simply because childbirth has killed more humans than wars ever have.

This bit about childbirth REALLY is close to my heart- so I decided to blog about it.

The proof that pregnancy and childbirth are inherently dangerous comes from the existence of a statistical indicator – the Maternal Mortality Ratio.

The MMR , simply put, is the death of a woman, while pregnant or within 42 days of birth, from a cause related to her pregnancy or labour. It’s usually expressed in terms of 100,000 live births – that is- number of mothers dying to the ratio of babies born.

(Also- and this fact is vitally important and glaringly obvious- there’s no such thing as a Paternal Mortality Ratio- nobody has ever died from becoming a father- simply because nobody dies from having sex!)

A little bit of digging yielded the fact that in 1946 , the estimate of MMR in India was over 2000! By 1990 , this had improved to 570- and is currently hovering under 300. That means 2-3 women die in India, when 1000 babies are born- die not from disease, or accidents, but from fulfilling their biological role in the human species.

The most telling data , comes from the UK- from an MMR of 5500 in 1850’s – a steep decline to around 8.

It stands to reason that it’s not the pregnancy/labour that actually kill women- but the complications that arise from them. The complications have occured since the beginning of time , and still occur now, in much the same way- the only difference is that we can do something about them.

It follows that better manangement of these complications means more women now survive what would otherwise have been an potentially dangerous 11 month period in their lives.

THAT is why, in every culture, there is a best of luck type ceremony prior to labour- kubsa/godh-bharai/baby shower- getting through a pregancy safely was (and still is) laudable.

In fact,  if you think about it, nothing has improved the lot of womenkind as much as the modernisation of the field of obstetrics-simply because it has converted a universal, once nearly-fatal experience into a more benign and relatively less stressful one.

I mean that ‘relatively’ very very much. In India, the oh-so-cliched many Indias in one country- I’ve had the (mis)fortune to have worked in OBGYN in government centers only- where women are little more than breeding cattle in the eyes of their families.

I’m sorry to say, that in our country, people on the lower end of the social scale still have the kind of pregnancies and labour that are horrifyingly dangerous and unpleasant.These are sometimes fatal, sometimes just temporary setbacks to health, but always invisible amongst statistics.

I have personally yelled at a husband who refused to donate blood to his wife who was birthing his child (his mother yelled back at me) , I’ve delivered the baby of HIV positive women who screamed curses at absent husbands who had infected them,I’ve seen women IGNORED completely after they’ve birthed that precious male baby- suffice to say a female baby meant both mother and baby ignored.

In this melee, where a woman’s wellbeing and health is not even a priority for the husband/his family- there’s only so much even healthcare can do!

Of course, none of this applies to people like you and me with our mostly first world preoccupation with birth plans and water births and fancy hospitals- but if you were ever curious to see the true place of ‘average’ women in Indian society, just visit the OBGYN ward of any government hospital-I guarantee that the vast improvement in our MMR statistics will begin to look like a joke.


2 thoughts on “Of disposable males and dispensible females.

  1. I have to side with your boyfriend on this one. In most medieval warring tribes, women overwhelmingly outnumbered men. In my own tribe, the high attrition rate of men led to the implementation matriarchy and the dismantling of the institutionalized marriage-family system (since family minded men would be less ready to die in tribal wars). In other tribes, polygamy and polyamoury became commonplace, because of the skewed gender ratio. It is only with the development of modern day agricultural AND urban societies that the scales tilted in men’s favour.
    Men were traditionally the disposable gender, while women were the more protected ones. That women died during childbirth was nature’s inherent sexism, the effect of which humankind has been trying to over-ride with our civic codes and scientific advancements.
    As for the examples, you have put up, isn’t it a socio-economic class issue? The lower socio-economic class of India is essentially survivalist – so women are seen as nothing more than child bearing and rearing objects; while men have little value as anything more than money making machines. You will realise the disposability of men even in this class, once you observe how men who aren’t economically useful are treated (mentally ill, severely disabled, etc.). By the way, do you have a statistical evidence to prove that more women died during childbirth than men in wars?


    • I think that men and women have both been disposable, through the ages albeit for different reasons.
      Many men have certainly died protecting women, and women were definitely relatively protected in times of war, but it is contentious to label many of these deaths are ‘for’ women. Historical times were filled with conflict, and men did not have choice but to fight- so it is wrong to paint all these deaths as some sort of debt of gratitude that is owed to men by women.
      I agree that maternal deaths were often inevitable, but I think the writer of the article that I linked to brought it up to ‘prove’ that women can claim maternal deaths as a debt owed by men in the same fashion.

      As for the class issue, wouldn’t you say that any study of war, death and disease would bring up a similar class issue? Being a well off woman protects you from the risk of childbirth,just as being a wealthy man would make it less likely for you to die in a war.

      And I concede that I do not have data to back my claim of deaths from childbirth v/s war. However, even as recently as 2010, global maternal deaths were in the range of 300,000 per year (WHO)- and I can’t seem to find such a high figure for deaths due to conflict in the same year (on Wikipedia).
      This is in spite of major advances in the field of obstetrics.


Go on, you know you want to say it :)

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