“Blonde Jokes” and other self-fulfilling prophecies

The other day, my Page-a-Day calendar had the following bit of trivia:

Researchers at International University Bremen in Germany monitored 80 women with different hair colors as they took intelligence tests. Before the test, half the women were told “dumb blonde” jokes. (Like: “Why do blondes open containers of yogurt while they’re still in the supermarket? Because the lid says, ‘Open here.’”) Findings: The blondes who were told dumb blonde jokes took longer to complete their tests than the blondes who weren’t told jokes. Did the dumb blonde jokes make blondes dumber? No, the researchers say: The jokes made them more self-conscious.

If hearing subtly or not-so-subtly that you’re stupid can make you take longer to take a test, I wonder what effect being told that your body is broken can have on your labor?

Often, when women are in labor, they are subjected to various drugs and interventions that are not necessarily necessary nor beneficial. What effect can being put into a gown for sick people have? Or being made to lie down in bed, as if you’re too frail and helpless to do things yourself? Or being given an IV as a standard practice? Or being not allowed to go to the bathroom, instead being forced to use a bedpan? What subtle messages are sent by all the poking and prodding and monitoring that women undergo on a regular basis during labor? Certainly, some women are high-risk, so they or their babies may benefit; and intermittent auscultation of the fetal heartrate is good; but when low-risk women are being told that their bodies are defective until proven otherwise… how can that be beneficial? Does it hurt?

There are so many stories I’ve read of women who felt like, as soon as they went into the hospital, or as soon as the machines were hooked up to them, that it was the machines and the drugs that took over and did the work — they were just empty vessels, non-persons, that things were done to, rather than women working to give birth to a new life, as countless other women have done before. So sad.

On the other hand, what messages does a woman hear, when her birth team encourages her, tells her that she is doing it, that she’s strong and powerful, that things are going well, and everything will be fine!

7 Responses

  1. Why do sports teams perform better in home games? More fans cheering for them! Yes, women should have the right to encouragement and support during their labor. Unfortunately, for most the experience is more like an “away game” where there are more boos than cheers.

  2. Brilliant! I completely agree. No need to add anything there.

  3. The same is true for gender-based stereotypes, such as “women are worse at math”.

  4. That phenomenon is called Stereotype Threat and has been heavily researched by Claude Steele. I have never thought of it regarding women in labor, but it makes sense. That would be interesting to research.

  5. It is so difficult not to live down to expectations, isn’t it? And seeing the “well obviously something will go wrong — birth is a very difficult, dangerous process and you need to do as we say if you don’t want a dead baby” looks in their faces probably doesn’t help.

  6. Interesting research and the aplications to multiple facets of life!

    I remember when I was in school, we had to read some research about the effects of labeling, specifically the label high-risk. Fascinating stuff the power of words…

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