I work in an office full of women. There are 21 women, to be precise, and 3 and a half men (he’s not a dwarf, he’s part-time. Oh, I crack myself up). I have, in fact, always worked in female-dominated offices – which is undoubtedly what comes of attending an all-girls boarding school and then making a career in the Charity sector followed by Publishing. I like it.
Perhaps I have subconsciously sought out such working environments because I am better able to cope with the dynamic. For instance, if a woman criticizes me – even a woman in authority – I do not automatically assume either a) that she has my best interests at heart nor b) that she must be correct. Whereas when a man criticizes me I immediately launch into an apologetic ‘mea culpa’ and attempt to address the flaw, without questioning whether the more appropriate response might actually be “Fuck off”.
I suspect this is a learned behaviour, begun in response to my over-critical father. He loved us in his way, but saw his role as being the ‘strong’ figure who would correct our faults so his interaction with us was – according to my admittedly subjective memories – almost exclusively limited to not particularly gentle criticism with a distinct touch of mockery.
It was then reinforced by relationships in my twenties and early thirties with men who seemed to consider me a work in progress; something to be improved. One used to say things like “We have to destroy you in order to rebuild you”.
I can’t believe I accepted that; believed that he was trying to help me (rather than projecting his own issues on to me) and that he loved me. He didn’t even really know me. At this point I’d like to add that if anyone tried that now I’d punch them, promise.
Anyway, I’m digressing – my point was that I find working with women much simpler. I can fairly accurately guess a woman’s feelings and thoughts and roughly predict her behaviour even when it varies wildly from my own – which it tends to.
Which brings me to my point: pregnancy and eating disorders.
In an office full of women in their late twenties through to their early forties, its pretty obvious that many of them will be trying to get pregnant. And many of them will be on diets. Less obvious perhaps is that some will have serious food issues. Currently, there are 5 women trying to get pregnant working here, 7 on diets and 2 with well-concealed eating problems. I am not in any of the above categories.
The connection? Well, both anorexia and bulimia are psychological illnesses which affect disproportionately more women than men and which have notable physiological effects which relate to fertility, including but not limited to: stopping (or not starting) menstruation, low or non-existant fertility, higher risk of miscarriage and premature or low-birth weight babies, loss of libido, inability to concentrate, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, abdominal pains and digestive problems, fine hair growth on face, arms and body, feeling cold all the time etc etc.
Here’s a list of eating disorder ‘indicators’, several of which I recognise in people I know (most sufferers will have 2 or more of these, but not all, as each case is different):
Follows a severely restricted diet. Bans ‘bad’ foods. Pretends to eat or lies about eating. Eats very little, but constantly thinks about food. May cook for others, collect recipes, read food magazines, or make meal plans. Strange or secretive food rituals. Feels fat, despite being underweight. Harshly critical of appearance, self-conscious, focuses on specific ‘bad’ areas. Uses drugs as appetite suppressants, laxatives or diuretics. Throws up after eating. Follows a punishing exercise regimen. Will exercise through injuries, illness, and bad weather.
I’m not sure where I was going with this… oh, wait, now I remember. it amazes me that we manage to get any work done sometimes, when one considers the distracting health undercurrents in this office.
As an aside – it is interesting (to me) to note some of the wider effects of my non-competitive personality. (Apart from an avoidance of card and board games which remind me of my hyper-competitive father and middle sister. Who are NO FUN to play with).
Ferrinstance: as soon as a guy I’m interested in shows any interest in another woman or if another woman shows an interest in him – I go right off him. I take such a huge step back I practically fall off the edge of the planet. Do I really just not want to compete with a ‘sister’? Or do I not want to lose??