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Chrissie Swan: public intervention

By Karen Pickering - posted Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Recently I was out to dinner for a dear friend's birthday. It was a steakhouse and the orders around the table called for rare, medium rare, rare and medium.

When the waiter got to my friend she said "And you'll have yours well done." to which my friend replied "No, thanks, I'll have medium too". The waiter then explained that as she was pregnant the restaurant could only serve her steak well done.

After a collective gasp around the table and various comments along the lines of 'you've got to be kidding' and 'that can't be right', the waiter offered to go and check with the chef. While she was gone I was struck by the hurt and humiliation on my friend's face.


We were out to celebrate her birthday and she'd just been treated like a child. I could see her eyes glistening.

The waiter returned and confirmed that yes, the chef would not serve a steak to a pregnant woman unless it was well done. Some negotiations with the manager later and we "won" the "right" to have her order changed.

It's an unofficial sport in our society to speculate on the bodies of women – are they too fat, too thin, pregnant yet, not pregnant, showing stretch marks, using contraceptives, having abortions, having too much sex, not enough sex, or wearing "appropriate" clothing. In every culture, women's bodies are battlegrounds where patriarchy and capitalism intersect to make life difficult for women trying exercise bodily autonomy.

Women's bodies are scrutinised and policed from every angle, and this process only intensifies during pregnancy.

So when Chrissie Swan made the emotional confession yesterday that she'd been smoking cigarettes from time to time during her pregnancy, I immediately braced myself for the inevitable orgy of public outrage. It came.

So far I've read that she's a bad mother, a disgusting person, selfish, stupid, and irresponsible. I've seen people say they feel sorry for her children. I've seen others conflate her inability to stop smoking with a lack of control over her weight, and suggestions that if she can't handle the stress of her many jobs, maybe she shouldn't have them.


I feel certain that all of these commentators would welcome a photographer trailing them all day to capture their every move, so that the public may pass judgment and decide whether they're living their lives correctly.

Leaving aside that this public conversation is only happening because a photographer caught her smoking alone in her car (a practice I find disturbing and unethical, the photography not the smoking) Chrissie Swan admitted today that she's been unable to fully give up smoking while pregnant.

She's addicted to smoking and she's struggling to cut it out of her life. Medical professionals and anti-smoking campaigners are in agreement that it's one of the hardest drugs to kick, so shouldn't we be supportive and empathetic towards someone struggling to do just that?

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This article was first published in The Hoopla.

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About the Author

Karen Pickering (@jevoislafemme) is the creator and host of Cherchez la Femme, Melbourne’s monthly talkshow on current affairs and popular culture from a feminist perspective. More information @cherchezlafemmo and

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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