It is 2:30am and I am lying in bed, squirming under the covers with a face of sheer panic. I feel, and look, ridiculous. Later, when I have asked my long-suffering boyfriend to sleep downstairs, I will question whether I've finally lost it. The problem, you ask? A quick browse on NHS direct will tell you that symptoms include (but are not limited to): bloating, mild to extreme embarrassment, a comical 'parping' sound, and a high possibility of emitting odour.* Yes, that's right, I have a severe case of dying-to-fart-itis, and I'm finally at breaking point.
Don't get me wrong, as a self-confessed neurotic with a flatulence phobia, I know I am on the extreme end of the spectrum, and yet there's something about passing gas that puts the modern woman's knickers in a twist. Simply type "women fart partner" into Google and the search produces over three million results. A flurry of anxiety-driven forum threads written for, and by, constipated women everywhere. I tease only one from the male perspective -written in an agony "uncle" style, it proclaims that while men can fart freely after 'six months of continuous dating', women are 'never allowed to fart in front of their significant other. Period.' I'd say this was pretty disheartening stuff.
But what is it that makes the fairer species cripple at the thought of releasing some intestinal pressure, and that this release may lead to romantic or social repercussions? "It's not that I can't fart in front of him," a friend admits over lunch when I tell her what I plan to write on. "I just know that he finds it unattractive. So I don't." We're in a crowded cafe just past Waterloo; I've ordered a large glass of fizzy coke and can't help but find it ironic when the gassy bubbles begin to pop round the rim. "And does he let rip in your company?" I ask later as we part ways at the station.
"All the god damn time."
Of course, this is not to imply that men are blasting them out left, right and centre while women stand in horror, noses pinched and arms folded. But there is clearly a level of double standards here. We can all agree, male and females alike, that farting exceeds the Richter Scale in terms of 'least desirable bodily function.' It just so happens that it is deemed even more undesirable in women. According to psychologist Nick Haslam, in his study Psychology In The Bathroom, much of this comes down to "gender-related social roles [...] rather than biological sex itself" as differences between the sexes in "flatulence-related attitudes and practices seem to be a matter of stereotypical masculinity and femininity." Could it be that girls are taught to find farting gross because it is somehow against their 'inherent' womanliness? Quite possibly.
If you're a fan of the mobile app, Vine, you may have seen a six-second clip video entitled: GUYS vs. GIRLS: FARTING, which went viral in late 2013. If you haven't, let me give you a brief synopsis: Three guys and a girl sit in a room. One guy farts and they all laugh. Girl farts and cue shrieks of horror, before girl gets smacked in the face with a pillow and tumbles -- like a stain on her sisterhood -- out the window. This is a vine featured in a YouTube compilation currently holding a view count of 27,307,546 million. Femininity and farting? An irreconcilable union?
Despite the achievements made over the last century on gender equality, with feminists the world over calling 2016 the key year "for women's rights and gender equality", there are still those who like to pretend women are somehow ethereal. God forbid we accept women as excreting, gas-producing beings just like their male counterparts: would this remove their supposed purity? If so, what then?