January 18, 2012
I recently attended the gathering of roughly 300 concerned citizens reacting to the firebombing of a Jewish synagogue in a neighboring town. The rabbi and his family of seven live above the synagogue in the residence. Mercifully, no one was injured, but, of course, the family is shaken: scared because of the violence and saddened because of the hate.
‘Hate,’ similar to ‘violence,’ is a rather ambiguous concept, prone to semantic dispute. When asked to define either of these terms, most people tend to recall their own experiences for explanation: People hate me because I’m Jewish/Muslim/Black/Gay/Female, etc. Violence is beating/rape/spitting/yelling obscenities/shooting a gun, etc. Because of these discrepancies, we tend to forget that others too experience hate and violence in their own unique ways. Hate and violence are personal, and things we think we own.
At the vigil, members of the community, politicians and local clergymen made grand statements describing their outrage and expressing hope for peace and unity between the Jewish community and their own. I leaned forward and whispered in the ear of our minister, “You should make a statement, if you feel comfortable. Please mention that we are an open and affirming congregation that welcomes people of all sexual orientations.” He nodded.
There were many different kinds of people at the gathering, mostly varying on the basis of religion. The yarmulke on Jewish men, habit on Catholic nuns, and kufi on Muslim imams signified diversity. Then there was our Protestant pastor with no distinguishing religious attire – that I can recall, just a tweed jacket and a gentle expression. He rose and spoke on the subject of disbelief: how he and others couldn’t understand how such a heinous act could occur here, in this quiet little burg.
And that was all he said.
Oh well, I thought; there’s a missed opportunity to plug our mission. Perhaps he didn’t feel comfortable being OPENLY gay in a crowd of people who aren’t open to people being gay. I can certainly respect that, since you never know when and where hate and subsequent violence can sprout. Perhaps the mention would have caused a riot. After all, this is not a community that’s hosting vigils for LGBTQ (the ‘Q’ stands for Queer) individuals who are survivors of violence, firebombing or otherwise.
Wait just a minute! Why is that? Why is this community, which purports to accept and love all religions (or at least those on display), not professing its love (or lack of hatred) for gays? This wasn’t just a missed opportunity for a little PR, it was a missed opportunity to remind religious folk of their hypocrisy: loving those who follow the heteronormative formula, and rejecting those who don’t.
Even while the inter-faith flag flew, it was easy to tell that topic at hand was not simply hatred or violence. Instead, it was hatred and violence against a pristine family, one with a composed yet doting father, a beautiful mother and five precious children who – aside from fittingly, physically resembling their parents – look like they’ve just stepped out of an ad for GapKids®. So they look normal…acceptable? They follow the rules. And the rules are these: be born, squelch your natural instincts if you don’t fit the hetero formula, grow up, date and marry a member of the opposite sex, have children and die. Happy? Probably not. The restrictive gender binary that holds our society together is gradually tearing us apart because we collectively resist change and adhere to an antiquated understanding of “the way things should be.”
Our church, open and affirming though it may be, is not superior to this resistance. Just try offering up a suggestion for change: “That’s not the way we do it.” We’ll never get and keep new members if we’re sticks in the mud. But the reason I joined this church is because I wanted to be social in an environment that has boldly crossed the current frontier: we love the people who identify as LGBTQ. And this was not something that was easily fostered: many left the church after it adopted an O&A stance, not necessarily because they weren’t open to these identities, but because they couldn’t commit to affirming them. And now, here we are: the product of some old thinking, some new thinking, but with both feet firmly planted on the side of love. I think Jesus would approve.
It’s easy to point to LGBTQ and say “they’re the victims” these days. Bullying and suicide have reached extreme levels in our American society. But the truth is queer bias is simply a fallout from our all too rigid gender binary which informs the aforementioned formula. Look at how we react to the likes of a Susan Sarandon/Tim Robbins pairing. Many remark, “Why don’t they just get married?!” Marriage is the crucible upon which we tend to level our fear of the unknown or the undesirable. This is not just because of a fear that gays and lesbians marrying will breach the gender binary (and cost the government millions in lost tax revenue)… No, it’s the manifestation of our deeper need to put people into categories: male/female, masculine/feminine, married/single/widowed/divorced, secular/non-secular, working mother/domestic mother, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, socialist (gasp!)/capitalist, violent/non-violent, Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Christian, etc. GEEZ – we’re judgemental! But that keeps us safe, right?! (It’s a pity that Sarandon and Robbins have split…just as we were starting to get a handle on the concept of domestic partnership!)
If you’re not normal and we can’t understand you, we hate you. Period. I wanted my daughter to be exposed to diversity at the gathering, and I was sorry for the lack of it beyond religious/ethnic categorization…or at least obvious categorization. Some people still have to hide. Perhaps worse: some people still believe they do even when it’s safe?
Of course, it’s completely impossible to quantify hate. I mean, the synagogue incident is terrorism; it’s horrible! It’s not the byproduct of a greater hatred than that which exists for other terrorized peoples. We can’t be in the business of oppression olympics, even if we are identifying systemic causes of violence. If someone says, “Life is harder for me because transgendered people can’t use public restrooms without dirty looks and, in some places, physical assault,” someone else could say, “Yeah?! Well millions of Jews died in the Holocaust!” or “Did you know that one in six women in the United States is the victim of rape?” etc. Any hatred and resulting violence is wrong: even if it’s just a mean word designed to hurt feelings. (DO NOT SAY IT!)
But in the wake of hatred and violence directed at you, try to remember that it is also directed elsewhere. Reach out with love. And if you haven’t experienced a beating or a rape or a firebombing…remember this: there’s always tomorrow. And somebody probably hates you too.
November 27, 2011
We’re all guilty of it: self-righteous indignation (SRI) is the little voice inside your head whispering (or shouting), “I’m right and you’re wrong!” when we observe the actions of others. Most often, you hear this voice when you’re driving, notes one self-identified “licensed therapist”:
The term ‘self-righteous’ is defined by yourdictionary.com as ‘filled with or showing a conviction of being morally superior, or more righteous than others; smugly virtuous.’
Beautiful. That’s exactly it. Not virtuous, but smugly virtuous. It is about feeling superior to someone else. Most of us are most easily tempted into self-righteous indignation when driving. The driver ahead of us is driving too slow, too fast, cuts us off or makes some other terribly heinous error. And we are filled with outrage. We lay on the horn and yell and make sure everyone around knows that driver is not driving ‘correctly’ (or at least how we define correct driving). The nerve of that guy! What a loser.
As a mother, I deal with a constant flood of SRI. First, as a pregnant woman, I was subject to unsolicited advice about my diet, my sleep patterns, my maternity clothes, my exercise habits, etc. Apparently, everybody is an authority on pregnancy…even most men! I didn’t know much, so I listened.
Now, as mother to a 16 month-old, I feel I may know even less, because there’s a whole new strain of SRI coming my way: advice about her diet, her sleep patterns, the outfits I put her in, how much activity she gets, and more! Apparently, everybody is an authority on motherhood too…and the worst offenders are other mothers.
Why? Because we can’t avoid that voice in our heads yelling that we know what’s best. And, because we’re mothers and thus very important people (certainly this is true in our own lives!), we feel we are obligated to make sure that other mothers know what’s what. That means openly criticizing everything other mothers do: from what they wear on/feed/do to their own bodies to what they put on/feed/do to their kids. I’ve even heard mothers criticize other mothers for totally unrelated things, such as only checking email once per week or volunteering for charitable causes in their spare time. “How come she can’t make time to check email on weekdays?!” “How come she has enough time to raise money for cancer research?!”
What it really comes down to is this: we all make choices. Some of those choices line up with those made by our friends and some just don’t. And it’s really hard to hear opposition to your choices if you’ve spent a lot of time weighing your options in order to make an educated decision.
Case in point
A recent public service announcement issued by the City of Milwaukee Health Department (CMHD) claiming that co-sleeping with your baby is just as dangerous as positioning your baby next to a sharp knife has some parents outraged:
The CMHD justifies this ad reporting an alarming statistic: “Between 2006 and 2009 there were 89 infant deaths related to SIDS, SUDI, or accidental suffocation. Of these, 46 (51.7%) infants were sleeping in an adult bed at the time of their death. The overall rate of such deaths has remained high in the last decade, prompting public health officials to launch a provocative city-wide safe sleep campaign to prevent them.”
Sounds like their hearts are in the right place. Who wouldn’t want to prevent 46 infant deaths?! But to a parent who has put a lot of time, energy and thought into his or her choice to co-sleep, this ad comes across as flip, dismissive, insincere and of course – because it is – self-righteous. The CMHD is saying, “We know what’s best for you and your baby,” or, in other words, “You are doing it all wrong!” For a parent who has made a loving decision to create a family bed, receiving a message like this is like getting a slap in the face…or a knife in the back.
SRI: a good thing?
When you visit the CMDH Web site and read its rationale, you might reconsider co-sleeping based on statistical evidence that suggests it’s dangerous. Perhaps, if you’re a heavy person and a heavy sleeper, co-sleeping is not the best choice for you and your baby. Maybe the Department’s information will help you create a safe compromise: in-room crib sleeping, using a co-sleeper pulled up to your bed, opting for an in-bed nest with firm boundaries to keep you from rolling on top of your baby, etc. In this case, the information is a good thing: it has alerted you to the potential hazards of sleeping with your baby.
But if you have a principled stance in favor of co-sleeping in place – because you want to be able to breastfeed in the night or because you believe in continuum parenting, etc., then the information may be something you already knew and had considered…and the posters of babies sleeping next to knives might come across as snide. Snide is NOT a good thing.
While the posters, like much unsolicited advice, are meant to be helpful – and it’s up to all of us to accept this advice graciously because we too are just as likely to dish it, when messages are snide – or read as snide, they are hurtful. It’s not surprising that some parents were offended by the arguably glib suggestion that co-sleeping is akin to the Psycho shower scene, because it’s a deliberate exaggeration to make a point. And it worked! It got our attention…but that doesn’t mean that feelings did not get hurt in the process.
Is SRI a Feminist issue?
Yes. Feminism is, for all intents and purposes, a form of self-righteous indignation. It’s basically one set of people saying to another set of people, “We’re right about women and you’re wrong.” And, even when Feminists are not talking about how wrongfully men treat women, they’re telling other Feminists how to behave. It’s incredibly self-righteous for radical Feminists to refer to liberal feminists as “fun fems,” for instance, suggesting that the libs are trying to win favor with men by engaging in sex with them. Feminism is full of infighting, even though, supposedly, we’re all trying to eradicate the misconceptions that women are by default shrewish, ignorant, weak, etc. The best thing we can do for our cause is to conduct ourselves with grace, listen to and contemplate the opinions of other Feminists (even if they have a snide tone), and respond politely with, at the very least, egalitarian respect.
Consider this advice from the good “therapist”:
If you are guilty of this pattern (of SRI), how do you stop it?
1. Instead of deciding what people should be doing, look at what they are doing and then decide how to react to it.
2. If you find yourself condemning people, examine your motives. Is the issue itself really that important? Is it really worth your time and energy? Is this really a battle you want to take on? Or are you doing it for some other reason?
3. Feel your feelings. How do you feel when you are complaining about or reporting this behavior? Superior? Powerful? Is that the true motivation for it, rather than righting a wrong?
4. Examine the effects. What effects is this behavior having on your life? Has it damaged your career? Cost you friends? Caused conflict within your family?
5. Repeat after me: “I cannot change other people’s behavior, only my own.” You have no power over other people. Whatever they are doing is what they are going to do. The only person you can change is yourself. And most of us have more than enough work to do developing ourselves without taking on other people’s issues.
Self-righteous indignation is a heady, powerful emotion that can be quite (exhilarating). But it comes at a high cost. If you can only bring yourself up by putting other people down perhaps you need to look at that. Perhaps your time and energy would be better spent developing your own character rather than shooting down other people’s.
After all, my SRI isn’t any better than your SRI!
March 26, 2011
“What would you rather do: make 80 cents on the dollar or have your head cut off?”
Um, those are my only choices? (If that’s true, I’ll cut my own head off.) Quite obviously, I’d rather…make 100 cents on the dollar and keep my head, Bill Maher. Yes, the liberal commentator – in making his morally relativistic point that “degree matters” in the maltreatment of women – posed that question to talk show host Tavis Smiley on Maher’s Feb. 18 “Real Time.” Why? Apparently, according to Maher, it’s important to understand the difference between United States sexism and Muslim-world sexism. We non-Muslim Americans should be patting ourselves on our backs for only hating women…a little.
Smiley replied that sexism isn’t relative: “It’s either right or it’s wrong. It’s either acceptable or it’s unacceptable.” Exactly! Thank you! And Bill Maher was arguing that sexism on the lesser end of the spectrum – such as paying women less money than men get for equal work – is acceptable because it’s not as bad as violence (which we have plenty of in the U.S., by the way). No. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! He also said that the statement that women are being maltreated in the U.S. is “bull shit.”
And in case you think Maher’s sexism begins and ends with women, think again. He also said a mouthful about how men are universally uncivilized by default: “Civilization begins with civilizing the men. The women are sort of already there.” What?! Been to a sorority hazing lately, Bill? Women are often equally less civilized than what would be desired. Not only can we be equally productive, we can also be equally destructive.
Smiley had the last laugh, however. Maher tried to diss Smiley’s liberalism by saying, “When you tolerate intolerance, you’re not really being a liberal.” (That should be embroidered on a pillow.) But, Bill, you’re the one tolerating sexism – or sexist intolerance: “I mean, in this country, we treat women badly because they don’t get equal pay, or someone calls you ‘sugar tits,’ or something like that.” I guess he doesn’t read past front page headlines. (To be fair to Maher, rape stories usually are buried on page 10.)
“One of the things that is troubling is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, ‘Hey look, we’re having children. We’re not married, but we’re having these children, and they’re doing just fine.’ But there aren’t really a lot of single moms out there who are making millions of dollars every year for being in a movie. And I think it gives a distorted image that yes, not everybody hires nannies, and caretakers, and nurses. Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can’t get a job, and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care. And that’s the story that we’re not seeing, and it’s unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.”
We’ll get to sexism in a moment, but I’d first like to point out the Republican double standard at work in this Mike Huckabee quote from a radio interview with Michael Medved earlier this month: Republicans champion the likes of Bristol Palin completing her out-of-wedlock pregnancy before completing her high school matriculation, but Natalie Portman – a Harvard University graduate, is the enemy? Now, I would never claim that an Ivy Leaguer is more prepared to successfully handle pregnancy and motherhood than any other woman…I leave that to the conservatives. That is what Huckabee was saying: “most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can’t get a job…” But, married or otherwise, Portman does not consider herself single. So, whether she hires a nanny or not, she and the father of their child purport to be united as parents…ergo, she will not be poor or jobless because she has the help of a supportive partner and thus time enough to work outside the home. And Mikey, single mothers have a job: it’s called “raising a child.” The pay is shit, but it’s nonetheless a JOB!!!
Bristol Palin – of the pantheon of young women fighting the temptation to choose to terminate their pregnancies so they can get on with their lives unfettered (let me add that this is – quite obviously – a choice that plagues ONLY women) – is somehow heroic to Republicans. But here’s what Palin and Portman have in common: money. Neither is married, but neither is poor. So if there’s glamorizing going on, it’s happening in both places. Not all single mothers are poor, just as not all married mothers aren’t. In fact, as of 1993, only about 40% of the women receiving food stamps in the U.S. had never been married, and a similar portion were currently married, according to a report by the Census Bureau. Ergo, matrimony does not an autonomous mother guarantee. It’s sexist to assume that only the presence of a man makes for a financially stable family.
The real sexism at work here, however, is making this statement targeted at any woman…at all. That’s because it automatically implies that pregnancy is the fault of women and women alone. The last time I checked, pregnancy results from sex/fertilization between lady AND man bits. The instructions that Huckabee and other anti-Choicers (thanks to my girlfriend L***** for encouraging my use of this term) – many of them Democrats – are sending are mixed: don’t have children out-of-wedlock, but don’t terminate your pregnancies either…and don’t come to us for help to feed your unwanted babies once you do as we say (not as we do, sometimes). We won’t let you choose, but we won’t support your forced hand either.
Sure, they’d love us all to abstain from sex…but that’s not really plausible in a rape culture, and one in which we’re constantly bombarded by both temptation (sex sells) and the message that sex is bad for us or morally wrong (don’t teenagers do everything they’re told not to do?). Once there’s a pregnancy and the abstain message is no longer valid, the completion of the pregnancy is a must…which, let’s face it, is often a problem for women alone. I mean, teenage girls lose their scholarships, jobs, families, etc. over pregnancy; yet, in most cases, all a teenage boy need do is deny he’s the sperm (I’d write “father” but that’s really too generous a designation for one who had sex…that one time…and then conveniently “forgot” about it). Huckabee should be commending Natalie Portman’s partner, Benjamin Millepied. He’s there. He’s responsible. He may not yet be married; but he will be a father. Marriage is etched with ink on a piece of paper; parenthood is etched with blood on our souls.
“It’s just destroyed our community. These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”
Why is it that, whenever there’s an alleged gang rape (as in the November 2010 incident in Cleveland, Texas detailed in this March 8 New York Times article) , people express concern for the accused? True, the accused are not always guilty; and the victim(s) is not always telling the truth. But wouldn’t it be better to reserve comments such as this – spoken by Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker – until the verdict is in. Assuming the accuser is lying is just as bad as assuming the accused are guilty, is it not?
The fuss over victim-blaming in the aforementioned article reached newsworthy status – and hopefully brought attention to the alleged rape – after Change.org set up a petition to shame the New York Times into apologizing for its story. The specific language in question is as follows:
Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.
I didn’t sign the petition. I think this proves victim-blaming – a hot topic in the feminist blogosphere – on the part of residents but not on the part of the reporter. (I myself have been accused of victim-blaming for admitting to a plan to encourage my daughter to avoid drinking from open containers at frat parties in college. I don’t agree with this reaction because I think preventative measures taken to avoid possible sexual assault are appropriate, though certainly not safety guarantees. Unfortunately, if I tell my daughter not to drink from open containers, but then she does anyway…and then she’s raped; it sounds like I should be saying “Well, I told you not to drink from open containers…so it’s your fault you were raped.” It’s never the victim’s vault. This is a tricky situation. I hope we can evolve to be a culture in which women, and some men, don’t have to curb their own behavior to avoid becoming rape victims.)
I agree with Arthur S. Brisbane and his New York Times’ follow-up to the reaction to its earlier article:
My assessment is that the outrage is understandable. The story dealt with a hideous crime but addressed concerns about the ruined lives of the perpetrators without acknowledging the obvious: concern for the victim.
While the story appeared to focus on the community’s reaction to the crime, it was not enough to simply report that the community is principally concerned about the boys and men involved – as this story seems to do. If indeed that is the only sentiment to be found in this community – and I find that very hard to believe – it becomes important to report on that as well by seeking out voices of professional authorities or dissenting community members who will at least address, and not ignore, the plight of the young girl involved.
It should have struck the writer, and subsequently his editor, that the story “lacked balance.” But prior to that, it should have been obvious to Cleveland community members that rape is not justifiable, EVER! – and certainly not in cases where an 11 year-old girl wears make-up.
Again, reserve your judgement. It’s okay to express sadness for all involved, but not at the expense of the accuser.
Up next, from comedian Bill Maher:
“What would you rather do: be gang-raped at age 11, or have your head cut off?”
June 9, 2010
The countdown ’til baby for me is just under eight weeks. This time in my life has been a precious experience. There are days when I feel like the most beautiful and powerful woman in the world, and days when I want my body back so I can do all of the things I used to: drink alcohol in moderation, swim a mile with the crawl stroke, have comfortable sex with my husband rather than “Tetris sex,” or even just walk up a flight of stairs without becoming winded. And there are days when I look around the world – my locale, the newspapers, the blogosphere, etc. – and I realize that this exciting time isn’t universal even though it should be. Pregnancy and its resulting motherhood in its best form should be a choice lauded by others, for all women who want it. It isn’t.
Here are just a few of the pregnancy and motherhood related issues at large in the world today:
- Maternal mortality is on the rise. According to the Los Angeles Times and others, the maternal mortality rate in the United States has doubled in the past 10 years putting this country’s death rate higher than 40 other industrialized nations. Two women die from pregnancy-related complications every day in the U.S. And while that may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the 11,000 or so babies that are born here each day, it’s still a scary number when you picture the faces of moms-to-be whom you know. “For each death, experts estimate, there are about 50 instances of complications related to pregnancy or childbirth that are life-threatening or cause permanent damage.” What are the causes of these complications and deaths, a third of which experts say are preventable? Obesity, increases in age of expectant mothers, increased implementation of cesarean sections, increased elective induction of labor by medicines, and over-reliance on electronic monitoring devices are being blamed as the main culprits of maternal death.
- Is it okay to fat shame a mom-to-be? The New York Times reports that growing obesity among pregnant women is linked to higher risks of birth defects, cesareans (risky for moms) and even death for newborns. While this rise in obesity has been met publicly with disdain from the healthcare industry and subsequently a rebuttal argument of obesity support from those under attack – accounting for everything from the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup, trans fat and other additives found in inexpensive foods to even the perils of dieting and being too thin, etc. – in the case of pregnancy, obesity may have more to do with a failure on the part of the mother, putting her unborn child at risk due to her obesity, than her right to maintain her own body the way she wants to or is even able. It must be tricky for doctors to address this issue with their patients because conventional wisdom suggests that moms-to-be shouldn’t try to lose weight during pregnancy. (I had to drop out of Weight Watchers when I conceived because the program no longer offers a pregnancy plan.) But a doctor can’t tell an overweight woman not to have a baby, can (s)he? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to the pro-life argument: you can’t do with your body what you will because of the rights of your unborn child?
- Abortion might mean eugenics for some. According to Womanist Musings, “(a)n anti-abortion group in Atlanta is targeting Black women by putting up billboards stating that Black children are an endangered species.” The New York Times also reports that some activists consider Planned Parenthood to be a racist organization that promotes elevated abortion rates among black women, with blacks accounting for 13 percent of the U.S. population yet 40 percent of its abortions. While Womanist Musings writer Renee upholds the validity of this fear while negating its foundations in a provable truth, she – as a womanist – asks for white pro-abortion activists to get involved in standing up for the rights black women share to elect abortion procedures. It makes me very sad indeed to think of a racist telling a happy expectant mother that she should abort under the guise that she’s better off without her baby, when really they mean that we’re better off. But I am sickened by the idea that some activists are telling women that they should keep their unwanted pregnancies because it’s their duty to their race.
- Men think pregnancy is ALL ABOUT THEM! According to CNN, dads-to-be run the risk of postpartum depression too. Okay, I’ll buy that. But they don’t run the risk of maternal mortality, fistulas, varicose veins, back spasms, incessant heartburn and much, much more due to pregnancy. So sack up, dads! Now, it is true that the males of many species can act as incubators for embryos during the early months of fetal development. But only seahorse males have the unique privilege of being “pregnant dads-to-be” simply because of their inherent anatomy. While transsexual human males have given birth successfully, their pregnancies are due to inherent female anatomy (though, by choice, these men are known as “males”). Why would a cis male want to serve as a fetus incubator? Is it that he just can’t stand that females have one power that he doesn’t? Why does science need to find out if this unnatural occurrence is possible when there are so many other challenges it could be conquering: Alzheimer’s, autism, maternal mortality, etc.? By the way, guys, early scientists believed that women were “just incubators” and, until a couple of hundred years ago, didn’t believe female anatomy played any special role in conception and delivery of newborn babies. We know better today. I happen to believe that our reproductive anatomy may be the one cis privilege women have over men. So back the fuck off! And just because your wife has given birth, doesn’t mean you have the right to tell me how to run my pregnancy “the right way.”
- Feminist mothers are under fire. I recently read more stay-at-home mom hatred on a radical feminist blog. One writer posted something about moms being too preoccupied with baby stuff “to do the reading.” What the fuck does that mean?! Do women who go off to careers or jobs every morning outside the home have more time during the day to read than moms providing in-home childcare? Do childcare workers also fail “to do the reading” too? Is it the baby stuff or the mom stuff that cuts into women’s “intellectual development?” (Apparently, I’m standing on the precipice of ignorance because of the major time-suck my child – wanted as she is – will be for me!) Intellectual development like exercise is something we make time for. And there are many fine activists who are also mothers. Crystal Lee Sutton (the real “Norma Rae”) died in 2009. She had three children and worked as a union organizer in North Carolina during the 1970’s, that lazy bitch!
Furthermore, an overview of Elisabeth Badinter’s new book “Conflict: The Woman and the Mother” (Badinter is of course the heir apparent of Simone de Beauvoir because she’s, ya know, French) reports that Badinter “blames feminists for inventing the idea of women as victims, putting men on trial and making maternity itself a political act.” (And she’s a feminist because…?) Badinter also thinks that women are being socially pressured into unsafe situations: “The ‘green’ mother, she says, is pushed to give birth at home, to refuse an epidural as the reflection of ‘a degenerated industrial civilization’ that would deprive her of ‘an irreplaceable experience,’ to breast-feed for both ethological and environmental reasons (plastic baby bottles) and to use washable rather than disposable diapers – in other words, to discard the inventions ‘that have liberated women.’ Which of any of those green alternatives is unsafe? Home births are controversial in the U.S. but not necessarily less safe than hospital births. As I mentioned earlier, doctors are considering what caused the rise in maternal mortality here. Funny they aren’t looking into washable diapers, right?!
- Pregnancy choices are dwindling. What I mean is this: women may not feel empowered to give birth the way they want to. And really, shouldn’t we be calling the shots? Isn’t how you give birth just as important as why and if you give birth at all? The choice to deliver naturally is in the same league as the choice of whether or not to deliver at all. Now, if your birth plan calls for an elected cesarean, a premature induction of labor, a preemptive episiotomy and the biggest, badass epidural you can find, go for it! Enjoy your “twilight sleep.” (That’s an Edith Wharton reference not a condemnation.) But if you’re like me and you want to have a natural birth unless there occurs a medical emergency, you should have that right too and not feel pressured by your obstetrician to lie flat on your back and throw your feet up in the stirrups like a cowgirl. You should be allowed to stand or squat or roll on your side or face the mattress on all fours…whatever works for your body and your baby. And you should be allowed to choose your place of birth: hospital, birthing center or home. Medical organizations in the U.S. oppose home births claiming they’re risky for moms and babies alike – but we must be skeptical about this stance since healthcare in the U.S. is centered on a capitalist, for-profit model. It is currently legal to hire a midwife and conduct a home birth in 37 states, though no state prosecutes mothers for electing to give birth at home. In Britain, Canada and Australia, to name a few, midwifery and home births are much more prevalent than in the United States. (Incidentally, it is very difficult to find reputable statistics about the (un)safety of home births. Please feel free to chime in if you have any.)
When I found out I was pregnant, I excitedly booked an appointment with my OBGYN and skipped merrily into her office where I was greeted by one automaton nurse after another shoving paperwork I didn’t understand into my face. The two big questions: do I want to elect a cesarean section and do I want to bank my baby’s cord blood? I hadn’t give either any thought. I mean, I’d assumed I would give birth vaginally because that is, after all, how birth happens. What they were telling me, in essence, was that I could elect to forgo all of the hassle of nature’s greatest surprise and declare upfront that I wanted to deliver my baby “painlessly” and according to schedule so that I didn’t miss a day of work beyond my planned maternity leave. And as to the cord blood, they were telling me that the hospital where “we like to deliver” only works with one private bank. For weeks, my husband and I tried to find a public bank we could give Ellie’s umbilical cord blood to for the good of the many and the integrity of our checking account. No public banks in our area are currently accepting blood. I have been guilt-tripped by the established medical machine into feeling like a lousy mother because I am throwing my daughter’s cord blood away.
I hired a doula. She’s going to help my husband and I experience this birth as a rite of passage instead of an emergency pathology if possible. When I talked to my OB about working with a doula, she asked rather abruptly, “She’s not going to tell me how to do my job is she?” I muttered “no” under my breath, lamenting that this doctor couldn’t look me in the eye, remember my name or think about my birthing experience beyond her role to play in it. Under the advice of the doula, I asked what position the doctor was comfortable delivering my baby in, and to my dismay, she told me that she’s only comfortable “the normal way” with me on my back and my feet up in stirrups. I was heartbroken and didn’t want to tell the doula that my voyage of discovery was going to end “normal(ly.)” How I wish medicine could be there for our risks and emergencies and leave us alone to find our inner peace. I should have made better choices or stood up for my wishes or felt empowered to choose earlier in my pregnancy…but I just didn’t know any better until now.
So, as I mentioned earlier, there are some days when I feel like a goddess and other days when I feel like I’m doing just what every other mother-to-be does and I and my baby are nothing special. Western medicine has a plan for us. It, like other feminists, has rules and expectations. My pregnancy and motherhood are violating somebody’s idea of how they should be.
On those goddess days, I fight back assumptions and shaming. But today I feel defeated. It’s time to do yoga.