The Fem Spot

Self-righteous indignation

Posted in Feminist Theory, News by femspotter on November 27, 2011

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:

Downloaded from http://city.milwaukee.gov/SafeSleep

Downloaded from http://city.milwaukee.gov/SafeSleep

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!

Letter to a sick friend

Posted in Personal Essays by femspotter on September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011

Dear A*****,

I’m checking in. My brother tells me you have not been swimming lately. Tsk.  

Well, to be honest…I haven’t been swimming much either. I’ve discovered yoga. Apart from the feeling of strength I derive from my practice, I also find a calm, courageous mindset that renders me patient. And living in New Jersey, patience is a virtue. Nobody here seems to know what a “YEILD” sign means. And people are always cutting in line. So I just breathe and listen, pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth.

No doubt, you’ve been kept abreast of my comings and goings. B** is always quick to mention you too, and I know that he, like me before him, enjoys talking with you. What a treat – when in a menial, low-pay, low-respect job – to have a learned, articulate person, such as yourself, speak to you as an equal! I always looked forward to our chats. The rest of the day was filled with chlorine testing and chasing after lifeguards and smiling through clenched teeth at my boss…but mornings with A***** by the pool made for intellectual stimulation. Remember that I told you your celebrity lookalike, in appearance AND demeanor, is Sidney Poitier? Keep that in mind!

Well, of course, the biggest change in my life is not New Jersey, or even yoga…she’s Ellie. I had a daughter about 14 months ago. This entire experience has changed me from my core out. First, there was the awakening to boldly wanting the pain of childbirth to mark my transition to motherhood. And I had to fight with my doctors for the right to give birth naturally, on my terms. Then, there was a tiny person in my arms, needing me for everything…until, gradually, she’s needed me less and less. And now, there’s the opportunity to get to know this wonderful, magical creature a little more each day. What a thrill to meet someone who is every bit as intense as I am, but not nearly as insecure! I am learning, and learning is a lifelong endeavor.

Perhaps Ellie’s wisdom will be useful to you. I’ve boiled it down to her tenets of everyday happiness:

  1. Assume everyone thinks you’re cute (because, even if they don’t, they probably won’t tell you anyway)
  2. Always enter a room with a smile (because everyone thinks you’re cute, remember?)
  3. Make the best of a tough situation (even if you’ve pooped in your pants)
  4. Dogs have soft, warm tongues (that feel good on fingers and cheeks)
  5. Leafy green vegetables taste best when mashed in sweet potatoes (because you’ll hardly notice they’re there)
  6. Love is elastic and can stretch a little more every day

I’m sure there are many other pearls to harvest, but those are the happy thoughts I carry with me even when I’m not carrying her. I love her, A*****. I’ve really chiseled a wonderful life out of a granite point-of-view.

So, here’s hoping you get back in the pool soon! I’ll try to get there too. Let it replenish our hearts, minds and souls. In the meantime, let us go there in meditation and hold a piece of that breath in everything we do.

With great affection…

Oh, the sexist things we say…

Posted in News, Pop Culture by femspotter on March 26, 2011

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.”

Criticizing Portman for unwed motherhood when her real crime is those earings?! (Kidding.)

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.

Hmmmmm…………..

Up next, from comedian Bill Maher:

“What would you rather do: be gang-raped at age 11, or have your head cut off?”

The ugly truth about Mary

Posted in Feminist Theory by femspotter on December 29, 2010

December 29, 2010

Last week, my 5 month-old daughter made her theatrical debut as Baby Jesus in our church Christmas pageant. It was a precious happening because all of the other children, ages 3 and up, became serious and silent when they realized a real baby, and not a doll, was at the center of all the commotion. And Ellie – method actress that she is – slept soundly throughout the entire production.

I was Mary. As I sat there before the congregation in an itchy blue shawl with bobby pins pinching my scalp, I listened to the story of Jesus’ birth…or as I’ve learned to think of it: “Mary’s delivery.”

From the Bible’s Gospel according to Luke:

…God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’

‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…For no word from God will ever fail.’

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.

(Oh my! “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”?! Is that an archaic description of rape or what?! All that and she doesn’t even get to choose his name?!) This cannot possibly be accurate. (Smirk.) For starters, if we believe that Mary was indeed a virgin and then mysteriously conceived a child without having sex, it would take a lot more than a seven-sentence conversation to quell any doubts and fears she’d have about her immaculate conception. Luke doesn’t go on to tell us how Mary probably ran straight away to talk to her sisters, female cousins and friends, mother figures and others about her predicament. True to form, she would have analyzed the situation to death and tried to figure out what God Most High was thinking! Every woman would have nodded and smiled reassuringly, but inside thought to herself, “Yeah right…an angel told her that?! What a hussy!” And once the news leaked to Joseph, he and his posse of male relatives and friends would have accosted Mary until she named the father of her unborn as one other than the Lord so they could beat him to a pulp. This quiet acceptance is so…so…final century B.C.!

Additionally, I take issue with the whole virgin-conceives-the-living-god narrative, not unique to Christianity. The idea that sex – for women, at least – is dirty and cannot possibly result in a pure birth forms just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the gritty details we live in denial about – such as where and how the Holy baby comes out of the so-called virgin’s body – form the bulk. It’s easy to shrug off the biological impossibility of this conception. It’s much more difficult to accept our imperfections and our feeble humanity in the face of such grace. Not only is the baby superhuman, Mary must have been superhuman too. (Oh right – she was “highly favored.”) 

More from Luke:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin’i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them  in the inn.

What kind of a birth story is that?! There’s more language in there about a census than there is about Mary’s experience. And what the fuck do Caesar Augustus, Quirin’i-us and David have to do with it?! The words “according to” in gospel according to… are really telling. History has been written primarily by men. And in Mary’s day, this experience of pregnancy and childbirth would have been witnessed by women and its story passed from mother to daughter in an oral tradition. Were there a Gospel according to Oprah, for instance, we might know more truths about the birth of Jesus.

As it is, when I was a child, I listened to this distorted nativity story with no incredulity whatsoever. Joseph brought Mary to Bethlehem on a donkey. He knocked on the door of the inn and was told that there was no room for them inside. So, they went to the stable where she (painlessly) gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Yeah…you try riding on a donkey when you’re nine months pregnant! And there really were no inns; just homes and travellers relying on the kindness and hospitality of strangers. A stable? Fine; but note that Joseph would have had little to no knowledge of the female body. That means Mary was on her own. She had no midwife and no sisters to prop her up so that gravity could help her baby travel down and out. How did Joseph know to cut the umbilical cord? Was he put off by all of the blood and shit that comes with baby? And when Jesus had trouble latching to Mary’s breast, who helped her feed him?

Marc Chagall - La MarieeBecause history has traditionally ignored such details, we’ve lost much: the practice of midwifery has dwindled and even disappeared from certain parts of the world, and the knowledge that women are strong enough to give birth naturally has practically evaporated. And we take the authors’ word for it – or rather their lack of words – that Mary’s delivery was uneventful. There’s nothing about the actual birth of Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew: instead, Matthew chooses to focus on how Joseph was able to forgive Mary for whoring about and conceiving a baby behind his back. John and Mark don’t mention the Nativity at all.

So that’s it! That’s all Mary gets. There’s no reverence for the anguish she must have felt – as every woman feels – in the uncertain moments before giving birth to her first baby. When I had my moment of “great doubt,” I was 9 centimeters dilated and just about to begin pushing. It was then that I asked for pain medication and was encouraged to continue without by my doula. Mary had the relief of no such science, and the assistance of no such saint.

This is the part where all the MRAs chime in: “But Joseph’s experience really was harrowing!” they whine. Sure it was. It must have been very difficult to accept your betrothed’s impossible explanation for how she became pregnant without you. But what would have been really harrowing was if Joseph had knocked down the door to the “inn” and demanded that somebody give his wife a bed…and some rags and water and loving care. That’s right: a hero Joseph would have shouted, “Let us the fuck in!” And when those three idiot “wise” men showed up, he would have told them what they could really do with their gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Seriously, I can just picture the look on exhausted Mary’s face as she endures what must have been the original, extraneous baby shower; but instead of sea of pink or blue crap, she found herself with useless luxury goods. “Uh, thanks for the gum resin…really. But did you bring me anything useful, like burp cloths or a bottle warmer?”)

As a Christian, I try to find meaning in biblical stories rather than focusing on the details. But when it comes to Mary, there are no details; so what can I learn from her story about mothering? According to these accounts of her, she meant nothing more to Christianity than her anatomy, which was the vessel in which Jesus came to Earth. I wish the authors had seen it fit to value and relay her experience so that we might learn how strong, rather than subordinate, women can be.

The Nativity should not be a catalyst for women-man hatred. Ahead of his time, and perhaps even ahead of ours, German theologian Meister Eckhart (circa 1300) wrote: “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

I agree. Fuck anatomy! We could all use a little of Mary’s grace!

%d bloggers like this: