Sunday, February 27, 2011

link: covering up is a feminist issue

Annie @ PhDinParenting has produced a video version of her blog post, "covering up is a feminist issue." In some ways, it reminds me of the Vagina Monologues bit entitled "My short skirt"--applied to breastfeeding. And in some sense, that's right: it seems that part of the motivation for the video includes recent comments about women avoiding rape by not dressing like sluts. But it's the more direct public square commentary, often from other women, about how "inappropriate" it is to "NIP" (that's nurse-in-public, for the uninitiated) or to do so without hiding yourself and baby under some kind of massive tent-like cover, that's the real issue. What the video does is connect these, as well as throw in a visual cue that there are other cultural and religious standards at play as well (early in the video, you see a burka), and draw the conclusion that the more general problem is that standards of dress are imposed externally on women, in all sorts of contexts and for all sorts of reasons. Breastfeeding in public is just one of those.

One of the more subtle points in the video happens right up front, in the pairing of conflicting cultural messages to Western women--"cover up"/"strip down." While the video doesn't spell this out, this highlights the way in which women's breasts, in our culture, have become public objects in sexual contexts--but stick a baby on there, and suddenly it's gross. So we're left with a situation where cleavage is fine, but God forbid you let a curve show if you're a mom with a hungry babe.

Personally, one of the many gains I experienced as a woman finally loving and appreciating my body through experiencing pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood was learning to see my body as functional and vital--and part of that happened through redefining my breasts, not as sort of pointless objects on the front of my chest that other people seem to enjoy for some unfathomable reason, but as a necessary, important and life-giving functional part of my amazing body. This meant thinking of them as special and awesome--while at the same time, thinking of them as something akin to my elbow--just there for a reason, because I needed them to do their milk-making thing. Not just hang there and look, I guess, pretty.

I loved nursing Clare, at home, in church, on trains, wherever. She hated being under a cover and so I didn't use one--and nursing tops make them, IMO, unnecessary. Clare's big ol' beautiful baby head completely blocked whatever wasn't covered by the nursing top. And I'm looking forward to nursing Baby Z...and reinforcing with Clare that breasts are awesome milk-making things and she's right to look forward to the day when hers get great big--so she can feed her babies.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Today I got my first open-mouthed, total shock reaction from someone when I said I was moving to Newark.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

in defense of Planned Parenthood, because every child should be a choice

"It's not a choice, it's a child."

Every roadtrip I've taken in that last decade and a half, I've seen that bumper sticker on the Covenant Transport trucks while I pass on the left. And over that decade and a half I've gone from a single college kid, far from marriage and motherhood, nodding in knee-jerk agreement, to a mom of two who grimaces in philosophical pain at the simple-minded misdirection of this ubiquitous bumper sticker slogan. (But hey, at least all the words are spelled correctly, and there's no Hitler mustache--which is more than you can expect from most slogan-toting peeps these days.)

I would like to see some bumper stickers that say, "Every child should be a choice." That's the goal, right? That every child conceived is a child whose conception is desired, whose growth in the womb is deliberately nurtured by both mother and community, whose birth is welcomed with the kind of joy that only comes after a ridiculous long period of anticipation? Isn't that what we want? Isn't it a measure of the brokenness of the world that this isn't, in fact, how it often happens?

So why is it that we separate these things, as if they were an either/or? Why don't we, instead, acknowledge the basic biological reality that a child is in fact a choice? And then get busy with making sure that people can in fact choose their children?

I don't mean the "you chose to have sex, so you chose the consequence" line, either. I mean, bringing a child into the world is not just a single choice, much less is it simply the statistically-more-or-less-likely sperm-meets-egg consequence of a single sex act. Bringing a child into the world is a series of choices: a series of choices which begin as soon as you realize that you're not just coming down with the flu because the flu doesn't make your boobs sore, and go to the store to get yourself a package of pee sticks. I don't just mean abortion here--although that is the starkest and most obvious form that this existential choosing can take. Choosing to nurture a life in your womb is a series of choices, one that has a definite starting point but no foreseeable ending point. It starts with prenatal vitamins and yoga and cloth diapers and escalates into something so large and complicated it encompasses the entirety of your life. It's on you: the health and well-being of a completely helpless human being. It's on you: the health and well-being of an increasingly independent little person. Everything from the food they eat to the answers they get to the impossible questions they ask, it's on you. Choosing to nurture life does not have an end. It just keeps going.

We forget--or do we just willfully ignore the obvious?--that women who face down that stark, inevitable, existential choice, do I nurture this life?, aren't answering a question about pregnancy. Pregnancy is the easy part. They're facing down the question about the cascading, unending, exponentially multiplying, choice of nurturing that life, for the rest of their lives.

If you're a fortunate and blessed woman, like I am, then your choice has already been made prior to the pee sticks, because you know that you want this to happen and when it does, your answer is ready: yes. Maybe you've already stocked the cupboard with prenatals and bought a copy of What to Expect (though, for my money, Smart Woman's Guide to Better Birth is a better purchase), you're so ready to say yes to this tiny life. Because you've already chosen this child.

In a different life, I might not be one of the fortunate, blessed ones whose children are predetermined choices. Brent and I were married six years before Clare. (Those, we refer to as "BC.") Not to get too personal about it, but believe me, there was plenty of opportunity for sperm-meets-egg in those years. (FTR, we're doing fine now too, no worries.) For those years--really, for the first full decade of our married lives--we were students, living off of loans and scholarships and part-time jobs of all sorts (between us, we've waited tables, sold orthopedic shoes, sold books, babysat, substituted in public schools and bank-tellered)--that is to say, we were permanently officially broke. And busy. And not interested in or able to even seriously ponder parenthood, except to watch the parents we knew with incomprehension and wide eyes at the amount of sheer energy and time that went into it, and think--no. Not yet. We cannot possibly do that.

So thank God for Planned Parenthood. I re-upped my pills through them the whole time we lived in Abilene, and stocked up there for the year we were overseas in Changsha. And since it turns out that I'm 'Fertile Myrtle' and Brent's 'Virile Cyril' (both times we've gotten pregnant within two months of tossing contraceptives), it's a helluva good thing we weren't left on our own. (Can't say that I see six years of married abstinence in the name of pursuit of theological scholarship as a real option. The world of academia still seems to largely operate on the assumption that scholars are celibate medieval monks--but in the real world, we've all got bodies and sexual drives attached to these putatively floating heads.)

Clare knows that she is chosen; it is another way of saying that she is and has always been loved. Baby Z will know that she is chosen, too. They'll know this because we'll tell them, and because we'll keep choosing them for the rest of their lives, in all those uncountable ways that you choose to nurture and love a kid every single day.

Every kid should know this. It should be the basic expectation with which kids grow up and experience their world. Every child should know that they were chosen--know it in a way that makes asking the question impossible. It should be the tacit foundation for life, that unspoken assurance that you are chosen, wanted, desired, loved.

Supporting Planned Parenthood ought to be a no-brainer. Instead we've let things get to a point where the health of women and children are potentially at risk because no one can think past the word "abortion." This is not about abortions. This is about doing the concrete, practical things that will get us closer to a world where every child born will be a child who is wanted: about enabling women and men, no matter who they are, to make childbearing and childrearing something they can choose to undertake gladly and readily. Every child should be a choice.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


There are so many more things I'd rather be blogging about than Sarah Palin. Like, what does it mean that a computer named Watson just beat a couple of human Jeopardy champs, and is this really a harbinger of the "shape of things to come"--good or bad, and all that. And I've refrained from blogging at all about anything of late simply because I am too busy: with the move less than two weeks away, I desperately need to get a reworked draft of chapter 4 complete prior to sealing up the last box of my already mostly-packed-up office.

But Sarah Palin. I'll feud over this tidbit from HuffPo till I get it out of my system, so--commence the bloggy exorcism.

First: I was right. I was so, totally, right ON. Back in 2008, I called it. My ire with SP began with her calculated, manipulative use of that great big lie, the SuperMom. She worked it back then, and she's still working it. All she's done is move on from lipsticked bulldogs to mama grizzlies as her go-to SuperMom animal mascot. But now she's come right out and said it:
The former Alaska governor suggested there's "no one" more qualified to handle the demands of the presidency than "a woman, a mom," according to Politico.
Don't get me wrong. Being the primary caregiver of a child really is, absolutely, the most time-consuming, emotionally wracking, philosophically challenging and physically exhausting thing I've ever attempted. And I wouldn't hesitate to agree with the somewhat cliched insistence that it's the most important thing I'll ever do--hell, look at the sidebar, I'm doing it again in +/- 63 days!. Being responsible for the holistic formation of another human being? Does it get any scarier or more important than that? But what does any of this have to do with, say, grasping global geopolitical realities? The only potential crossover I see, frankly, between momming and presidenting is diplomatic negotiation with hostile, unwilling and not necessarily fully rational partners.

So, fine. I'm still pissed about the SuperMom act, which I am still convinced is a damaging cultural image for women in our culture, and to have her flat-out say that being a mom qualifies you to be President makes me want to grow Mama Grizzly claws, put on some lipstick, and do something violent.

And then. When you and I both thought it wasn't possible to feel any more contempt for this egomaniacal caricature of a politician, she goes and does this:
...mocked Michelle Obama to make her point. The first lady is encouraging mothers to breast feed their infants as part of her campaign to reduce childhood obesity - an effort that has drawn scorn from some conservatives. "No wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you better breast feed your babies," Palin said. "I'm looking and say, 'Yeah, you better because the price of milk is so high right now.'"
You know, if you're going to construct your pres campaign platform around the SuperMom image, the least you could f-ing do is actually support real moms.