On being a mama, and being a mama of a small child.

There are a couple of recent guest posts at Feministe written by a woman named Maia regarding children in public spaces and what it means to be a mama. I was horribly late to the comment-party (-FAIL), and when my “thank you” got to be more than 200 words, it got transferred here. So.

The bit of Maia’s post that stood out to me:

im not a feminist ( yeah, i said it…shrug). but i dont understand people who claim to be feminist on one hand, and on the other hand think that children should be designated to certain public and private spaces, not mixing in ‘normal’ public areas, such as restaurants, stores, airplanes, etc. cause in us culture, when you create little reservations for children, you are really creating little reservations for mothers. it is the mother who will be sent away to take care of the child. and how is that supporting all women and girls?

I am the mother of a small child, who, long before becoming the mother of a small child, had the opportunity to watch small children in situations that most people in my area (US Midwest at the time) wouldn’t consider “appropriate” places to bring kids.

The four year old child of my voice teacher ran and played with other kids up until the few moments before my teacher’s recital began, when the kid climbed up into a chair, sat face forward and paid attention to what was going on, with only a small reminder from his mama to do so. This was normal for him, going to concerts and being quiet when they started, because he’d gotten the opportunity to do it.

Thing is: if you take kids places that don’t specifically cater to kids, they learn to do the things the adults do. My two year old already knows, when we go to our local cafe, that you go get in a chair and sit down, that when we go to hear music somewhere, you listen to the music. There are times we go home early, sure, but that’s usually for kiddo’s well being (too tired or hungry).

Expecting children to be on airplanes is the reasonable thing to do, yet some fellow airline travelers seem to think that my child getting to go see the grandparents is some sort of infringement on their right to quiet. If they know they are bothered by children and would take the time to buy a $2 package of earplugs at the dollar store, they might be much less bothered when/if the hollering begins. Pressurizing and depressurizing the cabin hurts some people’s ears, and if you’re not verbal yet, the only way to deal with that is screaming.

I haven’t encountered self-proclaimed feminists with this attitude yet. My usual interactions with the why-are-children-in-my-WAY crowd have either been with complete strangers or with people whom I know to not be particularly interested in treating children like human beings (or women, for that matter, although they’d deny both charges).

The key to treating someone like they’re actually human is not getting in the way of their self-determination. If my child doesn’t want to say “hi” to a complete stranger, I don’t make that happen. I have watched my nieces and nephews (chiefly my nieces, of course) be told to smile, to give people kisses, to say hi and bye when they didn’t want to, all in the name of being “polite” or “respectful” or “because this is what you DO”. My eldest nephew, for example, went through a phase where he didn’t want to say hello or goodbye, but halfway through our visit he’d just come up and start talking to me. He wanted to approach me on his own terms, and I let him. When the adults around him started to insist he go through the formalities with me, a relative stranger, I brushed them off, telling them I wasn’t bothered by the lack of salutations.

The other thing is, the way we treat children teaches them how they’re supposed to treat themselves and others. If you ignore their needs, you are teaching them that it’s ok to do that to other people, and that their needs aren’t really important. I certainly learned that lesson well. I’m grateful I woke up to

One small note: I call myself a radical feminist. I don’t know if that label says all the time what I want it to say, that the problems of misogyny and racism and ableism are at the very roots of our society, so what needs to happen is for all that to be rooted out – that it won’t get better with patches and creams, cosmetic changes like allowing (some) women to vote or making the wage gap not-as-bad or making abortion theoretically legal but only marginally obtainable. The problem is at the root, so the solution has to go there. I don’t know what my part in it is, but when I just read what bfp and other WOC say about their lives, that just kids just being kids while black or brown gets them arrested and abused, that the places mainstream feminism has repeatedly ignored women of color gets them killed.

This shit has to stop. I am not going to go off all delusional like the Great White Woman Who Saves The Brown People From Themselves. What I can do, right now, is raise my child to treat others like human beings. What I need to do further than that, I don’t know. But I’m not going to go expecting WOC to tell me, either. It’s my job to educate myself.

Street Harassment: Being “Nice”

WCP blogger Amanda Hess has a post up today detailing how responding in a polite fashion to more apparently benign forms of street harassment doesn’t deter but encourages it.

I experienced this type of outwardly friendly yet completely creepy behavior during the summer of 2008 when I still lived in Midwestern College Town. It was an absolutely beautiful day – not too hot, sun shining, light breeze – and I was walking down to the City Pool to enjoy myself. I was also visibly pregnant. It was a short and enjoyable walk; I had the option to drive, but no need.

As I was making my progress along a residential street, a middle aged man in a red pickup pulled up to me and offered me a ride. I don’t remember the precise exchange, but it boiled down to something like this:

He: [smiles] Can I give you a lift somewhere?
Me: [likewise friendly but wary] No thanks, I’m enjoying my walk.
He: [still smiling] Are you sure?
Me: [no longer smiling] I’m fine, thanks.

I sped up my pace a bit, made it more purposeful, and the man drove on. I changed my direction slightly, going first to a local coffee shop where I knew there would at least be people. I endlessly debated whether or not to report this incident to police, but my gut instinct was that they would just slough it off, as nothing identifiably bad had happened. I already had one dude thinking he knew better than me (as evidenced by the offer + “are you sure?”) – the last thing I needed was a (chances are) male cop added to the mix.

As I approached the coffee shop, the truck reappeared – he had apparently circled the block in order to continue following me.

It’s entirely possible that this man just thought he was being kind, practicing the sort of benevolent sexism present in all kinds of thinking about women: that we are to be protected, especially when pregnant, so far that if we’re out by ourselves, we can’t possibly be protected enough, so some dude had better hop to and assist, being all gentlemanly, etc. Trouble is, there’s no way for us to distinguish benevolent vs. malevolent intention until it’s too late.

It was abundantly clear that this man, while he may have had the best (if sexist) of intentions, was acting in a way that patently denied my agency and self-determination in favor of whatever random thought was in his head. That alone told me he was to be avoided at all costs.

But see? I was “nice”. I didn’t do all the things we’re told to do (be rude, put up a fight, shout for help) only after being conditioned to be polite or else. It didn’t “save” me, even though “nothing” happened. In fact, something did happen: that dude was demonstrating, yet again, that men’s desires trump women’s in every single case, no matter what mundane thing she has chosen to do. Even seemingly “innocent” encounters like this smack of patriarchial privilege, and serve to remind women of their designated place, which is certainly not making decisions for themselves to take a nice walk on a pretty day.

Atheism and spirituality

So.

Some of you may know that I’m a 12-stepper. Which particular program is irrelevant; the main is that for some years now, I’ve been following a spiritual program to help me deal with life (on life’s terms), and one that shies away from defining the divine for you, instead encouraging each person to come to a concept of “God” as ze understands it to be.

What I have come to believe recently is that the idea of “God” just doesn’t make sense to me. Basically, that I don’t need to believe that there is an external force for my own good, because I have an internal force to that purpose.

At a meeting last night a woman shared some things about her concept of God, and I realized while I was listening that I could reconcile my burgeoning atheism with the spiritual program that had effectively saved my life*.

As she talked about wanting to be more Higher-Power centered, she mentioned that her HP had her best interests in mind. I thought, “there’s a part of me that has my own best interests in mind; the part that gets guilty-feeling when I act against my own best interests.” Maybe you’d call that a conscience. She was calling it God.

Before I started trying to define God for myself, I took the biblical Christian God, because that was the one I’d been presented as a child. As I got older, and as I started to question the nature of that religion’s beliefs, I found I could get the idea of a Holy Spirit — an invisible force that connected all life with each other**. God the Father, which I understood to be the God of the Old Testament, felt flawed to me, more like the Greek pantheon than any ‘one true God’ that people talked about in church. Jesus of Nazareth was an interesting figure, to be sure, and was really quite radical in his beliefs and treatment of people***. The literalist view of the virgin birth I thought quite unnecessary to hir good message, which essentially boiled down to “peace on earth, and goodwill to all”.

This is where I was when I started to define divinity as I saw it. The Christian God had failed to save me from crappy things in my life (the drive-you-to-thoughts-of-suicide kind) and I couldn’t trust that The Man Upstairs was really all ze was cracked up to be.

The concept of Higher Power I can get behind. I see this as functioning to keep me 1) humble and 2) from trying to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, i.e., not asking for help when I need it. There are many things I put in this place, sometimes the collective wisdom of the group, sometimes nature, since I obviously can’t make it snow, or stop it from snowing, or make grass grow, etc. Sometimes I returned to a more traditional spiritual being and called it God.

I still occasionally talk about not being able to screw up The Plan, meaning that a decision on my part is not going to make a radical difference continuously for the rest of my life and for everyone else around me — basically that I’m not that powerful. I’m only the center of my universe, not everyone else’s.

What that woman at the meeting said helped me realize that I have the guidance I need, because of working this 12-step program to heal from my sick ways of thinking, and that I don’t need to believe that some great cosmic force is Out There to help me. I can help myself. I can listen to what might still be called that “still small voice”, the one Mohandas Gandhi called “the friend inside”, and make the best decision I can for me today. I don’t have to feel like there’s a great Plan for me and everyone else. We’re all just bungling along, trying to live. And what I want to do is live as fully and with as much unconditional joy as I can.


* Definitely the quality of life, if not also the quantity.
** Yeah, it’s kind of a Star Wars spirituality. The idea worked for me.
*** i.e., that they were people, no matter where they came from, what they looked like, or whether or not they were adult or male.

The Fantasy of Being Thin (follow-up)

So, I’ve been reading. And reading. And reading.

And having discussions about weight, weight loss, and weight gain with people. Coworkers. Family. Friends. All this has been sneaking up on me, or rather, surrounding me, giving me multiple chances to express and explore where I am with Fat Acceptance / Health At Every Size.

Ideas like this give me pause regularly:

For [Las Vegas] to thrive the way it does on the backs of gambling tourists, you need a combination of bad math and each individual’s deep-down belief that no matter what the odds are, s/he will be the special one who hits the jackpot. Which kinda reminds me of something else, come to think of it. Hmm.

As I followed along the inevitable link trail that started in that paragraph at Shapely Prose, I found more and more that this one nebulous thought drifted upwards into my conscious mind: I will never be thin again. I can never be thin again.

If I’m really honest with myself, I still want to be. I’m still buying into the great fantasy that says some combination of exercise, nutrition and willpower will somehow guarantee that I can mould my form back into the version I had when I was 16 and depressed, or 23, when I was so upset about my newly up-to-size-ten body that I bought a swimsuit with a skirt.

Today’s conversation was the same as all those posts: Diets Don’t Work.

I also realized:

During the few times I didn’t diet before gaining weight, I was either coming back out of depression or severe stress-induced not-eating.

AND:

The only times I have maintained my weight have been when I quit worrying about it.

Despite having actual experience with the concept of Diets Don’t Work, to the extent that my entire journey from skinny child to lanky teen to average-size college student to chunky woman is a textbook case, I still, somewhere in my mind, am holding onto the idea that I will, someday, because I’m taking care of myself and being healthy and getting good nutrition, someday I’ll get skinny again.

I know I’ve read them myriad times, but I don’t think the real ideas described by Fat Acceptance and Health At Every Size have truly sunk in yet. I mean, Fat Acceptance: accepting that I’m fat, that fat is okay, accepting that fat happens. Accepting the reality that my body is not supposed to be 36-24-36, size 6 or 120 lbs., which is what the images in my head look like*.

With HAES, the same thing. My focus has to be my health. I have to eat green vegetables because the vitamins and minerals are good for me, I enjoy the flavors and textures, and my body feels good once I’ve eaten them. The magical thinking has crept into my thought processes, in the form of “all those dieters don’t know the right way. I know that it’s nutrition and exercise that will make me thin!”.

It’s insideous, the way even good habits can be bent to promote the Fantasy.

I am stronger than ever. I am enjoying good health. I have a moderately active lifestyle. I have more energy than I used to.

All these things I still forget, when faced with the thought that I need to be smaller than I am. The Fantasy bullies its way to the front of my mind, and flaunts itself around gaudily, so as to outshine those drab little images of health and vitality.

So I’m not well yet. I am learning, and struggling to see, and accept, myself for how I am, with no reservations, and to finally see the Fantasy of Being Thin as what it is: a phantasm plaguing my mental, emotional and physical health, with absolutely no basis in reality. It’s the nightmare from which I’m struggling to awake.

*They look this way, because in my mind I look thin and healthy, and the idealized images we’re given to compare ourselves to portray thin, as described by arbitrary guidelines such as measurements, clothing sizes and weight, as healthy. The disconnect between my mental image of myself and the bill of goods we’re sold is where the magical thinking happens.

For some reason, this was important to me.

Academic thought is theorized direct experience. It’s people looking at the world, thinking about causes and effects of situations, looking for patterns, and saying, okay, here’s what I think is happening. Feminist thought, for example, is theorizing the direct experiences of women. — “laceyfish”

It’s important somehow. I might need it later — I’m not sure why or in what fashion, but I have it now. I might come back to it later on.

I knew it came from somewhere.

In relation to my next-to-most-recent post that happened to mention the madonna-whore dichotomy, a poster, puckrockhockeymom, made mention of it while she waxed eloquent on a Feministe post that was itself inspired by a PostSecret postcard which read “My greatest fear is that I’m good enough to f*ck but not good enough to love”. Continue reading

Feminists in public

I’ve been back to reading the occasional feminist blog, as well as Salon.com’s Broadsheet. Usually I just read the articles, without even realizing, I guess, that there was a comments section too.

Perhaps, though, my subconscious was protecting me from what I was certain would be there.

What is intriguing (well, discouraging, really) to me is that the first (or early) response to each post there is some sort of personal attack, or statement meant to belittle, demean, or trivialize the topic — and usually by an anonymous poster.
Continue reading

Twisty Strikes (oil) Again!

This was originally going to be a comment on the Twisty blog, but as it grew and veered off topic, I decided here might be a better place for it.

Twisty’s patience with Newsweek is a limited, and that patience decided not to put up with lame-pseudo-newsiness (my evaluation, not necessarily Twisty’s) typical of Newsweek, which was this time applied to the ‘transgender question’ (I would more likely call this a “the patriarchy-brainwashed don’t get it” question).

So here are my somewhat random reactions to this thread; with any luck I’ll have it somewhat organized and intelligible.

A thought, provoked by wren’s comments:

The term ‘transgender’ exists because there is some strange (to me) concept that because a person has certain bits they are theoretically then programmed to act a certain way, because they’re male/female.

Post-revolution (when we all get to be human beings) we’ll have it figured out that what a person looks like has no bearing on his/her character, actions, feelings or state of being a ‘him’ or ‘her’.

Sound about right?*

*I second wren’s caveat. I haven’t been faced with this ‘choice’ (yet?) ∴ this is an attempt to understand, nothing more.

Twisty said:

It is the position of this blog that femininity and masculinity, as well as “woman” and “man,” for that matter, are synthetic constructs imposed by the dominant culture to bolster a class hierarchy that favors dudes.

Okay, so you took me that next step, placing values on the ‘two’ ‘choices’ (or being relegated to one construct or another).

I do get it that there are slight physical differences (the aforementioned bits) but why there’s a value placed on having one type of bits, and getting a lifetime supply of free cookies because YOU were selected to be born with those bits, this does not make sense to me.

Then Madeline quoth:

More important is to eliminate the gender dichotomy all together. Have female sex organs, want to behave any way you please? Great. Just don’t be oppressive. Have a good time! Have male sex organs, want to behave any way you please? Great. Just don’t be oppressive. Have a good time!

Can I live in your world, please? Geez I want that. I’m (technically) female, (generally) attracted to (technically) males, but I don’t really think of myself as a woman. I’m just a human, really. I feel like I was socialized female, but I have never really felt all that feminine. Not particularly masculine, either, mind you. I’ve just felt like me, and then I’ve felt like I’ve had to fit myself into a mold to be ‘right’ with the world; molds which never fit.

(Aside) I once took a “what gender is your brain?” quiz and scored exactly in the middle. Apparently my excellent spatial orientation is a ‘male’ trait. IBTP.

More Madeline:

I don’t believe, of course, that even if the gender dichotomy were abolished there wouldn’t still be some people who felt they were wrongly sexed. I don’t see what’s wrong with those people attempting to alter their biological organs. It seems to me that at that stage, altering one’s genitalia and taking hormone therapy would be more of a cosmetic change than anything. It would be like choosing to get breast reductions because you are made uncomfortable by your large breasts, or like choosing to get a tattoo (though obviously more extreme than either). At this point the question wouldn’t be about gender identity; it would be about whether you think drastic elective surgery is okay (I think yes; there’s plenty of reasons people think no; it’s off-topic to argue right now).

Okay, this gets me. I don’t see how altering one’s primary sex organs is “more extreme” than altering one’s secondary sex organs (i.e., breast reduction/augmentation) or, for that matter, stomach stapling and weight-loss surgery.

The difference between a transgender person getting the bits they feel they should have been given in the first place and a person who gets their stomach stapled is that the latter is catering to the patriarchy, and the former isn’t. Stuff that’s fully supported by the patriarchy (breast augmentation, cosmetic/weight loss surgery) is somehow ‘okay’, when a transgender people getting the bits they feel they should have is ‘wrong’ or ‘unnatural’?

Maybe that comparison is a bit extreme. It’s possible to see sexual reassignment surgery as something that improves the quality of life for the person who undergoes it, in the way that organ transplantation improves/extends life.

And Catherine Martell makes this part of my post thoroughly redundant:

It is quite different to change your body because a whim to do so strikes you, versus changing your body because society has shamed and intimidated you into doing so.

Either way, for the way things actually work, IBTP.

KMTberry said:

There are QUITE A FEW people born on this planet whose sexual “identity” has to be “assigned” at birth by, for lack of a better word, authorities.

Which is why I’m leaning more and more towards a home birth/birthing center with a doula/midwife. Even the remotest possiblity of my (not yet created, thank you) pregnancy being treated as a disease is something I want to avoid.

The thought of some doctor deciding what ‘gender’ my child will be (on the off chance there’s some doubt) is just infuriating.

This is right up there with not finding out the ‘gender’ of my child, to stave off, at least for a while, the inevitable influx of blue/pink from the rest of my family.

Speaking of, erin ambrose reports:

all this makes me think of a news story i overheard a few days ago about a great new test they’ve concocted where at 6 wks into a pregnancy you can know the sex of the fetus. Human rights folk are worried that this will cause a rise in the aborting of “girl” babies since most want “boys”…
on a lighter note, they joked that this test will allow parents plenty of time to paint the babies room pink or blue.

holy crap…theres so many problems with this my head starts to spin.

but its a sobering example of the very real dangers of this ridiculous gender binary crap as well as the assumption/dictation that our sex organs predetermine our gender expression.

sad sad humans.

For some reason this reminds me of the assumption of, well, almost everybody, in the movie “Children of Men” that the child who would be born to finally save humanity from terminal infertility would, in fact/of course, be a BOY. Because important = boy. *rolls eyes*

I posted a little more at the Twisty blog, and maybe it’s worth reading. Other people’s comments certainly are. Thanks for stopping by. ^^

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

I know what I want to do.

I want to become a translator.

I went to talk to the M.A. adviser today, who, when we got on the subject of translation work, said “You know what might be very useful? Energy efficiency. This is becoming a very big deal, and there might be a call for translators in this field.” This caught my attention.

And the thought that cemented this idea was this: All during the M.A. program, what has kept my attention in every subject has been translation. I took myriad (almost literally!) courses that involved translation, and those were the classes I looked forward to the most. Old Saxon, Yiddish, Old French, Middle High German, Old Norse, Latin: They all got me, every one, and the other classes did not, with very very few exceptions.

So: Do What You Love. –> I Love Translating. –> Become a Translator.

That switch in my head went off today, and it said: “This is the difference between hoping I’ll become something and purposefully setting out to become something.” I am purposefully setting out to become a translator. For now I have a part time job, which will give me a place to be about half of the week, and get me out of bed early in the morning, when I’m at my best. On those days I’ll get physical work, be around people, and earn enough to live off of; the other days I’ll be dividing between my night gig (web design, because it’s fun) and Becoming a Translator.

I even have a plan on How to Get There:

  1. Continually improve my general vocabulary.
  2. Begin reading articles on renewable energy/energy efficiency.
  3. Collect subject-specific terminology with annotations and sources (see also, writing a dictionary).
  4. Stay abreast of demand in the translation market (starting with places like ProZ dot com.
  5. Translate articles (German English) for practice + portfolio
  6. Begin submitting quotes for translation jobs as I am able.
  7. Go from there.

I should reasonably be able to spend one day a week translating, even with a full time schedule. When my job goes back to official part time (after the woman who’s job I’m covering comes back from maternity leave), I should be able to up that to two days.

This feels right. This looks like a good plan, and what I need to do. More, as my father says, will be revealed.

A Return… to Important Matters

I have deeply neglected this blog in favor of ye LiveJournal lately (and in fact haven’t been posting to the LJ all that often either). Usually my posts have been pretty me-centered, just regular life-type stuff.

These days, however, I’m starting to need a forum for other, more serious topics. Thanks to Kit sending me forth into the world of women-in-comics (sites like Girl Wonder dot org and blogs like Girls Read Comics) I’ve stumbled onto a new topic: feminism.

An odd thing for the “liberated woman, daughter of a liberated woman”. It’s not that I thought I was Über-Feminist, but I did consider myself to be a reasonable, reasonably educated and reasonably aware human being. Now, from reading incredibly perceptive, intelligent, logical and well-written posts such that are found on blog collectives like the Official Scrub dot com Blog, Women’s Work and by individuals at Inside Out and Crimitism, I’m starting to think again. The kind of thinking I was first introduced to in Honors Intro to Philosophy, the kind of thinking that just doesn’t get done on a regular basis in my general vicinity (usually — there are notable exceptions).

So this blog has now been officially rededicated, as a place in which I might collect my thoughts, observations and analyses on this and related subjects, so that I might start exercising the thinking muscle again. It’s been far too long.