|Mikalh, moments after his birth, already getting ready to marginalize me.|
I was looking for fodder for Team Ambiguity. What would be worth bringing to color, that is currently black and white? What do we have a lot to say about–with our different opinions and different experiences–more to say than the "experts," than the "thinkers?" There I was, thumbing through pages on the internet. Two clicks and there it was. An interview with Elizabeth Badinter, the author of "The Conflict : How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women." Badinter is described in the article as "[arguing] that motherhood–or, at least, certain approaches to motherhood–come at a huge, and unacceptable, cost [to women]." Badinter is especially concerned with the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, mothers staying home with kids and what is termed "intensive" parenting.
This article, by Lisa Belkin, in the Huffington Post, is the kind of thing that frustrates me. No disrespect to the journalist. It's the topic that makes me batty. I could give you lots of really well-reasoned, intellectual arguments why, but the experience I have is this: When I was a little girl, other little girls were mean to me. This is part of the known topography of elementary school. Little girls can be wickedly mean, and, especially to strange girls who speak like the characters from Victorian children's novels. In high school, girls–now larger, with glossy hair and breasts, continued to be mean. It was girls who assassinated my character, girls who knew where to plunge a dagger of words, so it would send you in a lifeless heap to the ground, reeling from shock and heartbreak. Girls made the rules and then shut you out. Most of these girls grew into women who are not mean anymore, because they are no longer so afraid. But the sensation seems oddly familiar.
Forgive me for saying so, but the self-styled feminists who write these books about what women should not do–what is wrong with women–seem very much like grown-up mean girls to me. I reject a claim to feminism on behalf of any woman whose argument is about devaluing what is held dear by women, insulting the choices they make, and suggesting that they, instead, behave more like men. And just like in school, my reaction is one, first of hurt, and then of anger.
Acid, burning, biting anger because they assume so much that would make me small, and then, they claim that I have made myself small. If what they are saying is pro-women, why does it leave the perspective of most women out? I think a truly feminist message empowers women, not insults them.
When I posted yesterday, I asked, "What's the body in this living room?" I want to know what you think, even if–especially if–you and I disagree. (Please make me smarter!) Here is what I see from my end:
The Left Leg: Financial independence does not equal fulfillment.
Badinter is very concerned with the preservation of the status and financial independence of women. How, though, are we going to assign status? I have lots of thoughts on this, but I am going to quote Tangled Lou, who said it much better than I could:
"The notion that a woman's (or anyone's for that matter) worth is determined solely by her earning power is ridiculous. It is the mess that our country is currently in with the whole 99% vs. 1%. We have collectively focused on financial gain with no thought of consequence for the last several decades and now it's all falling apart. A large part of the reason it's falling apart, I believe, is because very little attention has been paid to the finer aspects of being human: critical thought, creativity, personal sacrifice, meaningful relationships, etc. If we are valuing people not by what they contribute to society, but by what they are able to consume, we will only consume each other and ourselves. At its heart, the focus on financial viability is ultimately a focus on consumption, which will always be dissatisfying and incomplete. So, the argument that women are giving up 'status' to raise families is fallacious in that it is argued from a faulty notion of 'status.'The Right Leg: Classism.
Motherhood, it is being argued, is at odds with a fulfilling career. Set aside any argument, from our other leg, about what constitutes a fulfilling career. I am assuming that Badinter is not talking about a job at Starbucks or a meat packing plant or a widget factory. She is talking to educated women, women with the luxury of a "fulfilling career." That is not, as it happens, most women, or even, necessarily, every women with a degree, the job market being what it is. Our choices are not "Follow a ribbon of stars to the top of the sky." vs. "Change diapers and watch Days of Our Lives." Both of those options are ridiculously oversimplified. Given the actual menu of choices, women do what makes sense to them. And they do it, thanks to the feminists of yore, generally, with some sense of choice.
The Left Arm: Valid and best are not the same.
I'm going to go out on a limb here. I know that it is best to exercise 30-45 minutes at least four days a week. I know that it is best not to bite my cuticles. I know that it is best to drink eight glasses of water or more a day. And I still don't do those things. My choice–or knee-jerk reaction–with regard to any of these is valid. I compromise because no one is going to be perfect, because doing what is best is not always best for me, if it will drive me crazy.
For those same kinds of reasons, lots of moms don't breastfeed or stop sooner than is recommended. (I am not talking about moms who adopt or who have a physical issue preventing them from nursing.) It is no good doing the perfect thing if you are going to go nuts doing it. But that doesn't mean that bottle feeding is as healthy as breastfeeding. I know this is going to drive a lot of people crazy because we think we have to do the perfect thing for our kids, but we don't. And none of us does, to be perfectly honest. So, some of us breastfeed and some of us don't. Some breastfeed for two years, four years. Some manage it for two weeks. From a medical perspective, longer is probably better, at least up to a point. From a medical perspective, I should drink at least sixteen ounces less of coffee every day. I don't need to pretend, though, that, actually, drinking too much coffee is better or equally healthy.
The Right Arm: Fear of experts.
My children see, collectively, a psychiatrist, two counselors, a speech-language pathologist, a special ed. teacher, an occupational therapist and two physical therapists. If I could not use these people, I would find it very hard to do the right thing as a mother, on my own. So I think Badinter's advice regarding experts is bad advice, even though she had parenting book experts in mind, I presume. But I think she is pointing at something very true. We are way too worried about experts. Because we act like we aren't competent, intelligent people.
If you are a seasoned professional in your field–or even, let's say, a bright and promising novice–your attitude about new information regarding that field is not going to be one of, "Shut the blinds! Batten down the door! Don't let any light in here!" That is the strategy of someone who is afraid. You–the professional–you're going to be interested in this information, but then you are going to filter it through what you know and have experienced, what you value and what your intuition is telling you, before you decide a thing. Right? Experts are consultants. If you need some input, use them. But you are the one who makes the choice.
The Rest of the Body: Stories, not advice.
The discussion in comments, when I looked, was not much better than the article itself. They ran the gamut from bland defenses of the joys of traditional motherhood to the oft-repeated statement "To each her own.," along with the occasional odd interjection of a man telling women to get off the pity pot. It all made me tired and sad.
I had three children by natural childbirth and breastfed them each two years. Then I stayed home with them while they were little. So, that's my deal. What I find sad is that when, for some reason, this comes up in conversation with a mom who's mothering journey took a different turn, there is almost always tension. But that same tension is not there if I say I didn't finish college and they did. It's not there if I say I have pets and they don't. Why should this be any different?
How often is any woman actually asking you for your advice on whether or not she should get an epidural, breastfeed exclusively or co-sleep with her child? How often is she asking if she should stay home with them? Not a lot. Women don't often come to us with requests for advice. They come with stories. If you want people to nurse, or to forgo vaccines, or to carry their infants around in slings, work with women who are pregnant, not women who have already made these choices. Once the choices are made, the woman who is talking is just telling her story. It's a memoir of her time with her babies, or the time she bore her babies. You don't have to agree or disagree.
All you have to do is listen.
But, forget all this. What do you think? If you and I stand on opposite ends of the world, in our impressions of this article, I still want to be your friend. What is missing in this conversation? Please, don't forget to follow the rules. I can't wait to hear what you all have to say.