quick hit: I write elsewhere too!

Elizabeth from My Milk Spilt was kind enough to publish me at her site; my piece “Missing the Mark” went live today. If nothing else, Michelle Allison’s linked-to piece is a go-to for some sense and sensibility regarding the USian (and AUian, at very least) “War on obesity”, etc.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a BLT with homemade bread and lovely summer tomatoes.


breastfeeding: not just ladybusiness

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamiscl/4968830387/This piece is featured in Squat! Birth Journal‘s Spring Issue. I encourage an exploration and/or support of this lovely zine (available in paper or digital form); certainly a great gift for an expecting family-to-be! It’s a wonderful publication.

Over my twitterstream my friend Wendy links to a piece of, once again, sex discrimination against a woman feeding her child1). We’ve all heard it before. A woman is feeding her baby in a shop or a library or wherever, when an employee approaches and tells the woman she must leave, often invoking (their fallacious understanding of) the law and – at least in North America – usually in violation of protected rights. And certainly counter to common sense, compassion, and an understanding of public health.

It’s too bad more people don’t seem to see it that way.

Breastfeeding discussion is continually ignored and/or marginalized by the mainstream, made into a fringe issue although it concerns us all – our progress toward an egalitarian society, our support of families, our stewardship of the environment, and our county’s medical costs and spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. Even movements self-identified as pro-woman often pick and choose which reproductive rights they support and advocate for, ignoring the societal edifices concerning birth, babies, and fulltime care of children – which necessarily ignores the women involved. If you Google “breastfeeding and feminism” you will see communities concerning the former subject discussing the latter, but rarely the reciprocal; mainstream pro-feminist discussions in general do not concern themselves with breastfeeding even though something like eighty percent of USian women do become parents at some point.

Keeping breastfeeding peripheral to social justice discussion contributes to extremely low breastfeeding rates in the so-called developed world (which are lower still in marginalized groups such as black mothers, teen mothers, and native or indigenous mothers, etc.). After all, anyone remedially-versed in the experiences of infant care and feeding understand that support, or lack thereof, is a major if not the major factor in aggregate breastfeeding success rates.

While some without children, or some with older children, or some men believe they can continue to ignore the health and well-being implications of poor breastfeeding rates and the compounded lack of choice afforded to already-stressed marginalized populations, such a luxury is not experienced for the child nor the child’s carer. These peoples’ daily realities are put under additional stressors. Thus when an individual receives repeated shaming messages or policing language and repressive strategies against her, she is most likely to experience discouragement, uncertainty, and isolation; she is at a very real disadvantage. Or as the author of “A tired hungry baby” writes:

I knew the law. I knew my rights. But I was still upset. And not the angry, self-important, righteous kind of upset. The teary, scared, “they”‘re going to kick me out of the store”, “I”‘m here with my kids” type of upset. It was clear I was about to be thrown out, and I was pretty sure that if I was going to be forced to justify feeding my baby, I was going to cry. And I felt truly alone.

This experience and this sentiment could have been written by so many of my friends – and many of these are “educated” women with class, hetero-, cis-, and racial privilege. Which puts the question: at what point does our mainstream dithering about “public decency” get real, and admit the costs we are requiring so many others to pay? “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” seems incredibly trite and inhumane when considering our socioeconomically-classist culture, to put it frankly, requires black, brown, poor and working-class mamas and families pay multifaceted costs – and by heaping on body-shaming and gender-policing we’re just making it harder. “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” tweeted by a white Portland hipster without children is such a disheartening and ignorant response when I consider, for instance, the lived reality of a child up all night screaming from a painful ear infection (and the work/sleep missed by carers and the stress for all involved). To get a little 101, ear infections, which account for thirty million trips to the doctor each year and are experienced by an estimated 75% of babies, is a risk decimated by a factor of at least two for a breastfed child2. And that’s just one real-life health issue and one potential pragmatism for parents, and it makes me irritated enough to knock that Stumptown out of said urbanite’s hand.

“Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” hurts real-life families, real-life people.

“Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” is something that should have been eliminated from our public discourse a long, long time ago.

This is why it is key that those who are not at this moment stuffing a nipple into a baby’s face – including men, including formula-feeders, and including those without children – support breastfeeding and stand up for families’ rights and for mothers to young children. When the mainstream frames breastfeeding an issue that the individual mothers should be fighting, all on their own, it throws the game (especially considering the corporate power and cultural reach held by formula producers: phdinparenting.com has some great information on this). Concomitantly, framing infant feeding as solely individualistic and “choice”-based is also at heart of those who shame individual formula feeding families (moms) for “not trying/caring hard enough”, too (sadly, there are many of these voices, although for the purposes of this piece I should note bottle feeding mothers are generally not asked to leave public spaces based only on their method of feeding).

So while there are many breastfeeding mothers who stand up to pressure and have a generally positive feeding career, the vast majority of breastfeeding mothers have been pressured to stop feeding and most have been shamed explicitly or implicitly while others stand silently by or dismiss the topic as a “women’s issue” (because, you know, those aren’t important).

This means often, as in the above-cited author’s case, at the point an episode of discrimination is most acute and immediate, she is likely extremely disadvantaged in her response. Consider also that mothers who breastfeed:

* are expending 300 – 500 extra calories a day per breastfeeding child (yes, some women are breastfeeding more than one child), and those are just the calories required to produce milk, not those needed to care for, comfort and nurture, clean for, etc. anyone else in the family.

* are often severely sleep-deprived (personally, I cannot overstate this effect on my life when I had infants).

* are usually dealing with hormonal and physical changes while they:

* are also under endemic body-policing and -shaming pressures including scrutiny of their weight, the state of their skin or hair, and their changed or changing body shape.

* are often under cultural policing as well; this is levied at mothers of color, those without class privilege, those outside the heteronormative spectrum, those with multiple children, etc.

* are usually constantly segregated and policed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by virtue of having children, by our adultist and child-unfriendly cultural norms.

* are often under-supported by their family, friends, neighbors – and, too-often, their partners (even well-intentioned ones), if they have one.

* are in the throes of what many would identify as one of the most life-changing experiences they’ve had – the twentyfour-seven care and responsibility for another human being, and an incredibly vulnerable one at that.

It is my position that any restriction of breastfeeding should be taken as sex discrimination – whether legally promoted or de facto by policy, societal attitudes, etc. As such, I haven’t yet heard a compelling argument to support it. A disdain for a function of women’s bodies doesn’t seem meritorious enough to warrant prescriptive measures.

It’s time for others to adopt that standard as well.

Because in North America, fighting for the unrecognized humanity of these women, babies, and families, often seems a never-ending job against a seemingly bottomless pit of ignorance and oppression. Today, as I finish this piece, a blogreader sends me an article from The Root, in which a woman nursing in the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. was hounded twice by security and told she must enter the bathroom and sit on the toilet to feed her child3.

So, yeah. “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” needs to go.

* Photo credit: 3º Lugar – 2º Concurso Fotogra¡fico Regional “Fotografiando la Lactancia”. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

quick hit: compassion and critical thinking ≠ Big Brother

“History is written by the winners” – non-attributed

Growing up in America we are taught to believe in the Rightness and Goodness of the Meritocracy – that people who have good things and a life of comfort earned it all on their own efforts. Please note, people that have things relatively good tend to trumpet this loudest.  People who have things harder, well, sometimes they have a different perspective. We the privileged often don’t like to hear that perspective.

I believe one’s gut reaction to the “winners” quote above depends on one’s worldview.  Some people might see the quote as purely observational shorthand – that is, recorded historical accounts are told and reified by certain groups while others’ equally valid experiences are suppressed. Some believe the quote to be morally prescriptive in a Darwinian fashion: that is, a “winner” is someone who’s dominated others for their own goals, and – yay, the world is their oyster as it should be (this is sort of the sports analogy interpretation)!

Here’s what I believe: in being a “winner” one is essentially in a position of privilege (no matter how we got there); when I find I am a “winner” I must then look carefully around at how I have prevailed – and who hasn’t, and how to help them if they should want it.  It should go without saying to any who read here that I believe it is my responsibility – given I have relative privilege, good fortune, and personal success – to take steps to care for the “losers”, the down-trodden, those who are being marginalized, eclipsed, abused, oppressed. There are many, many paths of responsibility and stewardship; imagination and exposure continue to illuminate more still.

Some measures are small.  Today in a Yahoo group I made the tangential request those in the discussion pool refrain from using the words “crazy” or “lame”. Here is my clarification post (after I asked and was granted permission to post links):*

My intention wasn’t to police anyone and obviously I don’t have that power anyway (I’m not a mod). I am active in reading blogs authored by people with disabilities and the topic of abelist conversation comes up quite a bit.

For those who are interested, here are a few readings that convinced me to stop using those terms as pejoratives (“adult” language in the links):

“The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?” at bitchmagazine

“Guest Post from RMJ: Ableist Word Profile: Crazy” from Feminists With Disabilities/FWD

“Why Not to Use the Word Lame: I Think I”‘m Starting to Get It” at Alas! A Blog

I still accidentally say “lame” and “crazy” myself but am working hard to use other effective and less offensive words. Fortunately the English language has many!

This is also a fun read that comes up usually when someone calls out language as being problematic, and the resultant typical objections that often ensue: http://www.derailingfordummies.com/

The moderator immediately accused me of – guess what? Censorship. Yes – the moderator accused me of this. Very rich indeed.

Now of all the toothless arguments people knee-jerk with when their behavior is identified as being aligned with oppressive tactics, cries of “censorship”, accusations of being “the thought police”, and sneers of “PC” probably bother me the most; like an unholy Trinity of Ass they share the same roots of fear and an immediate assumption of bad faith.

I mean really, Censorship? “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Here is some 101: “online interaction and free speech” at finally feminism101). “Thought police” is particularly fartsy-bloated with the same tooting self-important drama-horn as the C-word; as if by maintaining a moderated blog or objecting to a word, phrase, or worldview that is offensive or incorrect or bigoted the blog author/objector is suddenly in the POSITION OF ALLTIME INTERNETTY POWER and now has CONTROL OVER ALL TEH BRAINWAYVES / ORWELLIAN TELESCREENS.

PC? Please. I teenaged through Bill Clinton’s Presidential tenancy and the attendant revival of sensitivity/PC language and I can tell you the backlash started so quickly it almost preceded it (which to me is a barometer that people loooooove their bigotries). There hasn’t been a whiff of PC that hasn’t been, like El Niño (this paragraph is very USian 90s), simultaneously and fervently blamed for Everything Bad including Ruining America and also, Now We Can’t Have Jokes.

Back to the Yahoo group response: at current count there have been five responses to my request – very familiar responses to those versed in corners of the social justice online sphere. On the positive side, the original poster who’d used the term “crazy” apologized for using it and said she understood why the word was problematic (classy! and – more later). The remaining four responses have been skeptical and/or hostile and for their brevity have still nailed a surprising number of the squares in Bingo for Derailing – including “You’re being oversensitive”, “You’re being overly-intellectual”, and “Words have power only if you give them power”/the reclamation argument (the “power” sentence is an actual quote from one of today’s Yahoo messages – this person also said, “words hold no inherant ability to hurt”). If the discussion doesn’t die quickly I predict soon I will get, “you’re nitpicking a minor/trivial issue” / “Don’t you have more important things to think about?” But hey, I hope I’m wrong.

The most commonly iterated response was the token/backup trot-out, or what I sometimes think of as the “black friend” defense meant to entirely shut down conversation: “I have a friend / brother / such-and-such in this marginalized group and they don’t find this offensive” etc etc. So therefore: I will not read the articles or listen openly to your points. Therefore: I will ignore the fact that marginalized groups sometimes internalize oppressive and damaging narratives and strategies (reading the above link re: “reclamation” helps explain the so-called “double-standard” on who is “allowed” to use what language). Therefore: I do not care how many other people/scholars/researchers/writers/bloggers have objections and have worked to elucidate others on why they do – my tokenized example puts me above any reproach. This would be a laughable defense if it wasn’t also a very typical response to anti-oppression work and therefore, a bit sobering if not frustrating.

I have no evidence whatsoever a single soul who responded on Yahoo read my provided links, and that’s a shame. I posted them precisely because they were good, well-written, and better formed than anything I could have done. I’ve been exposed many times to the defense of pejorative use of words associated with marginalized groups: “retard”, “gay” (Wanda Sykes – I love it!), “crazy”, “lame”, “pansy”, “spaz”, “moron”, “pussy”,”woman” (yes! This is often used as an insult!), “faggot”, and “idiot” (um, I really could go on and on); objecting to these words and offering up arguments against their casual use is my prerogative and is not done for fun nor whimsy. I further add nor is it my contention those who use these words are Monsters and I am A Thoroughly Enlightened One (please; I only recently got right re: “crazy”; if you search my near decade-long blog you’re sure to see my ass in many minorly humiliating ways). To those who are uncomfortable with being challenged and/or embarrassed, I feel you. I’d offer this tasty tidbit from the Shapely Prose comment policy:

If someone gets pissy at you for using the word “retarded” for instance, that doesn”‘t mean they think you”‘re an evil person who hates developmentally disabled people OR that they”‘re hysterical, overreacting thought police. It means there are people around here who find that word hurtful, and we”‘re a lot more interested in protecting their feelings than your god-given right not to think of a better word.

Believe me; I’ve made my share of comments and been called out; it stings, I know, and I fully expect it to happen again! Being allowed to say anything I want without being challenged is not an inalienable human right; in the glass-half-full analysis of this I would posit that listening openly and self-educating are some of the more breathtaking and beautiful aspects of human responsibilities if we are in the position to do so.

Speaking up is hard. It often isn’t welcome, as any of my dedicated readers will know by now. This isn’t because the world is full of assholes (or at least I refuse to believe this); it’s because many people don’t like having their worldviews challenged; they often respond with a counter-offense (no matter how respectfully, I’ve discovered, one puts forth an objection).

But there are good reasons and positive results from objecting to a harmful status quo; a few touching anecdotes came my way from a father who tweets me today in recognition of these problematic words. “The one that makes me cringe the most is ‘that’s retarded’ and this was before I had a son with a mental disability.” He continues: “Now that I do have a son with autism I hear the ‘R’word and it sounds like it’s coming out of megaphone.”

Yeah. And thank you for sharing. He sends me the link to his blog where he writes about his son; I put it in my feed reader.

And then there’s this: some people truly can pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and thank you for the assistance. The very first comment in response to the FWD ableist word profile linked above is from Sarah, who simply writes, “I”‘ve been guilty of this. How embarrassing! Thank you so much for posting.”

Now that? That gives me hope.

* Incidentally? I would appreciate it if you do not re-tweet, IM, email, or share this article unless you first read through the four links provided in my cited Yahoo message; I typically do not write using linked articles (hence “quick hit”) and these are good ones.

Mentioned/Further Reading:

Meritocracy at en.wikipedia.org

The quote, “History is written by the winners” discussed at the snopes message board.

“Teaspoons 101: I Am Not the Thought Police” at Shakesville.

“Ableist Word Profile: Why I write about ableist language” A great 101 on a way to think about abelist language and the study therein at FWD.

“Being White” by Louis C.K. (trigger warning: rape metaphor)

“Touching Strangers: Making Friends of ‘Others'” at humaneeducation.org, sponsored and authored by Zoe Weil

“What ‘So Ghetto’ Really Means” by Tami Harris at change.org; those who’ve used “ghetto” against white neighborhoods might want to zap to my comment re: growing up in then-largely-white-but-working-class Hoquiam.

Tangentially and finally, because I had nowhere else to post this – someone in rebuttal to my points in the Yahoo discussion offered up this page: “Your guide to living life in the U.S.”. I kind of don’t have words as this does not seem to be a parody.

food: it’s what’s for dinner

food? or poison?

Food? Or Poison?

So it’s happened again: yet another lunch guest who tells me she hardly eats any meat or fat, mostly all-vegetables – and a few minutes later is ladling up two plates’-worth of my shepherd’s pie – with its buttery mashed-potato corona of Awesome – and devouring with much gusto. Then she tells me she doesn’t drink alcohol – and ends up asking for one of the gin and tonics my husband is mixing for other guests.

In my peer group at least, food fuckabouts are common enough. Whether men and women self-identify as “dieting” or not, they often are. And many of them do not demonstrate eating competence.

Food and diet are controversial, varied, and hugely complex subjects. So just to be clear from the outset, here is what I am not addressing in this article. I am not going to be talking about individuals and families who do not have access to a variety of food they can afford. I am not going to be talking about concepts appropriate for individuals with severe eating disorders.

I’m weighing in on the behaviors and strategies of people like my friends, family and I: people who have the means and resources to afford a variety of fare and who would not be classified as having an ED.1

Considering “eating competence” is almost as an important aspect of feeding and eating as supply and access it’s interesting few people know the basic tenets of the concept. From an article published at Kansas State University’s Department of Human Nutrition:

People who are competent eaters have positive attitudes about eating. They enjoy food. They are confident that they will have enough food to eat and they trust their bodies”‘ internal regulators to signal when they are hungry and when they are full. Children move toward eating competence as they learn to acknowledge their own internal cues. Development of eating competence ““ or the lack of ““ begins in infancy and continues through life.2

So I’m a pretty good cook; mostly though, a joyful and prolific one. I cook often for my family and for other people when I can.3 The socially-performed rituals of food-as-a-moral-failing-or-virtue are behaviors I’ve observed too often to be considered flukes.

See, many Americans can be really silly about food. Fer realz. Did you know we still have an operational Food Pyramid being purveyed by our government?4. Advocates of the Ethical Food Movement – with whom my family shares some aims and is locally-influential in promoting these goals – often do not address the institutional, cultural, and hugely oppressive stresses on American food habits, instead releasing considerable internet-vitriol slandering individual people and families for their ginormously disgusting Fatty McFatsalot food habits and sloth. (I’m not going to provide any soul-sucking links for this, throw a rock on Google and you’ll hit loads of it.)

That obesity business. Because let’s get real: one of the major factors in these food-games my friends and family play relates to their weight and size. Many Americans absolutely worship the Idol of Weight Loss with a fervor blind to any nuanced discussion of mitigating factors, scientific study, or personal health and happiness. Weight Loss is massive, a constant undercurrent, and an aspiration we’re all supposed to hold (so even if you’re not dieting, you should support dieting), even though countless studies prove diets don’t work and Americans know this anecdotally and empirically. In fact the efficacy of dieting is worse than many people realize: study after study shows around 95% of diet-participants gaining weight back in two years while two-thirds gain even more weight than what was lost.5 The significant health effects of de facto yo-yo dieting are wreaking havoc on American bodies and minds and quality of life (more about this in a minute). But this does not deter Americans from: dieting.

I notice a fair amount of my friends and family will claim their diet-and-exercise regimens and their food restrictions are about “health” – not weight. If you query them further (they might not like this) you often find this is a smokescreen.

Example: a dear friend of mine recently told me she needed to drop forty pounds. I asked Why? and she responded, “To be healthy”. She want on to say, “I want to be able to walk a brisk two mile walk and feel good doing it.” I said, “If you got up tomorrow and tried that walk slowly, then rested the next day then did it again, and so on, within a couple weeks you’d be able to do it and you’d probably feel great. And you probably wouldn’t drop more than a couple pounds, if that.” (This friend is able-bodied and fairly active already). From the look in her eyes I could see I wasn’t “getting” the fantasy-image she had of her new, slimmer, “healthy” self, a whole new Her (the fleshed out version of these visions is further-reaching than just Pounds Lost; it is also sometimes called The Fantasy of Being Thin6). Later, passing through her bathroom I saw the scale on the floor and the careful notes of pounds written on a piece of paper and taped to her mirror.

This woman, and so many people I know, might say the word “health”  but does not know her blood pressure nor has had recent bloodwork done or seen a trusted naturopath or physician or embarked on a study of quantifiable health markers (and yes, she could afford to do so if she wished). If her focus was truly on health she’d likely get rid of the scale and follow a proven method of lifestyle and fitness improvement, such as the HAES model developed by Linda Bacon (that’s right, BACON!).7 But of course, that’s not really what she, or lots of other “health”-touters, are really thinking about.

The typical versions of dieting are distressing behaviors because weight loss culture is a real agent of harm, self-loathing, and poor health. As long as people still cling to the ideologies of the Weight Loss Industrial Compex (fistfuls of money are being made hawking this religion) their bodies will suffer as will their quality of life: also and especially their children. Spending time with other people’s kids – especially the girl-children – I observe how many girls, even young ones, talk sneeringly about fatness or express their longing to thin – yes, even girls who already are thin. I’ve heard girls as young as four express these sentiments.  I am afraid in many cases their parents/carers aren’t doing all they can to protect these children, probably because they’ve either bought into “thin is in” or they don’t realize how invasive the forces are working against their children’s health.8 Make no mistake, the influence of peers and the media has even well-strategizing parents at a disadvantage.

The cost to our children is being borne out overwhelmingly by our female children, especially girls and young women of color.9 No one, however, is immune.  My own daughter asked me the other day if she was “too fat”.10 She’s not only not “too fat”, she’s just not fat at all, and the fact she has been asking and hinting about this lately troubles me. We are a homeschooling family who does not own a television and her father and I are active supporters of FA and healthy eating; we do not impose Draconian food measures. If she’s still getting these “better worry about one’s weight” messages loud and clear I’d like the reader to consider how oppressively ubiquitous they are and how they are likely playing out even more harmfully depending on the race, gender, sexual orientation, degree of disability, institutional status, and socioeconomic class of other children – most categories of which my daughter is an a culturally-privileged place.

It’s a grim picture. Yet we still talk about food incautiously and as if there were these tangible or elusive moral Rights and Wrongs. We still look at fat people (and occasionally thin people) and imagine we know what they eat (and/or how much they exercise and how “good” their exercise regimens might be). Sometimes my friends tell me they’re carrying “an extra X pounds.” I ask them how would they know it was ‘extra’? – literally, where would they go to find out? (The BMI index?11 The tabloids? Equally laughable!) They then, invariably, tell me about a time in their life they were smaller – maybe thirty years and three children ago (personally I came into this world at about eight pounds but I’ve put on a lot since then!).

We still suffer from poor-self-worth and insecurity which, tragically, often contributes to the pro-Diet mantras and myopic concepts of food morality. Unfortunately, this is not a “victimless crime” or even a one-victim crime; our attitudes and lip service in aggregate have very real effects on other people.  There’s also just the personal garden-variety misery our worldview effects; therapist, author and lecturer Ellyn Satter writes:

Our dilemma with weight is that at the same time as we are being told by health policy makers – repeatedly and with a great deal of judgment and urgency – that any degree of overweight is medically dangerous, there is no successful method for reducing and maintaining a lowered body weight. In fact, weight loss attempts have a boomerang effect: Most people regain lost weight and many gain to a higher level with each loss-regain cycle. While high body weight is a serious health risk only at the extremes, the far-more-common pattern of weight instability as a result of dieting is associated with negative health outcomes [emphasis mine].

For people who are relatively fat, the weight dilemma is even worse. Although body composition is, for the most part, genetically determined, people of size generally feel guilty about their weight and therefore ashamed of their eating. They have accepted society’s judgment that they overeat and that they are digging their graves with their knives and forks. In reality, most relatively fat people eat no more or no differently from thin people. They just pay the price. People of size at times eat chaotically, but that chaotic eating, rather than being a cause of high body weight, is far more likely to be a consequence of the weight-reduction dieting that they have pursued in the name of becoming thin.12

People make judgments about food and individuals’ “food virtue” that make little to no objective sense. Around these parts I’m known as a good cook and a “healthy” one. Because my family is slim and people know I enjoy cooking and I do cook with a wide variety of ingredients, some organic depending what I can afford, I am told I’m a “healthy” cook. What does that even mean? I’ve had people gush about my refried beans from scratch and tell me They’re Gonna Start Cooking Healthier At Home, and I think to myself, Do they want to know how much butter and salt are in those beans? From what I can tell some want to eat my food, proclaim it as healthy and delicious, perhaps claim they never eat such-and-such (while I’m watching them devour it), and/or tell themselves and the rest of the guests how they’re Losing Weight (or going to start soon). This is all part of that Fantasy I alluded to before. It’s hard to know what to say; often, I don’t say much at all.  (Disclosure: by vast overwhelming majority my friends and family who eat restricted diets because of medical issues or spiritual/ethical convictions are the ones I observe eat the way they claim to eat.)

Day after day I see the play-around “rules”, the “bad” food vs. “good” food, the “I can eat this slice of cheesecake because I did thirty minutes on the treadmill”, the endless discussions on size 6 jeans or size 8 jeans (and the hurt silence of the woman in the room who’s a size 20). I’ve seen it so many times, and as a hostess who loves to cook and have friends over it would almost be funny if I didn’t know What Lies Beneath; if I didn’t want better for future babies, boys, girls, men and women. My job as a hostess is to cook exactly the foods my friends tell me they want, put the grated cheese on the side or provide vegetarian alternatives or gluten-free main courses or whatever best serves everyone attendant; to lovingly craft with my own hands exactly what will nourish us all. What they put on their plate and how they frame it is, in the end analysis, under their control. The smiles and compliments, at least, tell me I’m doing something right.13

Here, writing about my observations, I know there are lots of people who simply can’t break the perpetuated mainstream mindsets on food and diet (and occasionally, ZOMG the obese are Ruining America!!11!) and who will want to tell me about all these Great Big Fat Persons14 out there who really, really, REALLY need to lose weight, Kelly, you should see what “these people” eat, blah blah.

But there are those I know who read here – those who are passionate about doing things a better way for themselves and their family, friends and children – who are open to expanding their worldviews and finding better ideas. As a personal aside, my own mother is gradually, ever-so-gradually, breaking a lifetime of training on self-worth-hinging-on-attractiveness, body image, and self-food-policing; she tells me I am her main influence in this regard.  This means a lot to me personally.

I’d hope I could positively influence other people, as well – not just cook for them.

Mentioned/Further Reading:
“If only poor people understood nutrition!” by Michelle Allison at The Fat Nutritionist

“Dear Health Care Provider” at RaisingBoychick.com, on partnering with your doctor/PA/naturopath/practitioner, etc. to manage topics of self-care, diet, exercise, and medication.

“But Don’t You Realize Fat is Unhealthy?” at Shapely Prose.

“Let us eat cake” at mymilkspilt: pressures on mothers regarding feeding their children.

“Occupied Bodies: Women of Color Speak out on Self-Image”, a call for submissions from Tasha Fierce at Red Vinyl Shoes.

“Diets Don’t Work, But…” on dieting-but-not-calling-it-that, by Kate Harding

“A Fat Rant” as performed by Joy Nash

“No Weigh! A Declaration of Independence from a Weight-Obsessed World” – a commitment to health from NationalEatingDisorders.org : “I, the undersigned, do hereby declare that from this day forward I will choose to live my life by the following tenets. In so doing, I declare myself free and independent from the pressures and constraints of a weight-obsessed world.” [click] for a pdf download.

  1. More information on Eating disorders can be found at the NIMH website. Also: obesity is not an eating disorder (warning-ableist language in the latter article).
  2. Full article here: “What is Eating Competence?”, published April 2008.
  3. Here are some snapshots.
  4. Here’s the updated version: http://www.mypyramid.gov/; and here are some criticisms for the pyramid and its underwriters, the USDA: 1, 2, 3, and 4 (warning: some rather broad-stroke anti-obesity language therein a few links): as one study author mildly puts it, “the USDA is too closely linked to the agriculture industry to be in the business of giving diet advice”.
  5. “Dieting Doesn’t Work”, UCLA research demonstrating “the most comprehensive and rigorous analysis of diet studies, analyzing 31 long-term studies.”
  6. Well-elucidated by this essay:  “The Fantasy of Being Thin” at Shapely Prose
  7. HAES, an introductory primer.
  8. A suggestion: print out the NEDA’s list “50 Ways to Lose the 3Ds: Dieting, Drive for Thinness, and Body Dissatisfaction” (pdf download) and use the scorecard to see how you’re doing.
  9. “A Different Kind of Fat Rant: People of Color and the Fat Acceptance Movement” by Lesley at Fatshionista.
  10. Here’s a picture of her.
  11. “Overweight Kills: If You Use Shaky BMI Science” at consumerfreedom.com
  12. From “Resolve the Weight Dilemma” at Ellyn Satter’s website.
  13. “cooking, a manifesto”, at my blog.
  14. “Was she a great big fat person?”

childbirth is natural / childbirth is danger danger!! or perhaps: if you’re a woman you suck

Newborn Nels

I totally had this baby to make you all happy, and it didn't even work!

A recent slight disintegration of discussion at a feminist blog I generally enjoy underscores the facts:

Women get it coming and going regarding childbirth and children. Just: constantly. And from the most elaborate and varied angles.  It’s almost breathtaking.

Just a primer in case you’re completely clueless: women are put down if they don’t want children or feel ambivalent on the subject. Childfree women (or childless women, or if someone can find a term that doesn’t offend those with kids or without, let me know) are harangued pretty regularly – when will you have kids? What? You don’t want to? Why not? What’s wrong with you? Oh you poor (unnatural, frigid, spiritually-devoid) thing.  If you don’t have kids you don’t have a life.  Tsk tsk.

Women who do want children but can’t make it happen – their bodies don’t provide the technology, they don’t feel they could support a child, they don’t have the support they require, there are physical or mental or chemical or financial barriers?  These women are constantly marginalized from the smallest throw-out sentences in children’s books (“A womb is a special place inside a woman where babies grow” purrs a very well-meaning, liberal-sentiment children’s book) to the glowing pictures of women-in-hospital, life fulfilled, yay baby!  Birth is talked about as “natural” – yet in the fervor to reclaim and rescue America’s abysmal birth culture these discussions can further alienate and hurt those who don’t have a “natural” or complication-free experience.  Infertility is somehow still a woman’s “fault” or failure; at best there is an insensitivity about the whole business.  “Just adopt!” chirps the seriously problematic hand-wave (socioeconomic class fail, to start) so many pipe up with when a woman has a problem breeding the more typical way. To my own consternation I hear women chirping proudly how easily they get pregnant, it happened at the drop of a hat, blah blah, with no regard to the woman standing next to them whose eyes fill with tears at hearing such oblivious enthusiasm.

Women who want children and then have them?  Here’s where we get right up close to the subject of birth where misogyny really ramps up.  You see garden-variety and boring misogyny when birth is discussed in any detail: accounts of orgasmic birth* (best-case, awesome birth scenario) and birth rape** (a very bad-case scenario) vilified, pooh-pooh’d, or ridiculed.  It would be boring and played-out if I didn’t regularly see how much these dismissals hurt actual women, their children, their partners, their families.

I’m one of the last category mentioned above – a woman who wanted, then had children – and I could wax eloquently on how that opens a whole shit-storm of criticism.  You birth the baby in the hospital or with drugs?  You’re a sell-out, a wimp, a failure, either a privileged prima donna or a sad statistic.  This goes double (or triple) if you have a C-section or if you (gasp!) formula-feed your child.  Women are cut open and subjected to the complications of heavy-duty abdominal surgery (the current C-section rate in this country is on the rise and at about 30 percent; some states have a 38% rate) and then the women themselves are made to feel like failures.

Have a baby at home (on purpose)?  You are an irresponsible, silly, vain (or ignorant) hippie.  [raises hand]

And for mothers, this is just what you’ll get five minutes after breeding the little person(s).  I haven’t got into the de-statusing and wage gaps and judgment (work outside the home or not? You’ll get it either way) and picking-at for childcare and schooling and career choice that await women in all walks of life.

Not everyone wants to admit this, but babies and childbirth are kind of everyone’s business – yes, men too. And yet your “everyday man” and fathers are, of course, mostly exempted from the vicious part of these conversations. While (white) men are still the primary women’s health policy makers, the OBs (who generally assist in most births in this country), the law- and policy-makers in this country, and even though they are often in positions that direct quite a bit about how pregnancy, labor and delivery goes down for many American women, they do not suffer the consequences and recrimination for birth outcomes nor passionate discussions about integrating family life with paid work. In the trenches, where women hurt the most, some of their bodies savaged or messed with and their life choices – to breed or not to breed, and how things play out when living their lives – sneered at, their emotions on edge and their sufferings and triumphs diminished or laughed at.  Too few men take these issues up as the human rights concerns they are.  Women are shunned and blamed for their suffering, if not additionally accused of Ruining America for being not-mothers or not-good-enough mothers or over-involved mothers.

I have no easy answers.  Yet probably Step One would be to give more credence to women and their lived experiences.  If a woman says she doesn’t want to have a child, please do not second-guess nor pity her, and please take away from this Actual Real Woman a commitment to stop assuming all women want babies, babies, piles of babies.  If the statistics show a wage gap and a lack of fair housework distribution between heterosexually-paired partners, respect that as a reality that involves, you know, actual people, and is a further testimony to our culture’s continued inequalities which yes, we should be working to fix.  If a woman speaks up about her birth or birth culture in this country, please take this as seriously as a discussion on your pet social justice topic, because reproductive rights and experiences fall under human rights issues that are happening to, again, real people.  Allow the many suffering women and babies and the statistics in America’s poor birth climate some consideration.  If you can’t or won’t do much about it, at least respect those who are fighting the good fight.  Because there are good reasons to fight it.

Step Two might be to stop attacking individual women for their choices or their life circumstances.  Just because you are personally squeamish about the phrase “orgasmic birth” does not give you the right to mock the real, actual women who find the subject important.  Just because you breastfed and stayed home to take care of your children does not give you the right to weigh in on the love, hard work, and commitment of any particular woman who did not (in this example) breastfeed or stay home.  Remember, we don’t pick on dads for this stuff, which is a red-flag for sexism at best.

And finally – again, just for starters – we all need to listen and believe.  Because something about the anti-women sentiments that rear up in these conversations remind me of a phrase I hear oft-repeated in school and childcare environments, a phrase I have never liked: “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit”.  Our cultural history has been one of silencing women, calling their concerns about housework or babies or jobs with or without kids silly, allowing their bodies to pay the price for being female.  You don’t have to understand it all (indeed, even highly-involved activists are continually learning), but belittling the conversation?  Uh, no.

Because: “If you don’t find time to change the world, then you’re busy keeping it the way it is.” (unattributed)

Mentioned/Further Reading:

“Non-Medical Reasons for a Rise in Caesarian Sections” at Sociological Images

* Several accounts of orgasmic birth at unassistedchildbirth.com

** Birth rape: “More Than a Traumatic Birth” at truebirth.com

A review of Heather Has Two Mommies at Raising my Boychick

“Maternal Death in the United States: A Problem Solved or a Problem Ignored?”, 3 part article by Ina May Gaskin

VBACtivism at the Feminist Breeder