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: how to meet ‘girls’ IE, respect the c*ck

On FB today my partner Ralph shared a wee video from an author and self-styled relationship guru named Greg D. – the proprietor of a website, DVD, etc. with a tagline cited as “Pure Attraction – The Art of Christian Social Dynamics”. I’ll let you watch for yourself.

Although Ralph’s resultant commentstream was full of people expressing revulsion for this man and his condescending yet cringeworthy and inept “tactics” to make himself seem approachable and relaxed and, mostly, to meet his goal: getting closer to a woman – I mean “a girl” – for his own purposes of relationship, I would imagine many people in our social sphere are likely to mock this as a symptom of Christian dysfunction instead of examining, you know, men and masculine culture in totality. It’s easy (and occasionally fun, to some) for many of my peers to make fun of this man because of his stated goals of helping Christian men and his unabashed identity within a Christian church (or other targets, like his appearance), but of course there are so many secular approaches to “dating strategies” for men that involve condescencion, “openers”, inauthentic performance, predation, stereotyping of women (much of it misogynistic or even trigger-warning worthy), and a bevy of extremely problematic approaches to women – including, as in this video, a complete insensitivity to women’s lived realities. To wit, a stunning ignorance that the supposedly refreshing and straightforward, “You’re adorable/beautiful/sexy/hot” and/or big brother/little sister approach upon a first-time meet is not universally experienced as complimentary, welcomed, charming, and/or desired, however a woman may respond in the moment she’s confronted by it. See, many people call-out these dating gurus and “How To Meet / Bed Ladies” as being inept and dehumanizing but kind of silly and harmless and ha-ha, no one actually uses these (oops, some people do!, p.s. did you know when you kill women specifically because they’re women we don’t call it a “hate crime”, whee!); conveniently these same people simultaneously ignore the misogynistic root of most approaches and their disturbing prevalence in mainstream magazines, media, etc. that make money hand over fist and adorn the landscape of public life (oh hai Maxim!).

Departing from the mainstream media and back to the personal, in watching this video tonight with our small dinner-guest group I felt deflated. Partly it was my mood, but partly it was mentally living out my history and memories. At some point I grimly identified aloud having had all these approaches levied at my person (including, verbatim, “You’re adorable,” etc., the video opener that bothered me most), and this took me on a mental trip through the many nuances of incredible Assery I’ve experienced, like the much-older coworker who told me over our first lunch in the breakroom that he hoped we could be “fuck buddies” – a particular record-scratching moment that immediately precipitated a soul-cocktail of simultaneous tedium and mild despondency - the persistant fellow at the meetup who upon my rejection threatened to hit me, the fellow that staggered up to my friends and I (ah… StaggerPuss has happened to me so, so many times) and asked if there was truth in the whole, bears-can-smell-menstruation myth (answer: Fuck. Unbelievably. Off. also: no. Also: Fuck Off, have I mentioned? Also: Steve Carell is hilarious).

At my brief omission at being on the receiving end of “openers”, our male friend (who, like my partner, is able to participate in discussion of human rights issues for women without suddenly having his Man Card revoked) said, “I’m sorry you’ve experienced that.” Even then my kneejerk response is that whole, “I’m nothing special” bit I always feel like pointing out: I believe a lot of women have experienced a lot worse or more frequent than I have and of course, some women who’ve experienced what I’m naming might tell you these behaviors don’t bother them (and some women are often labeled as “undesireables” in a myriad of ways and they get a whole bevy of other Assery I’m not even touching on here). But the desire to quickly deflect attention from my protestations of mistreatment, or my knee-jerk impulse to say, “Oh it’s not that bad”, is precisely what I’ve been Feminized to do – my whole life.

My friend can’t apologize for things he didn’t do to me, personally, although (I think?) I appreciate his sentiment. See, what is more important to me is we quit the bullshit that sex is some kind of predatory evo-psych reality and the oppositional sexist dictum that women categorically withhold sex and physical affection (which is shitty and manipulative of them to do) and men cheerfully and/or aggressively should pursue these goals (which is only their right, after all). Men need to decide for themselves if women are people as opposed to male-fable plot-points or sexual receptacles or ego-fodder. Me personally, just tonight anyway, I’m a bit tired of trying to convince people of the former, even if I know it deep down in my guts to be the truth and the lived reality we should aspire to.

When any writer objects to some of the predatory, problematic, rape-apologist, patriarchal, oppositionally sexist (P.S., read this book) and/or patriarchal axioms of a man’s actions or a masculine institution (traditions and behaviors that often include and/or support the practices of racism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, transphobia, and classism, to name a few), inevitably someone steps in with their “What About The Mens?” wail. You know, Hey these guys are just trying to start a conversation and they get nervous too! AND/OR not every guy who tries to talk to a lady is a would-be rapist and you are totally saying that about all guys right now! AND/OR what’s a guy to do these days, one time I opened a door for a lady and she got all upset about it!

And yeah, I get it. I understand men are human and exhibit frailty and clumsiness and they want love (yay!) and of course, I am partnered with a man whom I love and respect and I cook for him and and sometime mend his clothes and I even let him touch my goodies and everything!  I understand and believe patriarchy really, really does hurt men too (and please do read that previous “WATM” link). That doesn’t excuse the repeated derail into making conversations about women’s experiences ALL about men and their rights to sex/hurt feelings, etc. But I get that men are hurting too.

Because, on a less social justice bent, I think often of the many men and women who suffer social anxieties; the many men and women are lonely and want connection. It is also true that many people are afraid of loneliness and vulnerability and, sadly, those of us who can help will often shy away from such people. I think of the twelve year old girl visiting the other day who routinely worries about “creeps” following her and I tell her, Well most men aren’t dangerous creeps. And I know it sucks to be called or considered a Creep when you’re not. But it also sucks for so many men to put themselves in the Not Creep category and lift nary a finger or think nary a thought about the fact that while they’re all busy being the Not Me & Not My Problem they’re making sure things stay exactly the same way for everyone else.

I hope there are a few fellows who read here and understand that seriously, I am not going to personally mock them for making clumsy pickup attempts or having really crappy or ill-formed ideas about ladies because heck, lots of ladies have the same. It isn’t really a man-vs.-woman thing at all (but many want you to believe it is) since so many women have internalized misogynistic and sexist worldviews. But men benefit from male privilege and don’t always see the hurt their sisters have had (and continue to have) wreaked upon them. It hurts these totally-decent men when they realize they’ve been authors and conspirators. And yeah, I know that’s a hard realization to have. I do.

But if they let their injured ego stand in the way of a commitment to doing better, it’s a huge shame. For all of us – including people these men deeply care about, no matter if their gurus and “dating” self-styled experts demonstrate a bottomless void where Awareness, Wisdom, and Compassion should be in evidence.

And now, in closing, I give you the world of fiction – which is, sadly, not all that fictional – and a wonderful scene performed by Tom Cruise from the film Magnolia:

the limitations of “color-blind and fancy-free”, an 80′s music video treatise

Get Out Of My Dreams, and Into My Car

So, Sophie, should you get into that guy's car outside the club? Absolutely! Wait! No. Uh... Do what you feel.

I love what my mom brings in assisting my husband and I in parenting our kids.  What she’s bringing mostly lately is Billy Ocean. In the last week whenever I go over to pick up my children after a playdate, she and the kids are singing to or watching the video of his hit single “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car”.

I’m a fan of several of Billy Ocean’s songs (okay, especially “Loverboy”, and although I love belting that one out I feel compelled to point out that is a bad 80′s video decision in an era of very bad videos).  “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” makes me laugh a little, though, because it’s a perfect example of my now-and-then mixtapes containing deliciously and unintentionally creepy pop music*  – you know, a seemingly cheerful or romantic tune that, if you listen closely, actually features chillingly stalker-like lyrics.  Other songs of Mr. Ocean’s qualify, by the way (see below).  And tangentially: my current favorite and recently-discovered honoree in this fake genre is Dusty Springfield’s “I’ll Try Anything” (“I want you so much inside / I’m throwin’ away all my conscience and pride!“).**

Back to the aforementioned song: last night in my mother’s living room my seven year old daughter, after about the eighth consecutive listen to this catchy tune, approached my mother and asked, “Grandma? How come in this video there’s a white woman, and she gets into a black man’s car?”  My mom responded, “Well, why not?” and Sophie stalled.  Then I said, “Sophie, if I’m correct in what I hear you’ve observed, I will say it’s true that many people date within their race, but that doesn’t mean everyone does, or that you have to.” My daughter nodded, watching me. “Besides,” I added, “I don’t think that woman was a ‘white woman’, she looked like a light-skinned black woman to me.”  At this my daughter said, “Ooohhhh…” in that whole, I’m-getting-the-picture way she has.

And that was a window of opportunity, out of the blue, to talk a bit about the complexities of race in today’s America.  After our handful of sentences Sophie’s curiosity was sated while for a few additional moments my mind raced over several subjects: the differences in portrayals of light-skinned vs. dark-skinned black women in television and film, Paper Bag Parties, colorism, the Jezebel stereotype, and “brightening creams” among a handful of other less-formed thoughts. But it was 11:30 at night, we were coming off a party, and the kid had already ran into the kitchen to grab up a slice of pound cake.

Of course, discussions on race, sex, gender, homophobia, and social justice take place regularly in my household (as well as discussions on cooking, cleaning, eating, trees, fish, polygons, scotch-tape under a microscope, iPod holders built out of Legos, you get the idea); but the “big issues” discussions are mostly conversations between my husband and I.  The kids overhear most of this, if they decide to listen in, and partake when they feel they have a point to make. They sometimes look over my shoulder at what I’m reading (or writing), and not a movie viewing goes by (we don’t own a television) that Ralph and I aren’t either off-handedly or seriously discussing, say, the White Savior elements in a storyline, or the mansplaining Arrogant Scientist in our beloved old B-movies, or the tropes of mincing silly gay man and the menacing lesbian (no really, these things are still alive and well in so many films!)

So it’s not that I’m saying social subjects only come up this handful of precious times, like last night.  What I will say is, it’s a rare and lovely opportunity when the kid herself discovers something about the world – something seemingly understated and normative to our peer group even – and asks about it.  Her mind is open in that moment and she is ready for a piece of the puzzle; such a gift, considering how much else she absorbs without being fully conscious of it (and some of these socially atmospheric messages are decidedly not-so-great).  My mother’s response (“Why shouldn’t white and black people date one another?”) was a correct one; however, what I know my daughter had perceived was that the world is often not a Sesame Street-esque mix of people all getting along and mixing their crayon sets together; so I think, in that light, my response was a correct one as well – especially given previous and pending family choices deliberately seeking anti-racist goals.

I’m impressed by my seven year old daughter, who notices all sorts of things about the behavior of people in the world.  As any reader of my blog or personal friend of the family will know, she is very intuitive and perceives subtleties, which will serve her well in her life.  Because maybe a thing I fear greatly is to accidentally pass on a “colorblind” ideology – like that espoused by so many others I know and, to some extent, my own family of origin (Oh my gosh! I could talk about the liberal and “colorblind” white family so much! Like how they will repeatedly say the same little things like, “You know, these are called ‘Brazil nuts’ – people USED to call them n**-toes, but we don’t do that any more” and “So-and-so, our black friend“, with that special way they’d say the phrase that is eerily like that special way they say “homosexual”.  As in, “I am pointing out the race/sexuality of this person in a way that tells you I’m such a Special Progressive Person for being okay with their race/sexuality”).  So anyway, the “colorblind” upbringing, you know, “the world is full of people of all colors of the rainbow, and we all live together happily, wheeee!”  I find this sort of thing profoundly lacking (although well-intentioned and partially valid, blah blah), especially when raising a child who has a mind and a heart, and can see deeply – but not always interpret what she sees.

As someone she seeks for guidelines – sometimes quite directly – I don’t want to mess up, but neither do I want to worry too much about being the Perfect Parent in any of these surprise child-initiated conversations – because I have to believe I influence her every day, even when we’re not directly discussing a social issue. But if she asks, I’m not going to piss on her leg and tell her it’s raining, either.

I owe her better than that.

- KH

Mentioned / Further Reading:

“Stalkin’ Rockin’”, a compilation

Billy Ocean: “Caribbean Queencheck out the perfect descending-stairs snap/pelvic-trust at 0:58! I emulate this on a regular basis!, “Loverboy”

I’ll Try Anything” by Dusty Springfield

Paper Bag Parties, from Wikipedia

“Love Isn’t Enough”, a site for the parent considering an anti-racist household

From the above site, a nine minute film interviewing children about race and racism; the brief discussion in the L.I.E. post is also good

Not all discussions on race are productive (from Racialicious)

Tim Wise has a handful of essays on the “color-blind” mentality, if you’re up for some dry (but great!) reading

“Know Your LGBT History” at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters (good film reviews)

The Jim Crow Museum’s essay on “The Jezebel Sterotype” – and most all of Dr. Pilgrim’s writings – are fabulous

Everywhere I look I seem to see skin “brighteners” (whiteners), here’s one example of an ad campaign that lacked subtlety

Mansplaining scientists and the Hogaboom viewing audience, at my blog

OHNOES i’ve been squandering my “sex favor” cards!

Happily married!The day after Christmas a friend posted an article on her Facebook profile*, entitled “Men Who Help Clean Get More Sex”, from Limelife.com. It’s a subject I’ve seen many times online – another study that reports, in effect, that a relationship with a more egalitarian share of household responsibilities often enjoys more sex (although this study in particular – link below – seems to be talking specifically about high-energy couples – high-energy in work together and in sexual activity).

The way this relatively lightweight Limelife piece presents the information is typical of the many articles I’ve seen on the topic (and that you will see if you do a simple Google search). It contains the following assumptions and implicit assertions:

1. In a heterosexually-partnered relationship, housework is a woman’s responsibility. A man can choose to “help” if he wishes.

2. Sex isn’t a mutual act: men are the pursuant party and women the pursued (or withholding). It makes sense for men to use “brownie points” to get sex, because:

3. Women don’t want sex for sex’s sake. It’s something they dole out as a reward; or, to use the headline, something men “get” out of their women if they play their cards right.

4. Women find the sight of their male partner doing housework a “turn on” in and of itself – as opposed to male partners doing their share of housework being an element of a healthier relationship that helps heterosexual women stay happier, healthier, and sexually vigorous.

Several studies from diverse sources show that as a group heterosexually-partnered males do half of the work in the home that women do, regardless of paid or outside employment. In my own observances, well – let’s just say by example one of the many myriad and minor reasons I left Facebook were the handful of female acquaintances who’d post status messages like, “My husband is doing the dishes! I am the LUCKIEST LADY ALIVE!” without a trace of irony. As far as amorous relations, I don’t have much of a window into my friends’ sex lives – and they don’t have much into mine. But I do know a dismaying number of married-to-men women who heap all kinds of grateful praise and “rescuing” on their partner for considerably less effort and performance than they, as females, perform daily, day in, day out, over and over.

This hits home, too. My own husband is often the recipient of a glorified pedestaling for the kind of work I regularly do without much comment from outside parties; he has countless times been called “Superdad” for – I kid you not – taking care of his own kids and sometimes other people’s. And just so you know – in case you, dear reader are childfree and/or unaware – women do stuff like arrange playdates and take care of kids All. The. Time.** I’ll let my husband speak for himself more eloquently on his oft-prescribed moniker of “Superdad!” but suffice to say: he finds it demeaning and insulting to himself, and unfair to his wife.

Obviously, in any individual relationship there are mitigating factors, and my intention here is not to personally weigh in on any particular couple or couple’s habits. For instance: perhaps in the case of the abovementioned Facebook status the husband had done a bunch of OTHER awesome stuff earlier in the day. However, taken as a sum the truth is: we expect less out of our men and they are only too happy to deliver (or, as I like to more charitably believe, won’t decide to deliver unless we educate them on the necessity that they do so).

The sad thing is, ultimately, all this seems to point to a cultural devaluation of heterosexually-partnered women’s health and happiness. Concomitant to this (not-very) mind-blowing concept that dudes should maybe pick it up at home I saw recently, on a web medical information site, an absolute glut of queries regarding a low sex-drive in women and wives – and many, many medications, remedies, and long lists of nutritional do’s and don’ts to “fix” the problem. I’m left wondering: do the mojo-draining twin forces of overwork and deep resentment perhaps have anything at all to do with women’s libido and desire? Naaaah. Let’s keep to that whole, “What do women want? Ah, who knows! Let’s give ‘em a pill to get ‘em horny for us.” It’s just easier that way.

As for me? I actually do have a husband who does his share. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need reminders and re-education because, yeah, there is a right way to put away the dishes, bro. In fact, in our case – with one partner working at home and the other in paid employment – he’s at a bit of a disadvantage when he comes home and is thrust into the house ins and outs. But he knows it’s his job to do figure it out and do his share, and so do I. He’s a really, really fabulous guy (he’s also great in the sack, so I guess – bonus?), and I’m grateful to have such a partner. But I think I’m pretty cool too; I’ve been doing the hard, hard work of casting off the expectation I should do most (if not all) of the work en casa, and expect very little of – or be inordinately grateful for – his “help”.

* I don’t actually have a Facebook account, but I sometimes check my husband’s.

** Another thing people do? A lot? When a father of an infant is taking care of his own child, they call it “babysitting” (as opposed to, you know, parenting).

Mentioned:

“Men Who Help Clean Get More Sex”