Monthly Archives: February 2009

Three hour naps, how I miss you…

There is so much I want to write about. Race and privilege; gender and privilege; cisgender and privilege; sexuality and passing; mental health and mental illness; fat parents and a skinny child; babywearing and the lack thereof; breastfeeding and its gradual decrease; and so, so many things about raising this Boychick who is such a bright beautiful light in my life and how I want to raise him up and celebrate him as the perfect being he is and how I almost feel I mustn’t because as a probably-straight, definitely white probably-male middle-class American he’s going to be heaped and heaped with ugly messages about his superiority for the rest of his life and how the hell do I counteract that; and so much more. There is a superabundance of topics I long to flesh out and share with you.

But we’re sick, and this weekend, when The Man and I are sick and I’ve been disabled by a migraine, the Boychick has decided to say farewell to his prior 2-3 hour naps and substitute them for 30-40 minute “naps” that give him energy for the afternoon and major crankiness for the evening, which we are simply not equipped to deal with, not having any energy ourselves, due to illness and a lack of time in which to relax and reenergize.

So, I had plans to get creative and write an Ode to the Nap, but now I must go tagteam with my coparent; between the two of us, we might be able to fake being 2/3 of a sane and healthy adult, at least long enough to get us all in bed and asleep.

Just don’t talk to me about the next week; I’m afraid I’ll start whimpering.

Origins of words, and conversations in anatomy class

One of the fun things for me about studying midwifery was learning the origins of many words: midwife, vagina, and cunt, among others. One of the fun things about studying anatomy at massage school is having these come back up.

The cunt came up in a particularly interesting conversation about the bones of the foot. Yes, you have cunts in your foot. Well, cuniforms, anyway: three of the seven tarsal bones in your foot are the medial, intermediate and lateral cuniforms. When the instructor mentioned the cuniforms in class, my head popped up; I had heard that word before. I asked what cuniform meant (dude, it was 9pm, after 2.5 hours of anatomy lecture; I was tired!), she said she didn’t know, and BAM, it came to me! I’d heard it before, in the root of cunt! “Cuniform” means “wedge”; “cunt” refers to the wedge of the visible pubic mons. Problem was I’d said “Oh!”, and then, of course, she wanted to know… And while I have absolutely no compunctions using “cunt” in a casual setting, or when discussing it academically, I was sitting in a room with a half dozen others I barely know, most of them little old ladies, on the spot, and the damn teacher wasn’t taking any hints. I believe the phrase “woman’s private parts” crossed my lips, at which point my inner feminist keeled over, disowned me, and burst into flames, all at once. “Oh, cunt!” exclaimed the teacher, who might or might not be gay, but who has a truly impressive tie collection. “Yup”, said the mortified I — I was tripping over cunt? Really? Had my ovaries walked away without giving notification? Was I going to have to hand in my ballsy woman card? Yes, yes, yes, and yes, alas. However, I will never forget the names of at least three of the tarsals in the human foot.

The other fun one came the following week when same teacher was discussing the tendon sheath. “Pretend this pencil is a tendon. And my hand here” making an O “is the sheath. The tendon just goes in there and moves around in the sheath, slides in and out, the sheath providing moisture for easy gliding…” making the appropriate motions, at which point I am burying my head in the table trying not to snigger too loudly. My friend sitting next to me looks at me as though thinking I simply have a dirty mind. On a note (I have learned my lesson about speaking up with these things), I tell her “vagina is latin for sheath”. “Really?” she mouths. Oh yes, I nod. And by now we both are sniggering noticeably, and probably pissing off the rest of the q-tip haired ladies.

As a language geek, I vastly prefer the meaning of cunt to the meaning of vagina: the wedge of the visible mons when a woman stands erect and proud, versus the entirely internal sheath for a man’s “weapon”; which symbolism do you prefer? And yet which do we use in “polite” company, and which has ended up one of the seven unspeakable words? Coincidence? Perhaps… Due to its history, I cannot quite bring myself to advocate the reclamation of cunt, but nor would I hinder it. I surely would celebrate anything that moves our understanding of female genitalia from male-centric (vagina) to female-centric (the rest of it).

And in the meantime, don’t take an anatomy class with me unless you want to alienate the other students. But at least we’ll laugh, and remember some things very well.

On abortion

Just to make clear, in case there was any doubt, I am emphatically pro-choice. I do not believe that “life” starts at conception or that aborting an embryo can by a rational omnivorous person be said to be murder (I give more leeway here to vegans, though not if they swat at flies or squish spiders, not even the giant poisonous ones they find crawling up a leg — only if one can consider squishing a gnat murder will I allow you the moral standing to call abortion murder, though I’ll still fight you if you wish to impose your beliefs on others).

I am pro-choice to the point that when I finally got pregnant, after over a year of trying to conceive, I told myself every day for the first trimester that I could have an abortion still. A lot of people look at me askance when I say that, to put it mildly, but it wasn’t for lack of love of the potential person growing inside me nor even due to an excess of ambivalence — of course I had doubts and concerns, but it was an unequivocally wanted pregnancy — but rather that the reminder of the choice I had reassured me every day that I had options, that I chose this, that I could still make another choice if it was too much. The fact that I chose, actively chose, every day for three months, to keep the pregnancy helped carry me through the long months ahead when bearing the baby was the only path available. It later brought me joy to remember that each day for those early months I chose to welcome this potentiality in to my life. Far from being pathological, contemplating abortion of a tried-for pregnancy was a practice in falling in love with my baby-to-be.

Anyway, all that is to say I am most definitely pro-choice. So when I read Twisty (at I Blame the Patriarchy) say that expressing a desire to reduce the number of abortions is inherently an anti-feminist stance, I do something of a double take (ok, perhaps that’s not exactly what she said, but that’s how I read “More abortions, fewer abortions — what’s the diff? The numbers are irrelevant.”).

I can see how an anti-abortion, pro-choice position could be non-feminist, where abortion is seen as taking a life but is a lesser evil than those which happen when abortion is illegal. Any time the focus is on the embryo or fetus and a comparative analysis of being terminated pre-consciousness v living a life unwanted, the stance is non-feminist (though not necessarily anti-feminist).

But I do believe there is a feminist stance that says fewer abortions are better than more. My reasons for that position, as passionately pro-choice and abortion neutral as I am, are woman-centric:

  • First and simplest and at the root of all the other reasons, if a woman doesn’t want to bear a child, she shouldn’t have to get pregnant in the first place. Contraception and sex positive education should be universally and freely available. All humans should know about fertility awareness and all women who want to should be helped to chart their cycles. Men who don’t want to wear condoms or become a parent should have vasectomies. All adolescents should be taught how to have fabulously enjoyable orgasmic sex without risk of pregnancy, starting with themselves (don’t want your daughter to get pregnant? forget the lectures and the condoms, have a beloved aunt take her toy shopping). No one should feel forced to have sex for money or touch or food or safety or grades or housing or any other bullshit reason the patriarchally constrained choices offer her today. And rape, of course, needs to go buhbye, with all women taught assertiveness and self-protection and all men taught to not be sexist raping asses, and with a legal stance of assumed non-consent for women (second half of the post: brilliant idea I wish were mine; now that I know of it, though, I’m bringing it up every chance I get). There are a hundred thousand ways we can make abortion less necessary starting with avoiding unwanted pregnancy, and none of them have to do with moralizing or shaming or “abstinence promotion” and all of them start with the radical idea that women are people.
  • Next up on my list of feminist reasons why fewer abortions would be better: abortion, either chemical or surgical, is not exactly easy on the female body. While assuredly safer than pregnancy and birth, even just a couple weeks of pregnancy followed by termination takes a physical toll and carries real, if minute, risks. While the anti-science anti-abortion Bush-funded propaganda linking abortion to cancer was patently bullshit, that doesn’t mean that pregnancy and termination are toll-free either. There’s the nausea, exhaustion, and pain of early pregnancy (unmitigated by the joy and excitement of a chosen pregnancy), the blood loss of expulsion, and either the risk of surgical uterine/cervical scars or flooding the body with artificial hormones, both of which get more and more dangerous with repeated use. This is in no way meant to scare women away from abortion (again, it’s still easier on your body than a full pregnancy and birth, and I say that as a rabidly pregnancy-positive, birth-positive, crunchy-granola aspiring homebirth midwife, who has a tendency to open up whoopass when people start spouting misogynistic bs about the ickiness and terror of childbearing), but just to point out that once again it is women’s bodies bearing the burden of patriarchy’s fuckups, women’s bodies wracked if not wrecked for men’s pleasure.
  • Then there’s the financial issue. While as feminists we should be working on universal health care for all with abortion 100% covered and 100% available, in the meantime abortion (if you can get it) ain’t cheap, at $350-1000+ a pop, unless one is privileged to have insurance that covers it (compare this please to the cost of a one-time vasectomy at $500-1000+, which could prevent untold numbers of abortions, carries none of the stigma of abortion, is a vastly simpler procedure, and is more likely to be covered by insurance). Even if women earned as much as men, as long as the burden paying for terminating an unwanted pregnancy falls to women, we’re going to be at a disadvantage. Paying for an abortion can mean the difference between paying the rent and having to find someone to stay with; it can mean the difference between being able to afford this semester of college or not, between applying to grad schools this year or not; it can mean the difference between getting the hell out of dodge or having to stay in a town with the dickwad who spewed his wad and fucked you over in the first place. Of course we need to give away abortions free, but until we get to utopia, damn right I’m going to say there need to be fewer abortions; not more babies, but fewer pregnancies to start with, because one way or another it is women who are literally paying the price of our PIV-sex obsessed culture.
  • Last and probably most controversially in feminist culture, there need to be fewer abortions because having an abortion usually sucks — not in a “post-abortion-syndrome” way, but just in a that-shit-ain’t-easy way. I have not yet been there myself (though if I had gotten pregnant when the Boychick was less than a year, I would have been at my local clinic that very day, and I’m not sure what I would do if that happened now; termination would certainly be on the table for consideration), but having watched others go through it, having miscarried an unwanted, unknown pregnancy myself, having listened to feminist women discuss the destiny of their frozen fertilized embryos, my conclusion is that it sucks; not for everyone, not every time, not horribly, but I do not believe that it is only “pro-life” propaganda that makes it, for some, an emotionally difficult experience. I do believe that the guilt around the choice to terminate is a cultural patriarchal construct, as most woman-guilt is, and to be sure an abortion can also be simply an entirely joyful decision, but it’s such a complex one that there is no one way women will ever feel about it. There is no wrong way to feel and no right way to feel, and anyone attempting to invade women’s minds to dictate to them what they “should” feel during or after the event needs to be bitchslapped as hard as anyone attempting to invade her body, whether that’s the religionists telling her it’s murder she must carry the guilt for or radfems telling her it’s simply nothing and any effect it has on her is merely her weakness to patriarchal bullcrap. Some women feel joy at an abortion; some women mourn their potential baby; some women feel easy relief; many women feel all of the above and more. But as long as any woman is drained by the experience; as long as any woman dislikes it; as long as any woman would make another choice under less patriarchally insane circumstances; as long as any woman would rather have not had to face this choice: I am going to say we should work to need fewer abortions.

I am pro-choice. I believe feminists need to work toward a world with assumed non-consent, where health care, day care, family-friendly employment, contraception, sex-positive education, and abortion are universally available and accessible, where every family doctor, general practitioner, gynecologist, nurse practitioner, and nurse midwife is trained in and offers safe abortions; and I believe that to the extent this or any step toward this reduces the number of abortions without increasing the number of unwanted, unchosen babies, this is to be celebrated. There will always be abortions, because there will always be contraceptive failures, changes of situation, and changes of mind. But we don’t need to be anti-feminist “babyists” to believe fewer abortions is a good thing to work toward.

Note: This is not the place to debate abortion. One does not have to agree with me, nor even be pro-choice, in order to comment, but posts that are exclusively moralizing, actively anti-choice, or exist only to register one’s disagreement with a pro-choice stance will be deleted. All other comments are welcome and invited.

Motherhood and identity

I’ve previously talked about why I am not a SAHM, but in a conversation with a very dear friend yesterday (yay date-nights!), I think I stumbled on another factor in why I don’t claim the label.

As I said to her, I am totally fine saying “I am bisexual”, “I am bipolar”, even “I am a student” (“student” is what I usually put on forms asking for my occupation). But I’ll scratch the eyes out of anyone who calls me a SAHM. I will, sometimes, for shorthand, call myself a “full time parent” (as in my About Me over there), but I try to avoid it. She asked what I do say when the topic comes up, and I answered I say I spend the day with my kid.

And that’s just it: I describe what I do; I do not label who I am based on what I do in parenting. In thinking about it, I also will say I practice attachment parenting, but never say I am ” an attachment parent”, whatever the hell that is (I’m afraid it involves checklists, and my loathing for checklists is vast and fiery enough to demand a whole post for itself).

There’s something very important in that distinction to me, and I think I’ve identified parts if not the whole of it.

First, a la the Feminine Mystique (do I get kicked out of the club if I admit I’ve not yet actually read that book?), there is a danger to making your mothering the whole of your identity. I think, though, that the danger is more when that identity is imposed on you; but in our patriarchal society, which is so invested in fueling “the mommy wars” (is it the mummy wars in England? that paints a rather different picture to my American mind, but that’s beside the point), it’s almost impossible to avoid the imposition of such labels, and if one wishes to, one must actively fight against it. I do not want to resent my child, or make him resent me, by allowing my life, even “just” in my words, to revolve around him. To claim that label is to say something about the order of my world that I do not believe is healthy for either of us.

Second, as I touched on in the previous post, staying at home is something I do, for the moment, not something permanent or essential to who I am. There are a number of reasons I do this for now, but it’s not my ideal or my goal; it is my choice, but a choice constrained by patriarchy; and it is not the only thing I do, and will likely be even less a part of my life in the future: so, it is not a part of my identity. And yet, “student” is; perhaps because there have been so few times in my life when that was not something I was doing, an intrinsic part of my self? The transient nature cannot fully explain but is surely a part of why I reject the label.

Finally, and this may be a holdover from my second wave upbringing, but it’s just not a label I particularly like, nor want to have attached to me. (This is the hardest one for me to say, because I have dearly beloved friends and family who do identify as SAHMs, and it can be so hard to communicate “I don’t like it for me because it seems demeaning” without also coming across as acusatory or judgmental of them, of their choices and their self-identity.) Obviously I don’t think caring for a child full-time and feminism are incompatible, but there does seem to be something incongruous with the proudly claimed label of SAHM and feminism. I honestly don’t know if that’s an accurate criticism (and as always, I blame the patriarchy, for constructing and constricting our choices, never individual women), or a misogynistic, mommy-war holdover in my brain. But either way, it’s just not something I want said about me. It squicks me out. It is not something I value for itself, and thus not something I want to claim about myself.

The construction of identity fascinates me, all the more so because I don’t fully understand it, even in myself. We communicate as much about ourselves by what we leave out as by what we include. Some women are entirely in favor of equality, of fighting sexism, of women’s liberation… and do not identify as feminist. I am a woman who spends the day more or less at home, engaging in the unpaid and largely unsupported employment of raising my child, while my male partner works outside the home to make money for us to have a food and a house and health insurance… and I do not identify as a SAHM. There must be some connection there, something to help me promote the feminist movement, but bugger me if I can make it today.

Doctor Who, TV-free, manic depression, and the dangers and gifts of grandiosity

We just finished watching Series 4 of the new Doctor Who. My 23 month old* has now watched more Doctor Who than anything else on screen — not that he’s been watching with us, because he (and we, when he’s not napping) is nominally TV-free, but sometimes he wakes up in the middle of an episode that we Just Can’t Not Finish (like this afternoon, when we were 20 minutes away from the end of the final episode of the season), and, well, it happens.

In fact, our feelings about Doctor Who pretty well exemplify why we are TV-free: I am a TV addict. Watching one episode of a show I like is pretty much like eating the proverbial one potato chip; it’s just not something I can do. I must have more, and more, and more, and then my child is watching lots of things blowing up and the planet being towed by a little blue box and clapping and exclaiming “ball! big ball!” and it occurs to me that perhaps this might not be that wise a decision. If we were not TV free, the TV would be on nearly his (and my) every waking moment — I know, because I’ve done it before, years before, lasting for years, losing years. And we’re so not doing that with him.

Doctor Who, now… well, there must be exceptions. Doctor Who is one of ours — probably the greatest, in the large sense of the word. Both The Man and I have been speculative fiction fans for most of our lives; he more the fantasy, I more the scifi. I do not pretend it’s a good genre; I could easily do a feminist analysis of the Doctor Who universe, and the outcome would not be favorable (old white man has all the power and a series of usually attractive usually female “companions”, running around in his powerful phallic technology, beating the monsters and saving the world? yea, that’d be a big fat feminist fail right there). And, let’s face it, it is so pure cheese. Tasty, yes, but in the man-made (hah!), full of words no normal mortal can pronounce, you know it’s bad for you, cheese from a can (blue, of course) kind of way.

And I love it. Really, truly love it. I loved Star Trek (TNG, DS9, the movies), and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and Battlestar Gallactica (no spoilers, we’ve only gotten through the first two seasons so far), and honestly can say that Firefly was the best thing ever on TV (although before anyone forwards me a “Help Serenity Fly Again!” petition: it’s dead, Jim. let her go. it’s over). Cheesy bad speculative fiction with a giant glop of interpersonal drama is right up my alley. I can see how bad it is, and I totally and completely fall for it anyway. Hard. Especially the Doctor.

I was the other day trying to explain why that is to a friend, who doesn’t get speculative fiction at all, much less the aliens-and-technology kind of the TARDIS’s universe, and I think I stumbled on something:

I am bipolar. Bipolar Type II with Rapid Cycling and Mixed States, specifically. Most of my paternal family falls somewhere on the bipolar spectrum, and my maternal family were mostly alcoholic, which often masks some underlying mental or mood issue. My love of speculative fiction also runs in the family — as I revealed on Ruth’s blog, my whole natal family would play D&D together, and our family bedtime books were along the lines of The Lord of the Rings (and yes, my name is really Arwyn, and yes, I’m named after Aragorn’s elvin lover). My father, and this is not an exaggeration, owns every Analog magazine from 1950something onward, and, this might be a tiny exaggeration although if you could see his house you’d know how little, just about every SciFi book ever published. So I come by it honestly.

Back to the point: one of the key features of bipolar disorder is grandiosity; in the “up” part of the experience, this manifests as a feeling of I Can Do Anything, or I Am The Greatest. If I write an essay when I am manic, it is the best essay ever, and will earn me publishing and critical acclaim and fame and wealth. If I so much as pick up a craft, like knitting, my thoughts are filled with invitations to The Daily Show and the Whitehouse, where Very Important People will fawn over my every word on the topic. (This happens in the down part of the cycle, too, where not only am I horrible, but I taint everyone around me, and might very well be the downfall of civilization. This is no more or less crazy, but feels rather worse.)

Which brings us back to Doctor Who. The Doctor and his companions are special — not in the Stuart Smalley “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me!” kind of way, but in the “You are the most important woman in all of creation!!!1!” way. The grandiose way, the way those of us with this mood disorder (and probably the rest of y’all too, although if so you’re better at hiding it) secretly believe we are, in a teeny tiny corner of our souls, all evidence to the contrary. It is escapism, to be sure, and fun and enjoyable, yes, but I think these types of shows, where “the fate of the world, nay, the universe, nay, all the universes! is in your hands!!” (and therefore in the hands and minds of those of us pulled in to that cosmos), have a special attraction for those of us prone to this way of thinking to begin with.

Healthy? Oh, likely not, and surely not at its extremes. I’ve watched my father read his life away: he worked, he ate, he slept, he had a family, but mostly, he read. He read scifi, and fantasy, and anything with magic or near-magical technology or psychic pseudocats; anything to escape to a world bigger and better, or bigger and worse, or just somehow bigger – more grandiose — than the admittedly mundane one he lived in. His hobbies were D&D and the SCA – a magic-wielding role playing game (where he was usually god dungeon master) and a sword-wielding medieval recreation group where no one is less than a lady or lord, with all the swagger and finery of the middle ages and none of the dysentery. He spent so little time in this universe, I sometimes think we may be less really real to him than Honor Harrington.

And I’ve come close to that myself. Hell, I’ve been there, myself, where Q was more real to me than God, where life was just what I had to do to have more time, in my imagination, as a dragonrider (although not just a dragonrider, of course; no, that wouldn’t be grandiose enough, so something always makes me even more special in even the specialest of universes). It’s as attractive a prospect to a part of me as it is horrifying to the rest of me.

So why watch at all, then? Why not just shut it out altogether? Because I think I lose something when I starve the part of myself entirely. It can be overdone, to be sure, and I’m glad the Doctor doesn’t have new episodes daily or I really would be in trouble, but I think that by feeding that part of myself a little, I keep alive something worthwhile. Some ability to think big, dream big; to play; to immerse myself in an imaginary universe; to be downright daft and silly in public, the mundanes be damned. It serves me well when the Boychick wants to dance in public, wants me to drink tea made of wooden food toys and jingle bells, and will even more, I believe, when he wants me to build forts, slay his monsters, and tell him he can do anything he sets his mind to.

I want him to have that expanse of the imagination. I want him to lead a play-full life. I don’t want to lose him to those other worlds, or have this one drained of color for him in comparison, as I’ve seen happen in my father, and I’ve seen happen at times in myself; I want him to see the fantasy for what it is, to see the cheese and the sexism and the racism and the cliched writing and the overwrought acting, but oh, let him love it anyway. Let him never lose the ability to dream, and to join in another’s dream, to have flights of fant’sy — just let him land softly, and enjoy the plain world, the simple, complex world in all its mundane glory, as well.

And so we are TV-free, and watch Doctor Who 12 hours a year, and eventually, the Boychick will likely join us for more than just the last 20 minutes we couldn’t put off. And that’s OK. Let him know the joy of the now, and the joy of the imagination. Let him be sane and stable, and let him be just a teeny bit crazy too. Let there be both in his life, in about those proportions.

*23 months old?? AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *fingers in ears* Lalalallaalala I can’t heeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaar yoooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuu!