Monthly Archives: November 2011

A question of pronouns: two conversations on gender

“Some of the kids from the apartments behind us kept calling the Boychick ‘she’ today,” his teacher tells me as we all walk back to the light rail, in various states of exhaustion and overexcitement after a long day of feasting, protesting, and — apparently — gender policing.

I seek out the blond curls of my firstborn, his bright red “girly” blouse now covered by his bright red “boyish” coat. My tired-tight shoulders tense further in anticipation of too-long-passed events about which I now can do nothing, and make a noise for the teacher to continue his story.

“It was really upsetting him; he told them to stop, but they didn’t. I told one of them ‘some boys have long hair’, and he thought for a second” — here his voice fills with humor — “and he said, ‘well some boys do, but not with such a pretty face.’”

We both laugh, the conversation continues past my — yes, pretty — child’s eccentric relationship with gender performance and the discomfort it regularly provokes in his peers, and we continue home.

***

“I heard some kids were calling you ‘she’ at the party yesterday,” I ask, so-carefully-light in tone, as I set his oatmeal in front of him.

“Yeah.”

Sullen or distracted? How do you tell in a four (and a half, he would insist on adding) year old? I persist, lightly, lightly.

“Your teacher said you didn’t like it.”

Not distracted now, but agitated: “Yeah, I told them to stop calling me that, but they wouldn’t. They should have asked before calling me she!”

What is this? Echoes of our conversations on namecalling (“always ask someone if you can call them a name first, and only do it if they say it’s ok”), or something new?

“You wanted them to ask before calling you she?”

“Yeah, but they didn’t. They should have asked.” Really worked up now, oatmeal forgotten.

“But your teacher got them to stop, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, he did.” Calming again. Picks up his spoon, takes a bite. So do I. Then:

“Would you have minded if they called you she if they asked first?”

“They could have called me she if they asked first, but they didn’t ask.”

“Oh.”

We munch oatmeal while part of my mind wonders if talking with all four year olds feels so much like a scratchy record, skipping to repeat imperfectly but ceaselessly. Probably, another part responds.

The rest tries to count how many times I’ve asked this, to guess how many times I’ll ask again and whether the answer will ever change.

“Do you want me to call you she or he?”

A pause.

“He. They could have called me she if they asked. But I want you to call me he.”

“Ok.” I stand, pick up my empty bowl, bend over to kiss his still-chewing head. “Well, it’s good to know.”

It is.

Moo! Or, Men Call Me Things, Too

I have a new post up at Global Comment, on #mencallmethings as an example of the exclusion of motherhood from mainstream feminism:

C*nt. Bitch. Whore.

Likely you’ve read these and other epithets, and related threats, flying around the internet recently. If you’re not a woman or a feminist-minded blogger, you might not be used to seeing them quite so often, but rather than dealing with them each on her own, women and perceived-women writers have been talking about them publicly, culminating in a cathartic (and often triggering) sharing on Twitter under the hashtag #mencallmethings. As with many other moments in feminist activism, however, the protest has been as revealing about who is welcome and centered in feminist circles as it has been about the abuse and harassment all such writers, centered or not, receive.

Go read the rest, so the following makes sense!

Naturally, I’ve already been accused of indulging in grudge wank, engaging in Oppression Olympics, and coopting a movement that’s not really about what I’m trying to make it about.1

Originally, when the editor at Global Comment commissioned the piece2, I had envisioned it as part of a larger conversation about the exclusion of mothers and mother-feminism, with #mencallmethings coming so close on the heels of a similar exclusion in NY Magazine. Of course, then life intervened3, and I can’t expect anyone to engage with what I meant to write only with what I did. And while I stand by what I wrote, of course it is just a piece of a bigger story.

So because this is my blog and I get to do things like say “And another thing!” here are some Another Thing!s:

  • This sorta should go without saying, but pointing out exclusion does not imply accusing intent. I doubt any of the article authors sat down and said to themselves “Let’s see how much I can marginalize mothers today!” No, the point is, we’re too often simply not thought about, unless the topic is maternity leave or pumping laws. The commentary around #mencallmethings wasn’t the first and won’t be the last time it happens; it wasn’t particularly egregious, it was just there when I had time and inclination to write about this topic.
  • Pointing out exclusion should not be seen as whining what about meeeee?? Because frankly, since more size = more trolls, I’m kinda fine not being a big, oft-linked blogger. Though it’s always thrilling to see my name in print, what I really want is to see my life reflected — or at least acknowledged.
  • Pointing out exclusion is not engaging in Oppression Olympics; I don’t think it matters whether mothers have it any worse than other women, I think we have it different, and that by itself is important. And, mothers are hardly the only group frequently excluded this way, which is why I draw parallels with women of color, trans women, women with disabilities, etc — and, of course, all the lived combinations thereof.
  • Finally, while again I don’t think this is a matter of intent4, framing the conversation as what men do rather than what we experience doesn’t leave space for the lived realities of not just women with children but trans women, gender-queer and nonbinary people, and others, who also experience gendered marginalization and, yes, abuse and harassment from other women. This framing — not an active choice, simply the unintended consequence of privileged habits — is why I speak up when mothers are erased from feminist discussion, because it won’t change until we are not seen as a particular case, a subgroup, not quite really a part of feminism, but women, full stop.

And — a reward, for those of you who made it this far! — here is an excellent example of how to include mothers in social justice discourse (and an important piece in its own right on mental health and the problems with compulsory “treatment”.). See? It doesn’t take much.

  1. Really? I thought it was about what women — including, shockingly enough, mothers — experience, but whatever.
  2. I think to stop me filling up her chat box with my rantings.
  3. Going on day 6 of vertigo, Occupy Portland and Occupy Wallstreet dismantlings, The Man working overtime, and — yay having a preschooler — yet another Cold of DOOM. Frankly, I’m pretty damn chuffed just having finished the piece at all, especially without phrases like “and, um, stuff!”
  4. At Sady’s admission, she spent all of 30 seconds or something coming up with the hashtag, and didn’t expect it to grow as it did, and many people both participating and not pointed out that “men call me things” doesn’t mean women don’t also.

A letter to my children, on Occupy Wall Street

Dear children,

I am watching as Occupy Wall Street the camp is being destroyed by the NYPD, barely two days after participating in the protest against a smaller, but similar, dismantling of Occupy Portland. I am filled with rage and impotence and grief and fear — but also hope.

I hope that you know this night only as the inflaming of a movement, not its destruction. I hope that by the time you are grown, you do not understand Occupy Wall Street any more than I understand the women’s movement of the 1970s, because the changes we are agitating for have long been your reality. As with that wave of feminism, I do not kid myself that Occupy is perfect or that all our problems will be fixed, but if I pray, I pray that you will have moved on to a new movement to improve some other area of our public life. (I pray that we do not ruin your grandparents’ work and allow those progresses to be lost as well.) I hope that by the time you pay taxes, we will have returned to a healthy, progressive tax code, and that you will not be shouldering a larger proportional burden than the people employing you and your friends. I hope that if you ever need it, the government will provide for your safety net, as well as your libraries and health care and advanced education, and you won’t have to turn to an illegal encampment for it. I hope some part of you disbelieves us when we speak of peaceful protest being illegal, because that will be such an unfamiliar idea to you.

But if not: I am sorry. I am sorry we did not do enough, did not care enough, did not defeat our cynicism enough to provide you a better, more just life. I am sorry our apathy overcame our determination, sorry our fear won over our rage. I am sorry we continued to elect people who worked against us, who worked for the few obscenely rich people who helped them convince us to reelect them. I’m sorry we believed the stories told to us by a media willing to be bullied into silence. I’m sorry we failed you.

That, my children, is my deepest fear on this dark night.

I love you. I love you so much that if my fears are realized and we do fail you, it won’t be for lack of my trying.

Forever,
Your mom

From his mouth…

“Mom, I don’t want you to go!”

“Well, I have to go, little one. I have an appointment.”

“Why do you have to go to the appointment?”

“…Honestly, kid, to try not to yell at you so much.”

“Oh. I need an appointment like that, too.”

***

Two weeks later:

“Why aren’t you coming with us?”

“Because I have an appointment.”

“What kind of appointment is it?”

“It’s a therapy appointment. Remember, to help me yell at you less.”

“Oh. Mama, I think you should have one of these appointments every day!”

Reproductive rights: personhood shouldn’t be the question

The illogical and frankly horrifying “personhood” amendment in Mississippi — which would have made having a miscarriage or using hormonal birth control methods legally equal to manslaughter or murder and likely ceased many fertility treatments — failed yesterday, and, though I’m shaken by how close it came to passing, I am also so, so thankful, and no little amount relieved. The function of the law would have made having and using a uterus in Mississippi a sentence to chattel status — not as a poorly planned side effect, but as intended purpose. I cannot understate how vital it is that any similar law or amendment be defeated.

But.

I have misgivings about some of the rhetoric around these misogynist proposals. Not just the dishonest and bigoted shite coming from the side of their advocates, but from “my” side, as well, as we try to argue our way to avoiding becoming nothing more than government owned gestators.

Because Vulva Baby is a person. And she was the day she was born. And: she was the day before that, too.

I have said again and again that children are people, and babies are people, and assholes have mocked the hell out of me for that. Yes, these amendments absolutely must be roundly and thoroughly crushed, because they are functionally evil. But the argument of non-women-haters shouldn’t be “fetuses aren’t people”, because… who says? I know Vulva Baby was as much a person on Aug 31 as she was Sept 1. I know it, and no amount of anti-personhood rhetoric, no matter how much I want it to succeed at its cause, will convince me otherwise. But on Aug 31, though a person, she was a person inside me, dependent on me, fully intertwined with me. That’s the difference that makes all the difference, not any personhood or lack thereof. And no, she wasn’t a “person” on January or February 1, but, if I’d miscarried then, as I was afraid I was doing, I would have mourned. Mostly the lost potential, but also, partly, the tiny spark that was, then, her. That became, sometime in the next several months, this tiny person who now rests beside me.

We have no concept of interdependence, culturally, and a loathing of liminal states. We distrust if not abhor spectrums, and strive for absolutes: either a zygote is absolutely a person, or a 40 week fetus absolutely isn’t, because if it’s aught else, then we’d have to grapple with complexities and grey states and elucidating less sound-bite-friendly reasons to support our side. But when we shy from that, we lose so much. We lose truth, we lose common ground, and we lose the beauty of the growing person-within-a-person of a chosen pregnancy.

Fetuses should have no legal rights, because they reside wholly within the domain of the bearer of the uterus which houses them. But part of that domain should be the right to declare “this is a person”. No one else should get to do that — or deny us that.