Sunday, May 27, 2012

Divisions of Labor (from the Archives)

When I was in undergrad, I took a class called "Sociology of Gender." It was only one semester long, so it wasn't in any way comprehensive, but it provided an interesting overview of how gender socialization- primarily based on apparent sex assignment- affects everything we do, from the language we use to the clothes we wear to the way we structure our lives. One discussion that still stands out in my mind, several years later, was one in which we discussed the implications of heterosexual marriage terms- specifically, referring to each other as "husband" and "wife." Our class brought up heterosexual domestic partnerships, and our professor cited a study- which I regret to say I can't find right now- in which heterosexual cohabiting partners tracked divisions of labour before and after choosing to have a formal marriage ceremony. The results were interesting: even when the partners had relatively equal divisions of labour prior to becoming formally married, their post-marital divisions tended to shift over time to mimic the divisions of labour displayed in heterosexual couples who had never cohabitated prior to marriage. Even more interesting was that this state, as you might guess, was one in which the female partner did upwards of 80% of the household labour. Let that sink in for a moment: even when a heterosexual couple had been fairly evenhanded when doing household chores for a decent portion of their shared history, that took a drastic slide after the relationship was formalized legally.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that, as a married person nowadays, I'm starting to see this trend in my own household. And I'm pissed.

Initially, we had an informal, verbal deal going: if you cook, I clean (and vice-versa). No dirty dishes in the sink overnight. We'll split chores while we're doing them on Saturday mornings. We can go grocery shopping together. Whoever's out of the bathroom first in the mornings will get lunches made (or, when my partner started working nights, it became simpler: I made lunch for his worknights, and he made it for my workdays). On and on, always with the recognition in mind that we both work full-time and both have interests beyond housework.

In the last six or so weeks, however, I've noticed that we've shifted away from this more-or-less equal division of labour and that I've been picking up the slack. When I get home from work, my first action is to head to the kitchen and start cutting up vegetables and packing away food for Nick to eat that night. In the mornings, Nick collapses into bed and I have to cajole him into getting up long enough to help me get ready- if he doesn't fall asleep immediately. I've been grocery shopping alone for the past six weeks. When our household goods arrived from Germany, Nick spent an hour or two helping me unpack and unload- and since then, I've been the one responsible for unpacking, arranging, assembling, and otherwise nesting. More often that not, regardless of who cooked, I find that I'm the one elbows-deep in soapsuds afterwards. In short, we've transitioned into the gendered patterns of behaviour that were observed by social scientists years ago: as the woman in this relationship, the domestic sphere is my responsibility.

Part of this, of course, falls under the same limitations as most studies. I've always been anal-retentive about keeping things clean (especially the kitchen) and I like to be in control in my home, while Nick has always been more laid-back. Having Nick on mids means that he's simply not awake on a timetable that makes many chores- particularly ones involving 9-5 business hours- feasible. In addition, while we work the same number of hours per pay period, my shifts are ten hours while his are twelve. It's thus understandable that, for the time period in which Nick works nights, I take on a bit more household responsibility than he does.

These factors, however, do not preclude a number of ways in which domestic chores could be more evenly divided. While many things might be difficult for Nick to do at night, others- scrubbing toilets, cooking bulk meals for the week, unpacking or cleaning on the first floor- are more than readily accommodated. The challenge, moreover, isn't that Nick is unwilling to do any of these things. Whenever we discuss household responsibilities, he's always ready to find ways to make a more even division of the chores. The challenge lies in who notices it first. Truth be told, the household division of labour is never addressed as an issue unless I'm feeling put upon- because Nick, as of yet, never winds up being the one taking on the bulk of the chores without comment.

As I mentioned, I'm much more "type A" than he is, and things like clutter and dust get under my skin long before they get under his. I wonder, though, how much this aspect of my personality is the result of being socialized to believe- however unconsciously- that these things are ultimately my job and a reflection on me as a person and as a woman, and not a result of some intrinsic trait. I find it interesting that the pile of ironing we started three weeks ago still hasn't been dealt with, even though we have equal numbers of shirts and pants in there that we need for work. I doubt that Nick looks at it and consciously decides not to do it because, as his wife, it's my job to keep the house clean and thus the ironing will be done without bothering him. Rather, I think he simply sees past it because- as the anal-retentive one in the relationship- I will be the one to take the initiative, iron the clothes, and get that chore out of the way first. The question I start asking, though, is: is there a difference between the two? Is there a difference between my partner- my husband- not doing the ironing because it's my wifely duty to do so, and my husband not doing the ironing because he's slowly becoming accustomed to his wife opting to do it first? In the long run, the end result is the same: the expectation evolves to be that I will take on the majority of household chores. The only difference is the underlying justification.

That raises another question for me. As a feminist in a marital relationship, how much activism is required to prevent such a slide from occurring? While I would love to think that Nick has had his consciousness raised to the point where he'll see the same patterns developing that I see, and thus proactively take on chores such as ironing to help prevent the gradual slide into chore inequality, the evidence suggests otherwise. It's a beautiful illustration of how subtle patterns of discrimination- for example, the ones that enhanced my need to keep a clean house- are far harder to spot when you're their beneficiary. Nick's behaviour may not be motivated by deliberate, conscious feelings of gender superiority, but in the end he won't be the first one to spot how gendered our household behaviour is. When I go crazy with the need to have unwrinkled clothes and just do the ironing with minimal comment, how much am I feeding into this division? Or, even more subtly, when I ask Nick to do the ironing, how much does that reinforce the idea that the running of the household- whether I do the chores or simply notice that they need to be done and assign them- is my responsibility? In addition, how much closer does that take me to the stereotype of the nagging shrew? How spectacular for patriarchal divisions of labour that women can't ask for equality without falling into yet another trap?

I don't mean to paint Nick as ill-intentioned in this post, or to say that he's opposed to an active effort to equalize household responsibilities. I do mean to point out, however, that this is an effort that I've had the greater burden of enforcing...and that, of the two of us, I have the most to lose.

Erica originally published this post last year.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thankless: attachment parenting and the Time Magazine debacle

The international breastfeeding sign.
For those of you who haven't been reading Internet news lately, Time Magazine recently ran an "article" with the cover line "Are You Mom Enough?" and a breastfeeding photo that was clearly designed to generate as much outrage as possible. Based on the author's incredible lack of understanding of attachment parenting, I'd say that Time was basically trolling for attention ("How many readers can we piss off this week? Really? That'll put sales through the ROOF!") and didn't really care who they stepped on as a result. There have been enough articulate responses across the web that I'm not going to respond to the article's content here; instead, I want to focus on something else.

The concept of "Mom Enough."

In essence, the question of whether or not someone can be "mom enough"- or, as I'm going to call it henceforth, "parent enough"- highlights one of the fundamental problems of parenting in most of Western society: it's hard. Parenting is a full-time job that limits your sleep and social life, requires you to get intimate with nasty things like poo, and means that a significant percentage of your daily conversation will sound like limit-setting and "Because I'm the parent, that's why!" It means being afraid that this person you've put your time and energy and love into will be injured or killed; it means caring so much that it hurts; it means an entire reshaping of your worldview. It means always second-guessing yourself in case you're not doing a "good enough" job. And in Western cultures, it often means being expected to do it alone (or, at least, as a nuclear family without the "interference" of grandparents). When someone asks the question of whether or not someone is "parent enough" because of their childrearing methods, the underlying truth that is exposed is that the baseline of parenting- the things I've just listed- will already drain you and anything additional will obliterate you entirely.

The challenge is that there are a lot of very good arguments in favour of attachment parenting methods, whether you use all of them or pick-and-choose (as most parents do). Neurobiologically speaking, humans are incredibly social creatures whose brains absolutely require repetitive social stimulation (from humans, not televisions!) in order to develop. We're born with the wiring for most things, but that wiring doesn't get connected unless we have input from the people around us (even basic things like eyes don't work if they're deprived of sensory stimuli!). Combine that with the fact that humans function on rhythms (including the regular, sine wave pattern with which we engage and disengage during a lecture), and it makes sense that babies tend to develop best when they're given pattern-repetitive stimulation that involves all five senses. Even co-sleeping- the option that many parents choose against- is involved in this (warmth of parents' bodies, sounds of their snores and heartbeats, scents of their bodies). But ask any parent or guardian of a small child how they'd feel about ceding more of their time and space to their babies, especially when everyone is grouchy and fussy, and you'd probably get a Glare of Despair. Attachment parenting, in a society that likes to emphasize the nuclear family, is very very challenging- hence the concept of "parent enough."

What they don't tell you with attachment parenting and Western culture is that the two- while not incompatible- certainly are at odds. One of the beautiful things about early neurobiological development is that having multiple "safe" people in a child's life has a positive impact on a child's future coping skills, social skills, overall functioning, and- depending on how diverse those safe people are- even racism. In a culture that emphasizes two-parent families and labels more adults (especially grandparents) as "chaotic," "interfering," or "dictatorial," the idea of allowing other adults to influence your child's early development so strongly seems weak, inferior, or (again) chaotic. Then factor in reality- the cost of living, the number of parents raising children alone, the cost of childcare- and think again about how challenging attachment parenting truly is. How many parents even have the opportunity to consider attachment parenting, let alone the means to implement it?

To me, the fact that we have to turn parenting into a competition of who's "enough" of a parent to utilize a given parenting methodology indicates that we already know something's wrong. We know that, as a culture, we make parenting a lot harder than it already is. Weknow that we isolate families and stay-at-home parents. We know we don't make good childcare affordable and accessible. We know we set up parents to fail by suggesting that some parents aren't parent "enough" by virtue of their choices. We know we make it hard for employed parents to take time when their children are sick or newborn. We make it so that parents who choose attachment options- breastfeeding, co-sleeping, Ergo wraps- are demonized for sexualizing, infantilizing, and overindulging their children instead of recognizing that these are healthy (yes! really! healthy!) and should be options for all parents.

What we need to do, as movers and shakers in our world, is take the question that Time poses and revert it to our policymakers and ourselves: are we "parent enough," whether or not we have children of our own, to advocate for access? Are we "parent enough" to demand a more parent-supportive culture? Are we "parent enough" to change parental leave policies, child sick time policies, and the current child care industry? Are we "parent enough" to validate the non-neglectful, non-abusive choices the parents in our lives are making? What can we do to reshape the way we conceptualize parenting and child-rearing?

Maybe then we can stop pitting parents against each other and start cooperating instead.

Note: for an engaging, accessible discussion of neurobiological development, check out "The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog" by Bruce Perry.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More Links

Some of these links will be a bit outdated, because I've been collecting them for a couple weeks. Like Erica, I've been dealing with some health problems lately. Amazing how much we under estimate simple things like breathing, until our bodies decide that allergies are a good enough reason to try and stop doing it. I can't for the life of me figure out why my nose thinks it's helping me. But then again, not getting enough oxygen makes me too light-headed to think clearly.

So, moving on to the worthwhile news, or at least interesting links. First up, here's a link to an article from Clutch Magazine, which discusses a documentary about pedophelia. The idea behind the documentary is that a lot of men experience sexual attraction to underage girls, as a result of the way childhood and sexuality are blurred. In the article you can find a link to a preview of the documentary.

From the same magazine, here's another article about the disconnect between what we say about things like childcare and housekeeping, and how our actions reflect our values. As the title states, "If Childcare and Housekeeping Were Important, Men Would Do Them."

On a lighter note, Racialicious has an article about Harry Belafonte, who it turns out has been involved in some pretty cool stuff, including a really cool number with muppets who were designed based on African masks he brought back to the US.

The NY Times has put out an article about black Mormons. The discussion focuses on Romney vs. Obama as a question of which candidate seems to better represent black Mormons. Now, there are obviously some inherent problems in the assumption that everyone is going to vote for a candidate simply because that candidate shares part of their identity. But it's still an interesting and surprisingly optimistic article. Most of the black Mormons they interviewed expressed pride in seeing presidential candidates who both represented an integral part of themselves, especially given the historical strangeness of being guaranteed a president who is not a white member of a "traditional Christian" church.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Links of Note

Hello readers, and thanks for your patience with my lateness this week. I managed to land myself with a lovely little virus and spent the weekend feeling like Death was at my door. Dramatics aside, things are back to normal, and I give you some of the links I've been collecting from around the web:

First up is a piece on the new voter registration laws in Florida, which give registration organizations a very limited timetable for filing their new registrees with the state. The stated purpose of the law is to cut back on voter fraud, though how a shorter time frame for verifying an individual's registration accomplishes this purpose is beyond me. Right now the primary impact appears to be that voter registration groups are generally pulling out of Florida, with the result that tens of thousands of potential voters (many of whom are Hispanic, surprise surprise) aren't being registered.

The latest and greatest from Arizona is that Governer Brewer has signed the "show me your whore pills" bill into law. Yes, there have been amendments made to the bill so that female employees have to justify non-medical pill uses to insurance companies, not employers, and in theory there's a grievance process for them to follow should HIPAA be violated, but WHAT. THE. HELL. NO ONE should have to choose between access to contraceptive pills and employment. There's so much stupid in Brewer's decision (and the decisions of all the legislators who made the bill possible in the first place!) that I'm not even sure my head can bring itself down to that level.

In a sweeping move to restrict civil rights, two states- North Carolina and Colorado- have done their part to keep same-sex couples from getting married. The states did it in two different ways (NC did it with a voter-instigated constitutional amendment, while Colorado did it via filibuster and foot-dragging), but the end result is rather the same: someone else decided that we couldn't receive the 100+ legal benefits that come with co-signing a piece of paper. This comic from The Atheist Pig pretty much sums it up:

In a brief bout of sanity, I managed to find an article about a nine-year-old who felt so strongly that the Westboro Baptist Church is wrong that he hastily scribbled "God hates no one" on a piece of notebook paper and held that up to protest. I'm sure there's someone who wants to argue about who wrote the sign and whose idea it was to protest the WBC, but I really don't care. It's a piece of good news in an overwhelming tide of bad.

Speaking of "bad," Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall decided to open his mouth and say that "Sodomy is not a civil right." Ten points out of ten for missing the point, Mr. Marshall, but the sex acts of any given couple aren't on the line today. In fact, they really haven't been on the line since 1996, when Romer v. Evans (517 U.S. 620) made it unconstitutional to legislate against homosexual sex acts (particularly sodomy). What's on the line is the legal right of any two consenting adults to sign paperwork allowing each other to affirm their commitment to and care for each other. DONE. I know many people think gay sex is "icky" (see above comic), but I also know a lot of people think various sex acts between heterosexual married couples are icky too (see: fisting, anilingus, and urolagnia, for example, but bear in mind that these links have pictures) and that plays no role in whether or not those couples can socially and legally affirm their relationship. So get over it.

Finally, I bring you one mom's retort to Time Magazine's recent piece on attachment parenting. Actually, let me rephrase that: it wasn't really a "piece" so much as it was "a biased piece of drivel that somehow managed to be marketed as journalism." Not only did the article display a spectacular level of ignorance about how attachment parenting actually works, but it also decided to pit parents against each other by suggesting that raising children is a competition with some sort of minimum-standards bar. Seriously? Parenting is a hard job. It's dirty, it's exhausting, it's often thankless, and it's a constant guessing game; the last thing any parent needs is to be told that they're not "enough" of a parent for their kids. Go read the retort though. She's actually a parent.

That's all, folks! Tune in again next week for more links.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Feminist Review: Melancholia

The aptly named newest Lars Von Trier film, Melancholia, is a startlingly feminist film, despite, or perhaps in spite of, his traditionally absurd and sexistremarks about women.

Melancholia is obviously known as a vague depression and was traditionally associated with women, indicating again its suitability for a film that revolves around the final days of a mentally ill woman and her sister, as a giant planet named Melancholia races to earth. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to understand that the planet that just happens to be named after a morose malaise is also bringing out the exact same malady in it’s emotive protagonist, Justine (Kirsten Dunst).

Not only does the film pass the Bechdel test with flying colors (there are multiple women with names who do lots of talking about things other than men), but it also offers an incredibly moving portrayal of the effects of depression and schizophrenia on those suffering from the issue and their families. In one especially moving scene, Justine is being helped into a bathtub by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is patiently urging her to just take one step into the water: try as she might, no matter how hard she attempts to lift her leg, she collapses next to the bath in tears, exhausted by the effort.

Obviously the crux of the movie revolves around the sisters’ relationship, showing their moments of love and support towards one another, followed by periods of anger and lack of understanding. I particularly admired the final moments of the film where it’s obvious that the two women still don’t see eye to eye, but ultimately find redemption in each other’s company and, I believe, offer a hopeful ending to the mournful movie.

One thing that also impressed me about the film was its ability to effectively discuss and incorporate both sexes in a realistic manor. Often, it seems that a film can only portray one sex accurately at a time (obviously there are exceptions, but as rule I think it holds true), however Melancholia’s male leads were also unique and full of their own strengths and weaknesses. Most notably, Kiefer Sutherland as Gainsbourg’s wealthy, but level-headed husband who shows both great generosity to his wife’s ill sister and great cowardice in the final moments of the film, and Alexander Skarsgard as Dunst’s na├»ve new husband, who’s gentleness and optimism in believing that he can take away his wife’s depression is both sweet and all-too-common.

Additionally, perhaps this is just my love of E.M. Forster surfacing, but Melancholia reminded me of his fabulous novel (and the Emma Thompson/Anthony Hopkins film), Howards End, which also deals with the same themes of sisterhood, redemption, the breakdown of social structures, and our mental and physical compulsions.

Melancholia is exceptionally slow moving, definitely feeling  like the two hours that it is, however the acting is phenomenal, the cinematography and landscape gorgeous (and also reminiscent of Victorian England), and possessing a detailed and realistic dialogue; There are even some moments of very delicate humor, (enjoy the opening scene involving a very long limousine and a very small driveway).

On the whole I think the film is an impressive piece of movie making and well-worth the slow-moving plot to see an excellent handling of mentally illness and the films overarching theme: isolation.

Be aware that the film does contain several instances of nudity (none sexual), a disturbing scene of a female raping a man, and some language.

What do you think of the film? Was it a feminist film? Does the absurd things that von Trier says about women influence your experience of the movie? Would it stop you from seeing it entirely?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Discussion of Time Magazine's Controversial Cover (guest post)

In which I expose my. . . views.

This post was originally published by Becca Lee, on Remarkable. If you've somehow missed the recent Time controversy, the following video should help with that.

Girls and boys, we need to have a talk. In fact, we need to have the talk.

No, I don't mean the talk about what happens when Batman gets too old to fight crime (he trains a replacement, duh), or about the stuff they put into jell-O to make it sproingy (it's not dried unicorn babies, despite what you may have heard). 

No, we need to talk about bosoms. Boobs, bajengos. . . or that word I despise so very much. . . breasts (I swear it's like saying "panties" and "moist" and "hair" all in one). There's been a lot of hubbub about the bubs lately, and it's all because of TIME magazine's oh-so-provocative cover. 

First, I have to say I think TIME magazine is kind of brilliant. A bit manipulative, and definitely exploitive, but brilliant. Normally when people splash a bit of sideboob on a magazine cover, they do it for sexual reasons. But this? This photo is self-condemning. . . anyone who'd look at this and call it sexual would feel perverted. So bravo on the expectation-flip, TIME. Well-played. 

Of course, TIME makes its point at the expense of some exposed lady flesh, which I guess some people are squeamish about. I wasn't, but maybe that's because I see it every day. Exposed lady flesh, that is. I had a good chuckle and thought, "Finally. Someone admits these things are functional."

But then, then, there was a big hoopla about it. I read tons of people saying how "extended breastfeeding" (I guess that's what it's called?) is wrong, creepy, and it will mess up your kids so bad their great-grandkids will need therapy.

Now, having my own bajengos, as well as my own breastfeeding baby, I've done a bit of research into this topic. I wanted to set the record straight. So, for those of you who haven't yet read up on your breasts, give these facts a squeeze and see what you think. 

Let's start at the beginning. 

In the 1950s and 60s, all these scientists (most of them men) thought that breastfeeding was crude. Breast milk, said they, can't possibly live up to our labratory-created formulas. These scientists even thought (wrongly) that breastfeeding led to cancer. And as a result of their scientific guesswork, a generation of moms turned to the bottle. So to speak.

But soon the scientists (or I should call them "scientists," because real scientists base their arguments off of actual data) realized they were wrong.

They learned that breastfed babies have fewer illnesses and recover faster when they get sick (Gulick 1986, AAAFP 2001). Breastfed babies also have fewer allergies and higher IQs. Moms who breastfeed have their own natural birth control, lose pregnancy weight easier, and are better protected against osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis later in life. And as far as cancer goes, they pretty much hit all the reproductive bases with this one: moms who breastfeed reduce their chances of getting breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancer. 

Of course, most people (or, at least, most people with breasts) now know that breast is best for both mother and child. But what about "extended" breastfeeding?

I've been around the mommy-blog block a few times. Most moms agree that breastfeeding up to six months is great, many even believe it's downright essential. Fewer hold out to the one-year-mark (which, by the way, the American Academy of Pediatrics says is essential), and fewer moms breastfeed until two and beyond, though the World Health Organization recommends at least two years of breastfeeding (and supplementing with solids starting as early as 6 months). 

But why?

Because I breastfeed my toddler, I've read (and been told) mostly negative opinions on breastfeeding beyond infancy. The worst ones are outright falsehoods, but there are also plenty that go something like, "in my opinion, I mean, no offense, but you and your kid are psychologically depraved (don't get mad! I said no offense!)" 

But worst of all, the arguments I hear time and time again are completely baseless--backed by no evidence whatsoever. And since there's so much misinformation floating around, I thought I'd address some.

[These specific comments are taken from and the comments section of the San Francisco Chronicle]. 

Comment Type 1: The Rule-Maker

"Breastfeeding: if your child can reach up and grab it, they're too old to have it."

This kind of comment isn’t the only “rule” I’ve come across. I've also read that babies who can walk up to you and ask for milk shouldn't be "allowed" to have it. 

First of all, babies can grab as early as three months, so we all know that rule’s bogus. 

Second of all, isn't it better to have a child who can behave like a normal human being and ask for things rather than one who just screams for what he wants? And if theearliest recommended cutoff date for breastfeeding is one year, and your baby hasn'ttried to walk or talk by then, then maybe you should breastfeed more (see "breastfed babies have higher IQs”. . .)

Comment Type 2: The Sexualizer

"Wait until he is 13 years old. He can feed his hunger and lust at the same time" or "If you’re a teenage guy who is just discovering his sexual attraction to breasts, and you remember suckling your mother’s – might that be confusing and uncomfortable?" 

First of all, ew. Second of all, ew. I don't care who you are, once you start having sexual feelings, you do not associate those with your mother. All moms have breasts. If you're at the age when you're thinking about breasts sexually, you're not going to think about your mother's, whether you've seen them or not. Teenage boys aren't idiots. . . they're not thinking about their moms.

If you don't believe me, just ask the nearest thirteen-year-old boy you meet. Don't blame me if your house gets egged later. 

A second problem with this argument is this: should we sacrifice a nutritive activity to a sexualized one? Is it worth it to jeopardize the health of babies and moms so that a teenage boy can freely think sexual thoughts about boobs? 

And lastly, if you told a motherless teenage boy that he could've saved his mom from breast cancer by being breastfed past two, don't you think he'd be okay with that? Regardless of whether or not he was able to view breasts sexually? 

Comment Type 3: The Doubter/ Know-it-all

"I doubt if there is any compelling health advantages for breast feeding a child longer than 10 or 12 months. I hope that I don't ever have to witness a four year old being breast fed" or "That’s just infantilizing your child and keeping them from developing properly. After 1 year it’s just comfort feeding not nutritive and I wouldn’t want to teach my child to be comforted by food – it’s the same as handing them a cookie. No bottles or breasts after 1 year is my thought."

The truth is, there's no truth to any of this. There are definite health benefits past 12 months, 24 months, 36 months and beyond. The benefits I talked about before (smarter, healthier babies and cancer-free moms) all increase the longer a mother-child pair breastfeed. Now, don't get freaked out that fully-grown persons are going to head on over to Mom's to "latch on" after a rough day at work. Naturally, without any sort of intervention, children tend to wean somewhere between 2-5, some going as long as 7 years (this is not typical, but it does happen).

Some people might think that, after one year, the nutrition gained by breastfeeding is pretty much all done. The interesting thing is, breast milk changes after the one-year mark. It maintains a different balance of fats, proteins, and vitamins, and it adapts to the growing child's nutritive needs better than any food you'll find at the supermarket (Dewey 2001, Mandel 2005). As for breast milk becoming nothing more than comfort food, this isn't substantiated by any scientific evidence and sounds more like old wives' yammering, or maybe some more of that good old scientific guesswork we grew to love in the 50s and 60s.

Now, if you're worried about how your kid is going to adjust to social situations, studies have shown that longer periods of breastfeeding, as well as child-led weaning (as opposed to forced weaning) make for more socially adaptable kids. These are kids who have confidence in their maternal bonds, who feel safe and confident that their mothers love them even at a distance. This confidence leads to fewer instances of disorderly conduct at school and in social settings (Baldwin, Kneidel). 

Anecdotally, I’ve found this to be true myself. Even though my kid is going on two, people always comment on how independent he is, how he seems to be far less clingy than other kids. Of course, maybe that’s his personality, but it’s something I’ve noticed.

There are other comments, too, but these were the ones that struck me the most because they seemed to be the most perpetuated.

I’d like to put a stop to that.

By now some of you (both of you) might be thinking, how did we get this way? Why, if it's so great to breastfeed, do we force our kids to suck it up (or, not suck it up)? 

Some of this has to do with moms going to work. The workplace makes whipping out the boob a bit trickier (though many moms do pump at work, including myself, it's just harder). 

But really, moms just don't have the support. And it's not just about buying a new bra, either. 

Even despite the public disapproval, some moms have stuck it out. These are not emotionally insecure psychopaths. These are caring mothers who want more support for their healthy maternal choices. It's hard to breastfeed, harder to be told when and how to do it "right." If we could look beyond the boob and feel safe and comfortable with breastfeeding, then we'd do the whole world a lot of good. The WHO says we could prevent 10% of child deaths under the age of 5 with longer periods of breastfeeding, so I say a bit of boob is worth it.

Now, lest you think I entirely condone TIME’s cover, I'll offer this parting word to the contrary. If you look over all the photos, there's something not quite right with these moms. They tend to pose away from their breastfeeding children. These photos make breastfeeding look like a power play, and the title "Are you Mom Enough?" suggests that there’s a competition about it (there shouldn’t be). But while I'd much rather see moms curled up with their breastfeeding children, these politicized poses are all we've got. They’ll have to do.

We need to become better educated about breastfeeding, and that's the truth. If some hot mom's sideboob on the cover of TIME is the only thing that's going to make that happen, then I think we are just as much to blame. We sexualize breasts to our detriment, to the detriment of our children's health. The science is there, as well as the natural biology. We're the ones that are holding back. With every backwards view, every non-corrected misconception, we hurt our world health, even our mortality rate. Tell that to the next person who gets “creeped out” by a little bit of flesh.

All moms love their kids. It's not a competition, not a sexual perversion, and not a power play. If people could let us (encourage us, even) to do what's best for our kids, we'd finally make progress on this, well, very titillating issue.

(See for all my citations, as well as an extensive list of other sources)

Becca Ogden is a stay-at-home mom and writer living in Utah. She graduated from BYU with a bachelor's in English, a Master's in British Literature, and later a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She occasionally flashes strangers in public, most of the time accidentally.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Marriage: What is it to You?

Between North Carolina's recent debacle and President Obama's statement in support of same-sex marriage, an ongoing national debate about marriage has been rekindled. But what exactly do we mean when we discuss marriage? As simple as the question may seem, it occurred to me, when I read this recent article by a friend and colleague of mine, that we don't often enough interrogate our conceptions of marriage. In the article, James argues neither for nor against same-sex marriage. And while he discusses definitions of marriage, he doesn't offer his own definition: instead he attempts to compare two opposing schools of thought. 
James's analogies for either school are arguably over simplification, but I think they're equally so: he suggests that those in favor of same-sex marriage see marriage as a social validation, and denying an entire group access to that validation is therefore unconscionable to activists in this camp. For those opposed to same-sex marriage, however, marriage is seen as some sort of divinely-ordained, "primal magic" union of male and female - it's seen as something that humans don't have control over, and people opposed to same-sex marriage see same-sex couples and marriage as inherently mutually exclusive. To them, asking for same-sex marriage is like asking for the laws of physics to change - that's how deeply this viewpoint tends to delve.

But here's what I realized when I read James's article: my unusual perspective on same-sex marriage stems from my own view of marriage. See, I at once hold both views of marriage - I believe in an ideal of marriage that fits into the primal magic category, but I believe that most marriages on the earth fit into the social validation camp. Or into failed attempts in the primal magic category. Therefore, I support same-sex marriage because I don't believe I have the right to hold others to my ideal of marriage. For me, it's like alcohol - I have personal beliefs against it, and I've never touched the stuff. But I'm not about to make it illegal. Not because I think alcohol is awesome, but because I respect others' agency enough to let them take on the personal choice of whether to drink (and in what quantities). Also, I do on some level hold to the idea that love is love. And if being in a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex makes you happy, I'm happy for you. I don't know how things are gonna pan out in the next life, but I'm happy to let you make your own decisions in the meantime. 

Now, I realize that my viewpoint on same-sex marriage is likely to offend people on every side of the issue. Frankly, it's a view that's likely to offend anyone who doesn't agree with me. But I'm starting to realize that it's important for people with unusual perspectives to share them. Because if people like me don't speak up, it just furthers the myth that this debate is entirely polarized. Let's get a multiplicity of views out on the table.

So, tell me - what does marriage mean to you? What is it ideally? What is it in reality? Where do your views come from, and how have they changed? 

Friday, May 11, 2012

You Don't Get to Tell Me How I Feel

The same-sex marriage/civil union/domestic partnership kerfluffle that’s been rocking the U.S. lately has been dredging up the good, the bad, and the ugly in a lot of social discourse. President Obama finally came out (har!) in support of same-sex marriage, right around the same time that Mitt Romney reaffirmed his dislike of the same; North Carolina voters overwhelmingly voted against the human rights of LGBQ members of their population; Colorado’s legislature is (at the time of this writing) in an emergency session to resolve its own civil union dispute. The straight population is divided about the issue, but so are LGBTIQ communities across the country- “Do we even want to participate in this antiquated, money-sucking, heterocentrist ritual?” And the question that has come up to me repeatedly this week: who gets to decide? After all, we didn’t vote on your marriage, right? (Actually, if you want to get technical…who gets to marry whom has never been an easy topic. Just ask the Commonwealth of Virginia.)
Something that’s been communicated from a lot of sources around the Internet has been the idea that straight people should have no say in same-sex marriage rights. It’s not their marriage or relationship that’s at stake. Those of us with rings on our fingers are unaffected by these policies and our civil rights aren’t being called into question.
To this, I’m going to give a big ol’ fuck you.
Let me give you one reason why: like many Americans, I’m bisexual/queer (depending on your definition) but married in the old-fashioned sense. My partner- my husband- is a straight, cisgendered guy, and unless you take the time to ask, you’re probably going to assume that I’m straight too. My current relationship, one that I plan to be in for the rest of our lives, is unaffected by what happens with LGBQ marital legislation. But what if it ends? Or what if, instead of falling for Nick, I fell for a Nicole? Or what if Nick decides to become Nicole? Or the unthinkable happens, and as a widow I find solace and new love with a same-sex or trans partner? My right to a committed, legal partnership with someone I love would be taken away from me. I’m not interested in quibbling about whether it’s worse to have that right revoked, or never have it at all- the point is that the absence of that right is simply wrong. And it’s something I walk around with every day, whether I will ever have to confront it in my own relationship(s) or not.
When I lived in Canada, I was part of a wonderfully vital community of LGBTIQ folk who wanted nothing more than a world in which adults can consensually love one another without restriction. There was often a lot of talk about who “gets” to speak and emote on a given topic, and while I understood the root of their concerns- when a group outsider speaks, are they silencing the insiders and appropriating their right to self-advocacy?- I also worried about how this intersected with alliances. As much as The System has hurt a lot of us, we need the support of its benefactors to make lasting change, right? (Apologies for my ignorance, Ms. Lorde, but I’ve always struggled with this.) There’s a strong undercurrent of biphobia in some lesbian and gay circles because we’re “faking it” or, if we’re in the sort of relationship I’m in, we’re “traitors,” and this leads to accusations that we don’t really understand what it means to be discriminated against because we “can” always retreat to the safety of our straight-looking lives. As the same-sex marriage debacle rages on in the States, I’m hearing these sorts of things more and more. Camps of Us and Them are being drawn, and bi/queer folk are increasingly being grouped in the latter.
I repeat myself: fuck you. Ignorance of the flexibility and depth of human sexualities aside, this whole concept that They can’t possibly understand or empathize has got to stop. The idea that a shared set of experiences means that any two people completely understand each other is reductionistic and categorizes people according to arbitrary rules. “Oh wait, you’re also a cis woman and have sex with cis women? Great! We totally get each other and are basically the same person!” My relationship may not be on the line right now, but my overall rights are- just like yours. The implication of biphobia for people like me in these debates is that, because we “look” straight, we can’t ever experience discrimination. That’s a load of crap.
Same-sex marriages are everyone’s business, whether we’re interested in one or not, because human rights are everyone’s business. Not everyone is as comfortably “out” as I am, and you never know who will come out when you thought you had them pegged, so the breadth and depth the impact of discriminatory legislation will have is incredibly challenging to predict. To me, the right of consenting adults to love each other and legally support each other should never have been a debate at all. But since it is, it’s about time we stopped using appearances to determine who gets a say in what. Since you aren’t in my head or in my life, you have no idea what I have experienced.
You don’t get to tell me how I feel.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mormon in the Time of Mitt Romney's Mormon Backlash

A historical reenactment of nineteenth-century Mormons who traveled
 to Utah in order to flee violent persecution. Image source.

When I first began my Go Girl Magazine column, Religious Feminist in the USA, one of the topics at the forefront of my mind was persecution. It's a sensitive topic, one that's tricky to discuss. But as Mitt Romney continues to face criticism that is aimed directly at his faith, the topic feels increasingly relevant to my experience as a religious feminist in the USA. The evidence that many Americans distrust Romney's faith is everywhere. It's in discussions about Romney's ancestral connections to polygamists (how many of us are grateful we're not held responsible for everything our grandparents and great-grandparents did?), and it's in articles that portray his faith as a "multi-national corporation." It shows up in this article about an early-20th-century Mormon congressman who barely made it into congress as a result of his faith. And it shows up in comedy, as demonstrated by this recent clip from The Daily Show:

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And trust me, American Mormons are well aware of these discussions. In fact, to understand today's Mormons, you really need to understand the history of brutal persecution that generations of Mormons once faced at the hands of the American government and their fellow American people. The history is recent enough that it still directly impacts the way we conceive of ourselves. For American Mormons, it also impacts how we view our place in the US, and it's not unusual to walk into a Sunday School lesson or Sacrament Meeting (our name for Mass) where members share stories about facing and overcoming persecution.

Which is not to say that the threat of persecution manifests itself in fear or paranoia. To the contrary, every time the topic comes up in a lesson, the discussion usually closes with individuals sharing faith-affirming stories about times when those outside the faith supported them, perhaps even preventing persecution. And for most of us who experience religious persecution these days, it doesn't come with a drunken mob tarring and feathering us or burning down our homes. It comes in the form of teachers, classmates, employers and co-workers mocking us. It comes in the form of awkward job interviews where potential employers illegally ask us about our faith. It's subtle enough that most of us are never sure if we're even experiencing persecution or just plain rudeness.

But distrust of our faith is so common in national discourse that most of us are a little cautious. For instance, I currently live in an area that is heavily populated by other LDS people. And even in this Mormon-friendly location, over the past year I have had many conversations with other Mormons who have echoed my own nervousness: as Mitt Romney rises in politics, we wonder, what backlash will we face? And then, the more essential question: how do we respond?

Ultimately, most Mormons want to preserve positive relationships with their neighbors and communities, but we face such a wide and contradictory set of criticisms that there's no formula on how to diffuse tension while still affirming our faith. Other feminists frequently argue that I belong to "A Male-dominated World", and many in the Gay Rights Movement find themselves frustrated with the LDS Church's involvement inProp 8, as well as the Church's ongoing stance on homosexuality: not a sin to feel attracted to the same sex, but wrong to act on those feelings. Responding to these critiques is difficult, in large part because the issues at hand are still ongoing in the LDS Church, and you'll find mixed feelings from individual Mormons. The recent "It Gets Better at Brigham Young University" video illustrates the contradiction and confusion that so many Latter-day Saints share where the Gay Rights Movement is concerned.

But when it comes to responding to issues from the past, it can be even trickier, as BYU professor Randy Bott discovered when he attempted to justify a racist Mormon policy that Church leadership has long since (attempted to) put to rest. When it comes to historical arguments against Mormonism, it sometimes seems that atheists are more forgiving than those of other faiths. When The Book of Mormon Musical came out, the creators repeatedly gave interviews where they explained that they saw Mormonism as no more ridiculous than any other religion - though their audience may miss that nuance. When contrasted with this recent article from a Catholic writer at, "I Am Not a Mormon," the South Park creators seem downright Mormon-positive.

Despite years of considering how to respond to criticisms of my faith, I have no magical formula, but I have learned that getting angry about a verbal attack on my faith does not change anyone's mind. I have also learned the importance of remembering that a faith is more than the sum of its parts. Everyone in the world is associated with groups or ancestors who have done horrible things. But in the same way that The Spanish Inquisition doesn't invalidate Catholicism, polygamists like Romney's ancestors don't invalidate Mormonism.

Monday, May 7, 2012

LDS Church Responds to HRC Petition and Condemns Bullying


My name is Michael Otterson. I am here representing the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to address the matter of the petition presented today by the Human Rights Campaign. 
While we disagree with the Human Rights Campaign on many fundamentals, we also share some common ground. This past week we have all witnessed tragic deaths across the country as a result of bullying or intimidation of gay young men.  We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different – whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation or for any other reason.  Such actions simply have no place in our society.
This Church has felt the bitter sting of persecution and marginalization early in our history, when we were too few in numbers to adequately protect ourselves and when society’s leaders often seemed disinclined to help.  Our parents, young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex. This is particularly so in our own Latter-day Saint congregations. Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions toward others properly reflect Jesus Christ’s second great commandment - to love one another.
As a church, our doctrinal position is clear: any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, and we define marriage as between a man and a woman. However, that should never, ever be used as justification for unkindness. Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in His condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel.  His interest was always to lift the individual, never to tear down.
Further, while the Church is strongly on the record as opposing same-sex marriage, it has openly supported other rights for gays and lesbians such as protections in housing or employment.
The Church’s doctrine is based on love. We believe that our purpose in life is to learn, grow and develop, and that God’s unreserved love enables each of us to reach our potential. None of us is limited by our feelings or inclinations. Ultimately, we are free to act for ourselves.
The Church recognizes that those of its members who are attracted to others of the same sex experience deep emotional, social and physical feelings. The Church distinguishes between feelings or inclinations on the one hand and behavior on the other. It’s not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation.
There is no question that this is difficult, but Church leaders and members are available to help lift, support and encourage fellow members who wish to follow Church doctrine. Their struggle is our struggle. Those in the Church who are attracted to someone of the same sex but stay faithful to the Church’s teachings can be happy during this life and perform meaningful service in the Church. They can enjoy full fellowship with other Church members, including attending and serving in temples, and ultimately receive all the blessings afforded to those who live the commandments of God.
Obviously, some will disagree with us. We hope that any disagreement will be based on a full understanding of our position and not on distortion or selective interpretation. The Church will continue to speak out to ensure its position is accurately understood.
God’s universal fatherhood and love charges each of us with an innate and reverent acknowledgement of our shared human dignity.  We are to love one another. We are to treat each other with respect as brothers and sisters and fellow children of God, no matter how much we may differ from one another. 
We hope and firmly believe that within this community, and in others, kindness, persuasion and goodwill can prevail.