Can We Move on From Mother’s Day Please?

Every Mother’s Day is wrought with complex emotions for me (as well as thousands of others). Here are two main reasons why:

  • I lost my mother when I was 20. Five years before that, we all knew she was going to die of cancer.
  • I’ve been painfully trying to become a mother for the past four years. Here’s a small snippet about that journey.

Mother’s Day also seems to be a unique blend of Hallmark commercialization with a dash of self-promoting “altruism.” Think pink washing or the ALS ice bucket challenge, where one feels compelled to publicly announce how much s/he cares.

I’m not against raising awareness or acknowledging mothers, especially if they’re totally awesome like my mom was. I just question the meaningfulness of this day, and what message it sends to many of us who don’t fit into certain conventions. These people include, but aren’t limited to: motherless children, single mothers, mothers with crappy children, children with crappy mothers, women without children, women who’ve lost children, women who are struggling with fertility, LGBT families, blended families, awesome aunties/grandmothers/sisters who raised you, incarcerated mothers, mothers with terminal illnesses, etc.)

Five years ago Anne Lamott published this article about why she hates Mother’s Day, and last week Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote specifically about the problems valorizing motherhood as the highest attainable goal for women. Both are worthwhile reads.

Rather than celebrating the importance and value of mothers (or maternal women in our lives) through various forms of material or public displays of affection (e.g. Facebook posts), I wonder how we can make this day stand for something a little more substantial, without reinforcing conventions that tend to exclude many types of women, children, and families. Perhaps we can put our effort into actually supporting mothers in a concrete way. John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, suggests paid family leave, while simultaneously drawing attention to the rampant contradictions of how we actually do and don’t support mothers in America.

I highly recommend watching the full clip. The entertainment value alone is worth it.

“Change of Life” Pathologizing Menopause

Change of life GH 67 - 1

From Good Housekeeping September 1967

In my Digital History course we’re moving onto the “doing” or hands-on part of the course. It’s a bit overwhelming but also incredibly exciting. In many ways I feel as though my imagination is the limit for this project, and then I return to reality. Taking two other demanding courses and teaching Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays is more limiting than my humble imagination.

So I’m reaching for a low-ish hanging fruit. Not necessarily in terms of “easiness” but in terms of producing a project that would be more cohesive, build-able, and with a decent amount of data, rather than starting from scratch. I’m hoping to create a digital manifestation of a previous term paper titled, “Pathologizing Menopause: Surveillance Over Aging Women’s Bodies.”

As with many papers, after turning them in, all I can think about is how I want to change, rearrange, and further edit my work. This digital history project will offer just that opportunity in a much more creative way.

Even before sifting through my primary sources (magazine articles from the 1940s to the mid-1960s about menopause), I’m expanding and narrowing my scope simultaneously. On the one hand, I want the digital expression of this project to also address how the language to describe menopause is historically contextual and has changed since the postwar era. Tracing the language used to describe (or pathologized) a condition is especially important for my project not just for purposes of analytical inquiry, but important for data organization and search functions. On the other hand, keeping narrow my primary sources allows me to make this semester project manageable.

Back to terminology, on the simplest level, the term “change of life” was equally, if not more, prevalent in the early postwar years. For a large part, the discourse around menopause had a mysterious aura to the naturally occurring condition. Also, many articles explored the ways menopause can be adverted completely. So terms like “prevent,” “cure,” and “avoid” were pervasive. Tracing the evolution of these terms give historical context on how menopause was constructed as a disease and also significantly impact how I set up my data for visitors.

With this project, I’m primarily interested in illuminating how the postwar years was a rich time in American history when women’s bodies were scrutinized and pathologized, which appropriated a “normalizing” rhetoric that enabled heightened surveillance and medical intervention over them. My hope is to trace a fairly recent genealogy that sheds light on how society does or doesn’t pathologized women’s bodies today.

In the spirit of open collaboration, I’m going to try to set the project up to allow contributors and discussion. Depending on my level of success, I’d like to expand the time frame beyond and preceding the post war years, respectfully, as well as including other historically pathologized “conditions” like menstruation, hysteria, pregnancy, and homosexuality.

I’ll be blogging about my successes and challenges with this project along the way.

My spatial brainstorming mapmap thus far via VUE:

 

Time for Gender Equality in the Workplace – For Men

Many women (including myself) are faced with the family-or-career tension to varying degrees. We’ve read about these stories in The Atlantic, New York Times, and most recently on Slate.com. Many of us know this issue personally. Maybe we aren’t literally choosing a career over a family (or vice versa) but perhaps we’ve pushed back when to start “trying,” switched to a less rigorous career path, taken a small hiatus from the rat race, or immersed ourselves in work resulting in little time to meet a potential partner in the first place.

While these articles provide valid points about uphill battles women face entering the academic sphere (or other traditionally male-dominated fields) they speak to a specific subset of women – privileged, high-powered, highly ambitious, often married (or with a partner), etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but examples and stories from executives, academics, or other powerful women suggest that this issue is most fraught among women at the top.

Not all women (and I’d venture to say most) are trying to be the next CEO or tenure track professor but many are still faced with varying degrees of “choosing.” The onus is usually on the woman to arrange a career situation that will accommodate a family. For women who have a choice to take on “second tier” jobs (such as adjunct professor) still find themselves in much better positions than the vast majority of women. For single parents (like my late mother) choices become a precarious word.

These rallying cries for better job opportunities among extremely privileged women of reproductive age just aren’t getting me revved up even though I am one of them (doctoral student). It takes focus away from addressing cultural expectations about who should be responsible for raising children. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg said in the TED video above, “we’ve made more progress in the workforce than we have at home.” This is true but we’re measuring career progress against male-established standards such as job position and type, pay, and advancement opportunities.

Again, nothing inherently wrong with this but there are other ways to measure progress in the work place.

What’s missing is the imperative to change cultural expectations for working fathers. When it comes to making gender progress in the child/home front, we can’t expect change without addressing the work front as well. Why is it that few jobs offer family leave for men? Why do men face greater stigma for leaving work to assist with childcare? Why are men expected to return to work almost immediately after their child is born? These are only a few concerning questions I’ve started to discuss with my husband recently.

I believe an increasing number of men, such as my husband, want to be more involved in raising children and worry about how to navigate a hostile and intimidating work culture toward family-oriented fathers. If we want our husbands and partners to take on more domestic or “traditionally female” roles (so we can focus on our careers), shouldn’t we (men and women) also advocate for structural changes in the workplace for men?

Science Prolonging Women’s Reproductive Years

If you could prolong your reproductive years would you? How do you feel about women having children even later in life than we already do?

A few days ago NPR had a segment about new research working toward the ability for women to regenerate their eggs similar to how men regenerate their sperm.The implications for this study are substantial especially for individual women, who for varying reasons, have reproductive challenges.

While the extraordinary capabilities of science and technology are undeniable, this study brings up a few concerns.

First, who benefits from women being able to prolong their reproductive years? Second, are we addressing the right concern?

As sociologist, Barbara Katz Rothman said to NPR, “we’re creating as a world one in which it’s increasingly hard for people to have children when they’re young, and then saying, ‘But wait, we have solutions, technology – we can do it when you’re older.'”

I couldn’t agree more. We’re already inundated with celebrity magazine showing us how women well into their 40s are having children, giving a false sense of our reproductive years. While technology enabling us to regenerate our eggs is an incredible discovery, I worry this sidetracks our mission to help society make it easier for women to balance career and family.

Not only that, girls are getting their periods at a much younger age (like 8 or 9) and women are waiting to have children (like 30+) which is increasing our lifetime exposure to estrogen and monthly cycles (increasing frequency of cellular division in the ovaries). Some researchers are attributing these factors to increasing rates in reproductive cancers. Does prolonging our fertile years benefit our individual health?

Science and technology are not inherently detrimental to progressing women’s reproductive concerns. They often give us options, choices, and babies when our “window” of opportunity starts to change shape. What is concerning is the unequal time and energy we put into supporting women who are both family and career oriented. With new reproductive breakthroughs we neglect to address the reason why reproductive technologies are necessary in the first place. What if women didn’t have to postpone starting a family for their career or vice versa? What if women didn’t risk losing their job or related medical benefits for starting a family? Perhaps addressing these concerns aren’t as flashy as medical breakthroughs.

Birth Control is Not a Woman’s Issue…Apparently!

Did you know there are aspects of birth control that aren’t women’s issues? Apparently, to the congress panel hearing on Obama’s proposed policy change to have religious institutions provide free birth control to their employees wasn’t about women’s health, rather it was about religion. WOW! According to social conservatives and the ever so trustworthy Fox News this reasoning justified an all male panel.

At the very least, if we go along with the “religious” and not “women’s health” argument, aren’t the users of birth control and the benefactors of this policy WOMEN? At first I was outraged but now I’m finding small joys in this kind of clearly ridiculous behavior in congress. As one volleyball coach used to tell me. “Let the other team make the mistakes.”

Unfortunately, I think Obama made some concession when he retreated and said to enforce his policy the health insurance provider level. Maybe that was his red herring strategy to push for more than what he wanted to achieve so attaining his covert goal looks like a compromise.

In case you haven’t seen this video floating around the internet.

The Need for Sociology of Sex and not Just Science to Explain (Female) Infidelity

Earlier this month TIME Magazine came out with an article about “cougar sex” and why women in their “middle years” age 27 – 45 reported having more sex than any other age group.  The story started out addressing one of my pet-frustrations justifying infidelity among men.

Men who cheat on their spouses have always enjoyed an expedient explanation: Evolution made me do it. Many articles (here is one, and here is another), especially in recent years, have explored the theory that men sleep around because evolution has programmed them to seek fertile (and, conveniently, younger) wombs.

The article then segues into a study about female sexuality using evolution to explain higher sexual gusto among women in between the ages of 27 through 45.  The article was interesting but like other “science of sex” type explanations for sexual behaviors, I was disappointed in its lack of social contextualization.

I’m sure the author only had limited word space but starting the article in the context of infidelity increased my expectation that the story would drive home the argument that women cheat too and here are the scientific reasons why.

The article’s analysis of the study is still interesting but I’m not sure what to make of how the author presented the study’s theory.

Our female ancestors would have grown accustomed to watching many of their children — perhaps as many as half — die of various diseases, starvation, warfare and so on before being able to have kids of their own. This trauma left a psychological imprint to bear as many children as possible. Becoming pregnant is much easier for women and girls in their teens and early 20s — so much easier that they need not spend much time having sex. (Read about cougar cruises.)

However, after the mid-20s, the lizard-brain impulse to have more kids faces a stark reality: it’s harder and harder to get pregnant as a woman’s remaining eggs age. And so women in their middle years respond by seeking more and more sex.

I’m probably disappointed because I wanted more discussion on the sociology of sex and infidelity within this article.  Here are some pressing questions and discussion points on my mind about the topic.  Please chime in on your thoughts.

  • Men who cheat don’t always cheat with young women.
  • Today’s woman has more autonomy, power, and travel opportunities.  How does that affect the cheating trend?
  • Unfortunately, women cheat too but there’s still more stigma attached to a woman cheating than a man.
  • In the monkey world, the alpha male goes around spreading his seed. This theory is sometimes used to explain male infidelity. But little is discussed about the female monkeys getting cozy with all the available beta monkeys.  Also, monkeys pick bugs out of each others’ hair and eat them.  I’ll leave it at that.
  • Depending on who you talk to, isn’t infidelity about more than sex?  Isn’t sex just the end product of cheating or a symptom of some larger personal issue?

Birth Control Coverage: Why a Debate?

If I was writing this article exploring the debate over whether birth control should be in the health reform bill, I wouldn’t have even entertained the idea of a debate.  Here’s why:

  • A woman’s right to choose preventative measures from unwanted pregnancy is between her and her body.
  • It has always been predominantly the woman’s responsibility to control our reproductive health.  The cost of that control can add up!
  • Unwanted pregnancies, especially among teenagers are a huge public health and economic problem in our society.
    • These babies are significantly more likely to be born prematurely, have more health conditions, do worse in school, more likely to be involved with crime, and more likely to be a teen mom themselves.
    • Teen moms are less likely to go to college, let alone finish high school keeping her job options limited.
  • Making birth control more accessible to women is fiscally responsible:
    • Teen moms with unwanted pregnancies are more likely, than moms planning their pregnancies, to chronically need social services like Medicaid, Social Security and Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (formerly known as food stamps), shouldered by tax payers.
    • Children of teenage mothers are also more likely to engage in criminal activities which burdens the justice system also shouldered by tax payers.
  • Most importantly, what happened to the division of religion and state?  However one wants to define the beginning of life is none of my business, nor anyone else’s.  But it becomes many women’s business when select conservative believers interject their values to prevent a policy that would benefit millions of women in this country.

I commend the article’s writer, Tracy Clark-Flory, for being less judgmental than I would have been towards those who oppose insurance companies covering contraceptives costs.


An Interesting Blog Post About the Male Pill

I’m digging The Sexacademic’s blog.  The blogger’s most recent post opens up discussion about the Pill for men.  According to the post it was developed in Israel and is going through clinical trials.  The author debates whether we could trust men with the responsibility of taking the pill.  It’s hilarious and intriguing.

I left this comment on the post.

Well it’s about time someone came out with a male birth control pill.  I see both sides of the debate and we shouldn’t assume all men act the same when it comes to sexual responsibility, though sometimes I fail to see any differences in their behaviors.  With the male Pill, I like the added option of the guy being able to take some reproductive responsibility.

This won’t entirely alleviate the unequal duty women have over unwanted pregnancies but it seems like a decent step forward towards equalizing the onus between two people.

Condoms for Kindergartners – In Newsweek Blog

Here’s an interesting Newsweek blog post about a bad headline for a good sex ed policy.  The policy essential allows students (at any grade level) to get condoms from a school nurse if they are considering sexual activities.  Now before you start questioning whether this policy should be implemented in the schools of one Massachusetts town, read the post.

The blogger, Kate Daily, takes on many controversial questions that would arise with a policy like this.  For example, “Wouldn’t passing out condoms encourage kids to have sex?,” “No age limit? Elementary students aren’t having sex, are they?” “Isn’t it the parents’ job to educate their children about sex?”

Daily uses peer reviewed research and the CDC to back up her arguments.  I give her post an “A.”  Here’s a small quote to give you a sample,

As nice as it would be to think that all 11-year-olds, or 10-year-olds, or 13-year-olds, are immune from sexual pressure, that’s not the case: kids develop on different timelines, and kids date outside their age range. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that more than 40 percent of middle-school students interviewed at one school dated someone two years older or more, and of those students (median age: 11 and a half), they were 30 times more likely to have had sex. And those are the kids most in need of the counseling provided by a caring adult.