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.

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Breast Cancer and Its Metaphors

Trade_Secrets_-_Breast_Cancer_WalkAfter reading Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphor I’m left wondering whether the stories we tell others and ourselves about our bodies are truly ours—especially stories about diseases. Sontag’s work has me reconsidering my mother’s experience with breast cancer and how she carried herself as a woman with this disease.

My mother had a proclivity to use writing as a way to be heard and to advocate for immigrant women’s health in Canada. This was the mid-90s and breast cancer advocacy and rhetoric largely spoke to, and reflected, white middle-class women’s concerns. Relating a disease along classed and racial terms had (and still has) real life-impacting consequences in terms of access to care, stigma, prevention, support, and even death. Through her writing and activism, my mother occupied two spaces in Toronto’s breast cancer advocacy community: one, as an outsider resisting the narrowly defined ways women with the disease are (or aren’t) recognized; and two, as an insider participating in walks, fundraising, national meetings, and evoking similar language of victimhood and survivorship in her own narration of the disease.

When Sontag published Illness as Metaphor in 1978, the Pink Ribbon Campaign (making breast cancer awareness a household topic) was a little over a decade away. Sontag, then, was writing about the mythology and morality attached to various diseases such as tuberculosis, cancer, syphilis, and leprosy. She was tracing a genealogy, centuries long, of socially constructed ideas about these diseased bodies that romanticized, villainized, condemned, or stigmatized the inflicted. Sontag’s book intervenes on the notion that illness (especially certain kinds like TB and cancer) is representative of larger-than-life ideas about human existence and death, and argues that these metaphors are emblematic of social rhetoric, fears, morality, rather than the disease itself.

As a woman with breast cancer in the 1990s, my mother found herself in a transitioning community of women gaining momentum in combating and refusing the stigma attached to breast cancer. Those inflicted were turning into victims, then to survivors, and to heroines. The Pink Ribbon Campaign launched walks, marches, fundraising, and advocacy events. Women were creating a new social landscape to understand and combat this disease that so personally attacked one’s female anatomy.

But these grand heroic narratives—reminiscent of Second Wave Feminism—didn’t apply to women of color and poor women, such as my mother. So she fought to be heard, insisted that her concerns weren’t addressed in the larger movement, and helped start the first immigrant breast cancer support group in Toronto. She wrote about her experience as an immigrant woman with cancer in English and Japanese, she participated in community activities, gave keynote talks at conferences, and spoke to the media. She was undoubtedly a hero to me, and at the time her actions seemed to have lessened the burden of her disease on our family because of the “greater good.”

Sontag’s book Illness as Metaphor has me rethinking what breast cancer really is and what it did to my mother. While my mother’s advocacy for immigrant women’s health is something I admire, the rhetoric she drew upon to invoke similar narratives of victimhood, survivorship, and heroism aren’t standing the test of time. As Sontag demonstrates, socially fabricated views on diseases change as society does. Without having the language or ability to speak plainly about her disease, I now realize my memories of my mother with breast cancer are largely veiled behind a narrative largely constructed outside of her.

When we “talked,” my mother rarely separated the breast cancer discourse (or her objection to it) from what was actually happening to her body and how she was doing. We didn’t talk about her imminent death, or her fears and hopes for me. She never told me “this is just cancer, and this is how I’m going to go.” She made it so much more than that and lived her seven years with the disease as a “survivor” and fought the “fight” it until the very end. With so few memories of talking about the disease, her death, and how to carry on without her, I’m left wondering exactly what she was fighting for? Whose legacy she was really leaving?

 

“But at that time perhaps nobody will want any longer to compare anything awful to cancer, since the interest of the metaphor is precisely that it refers to a disease so overlaid with mystification, so charged with the fantasy of inescapable fatality. Our views about cancer, and the metaphors we have imposed on it, are so much a vehicle for the large insufficiencies of this culture: for our shallow attitude toward death, for our anxieties about feeling, for our reckless improvident responses to our real ‘problems of growth,’ for our inability to construct an advanced industrial society that properly regulates consumption, and for our justified fears of the increasingly violent course of history” (Illness as Metaphor 87).

“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.

Controversies of Hired Help – An Affluent Woman’s Concern

How do you feel about the need among middle and upper class women to hire domestic workers to help with household duties? Growing up in a poor single parent immigrant household, members of my immediate family were more likely be the help than hire the help. Now that I’m a middle class educated woman surrounded by similarly affluent women, I find myself listening to conversations about hiring or dealing with domestic workers. Some of these conversations are uncomfortable.

My husband and I are “DINKS” (dual income no kids) and we live in a small condo. The stresses of domestic work are minimal. When we’re up to it, we can probably clean our house top to bottom in less than an hour. (We’re rarely up to it.) It almost goes without saying that since our parents’ generation women have been active participants in the public sphere having careers and bringing home significant portions of the “bacon.” Yet the responsibilities of private and domestic work (childcare, cleaning, and cooking) haven’t shifted to the middle as drastically.

Often when women choose to focus on one arena of their lives, they do so at the expense of the other. It’s not so black and white though. Many women attempt to balance both career and domestic responsibilities at varying degrees (some women, like my mom, have no choice other than to balance both) but at some point or another ALL of my friends who are moms or are attached have felt guilty about not being a good enough mother/worker/partner. To “have it all” – a career, time with family, and a clean house – many affluent women hire help.

A vast majority of these helpers come from developing countries, or are immigrants, or are working class/poor women. They most likely don’t get work benefits, aren’t part of a union, have physically demanding tasks, get low wages, and have their own families to care for as well. I just read a book (for class) called “Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work” by Rachel Salazar Parrenas who addressed some of the significant sacrifices these women make to enable affluent women in developing nations to “have it all.” Often these migrant workers are faced with hard choices to either leave behind their family so they can provide for them economically or to remain in a cycle of third world poverty. Additionally, these workers have very little job security and protection, and are at the mercy of their employers which has led to exploitation and abuse.

Clearly, reading this book inspired today’s post as it got me thinking about how affluent Western women, who hire substantial domestic help, are on one hand assisting these women by giving them employment but on another hand perpetuating a cycle of inequality by accepting the terms of these worker’s poor laboring conditions and turning a blind eye to their personal sacrifices.

As I aspire one day to “have it all,” I worry about how I’m going to achieve that. At one point or another, I may very well be tempted to hire regular help for childcare or household duties. Fortunately, my husband and I discuss division of domestic labor very openly and we feel satisfied (most days) with how we’ve shared those responsibilities. But we also don’t have a screaming, crying, all consuming baby. We already know his work doesn’t give family leave nor do they expect his work performance or commitment to decline as a result of becoming a dad. Society has progressed to accommodate women in the workforce but it hasn’t quite figured out how to relieve men of their career duties to help at home. Until then, the controversial need to hire help won’t start to lessen.

I’m also fully aware that I’m only able to have this conversation because of my tremendous position of privilege. Considering my humble beginning, this topic brings up a lot of internal conflict.

Thoughts?

Men Who Change Diapers DO NOT Change the World. They Change Diapers.

 

Within one week, I’ve seen a bumper sticker reading, “Men who change diapers, change the world” three times.  There’s nothing new about this bumper sticker.  In fact I first saw it four years ago and thought to myself Yeah, that’s kind of a cool message.  We should applaud those men.

Now I’m bothered by it.

It took me a day to figure out what I didn’t like about this message and it came to me when I was doing the dishes cleaning up after my fiancé.  Before I proceed with my explanatory rant, I want to mention that I feel incredibly fortunate to have a partner who’s actually quite good about housework and very open about discussing what’s working and what’s not.  But no one is perfect.

And so my rant…

When I first moved in with my fiancé (two years ago and then boyfriend), we were okay about sharing household chores.  I’m sure part of it was about impressing one another and proving that we weren’t going to be one of those couples that fought about cleaning duties.  Neither of us were messy people to begin with anyway.  A few months later, my fiancé started pointing out every time he did the dishes, watered the plants, vacuumed, mopped the floor, or folded the laundry.

I was irritated to hear him announce all his household contributions suggesting I should do more.  And in the most mature way I said back to him “Oh, you want to keep score now?  Wanna know what I ALWAYS do?” I then proceeded to list all the chores I’ve done that day and the day before that and all the things I do that he never notices.  Mature right?

Well this continued for months and I grew more pissed.  Not because he was doing so much less than me (in fact we share housework quite equally) but because he wanted acknowledgment for things we both do (and even for things I do most of the time, like putting away the dishes).  He felt like he was doing more without realizing it just seems like that because I don’t announce every time I clean.

After enough bickering, we had an honest talk about where his score keeping was coming from.  He admitted not being proud of his tit-for-tat-ness and said he never had to be responsible for anyone but himself.  He was looking for encouragement and support for a challenging transition out of bachelorhood into cohabitation.  I love him for being so honest.

I don’t blame my fiancé for this struggle.  It seems as though our egalitarian intentions haven’t quite caught up with reality.  From a young age, my girlfriends and me were socialized to play house, play with baby dolls, and take care of others.  My fiancé and his buddies likely were not.  Also, we’ve observed our moms doing most of the cooking, cleaning, and diaper changing.

Between my generation to my mother’s there have been huge changes in women’s societal roles.  Educated women today have more career options outside of teaching, nursing, or being a secretary.  We are also expected to be significant income contributors.  On the flip side, it’s becoming more common for men to be stay-at-home dads and to significantly help with housework and raising children.  But it’s not as well supported or expected.  My past post on the need for more fathers’ day goes into it a bit more.

While I can appreciate that many good liberal men struggle with how they were brought up (watching women clean and change diapers) and how quickly gender roles have evolved, I just can’t bring myself to award “gold stickers” for every dish that’s cleaned or t-shirt that’s folded.

So when I read the bumper sticker “Men who change diapers, change the world” the second time around I cringed and thought that this was the ultimate ego stroking.  Encouragement is one thing but insisting that men who share child raising responsibilities are somehow extraordinary seems counter productive to the sticker’s intention.  Men who change diapers are great parents.  And so are the moms who change them as well.

If we keep our expectations about diaper changing and doing dishes low, won’t dads just live down to them?  Besides, I’ve yet to see a bumper sticker that says “Women who bring home the bacon save the universe from utter destruction.”

The Male Birth Control Pill: It’s About Time, or is It?

Photo courtesy of Gnarls Monkey

In our society women are given a larger share of reproductive responsibility than men.  This might make sense to many because men can’t get pregnant.  So, it’s logical to make a woman the gatekeeper of her reproductive health, right?

Yes and no.

Throughout history and across cultures, giving women access to safe methods of contraception have been a good thing.  Contraception afforded women more control over when to start a family in pursuit of careers, and education.  It also prevented forced or unwanted pregnancy.

Young Western women, such as myself, tend to forget that contraception wasn’t always a choice (and still isn’t depending on where you live).  But maybe this amnesia is a good indication that our society has far progressed past viewing women primarily as baby makers.

On the flip side.  We’ve far progressed past viewing women primarily as baby makers.  Two people are responsible for every baby expelled out of a vagina.  TWO! That baby is a whole lot of pressure and responsibility for just one woman.  True it’s feasible to raise a child a la one, but it’s not pretty.

As more dads are choosing to be stay-at-home caregivers and it’s becoming socially acceptable to assume men will be (close to) equally involved parents, it’s timely that the male contraceptive has arrive.  So now men and women can share reproductive responsibilities.

One would hope…

Yesterday, I was disappointed to hear a morning radio discussion between the male and female hosts about the new male Pill.  The conversation went something like this:

Female host: How cool is this male Pill?  For years we’ve had to medicate and be responsible about not getting knocked up.  It needs a fun catchy name.

Male host: I don’t think it’s a good idea necessarily.  I mean guys are so irresponsible as it is.  We can’t even remember to take out the trash let alone a daily pill.

The female host got sidetracked and obsessed about giving it a good name.  However, she did mention that like female contraceptives, the male version will have many options to “get it” such as a shot, gel, patch, or implant.  This MSNBC article talks a bit more about it.

There’s truth to the fact that all men won’t be responsible enough to take the Pill or get their monthly injections.  And there’s also the reality that men tend to visit doctors offices less than women and have a stronger aversion to medicating.  But women also forget sometimes too.  Or as one radio caller said “husbands have to watch out ’cause their wives will secretly stop taking the pill to trap you.” But men can’t get knocked up.  Ever.  So until our society’s men are viewed to have an equally great responsibility over bringing babies into this world, there’s more incentive for women to control their fertility than men.

Pushing the male contraceptive forward is a definitely a step in the right equalizing direction.  Some women might say “no way guys can’t be trusted” and some guys can’t.  But as long as we say that, it will remain a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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.


New Tanning Tax Starts Today

As part of the health care reform bill, starting today there is a 10% increase in fake and bake services.  Anytime taxes are raised, there are a handful of people up in arms.  This time it’s the tanning salon merchants and some patrons.

Like cigarette taxes, this tanning tax is justified by the direct relationship between tanning and skin cancer which drives up health care costs.  Skin cancer is labeled a woman’s health issue due to its high prevalence among women , especially those who are under 30 years old.  However, anyone can get skin cancer.

This tax will help finance programs in the health care reform bill and encourage behavior change.  I’m all for it!

Check out NBC’s news clip.

http://www.nbcaugusta.com/v/?i=97503639

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.

The Need for More Father’s Days

Growing up,  I had a father, whom I reluctantly visited once in a while on the weekends when I couldn’t fake being sick. He never knew my birthday (or didn’t bother acknowledging it), constantly told me how dumb my mother was, and lectured me about being greedy when I wanted juice with my meal at the Chinese restaurant we frequented during our visits.  As you can imagine, my image of a father figure developed into a dysfunctional assumption that men lacked the ability to raise children.

Luckily, I learned to distinguish a bad apple from a much larger lot of really wonderful men who are actual fathers to their fortuitous children.  I felt fortunate to have witnessed these relationships among my close friends who welcomed me into their families.

As my fiance and I talk about having a family of our own in the near future, I’m consumed with fears about becoming a single mom, which will have to be discussed in another post.  What’s interesting about our conversations is the amount of concern he has about being able to spend enough time with our unborn children.  His job is stressful, he periodically works long or odd hours, and he’s the breadwinner.  We talked about how it’s not fair that men frequently don’t get time off as easily as women for family reasons.

It turns out that my fiance isn’t the only one who feels stressed about juggling family and career.  According to yesterday’s New York Times article studies found that dads are just as stressed as moms about balancing work and family life.

Just last week, Boston College released a study called “The New Dad” suggesting that new fathers face a subtle bias in the workplace, which fails to recognize their stepped-up family responsibilities and presumes that they will be largely unaffected by children.

Putting our gender war aside about who does what and more, this article gave voice to family health concerns, rarely brought to the table at work.  Five years ago, I may not have wanted to acknowledge the importance of a father figure but I now know better than to think that a child is better off with one parent.  With the exception of extenuating circumstances, like abuse.

So in light of this article, here’s to more father’s days and not just the one day acknowledged by Home Depot and Hallmark.

Some interesting words from our president about this topic.

Society’s Aversion to Public Displays of Breastfeeding

Two dear friends of mine are new moms.  Their babies are beautiful, precious, and hungry.  Hungry for momma’s milk and lots of it so they can grow big, healthy, and strong.

Both of my friends told me that they felt shy about feeding their infants in front of friends or in public, even with a nursing cover.  I wondered if I would feel the same way when I have children.

Both moms are educated, beautiful, and confident women who support healthy and natural baby-rearing practices such as delivering with a midwife or doula, using cloth diapers, and breastfeeding.

A few day’s ago, I was reading a global health article in TIME Magazine (June 21, 2010 edition) and came across a photo of a malaria-stricken Ugandan woman nuring her child. I felt conflicted about this image for two reasons:

  1. Had that woman been white or looked like a relatable middle-class American woman, I would imagine, TIME would receive an uproar of complaints for indecent exposure.
  2. Reason #1 reinforces our society’s aversion to public displays of breastfeeding.

The conflict stemmed from my initial reaction to this photo thinking it was provocative.  I was disappointed with my degree of sensitivity to an image of a woman naturally feeding her child despite my support for the benefits and act of breastfeeding.  Our cultural practices of censoring the boob had penetrated my health education and values, just for a split moment.

Clearly, many women feel similarly to my two mommy friends about public breastfeeding.  Some go further down the spectrum where, for varying reason, do not or cannot naturally feed their babies.  Some women use a combination of breastfeeding (at home) and formula or pumped breast milk for going out.  If breasts were seen less as sexual objects and more for their important functionality, we’d see more women feeding their babies at the bus stop, in the mall, at work, or with friends at a restaurant, while the moms eat themselves.

My (not-yet-a-mom) maternal and public health instincts feel an injustice about how we’ve grown accustom to the lack of public ownership we (women) have over our bodies, particularly our boobs!  Our society highlights this injustice for every time a woman gets a stare for publicly nursing their child, or worse scolded for indecency, or worse yet banned from permitting the act to not offend or distract others.

Despite popular belief, public breastfeeding is NOT a controversial issue, it’s a public health one.  Not enough women naturally feed their babies either exclusively or for a long enough period to maximize its health benefits for mother and child. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey among US infants born in 2006:

  • 73.9% were ever breastfed
  • 43.4% were still breastfeeding at 6 months of age
  • 22.7% were breastfeeding at 1 year of age
  • 33.1% were exclusively breastfed through 3 months of age
  • 13.6% were exclusively breastfed through 6 months of age

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding,

…up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

For a practice so important to the growth and development of our future generation, any societal barriers to breastfeeding are troubling.  Especially when we censor such images from public consumption as Facebook (FB) did when they deemed breastfeeding photos a violation of their decency policy.  In response, many women added more pictures of themselves nursing and a non-profit organization started a FB fan page called “If breastfeeding offends you put a blanket over YOUR head.” You should check out some of the discussion, it’s really interesting.

As natural as it is, initiating and maintaining breastfeeding can be challenging or uncomfortable.  There’s no place for additional barriers or judgment whether it’s from your partner, a stranger, employer, or a social networking site run by a twenty-something year old, multi-millionaire guy.

Although most states have laws protecting a woman’s rights to breastfeed in public, women brave enough to bare their breast still face scrutiny and harassment.  The image of baby-sucking-on teat still makes people feel uncomfortable.  Could it be because for every picture of a breast in our society , a small fraction of them represent its primary function, to provide nutrients?

Don’t get me wrong, breasts are beautiful and sexy. But the breast’s attractiveness and function don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

I joked with one of my friends and said, “imagine women had the guts to whip out their breast whenever they needed to nurse and said to their onlooking nay-sayers ‘Watchu lookin’ at? Never seen a tit before?'”  Some women are that brave.  But the vast majority of us who may (or will) find it challenging to publicly breastfeed, shouldn’t have to compromise their child’s health (even in the slightest) because of societal pressure to keep nursing behind closed doors.

Many workplaces now have policies promoting nursing and the CDC has a guide to promote breastfeeding at work.  You can also support local or national breastfeeding campaigns.  Joining or starting a support group is also an option.  If you’re committed to building your public breastfeeding confidence, start small.  Try nursing in front of trusted family and friends, use a cover if need be, then go from there.

Remember, there’s no justification in anyone judging a woman for nursing.  It’s a beautiful and natural way of keeping mom and baby healthy.  For nursing mom’s out there, please share your tips.