Happy Feminist Halloween!

First, check out this list of feminist costumes––something nice to counter the obnoxious getups relentlessly marketed to women and girls. My personal fav: Notorious RBG!

Second, you will undoubtedly still come up against at least one irritating costume. Case in point: the “delicious women’s PhD darling sexy costume.” Do you think they got enough adjectives in there? Well, don’t let the stupidity get you down. Just scroll on down to the comments, where you’ll see feminist pop commentary at its finest in one mocking, hilarious review after another.

It’s one of the things I love about the Internet age: how intelligent people call out demeaning crap and show the designers how silly and clueless they really are.

Happy Halloween!

 

 

Domestic Violence and the Ladies Home Journal

A lot of talk this week about domestic violence and why women stay with abusers, as feminists and other writers respond to the painful case of Janay Rice. As many have pointed out, it is Janay’s (and every other woman’s) right to stay with and even to defend her husband, as horrifying as that may be for some of us to witness. It is her path to take, and I’m not interested in judging her even as I worry about her safety.

For many, it’s so hard to understand why these attitudes and behaviors toward women are so persistent. How are the attitudes constructed and why are they so hard to change?

So much commentary on the Web about larger issues doesn’t include historical context––as if anything that was written prior to the Internet is irrelevant. A lot of this context comes from sources fading from memory or that younger readers have never even heard of.

So it’s great when we find stuff like this: Rebecca Onion’s piece on the column “Can This Marriage Be Saved,” which ran in the Ladies Home Journal magazine and was hugely popular throughout the mid- to late-20th century. The column offered what was considered sound marriage advice to middle-class, educated women, a major part of which included making sure that wives understood their inferior status in the marriage relationship. Putting up with emotional and physical abuse was simply part of the deal:

Perhaps most disturbingly, ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’ counsellors minimised and ignored domestic violence… Wives would report incidences of physical aggression, but these were never headlined as the major complaint – they were submerged in the couple’s larger story. Popenoe introduced the September 1953 column, which featured ‘Sue’, a wife who showed up to the counsellor’s office with a ‘large purple bruise darken[ing] her cheekbone’, by referring to the husband’s complaints, rather than the wife’s: ‘Many a husband has to pay the penalty for his wife’s failure to get any real education in homemaking before she married, or to acquire such skills after the wedding, when she must have begun to realise that she needs them.’ (Again: the wife should have known that she wasn’t measuring up.)

The column repeatedly advised women that it was their responsibility to keep their husbands’ tempers under control, that if they wanted to avoid violence, they needed to make sure dinner was on time and that men controlled what happened in the bedroom.

Onion goes on to tell us how, in the 1970s, feminists protested the magazine and even occupied its offices, to demand change, but how much change has occurred in more recent years? Read the full piece here for Onion’s answer.

More important, remember that if you’re scratching your head over why Janay Rice and other women stay with their abusers, understand that it was not so long ago at all that “respectable” society––including trained psychologists––believed that wives were responsible for whatever treatment they got from their husbands. The cultural sanctioning runs deep and wide. Domestic violence was never and is not some brutish misfortune limited to the uneducated or poverty-stricken. It was rooted firmly in mainstream culture.

Sadly, that tree still bears fruit.

On Single Moms Who Play it Safe in the Age of Economic Inequality–and Stay Unmarried

This great article by historian Stephanie Coontz explores the relationship between progress in gender equality and the rapidly growing economic inequality plaguing the U.S. Of particular interest is her take on the well-known gap in marriage rates between lower- and higher-income mothers:

Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry — even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expenses, and even if they have a child — is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.

Their fears are justified. Chronic economic stress is associated with an increased incidence of depression, domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse and infidelity, all of which raise the risk of divorce. If a woman’s marriage breaks up or her husband squanders their resources, she may end up worse off than if she had remained single and focused on improving her own earning power.

She concludes,

Turning back the inequality revolution may be difficult. But that would certainly help more families — at almost all income levels — than turning back the gender revolution.

Amen and thank you. It’s great to see someone talking sense about the actual risks and benefits of marriage, but the piece also offers excellent data on wages, marriage rates for various classes, and so forth. Read it here.

On C-Sections and VBACs

This video from The New Yorker (which is offering free content for the next several months, so take advantage!) on rising C-section rates around the world is really well done. The stats are indeed alarming, but it’s not all grim––there’s also a sweet success story that brought tears to my eyes. Check it out.

Using Humor to Counter Anti-Choice Protestors

The assault on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. has been relentless in recent years, but women are fighting back and doing it with humor. Lady Parts Justice, established in 2012, offers info on reproductive laws and setbacks in all 50 states and includes humorous videos.

There’s also this story from The Daily Dot about how one couple decided to use humor to counter anti-choice protestors. This is especially relevant given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a Massachusetts law requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around clinics. One pro-choice couple in North Carolina decided to join protestors at a local clinic––but with very different signs.

Countering placards screaming “babies are murdered here,” the couple held signs with messages like “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi,” “I Like Turtles,” and “Weird Hobby” with an arrow pointing toward the anti-choice protestors. Obviously we need more than just mocking to reverse the dangerous trends of recent years, but this approach offers a fresh way of calling out the obnoxious, intrusive behavior of these particular anti-choice folks. Read the full story here.

On Kids Alone in Parks: We Need a Larger Collective Response

Responses to the arrest of Debra Harrell, a single, black mother who allowed her 9-year-old daughter to play unsupervised in a park, are largely individual. Stories have focused on Harrell herself, obviously, so that we can understand her situation: unable to afford child care, she allowed her daughter to play in a park so that she could work her shift at McDonalds. She was then arrested, and her daughter was taken into protective custody.

People are rightly outraged at the injustice against Harrell, and have focused on how viciously U.S. society distorts children’s safety through the corrupted lenses of race and class. Jonathan Chait in New York decries Harrell’s arrest and tells of letting his kids play in a park unsupervised, with no consequences (he is white). In her lovely article ‘What Black Latchkey Families Stand to Lose,” Stacia Brown also shares her opinion and personal experience, to make clear exactly what is at stake when people report women like Debra Harrell.

We need these stories because they help to bridge the chasms of lived experience in U.S. culture. We will never resolve issues of race and class if people do not fully hear each other.

And I’ve got my own personal response filtered, of course, through my identity as a single, white mom. Like Chait, I, too, recently let my daughter play hide-and-go-seek in a park with another kid. Adults were watching from across the street, but later that day, my daughter told me that, while she was hiding under a bush, a cop walked by and asked if she was okay because he didn’t see anyone else around. She said she was fine, and that was the end of that. He didn’t ask where her parents were or come looking for me.

There you go, anecdotal evidence at its best. It’s not the same situation as Harrell’s, but for me, it confirms the double standard: a cop perceived my daughter, who is younger than Harrell’s, as sufficiently supervised, and his perception was at least partly informed by race.

The public outrage about Harrell’s arrest has spurred a crowdfunding campaign to help her to regain custody of her daughter (Harrell is reportedly out of jail now). This is a great idea because it will help Harrell with her immediate legal fees.

What interests me, though, is how virtually all the responses, rhetoric, and action I’ve seen (like here, here, and here) are limited to the individual realm. I found one article on Vox focused on the overall problem of childcare in the U.S. But mostly it’s, “Was Harrell right or wrong? What’s my experience with this issue? What can we do for Harrell?”

Again, these are necessary and valuable, but it’s also as if we can’t bear to raise the dire need for collective change, so we limit ourselves to the personal in both responses and solutions. Why? Do we feel too hopeless to advocate (again!) for reasonable, affordable childcare solutions for working moms, especially when we see things like yesterday’s Senate filibuster blocking the Hobby Lobby legislation fix?

Is it too tedious to repeat the obvious––like sending another email about how it’s time (right now!) to get big money out of politics? Is it too risky to repeat a larger truth that everyone already knows?

Individual stories and solutions are valuable but limited and, in a weird way, show how we’ve internalized the relentless privatization that makes the U.S. so hard on everybody, especially on working families. It will never be possible to crowdfund enough money for all the moms who are criminalized for living in poverty.

So I’ll be the uncool one and just say it: we need a collective, public response. We need to force this issue and demand legislation that supports working mothers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Partnerless Vacations with Kids

In her column at Daily Life, Andie Fox has written a wonderful piece about mothers vacationing with kids. The description of the community that emerges is lovely, as Fox portrays the children of different families roaming and mingling in shifting configurations, like “flocks of birds.”

For me, the most interesting part is what Fox begins to notice about family structure itself:

Something interesting happens on these holidays with other mothers. The boundaries between families collapse without the fathers there to keep them nuclear. The children roam from cabin to cabin. They eat together and sometimes sleep together. If I am lucky, one of the mothers will take my children with her into a shower and she will wash the salt and sand out of their hair for me while I find their towels.

This paragraph took me a bit by surprise, which might be ironic given that I’m a mother who parents completely on her own. Because I have never parented with a partner, I think I take this lack of nuclear structure for granted. The article reminded me that my family is not and has never been constrained in the paternal sense that Fox suggests.

It’s a freedom that I enjoy most of the time––the freedom to define parenting and family in ways that don’t involve the sense of property that is implicit in many two-parent, middle-class, nuclear setups.

Although Fox acknowledges that such holidays are “not all sharing and harmony,” she observes,

There is a sense of lost community in these holidays, and I wonder if there was a time when mothering was more like this. Are we simply rediscovering something mothers used to know?

Indeed. What did mothers used to know?

In the current U.S. cultural climate that vilifies single motherhood, degrading it as an unequivocally sad and pitiful state of affairs, it is wonderful to find gems like this article (and perhaps no accident that the writer is not American). Read the full piece here.

The Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby”

Pretty much everyone who supports women’s right to reproductive health has been lamenting the SCOTUS decision yesterday on Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, in which the court ruled that certain closely-held corporations can claim exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies employing 50 or more people cover the cost of workers’ prescription birth control.

The decision claims to be narrow on the basis of its application to closely held corporations, which are corporations with a limited number of shareholders, and because the decision is limited to two forms of birth control, the IUD and emergency contraception.

Many people are outraged over the general implications: With this ruling, the court not only confirms the erroneous view that corporations are people but goes further by asserting that a corporation now has the right to impose its religious views on its workers. And a corporation’s religious views, i.e., its supposed “personhood,” are now more important than the personhood of its female employees (and, by implication, all women), specifically women’s right to reproductive health as part of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate. Hence the illustrated guide to American personhood meme that’s been all over Facebook.

People are now waking up to the fact that the decision is anything but narrow, in other equally alarming ways. Closely held does not mean small, first of all, and the Wall-Street Journal reports that at least one source claims that about 90% of U.S. companies are closely held.

More important is one of the points made by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissenting opinion, an implication that people are just now starting to absorb (here’s a report of some of the best points). She rightly understands that if a corporation can claim religious exemption about the issue of birth control, there is nothing to stop them from claiming exemption from covering other things, too. A corporation owned by Jehovah’s witnesses could claim they shouldn’t have to cover blood transfusions; Scientologists would have grounds for rejecting the coverage of antidepressants; Muslims, Jews, and Hindus could claim exemption from medications derived from pigs (including anesthesia, IV fluids, and so forth). On this basis, Ginsburg wrote “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

We are already in the minefield that is the ongoing assault on women’s reproductive health. This ruling comes on the heels of the court’s decision last week to strike down a Massachusetts law requiring anti-choice activists to remain a certain distance from people entering clinics. Now, in certain places, it will be harder to prevent pregnancy, and should you elect to have an abortion in Massachusetts, obnoxious protestors have the right to get in your face and make an incredibly difficult life decision all that much harder.

Chipping away at women’s reproductive health rights and safety is evidently the court’s latest “hobby lobby.”

In conversations and on social media, I’ve been seeing lots of outrage but relatively little commitment to boycotting Hobby Lobby, even though campaigns to do so have already begun.

Here’s the deal: one of the few ways we can influence corporations––perhaps the only way given that the law is not on our side––is to make them understand that we will hurt their bottom line if they try to impose their religious views on others.

That’s why I’ve decided to boycott Hobby Lobby. I don’t care if my daughter is begging and pleading and they’ve got the last freaking piece of yarn on earth. I’d rather she (and all women) have the right to control her health, and I’m not actually confident that she will have that right in the coming years.

If you support the rights of people to be free of their corporate employers’ religious views, will you do more than simply denounce this decision?

 

 

 

On the Marriage Prescription for Single Mothers

Mainstream media rarely offer nuanced discussions of single mothers and poverty. Case in point: the dire current trend of marriage as a solution for impoverished parents. Although not perfect, this Washington Post article does better than most by acknowledging that marriage is not a panacea and depends to some degree on factors other than values.

Prescribing marriage, claims the writer, Emily Badger,

ignores what marriage might actually look like to a woman living in a neighborhood with high rates of poverty, unemployment and incarceration. It’s true that marriage can bring stability and emotional benefits to the children of middle- and upper-class families. But that’s not because the institution of marriage itself is universally beneficial. It’s because certain kinds of marriages are beneficial, such as those between adults who don’t have to worry about getting evicted, who can afford to pay their medical bills, who don’t contend with the surrounding stresses of violence or joblessness or having to get to work without a car.

Still, focusing on marriage for any group ignores the reality that even marriages in middle- and upper-class families do not necessarily bring stability, emotional or otherwise. Is the implication here that middle- and upper-class families have successful marriages because they have enough money? If so, that’s not a very convincing argument for how marriage benefits children, but it’s a great one for how good jobs and the community supports associated with them support families.

That’s not to say that there is no valid argument supporting marriage as beneficial to children. But I’ve not seen an argument that addresses marriage per se and that does not end up reducing the complexity of marriage as a social institution.

Which brings us to the real usefulness of this article: It begins to point us toward economic disadvantage as the root of the problem.

The marriage argument is dangerous because it draws attention away from things like the gender wage gap, unemployment, and the ideology of corporate welfare–all of which are the real drivers of poverty.

Poverty that seems to be encroaching daily on the middle class and that will never stop until we do something about the voracious corporate greed controlling so much of the planet. Yeah, that poverty.