Bitch, PhD rocks. I love the way she pulls no punches. One of her recent posts dealt with a topic that hits home for me, namely how wrong it is to bash women who have children in the name of feminism. Dr. B argues that the real choice when it comes to reproducing is the choice not to have children. I agree with her wholeheartedly. Those of us who have grown up in a time when birth control is safe, effective, and available cannot imagine what it was like when that wasn't the case, and if you got in a family way before you were married you were shipped off to give birth to and relinquish your baby in secret. But it’s also a bit ridiculous how hard it is for us privileged First World women to consider what life might be like without our disposable income and easy access to whatever medical advances the world can offer. Even without health insurance, a woman in America has a much higher likelihood of preventing pregnancy in spite of having sex than a woman in the Third World, because she has the choice. Even though abstinence-only sex education advocates would like us to think that the only choice is whether or not to have sex, once a woman and man do choose to have sex, the choice has to be made to use birth control or to let nature take its course.
Then she goes on to say:
And it's not funny, feminist, "reasonable," or acceptable to talk about children as things, or to imply that people who "choose" to have kids are crazy or stupid. When you do those things, you implicitly support the idea that women's reproductive systems are abnormal, that women with kids are fools, and that children and reproducing women are not part of human society.
Of course, not everyone agrees with this point of view. That post got over a hundred comments, many focused on why it really is okay to do those things. My favorite comment is from “b.g”:
Oh, and I love the sancti-mommy-ous title of the post, too: "Mama Delivers a Good Scolding." So because you performed a biological function that any mammal can do, that entitles you to wag your finger and "scold" adults who are your social and political equals. Seriously, it doesn't get more blatant, or more disgusting, than t hat.
The irony, of course, being that mommybloggers want to pretend that their li'l snotminers are my social and political equals. Horseshit. Your child is not my equal. S/h/it does not hold down a job, pay taxes, or otherwise contribute to society. Teach it some fucking respect — or I will, the next time I see you letting it bellow or climb shelves in teh supermarket. And, believe you me, by the time I'm done with you, both of you will be in tears.
Hmm, that’s really mature. I’ll bet the writer of that comment never misbehaved in public. Probably whenever b.g.’s parents told b.g. to jump, b.g. said, “Certainly, mommy/daddy. How high?” Well, maybe not. But judging from the inability to write in a civil tone, I’d guess b.g. was also never taken out in public.
But I digress. The problem with b.g.’s comment (and many others) is the idea that there is some kind of hierarchy among people such that some are social and political equals, and others are not. I’m not sure how that could work, because we have no well-defined end to childhood in our culture – you can drive at 16, vote and be drafted at 18, but are not considered competent (by law) to decide whether to drink alcohol until 21. But just because children cannot drive, vote or have any of the privileges reserved for adults does not mean that society does not need to concern itself with their needs. Children are indeed human beings, and if anything, their lack of a political or social voice requires adults to speak for them and protect their rights as human beings. Now don’t go jumping to conclusions, I don’t think you can use that argument to justify blowing up abortion clinics. But I do think that we as adults need to protect the basic rights of children whether they are our own or someone else’s. And I think that adults who cannot see clear to do so have perhaps not matured adequately in their moral reasoning skills, as I discussed in an earlier post. I find it ridiculous that some people think that the minor inconvenience of having to be exposed to childish behavior in a grocery store would justify calling someone a “snotminer” or threatening to leave a mother and child in tears. As if the mother is just a glorified child and both need to be smacked into line. When I was pregnant with Thing 1, I actually witnessed someone try that on the subway. It was crowded, and the train was running slow, and a kid was crying because he’d just had enough. Hell, I was feeling pretty cranky, myself. Then some guy started shouting at the mother to “shut that brat up”, and let’s just say, it didn’t go well for him. He was pretty much shouted down by the rest of the passengers, for behaving worse than the child. I guess that goes to show you that, even among social and political equals, sometimes someone needs to deliver a “scolding”.
When I was younger, I thought that to be a feminist meant that you had to hate men and remain childless. But I’ve grown up a bit, now, and I understand that feminism is (or should be) about permitting women to make choices. One choice is to not have children. No woman should be forced to have a child when she does not want to. It is a life changing event – whether you tried for years for that baby or you are a teenager who found herself with an unplanned pregnancy. Once you give birth to a child and take him/her home with you, society demands that you care for that person until they can care for themselves (which doesn’t magically happen at age 18). Anyone who doesn’t feel like taking on that challenge should be permitted to take a pass gracefully, without guilt or shame. But likewise, those who do have children should not feel ashamed or diminished as human beings. And as society demands commitment from parents, I think parents are justified in demanding something back from society, the least of which being respect for themselves and their children as human beings.
I am proud to be a mother; I make no secret of the fact, and have even been known to indulge in talking about my kids during casual conversation. I don’t think that being a mother has made me any less capable as a scientist, and I have also been known to indulge in talking about science during casual conversation – to other people who have kids, no less. For me, feminism is about embracing the multiplicity of ways to be a woman – among women, as well as within each woman.
(Thanks, Zuska, for reminding me to write about this.)