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Category: Feminist Rant

Currently Watching

I began my morning watching this TED talk, “The US needs paid family leave – for the sake of its future,” and I urge you too to watch it and pass along.

As I contemplate my family’s upcoming parental leave, I recognize that I am one of those 12% of families in this country that have the luxury of paid leave. But it shouldn’t be a luxury. I shouldn’t feel lucky that my husband and I get paid time off from work to heal and bond and nurture postpartum. In fact, though I recognize that by US standards my four months of paid leave, and my husband’s four months of leave (2 months paid, 2 months unpaid) are unbelievably generous, I am still critical of how limited this time is during such a fleeting yet crucial stage in a person’s life (mother, baby and partner alike). An investment and commitment to breastfeeding alone is enough to warrant a minimum of 6 months paid leave for all mothers given that solid food isn’t introduced until that time.

One of my dearest friends welcomed her first child into the world last month, and because she lives in Stockholm, she and her partner each receive 285 days of fully paid leave from work to be used however, and in whatever arrangement, they deem best for their family and their careers over the course of the baby’s first five years of life. Talk about empowering families and providing a work/life balance! And once they return to work, their child will have fully subsidized (read: free) childcare, so economics does not have to be the primary driver of their family’s decision-making.

As conveyed in this talk, the US is one of only 9 nations (all the rest of which are countries with fewer than 8 million people, as compared to the US’s 320 million) that do not offer paid family leave. If the rest of the world can figure out how to support new families, we sure as hell better be able to come up with a reasonable solution for our country.

It is long since time for the most powerful country on Earth to offer national paid leave to the people doing the work of the future of this country and to the babies who represent that future. Childbirth is a public good. This leave should be state-subsidized. It should have no exceptions for small businesses, length of employment or entrepreneurs. It should be able to be shared between partners.

Week 24 (and some body talk)

I began writing this post earlier this fall, and an unsolicited comment on my burgeoning baby belly by an acquaintance this morning at drop-off has prompted me to pick up the conversation and finish the post.

Thoughts from August…

The kids have been commenting that I already have a big belly because of the baby. At seven weeks gestation. I explained that mama has always had a bit of belly bulge since carrying two prior pregnancies. And that my belly is actually pretty much the same size it’s been since I stopped breastfeeding Courtland back in 2012.

I relayed this story to a friend, and she responded, “Well, at least now you have an excuse! You are pregnant, so it’s okay to have some belly bulge.”

Sigh. It’s always “okay” to have some belly bulge.

I don’t need an excuse (although creating two prior humans is certainly one) and am perfectly comfortable with my belly that reflects this fact. My friend’s comment was truly intended as harmless… nay supportive! Because we are so conditioned to assume that a woman would be embarrassed by her body if it were anything but rail thin, that we leap into protective mode to help justify or explain a body that falls outside that parameters so as not to feel guilty.

And more recently, two examples of the broader cultural problem of people feeling like it’s acceptable and a-okay to blithely comment on another person’s body (most frequently, female bodies, especially when they’re making life)…

Back in late September/early October, I strolled into a work meeting with six or seven other colleagues and one woman blurted out, “Oh my goodness! Ashley! You’re HUGE! You really ARE pregnant.”

Why yes. Yes I am. I was not lying.

I responded, red-faced and flustered by such aggressive and unwelcome statements about my body in a room full of people, “Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I’ve got a long way to go.” I didn’t know what else to say! I wanted to crawl under the table and cry.

And then this morning, while dropping Courtland off at school…

Morning, Ashley! Wow, how many weeks pregnant are you?

24 weeks today, actually.

Geez, you look WAY more pregnant than that!!

… oh… well, I’m not…

It didn’t feel great to be told that I look larger than I am “supposed” to look at this stage in the pregnancy, but it honestly would have been just as miserable to be told that I look smaller, because either statement is anxiety-inducing for an expecting mom. We carry enough self-imposed stress and worry when we’re pregnant about whether or not we’re “making” the baby right, that any comment that implies that our body is somehow outside “normal” expectations feels terrible.

Too small? Am I not nourishing the baby? Does she need more from me? What if baby isn’t thriving?

Too big? Am I on track for gestational diabetes? Am I going to be supremely overweight after having the baby? Is the baby going to be unhealthy? (Our cultural equations of weight with health are doubly-toxic for pregnant women).

It’s daunting to be responsible for creating another human being, particularly when we have absolutely no control of the process. Our body is doing it and we’re beholden to it 24/7 for 40 weeks, but while we can exercise, and sleep, and try to eat well-rounded meals, there’s very little control we have over what is happening inside and to our bodies and the living person that is growing inside.

Even through this third experience, I am floored by what is happening inside of my own person. It is mind-blowing and miraculous and uncomfortable and overwhelming and awe-inspiring and a giant pain in the ass and the most humbling experience I’ll ever know. Motherhood, from conception to a lifetime of parenting, is a deeply complex and contradictory experience. Adding fuel to that already muddled emotional terrain by infusing unsolicited commentary from seemingly well-meaning but a painfully insensitive public can feel maddening at best and debilitating at worst .

If you must comment, ask how the woman is feeling, or tell her that she is glowing, or that she’s doing a wonderful job. Affirming, empowering statements make a world of difference in a society that is so prone to lay judgement and inappropriate commentary on the experiences of women and their bodies.

__________________________

This afternoon, to get out of the negative head space about my body (annoyed that I even let those comments have that impact), I did a little self-portraiture. Just me and baby. And it was empowering, dare I say sensual (during a time when it can be VERY hard to feel that way), and uninhibited because I was completely unburdened of anyone’s gaze but my own. And it felt good to experiment and play and reconnect with this amazing process and my badass body that’s making it possible. However cheesy it may sound, it worked. And so here we are at Week 24.

WEEK24_BLOGALACART-4

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Currently Watching

This is the talk I referenced last week by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (songwriter of Frozen). If you get a chance, I highly recommend you take the 15 minutes to watch it.

GENDER IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT!

Say it with me now!

Gender. Is. A. Social. Construct.

I have been acutely aware this pregnancy of how quickly and readily the first question I receive upon hearing the news is related to the baby’s genitalia.

“Are you going to find out the gender?” (SEX! Gender is a social construct. And, no.)

Or, “A BOY! It has to be a boy!” (Yes, because I have complete and utter control over this process.)

Or “It’s because James needs a boy, huh?” (Yes, in fact, if it’s a girl, we’ll be giving her up for adoption. Or try experimental hormone treatments on her to correct this error.)

Sigh. I know these comments aren’t coming from an ill-intentioned place. No one means to sound as rigidly gender-constructed as they appear when they lead with these questions. And yet… and yet that’s exactly how they read when I hear them. I realize that American society in particular is extremely married to the male/female divide (check any children’s aisle in a department store or Big Box Mart for proof) but it’s so poorly guided.

Perhaps it’s my evolving feminism, or raising daughters, or the realization that my two children with vaginas are so drastically different that knowing that they were both going to have female genitalia prepared me in no way for who they would be and are, and how James and I would parent them, but it’s been more apparent this time than with either of the girls how often the question is asked in some shape or form.

Admittedly, with the girls, I wanted to know their sex. I felt like it gave me some semblance of control or knowledge or preparation – but in having two girls, I realized it in no way did that. In fact, it just conditioned me to buy pink and flowers and frills (which, hey, is tons of fun) but was truly not necessary for an infant with no gendered baggage whatsoever. It also had me envisioning a prescribed idea of what they might be, informed by a lifetime of societal stereotypes and conditioning around female vs. male. Which wasn’t fair to them. And wasn’t fair to me.

I love the not knowing. This baby is a blank slate, his or her own person and I am imparting no preconceived notions of who he or she will be because I don’t have this categorizing information to direct those thoughts. I feel like being surprised in the moment is one of the last true surprises in this life. A colleague responded this way when I told her that I wasn’t going to find out the sex, and went on to relay how she dreamed differently not knowing the sex of one of her babies during pregnancy. Anything was possible for that baby, because social norms and stereotypes weren’t subconsciously influencing her dreams.

We underestimate how powerful the male/female categories are in our society. Infants all look like gender-neutral, mushy blobs, yet people yearn for that piece of categorizing information. And upon knowing it, respond with, “What a beautiful, sweet girl!” or “Such a strong, handsome boy!” Study upon study proves that we speak to babies differently based on their sex, and yet we somehow think that boys just innately like trucks and fighting and girls princesses and pink – when, since before their arrivals, we’ve been conditioning them toward those things in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. With language, with clothing, with nursery decor, with toys, with visions for their future, and so on, and so forth.

You don’t need any information about my child’s genitals, or any child’s genitals, to know how to treat them or what to buy for them or how to speak to them. Infants, especially, represent a rare moment in a human’s life where the world is a blank slate. Let’s not begin it with our own gendered baggage.

And instead of asking “Are you having a boy or a girl?” or “Are you finding out the SEX?” upon learning of someone’s pregnancy, instead try leading with, “Congratulations. How are you feeling?”

P.S. I am in no way judging or condemning families who want to and do find out the sex of their babies prior to birth. James and I were those parents… twice! Every mother gets to decide for herself what is best for her body and baby and what information she wants and needs to get through this experience. We all need to be a little more live and let live on this front. I’m just asking that we think critically about why it is we want this info and how it may influence how we think about our child and their place in the world in both wonderful but also maybe not so wonderful (if we’re relying on gender stereotypes) ways.

Currently Gawking

These are the kind of dolls that I want my children to play with.

Kimmy emailed me this link and simply said: You will love this.

Holy cow, she was right.

Currently Reading

We can’t control a lot of things in this world. We can’t stop advertisers from Photoshopping images. We can’t stop the fashion industry from preferring skinny models. But we can control the words that are coming out of our own mouths. And when women question whether their bodies are good enough, they may well be causing other women to do the same.

A follow-up to my post yesterday. A reader and friend shared a link to this Fat Talk piece in the NYT. Drives my point home far more eloquently. And with data.

Body Talk (against Body Talk)

The other day in the gym locker room, I was in the midst of changing to head back to the office when a woman strolled in post-yoga class alongside the custodian. Both are regular figures in that space, and they were engaged in a casual conversation. I overheard yoga lady (we’ll call her “Jane”) comment to the custodian (we’ll call her “Sally”) that she was looking well. Sally hedged and Jane continued, “Have you lost weight or something?”

I felt my whole body physically cringe from predictability and disappointment.

Sally replied that she had been sick for an entire week with a stomach flu, so yes, she had lost weight, but that she was not feeling all that “well” coming off such a horrendous illness.

Jane shrugged and headed to her locker.

AURGHJ!!()_#&BDLAB L!UYT YA} FJ”OUY@!!!!!!!

*Steps up on soap box*

Why do we associate weight loss with wellness?!

And further, why the fuck do we think it is okay to ever ever EVER comment on another person’s body?!

Just… No. Stop. Please stop. Stop perpetuating these terrible, horrible, no good standards upheld by mainstream media and our society that equate skinny with beauty, thinness with wellness.

Why do we live in a community where the comment, “You look like you’ve lost weight!” is considered a compliment?

Why do we suggest that someone must be “healthy” if they’ve visibly lost a few pounds? They could be terminally ill, or coming off an unpleasant flu, or suffering from depression and anxiety – and that certainly does not feel like the epitome of health and wellness to me. And how damaging to put them in a position where they feel like an ugly situation has somehow made them more desirable.

I’m on this new diet. Well, I don’t eat anything and when I feel like I’m about to faint I eat a cube of cheese. I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.

Gross.

And why do we think that a person who carries a body that does not fit into the ridiculous slim standard is unhealthy and unfit? Not all of us are built with a size 0 frame. I have many friends who exercise regularly, and eat well, and they rock a size 12+. And they are HEALTHY! And beautiful! And in the size that healthfully and naturally fits their body.

When I am eating a well-rounded, balanced diet and exercising 5-6 times a week for 40-60 minutes, I am a size 8. I have to begin to withhold, or overdo, or push, or force myself to fall below that size. And when I slide, and maybe eat a plate of nachos at 10pm or skip a workout because I’d rather be knitting in bed, I am a comfortable size 10. And yet, I am a healthy, strong person. When I start to fall below a size 8 it means I’ve been violently ill, severely depressed, or starving myself.

I wrote this post about Sunny commenting on how I looked like I had a baby in my belly, and while I didn’t want to teach her that that statement was inherently critical or negative (despite how our society tells us we should see it as such), what I did want her to learn is that we should not comment on other people’s bodies. Period. End of sentence. We never know someone else’s experience, and we should trust that we are all doing the best we can, under the circumstances we are dealt. It’s messy. And imperfect. And that’s not to dismiss true unhealthy lifestyles and behavior, but please, let’s all be a little gentler, kinder, more considerate, and more flexible in our understanding of health, wellness, and beauty.

*Steps off soap box*

P.S. This is not to suggest that YOU, reader, do these things. I’m just feeling ranty after observing that moment, but I trust that those of you that tolerate and indulge my rants are probably not the one’s perpetuating this behavior. Preaching to the choir, and such. xoxo Ash

Currently Reading

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Weiner ever since jumping on The Bachelor/ette franchise this summer when a college classmate was one of the contestants on the show. I loathe the show and everything it represents with every fiber of my being, but it is like a train wreck in that it is so very hard to look away. Jennifer’s live tweets are what have kept my faith in humanity alive despite getting sucked into the vortex of some of my worst feminist nightmares realized on a hugely mainstream and popular stage.

Here recent Op-Ed in the NYT further confirmed my support of her work and commentary. It’s fitting to share in light of my post yesterday.

Show me a body part, I’ll show you someone who’s making money by telling women that theirs looks wrong and they need to fix it. Tone it, work it out, tan it, bleach it, tattoo it, lipo it, remove all the hair, lose every bit of jiggle. (Full piece here)

Baby Belly

Mama, it looks like there is a baby in your belly.

I visibly wince and look up from my book.

An insecurity that hovers just beneath the surface, particularly about my mid-section, particularly post-two pregnancies, comes rearing to the fore. Fashion magazines of wash board abs and the harsh reality that my body is anything but collide at the words of my oldest daughter.

As I take a deep breath to respond, James jumps into the conversation…

Sunny, we shouldn’t…

And I cut him off before he has a chance to finish his thought. I know that he is about to “defend” me and try to protect me from any comment that might make me feel critical of my body. (A body he adores, and that I adore, but of course find myself critiquing in moments of weakness or nostalgia (Oh if I’d only appreciated my body before two babies made me “soft”!) (Such outrageous thinking as my body is fucking badass for creating such incredible human beings and bringing them into this world. They’ve made me tougher and more amazing – not softer! Not less anything!). But James’ attempt to tell Sunny that we shouldn’t say that to a woman (because it is considered inherently a criticism rather than a neutral, or GASP! positive statement) is about to do more harm to our daughter’s perception of beauty and health and wellness than he realizes.

Does it? Well, I don’t have a baby in my belly. But I have lots of yummy food from last night’s dinner and ya know, mommy’s tummy always sticks out a little bit, especially after having you and your sister live in there. That belly was once your home, so sometimes it might look like a baby is in there, because once upon a time TWO babies lived in there.

Well, I love your belly, Mama.

And I tell her that I love my belly, too, because I want my daughters to love their bodies, whatever form they take. I want them to push out the noise and the demands and the ridiculous standards that will tell them that they are somehow flawed, or not enough, or too much, or less than, or lacking, or in need of change. And they remind me to do the same.

I love my belly, too.

Currently Gawking

A powerful start to my day. And thanks to teenagers no less. I hope my daughters’ find their voice at such a young age. (Thanks to Auntie Kimmy for the hat tip!)