#momtweets harrassment

I won’t pretend that being a mother to a small child is the most stimulating thing in the whole wide world. After all, the little being you’re caring for is still developing — and unable to carry on a conversation.

The first several weeks before baby Rocketship began responding to my flirting were the hardest. I found myself doing inane things, like shaking a rattle in her face, hoping she would follow it with her eyes. I ended up tweeting this, and days later getting this response:

I went and investigated this guy –I have a stalker, and so I was afraid that he had found me, for all that I don’t do much to disguise my identity on the internet. It appears that he’s just an asshole who decided to look at the #momtweets hash tag and make fun of women, and that for some reason, he aimed his ire particularly at me, and only me.

I tweeted the discovery of my daughter tracking her eyes simply because I realized how ridiculous it was to spend so much time shaking a rattle for her. It was making fun of myself. But this mysterious stranger clearly hated women — and he seemed to hate me i for being in on what he seemed to think was his private joke.

I reported him to Twitter for spam, but otherwise did not respond.

Have you been harassed on the internet? How did you deal with it?

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Baby Wears Blue: Coworkers Edition

The Mark 2 fibreglass (Tom Yardley-Jones) Tard...

The TARDIS is blue!

One Monday morning, I drove Tim into work, so that I could pick him up after work and we would go somewhere together as a family. (To play Bridge like little old people, but that’s besides the point.) He asked me if I wanted to bring Sylvie in to be shown off to his coworkers. Since I have a couple of friends among them, I said sure.

Sylvie was wearing her blue footie outfit, and I did not bring the sling for this supposed-to-be-quick errand.

First, I visit my friend Matt. (Hi, Matt!) He knows that Baby Rocketship turned out to be female, and I jokingly point out that Sylvie is wearing blue. “Oh noes!” he said sarcastically. “She’ll grow up and be… butch or something, I don’t know.” He rolled his eyes and made it clear that he thought that the color my daughter wore had very little bearing on much of anything. When another acquaintance of mine walked up and we began talking Doctor Who spoilers, Matt stuck his fingers in his ears and ran away saying “La la la!”

Then, another coworker walked by. He was carrying two dinners to the kitchen, one of which was intended for us, and the other for the other new baby in the office. We chatted for a while and he asked the typical polite new parent questions (how are you sleeping? etc.), and then asked, “What’s his name again?”

“Her, actually,” I said, flustered. “We got tired of all the pink, so my friend sent us this blue outfit. I rather like it. Sylvia, by the way, is her name. I mean, it shouldn’t matter.  I mean, I wear blue all the time.”

“Yeah, but you have long hair,” said this coworker. “She doesn’t have long hair yet, that’s why I got confused!”

That’s a simplified version of the conversation. In reality, we talked over each other a bit as each of us navigated our own defensiveness and tried to justify our positions. But that’s what it came down to —  he wanted symbols to tell him how to identify the gender of our daughter, we resisted the ultimate arbitrariness of those symbols, and he was mistaken. He was defensive as a result.

I wish I had handled this situation differently. I wish I had had something to say that taught a lesson about identity politics, how it’s important not to label people, how it is important to let people self identify. But it’s hard, at least in part, because I don’t have much of a stake in this. It isn’t personal — it’s a thought experiment.

But in other ways, this is practice for letting Sylvie make her own decisions. I’m the one making the decisions that take her against the norm, but I’m navigating them for her — and I’ll be sheltering her in the future from some (though not all) of the consequences of her decisions. I want to let her express herself and her identity however she would like, and to grow confident in it, before others tell her that she’s ruining their categories. If she chooses to wear plaid and polka dots together, I’ll be the one that cheers her on and then tells anyone who gives her the stink eye that she’s a visionary.

Baby Wears Blue: Medical Edition

medela lactina select breast pump single breas...

The medical-grade breast pump we rented was like this, only in a box instead of on wheels.

Sylvie was five weeks old when I needed to return the breast pump we had rented to the hospital. I put her in her sling, and carried the hulking package into the hospital. Every time people were able to catch my eye, and even some times when they were not, they exclaimed over the little baby in my arms. They generally fell into two categories.

“How precious/sweet/beautiful! How old?” — Notice that they avoided any pronouns at all in this exclamation. They waited until I started talking, and then adopted the pronoun that I used.

“It’s so tiny!” — That’s right, people who did use pronouns went so far to use “it” to avoid being wrong, even though using “it” for a person is generally considered insulting and inappropriate. People are not objects, after all. “They are,” similarly avoiding being wrong.

There was one person who made the assumption: When I sat down to rest in the lobby, before trekking out to the car (I was still recovering from my c-section at this point), one woman brazenly came over to me and looked into the sling. Seeing the blue she said, “So precious! It’s a boy, right?” I half nodded, surprised and caught off guard despite the experiment, but in the course of the conversation I used “she” or “her” and the woman corrected to match my pronoun use.

The attention for my baby surprised me. (In fact, my mother-in-law asked me what the most surprising part of parenthood has been, and I said, “The attention we get everywhere we go.” She chalked it up to babies being a symbol of hope. I’m not sure that’s it, but I don’t have a better explanation.) But the lack of real discomfort also surprised me — that, I suppose, was because it was actually pretty hard to see what Sylvie was wearing, considering she was only five pounds and was being engulfed by the sling.

The next day, the onsie wasn’t dirty, so she wore it again.

We had a well baby visit, two weeks after we came home from the hospital, for Sylvie to have her first Hep B shot (these are usually given in the hospital to newborns, but we deferred because we didn’t think she had enough muscle, being premature).  The pediatrician we go to is a single-doctor practice, and we’ve seen the same nurse each time we’ve gone. Now, the nurse knew that Sylvie is a girl, but I expected some feedback on the way she was dressed — after all, these doctors and nurses are supposed to be authorities in my parenting life.

Maybe it was because babies spend most of their time at a doctor’s office naked, but the nurse didn’t say anything. And the doctor didn’t even see what she was wearing.

I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly. Or maybe I do. I was expecting people to be uncomfortable — and there were some signs of that. Without seeing what she was wearing while Sylvie was in the sling (which is white, by the way), people didn’t want to make a mistake. I was expecting people in positions of authority to tell me what to do regarding the gender presentation of my infant; they didn’t — for which, ultimately, I am glad.

Blue PANIC! My baby girl wears blue.

My husband and I decided we were not going to find out the biological sex of our child before he or she was born, which resulted in very few gifts of clothing. My mom made an effort to buy things that were yellow and had ducks on them, my friends helped make awesome nerdy decorated onsies, but other than that, nothing.

It turns out, my baby’s biological sex is female. Cue all the pink clothes ever from well-meaning friends and family. Unless she informs us otherwise, we are raising her with the assumed gender. Cue debate and philosophizing about the signifiers of female-ness and the potential behaviors related.

For a while, all that fit was a purple sleep-n-play that had clouds and carriages and castles on it. (Message: dream of being a princess?) My friend Patti offered to buy her something that wasn’t pink or princessy, and sent a gift set with the following note:

Kate & Tim –
A list of things I learned at the baby store that you probably already know:
1. People really love dressing babies as animals.
2. If something is intended for a girl, the animal must have eyelashes – even if it is a butterfly.
3. It’s never too early to put your female child in a ruffle-y pink dress. (For a newborn? Really?)
4. Lacking an equivalent marker to eyelashes or ruffles, baby boy clothes, if not blue, must clearly and visible state “boy.”

So, obviously, as a result, I bought Sylvie a “boy” outfit in blue. Start the gender-bending early.  Besides, I think the characteristics of a bear (loud, strong, hungry for food that comes from picnic baskets) are much more interesting than those of a butterfly (fragile, pretty, short lived)!

Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS! You two will be awesome parents.

(heart), Patti

I was super excited about the outfit, but I wasn’t sure how people would react.

I showed it to my mom, and felt the need to justify it. “I think the paw prints all over the onsie is potentially feminine,” I said.

She looked at the sleep-n-play (i.e. the footed all-in-one outfit), and said, “These colors are preppy!” in an effort to appease me. Strangely, I didn’t want to disappoint her with the way that I dressed my daughter, even though my mom has been fabulous about supporting me in my own parenting decisions and not offering too much unsolicited advice.

And so, I was appeased. Then I put the outfit away because my baby did not fit into it yet.

When my baby did fit into the outfit, I was excited again, and washed the onsie first. When I put it on my little Sylvie, I began to be anxious. What if she was mistaken for a boy? And so what if she were? Why did we have to identify little beings with no secondary sexual characteristics as one gender or another? It was a blue onsie with a semi-accurate depiction of a bear on it — she had another onsie that was green with a teddy bear that I had no qualms about putting on her. What gives?

In fact, as I looked down at my own shirt standing at the changing table, frozen with indecision, I realized that I was wearing a solid blue shirt. And with the knowledge that blue used to be for little girls, and pink for little boys (Because pink is a very decided color?!), I decided to swallow my anxiety and have her wear the outfits.

Perhaps my discomfort isn’t as strong as I am describing here. Patti, as she read the draft for the blog entry apologized for her gift causing anxiety — but perhaps that anxiety is productive.

As a parent of a little girl, I am worried about her future. Her self-esteem, keeping her interested in math and science, helping her be the person she is meant to be and wants to be. Hell, I read Reviving Ophelia when I was ten-years-old, already a survivor of sexual harassment.

I love these outfits, and Sylvie has worn them many times. They have resulted in comments, which I will share another time. But I’ve written on this blog before about how culture is agreed meaning — and there is certain agreed meaning about pink and blue — it’s worth thinking about.

I listened to a Diane Rehm interview with the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein. She was arguing that pink was a gateway to poor self-image, among other maladies of young womanhood. I’ll read that book so you don’t have to, but in the mean time, I will keep observing people’s discomfort with me obscuring shared meaning.

Why I am not looking for a job right now

It’s not because the Michigan job market is crap, and most of the jobs I’m qualified for skill-wise wants me to have a Master’s Degree, though all of that is discouraging. It’s more like this:

1. The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 does not apply to me.

FMLA was hailed as a great thing early in President Clinton’s term. It granted 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave with benefits intact and job security for persons who worked for a public agency, a business with 50 or more employees in a 75 mile radius, who had worked for the company at least 1250 hours in the last 12 months.

In other words, you have to have worked some place for a year, and that place has to have 50 or more employees, or be public agency in order to qualify for these federal benefits.

My term of service for my national service with AmeriCorps ends February 3rd; I have worked with a nonprofit for the last two years, and probably qualify as a public employee — but since my service is ending, much like a contract position does, it is all a moot point.

The jobs I want are in nonprofit or public service; nonprofits rarely have more than 50 employees, and if I were to work for the state government (where there are plenty of job openings due to retirements), I would not qualify by time-served.

Long story short: the federal government would not protect my job security or benefits, nor my right to the time needed to care for a child after birth. Some states have extended the benefits; most not enough.

2. Individual Employers may extend FMLA-like leave to non-qualified persons, but it’s risky business.

First of all, the fact that any law exists — even a law as admittedly as flimsy (on a personal, policy, and international scale) as FMLA — shows that individual employers were not protecting their own employees. As it stands, the law only begins to apply to what I’d believe you call “second stage” businesses — no longer start ups or small companies, but neither are they big companies either.

From an economic point of view, it does not make sense to hire a 7 month pregnant woman, train her, and then allow her to take 2, 6, or 12 weeks off (debates about how long the postpartum period last are on-going) to take care of her child and adjust (or readjust) to motherhood, and then return to work. First of all, training someone is a huge investment in and of itself; it’s why many companies require contracts of 2 years in order to train people in the first place. Then, there is no guarantee of loyalty; with the way motherhood is treated in today’s society, it isn’t certain that the mother will return to work — thereby costing her employers the money and time spent on training, even if the leave is unpaid and benefits are suspended for its duration of the leave.

From a functional and managerial point of view, it’s quite possible that the job held by the pregnant women is vital to a small company, and will need to be filled while she is away — either by a temporary employee, covered by another employee at the company, or possibly hiring a new employee. This last option is prohibited by FMLA — but let’s remember that I’m not covered by FMLA, and neither are many people working at companies with <50 employees. Temporary employees are expensive (training, remember?), and delegating a leave-taking member’s responsibility may cause resentment if not managed correctly. Conventional wisdom says it isn’t really good management to let employees take a leave of absence like the one described by FMLA.

From the employee’s point of view, especially mental health-wise, more than 12 weeks is ideal — a baby at 12 weeks hasn’t smiled spontaneously, yet. But, without the protection of FMLA, or even the NEED to work because going without income for 3 months is impossible, 2 or 4 weeks just has to suffice — leaving mothers separated from their children and at greater risk for postpartum depression and other complications. Perhaps individual employers could work with employees for longer periods of leave; but because of the above reasons, it would need to be a seriously enlightened employer to make that happen.

If I were to apply for a job, I’d have to hope that they would look past my being pregnant to hire me in the first place; that they would train me, that they would keep my job for me, and give me sufficient leave for me to become a confident parent and protect my mental health. It seems too much to ask, and it’s a lot to hope for.

3. A new job and an infant at the same time is a recipe for Postpartum Depression.

Let’s be honest, I’m a prime candidate for PPD. I’m already depressed and anxious, my medications don’t cut it, I haven’t been in therapy (but I’m going back!). One of the first things they tell you to help prevent PPD is to not change too much in your life at the same time you have the baby — you know, like move (done last month), end a job (2/3), or start a job (not happening).

It’s easy to be overwhelmed when caring for an infant. It’s easy to be overwhelmed while beginning a new job. Hint: attempt only one at a time.

4. It is because I am privileged that I can make this decision, to not look for a job.

This is a choice I can make because I have a committed partner whose job pays most of our bills. It is because our rent isn’t unaffordable, because we have health insurance through Tim’s work, it is because we don’t go hungry when only one of us works that I can say, “I can’t work right now.”

I want to work, like many other mothers out there. Many mothers need to work. But public policy does not support women who need to work to make ends meet; and then vilifies them for being on welfare.

I wish I could apply for job after job and be the top candidate always and when they deny me the leave that I need to make sure I don’t spiral deeper into depression, I could walk away and teach them a lesson. I wish I could stand up and be an example, to cause discrimination to occur and start filing lawsuit after lawsuit. Would I be teaching them the right lesson — that it is important to take care of your employees? Or would I be teaching them that what their mentors told them about pregnant women was right — you can’t trust them to keep to their commitments? (That double standard is a whole post in and of itself.)

I’m not strong enough to make an example of myself; to live through the day to day of poor policy. And I can avoid it — I am privileged enough to avoid it, to become a housewife and a stay-at-home mom.

But, damn it, as soon as my baby is old enough, as soon as I’ve regained my mental health, I am going to do something about all of this — I’m going to Grad School and study the social policies that got us here, I’m going to intern and work for nonprofits and advocacy agencies that stand up for women’s rights, for the rights of those in poverty. I’m going to volunteer where I can, and I’m going to challenge this disgusting status quo.

Babies need Mamas, and Mamas need money to care for their babies. Can we please make it easier?

The purpose of parenthood

Cover of "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, an...

Cover via Amazon

We’ve lost the art of democratic debate, says Michael Sandel. He gives a wonderful talk during TED about moral philosophy and justice — and how to reintroduce them into our politics. He paraphrases Aristole’s theory of justice: “Justice means giving people what they deserve.” He says the real questions begin when we consider who deserves what and why, that we have to reason about the purpose of the thing or the activity, to fully provide justice to all.

So, this of course has me thinking. I have thought about the Mommy Myth, which demystified the current state of motherhood, deconstructing the societal forces which prompt women to give everything they have to motherhood, and devote their entire being to supporting their children.

I’ve been thinking about Misconceptions, by Naomi Wolf, which describes a very hetero-normative, upper class view of childbirth and the immediate postpartum experience — but it also talks about that which is concealed from women, in (from her view) a very strange vow of social silence. (And, I might argue, if choices are limited for the rich people — it’s got to be much worse for those in poverty.)

I’ve been thinking about a book I read in college, which I no longer own but was thinking about retrieving via the library system called “The Failed Century of the Child” — a book about the policies that were put into place during the 20th century which attempted, and failed, to remove children from poverty, and to make education a democratic thing.

I’m reading Raising America, by Ann Hulbert, who explores this question in her book: “As children — and just as important, their mothers — prepare to meet the pressures and the allures of an increasingly materialistic and meritocratic mass society, is it more discipline or more bonding that they need at home? the answers to the question have in turn reflected the long-running debate over whether nature or nurture counts most in shaping children’s destinies, which parenting experts across the spectrum and the decades have presumed are decisively cast in early childhood (7).”

So, to go back to the beginning of this post: What is the essential role of motherhood? What is the role of the mother to a child as an infant, a baby, a toddler, a preschooler, etc.? What is the role of the mother to herself during those same time periods? To her partner? To her family, and friends? The “common sense” wisdom seems to be that of primary care giver, and more than that, to be romantically (like “Leaves of Grass” romantic) obsessed with your child, watching their every coo and gurgle.

And, the flip question. What is the role of a father? I think that one is much more cut and dry to the “common sense” — the role of the father seems to be that of helper and bread-winner, and possibly the laughably un-knowledgeable one, as offered to us by sitcoms and commercials.

But is this really the purpose of mothers and fathers? What do you all think?

How did we get to New Momism?

The Mommy Myth is a book that is specifically about the media, and how the media represents motherhood, and what that says about society’s view of mothers. It is therefore implicitly about culture, since media contains cultural representations, but I want to bring the cultural implications to an explicit level. So, up to now, we’ve talked about the “societal ideal” mother, we’ve talked about why that ideal is injurious, and now I want to talk about how this ideal was created.

Douglas and Michaels put it like this:

For a new set of rules about proper behavior to take hold, warnings about what will happen if you break the rules also need to circulate through he culture. And let’s remember that the media are about creating drama — that’s what they do. To create drama, you need heroes and villains. […] The heroes have wonderful qualities we’re supposed to envy; the villains, repugnant traits we’re meant to disdain or despise (141).

So, in the celebrity mother profiles, the rules for being a good mother are outlined. The most important of which can be summarized thus: No matter what, children always come first to a mother. What happens when women with do not devote their entire being to being a mommy?

On page 88 of the book Douglas and Michaels explain how media panics work. Rather than giving you the 300 word paragraph to read, I’ve decided to turn it into a nice outline for you.

A media panic:

  1. Identifies a person, group, event, or condition as a deeply destructive threat to society
  2. The media then represents the person (&/or etc.) in a highly sensationalized or stereotypical fashion
  3. Authorities then assume the role of moral police. The authorities may simply be reporters, editors, elected officials, or other people who have not necessarily researched a subject.
  4. The moral police does three things:
    • Expresses outrage
    • Demands swift punishment
    • Creates a massive search for other potential threats
  5. Other stories are then connected to this first story, increasing the panic over time
  6. A panic may inadvertently support and reinforce conservative political stances and polices not necessarily shared by the majority of the population which is considered necessary because of the panic.

The book gives many many examples of media panics, but I want to focus on two specific media panics (sexual abuse in day care centers and crack babies) because both produce interesting situations for women that provide clear class and race demarcations in motherhood outlining who can and cannot be a good mother, and also produces polices that impinge upon women. Continue reading