Not So Baby Crazy

Over the past couple years, I’ve heard any number of the following phrases:
“When you have kids…”
“You don’t have kids now, but when you do…”
“You’ll change your mind…”
“I thought the same thing as you do now, but…”
“You don’t really mean that…”

To act as though you know better than another person as to what they want out of life is insulting at best, but it can reach the point of being downright patronizing.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I want to have kids. Not as in: I don’t know if I want to have kids now or later. As in: I don’t know if I ever want to have children of my own (by blood or adoption). But people assume that I do want to have kids. Because I am female. I am a woman, therefore I must feel the incredible urge to procreate.

And if I don’t? Something inside me must be broken. Surely I will never be as happy childless as I would with little offspring running around my ankles. I would certainly be lost and lonely in my old age. Who would take care of me as I became feeble or infirm in my golden years, if not my progeny?

The following are recent excerpts from conversations with a new friend, but I will make note that these snippets are not unique to this friend, only that these little bits are freshest in my mind due to how recent these conversations occurred:
“Are you planning to get married?” (Yes)
“Yay! Then you can have baaaaabies!” (Haha, whoa now)
“You know, about this time next year, I’ll be on break and can babysit for you!” (Haha…Oh. Oh my. Please no more. We are so far from even thinking about this…)
“Hey! Listen to this! You’re going to love this idea! What if…” (Uhh, I really don’t think I will.) “No, I promise you will! What if — you had TRIPLETS!” (Oh god, that’s terrifying!) “You’d be so lucky! Oh my, that’d just be such a blessing!” (No, it wouldn’t! Please…please can we stop talking about this?)

This had gone on for a few days until things finally came to a head. The friend said she had something she wanted to talk to me about and mimed cradling a baby in her arms. I told her flat out that I did not want to discuss it anymore, and followed that with:

Let me ask you a question: What if I can’t have babies? You’ve kept bringing this up even after I asked you not to, but what if I literally cannot have babies? Can you imagine how these continued discussions might make me feel?

The question was important. And it hurt her. It visibly hurt her.* But it was a perspective that she had not previously considered, and that was crucial. It took a while for my words to sink in as she later asked, “Observer…uhm. You CAN have babies, though, can’t you?” I tried to explain to her that the answer to that question is irrelevant. I told her you never know what someone else’s story is, so if someone repeatedly asks you to stop bringing up a certain subject, it might be best to just leave it alone. Following that, she did. In this particular circumstance, I was lucky in that my friend is an endless spring of caring and empathy and was willing to listen to what I had to say. Sadly this is not always the case as others have tried to logic me into wanting to be a baby factory.

*I was chided for speaking so harshly to her by someone who overheard the end product of my growing uncomfortableness. “I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm by it.” The problem with that logic is of course that just because your intentions are good, do not mean your words or actions are. That is a topic for another day, however.

So here’s my question, then: Why DO we feel the need to pressure women to have children?
It is so ingrained in our culture that women should have children that, no matter the strides we’ve made towards equality, we often just assume that a young woman wants little more than to have babies. Or that she would never find fulfillment elsewhere as she would in motherhood. There are a few big problems with this assumption though.

  • Not every young woman can afford to be a mother. This is not to say that being low on funds makes a bad parent. Only that no matter how financially stable a person seems to you, there may be costs that you never think about eating up her paycheck. Prescription medications, maybe. Perhaps she’s supporting someone in hospice. If a person is fighting foreclosure on her house or eviction from her apartment, she may decide that right now, kids are Not An Option. It may never be an option. And she may not want to talk about it.
  • Not every person can handle the stress of children. That person is separate from you, and you therefore do not know what sorts of demons she faces. Perhaps she has violent episodes which she is trying to manage but does not yet have control over. Perhaps there is a personality disorder keeping her from even wanting kids – sticky kids – kids that draw on walls and pick noses – babies with sharp fingernails that cut through skin, leaving a wound susceptible to infection. Perhaps sudden loud noises cause panic attacks or flash backs. It’s possible the person has suffered a history of abuse and is petrified at the idea of perpetuating the violence. And maybe she doesn’t want to disclose her reasoning.
  • Not every person is capable of having children. Some women have an auto-immune disorders that makes baby-having dangerous, perhaps even fatal. It could be that a medical condition or vital medicine makes her infertile (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Infertility/pages/causes.aspx (link opens in new window)). It might be that she was never able to have her own children. Perhaps she is transsexual. And she might not want to discuss it.
  • Not every person wants to have children. Period. This person may never have even considered the idea of having children, or some random trigger caused the person to realize, “Nope, not for me.” And she doesn’t have to explain why.

In all of the above instances (and others that I’ve surely missed), the reason behind the person not having children is irrelevant. Because it is a private matter, it is no one’s business but that of the person in question. It is her body. Not yours, not society’s, hers.

Think about it from the other side for a moment. You casually announced that you were going to be having children as you’ve always wanted to do, and on a regular basis as it came up in conversation, people asked you “Whyyyyyy? I’m sure this is just a phase, you’ll change your mind…you’ll change your mind the moment you hold that pooping, barfing, snotty potato in your arms for the first time.”
You would look at the person saying that like they are a crazy person. They aren’t you. They have no idea what you want. How can they possibly know how you feel about the situation? Why are they telling you that your decisions are wrong? (Are they clairvoyant?) You should not have to constantly explain to others why you made the decision you did to have children.

All of this is not to say that it’s wrong to ask if a person plans to have children. If they say no, however, the correct response is most certainly not to try and out-logic them onto Team Progeny or to tell them that they are wrong. Many women, after being pressured into having children they were not ready for or hadn’t wanted in the first place, go on to accept that they will be mothers, and they love their children unconditionally and are happier than they ever thought possible. But there are also mothers who harbor resentment towards their own children for lost opportunity, lost youth, lost love, lost health…
And we know this. We probably know or have known someone whose mother or father seems to look at their children with disdain. Have you ever heard a parent tell their child, “I tried to abort you,” or “I should have aborted you?” I’ve heard parents say each with complete sincerity in their voices. Especially in the second instance, I would almost be willing to lay down money that the woman was pressured to get pregnant and stay pregnant. And why? To irreparably emotionally scar the person they’ve always been told, “As soon as you see your child…you will know what love really is?” Of course this is an extreme case, but quiet resentment is also highly damaging to the psyche of a child or young adult. This does not make for the healthiest of environments in which a child will grow and learn how to be a loving, empathizing member of society.

So the next time a woman says that she does not want to have kids, or does not want to discuss having kids, perhaps instead of trying to coax her into a life altering decision about which she was already reluctant, we should take her word at it. We should accept that there are a thousand reasons for which a person may not want to talk about having children. Using your words is good only in so far as others listen to them.

Bad Words: The R Word (Trigger Warning)

[I have been struggling with this post for the better part of two weeks now. Boyfriend Observer has been suggesting I do an outline, but the problem with this particular topic is that I have so many things to say that I do not really know what the overall point is that I want to make other than “things are screwed up bad.” There will be more posts on this topic, likely with a good amount of time between for me to recover from reading statistics and feeling angry and depressed with the world, my culture, and the politics surrounding things as basic as definitions.]

I want to reach through the internet – through the entire world – and grab every man and woman who asks, “ok, but is it really rape if…” by the shoulders and scream, “YES IT IS RAPE!” It’s sort of like racism in that, if you have to ask, the answer will be yes.
First, I think we have to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions, so let’s start with those.
A) How many of your female friends have been raped or sexually assaulted?
If the answer is none, then your friends are better at hiding emotional (and possibly physical) scars than you think. Statistically speaking, 1 in 5 or 6 (~17-20%) (US) women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes, likely before reaching the age of 30. Almost half before they are even considered a legal adult.(* †)(Sources will be listed at the end)
B) How many of your male friends have been raped or sexually assaulted?
RAINN estimates that approximately 1 in 33 (US) men are raped in their lifetimes, with a third of those before the age of legal adulthood.(†) (Though it is possible these numbers could be much higher and more similar to those of women due to the all-too-common misconception that if the victim doesn’t have a vagina, he can’t be raped)

Imagine this. For a woman, rape is such a common fear that it is no longer a question of “If I get raped…” rather than a question of when.
When I get raped…
…will I be able to fight back?
…will I think clearly enough to scratch my attacker to get DNA evidence?
…if I can’t fight, will I be able to scream?
…if I scream, will anyone be near enough and willing to help me?
…will I walk away from it with my sanity?
…will I walk away from it with my life?
…will the police believe me?
…will anyone?

Ever Mainard has a brilliant bit in which she shows that when (some) women feel they are in a potentially harmful situation that may lead to her rape, the response is one of depressed resignation rather than pure anger or simple fear.(§) Near-petrification sets in because what’s the point of any other response? It was bound to happen sooner or later, right?

Second, we have to ask ourselves some more uncomfortable questions.
A) Have we met our friends’ rapists?
Truth is, “Stranger Danger” is more myth than not. A person is far likelier to be sexually violated by someone she knows than by a stranger. Nearly 3/4ths of sexual assaults were committed by someone known to the victim.† On top of this, the case is far too common that the victim cannot get away from the attacker. Because it’s the father and no one believed her. Because it’s the minister and no one believed him. Because it’s dad’s friend, and he said that if she told, her family would be murdered. Because it’s the aunt and “that was so long ago, can’t he just let the past stay in the past?” Because that’s her ex-boyfriend, she must be making it up because she’s just bitter.
B) Do we ourselves know what constitutes rape?
We all know rape is bad, mmk? But what makes a rape a rape? Is any one rape more legitimate than another? According to the FBI, rape is “[Oral/vaginal/or anal] penetration…without consent of the victim.” (‡) The broader definition, however, (which takes out a good chunk of the implied sexism) will be used here, which is “ANY act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.” (ø)
Ok, good, you know the definition of rape. But what about that word ‘consent’? This seems to be where a LOT of people get tripped up. You know that a child cannot legally give consent. Good on you. Perhaps you also know that someone with the mental capacity of a child also cannot give consent. Bravo. On consent, wikipedia says this: “Impairments to reasoning and judgment…include such factors as…intoxication.” (±) This means that when a person is intoxicated, they cannot give consent. So when a guy says, “Dude, she was so drunk, she was up for anything…” or a girl says, “He wasn’t really interested, so I got him another drink and took him to bed…” THAT. IS. RAPE.
“But of course that’s rape,” you say. Who wouldn’t know that, right?

Except that 1 in 12 college men in a survey “admitted to committing acts that met the legal definition of rape, and 84% of [those] did not label it as rape.” (δ) Eighty. Four. Percent. Eighty-four percent of the men who admitted to having raped a girl did not realize that what they had done constituted rape.
Here’s another staggering statistic:

43% of college-aged men admitted to using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman’s protest, using physical aggression, and forcing intercourse. (δ)

Almost HALF of these young men (note it is NOT 43% of the 1 in 12, but of the whole) admitted that they used some form of coercion – up to and including physical aggression and outright ignoring pleas of “no”.

The problem is not a simple matter of the victim not saying no, or not saying it clearly/loudly/forcefully/persuasively enough.
Nor is the problem so simply resolved by saying, “Instead of telling women ‘Don’t get raped,’ tell men ‘Don’t rape.'” (Especially since men aren’t the only perpetrators of sexual crimes.)
While telling youth “Don’t Rape, Period” is a start, we also need to make sure they even know what rape IS. And that it can happen to anyone regardless of attire (she wasn’t asking for it, no matter what you think of her outfit), class (rich people are not immune to violent assaults on their bodies), race (rape is about power and dominating the victim), sex (men can be raped), or orientation (fact: some people in the lgbt community have been told by their attackers that they will “fuck them straight”). And it can be committed by anyone. Women and men alike can be rapists.
We need to teach our kids that coercion of any sort is unacceptable. That “you’re my boyfriend, you have to” is rape. That “I spent all this money on you, you owe me” is rape. That “but you said yes earlier” IS RAPE.
Telling our children to accept nothing less than enthusiastic consent is a start. We also need to teach them how to look out for warning signs disguised as jokes that a new acquaintance or old friend may be a predator. And we absolutely need to teach them not to dismiss cries of rape because “I know that person, and he wouldn’t do that” because the truth of it is – you never do know until it’s too late.

The good news is there are survivors, and many are using their voices to let others know that they are not alone. That it is not their fault.
Project Unbreakable has made great strides in giving voices to both men and women all around the world to proudly proclaim that they are survivors. These survivors write out things told to them during their attack. And they showcase how endemic rape culture is because not all of the quotes on the site are from attackers. Some are from the victims’ own families, telling the victim outright that they are lying, that it didn’t really happen. Some are from (ex)lovers who belittle them by saying maybe they deserved it. At first glance, the material is depressing, but these are voices of real people that have overcome innumerable demons reaching out to help others. To shed light on the kind of of psychological damage that not only the attacker(s) inflict on their target but that society inflicts upon the innocent person in an awful situation.
It is truly a wonderful project that can be found here: http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/

Sources:
* 50 Actual Facts About Rape: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/50-facts-rape_b_2019338.html
† RAINN statistics (includes helplines): http://www.rainn.org/statistics
§ Ever Mainard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29ArdxWYBGQ
‡ FBI definition of rape: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/cjis-link/march-2012/ucr-program-changes-definition-of-rape
ø Rape definition: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rape?s=t
± Definition of Informed Consent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informed_consent
δ Societal Attitudes Supporting Rape: http://www.uic.edu/depts/owa/sa_rape_support.html

Bad Words: The S Word

Everyone loves a good old fashioned slut.
Hey, every man wants a lady in public, and a whore in the bedroom, amiright?

Slut! Whore! Slutty slut McSluttersons. The most common denotation used for “slut” is a person (woman) who has many casual sex partners. Though it still carries quite a bit of weight for some, there are a couple problems with the term slut itself.

  • Even when a dictionary or other source says, “an individual” or “a person,” it is a KNOWN that this word is often used as an epithet against women. In fact, oftentimes when this word is used as a pejorative for men, the modifier “man” is added as a prefix. If the language is not sexist, why do we need to add a sex modifier for men?
  • One of the biggest problems with this definition is the vagueness of “many.” How many (presumably male*) partners constitute many partners? For some, ‘many’ could mean over 5 or over 10 or over 20. It could mean ‘substantially more partners than me.’ For someone growing up in a restrictive puritanical culture, many could be as little as 2 or 3. So on whose authority do we rest this question?
  • How would anyone, but the woman herself, know how many partners she has had?

*I say presumably male because in almost every context of usage, I’ve heard it in reference to a woman about heterosexual relations. This does not mean that bisexual or homosexual women are immune to the affects of this word, but for the purposes of this post, we are going to narrow the view a tad.

Personally speaking, I have not really ever been bothered by the word. Many years ago, I thought about the words slut and whore and decided that even though I don’t really care about either word, I supposed I’d rather be called a whore. I have always been of the mind that if you are going to have a job, it should be one you enjoy. Therefore, if a woman really enjoys sex and finds out she can get paid for this thing she loves? Rock on with your bad self. (This was of course before I learned about how most prostitutes are forced into the line of work by any number of factors up to and including the need to fulfill basic needs such as…say…feeding a child and having no where else to turn)

I diverge.

So why are women who sleep around sluts, but men who sleep around are just men? Only in some circumstances are they man-sluts. So they’re a slut, but a special kind of slut because they have a penis, and as we all know, Boys Will Be Boys. The sexism in the language is palpable. Sex is a natural thing; there is no cause to make a woman feel less than because of doing something so natural. Not a single one of us would be here if grandma had not bumped uglies.

Why are women taught that sex is a BAD THING? A bad thing that you should never ever do outside of marriage, lest people think you’re a tramp. You shouldn’t wear that tight shirt, or men will think you’re easy. That skirt is too short, men might get the wrong impression. If you show cleavage, men will think they can get that one and only thing they want from you. Because apparently men are incapable of thinking for themselves. How do so many people not realize how insulting that in and of itself is? Women are taught that men only care about sex, and this plays very nicely into rape culture. The idea that men cannot help themselves when they see a sufficiently attractive lady. (Newflash for those who may not know: the clothes do not cause the woman to be attacked. The raping rapist rape-guy causes the woman to be raped. But we can get more into that later.)

Women are taught that even -talking- about sex is wrong. As if by being candid about the subject multiplies your number of partners 10 fold. As if expressing any sort of desire out loud for that intimacy somehow sullies the act.
Why do we insist on women being so ‘pure’ anyway? Pure sounds so nice and…well…pure. And innocent. Naivete is also a synonym for innocence. One of the most important ways in which we gain knowledge about something is by gaining experience doing that thing. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we open our bed to bad people who do not respect us. And sometimes that experience gives us insight as to what to avoid in a future partner.

So how many partners is too many? Is it the same number for men? (No, of course not. That would be silly. Boys will be boys, after all. And if all the boys are so experienced, but all the girls are supposed to chaste and pure, who is lying? *) Does a woman even need to sleep with a single man before she is labelled a slut? (No: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/10-women-on-what-i-was-doing-when-i-was-called-a-slut/)
*Again, taking the narrow heteronormative view here
Some women earn the label by having the audacity to be raped. How dare they be unable to stop the man who was holding a gun to her head, guess she’s ruined now, eh? How dare she have her body violated, leaving her emotionally scarred for the rest of her life, to say nothing of the possible physical scars she may carry now as a constant reminder of the horrific trauma forced upon her person. How. Dare.

There is a stigma associated with one particular issue relating to sex. Sexually transmitted diseases and infections. For some people, the word slut conjures thoughts of breeding grounds for STD/Is. As though a magic number of partners makes a person develop a contagious infection. As if any person who has only had one partner ever is immune to the lies of another. Or immune to forced intercourse. A woman who sleeps with dozens of partners may be clean (there’s another synonym for pure again) while another woman, who has slept with only one person who claimed to love, respect, and care only for her, may contract the herpes virus. There is of course an increased risk of contracting a disease or infection by having multiple partners. The same way there is an increased risk of you dying the more you drive. Have you stopped driving yet? No, of course not. You use your safety belt, and try to make sure you’re in a safe care. You take precautions. You make sure you feel safe. You do everything to minimize risk, yet you still get behind the wheel. Practicing safe sex (and teaching more than abstinence only) has the same effect.

As mentioned previously, some think any number higher than one earns the term because, you know, you’re supposed to save that for marriage. And if you dare own your own body and explore its sexuality outside the confines of marriage? You are no longer pure and wholesome. You are less than. Who gets to choose whether or not a woman is a slut? How does the person yelling the word know about the woman’s sexual history? Again, no one save the woman could be certain of said woman’s past.

But – and here’s the crux of the issue – the word has nothing to do with what the woman may or may not have done in her or anyone else’s bedroom. It is purely to knock the woman down, to make her feel smaller, to make the person who uses the word feel bigger.

Sex is fun. Sex is a wonderful, beautiful thing. And it is nobody’s business but your own. And your partner(s)’. Sex with yourself helps you to learn your body, and sex with another person…you get an entire other person’s body as a playground! You get to learn together what you like to do. You have the chance to learn what they like; they have the chance you learn what you like, and it is an amazing thing, learning another person’s body. And you get to do this no matter the past either of you have had, because (and this is important) everyone is different. What you like to do with one partner might not be so great with another. You get to have this beautiful, astonishing bond with each other, whether it is in a long, committed relationship, a quick fling, or a one-nighter.

Of course, there are plenty of men and women who do fully want to wait until marriage and want to explore each other’s sexuality with that one person, til death do they part. This is not to say that people who feel that way are wrong. To the contrary. The point is simply that women should not be shamed for their sexuality. Not a single part of it. Whether it be orientation, a fetish or paraphilia, a longing to share the first time within a sanctified relationship, or a lack of desire for sex altogether.

Some people want to make the word ‘slut’ a taboo. Others want to reclaim it. I don’t yet know which way I am leaning in that debate.

All I know is that the only times sex is wrong and should be shamed are when there are minors or animals involved, or when there is an unwilling (or incapable of being willing) participant. And that unwilling participant is absolutely NOT the one on whom the shame and blame should rest, but on the molester, the predator, the rapist.

Bad Words: The F Word

The F word. We all know it. And it is a BAD WORD. Its mere mention often brings looks of disgust and rolling eyes.
So I’m just going to say it. Ready?

I am a Feminist.

I wasn’t always entirely proud to admit that. My foray into feminism began with hesitation. It was a word with which I had a lot of trouble for many years. Oftentimes, when I heard the word Feminist, I saw or heard or read it in conjunction with misandry. Or with Feminazi. My father would listen to Rush Limbaugh talking about how the feminazis were just out to kill babies. I would listen to women proudly proclaim that they were feminists, hear them roar.
As in, “How would you like it if I kicked you in your balls? That’ll teach you to call us guys’ again! I would never let my husband speak to me like that. Do you know how much more fragile testicles are compared to the uterus? I could literally rip them off with one hand, that’s how fragile they are. It takes nothing.
Image

I wish this meme had been around 10 years ago, because an old coworker used almost all of the above quotes at some point or another. I would watch her explode in this manner and think to myself, “If I say I’m a feminist, people are going to think that I have these same meltdowns. I should maybe just keep quiet.”

I began to think that this was feminism. So what, then, did that make me? Was I not a feminist? I just wanted to get paid the same amount of money for doing the same amount of work as my male counterpart. I just wanted to be able to speak openly about sex without being labeled as less-than woman. I wanted to dress how I liked without being told I look so much better when I wear a dress, though. And without being told, you know, you don’t have to wear a dress, right? I had no desire to detach sensitive body parts from another human being. I had no want for retribution by subjugating a man to the same put downs that women have gotten for so many years. I did not want power over men. I just wanted to be me. I just wanted to be equal.

Then I met Giselle. One of the coolest women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know referred to herself as a strong feminist. I do not remember the exact conversation or context in which it came up, but it did, and I sat on that thought for some time. I had never seen her explode at a man for daring to use such blatantly sexist general terms for her (although our language and the way we use it is fairly sexist, that is a topic for another day). More importantly, I have never ever known her to threaten to grab a man by his testes and physically remove them from (the rest of) their person.

I spent a couple years thinking about what I knew of Giselle and what I had previously thought of as feminism. I had conversations with my (feminist) boyfriend. I read more articles about feminism. I learned more about harassment of women. As time went on, I realized that feminism does not need to be defined in concrete terms. Feminism has become a fluid thing for me. It does not hold the same definition for me now as it did 10 years ago, as I doubt it will hold the same definition for me 10 years hence. As I have gotten older, more experienced in life, and learned more about how sexism works, I have become much more comfortable with my feminist self. I’ve learned to more readily recognize sexism when I see it. To distinguish between feminism and misandry. To use my words. To stand up for what I believe in.
Rush Limbaugh would still probably refer to me as a feminazi. And a slut.
I am ok with this. It means I am doing something right.