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    Entries in sexism (2)


    how i spent mothers'* day

    Let's just cut to the chase:

    Ina May Gaskin! On Mothers' Day! What better way to spend the holiday meant to celebrate motherhood than with the woman who spearheaded the movement to put the power of birth back into women's hands? She was slightly scattered, technologically stumped, wry, smart and relatable. Everything you could ever want in a midwife, or an activist. She spoke plainly about the state of obstetrical care in this country and its unfortunate formal beginnings, about our innate understanding of how to give birth, about what keeps women from having the experience they're entitled to and what we can do to change things. She gave her own history: what brought her to midwifery, what's kept her there, and supplemented with photos of hippie caravans and Monday Night Class. She showed a video of an elephant giving birth and the bald soon-to-be-dad two rows in front of me unabashedly mopped his face of tears as his pregnant partner sat by, empowered in a totally unlikely way. Would an OB-GYN show you such a clip, pointing out how the elephant relaxed her jaw? Probably not.

    During the question and answer period, someone brought up the truly abysmal US maternal mortality rates, especially as they relate to women of color. Amnesty International reports that

           Despite representing only 32 percent of women, women of color make up 51 percent of women without insurance.

    Women of color are also less likely to have access to adequate maternal health care services. Native American and Alaska Native women are 3.6 times, African-American women 2.6 times and Latina women 2.5 times as likely as white women to receive late or no prenatal care. Women of color are more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women. In high-risk pregnancies, African-American women are 5.6 times more likely to die than white women.

    This translates to 80 of 100,000 black women dying in childbirth, versus 13.3 per 100,000 white women. Despite having the highest cost of care ($86 billion per year in hospital charges), the United States ranks 49th in morbidity. 

    As Ina May talked, I considered my own experience with birth. It was charmed, to be sure: short labor, discomfort that I felt confident in working through, encouragement from a watchful, hands-off (if surprised) midwife and a perfect baby born gently into water and dim lights and low voices. This was a privilege so many mothers will never know. While I was being attended by sweet ladies who brought me tea -- one of whose own babies could be heard running around the birth center -- women all over the country were being ignored, bullied, guilted. Some were fearful for their lives. All because of reimbursement rates and turnover goals and sexism and tee times and a confluence of so many other nasty, stupid things. In most of the country, mothers in my socioeconomic standing would've been given one option for which they should be grateful: the doctor to whom you're assigned and the nearest hospital. And if you question the doctor's c-section rate? If you say you don't want an induction or pitocin once labor starts or dare to present a thought-out birth plan? You risk alienation, humiliation, a pat on the head. 

    So many women I talk to are called to birth activism because of their own negative experiences. They want to save others from the trauma of unnecessary surgery, of the degradation that comes with having your own body autonomy unceremoniously taken away while your motherly instincts are trampled. This is obviously not my deal. I have, however, seen the TV shows and the movies depicting shrieking, sweaty, bed-ridden lunatics. I've read the studies. I've heard the stories. By contrast, I want everyone to have MY experience, whether it's in a hospital, in a field or in her own bed. Every woman deserves respect and attention and these two basic things are the keys to maternal health. 

    If you forgot to give your mom a gift this year, or if you like to plan ahead, make a card and let her know you've donated to the MAMA campaign in her honor. Help make midwifery available to low-income women! 

    * I take such serious issue with the conventional punctuation of this holiday. Some people have more than one mother! Some people want to celebrate more than one mother! 


    on tramps 

    This week, a male sports columnist -- a single father to a son -- wrote an opinion piece for, a website I only visit when I'm directed there by others' outrage. He asked the parents of America to stop dressing their daughters "like tramps" and, in an undoubtedly purposefully creepy and inflammatory way, described a young girl as "the sexiest" person in the room. He posits that we can blame retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch if we want to, but the problem is really that parents don't set boundaries in favor of acting like their childrens' friends, allowing them to wear halter tops and Juicy Couture track suits, enabling perverty weirdos (who may or may not work for CNN) to leer at them. Lowering their self esteem via teensy padded bras. 


    I agree with him on one point: parents DON'T set boundaries, but it's nothing to do with buying size 6X thongs. Little girls live in the world with the rest of us. The world where famous women are simultaneously glorified and demonized for their bodies, their appearance, the lengths to which they go in order to stay relevant and beautiful. These little girls have mothers who diet, buy fashion magazines full of altered images of already nearly physically "flawless" women. Mothers who buy Spanx and padded bras and minimizer bras and ask apologetically before they leave the house if they look halfway decent. We present to them a framework of femininity that leaves no room for fat unless you're also hilarious (and sexless). No room for short. Or too tall. Or broad-shouldered or thin-lipped or round-assed lest you suffer the same fate as Jennifer Lopez who cannot be called beautiful without the qualifier of CURVY, even after carrying twins. 

    And if you misstep? If you somehow fail to strike that perfect balance of demure but hot, available and eager but hard-to-get, if your skirt is half an inch too short and your expression reads less-than-interested? WHORE. You think you're too good for me, bitch? Fat slut. Ugly. You'd be kinda hot if you weren't such a bitch. These have all been said to me, without provocation, after polite refusals of come-ons. If you find that surprising, you haven't been in a bar recently. And by recently, I mean ever.

    What LZ Granderson's article (which I will not link to, but is fully google-able) about child tramps failed to address is what got us here in the first place. What makes little girls want to dress scantily, suggestively. Why it's not their fault, or their mothers' fault for buying the stupid crap, but all of our fault for wondering aloud in the doctor's office while reading US Weekly if Jessica Alba is pregnant again because she looks a little... thick, if you know what I mean. We don't set boundaries, but failing to do so at the mall is the least of our problems. We need to identify the ways in which we propagate this poison. Start saying, in front of our daughters, I LOOK FUCKING GREAT TODAY, instead of, "Do these give me a muffintop?" Better yet, I AM A GOD DAMNED GENIUS WITH A CROCK POT or whatever other affirmations actually matter to their lives. Start setting an example of good. Of smart and interested and involved instead of not-really-pretty-but-trying. Yes, stop buying that glittery "girly" junk, those track suits and gross underthings, but if we imbue girls with worth beyond or instead of their looks, they won't want it anyway. 

    There are ways to address the problem of sexualizing children without further marginalizing women, without insulting sex workers, without contributing to the very mindset that created all those horrific screen printed slogans. LZ Granderson just wasn't interested in going there. I am, though, and I'll keep rooting for girls, advocating for them instead of shaming them for participating in the cultural mess we made long before they got here. 

    Sorry, Chelsea; it was just too perfect not to use. Love you/miss you.