Call for Participants: Size Acceptance Survey

Posting this on behalf of Michaela — if you have any questions, please contact her. — Kate

Hi, my name is Michaela A. Null, and I am a doctoral student in Sociology at
Purdue University. I am doing a study about the embodiment of size-accepting fat
women, with attention to the ways in which gender, race, sexual orientation, and
body size intersect.

I am currently looking for individuals who are interested in volunteering to
participate in my study. If you are interested in volunteering to participate in
an interview, I ask that take an electronic informational survey, which will
take approximately 5 minutes. Please go here and complete the
informational survey. After all survey data has been collected, participants
will be selected for interviews, which will be conducted in-person, by phone, or
via internet chat, and will last between an hour and an hour and a half.

Participation is voluntary and participants must be at least 18 years old.

This project has been approved by my university’s Institutional Review Board,
which protects human subjects of research. I will provide confidentiality to all
volunteers and participants will be referred to by a pseudonym in all research
documents.

If you have any questions regarding this study, you can contact me at
mnull@purdue.edu. For more information on me, you can access my university
profile here
. You can also contact Professor Eugene Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology
at Purdue University, at jacksone@purdue.edu.

Sincerely,

Michaela A. Null, Doctoral Candidate in Sociology, Purdue University

Guest Blogger Elysia: Evo Psych and Icky Girls

Friend of Shapely Prose Elysia (who writes the blog Born That Way) is an evolutionary biologist, and she had some choice words for the latest dude to use evolutionary psychology as an explanation for why he believes seriously douchey things about women. Please give Elysia a warm welcome. — Kate

My friend Sweet Machine brought a recent post by Amanda Hess to my attention.  In her essay, Ms. Hess discusses a blog entry on the Scientific American Mind website, written by one Dr. Jesse Bering. Once you’ve read her post, come back here to see me talk about how good (and bad) science can be totally skewed by reporters.  Even scientists.  Just so we start on the same page: Dr. Bering discussed the concept of menstruation as shameful or dirty.  He presented some good evidence for the social context of menstruation as having a huge impact on the way women experience/remember first menses (although he also seemed to be saying that Western feminism was wrong in concluding the same thing).

Dr. Bering is described as an evolutionary psychologist – a title which always makes me uneasy, because as “just” an evolutionary biologist (actually, I’m a population and evolutionary geneticist), I have seen very little thus far from the field of evo psych that actually gets the evolution part right.  (I’m always willing to give it a try, though, in hopes that someone will prove me wrong about the field.)  Let’s start out with the premise: a male researcher is curious about women’s first menses, and the psychological context and consquences thereof.  Fair enough.  What else does Dr. Bering have to say?

“Without a doubt, the best studies on the subject of menarche are those that have attempted to reconcile individual differences in age of female pubertal onset with various evolutionarily relevant variables in girls’ social environments.”

The best studies?  Not my field, so I can’t judge, although “without a doubt” with respect to a set of studies on a very general topic being the “best” of anything is a standard not often met in science. However – evolutionarily relevant is my field.  So the question becomes: has evolution, of either culture or biology, shaped human psychological response to first menstruation?  There follows in Dr. Bering’s essay a series of anecdotes and studies grounded in 20th-century data.  From a strictly biological viewpoint, this is hardly even the blink of an eye, and evolution simply cannot have occurred and been detected.  Let me repeat: citing only data from the last 100 years, approximately five generations, is insufficient to demonstrate that biological evolution has occurred.

“[G]irls growing up in homes where the biological father is absent but the stepfather is present tend to mature faster than those living under the same roof as their biological fathers (their bodies are essentially competing with their mothers for the attention of this genetically unrelated male …)”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying and discussing mammalian reproduction during my graduate work and professional life.  My response to the quoted passage: Wait, what?  The last time I talked about this type of interaction was during a lab meeting, in the context of mouse mating behavior.  Female mice experience an acceleration in sexual development because they are being influenced by an adult male’s presence, via hormones he produces – they’re not competing with their mothers for matings, but experiencing a side effect of cohabiting with non-parental males.  (Read more here and here.)  My evolutionary just-so story, err, hypothetical explanation for this observation is that some male mouse had a different body chemistry that could induce sexual maturation in any female nearby, which would mean he’d have more babies than other males because he’d be, you know, there when the females matured.  His sons might have that same capability, and if this provided enough of an advantage relative to other males (and survives a number of other conditions, including pressure by female biology working against it), you could end up with males generally affecting female sexual development – regardless of any relationship between the male and nearby females.  Please note that a juvenile female mouse’s mom does not appear in this model.  The implication of your phrasing – “their bodies are essentially competing with their mothers” – does hint at the lack of volition in this situation (the idea that girls’ bodies are simply reacting to a biological stimulus) but sets up a mother-daughter rivalry where none exists.  Mom has nothing to do with this, except having gotten remarried.  Not to mention, there’s no accounting in your summary for siblings, stepsiblings, the role of stress…it’s a fascinating observation, but there’s a lot of careful dissection of the situation that has to be done before it’s appropriate to flag this as mother-daughter competition.  (If such detail exists in the professional scientific literature, please, someone let me know!)

“reminds me of that shower scene in Steven King’s Carrie (you know the one).”

Excuse me, sir, your preconceptions are showing.  (Really?  A horror flick?  Really? Let me guess – you also consider menstrual blood to be dirty.  This and other word choice throughout the essay is consistent with that position – is that what you meant to convey?)

“[The Head Teacher] suggested that ‘nobody would want to talk about it’ and that there would be ‘hell to pay’ from his many ‘conservative parents’ if he put his name to the research.”

Sooo…because some parents might have been unhappy, this means that the girls themselves were necessarily ashamed?  Because that’s sort of how that reads.  The research study was challenging because of – oh wait! – a larger societal attitude that might or might not have accurately reflected the girls’ own feelings.

“Such anecdotes would appear to pose some serious problems for traditional feminist theories, which tend to argue that Western negative attitudes toward everything from menstruation to vaginas at large are simply the result of cultural constructions.”

When you follow this sentence by a paragraph of examples of how women in different cultures experience different responses to the onset of menstruation, it…doesn’t sit well with a lot of readers.  Especially when you go on to say:

“According to most Western females, however, nothing could be more nightmarish than the prospect of “leaking” in public, and so perhaps it’s not too surprising that so many teenagers say that, in retrospect, their preparation for womanhood amounted to little more than a how-to guide for hiding their menstrual blood from all other eyes.”

As a layperson in psychology and sociology, I can only say that this doesn’t surprise me, given how much Western culture seems to prize cleanliness in…everything, to the point where it seems to be backfiring.  (Hygiene hypothesis, anyone?)  Seriously, it seems like a viable alternative hypothesis is just that cleanliness is so highly valued that any and all sexuality gets shoved into the shadows.  How often do we talk about men remembering the first time they ejaculated?  Popular humor about boys suddenly doing their own laundry seems on its face to be consistent with the same “cleanliness above all” hypothesis.  I’d love to know if anyone has studied the influence of Puritans and other Protestant groups that largely shaped early American culture, the evidence of which we still see today, and how their feelings about cleanliness and purity have contributed to this. (Sweet Machine, editor/human extraordinaire, suggests the work of Mary Douglas for further information.)

In fact, Dr. Bering, you allude to something like this when you discuss Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s work.

Oh, and I’m not the local expert on this, but I hear there’s this thing out there – this idea that men have, for many years, tried to control female sexuality.  Wouldn’t propagandizing menstruation be a convenient way to do that?

” When the researchers asked 157 white, middle-class ninth-grade girls what advice and information they would give to younger girls about menarche, [...] one lone teenage girl of this entire group of 157 participants—ever linked menstruation to reproduction …”

Do you really think that this shows “clearly that, in the minds of these newly fertile adolescents, reproductive biology—that is to say, the actual purpose of periods—was a complete afterthought in their thinking”?  Or could it be that those girls were trying to pass on practical information to their peers, since they were asked what advice they would give?  Trust me, my public school sex ed made it abundantly clear that menstruation was part of reproductive biology.  But that’s not much comfort when you’re not ready to reproduce, and it’s not helpful in understanding the logistics of being a pubescent girl.

“I’m sure many of my straight male friends are indeed praising Allah for the invention of Kotex.”

If you have a daughter or a wife or girlfriend or sister – please understand that she may hear you say things like this and not want to discuss menstruation with you.

” … here comes my British accent—bloody companies and their concern with the bottom dollar.”

Your (public) Facebook page tells me that you hail from Ohio.  That doesn’t rule out a British accent, but I am rather curious.  Also, in making puns of the word “bloody,” you are actually engaging in a joke based on slang, not accent.  To perpetuate a quote I rather like, words mean things (link goes to an OT explanation).   And distorting those meanings as you do here gives me pause; were I grading this, I would become suspicious that you were attempting to sound smart so I wouldn’t notice any problems with your work.

“In fact, I’ve often wondered if the tremendous reservation that most parents have in communicating with their children about sex has the ironic consequence of making their children more curious about it—a curiosity that translates into earlier and more frequent sexual activity.”

Trust me, you’re not the first.  In fact, I’m willing to wager that the vast majority of people at or past their teens in Western society have pursued various “illicit” exploits because their parents forbade them or refused to talk about them.  (Also, have you ever studied Prohibition?)

“And that makes me wonder if there weren’t (and aren’t) perhaps some natural selection pressures at work here, forces favoring parental modesty over candor in the sex education of children.”

Seriously?  Your hypothesis is that modest parents will have higher fitness (i.e., in the long run, will have a reproductive advantage) than immodest parents (and the word “modest” is so subjective that I feel this is already a difficult hypothesis to argue).  That means that the children of modest parents must in turn be modest parents to their own children, or you simply have a fluctuation with a period of a generation, right?  My very own parents decried their parents’ modesty and had fairly frank discussions with me, as appropriate.  And while there’s such a thing as temporally-varying selection..this doesn’t seem to be such a case.  (By way of explanation: temporally-varying selection.  Put simply, sometimes the force that makes a particular feature favorable can itself change over time.  Say you have dandelions in your yard – the features of a dandelion plant that grows well in rainy March that let the plant have more babies may not do a lick of good for that plant’s offspring when dry July comes around.  Here, well, you can imagine that modesty might be bad if we were facing certain kinds of famine, as it would mean fewer babies and a higher chance that they’d survive, but it’s unlikely that every single generation – or every few generations – we’d alternate between stark feast and famine.  Even if it were true, biological evolution in humans takes thousands of years, so it would be extremely hard for me to come up with a plausible mathematical model in which relatively recent social mores affect biological fitness.)

No offense, but this is a poor reflection of the basic components of evolutionary biology.  No, strike that – I hope to offend you enough to get you to stop and think, because as an evolutionary biologist and instructor, I am left to deal with the aftermath of students who come in to my classroom with serious biases about a field they’ve only ever seen misrepresented.   Partly because essays like yours get into the lay media.  It’s especially infuriating to see sloppy or inaccurate science used to justify positions from the mildly offensive to the abhorrent.  Please don’t let the entire field of evolutionary psychology devolve into a mere shadow of the science it could be – I’d rather it be “based on” rather than “inspired by” evolution.

Yes, it’s important to realize that cultural constructs influence the way biological events are experienced and recalled.  It’s important to link biological and cultural evolution, and to remember that we humans are animals.  And as a male ape, you are well within your rights to wonder how female apes differ from you; just please remember while you call elderly women apes that you are one, yourself.  More importantly, it’s great for you as a human man to want to understand the human woman’s experience, and I encourage you to reframe your language to make it clear that you understand that distinction. Because your personal discomfort with my menstruation – or my feminism – does not a sound scientific discussion make, and dismissing my humanity when you examine my biology ill befits a doctor of psychology.

For the record: I make no claim to perfect impartiality here – this is just me, a professionally trained scientist and a self-identified feminist talking about why a particular piece of popular science writing raised my personal and professional hackles.  Like any good scientist, when I’m working, I try to minimize the impact of my own bias on my research, but you know what?  I’m human, and biased, and the best I can do is own those biases and be honest about them with friends, students, and colleagues.

5 Ways of Looking at “Sarah Palin Feminism”

Here is me telling you about a thing I wrote elsewhere! For Jezebel, specifically. A sample:

So, can’t I just agree to disagree with Sarah Palin – or at least to ignore her use of the term and continue to go about my business? Well, evidently not, or I wouldn’t be writing this. The problem is, words mean things. I could start calling myself a red meat conservative, or campaign for those of us who are against the death penalty to “reclaim” the term “pro-life,” but at some point, the relationship between your beliefs and your choice of words either passes the sniff test or it doesn’t. And someone who actively seeks to restrict women’s freedom calling herself a feminist is, not to put too fine a point on it, a liar. There’s a difference between a big tent and no boundaries whatsoever; if Palin’s “entitled to be accepted” as a feminist just because she says she’s one, then the word is completely meaningless — as opposed to merely vague and controversial. And I might just start calling myself a “right-winger” because I’m right-handed, or a “fundamentalist” because I believe everyone deserves a solid primary education, or a “birther” because I once hosted a baby shower.

New Stuff

Those of you who hate change, brace yourselves.

In addition to the new template, I’ve got news. Over the last few months, three of my longtime co-bloggers have moved on (well, Sweet Machine wasn’t necessarily taking a permanent vacation, but realistically… yeah), and Snarky’s Machine and I have been trying to keep things going in some form that sort of resembles the old SP. But both of us are busy and tired and cranky about moderating, which you’ve probably noticed on account of how we’re always talking about being busy and tired and cranky about moderating. Snarky’s also started up a fantastic pop culture blog, I Fry Mine in Butter, and wants to spend more time on her office supplies blog, Does This Pen Write, in addition to her paid writing projects. In the meantime, we’ve both either been feeling guilty about not writing here or cranky about moderating when we do write.

So Snarky’s bowing out, and “kateharding.net” will finally be an accurate url for this blog once again. It’s just me now. And I don’t even know what it will become yet. I know it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll update more than a couple of times a week for the forseeable future, so you should put Shapely Prose in your reader if you want to keep up with new posts. (You should put Jezebel and Broadsheet in there, too, because I’ll still be doing one-offs for them as well.) Big thanks to everybody who’s stuck around this long and everybody who continues to. When I figure out what I want to do with SP (if there’s to be any overarching vision at all — most likely it will be the same old stuff, but probably with more personal blogging), you’ll be the first to know. While you wait, you can feel free to explore the 1200+  posts in the archives. Rock on, Shapelings.

A Post

…in which I write some things other than “Hey, I’m not going to post for a while.” Specifically, some reasons why I haven’t been posting and probably still won’t for a bit.

1) Two nights ago, a spider got up my pajama pant leg while I slept, got trapped around the knee, and left me with 11 goddamn bites. This happens about once a year, and it’s hardly a big crisis, but it means that for the next several days, I will wake up with my knee on fire, and sit around whimpering and cursing the spider for 10-20 minutes until it calms down instead of posting first thing in the morning, which is usually my best time. (This is not a good reason for not posting, mind you, but since I just woke up, it’s the one that’s foremost in my mind.)

2) I just got back from a 10-day trip to New York, which was amazing in several ways, perhaps most notably that I think I went like three days without turning on the computer at all. (I  did, of course, check e-mail and Twitter on my phone. But it was still a big change for me.) Like my recent trip to Toronto, it reinforced that I spend too goddamned much time on the internet, and I actually enjoy leaving the house and speaking to other human beings face to face. So I’m still trying to figure out how to do more of that.

3) I am, as previously mentioned (I think), working on a new book proposal. Although when I was out with Amy Benfer and another writer friend last week, I said “I’m still at the proposal stage,” and Amy immediately corrected me: “She’s still at the talking-about-it-in-bars stage.” Mostly because that’s exactly what I was doing at the time instead of writing. But A) that is an important stage, dammit, and B) I have written half a proposal and would like to get the other half finished soon. So that’s ongoing.

4) Before that, though, I have to finish revising/adding to the body image chapter for the upcoming edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. How awesome is that?

5) My mother-in-law is coming to visit tomorrow.

6) In anticipation of 5 — and because I really couldn’t avoid it much longer and still have a usable space — I have spent the last two days thoroughly cleaning my office, including going through every box full of papers that’s been sitting around there for months to years, figuring out what to shred and what to save, and creating a filing system that lends itself to actually finding things when I want them, as opposed to my tried and true “throw it in a box and maybe go through it the next time I move” system. I am still not done. And now Al’s gung-ho on organizing the closets and pantry and trying to set up systems all over the place that will help our future selves avoid getting buried under heaps of clutter and I’ll Deal With It Later boxes, so if you don’t hear from me, it is probably because I will be cleaning this fucking apartment FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

But to tide you over, here’s a thing I probably would have posted about, had I been in a posting mood. In the “Flesh and Stone” episode of Doctor Who, which is the last one we’ve watched (so please don’t spoil anything past that) (and if you haven’t seen that ep and don’t want to be spoiled for it, quit reading now), new companion Amy comes back from a typically harrowing adventure and reacts in exactly the way I would if I were a young, single, heterosexual woman who’d just traveled through time and space (and nearly died) with a guy who looks like Matt Smith and is basically the most amazing dude ever, because that’s the whole point of him: She tries to get him into bed. (And gets nowhere, predictably, but still.)

Now, I should note that A) I am not remotely a Doctor Who purist (I’ve only watched the new version) and am therefore not invested in the notion that the Doctor is meant to be asexual. (Especially when he’s as hot as the last three have been, which frankly is the main reason I got into watching it.) B) I am also not remotely the kind of person who thinks sex/tension between leads ruins good shows in general. In fact, I would pretty much like everyone on TV to be fucking and/or having relationship angst all the time. So there’s that.

But even setting those things aside, I was stunned to see the internet reaction to that scene. Not only is there slut-shaming galore (I forgot to mention that Amy’s supposed to get married in the morning, so OMG HOW COULD SHE?) but there are several people advancing the theory that her hitting on the Doctor is meant to be read as evidence of mental illness (by which they seem to mean daddy issues and low self-esteem, mostly, but they’re framing it in terms of a disorder). Simply because she wants to have sex with what appears to be a very cute twentysomething guy (ok, he’s a 900-year-old alien, but still) after going through several adrenaline-pumping adventures with him. Previous companions in the new version have either mooned over the Doctor endlessly or kept it strictly platonic, and on a show about time and space travel and aliens and monsters, the fact that no one’s tried to bone him yet has strained my credulity more than just about anything else.

And I’m not alone, as I learned in this (very amusing) Doctor Who Confidential clip about the scene in question:

Around 2:05, the show runner, Steven Moffat (who’s been accused lots of times of being anti-feminist, but whatever, that’s another post) says: “Here’s this man, this generally rather good-looking man — sometimes older, sometimes younger, but generally good-looking — who’s wonderful, funny, passionate and kind, and the nicest, bestest human being (apparently), you’ll ever meet. And all those girls… didn’t notice? Ever? Not once?” GOD, THANK YOU.  ABOUT TIME. Yes, previous companions have been crazy about him, but only in a “You are my One True Love and I will wait around until you think of me that way, which I know you never will” way, so later, Moffat explicitly states the obvious:  Unlike them, Amy’s just looking for a romp, not true love, because why not? See also the part around 3:05 where Karen Gillan, who plays Amy, gives her reasoning for why the character went for it: “I don’t know, sometimes you do things in the heat of the moment…when you’re, like, excited, and you’ve shared something with someone and… [shrug].” Indeed. NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.

And yet. Precisely because she just wants sex, a disturbing number of people can’t figure out her motivation. There must be something deeper — something dark and fucked up, in fact — because a young woman just wanting a roll in the hay because hey, you’re here and you’re hot and all that stuff we just did was kind of mind-blowing? Well, that makes no sense whatsoever! To take that at face value, you’d have to believe that girls like sex or something!

So, yeah. I guess I did sort of post about that just now, except if I were really posting, I’d spend 9 more paragraph reiterating the above points in increasingly ranty ways. As it is, I’m just going to issue a big, fat SHUT UP, INTERNET and turn it over to you guys. That’s all.

Out of Office

Hey, it’s another post where all I do is explain why I’m not really posting!

I’m out of town until mid-next week, and at this writing, my internet access is not quite as robust as I hoped it would be. So posting from me might be even lighter than expected. In the meantime, have an open thread and be good.

Happy International No Diet Day!

It’s that time of year again, folks. As Fillyjonk wrote two two years ago:

Of course, we strive to make EVERY day No Diet Day, but if you’ve been teetering on the edge, today is the day to try it out for 24 hours and see how you function when you make peace with food. Or maybe it’s time to spread the word to some friends, or post a flyer next to the stats for your office “Biggest Loser” competition. Or maybe it’s just a day to eat a big piece of cake.

This time last year, we were celebrating by getting Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere to the number one spot on the Powell’s bestseller list. Of course, I happen to think that’s an appropriate way to celebrate every year, so feel free to try again. (Kidding, kidding. But it does make a lovely gift.) Tell us how you’re celebrating in comments.

Commenting Issues

So, hey, here’s a screenshot of one chunk of our recent spam queue. If you click to embiggen it, you will see that there is one actual spam comment in there. Additionally, there are comments by Plumcake of Manolo for the Big Girl and The Manolo himself, attempting to call me out for ripping Plummy off — which I didn’t do, and we worked that out in comments over there, but the whole kerfuffle was compounded by the fact that their comments never showed up here, so they thought something fishy was going on. (Note: in comments there, I said I never found her comment, but I just did — there was also a bunch of actual spam above and below this, and my eyes glazed over.) Below that, you will also see several “Hellooooo? What the hell?” comments by our beloved Tasha Fierce, who could not seem to comment on her own damned guest post, among other places.

So yeah, the spam filter is evidently having a hypersensitive week.  Usually, it does its job reasonably well, with only occasional missteps. But then there are periods when it just starts letting everything through, which are usually followed by an overcorrection period, during which it sucks a lot of non-spam into its gaping maw. This is one reason why the comments policy has included the following for a couple of years now:

Tenth rule: Be aware that if you posted a coherent, reasonable, and respectful comment and it didn’t show up, you probably got trapped in the spam filter, which I can’t control. I do, however, check it occasionally and release the coherent, reasonable, and respectful comments. So either relax and wait for that to happen or e-mail me (sometimes, when spam volume is high, I don’t even see the good comments), but either way, know that if you behaved like a decent human being, I didn’t delete you on purpose.

As always, I encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with the whole policy before they try to leave a comment.

Also, although this is not stated in the policy, it’s been stated numerous times before, and I’ll say it again: All first-time comments are held for moderation. This is why you never see drive-by trolls here, which is something most folks seem to appreciate. (And again, if you want to know what you’re not seeing, have a look at the Helpful Comments blog Sweet Machine was keeping up for a while. Trigger warning for pretty much every possible trigger there.) But the unfortunate corollary is, every first-time comment has to be released by a human being, and that can take a while. We currently only have two active mods, both of whom have lives and can’t be checking the queue every five minutes. So even if you’re lucky enough not to have your first comment eaten by Akismet, it could be a long time before you see it show up.  Like, possibly a couple days, if it’s a weekend and we’re out doing stuff and both sort of vaguely assuming the other one might be dealing with the mod queue. The good news is, once it does, you will be free to post in real time until such time as you piss us off and get banned.

I realize this is frustrating, and I’m sorry about that, but I can’t control the spam filter issue (and don’t routinely check it as often as I do the mod queue, although I will until it calms down again), and the first-time moderation issue is a necessary evil, so I can’t really do anything besides tell you what the deal is and ask for your patience. So that’s what I’m doing. Thanks for understanding.

The Last Three Paragraphs

I wrote another piece for Broadsheet yesterday because this Daily Beast piece made me tremendously ranty, and I figured I might as well get paid for it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the social advantages and disadvantages of motherhood these days, so once I started, I couldn’t shut up even more than usual. Which meant that the piece I turned in was absurdly long, and I fully expected to see large chunks of it missing in the final version.

What’s missing, as it turns out, is the last three paragraphs. They were exactly the right thing to cut, since I’d already made my argument (and then some) by that point, and the rest was a combination of tangent and reiteration. But the tangent was one I really wanted to get in there — that choosing not to have kids really doesn’t come off as a glamorous, attractive choice, just because it might increase a woman’s chances of reaching the top of her field. If you know you want kids, the message childless* women send is kind of beside the point. I know people who want/have kids, who don’t want kids and who are ambivalent — and sometimes, ambivalence gives way to a default decision one later regrets — but I have yet to meet a woman who’s like, “I am absolutely certain I want to be a mother, but I’m going to completely ignore that overwhelming urge because it might ruin my career.” Some women gamble on delaying pregnancy and lose, but that’s really not the same as saying, “I desperately want children but have officially decided I will never have them because Sonia Sotomayor is my hero.” And that’s what Beinart seems to be worried about.

So. Please do go read the Broadsheet post, because that’s all about how brutally hard it is to balance motherhood and career ambition, and if you just read this part in isolation, you’ll think I’m missing the point entirely. (I’ve been writing and thinking a LOT lately about my own ambivalence toward having children and how much of it stems from the fact that neither childless women nor mothers get the social support and respect they need, so committing to either feels like asking to have a load of shit shoveled down my throat — whereas existing in this liminal state allows people to project whatever future they think is best on me, and thus not harass me too much about my choices. Problem is, this state has a fast-approaching expiration date.) But I think there are lots and lots of important points that arise from Beinart’s piece, basically — too many for one post — so I wanted to put up the rest of my rant, and open a space for discussing the whole thing that’s free of Broadsheet trolls. And make sure you all saw Tami’s piece, because it’s brill, and I basically spent the whole rant working up to quoting her, but then that got cut.

Without further ado, the last three paragraphs:

-

And trust me, young girls are hardly getting the message that choosing not to have children is an easy path — or if they are, they shouldn’t be. If you haven’t thought too hard about it yet, girls, let me break it down for you: In addition to the potential for lifelong regret, which you’ll never stop hearing about from the Hewletts of the world and their proxies among your friends and family, you will be widely regarded as a freak, as incomplete, selfish, irresponsible, unfeminine, somehow broken — what kid of woman doesn’t want kids? — and you’ll spend half the time and energy you saved by not having kids defending that decision and your credibility to people who inexplicably think it’s their business. So basically, the message you should be hearing loud and clear is that you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t — which means the only good reason to have kids or not is because it’s what you feel is best.

Blogger Tami of What Tami Said nails it:

The problem is not that women without children are getting too many extra goodies, too many shots at the brass ring. The problem isn’t that working mothers don’t have enough role models to demonstrate that they can have it all. The problem is that for all our superficial obsession with “baby bumps” and our pledges that “the children are the future,” we aren’t willing to walk the walk. We don’t support women in having it all. We fail to back up our supposed belief in families with legislation and societal values that truly establish successful nurturing of the next generation as a priority. (I can pretty much guarantee that our “family values” friends on the right would be the first to rail against any sort of strengthened parental leave or socialized childcare.)

Beinart concludes his argument, “[C]hoosing Wood would send the message that women can have kids and still reach the apex of their profession. That’s a message that I’d like my working wife –and our 2-year-old daughter — to hear.” Hey, as a married 35-year-old professional currently grappling with the question of whether I can handle motherhood, that’s a message I’d love to hear myself — but only if it’s true. And for the most part, right now, it’s just not. Right now, the number of women who reach the apex of their profession, kids or no kids, is still so tiny relative to the number of men who do, the girls and women I know will take any dingdang role model we can get. So instead of scrutinizing potential Supreme Court appointees’ reproductive choices, it would probably be more helpful if men who care about their wives’ and sisters’ and daughters’ futures would help women agitate for longer parental leave, subsidized day care and a culture that supports women who choose motherhood, women who don’t, and women who want to balance parenthood and career ambition without being condemned as either coldhearted monsters or half-assed employees, just like men always have.

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*I’m using “childless” because I actually find “childfree” just as problematic, in addition to the fact that not everybody without kids identifies as such. To me, “-free” overcorrects for the lack implied by “-less”; now, instead of implying that people without children are missing something, we’re implying that people with children are burdened, and those of us without have dodged a bullet, suckers! I don’t particularly like what that says about parenthood or about people who choose not to have kids, who are often stereotyped as simply unwilling to sacrifice and take on the responsibilities of parenting. So what I’d really love is something in between, but since I can’t think of anything, I revert to the word that’s more commonly used.