Happy International Women’s Day!

From the IWD website:

IWD is now an official holiday in China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970’s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.

I still think the world can use a whole lot of reminders about the negatives — especially since the “great improvements” above apply mainly to white, middle-class western women — but I suppose one day of optimism is unobjectionable.

In terms of celebrating the positives, then, the first thing that springs to mind for me (as, of course, a white, middle-class, western woman — more on that in a mo) is that, for as much as people still do judge women’s parenting choices right and left, and as frustrating as it can be to be single, I’m 34 years old, childless (possibly childfree, though the jury’s still out) and only very recently married, and for the most part? Nobody ever said boo about it. I mean, not the way they would have to an unmarried, childless woman in her late twenties — let alone early thirties — in my mom’s generation, even. Forget about the generations before. 

There have been some nasty remarks, both well-intentioned and not, over the years. Lots and lots and lots of things in this culture still tell women that marriage and babies should be their primary focus. But since we’re focusing on the positive today, I will take a moment to marvel at the fact that I never actually felt like a pariah for being unmarried and childless well into my thirties. I didn’t have to deal with anyone telling me directly that I was approaching (or past) my sell-by date, so I should settle for any dude who would have me, stat.

And though a lot of my friends got  into long-term committed relationships before I did, and a lot of them have kids already, I’ve never felt like an out-and-out freak for not taking that path on the same schedule. I have never-married friends my age, friends who have already been married and divorced, legally married gay friends in Canada and gay friends who fucking well ought to be legally married here. I have a handful of friends who don’t plan on ever having children, and lots of mom friends who work outside the home. When my mom was my age, on the other hand, her girlfriends were in heterosexual marriages and staying at home to raise children, period. No matter if they had incredible minds for business or no real interest in being mothers. No matter if they were gay, or their husbands were, or they were being abused or had otherwise just married entirely the wrong people, way too young. She had friends who eventually got divorced for nearly all of the above reasons, but none who simply opted out in the first place — and the ones who did get divorced mostly waited decades, until the kids were grown, no matter how much it sucked. (Wait, I can think of one friend of hers who never married and went straight into a career. And smart money’s on her being a lesbian who never felt comfortable coming out to her oldest friends, so she’s still not a great example of someone feeling free to be her authentic self in that generation.) 

My mom got married at 22, had 2 kids by the time she was 24, 4 kids by the time she was 38, and a grand total of 7 years of her adult life in which she didn’t have kids in the house. (She died when I was 25.) She had dreams of being a writer, but she followed the script for her generation, and her only real career was full-time mom. I’ve already had nearly twice as much time as she did without the daily responsibilities of a family, and in that time, I’ve worked in publishing, gone to grad school for writing, and co-written a book, among other things. Whatever snide remarks I got about being totally single for a lot of that time, living in sin with a couple of different guys when I wasn’t, and potentially letting my eggs shrivel into uselessness have been pretty damned easy to brush off, all things considered. For me, that shit was an annoyance; for my mom, that shit would have been a crushing, demoralizing constant pressure, had she not just caved to it from the get-go (and thus swapped it for the crushing, demoralizing constant pressure of resentment and depression, ahem). 

So that’s one form of real progress that’s affected me personally, and I am incredibly grateful to the feminists who fought their asses off for it — and to my mom, who was categorically not a feminist but nonetheless encouraged me not only to have a career, but to pursue writing seriously. (Yeah, she also made it clear from the time I was about 2 that she expected me to get married and have babies, because everyone gets married and has babies, duh, but at least I was supposed to be a bestselling author with a husband and babies.) 

Having said all that, there are millions of women in this country (let alone others) who still don’t have anywhere near the freedom I did to pursue their dream careers. I started off with a whole lot of privilege that meant removing the “you must marry and reproduce young” obstacle actually had an enormous effect. That wouldn’t have been true if I hadn’t had the money to go to college; if I hadn’t had white skin and a WASPy name invisibly opening doors for me all along; if I hadn’t had parents who valued education and valued their girl children just as much as boys; if I’d grown up in a community where women still did start having children very young, or where there was no expectation that the average kid there would go on to higher education and a white collar job; if I’d been gay and the marriage/babies issue had been a lot more complicated than “I’m busy with other stuff.” My example here is a grade-A prime illustration of how feminism has centered and benefited white, middle-class, straight women, while leaving other women behind — and thus a prime illustration of how feminism needs to change, and how much fucking work is left to be done.

But if today is about celebrating the positives, it’s worth acknowledging that it’s also a prime illustration of how much cultural values can change in a single generation, and how much one strain of change can make a difference for some women. I grew up with a shitload more freedom and independence than my mom did. And that is indeed worth a cheer from me today, before it’s back to all the battles left to be fought. 

Shapelings, what positives are you celebrating today? Or are you too frustrated by the negatives to even consider that?

97 thoughts on “Happy International Women’s Day!”

  1. Kate, I’m the same age as you, and still single, and am very grateful for what you describe – that I’m able to a have a life, a social circle of single and married, straight and gay, with and without kids and not be seen as an outcast. I’m grateful that the in the friendships, both romantic and not, that I’ve had with men, intelligence was something I brought to the table rather than something to hide.
    I’m grateful that I was able to get a PhD and never once have my dedication to finishing it or getting a job questioned on account of being female.

    Most recently, as I’ve been considering becoming a single mother by choice, virtually every person I’ve talked about it has said “That’s so awesome.” Granted I run in mostly progressive circles, but that one still kind of blows me away.

  2. In celebration of international women’s day, I
    hope all your many readers head over to “roissy in dc” and tell him no, it’s not OK to beat the crap out of women and no, they don’t get all wet when they get slapped, punched and kicked, and that his warped theories of male dominance belong in the stone age.

  3. Totally not in the spirit of your post, but:

    In my culture (Russian), International Women’s Day (which we just call “March 8th”) is a huuuuuuuge thing, but it’s totally apolitical. It’s kind of like a cross between Valentine’s and Mother’s Day. So, my boyfriend is taking me out to dinner and we’re going to celebrate meeeeeeee. ;)

  4. What a great holiday!

    I’m too depressed right now to think of much that’s useful to add, but I’m glad this exists. That’s a cheery note on a bleary day, and that is awesome.

  5. I am grateful that I am no longer registering surprise at seeing female faces in all sorts of realms of activity – politics, science, sports, mechanics.

    I am also grateful for all those men and women who, in my life specifically , listened to our need for family time/work time balance for both myself *and* my husband, so that 18 hour days and very tight deadlines that we’ve pushed against, one way or the other, have been heard and respected, and I have not been defaulted to the de facto child care person for my husband’s career, or been looked on poorly for juggling child care considerations for my own.

  6. Peeking out from exam mode to say that I’m glad that, unlike my advisor in her time in grad school, I’ve never had to convince anyone that women writers are actual writers worthy of study.

  7. First, let me just say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of optimism. Most people who know me think of me as an optimist. This is true, but what they don’t know is that I think this way out of necessity. I am prone to depression, and if I let myself dwell on the dark side for too long, I end up curled in the fetal position on my bed unable to do anything. My brain gives me enough shit without me encouraging it to do its worst.

    So! The bright side of modern women’s rights! Like you, Kate, I am deeply grateful that I am not being pressured into marriage and kids the way my mother was. I am also thankful that I have the option of going into math, science, engineering, business, and other traditionally male-dominated fields. My mom dreamed of being an architect, but it was never more than a dream for her. Girls couldn’t be architects. Later, after working her ass off to pay her own way through college, she wanted to put the real estate courses she took to use and become a realtor. Problem was, in order to be a realtor you had to have a mentor in the field, and nobody would mentor a woman.

    I realize that education is still a privilege. It costs even more oodles of money now than it used to. But at least these days little girls aren’t told that we can’t do X because girls Just Don’t Do That. If I wanted to be an architect, I could. I plan on going into environmental science. If my mom had told her parents and teachers that she wanted a degree in science, they would’ve laughed at her, or at best patted her on the head and told her to be realistic.

    I can go through doors that were closed to my mother. That’s progress.

  8. what am i celebrating today? in truth, i’m celebrating the fact that i’m getting 4 dining room chairs for $60. WOOHOOO!!!!! *happy dance*

    aside from that, i wasn’t even aware that there was a women’s international day. i like the idea of this day more than mother’s day. (probably because i intend on staying childless and i don’t like being left out of things. ^_^)

    the intentionally staying childless bit seems to confuse a lot of people. it wasn’t until i was 20 when i realized that it was even an option. (seriously!) whenever it comes up in discussion people always tell me that i’ll change my mind one day. it doesn’t matter if they’re perfect strangers, relatives, or my doctor. everyone automatically assumes that i don’t know my own mind yet. *rolls eyes*

    i’m 28, by the way. i have reasons for not wanting children of my own. but since i have a functioning uterus, it’s assumed that *of course* i want to reproduce. it’s a major source of frustration for me.

    my point in all that rambling is: while i acknowledge that there have been GREAT strides in women’s rights, i agree that there is a lot that still needs to be fixed.

  9. Someone once asked the actress Felicity Huffman if motherhood was her greatest accomplishment and she looked like she was going to slap that person (Was it Barbara Walters? Katie Couric? It was a woman…sigh.). Also, yesterday something called a Barbie flagship store opened in Shanghai…am I ruining the mood?

    My mom tried furiously for ten years to have kids (she wanted twelve and she got one). A product of a deeply Irish-Catholic Boston neighborhood in the 1950’s, she was constantly surrounded by pregnant women and constantly asked when she was going to get on with it. She was also a registered nurse, and while people respected that, you know…I believe it sort of compounded her mental health issues, frankly.

    And wouldn’t you know it, she bugged me relentlessly about when I was going to have kids, to the point that one night I hung up on her while she was in a hospital over Christmas. Sure, things have changed, but I also have one friend who asks if you’re pregnant if you look remotely cheery. Because what else would make someone happy?

    (full disclosure: I’m straight, married, and have an adopted son)

    I can’t decide what needs to be done to make things better, but I feel like some of the most useless crap women deal with would ease up if folks like my mom and my friend and people in that wide band of “well-meaning folks” would stop and think, make different decisions day-to-day, change the way they speak, etc. Then maybe there would be time and space for other ideas to get a little more play in the mainstream, and maybe, just maybe, someone will figure out that we’re not doing anyone any good to fetishize Rihanna’s injuries and every goddamn celebrity pregnancy and follow-up crash diet on every magazine cover.

    Okay, that wasn’t happy. But I like International Women’s Day. Because it forces me to make mental lists–like a New Year’s Resolution, but with more growling.

  10. Electrogirl, that’s a good one. I’m a math minor, and the couple of advanced courses I’ve taken so far have been roughly half women (the sad part is, unlike Arwen, I TOTALLY still register surprise at seeing this). Most of those women are aiming at math-related or engineering careers. I’m not, I just sort of like math and the humanities school requires you to have a minor, but even that’s impressive to me — no one has ever acted like it was strange that I liked, and was good at, and wanted to study, math.

  11. Wow, cool that this comes up today – must admit I didn’t even know about IWD! I’m childless (by choice) and single (pretty much by choice). I’ll be 35 this year, and I’ve gotten my share of “sell-by date” comments and unwanted and contradictory dating advice – my favorite being the relative who, within half an hour, said I’d meet “the one” when I wasn’t looking, and that I needed to be “proactive” and keep looking! (She also once suggested out of the blue that I ask friends to chip in so I could have plastic surgery, since they’d never have to buy me wedding gifts.) So yeah, there’s a ways to go, even from my admittedly super-privileged perspective as a white, middle-class, able bodied, straight, and not-fat person.

    But I was excited recently that I FINALLY got one of my close (married) friends to understand that I’m not miserable, deserving of pity, or interested in being set up with ANY available guy – including a 57-year-old who collected ceramic squirrels!! – because any guy must be better than no guy. I was very excited that she finally realized I was happy with my life, even though I’m not living HER life or the conventionally prescribed life. A real win, given her previous attitude!

  12. I’m celebrating individuality. I have a diverse group of friends who have chose many paths in life, we are all unique and enrich each other’s lives with our differences. Some are stay at home moms, some have careers that were traditionally male, some have careers that were traditonally female, some are child free, some are raising large families (6 + kids) some are single, some are very much coupled but without legal documentation of such coupling.

    But with all of the difference we have one thing we all have in common is that we are living a life of our own choosing. We are free to explore what makes us truly happy and speaks to our souls. That is something really worth celebrating.

  13. She also once suggested out of the blue that I ask friends to chip in so I could have plastic surgery, since they’d never have to buy me wedding gifts

    This is my jaw dropping.

  14. Here’s the oddly encouraging news in the midst of the economic downturn: There are now more women working today than men. So, one way or another, we are going to have more influence than ever before. It’s a sad silver lining, given the current economic picture, but worth mentioning.

  15. “the intentionally staying childless bit seems to confuse a lot of people. it wasn’t until i was 20 when i realized that it was even an option. (seriously!) whenever it comes up in discussion people always tell me that i’ll change my mind one day. it doesn’t matter if they’re perfect strangers, relatives, or my doctor. everyone automatically assumes that i don’t know my own mind yet. *rolls eyes*”

    Of course you don’t know your own mind! You have a vagina!

    All sarcasm aside, I too am quite happy for many of the same things Kate has described, though I too realize quite a bit of it has more to do with the fact that I’m white and got some of my schooling paid for entirely by chance and less to do with the fact that prejudices no longer exist.

    There’s nothing wrong with celebrating how far society (well, some societies) has (have) come. But I think part of the reason why we haven’t gotten farther is because we have this tendency to continually pat ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come. It’s like how my teammates and I used to celebrate after making a point and then would wonder why we were off guard when the opposing team got a point in the next breadth. Just because we’d won a volley or two didn’t mean the game was over yet.

    /end lame-o sports analogy

  16. I’m not, I just sort of like math and the humanities school requires you to have a minor, but even that’s impressive to me — no one has ever acted like it was strange that I liked, and was good at, and wanted to study, math.

    Elsajeni, that is fantastic. I got flack from peers in high school for being good at math, and in college for studying computer science. Between that, being fat, and not dating (because if a guy wanted to date the fat chick there must be something wrong with him) it was made very clear to me that I was Not Feminine at least, and Not Normal at worst….

    (High school and college in the 80s.)

  17. My experiences were very different. I was raised by a working mom and I don’t know off hand the working status of any of my friend’s moms. It either never came up or my memory is shot. Probably my memory is shot.

    Both of my grandmothers also worked out of the home.

    My mom put down women who stay home with their kids quite a lot. It really threw her for a loop when I decided to stay home with my kids. She hasn’t said a bad word about SAHMs since, LOL!

    So I’m celebrating International Women’s Day by being happy that I *chose* to stay home and have a mom who, even though she spent decades putting down that choice, is trying her best to support me in my decision.

    (I, uh, was supposed to go out today with some friends and see a monologue on the suffrage movement but first the stupid time change threw me off and then I threw out my back. What fun! So I’ll be celebrating with Doan’s back pills and some ice cream ;-)

    Happy Women’s Day y’all! Optimism is always good ;-) (which doesn’t mean stop working for change! But being optimistic always serves me better ;-)

  18. I got to choose when and with whom to have my children, more or less. Sure, my social status plummetted, but I recently made my first SAHD friend. So I expect the status to be slightly higher later on, now men do it too.

  19. Pardon me for being a cynic but isn’t it typical that women are expected to be oh so grateful for getting one day a year to celebrate their existence while the other 364.25 days of the year are always International Mens Day.

  20. Kate Harding,

    I am really glad you talked about this, because this topic has been getting to me for a while. Actually, I am madly in love with you for posting this.

    First of all, kudos to you for being unmarried and childless by choice and not being ashamed of it. I myself am on the fence. I plan to either be unmarried and childless, married and childless, or to be married and have adopted children. More likely than not, I will go for the third option.

    I want to adopt at least one child, preferably a child ten years old or older with autism, and possibly a baby through international adoption. It has been my dream ever since I was nine to adopt children, and what’s interesting is that even though people like us choose to have children, we get a lot of judgments.

    A lot of people pity us for not having our own children, because, according to them, we can’t possibly be as attached to them as we would to our own chlidren. Someone actually said to my face that people can’t love adopted children as much as biological children, that a special connection is missing.

    Other people say things like, ‘Oh, so you became a parent the EASY way!”

    Easy? Um, we are taking in children who have experienced years of abuse, neglect, and destructive patterns. And it is up to us to reverse all that. And those are the kids without special needs. What the hell about that sounds easy to you?

    Every time I say I want to adopt, people ask me why. Well, the reasons are complicated, but this is the gist of it. I have always been an outlier in my family. My older sister was a popular, honor student athlete, just an all-American girl. I, on the other hand, am suspected of having high-functioning autism. I have a lot of medical issues, am not much of an athlete, am known to have language disorders, and have never fit in. Something about me was always just “off.” I was very proficient in some areas and very defective in others and everywhere in between.

    I was lucky. My parents never judged me for this or tried to change me, but I still felt very left out, especially when I got into wider society. For this reason, I have always felt a special connection to adopted children. They feel different from their families and unwanted by a lot of people.

    Even worse than just generally not fitting in was the behavior of WASPs who were married with perfect biological children. It was always, “Oh, my daughter/son is an ATHLETE and in the NATIONAL HONOR SOCIETY!” Or it was “I had twins, and I GAVE BIRTH VAGINALLY! WITH NO COMPLICATIONS!”

    Never mind that that’s dangerous, for both the mother and twins. Worse is the reaction. “OMG, YOU’RE SO BRAVE!”

    And these women are just going on about how perfect their lives are and how, of course, it is because they are such great people. (It couldn’t have anything to do with, I don’t know, luck or privilege.)

    Inevitably, they ask me for my story, and I tell them my story, and it’s always, “Oh, we’re so sorry! I’m SO glad none of that has happened to ME or MY kids.”

    Yeah, thanks, I just love being pitied because my life is SO PATHETIC compared to you. You just HAVE IT ALL! I WORSHIP you!

    Bite me.

    So the point is, I chose adoption because I didn’t want to be part of that. Because of my own experiences, because of the knowledge I have of the world, and my own sense of fairness, I decided to adopt those who would otherwise be unadoptable. It’s just really important to me that I send a message that every child, every person matters. I don’t care if you came from a ghetto or a white trash family. I don’t care about your behavior or your mental or physical issues. No matter what, you matter to me.

    You deserve to have endless possibilities, a world of not just having your basic needs met, but education and money, a place to be yourself and love yourself. You deserve to achieve, to be what you want to be. You don’t have to carry on the way you were raised. Your life belongs to you, and I am willing to go to hell and back to give that to you.

    I’m sorry if I am rambling, but your post was a post about women’s choices and how they are not always valued. You get heat sometimes for being childfree, or at least childless. I get heat for choosing adoption. It was also about privilege, and so I thought this fit.

    I hope you find my post valuable, Shapelings.:)

  21. I’m grateful that I was able to pursue a career in engineering, and that for the most part (barring a few snotty remarks and one older man who asked me if I was the project secretary and had me make a fax for him even after I said no) I haven’t had any trouble being taken seriously in my career.

  22. Nobody ever said boo about it.

    Yeah, same here. When I was a small child, I told my family I would never marry or have children, and they said, ‘Whatever you like, dear’. I never did manage to force myself to like children, and I have sort of tried.

    In fact, my mother’s main concern during the last few years regarding me and parenthood seems to have been the fact that, until recently, I was living in a place where I couldn’t have animal companions (she now happily ‘chats’ with her grand-cats on the webcam, lol).

    In fact, the only people who have even brought up the question of whether I intend to ever marry have been friends from a different culture (in which being fat is not yet seen as an insurmountable obstacle to marriage). Since people from my own family/culture ask about my younger (thinner) sister’s intentions in this regard, however, I’m pretty sure that their silence in my case stems from the belief that no one would ever be interested in the fat girl (my complete lack of any dating experience would seem to support this, I guess).

    I just don’t see how dating/marriage/children would do anything but disturb my happy little life of study, friendship, and cat-cuddling, i suppose.

  23. I should probably follow up on a positive note.

    I have repeatedly discussed adoption with my mother, who had both of her children biologically. She doesn”t really understand why I feel the way I do, and she still wishes I would have kids of my own.

    However, she said that she wanted me to be happy, and that adoption is a wonderful thing to do. She also said she would be thrilled to help raise her grandkids.

    I was thrilled, too.:)

  24. I’m grateful to have a mother who, although she says she is not a feminist! has a very successful career, who always told me “Girls can do anything boys can do”. So I never felt limited in my gender, and I always expected to grow up and have a career.

  25. @living400lbs: Yeah, actually, “no one” was not entirely accurate — I did share a lot of those math classes with a lot of significantly clueless teenaged boys — but very, very few people, and absolutely no one who was in a position of authority. Ever.

    (My grandmother was a math teacher, too — as I plan to be — so that may have helped my attitude.)

  26. Elsajeni,

    DITTO. As a female economist, I’m proud to live in a time where no one has ever questioned my desire to participate in the top echelons of a very male-dominated field.

  27. I complain quite a bit – in my head, if not to other people – that I am overwhelmed with choice.

    I’m a SAHM right now, but I have no idea if I want to remain a SAHM – because if I were to go back to work, I have no idea what I’d do for a living. I managed to graduate college and work for 10 years before having a kid, yet I never got around to establishing an actual “career.” I was just paying the bills. I have no philosophical objection to working outside the home, and no particular love for being a SAHM, I just don’t have any freaking CLUE what kind of work I would enjoy doing enough to make daycare worth the cost.

    And that’s my biggest problem, really. I have too many options. How many women have said that, in history and around the world? And there’s nothing special about me (other than having the luck to be born white and middle class). Something must be going right, despite how far we still have to come.

  28. Yeah, when I was little (1960s/early 1970s), if you were a little girl and you said you wanted to grow up to be a lawyer, you got, “A lawyer?? What’s the matter, don’t you like boys?” Nowadays that sounds like such a non sequitur; if you said that to a girl today she’d go, “Zuh? What does one have to do with the other?”

    I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been part of my parents’ generation, to have that expectation that by the time you’re 18 (or 21, if you’re going to college), you’re going to be married and start making babies (and that had better be plural, too), and if you don’t, prepare to be shunned by absolutely everyone. It sucked for them, and I can only imagine how much worse it would have sucked for me as an aspie.

  29. Oh, and your husband had better be an age within 0-4 years of yours, too. A younger man — even a year younger would get you shunned. Also.

  30. My mom had me 6 weeks shy of her 18th birthday. I’m fast approaching 40 and no babies yet. We have been trying to adopt for over a year, but that, too, is fraught with heartache and uncertainty. I HATE answering questions about WHY we are adopting and I hate the assumption that my body is broken (hence adoption). Today, I’m celebrating my extra pounds, my loving husband, and my ability to CHOOSE what I want to do with my life. I’ve never been made to feel badly for my late marriage, my decade of college education or my 3rd career (so far!). None of this would have been easy for my mother in 1969, nor her mother in 1949.

  31. Delurking to add to the optimism in this thread!

    As a young woman, I’m grateful to be able to pursue a higher eduation in a field that captivates me and that I have a huge passion for, and to generally forge a life that fulfills me, although I’m not quite sure what that life might look like yet. I

    ‘m still young and don’t entirely know yet what I want in terms of marriage and children, but the piece of mind that I have in knowing that it will be my choice is something to feel optimistic about.

    There is still a lot of work to be done, for sure, but sometimes my mind boggles at the amount that already been accomplished. That seems like something good and positive to reflect on, so this post has given me a lot to think about! Thanks :)

  32. Excellent post Kate.

    I dove head first into a career at 21 that lasted until I was forty and got bored with it. Getting married and having kids was never really an issue for me. I was too busy having a career and no one ever said “Why aren’t you married?” Those who knew me knew that I gave 150% to my career and didn’t have time for anything else.

    My career was in a male dominated business. I had to work twice as hard to prove that I was as good as them and had to fight for wage parity for most of those 20 years. In the end, it really wasn’t worth it and I left. In the 9 years that I have been away from it I have seen a major change in the attitude towards women – hey, they even make them Presidents and Vice Presidents at the banks now. Twenty years ago that was unheard of.

    I have yet to be called a “spinster”, at least not to my face. And even if I were to be called that I would just laugh at whoever did the name-calling.

    For the most part I am extremely happy with my life. I have moments when I think “What if…” but they are few and far between.


  33. hey, i have an idea, and i didn’t know where to put this. recently a friend of mine and i were watching the fat rant video, where joy told her weight. and my friend – who is a bit obsessed with becoming model-thin- made the comment ‘i weigh as much as she does – i look just like her.

    ‘ thing is, my friend and joy nash are different people, whose bodies deposit fat in different places, so they look entirely different, and wear entirely different sizes. i think if this was stressed, since this society bases so much importance on the number of your weight instead of healthy eating and exercise habits, it would make a difference too.

    i say this because i know kate does the BMI project. (or was it another writer? my apologies if i got it wrong.) i think if a similar project was done, maybe it would point some things out. that a number really is that – a number. and the scale can’t measure your health – it measures the weight of your bones, muscles, fat, etc, and is never really accurate.

    if i weighed what joy nash does, i’d probably wear a size 10 (i weigh 320ish). just an idea, brewin. sorry it has nothing to do with the topic. get at me if you want to do something with it, similar to the bmi project.

  34. I’m 37, single and childless. I’m fortunate that my large family has never once asked me or nagged me about getting married or having children.

    The only comments and questions I’ve ever received were from people who don’t know me well. My friends never give me a hard time about my status and they are all either married or in relationships and only two of my friends don’t have children.

    I would like to have children and will very likely do it as a single parent. Again, I’ve generally only received supportive and encouraging responses from family and friends.

    I’m so grateful for this especially because the community I grew up in is quite conservative and marriage and kids are generally regarded as a given.

  35. Adrianna Joanna, I’m very glad you want to adopt, especially an older child with autism. It sounds like you would be a great mom with your life experience and passion for adopting! Maybe siblings would be a perfect choice – special needs siblings (one or all) definitely tend to languish in foster care, and benefit even more from adoption than other kids their age. Lots of adoption agencies and countries discriminate outright (and legally) against fat people, but in the US state child welfare systems can’t do so legally.

    But…giving birth vaginally is NOT dangerous for mothers and their twins. It’s lower risk than a c section. And it has nothing to do with bravery.

    Surgical birth causes a host of complications for babies and mothers that are entirely absent from vaginal birth, notably breathing problems for the babies that vaginal birth actively prevents. If one or both babies are at higher risk with vaginal delivery because of transverse or footling breech presentation or medical problems, obviously the increased risk of a cesarean is warranted. Otherwise it is not.

    Even in that case, had my daughter been healthy and head down, and my son in need of a c section, I would still have chosen a vaginal delivery for her before his surgical delivery because it would have been the lowest risk choice for both. As it was they were both healthy and head down, and had a low risk vaginal birth and none of the problems c-sections cause.

  36. Oh, dear. Uhh, Mary H: “…giving birth vaginally is NOT dangerous for mothers and their twins.”

    NOT dangerous?

    I can see that you are concerned about the health risks of surgical birth, which is reasonable, but maybe you would like to rephrase that just a little bit? Say “not AS dangerous,” perhaps?

    I realize your next sentence sort of addressed this, but this is a big pet peeve of mine, having been told multiple times that it’s “perfectly safe” to get pregnant and have kids, despite me having a condition that could, you know, KILL me if I got pregnant.

  37. Despite liking them pretty well, I never wanted kids. I was six the first time I articulated this, I am 31 now, and I have never wavered. I am flat-out not interested. I play with my friends’ kids and my sister’s kids and that’s awesome enough for me.

    I have, in my time, taken a lot of hack from people, both casually and quite seriously, for not wanting kids, despite some really compelling reasons on my part (foremost being that I have zero interest in doing it).

    Some interesting observations:

    1) This patronizing, paternalistic “you will change your mind” crap really makes me mad. The thing is, it doesn’t make me feel like a freak, even if the ARE treating me like a freak, and because I was raised differently than my ancestors, no amount of pressure from family, friends, culture, or spouse could ever have made me change my mind.

    However, this same sort of pressure DID cause lots of women, including my own mother, to have kids when they didn’t want ’em back when support for this was less common and when women were just flat-out taught different things than I was.

    So things have improved. It’s not only that people think I am less of a freak than they would’ve 40 years ago, it’s that I was at least raised to know that it’s not ME who has the issues. That’s really a good thing, and I hope future generations get less of that shit than I did.

    2) I’m a woman, and I get shit almost every single time I mention I’m not having kids. It’s not usually limited to one exchange, either. It’s repeated. People don’t wanna drop the subject.

    My husband doesn’t get nearly that much crap. He says he doesn’t want them, someone makes one of the inevitable thoughtlessly dumb remarks that people usually make under those circumstances, and he informs them that he’s had his nuts cut, and that pretty much ends it.

    Funny, my mentioning that I have a condition that could kill me with an ectopic pregnancy if I got pregnant and which would almost certainly lead to miscarriage does not seem to deter people. I’m supposed to want them anyway, and I am supposed to feel bad about my “infertility.” Like, I’m not a whole woman.

    In a sick twist of irony, if I were healthy and wanted to adopt, I would get shit for that. I could have “real” kids. I’m not healthy, though, and so I am helpfully told that I can adopt even though it’s clear that in the eyes of those who suggest this, adoption is “not as good.” Yeah. Tell that to my sister-in-law. 9_9

    Culturally, women have a lot more shit thrown their way re: reproducing than men do. I guess we are supposed to be the ones who want lots of babies and men are the ones who just want to drink martinis and talk about cars or some such shit. If men don’t want kids, that’s often seen as dumb but sort of natural and forgivable, whereas if I don’t want ’em, the future of the species tiself is threatened,

    Fuck that.

  38. It’s interesting to walk into this conversation this morning. Yesterday (ON International Women’s Day, how ironic) my husband got lectured by his mother on the topic of ‘now don’t you see how nice it would/will be for you two to have kids?’ (He was carrying his niece at the time.) I’m SO glad I wasn’t there! My mother-in-law also last year (after the birth of this niece, who is the daughter of her unmarried-by-choice daughter and her (male) partner) told her cousin that she was looking forward to grandkids with our last name. She already had one, but she didn’t count because a) she was a girl and/or b) she was a daughter’s daughter. *headdesk*

    I’m not at ALL sure that I WANT kids, my husband isn’t sure he wants them (although less close to deciding he doesn’t want any) and if I wanted them it’s not clear that I COULD have them. And word to Naamah Darling about the healthy-and-adopting vs. “infertile”-and-adopting reactions.

  39. Oh, just to add, I’m certain my mother-in-law would have given the lecture if I had happened to be there, too. Only I’m likely to have responded, not that she would have heard what she doesn’t want to hear in this context. And I’m absolutely CERTAIN that we have already told her I might be infertile.

  40. At the moment, I’m celebrating the fact that I have a husband who’s willing to move halfway across the country so I can go to law school.

    I don’t know where yet, but I’ve been accepted at the University of Michigan and Northwestern (both top-10 schools) and I’ve got seven more schools to hear from . . .

    Also, I’m celebrating the minimal amount of crap I’ve taken for keeping my last name.

  41. I’m always so optimistic and happy to think about how different my life can be from my mothers. She wanted to be an entomologist when she was starting college, and was literally told by her advisor that she couldn’t because it was a man’s field. (He obviously never saw the huge stack of glass-topped wooden boxes with specimens on pins that she had been collecting since she was 7 years old.) Then she ended up marrying my dad halfway through school and dropped out after her sophomore year. She worked for eleven years after getting married, and then dropped out of the workforce to raise me and my brother. I know she loved being a mom, and has a good marriage with my dad, but I wish so much that she had had the support she needed at the time to become an awesome bug scientist. That was what she really wanted from the start, and I wish she could have done it.

    Then there’s me. I got to finish college in the degree field of my choice. I did get married young, but we don’t plan on having kids until I’m into my 30s. I have never had anyone say ‘no’ to me on the basis of my gender, and so I have to say that seems like progress worth celebrating, especially looking back on my mom’s experiences.

    The thing that really does gets up my butt is when women critisize other women for making a choice. The ‘stay at home mom’ vs. ‘working mom’ thing really makes me mad in particular. Some people want to stay home with their kids, some people want to work, some people *have* to work. None of those situations are worthy of the bitter criticism that gets hurled at them by people who are in a different situation.

  42. I am happy for the choices I’ve been able to make: not getting much pressure about not even really dating until my mid-twenties, marrying at 30, not having children, earning a master’s degree, studying and living abroad, and choosing a carfree lifestyle without being dependent on a man to drive me around.

    And other things I just stumbled into: having women mentors in college when I was studying chemistry and working since then in groups that were at least half or nearly all women.

    I am also grateful that my mom is able to take FMLA time to care for my grandmother, even if that doesn’t extend to my father yet. (You can take care of parents but not parent-in-laws, or grandparents.) Even so, my Dad has a flexible boss who allows him to adjust his schedule to take care of Grandma too.

  43. I’m actually quite surprised to learn about how the celebration of March 8 in some places and cultures has become de-politicized (or perhaps never were political?); I could never imagine March 8 as apolitical as Mother’s day, it makes no sense to me.

    In my country the day is in fact called The International Day of Womens’ struggle (or fight, maybe, I’m not so sure about the translation) with a strong emphasis on the political aspects. The day was originally launched in the city in which I was born and live today (Copenhagen) and each year we arrange demonstrations, happenings, parties, meetings, lectures, events and so on. As far as I know, the situation is fairly similar in most of Europe.

    Of course the media engage in a lot of ‘is there really anything left to fight for?’ nonsense but we still got a lot of issues as well – issues depressingly similar to those you have been discussing in this thread.

  44. Right now, I guess I am most grateful for the fact that I am poised to take over my family’s business. We’re in the construction industry, and I’m literally the only female I’ve ever seen at our fairly large union meetings. But the part that leaves me grateful is the fact that I’ve been slowly taking over from my grandfather, and though I’m sure people have spoken behind my back (I’m not THAT optimistic, and there are a lot of douchehounds that I work with), not one of the people I’ve been introduced to has made a peep about my gender.

    Granted, even my grandfather concern trolls me weekly with the old “but you’re a GIRL! You have to get married and have kids, and if you’re in charge of a business that’s NOT EVER GOING TO BE POSSIBLE” chestnut, but both my parents have been very supportive, and my father is EXTREMELY grateful to have someone intelligent to work with.

    I have my own issues with the fact that I will get some business mandated to us because I am a MINORITY, but not so long ago I would have been laughed out of the union room for wanting to do anything other than answering phones while I waited to pick up a suitable man.

  45. “I’m 34 years old, childless (possibly childfree, though the jury’s still out) and only very recently married, and for the most part? Nobody ever said boo about it.”

    That’s definitely a class privilege thing.

    I’m white, lower middle to working class. As soon as I graduated high school my extended family started in on when was I going to get married

    When I did get married at 23, there was a collective sigh of relief because they had all been convinced I was “funny.”

    Two years later, finishing up my BA and applying for Grad School, when I went back to Michigan for a wedding, the two most frequently asked questions of that trip were: “Why are you still in school, you have a husband?” and “Why don’t you guys have kids yet, is there something wrong with you?” Always with me, never with my husband.

    Why am I whinging on about this here? Mostly, because as someone who grew up white and poor, I’m kind of sick of people saying “white middle class” like “white” and “middle class” just naturally go together.

    Sorry, it’s just something that’s been rubbing me the wrong way for a long time. Not all of us who grew up as poor whites are racist asshole, NASCAR watching, Republican voting morons. And honestly, I’m not sure this is the right place or post to vent my spleen, but here it is.

  46. Well I have a lot to be grateful for. some success and happiness from the academic and career side of my life, things which were explicitly not options for my grandmother. However (of course there is a however!) there are still these horrible double standards which have been spelled out to me recently. My relationship ended (not of my choosing and not something I saw coming) and as I struggled to make sense of what had happened I found that people (particularly women) were just queuing up to tell me that it was probably my success, my intellect, my confidence that was my ex parters (male) problem. No one actually knows what his decision was based on but are so happy to speculate that it was these things that feminists fought to win. I cannot believe that there are dumped men out there that are listening to their friends tell them that they were probably too smart or too successful to be loved.

    argh arghh arrrrrgh!!!


  47. I’m more on the negative side today.

    I think we need to look at what hasn’t changed. Elderly women are still one of the poorest groups in society – at least in the UK, and I would guess elsewhere too. It’s an issue that I’ve very rarely seen raised, but I think it’s an important thing for the feminist movement to consider and act on.

  48. Why am I whinging on about this here? Mostly, because as someone who grew up white and poor, I’m kind of sick of people saying “white middle class” like “white” and “middle class” just naturally go together.

    I see what you’re saying, GGR, but fwiw, I say “white, middle-class” together specifically because I see those things as discrete factors — because both class and race privilege influence my experiences. I can see how it might come off as white = middle-class, but the reasoning for it is actually the opposite. When I talked about how different it would have been for me if I hadn’t had the money for school or “if I’d grown up in a community where women still did start having children very young, or where there was no expectation that the average kid there would go on to higher education and a white collar job,” I was trying to get at class privilege specifically, which may or may not go hand in hand with white privilege.

    The larger point (I think) you’re making, though, is totally valid: when we (and by “we,” I mean lots of folks in the feminist blogosphere) talk about white people and/or white privilege, there often is an automatic assumption that it goes along with class privilege. Which is probably because those of us who get the most attention generally do have both. I’ll try to be more conscious of letting one thing substitute for both in the future.

  49. FWIW, there are still a lot of white, middle-class American women whose lives are untouched by feminism… the reason being conservative Christianity. I was one of them, and many of my friends still are. I actually developed a moderate case of social anxiety disorder from years of being attacked for my childlessness every time I went out. Not to mention the damage to my personal integrity from habitually lying about my life to everyone I met – in my community, the list of acceptable reasons for not having children was very short, and my real reasons weren’t among them, so I dissembled. Of course, it’s hard to be honest when judgmental people are routinely violating your privacy, but it still sucked. And this was all people with degrees and nice houses (of course, part of the class privilege is being able to finish a degree you never plan to use), not hardscrabble backwater types who don’t know any better or something like that.

    I am 34 too, so I am talking about events contemporary with your own experiences, not some vestigial generational holdover.

    And now that I’m out of it, I’m basically a non-person in secular society because I have no career, staying at home with the child I did eventually have.

    Beyond socioeconomic status as such, there’s a certain privilege that comes with inhabiting liberal/progressive social space. People in that space often show no patience or empathy for those outside it, or appreciation for the fact that for many of them, especially women, it’s not really a choice. Or at least not a free one. And when women with very serious (albeit compulsorily unused) theological and “classical” educations under their belts encounter progressives spouting the idea that religious conservatives are all unlettered mouth-breathing hicks, it only seems to confirm all the nasty things they’ve been told about the outside world – particularly, that the only reason a woman would want to join it is ungodly rebellion from her assigned place.

    So be careful how you talk about people who don’t share your enlightenment, because they’re not off in some parallel universe where they can’t hear what you’re saying.

  50. I’m so grateful that I grew up in my generation instead of my mother’s. Additionally, the present generation has a lot more body-image and superficial, fame over character type concerns than I ever remember dealing with (though we had our share then, too).

  51. @Kate Harding

    Thanks, like I said, I wasn’t sure this wasn’t the place to talk about it. But I was just looking over the mountain of student loan debt I face because no one in my family thinks it’s worthwhile to send women to college, and it makes me cranky. And I realize that crankiness is mine. Thanks for being understanding.

    Granted, one nice thing is now that I’ve reached my late 30s without kids, no one’s offering me the names of any doctors who are “good with those sort of lady issues” anymore.

  52. I’m happily single and a doting Aunt who is probably ready to admit that not having kids was the right decision for me. For the most part I mainly meet confusion. And sometimes that confusion can hurt me.

    On interesting scenario I’m facing is a situation at work where one of our leadership (a woman, younger than me) is so confused about me being single with no kids that I’m actually missing out on professional opportunities around here. She doesn’t seem to know what to chat with me about outside of work so she just doesn’t talk to me at all conversationally. The first time we met, as soon as she heard I was single with no kids she literally turned her back on me in mid-sentence to continue the conversation with the guy next to me since he is married with a small child.

    She has never inquired about my family (I take care of aging grandparents) or even my dogs (I have three). She is not unkind, but generally rejects me. It is so strange.

  53. I don’t even know what I think about anything at this point. Honestly, the older I get the less I think it’s “progress” that women are “encouraged” to have careers, because it seems like in some ways what was intended as liberating, and should have been–women having the opportunity to pursue a career outside the home, just like men–was co-opted by corporate capitalism to create a system where they no longer have to pay workers living wages (your spouse can work, you don’t need more income!) and everybody has fewer real choices, while we might have more theoretical choices. The idea that women had value beyond mothering and homemaking, and could contribute to the workforce in important ways, has been co-opted to mean that the only value anybody’s life comes from what they contribute to the market economy. I stressed for a while about what my “career” would be (we moved to Michigan when the economy was terrible, and I was never able to find a full-time job) and then realized after a couple of years that I kind of like my life as it is, and that I don’t really want a career, at least not now. I teach a class or two a term, which I love; I write a bit, which I love; I stay home with my son when I’m not teaching, which I love. I was so concerned about not having a “career” not because I really wanted one, but because I’d so fully bought that my value came from how much money I made. But, it doesn’t–nobody’s does–and now I sort of enjoy not having a career as a big F.U. to that entire mindset.

    It’s interesting, because I come from a very moderate family, and I got a LOT of “OMG, why are you doing this?!” comments when I got pregnant at 25. I was married and had a master’s degree, and I still got a lot of “But you’re too young!” comments. And now I’m 31, and I get, “When are you having another? You’re almost 35!” comments. I’m not exactly sure, if you’re too young to have kids at 25 and getting too old at 31, when the “right” time to have children is.

    Women have made theoretical progress, but the rich keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer, so I’m not sure that in practice people actual have more choices in their everyday lives. As long as we live within a system where people’s lives and choices are so massively determined by economics, it’s hard for me to get too excited. But I’m just kind of a throwback socialist feminist. ;)

  54. @ The Bald Soprano: I didn’t know Mother’s Day used to be political. How so? Now (of course) I just think of Mother’s Day as a way of thanking mothers for all of the crap they have to go through raising kids, as well as the importance of their influence, so I would assume celebrating Women’s Day would indicate something specific as well. I don’t think I’d want to be placed on a pedestal simply for being a woman, so celebrating it as a way to acknowledge gains in women’s equality, as well as highlighting all the work that needs to be done, makes more sense to me.

  55. Kate H., way above, my jaw dropped too when my relative said I should have a plastic surgery “registry” because I’d never need wedding or honeymoon gifts…but not that much. She’s an equal opportunity hater and lots of people get it worse. (For example, she used to bemoan, in front of the family, the inability of her daughter – who has mild Asperger’s – to get “popular.” In front of the girl. Big shock that her kids moved FAR away!) I wanted to ask…wouldn’t getting the surgery mean that I might be able to “catch” a man after all, and then I’d be S.O.L. because no one would buy me any wedding gifts?** But it wasn’t worth challenging what passes for her mind…

    **If I were to get married, I’d do it at the courthouse and have a picnic-type party afterward, or maybe a smallish party at a fun restaurant. I have as much furniture and kitchen doodads as I need, and as my hypothetical husband would also likely be established, plus I don’t think getting married should mean forcing your friends to buy shit. But in her mind, you get married to be a princess and to have people buy you shit.

  56. AnotherKate, when I was a teenager I was heavily criticized by my family for being socially assbackwards and not the “social butterfly” my mother was. But they didn’t know about Asperger’s then at all. If your relative knew the girl was not NT, and said that shit to her, there’s even less of an excuse.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that being aspie — even undiagnosed — allowed me to escape a lot of the getmarriedhavebabiesnownownow pressure. I think for whatever reason, people just knew I was “different” and didn’t expect a “traditional” family out of me. That is one thing I never got any pressure about from my parents (who became a lot less critical when I reached adulthood), but I gather my NT brother is another story. Him, they made no secret they wanted grandchildren from, and he was happy to oblige. Fine with me.

    What I always tell people, if they ask whether I was sorry I didn’t have my own babies, is this: “Nah, for me babies are like horses — I like spending a little bit of time with them, but in the end I’m glad someone else is taking care of them.”

  57. Meowser: she totally knew. I’m not sure that they called it Asperger’s in the early 90s…but the family knew that the girl was not neurotypical (although they didn’t use that term either). And her mother thought it was embarrassing and probably thought she could shame her kid into being “normal,” even though I’m sure she didn’t think of it or herself that way. Shorter version of above: she’s a monstrous asshole.

    BTW, I say that “babies are like New York City, fun to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there!” (No offense to either parents or New York City dwellers, or anyone who happens to be both, of course.)

  58. “But…giving birth vaginally is NOT dangerous for mothers and their twins. It’s lower risk than a c section. And it has nothing to do with bravery.”

    I’m afraid neither is quite correct. What method of childbirth is safest is a lot like HAES. It depends on each individual pregnancy. Vaginal delivery IS safer for most women and babies. However, for a lot of other women and their children, vaginal delivery is a death sentence. So I would be careful about your wording. Actually, despite the high risks for major surgery, C-section has certain advantages over vaginal delivery even in healthy pregnancies. Lack of bowel and bladder problems are just two. Again, it depends on the individual pregnancy.

    Moreover, a pregnancy involving twins is inherently high-risk and elective C-section is safer, in general, for the mothers and the babies. The risk is small, but statistically significant, that the death of the second twin will occur if you deliver vaginally. If you give birth in a hospital and are low-risk otherwise, and if you are being closely supervised by a qualified medical professional, you can still try it and you will probably be safe. However, it’s definitely a decision that requires some thought.

    I’m very happy that you have two healthy twins and a complication-free vaginal delivery. Seriously. My friend had a similar experience, and I was very concerned, especially since one twin was breech. (Breech is another qualification for a medically indicated C-section.) Anyway, she had her complication-free delivery and two healthy twins shortly before Thanksgiving. I got to hold them, and they are ADORABLE.

    I’m not here to judge women’s birth requirements or preferences at all. That’s what I’m protesting against, actually. You said that preference for vaginal delivery has nothing to do with bravery, and for most women, you would be right. For most women, they just want a quick, easy avenue to a happy, healthy baby. I assume that you are one of these people.

    There are a lot of women, however, mostly white, middle-class women, that are heavily into the natural childbirth culture. Their literature and their experts DO believe that women who are “good,” who are morally upright mothers and who follow all the rules will have uncomplicated vaginal deliveries, and that an uncomplicated vaginal delivery is an “achievement.” If you have to have an epidural, a C-section, or have any complications, you have “failed.”

    Natural childbrith advocates have even resorted to lying about the risks and benefits of natural childbirth and all the beliefs and practices associated with it. They make a lot of ridiculous, offensive claims, but a couple of really bad ones are that epidurals are dangerous for women and babies, and that women who have C-sections don’t bond with their babies. Neither is true.

    By natural childbirth advocate, by the way, I mean someone who promotes that method of birth over all others for everyone, NOT someone who prefers it personally or promotes it as another valid choice a woman can make.

    The problem is that natural childbirth as a movement is, for the most part, a middle-class or higher, white women’s hobby. Poorer women and minorities tend to not care how the baby arrives as long as they are both living and healthy. They also tend to have other values in their culture that do not include those of natural childbirth.

    This is NOT true of all poor or minority women. These are simply trends identified in some sociological studieds I have been reading on Homebirth Debate about childbirth preferences across race, class, and culture lines.

    Another problem is that poor and minority women don’t generally have the time or money to spend on childbirth classes, books, and so on. Women who are part of the natural chlidbirth culture often look down on women for not being “educated” and for being “unnatural.”

    Specifically, the people that I referenced in my original post have made some very arrogant comments about this subject. One was talking about her daughter’s recent delivery of her twins and talked about how “she got what she wanted.” Ordinarily, I would interpret this as, hey, lucky her. That’s great. The problem is that this woman routinely talks about how “proud” she is of her daughers for “having it all,” and for her, the definition is typical. Good health, a great husband, a great job that has a good middle-class pay and benefits, three perfectly healthy, normal children who are “so advanced,” a nice house in the neighborhood that they wanted, they live near a cream-of-the-crop pre-school, blah blah blah. All the way down to her birth! She’s SO special!!!

    The comment is innocent enough, but the person who said it, and in what context, changes it. This same woman was talking about it with a woman that she works with and was bragging, “She gave birth vaginally!” The woman she was talking to replied that she was a brave soul. The post-partum woman’s mother then replied, “Oh, no, you feel so much better if you do it natural.”

    You mean your daughter feels so much better when she does it natural. Because while many women feel that way, many women don’t feel that way at all. She shouldn’t assume her daughter’s experience is universal.

    Never mind the ableist connotations. Many women cannot give birth naturally, and natural childbirth advocates and members of the natural childbirth culture have told them flat-out that they should have tried harder or that they are less caring, less competent mothers. Some have claimed that you are not truly a mother unless the baby comes out your vagina, and that unhealthy or disabled women shouldn’t both having babies if they can’t do so naturally. Their pregnancies and deliveries are less valuable because they are not as “natural” and “womanly” and so on.

    If you tell these women that you had a C-section, complications, or any other intervention, they talk to you and about you as though you and your babies are inferior, especially if you elected them beforehand. Weak, uneducated, sick, selfish, etc. They attach all these value judgments to what you’ve done, and then they brag about their “achievements.”

    I don’t know which is worse, that or when they try to stick up for you and give you their advantages, because obviously, we have their values and want the same things, but we’re too stupid and weak and all-around pathetic to get them ourself. We need white, middle-class saviors to come to our rescue.

    It seems you haven’t met these types, and all I can say is, lucky you. I’m surrounded by them. But the point is, whether anyone realizes it or not, birth preferences are very much a class and culture issue. Everyone here knows that everything a woman does is never good enough, and it goes all the way down, no pun intended, to whether and how the baby comes out your vajayjay.

  59. “Or it was “I had twins, and I GAVE BIRTH VAGINALLY! WITH NO COMPLICATIONS!”

    Never mind that that’s dangerous, for both the mother and twins. ”

    Cause women’s bodies are clearly defective, so we need our babies to be cut out by teh men?

    ” C-section has certain advantages over vaginal delivery even in healthy pregnancies. Lack of bowel and bladder problems are just two. Again, it depends on the individual pregnancy.”

    That’s RUBBISH. There is no good scientific evidence that c-section helps prevent incontinence, compared with unassisted vaginal delivery.

    “Breech is another qualification for a medically indicated C-section”

    Not true either. The study that puported to show that was highly flawed.

    And if there’s actually a good study that shows that higher risk for the second twin with vaginal birth you mentioned, I’d love to see a link.

  60. “Cause women’s bodies are clearly defective, so we need our babies to be cut out by teh men?”

    So what if they are “defective”? Even if I or my fetus have a condition that makes it advisable not to risk vaginal delivery, I should gamble our lives for the chance of proving that my female body is non-“defective” after all? Did you miss the part about ableism? Privileging a body that can delivery a live infant without medical intervention differs from privileging one that can, say, get around without a wheelchair, not one bit. And it’s a prejudice that kills, because it pressures women into thinking they can transform themselves into non-defective baby-deliverers if they just try hard enough and ignore medical advice. I know of many cases where this has led to the baby actually not making it.

    Incidentally, the majority of contemporary obstetricians are women.

  61. While I wouldn’t use words like “defective” to describe the body of any woman who needs a c-section, c-sections ARE massively overperformed in the United States, especially among fat women. There are certainly advantages to the medicalization of childbirth, such as the availability of safe c-sections for women who really need them. However, the U.S. has a c-section rate that is much higher than other similarly-developed countries, while simultaneously having higher rates of both infant and maternal mortality, so we are not saving lives or helping women’s bodies by making c-sections so routine.

    I’m sure there are some women who have had natural births who are obnoxious about it and condescending to women who have had c-sections. However, that is NOTHING compared to the massive pressure the medical community puts on women–especially fat women, older women, disabled women, women carrying twins, women who’ve had a previous c/s–to have a c-section. Individual obnoxious people and the pressure they place on people cannot, IMO, be compared to the massive institutional pressure that is placed on many women in the U.S. to have c-sections, and to believe that they cannot deliver a child vaginally.

  62. But the point is, whether anyone realizes it or not, birth preferences are very much a class and culture issue.

    And one of those class/culture issues is that poor women are pushed into c-sections more often than non-poor women, perhaps because they are seen as not having the education or resources to stand up to the doctor who is insisting upon it.

    Just like many here would say that WLS isn’t just a morally-neutral “preference” in the vast majority of cases, I’d say that an elective c-section absent circumstances regarding the mother or baby’s health that genuinely warrant it isn’t a morally-neutral “preference” either. And, certainly, women being pressured into c-sections because they are fat, poor, older, or in some other way seen as “at risk” by the medical profession isn’t morally neutral.

    The c/s rate for fat women is ridiculously high. Yeah, “ridiculously high.” Not because the body of any woman who has a c/s is defective, or that there’s something inferior about delivering via c/s, but because doctors are assuming that the bodies of fat women are unable to safely and naturally deliver a baby, when in fact 1) they can in most cases, just like thin women and 2) routine c-sections for fat women are not shown to result in better outcomes. Fat women ARE being told that their bodies are “defective,” not by nasty moms criticizing their birth choice (who certainly do exist) but by a medical community that is dictating what birth choices are or are not available to them.

    So to pass c-sections off as just another “birth preference” is to miss, IMO, the massive social forces around birthing. It’s not just a preference when there are so many doctors telling fat women that they cannot safely deliver vaginally even though there is no actual medical indicator that that’s the case; when poor women are treated by doctors as if they have no agency or ability to make decisions on their own (and having switched from seeing a doctor in a white, highly-educated, middle-class suburb to seeing a doctor in an inner city, I can say that the way you are treated in the two settings is night and day) and are expected to go along with whatever the doctor says; and when our for-profit health care industry has a c-section rate that is much higher than that of countries with socialized health care while having poorer outcomes, then we aren’t just talking about “preferences” or individual choices, but about the context in which these choices get made or these “preferences” get formed.

    We can certainly criticize the context in which women are forced to make their choices without attacking women for the choices they make. But to just affirm every birth choice without examining the context in which they were made is not, I don’t think, doing anything empowering for women.

  63. The thing about c-sections is that it’s another no-win situation. If you have one, you are a failure as a woman and a mother, giving in to patriarchal pressures, taking the easy way out, too posh to push, and all the rest of it. If you refuse one, you are immediately subjected to YOU MIGHT KILL YOUR BABY type schpiel from the doctors in charge.

    My vaginal delivery was mismanaged and I am doubly incontinent for life. That baby was fine. My c-section left me comparatively fine but my baby with a little cut above one eye (thank heavens for eyesockets) which healed fairly quickly. I know c-sections are overused and unnecessary but I really don’t think haranguing other women is the way to sort this out. It smacks of bitching out very fat people for making moderately fat people look bad, to my ears.

    “Individual obnoxious people” and the people applying the institutionalised pressure are working in different fields, but they are both applying the same pressure: Woman, try harder. Woman, be better. Woman, do what we say. Woman, blame yourself.

    Society — and feeding women guilt — is an institutional pressure too.

  64. I hope I didn’t come across as saying that harassing women about the way they gave birth is okay. It isn’t.

    However, there is something wrong with the context in which birthing choices get made when the U.S. has such high rates of c-sections and such comparatively poor maternal and infant outcomes. And, I do think that the pressure that is put on women that they MUST deliver naturally is not nearly as strong as the pressure put on women by the medical community. It’s like saying that fat activists criticizing people for having WLS are putting as much pressure on fat people as the medical professionals who are pushing WLS as the cure-all for everybody over about 250 pounds.

  65. Just to add, what I’m trying to say is that we can–and should–critique the contexts in which choices are made without passing judgment on the choices themselves. Because it’s not like women are just freely, out of the blue, deciding how to give birth. None of our choices are ever made in a vacuum. And, I absolutely think that we spend, as a society and as individuals, far too much time judging the choices of other individuals and not nearly enough time critically examining the contexts in which those choices get made.

    So I think it’s both possible and even necessary to critique the forces that lead to such a high rate of c-sections in the U.S. without passing judgment on any individual woman’s birth experience, just like I think we can critique the forces that lead people to choose WLS without condemning any individual who has had it.

    All of our choices are constrained, all of our preferences are shaped, and this actually gets to my issue with some forms of feminism and why I become more and more uncomfortable, in many ways, with feminism as I am farther and father away from academic feminist studies: so much focus seems to be on praising or condemning individual choices, and so little focus seems to be on the context in which choices are made. I have no interest, personally, in having to criticize or affirm any individual person’s life choices, and I feel like so often feminism gets bogged down in doing just that, when the place where it can do some real good is in providing an analysis of the forces that shape people’s choices.

  66. I have a hard time celebrating all that feminism has won when I hear so often (from liberal and educated people, usually) that we need to forget feminism, because we live in a world where there’s equality for women but not ______. O, rly?
    I nearly strangled a guy in my congregation who, when we mentioned starting a Rosh Chodesh group, groaned about “the world turning pink.”

    But anyway, thanks for the votings, feminism! (Sorry, I’m feeling crabby today. Go IWD!)

  67. I wanted to say, as to the lumping together of white and middle class:

    I think these two things become conflated mostly because white people are more likely to identify as middle class even when they are firmly below that income bracket. This is because we commonly associate white poverty with a raft of undesirable traits, known as being “white trash”. If we can distance ourselves through class policing from being one of those people, we can convince ourselves that we aren’t poor. This is especially damaging, as it leads us to blame ourselves when we fall outside of class policing. Teeth fall out? It isn’t because you’re being systematically malnourished and denied adequate dental care, it’s because you’re failing as a middle class person to not be “trashy”.

    This perception helps fuel class wars, politicians can convince us that poor people who use social services are leeches on the system taking “our” hard earned money because we’ve already convinced ourselves that we aren’t poor. I think this is why it’s an important act to self-identify as poor (and to give up the division between yourself and “bad” or “trashy” poor people). Once you have identified as such, it becomes easier to ask, and to demand, the attention you need.

    I think that’s why it’s also important to go into spaces that are dominated by white, middle-class discussions and bring up class. This is why, even in feminist spaces, I will rain on people’s parades. (Also being under-nourished makes me bitchy, go figure.)

    Raining now:
    Yes, it’s wonderful that women can have careers now, but poor women have been working outside their homes for centuries. Focusing on professional career work serves to make poor women’s labor invisible.

    My life is not that much different than my mother’s adult life (except for the disability, dammit!) in that she had to work outside the home. She and I both had about the same reproductive choice options, that is to say, limited. We could both get abortions if we wanted to, neither of us really had medical control over our own fertility. She was railroaded into a medically unnecessary hysterectomy, I was (when I still had medical coverage) bullied out of an elective tubal ligation. The medical establishment was as uncomfortable with her desire to have a large family as it was my desire to have none at all, and ultimately took control of that part of our lives.

    There are other ways in which our lives aren’t dis-similar, but that would take up reams of space in the comments. Suffice it to say that poverty erases a lot of the advances of feminism, or at least puts them firmly out of the grasp of most women.

  68. Mother’s Day – or, more accurately for the UK, Mothering Sunday – has different roots in the UK, being originally linked to the Church. Simnel Cake, while now eaten for Easter, was originally made for Mothering Sunday. It’s taken on aspects of the American holiday, though, with cards and things.

  69. Sadly, my IWD optimism has to come from a white, liberal, middle-class perspective, because I would pretty much sound like (and be) a fool if I tried to speak from a different one. :) But within that context, I had a pretty cool mind-screw moment the other day. I was talking to a female friend (also 23) about our parents, and she asked if my mom was retired yet. My first reaction was confused defensiveness–“Um, no, she, uh, didn’t really work when we were little…she taught for a few years, and now she mostly paints…” and then I realized that I actually felt like I had to defend my mom against the assumption that she should have had a career. I’m not saying she needs the defense (she desperately wanted kids for years before meeting my dad, and as far as I know, wanted nothing more than to stay home with us), but it was the first time I had encountered that assumption about a woman of my mom’s generation. I’m so used to the opposite assumption that it was a pretty nice change. (Interestingly, my friend is French; I’ll have to find out if this is a widespread French notion, that the default is for women of my parents’ generation to have careers outside the home.)

    That being said, I think all assumptions about what someone (of any gender or race or class or privilege) is going to do with their life can be pernicious. I have an enormous amount of privilege, so my choices are a lot broader than many people’s, but there are still strong expectations from most people I know that I find myself in a prestigious white-collar job within the next couple of years. Granted, I know nothing terrible will happen to me if this doesn’t happen–most likely I won’t be ostracized or insulted or even scolded aloud. But I find myself evaluating potential future occupations in terms of how they’ll sound to people. “Yeah, if I go abroad and teach for a year, that’s something I can tell to people when they ask what I’m doing.” “Maybe if I just get a boring job I don’t care about much so I’ll have time to write…but I’ll have to tell people about the writing, or they won’t understand why I’m in a job like that.” “Hey, if I go to grad school, I’ll have a great answer to give people for a couple of years!” Why do I care about how things *sound* when I should be caring about how much I want to do them, how fulfilling they’ll be, whether they’ll make me happy?

    I’m not really complaining about my life here–my life is pretty great–but it’s still frustrating that no matter what social group we fall in, there will still be many life choices that will take a ton of nerve to make, because other people with ALWAYS think they know what we want out of life better than we do ourselves. And it’s so easy for us to internalize those expectations and feel inadequate if we’re not doing something that sounds good when we’re introduced to strangers.

  70. For the first time ever, I’m jumping through reading comments to simply post because this is a huge question for me that I cannot wait to rage about: the negatives are SOOOO much bigger than the positives. I had a conversation with a guy awhile ago, that when I explained how women have to work twice as hard to get what he can easily get, he responded, well, I guess I’d respect those women more for working harder to get there. When I asked him why should she have to? He. could. not. answer… and of course, I flipped out. I, as a 26 year old, feel the huge gap that has occured between progress and relapse. I’m surrounded by guys who have been able to coast to middle management positions with good income, while I busted ass to get to a position, just to shortly lose it because I worked for a chauvinistic military man and now make half of what those guys make in a mindless job. Not to mention I see girls my age and younger selling their bodies rather than their minds everywhere I go. I feel completely disenfranchised with the society I live in, feel like any work you do to make progress is worthless (this is a class issue as well, I’m aware…I wasn’t born to a middle class family), and I flirt with giving up to pursue mere ambiguity in Mexico. Really, I just wish I hadn’t racked up thousands in college debt and had just joined the peace corps or some other organization that helps people who really need it. The mediocrity of this country enrages me. Okay…sorry…rant over. Feminism is still a huge issue to me.

  71. @Godless Heathen It always makes me laugh when I refer to myself as po’ white trash, and watch my friends scramble to reassure me that I’m really not like those people.

    Honestly, the only reason I still have all my teeth is good genes. I saw a dentist for a school mandated and subsidized fluoride treatment at five, and then not again until my wisdom teeth impacted and got so infected at 19 that I couldn’t open my mouth and nearly gave myself blood poisoning for waiting so long to have them taken care of.

    Currently I’m an admin in a dental school, and I generally sit down each grad student within their first year, and explain that the people they’re making dentures* for now don’t “not care” about dental hygeine, but that it frequently is a choice between dental hygeine and having food or a place to live. Then I explain about my history with the dentist (or lack thereof), and they’re always shocked because to their eyes, I’m one of those white middle class people they feel they can identify with.

    Even now that I HAVE dental insurance, shit frequently has to wait until I’ve paid off something else for me to even consider a cleaning or a filling or anything else. I’ve got at least two teeth that need crowns, but it’s going to have to wait because we’re paying off other medical bills on stuff that couldn’t wait, like my Husband’s diabetes tests and a surgery I needed two years ago.

    *Washington State DSHS will only pay for yanking teeth and dentures, does not cover fillings, crowns or anything else for adults. They cover more stuff for kids.

  72. Suffice it to say that poverty erases a lot of the advances of feminism, or at least puts them firmly out of the grasp of most women.

    Yes. And, what looks like an advance for middle or upper class women might not be an advance for the working class or poor. For a working class or poor family, being able to have one partner stay home with the child/ren might be what they want, rather than having the chance for both partners to go out and work. A real living wage that would allow a family to truly get by on one income might be a lot more liberating than both partners receiving social acceptance for working.

    There are so many people who are forced to work, even when they have young children at home, or a sick or elder relative at home, or something else going on in their lives that could warrant their full-time attention and that they wish they could devote their time to, that it’s hard for me to get too celebratory over advances that involve people’s careers. Obviously for anybody who wants to work, opportunities should not be denied to them on the basis of their gender, and they shouldn’t face social stigma for working, but I think the promise of a liberating career rings very hollow to many women, especially if they are poor or working class or even in the lower realms of the middle class, and are either working out of necessity or struggling to get by without working full-time.

    It’s sort of the flip-side of discussions that chide the mothers of young children for choosing to work full-time. For every woman choosing to go back to work full-time when her child is 6 or 8 or 12 weeks old, when she has the resources to have her or her partner stay home, I’m willing to bet there are two or three or four women who are going back to work not because they want to, but because, even if they have another wage-earner in the home, their income is needed just to make ends meet. Focusing on the “choice” of when to return to work after having a child misses the fact that, for most women, it’s not a choice; it’s a matter of necessity. And I think it’s the same thing here: focusing on the choice to have a career can lose sight of the fact that working is not a choice for most women.

  73. Lori, brilliant posts :-) Are you the woman who writes well rounded mama?

    In general – I think pushing your opinion on someone is just annoying and (as some of these comments have shown) just going to alienate people.

    About a year ago on the FA community there was all the hubub over a blog (blogs? or was it just the one?) talking about weight loss surgery and saying some pretty mean things about people who choose it. Turned off a lot of people, right? It doesn’t mean that we should pretend weight loss surgery is some easy, painless, healthy option in order not to offend anyone. But it does mean we should talk about it politely, not push our opinions, not attack people, try to listen to the other side and see if we can understand where we are both coming from.

    Seems like common sense manners to me.

    And it’s the same with c-sections vs. natural birth. I think the 49% c-section rate (I’m not exaggerating) at a local (NJ) hospital is ridiculous. But I would never turn that into attacking mothers and questioning their intelligence for having a c-section. No more than I would insult someone for choosing weight loss surgery.

  74. And it’s so easy for us to internalize those expectations and feel inadequate if we’re not doing something that sounds good when we’re introduced to strangers.

    I’m well aboard the white, middle-class train (and though I didn’t grow up in a liberal family, I’d definitely consider myself and many of my friends to be) and I have the same issue. I feel like I’m locking myself out of a lot of jobs that would provide me with contentment and a living wage by not even considering them because I’m “supposed to” do “better”. I want to do something that helps people and I want to earn enough to live without having to worry about money all the time; I don’t want the stress, long hours and lack of family life/life outside work that are part and parcel of the prestigious, brass-ring lifestyle. I know that for a fact. Doctor, lawyer, etc — not for me. (Though medicine keeps drawing my science-geek brain in, but ultimately I think I would like to, you know, see my family ever, and mother of god the debt.)

    And by and large I’m 100% okay with that, because opting out of mainstream culture isn’t exactly new for me. But any time I consider what I actually want to do I get that stupid voice in my head that thinks about how my life will “sound” to people who don’t know me, or new people, or to my parents (who, let’s be honest, are where the voice comes from). And that bit of me is terrified that I’ll get to 40, 50, 60 or whatever and feel like I never achieved my “potential”, like living the happiest and most fulfilling life I can isn’t achievement enough unless I have a posh enough job title to show the world that look! I am somebody really! ? I don’t know. Tis weird.

    But I am very aware of how much privilege is involved in even having those options, so.

  75. And I think it’s the same thing here: focusing on the choice to have a career can lose sight of the fact that working is not a choice for most women.

    This is true, and while the upper classes (those with enough money/time to encourage their kids to go to college, or even pay for it once they’re there) have also increased the job opportunities for women (we’re not necessarily confined to the pink-collar jobs anymore), we still have a long way to go.

    I have a giant post brewing on what exactly middle-class means — something like 90% of the people in America consider themselves middle-class. If we’re just going by income*, about half my family members (their respective households) aren’t even remotely middle-class — but they’re absolutely sure they are.

    I don’t know if I’ll come to any conclusions, though.

    *Last time I checked, US household incomes between $22,000 and $89,000 were considered middle-class — i.e., between the 20th and 80th percentiles.

  76. Lori, brilliant posts :-) Are you the woman who writes well rounded mama?

    I most definitely am not, and not even remotely qualified, but I think she is awesome, and does great work on her blog.

  77. Just a couple of things about c-sections:

    1. You can’t really tell whether a particular hospital’s c-section rate is too high unless you know the population they serve. If they are a teaching hospital with good maternal-fetal medicine specialists and a NICU then high-risk clients from the whole region are going to get sent there and yeah, a lot will need c-sections to save lives. A midwife at a birth center who attends only low-risk mothers and risks out everyone else to an OB at a hospital should be expected to have clients showing a lower c-section rate than a hospital that treats a population with a higher-risk profile. That’s a reflection of the population she serves, as much as it is a reflection of Who’s The More Feminist Care Provider?

    2. There’s a few concepts that I’ve found really shed light on the risk trade-offs involved in c-section: Type I error, Type 2 error, and Number Needed to Treat.

    In this context, an example of Type 1 error – and I’m suspending all the fancy statistics language because I don’t trust myself to use it correctly – would be: a doctor performs a c-section in response to a worrisome strip, but it turns out the baby isn’t in distress and would have been fine.

    A Type 2 error would be: doc doesn’t perform a c-section when one is needed, and the baby dies. Lacking perfect knowledge — i.e. better monitoring, a window into the womb, etc. — we can’t reduce Type 1 error without increasing Type 2 error, and vice versa. There are different costs associated with each approach, obviously.

    NNT, Number Needed to Treat, means the number of patients who need to be given a treatment intervention in order to prevent one *extra* bad outcome (i.e. a bad outcome that wouldn’t have happened if there were no treatment intervention). If the number is high, that means a lot of people will end up with what – in retrospect – was an “unnecessary” treatment. For example, if a hospital has as its policy that they will do a c-section for all breech singletons, I think this has been shown to prevent six dead babies per thousand. (Someone correct me if I’m remembering wrong!) That means that 994 people will have ended up with “unnecessary” c-sections… but nobody knows IN ADVANCE which ones. Therefore, the *policy* of c-section for breech saves a small but measurable number of lives. So, it’s a tradeoff, and one could argue about whether it’s a good one — 994 women will have to have a much rougher recovery and increased risk of infection so that six babies can live through birth.

    My point is just that it’s a lot more complicated than just, “My c-section was unnecessary in retrospect, and this effects only me myself.” Honestly, I think any woman should be told the risks and get to decline treatment — but when faced with the cost of malpractice insurance and the threat of litigation (as obstetricians are, more than most specialties) I can see why they would try to show they did everything they could to save a baby.

    I’m not saying what any woman should do…. because I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to expect all women everywhere to have the same goals/priorities for childbirth as I might lest they help the Other Side. I can see why hospitals/obstetrics practices make the policies they do, and I can see why some women say, “I’ll accept the slight increased risk of maternal or fetal death because it’s important to me to give birth at home.” It’s often hard not to have strong opinions about what laboring mothers should do – because little babies are involved, and most of us want to keep little babies safe – but I just don’t see a better alternative than biting one’s tongue, looking into nuance, and trusting that most women are able to make good decisions.

    And now I need to go wipe a bottom.

  78. sorry, should have read:

    but when obstetricians are faced with the cost of malpractice insurance and the threat of litigation (as obstetricians are, more than most specialties)

  79. Lori, yes, she is, but don’t diss yourself. Seriously those great ;-)

    Stephanie, I often wonder what is middle class. Recently with this past election people were tossing around the idea of a 100,000 salary (for a single person, not a family) as being firmly middle class. That is my idea of rich, not middle class (ok maybe not incredibly upper crust rich, but still, that’s not beans!). But when I google it, there is no set definition.

  80. A Sarah, that 49% c-section hospital I mentioned is just the highest around here. The hospital my daughter was born at has a 42% rate. And NJ as a whole has a 39.something% rate. I don’t think it’s just because hospitals get more risky cases.

    Especially since the one and only freestanding birth center in this state got pushed out of business 6 years ago because of malpractice insurance rates going up. So your options in NJ are doctor attended hospital birth, midwife attended hospital birth or homebirth. I really don’t think homebirths are popular enough to make a large dent in the numbers.

    I do see people say that a lot, that hospitals take the “hard” cases. But then I look at my state where hospitals are the great majority of births and I just can’t agree.

    I do agree with your point about malpractice though. I don’t know what the right answer is. Doctors should be held to some standards, true. Just take a look at all the grief doctors have caused fat people by being disdainful to their faces or not looking for problems other than “you’re fat”. But at the same time, sometimes people die. It’s a fact of life since the beginning of human life on this earth. As much as I dislike doctors who think they are gods, I think part of it is that we (as a society) *expect* them to be gods and get angry if they don’t properly play the part. And if something goes wrong and someone (especially a child) dies, then someone has to pay.

  81. Oh, I gotcha, Shannon! Thanks. And actually, confession time: I hadn’t (gulp) read as far downthread as where you actually mentioned a hospital’s c-section rate, so it wasn’t intended as a rebuttal to you! (Though I can see how it might have seemed so now. Eep.) I’m sorry… Actually, I just read Adrianna Joanna’s comment and the couple followups, saw that we were talking about c-sections now, and then before reading the whole thing I trotted out the things I found mindblowing when I first read them. Sorry, I should have read all the way down!!! It’s just, this is a topic where I get kinda excited because I think it’s a situation that has become *so* entrenched, but where real dialogue and common ground might be possible. As opposed to most of the discourses that converge around The Meaning of Motherhood. Which I’ve already demonstrated that I’m as capable of handling in a hamfisted and unproductive way. Sigh.

    (Now why does my computer tell me that I’ve misspelled “dialogue” there? Are we spelling it “dialog” now? Apparently so. Was that always the case? Am I old? What’s going on?)

    I don’t know what the right answer is either w/r/t c-sections. It’s just so overdetermined, with every decision signifying one thing and its exact opposite, all at the same time.

  82. w/r/t IWD: I’m thankful that I’ve been able to prioritize my career and my husband can prioritize kid-caregiving duties (with him doing about 60 percent and me around 40%) simply because that’s what best suits our respective temperaments. Mostly I don’t get crap for this. Sometimes my husband finds that he doesn’t have a lot of parent groups he can join without being the only man, and sometimes I find that people think I’m allowed to have a career only if I’ve met 100 percent of my kids’ needs and then anything my husband does to “help out” is Heroic in the Extreme. A hell of a lot of privilege makes this possible.

    I was just going to elaborate. You’re not going to believe this but I have to go wipe another bottom. It’s that kind of day.

  83. I remember being in Budapest, Hungary a few year back traveling with my mother since she’d hardly ever left the country. We found this awesome Indian restaurant and went there quite a few times. On our last day in town, we decided to go again since it was truly the best Indian food *ever* and told our awesome waiter that we were on our way to Paris, and this would be our last meal there. As we were leaving, he gave us each a rose which I thought was really sweet. I thought, erroneously, that it was because we’d made such an impression and that he’d miss us – and also because I’d flirted outrageously with him previously.


    It was because they were honoring all of the women who came in that day because it was International Women’s Day.

    What I think is terrible, in my own little world, is that as an American, I had no idea that other countries celebrated us the way they did there in Hungary. Roses? For just being celebrated as a woman? HOW LOVELY. Why didn’t I know this? Because in America, we pretend to celebrate women – as long as they’re size 0, tan, wearing a bikini and subjecting themselves to the wonts of men.

    Screw that, I’m moving to Hungary where they give me roses just because I’m a woman.

  84. “Because in America, we pretend to celebrate women – as long as they’re size 0, tan, wearing a bikini and subjecting themselves to the wonts of men.

    Screw that, I’m moving to Hungary where they give me roses just because I’m a woman.”

    Just because I’m in antil typical hetrosexual man….I laughed at and loved this. Thanks.

  85. Childbirth statistics:

    I’m still looking for statistics about breech and twin birth via C-section, and I promise I will get them tomorrow.

    However, let me ask a question.

    In response to my claim that C-sections are safer under certain circumstances than others, some people have replied that women are under tremendous pressure to deliver by C-section when they could birth vaginally if they so chose and the mothers and babies would still be safe.

    That may be true, but let’s say in cases of multiple and breech births, the risk of perinatal death was higher with vaginal delivery than with Caesarian, even though the risk was still relatively small. That is still an increased risk of neonatal death. What does the fact that women are pressured by the medical establishment to deliver a certain way have to do with anything? Sure, women still have the right to choose how to deliver, but the increased risk of death doesn’t magically disappear.

    About increased likelihood of bowel and bladder incontinence with vaginal delivery, read Reports of Post-partum Pain Associated with Vaginal and Caesarian Delivery. Table 2 should be of particular interest.

    Also read: http://www.nafc.org/bladder-bowel-health/types-of-incontinence/stress-incontinence/incontinence-and-childbirth/

    Some have commented that infant mortality rates are higher in the U.S than in any other industrialized nation and that this is a result of inferior obstetric care. The problem is that infant mortality is a measure of child mortality from 1 month to 1 year, and therefore has no bearing on obstetric care. Perinatal mortality is the correct measure, and according to the World Health Organization’s report in 2006 on Neonatal and Perinatal Mortality-Country, Regional, and Global Estimates, the U.S. has a rate of perinatal mortality comparable to other Western nations and one of the lowest in the world.

    Maternal deaths in the U.S. as opposed to other Western nations are similarly comparable, according to the WHO reproductive health database.


    Maternal death ratio: 17 per 100,000
    Lifetime risk of maternal mortality: 2,500

    Maternal death ratio: 13 per 100,000
    Lifetime risk of maternal mortality: 3, 800

    Denmark: 5 per 100,000
    Lifetime risk: 9,800

    Netherlands: 16 per 100,000
    Lifetime risk: 3,500

    Some natural childbirth advocates will claim that public health measures in developed nations decreased the maternal and perinatal mortality rate, not modern obstetrics. This is simply not true.
    WHO, Causes of Maternal Death: http://www.who.int/reproductive-health/MNBH/epidemiology.htm

    In regard to the “ridiculously high” C-section rate, what does that mean? C-section rates should be determined by patient need, and to a lesser extent, preference, not set at an arbitrary point. What’s bad isn’t that women have C-sections at any rate, but that so many women need them or else they risk maternal and/or neonatal death. So if we can improve maternal and perinatal safety, we absolutely should, but because we want to preserve health and lives, regardless of mode of delivery, not to reduce C-section rates. (That is not to say, however, the C-section rate is not related. Obviously, better maternal and infant health will lead to somewhat lower C-section rates, and therefore lower incidences of complications that result from major surgery.)

    The problem is that there are many instances in which a C-section is safer, but vaginal delivery is still very safe. Many natural childbirth advocates and women schooled in natural childbirth say that in those cases, if at all possible, women should deliver vaginally. A particular concern they have is that natural childbirth is a pre-occupation of wealthy white women, and that too many poor people and minorities are giving birth “unnaturally” when they could deliver vaginally if they wanted to, and they have made it a special mission to reach these women.

    What’s wrong with that is that these people are assuming that poor and minority women share the same values and priorities, that they actually share the beliefs and value the practices that underlie natural childbirth advocacy, and that they would do things their way if only they were educated. They assume that their standards are standards to which all women should aspire.

    This doesn’t apply specifically to low-income or minority women, but it’s a good example nonetheless. Many natural childbirth advocates are proponents of unmedicated birth, and they resent that so many women have epidurals. So, they decide that women just need more education and support. It never occurs to them that not all women value an unmedicated birth, but that they DO value safe, effecitve pain relief and having their specific preferences met whenever possible.

    All women should have the same quality of care, same education about childbirth, and childbirth options as all women. However, this has to do with healthcare, justice, and freedom of choice, not with increasing the rates of natural childbirth.

  86. Just for the record, Dr. Amy Tuteur discusses all of these issues, especially race and class as they relate to natural childbirth, in depth and more at her blog Homebirth Debate. However, she does not discuss ableism and other social justice issues as they relate to natural childbirth. That was my contribution. It links to my other favorite blog, Junkfood Science.:)

    Just so you know I’m not the only person who is frustrated with the current nature of birth advocacy.

  87. What’s wrong with that is that these people are assuming that poor and minority women share the same values and priorities, that they actually share the beliefs and value the practices that underlie natural childbirth advocacy, and that they would do things their way if only they were educated. They assume that their standards are standards to which all women should aspire.

    I think you are misconstruing concern for the c/s rate among poor women. Have you ever received care from a doctor at an inner-city hospital? I have, and in many cases it has NOT been good. I’ve been treated like I am incapable of having any ability to make decisions about my body and my health care. The treatment I’ve gotten when I’ve seen some inner-city doctors has been paternalistic, condescending, and extremely authoritarian. I once had strep throat, told a doctor at the practice I was going to that my throat was red and pussy, and he actually said to me, in the most condescending tone you can imagine, “Now how do you know what your throat is supposed to look like?” AAARGH!

    So, if the c/s rate is particularly high among poor women, or minority women, I’m not going to assume that they are simply, in a vacuum, deciding that they prefer more medical management of birth. I’m going to assume it’s because they are often in health care situations where they are seen as having very little agency. I’m going to assume that their “preference” for medically managed births is not just something random, but a product of a number of forces, which should be critically examined.

    And, of course, the forces that cause some affluent white women to privilege natural, unmedicated birth should also be critically examined. It’s not like the preference for a “natural” birth comes out of a vacuum, either.

    But the point is that to simply say that the high rate of c/s in the US, and among certain groups in the US, is a matter of some people having different values when it comes to birthing is to miss that our values arise out of a context. Fat women also have higher rates of c/s than thin women. Does that mean that fat women have, in general, more desire for medical intervention in birth? Perhaps not, and it’s that doctors are pushing c-sections on them. Perhaps, though, they DO want more medically managed births. Is that simply because fat women have, for reasons that don’t matter, decided that they have less interested in delivering with minimal medical intervention than other women? Or could it be that they have been conditioned to believe that their bodies will not be able to withstand a vaginal birth, or have been conditioned to believe that being fat automatically means a high-risk pregnancy, and so “choose” a c-section because of that belief? If it were the latter, wouldn’t we be remiss to not challenge the forces that are causing fat women to think these things?

  88. I once had strep throat, told a doctor at the practice I was going to that my throat was red and pussy, and he actually said to me, in the most condescending tone you can imagine, “Now how do you know what your throat is supposed to look like?” AAARGH!

    *murderous rage* Dickwad.

  89. “Just for the record, Dr. Amy Tuteur discusses all of these issues, especially race and class as they relate to natural childbirth, in depth and more at her blog Homebirth Debate. ”

    Amy Tuteur, who is not currently a registered medical doctor, is clearly a paid shill for the AMA or the Ob/Gyn professional association. Her website is nothing like accurate, and it’s no wonder you’re making baseless claims if that’s where you’re getting your information.

    My comment about women’s bodies not being defective did not mean to suggest that all women can give birth vaginally. It was commenting on the idea that women’s bodies *in general* are defective – the positioning of the male body as the norm within patriarchy, and women’s bodies as problematic and the things they do (menstruate, incubate, birth, breastfeed, menopause) as defective in and of themselves.

    There are, of course, some very few women who can not give birth vaginally. But there are a great many more women who have been cut open and then told by the medical profession “oh, it’s lucky we operated because otherwise YOUR BABY WOULD HAVE DIED”.

    I’m critisising the SYSTEM here, not individual women’s choices. I want that to be very clear.

    And so the hell what if most ob/gyns are women now? it’s not like women ever perpetuate patriarchal systems

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