Motherhood

Childless or Child-free?

Husband and I had an interesting conversation the other day that led us into a bit of a debate that ultimately left me with an itching, goading, thought-provoking question on my mind….

Are parents more capable of effecting change in the world via their parenting than those who do not have children?

Is one doomed to not affect as much change in the world as they could have, had they had children?

I was telling dear husband about this article the other day [in which the author argues for people to stop talking about appearance when approaching her daughter, as well as all people’s daughters] and in the ensuing discussion/debate about it, he began to postulate that one would effect more change via writing an article directed at parents about parenting, rather than writing a prescriptive article to all people everywhere about how they should, or should not, treat children they meet in day-to-day life. In his opinion, a more effective article would be one in which the author addresses parents about how to raise their own children (& henceforth, how their child will be), rather than trying to change how all other members of society think, act, etc.

This immediately caused within my brain a line of logic to spring forth that suggested that one would generally be able to effect more change in the world via their act of child-raising than would otherwise be possible if one didn’t have kids. Perhaps, as husband suggested (though he was really not suggesting this at all), the most effective mode of change in the world is found in parenting itself. Whereas I, as a writer, am merely addressing all members of society about society’s issues, perhaps to no avail at all. At least kids kind of have to listen to their parents, right? (Just kidding—even those of us without kids know—they’re totally not listening to you!) However, it is a fact that no single person, or medium, will influence them [children] more than their parents. Ipso facto, as my crazy brain was thinking, parenting is the ultimate way to potentially effect change in society (via raising that new little member of society—your child).

Now, I know that this is not at all what my beloved partner was actually saying. He was just speaking in terms of what kind of article would be most effective. But I couldn’t help but continue pondering the difference… Moms v. Non-moms, Parents v. DINKS, The Child-bearing v. The Child…less? (is it “Childless” or “Child-free”?)

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Anyone that knows me (or has followed this blog, at least) knows that I have long-held the belief that raising a child can be one of the most profoundly feminist acts of one’s life. Yet I’m not doing it. And I’m not necessarily “planning” on it either. Am I childless, or child-free? The latter term insinuates freedom, while the former, lack and loss. Which do other women in a position similar to myself refer to themselves as? (i.e. over the age of 30, married, and with multiple “furkids,” but no human ones)

And is there such a chasm of difference between the moms and non-moms? Once again, many other women in my “situation” are most likely familiar with such oft-heard phrases as, “Well, you don’t have kids, so…,” or “It’s a mom thing,” or my favorite,  ”When you have kids you’ll understand,” which implicitly states that I’m just generally expected to procreate, not to mention it also infers that unless I do have kids, I will never, ever, understand…

I think Caitlin Moran says it best in her book, How To Be A Woman, when she says:

“Men and women alike have convinced themselves of a dragging belief: that somehow women are incomplete without children. Not the simple biological “fact” that all living things are supposed to reproduce, and that your legacy on earth is the continuation of your DNA—but something more personal, insidious, and demeaning. As if a woman somehow remains a child herself until she has her own children—that she can only achieve “elder” status by dint of having produced someone younger. That there are lessons that motherhood can teach you that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere—and every other attempt at this wisdom and self-realization is a poor and shoddy second…

But I don’t think there’s a single lesson that motherhood has to offer that couldn’t be learned elsewhere.”

While I want to ask why it is that all people everywhere seem so interested in whether or not a woman plans on procreating (and let’s face it- this is a truly personal, serious decision)— coworkers, friends,  family, some who may be no more than a casual acquaintance won’t bat an eyelash at asking you, dear female reader, whether or not you plan on reproducing —I already know the answer. Reproduction is more than just one’s personal experience—it’s social reproduction. It’s about population control. It’s about environmentalism. It’s about your tax bracket. It’s about what kind of parent you will be, and what kind of child you have. It’s about sex, it’s about birth control, and it’s about childbirth. It’s about that highly politicized, most basic element of society, the family. Yes, it’s personal, but it is also political. For just one example of this, see here.

In spite of this, however, to borrow from writer Suzanne Moore, “having or not not having children should not define or divide women.” We are all women, nonetheless. We are all human beings nonetheless, and we are all ‘precarious’ in some way, living in this society and this world, dependent upon one another. No man, woman, or child exists in a vacuum exempt from one another.

Suzanne Moore also stated the following in her recent Guardian article:

“I fear that if we put all our eggs in the basket of motherhood, we are bound for disappointment. We must fully appreciate that those without kids subsidise those of us with them and contribute in myriad ways.”

“Some women without children need to “heal”. Some don’t. Some with children feel as existentially lonely as those without. Children are no guarantee of care in old age, or even company.”

“Having kids gives meaning to lives, but this is not the only way to have a meaningful and wonderful life…  If it takes a village to a raise a child then it is worth saying that those who reproduce and those who don’t do not live in separate villages. We are, in fact, next-door neighbors.”

#FreeOurMidwives

midwife listening to belly

The following excerpts are taken from the CFAM website, a site dedicated to California Families for Access to Midwives:

 

“Yelena Kolodji and Kavita Noble are CA Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) who are being prosecuted. Their only alleged offense: failing to obtain physician supervision.

It is virtually impossible for midwives to obtain physician supervision for out-of-hospital births. California Families For Access to Midwives (CFAM) fought hard to remove this unnecessary requirement from law. Thanks to enormous consumer pressure, as of January 1, 2014, physician supervision will be a thing of the past for Licensed Midwives in California —  but not for CNMs.

While most CNMs practice in hospital settings where physician supervision is virtually automatic, the few CNMs who provide out-of-hospital maternity care are forced to practice illegally since physicians are unwilling and/or unable to supervise them.

Yelena and Kavita have been providing comprehensive care to pregnant mothers and newborns for more than a combined 40 years, and have caught a combined 2,000 babies in hospital, birth center, and home settings.”

———————–

“This case also raises the broader question: do mothers have a right to access the full range of maternity care services their providers are trained and skilled to deliver?

When two skilled, experienced, and appropriately licensed midwives are prosecuted for providing appropriate care that results in a healthy mother and healthy baby, it is a sign that something is wrong with the system.”

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“Please get involved in our efforts to support midwives Yelena and Kavita during this trying time by:

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The legal issue at hand is one of non-compliance with CA state law mandating physician supervision for CNMs. But what is the purpose of such a law? It’s mere existence infers that midwives are inept, or at best, not fully competent, to attend childbirth as autonomous medical professionals—as if they need an authoritarian medical professional overseeing them. Yet midwives are extensively trained in childbirth and perinatal care. If anything it’s the OBGYNs who are not trained well enough in the ways of natural childbirth and effective labor coaching.

Rules like this are in place for bureaucratic reasons—in the legal and financial interests of physicians—not in the interests of mother and baby’s health. It’s about insurance, it’s about money, it’s about fear of lawsuits. It’s not about the best birth outcomes.

 

For more information, check out my Sources:

 

who decides how she gives birth

 

 

 

Midwifery Legislation in CA & AB 1308

cfam

There has been quite a battle going on in California this year. Midwives, midwife advocates, and childbirth advocates alike, have all been organizing, raising awareness, and talking to our leaders in the state capital about revisions for our state’s Licensed Midwifery Practice Act.

For those of you that may not know, prior to 1993 a woman could not choose to have a home birth if she wanted. It was only after California passed its Licensed Midwifery Practice Act in 1993 that this was made possible. This was a huge step in the right direction for midwives and birth rights advocates. However in spite of its recognition of midwives as medical professionals, it still greatly limited their autonomy as medical professionals.

Earlier this year, Assemblywoman Bonilla introduced AB 1308, which would remove the physician supervision requirement from existing law (The CA Licensed Midwifery Practice Act of 1993), as well as enable midwives to “directly obtain supplies, order testing, and receive reports that are necessary to his or her practice of midwifery.”

The rule of thumb since the MPA’s inception in 1993 has been that midwives must, and can only, operate within the purview of CA’s State Medical Board, subordinate to physicians. This has proven problematic in many ways. For one, some physicians view midwives with hostility and will outrightly deny them the cooperation they need in order to carry out their healthcare practices. This not only hinders their capability of being able to comply with state law, but can, and often does, hinder their ability to secure proper supplies and necessary tests.

The larger point at issue here, however, is the fact that midwives are licensed medical professionals. They are highly educated and skilled within the very specific scope of pregnancy, childbirth, and perinatal care. They know what they’re doing, and The California Legislature knows this. Even In 2000, the California Legislature stated in an amendment to the Midwifery Practice Act that:

“Numerous studies have associated professional midwifery care with safety, good outcomes, and cost-effectiveness in the United States and other countries. California studies suggest that low-risk women who choose a natural childbirth approach in an out-of-hospital setting will experience as low a perinatal mortality as low-risk women who choose a hospital birth under management of an obstetrician, including unfavorable results for transfer from the home to the hospital.”

Midwives need, and deserve, greater autonomy.

Contact your CA legislator today and voice your support of birth rights and midwifery care!

Knowledge is Power!

 

I think that anyone who came of age in the Schoolhouse Rock era has heard the phrase “knowledge is power.”

However, what is not oft heard is a discussion of which kinds of knowledge are granted power, versus which kinds of knowledge are subordinated or de-legitimized.

One such example of this is midwifery.

 

 

One of my most favorite things about the above TED talk, given by esteemed midwifery pioneer Ina May Gaskin, is her reference to effective birthing methods found outside the U.S., in countries such as Mexico and Guatemala. As she says, “Here we have some wisdom that comes from Mexico, and these are unlettered midwives… This is centuries old.” I know many would hear such a statement and immediately look down upon any such so-called “wisdom,” but it is valuable knowledge indeed…

When childbirth shifted from home to hospital, the knowledge carried by midwives— the very practice of midwifery itself— was cast as “backwards” and anachronistic by the all powerful medical institution (think: ACOG and the AMA).

However, as many of us know, midwives possess very important (very *legitimately* important) knowledge about pregnancy and the labor process. After all, they are trained to know all about the natural processes of childbirth, whereas physicians are trained in pathology— they are trained to look for, and spot, complications.

My point is that while institutions of consolidated power take the forefront as bastions of knowledge in our day-to-day society, there are a multitude of knowledges out there, and often one is not “better” than the other, but rather, one just ends up carrying with it more “power.”

The following is an excerpt from my thesis, which I wrote on the shift of childbirth from home to hospital in the early 20th century. I spent over a year researching over 100 sources, including microfilms of early 20th century women’s magazines, scholarly articles, legal analyses of midwifery litigation & legislation, historical nonfiction, documentaries, and more. Enjoy…

 

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Physicians had control over their profession and its formation from the very start. As midwife Adrian Feldhusen says, “ The medical profession helped shape the medical system so that its structure supported professional sovereignty instead of undermining it” (“The History of…”). However, gaining the trust and support of the public towards increasing hospital births meant the inception and propagation of their medical authority and legitimacy throughout society. The fact that they built up their own legitimacy amongst themselves within their own professional community was a boon towards amassing the picture of legitimated power among the public, but they also needed women wanting their services by their own volition. According to scholar Sara K. Hayden,

“To distinguish themselves from midwives and legitimize their profession, physicians realized that pregnant women would have to voluntarily choose to pay higher fees for their services. While it is true that physicians provided medical technology that benefited women with difficult births, they did not restrict their practice to high-risk births. Rather, physicians began to represent every birth as a “potential disaster.” “In order to triumph over [female] modesty, medicine had to convince the public that childbirth was inherently pathological and unsafe, a dangerous condition that required the attention of the more highly valued male birth attendants.” Yet evidence did not support the perceived safety benefits of obstetrics over midwifery.”

Not only did organized medicine propagate a more perilous picture of childbirth, but they portrayed themselves as the “more highly valued” professionals to attend to it as well.

Physicians were instigating a culture of fear around childbirth, something that benefitted no one, except themselves. It drew on already existing fears about the pain involved with childbirth and therefore drew women into the hospital. Naturally, women were more than willing to submit to physicians because they “were afraid to deal with any pain” (Brodsky 7). Moreover, women, who had little access to the study of medicine, wouldn’t dare quarrel with an obstetrician or gynecologist (Corea 96). For the contemporary woman of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, whatever was deemed best for her health and the health of her baby was accepted without question, and gynecology, “a specialty almost exclusively composed of men”, had the power to define just that (Corea 97). This in itself reveals the gendered power dynamics occurring between women in labor and the male physicians attending them. Citizens for Midwifery President, Susan Hodges, explains, “There’s a huge power disparity… The doctor may think he’s offering you an option, but you hear the expert advising you to do something.” Before physicians, the only women who had extensive knowledge of childbirth were midwives, but with their erasure came the erasure of an entire tradition of knowledge- the midwife model of care. 

Unfortunately, the knowledge that midwives have possessed for centuries is not held in as high esteem as the knowledge associated with scientific medicine. As sociology Professor Thomas Gieryn points out, “In credibility contests, the epistemic authority of “science” as a cultural space is chronically reproduced” (14). Succinctly stated, science “often stands metonymically for credibility, for legitimate knowledge, for reliable and useful predictions, for a trustable real” (Gieryn 1). In other words, power is conferred upon those in society who possess institutionalized knowledges, such as that of medicine. Obstetrics is an especially unique case of this legitimized knowledge when viewed through the lens of a knowledge/power perspective, because it is a practice that has dealt exclusively with a historically subordinated class of people: women.

The home to hospital shift in birth practices has been largely facilitated by this exact power structure. The knowledge associated with midwives is still often seen as archaic and ineffective, not quite credible, and perhaps even regressive. What is seen as legitimate and valid according to U.S. cultural norms and standards is science, and only what is backed by science can be officially legitimated, and therefore credible. Donna Haraway says it best when she raises this issue by saying, “Questions about what counts as knowledge need to be examined in terms of practice, institutions, people, funding, and language” (qtd. in Gieryn 342). Indeed, there needs to be a greater degree of respect and value attached to the knowledge that midwives possess. Moreover, there needs to be greater value attached to one’s own physical awareness and the feeling of being in tune with one’s own body. This has been one of the most detrimental effects of the home to hospital shift- the revocation of women’s trust in themselves to give birth. Not to mention the continued privileging of one form of knowledge over another.

While organized medicine in the U.S. may have instigated a vicious campaign to wipeout midwives, and perhaps even natural birth to a certain extent, their power has remained due to a much more complex process. Sociologist Garry Stevens explains that, “power is a product of relations between people, not quality inherent in them…it often lies concealed in the unquestioned ways of seeing and describing the world…the exercise of power does not have to be conscious, or the result of explicit decision-making” (42). As Stevens puts it, power is not always a conscious act of intentional domination by one group over another, but lies in a sort of passive complicity (e.g. not questioning “ways of seeing” or the status quo) and it is in this way that power reproduces itself. The normalization of certain things, such as medicalized childbirth, by way of institutional authority has perpetuated its own legitimacy (and hence, power) through the relations between physicians and women; and it is through these relations, as Stevens suggest, that power is continually reproduced. In the instance of childbirth, the medical model was thrust into society by organized medicine, and subsequently normalized by society, without any questioning. No one bothered to question the so-called knowledge that physicians possessed because it was acquired through institutions of higher learning, and there was no critical analysis of medicalized childbirth because it was seen through a medicine-as-progress perspective. Science and technology would always produce inevitably better results, so the general public thought, and was therefore synonymous with “progress.”

Critiques of midwifery are usually underpinned by this same blind, or perhaps compulsory, faith in “medicine-as-progress” rhetoric. Moreover, they are most likely uninformed about the proven efficacy of this model of care. Even in 2000, the California Legislature stated in an amendment to the Midwifery Practice Act that:

“Numerous studies have associated professional midwifery care with safety, good outcomes, and cost-effectiveness in the United States and other countries. California studies suggest that low-risk women who choose a natural childbirth approach in an out-of-hospital setting will experience as low a perinatal mortality as low-risk women who choose a hospital birth under management of an obstetrician, including unfavorable results for transfer from the home to the hospital.”

In addition to this, it is also important to note that, “Despite the norm of the obstetrical approach to birth, the United States ranks at the bottom in perinatal mortality for the twenty-five industrialized countries”, which demonstrates that a medicalized birth does not mean a better birth- for mother or baby (Hayden 263). The divergence, and consequent suppression of midwifery knowledge and the negative impact this has had on U.S. births is pinpointed by midwife, Ina May Gaskin: “This is the outcome when you are a century or so post-midwives- you lose a lot of knowledge & we’re the one country [where] when birth went into the hospital, the midwives didn’t go there with it” (The Business of…). This, as she illustrates, is the impact of the loss of midwives and the midwifery model of care in the United States.

 

A Shout Out to the SAHM on Mother’s Day

A while ago I liked this page on Facebook called the “Rabid Feminist.”

Until one day they put up a guest post from someone stating how SAHMs (that’s “Stay-At-Home-Mom,” in case you weren’t hip to the acronym) were undermining the goals of, and strides made by, feminism. Apparently, in the eyes of whoever wrote the piece, and the moderator of this site, if you were a SAHM you were by definition not a feminist, and furthermore holding all of women’s lib back, negating much of the gains made by feminism— because you decided to be a SAHM.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I quickly looked to the comments below.

Relief! All of the comments were ones of anger, upset, and disappointment.

I myself posted something to the effect of: “Shame on you for trying to shame any woman that chooses to be a SAHM. Not only can being a SAHM be one of the most profound feminist acts of all, but to disparage any woman for making that choice is what is really anti-feminist.”

Yes, I am a “Strident Feminist” as Caitlin Moran would say, but that most certainly does not mean looking down on any woman just because she decides to be a stay-at-home-mother. That is a decision made by her, and/or an agreement decided upon by her and her partner, end of story. And hell, much love and power to those women! We all know that whether working outside the home or not, being a mother is a full-time job, but the way I see it, being a SAHM could encapsulate a very philosophical, free-thinking, creativity-inspiring, radical foundation for thinking and learning. One of my teachers once said that the Ancient Greeks—those great minds of the past (who stole most of their good ideas from the Middle East and Africa, according to him)— didn’t learn by sitting in a classroom in which all of learning was broken up into separate disciplines, but rather, they just had conversations (*ahem Socratic method*). This makes me think of all the things—concepts, ideas, ways of thinking and seeing, etc.—that could transpire between mother and child in a SAHM situation. What a classroom! Not to mention eschewing one’s place within the whole capitalist scheme of the workforce could be seen as a radical/ feminist move in itself, too.

Lastly, I would like to share that a while ago a SAHM friend of mine took me out for coffee, paying for both of us, and when I later told a male friend, “Oh, I met up with so-and-so this morning and she bought me breakfast, how nice, la la la….,” he responded,

“Well, her husband bought you coffee. She doesn’t work, so it wasn’t her that bought it.” I said, “OH SHE WORKS ALRIGHT. She just doesn’t have a “traditional” capitalist job, getting paid by a corporation like what you’re thinking… but OH… SHE WORKS. And SHE EARNED THAT MONEY and she bought me my coffee!”

So hopefully that clears the air on what at least one feminist thinks about the SAHM. (But we all know I’m not the only one)

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, mother-in-laws, single fathers, stepmothers, mothers-to-be, foster mothers, male-mothers, and anyone else doing the work of “mothering” out there. I’m a fan of your work.

Book Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

how-to-be-a-woman book cover

Three word synopsis:

Hysterical, Intelligent, Contentious.

Here’s the deal: I really enjoyed this book. The entire first half had me in stitches. I was laughing out loud in the break room at work, on the BART train home, and in my own living room. She is hysterically funny. Both the stories in and of themselves, as well as her sense of humor. I was so thoroughly entertained I wasn’t even taking notes. And I am ALWAYS taking notes. Or, at best, resisting the urge to notate any and every book I read.

Here’s a glimpse at one of the parts that had me beside myself cracking up at work—on the topic of naming your vagina, naturally. I ended up sharing it with my coworker:

 

“But, let’s be honest, “pussy” is the least of it. There is a panoply of slang words that are, in their ways, just as truly awful as “vagina.” Let’s bullet point!

  • Your sex: sounds like a preemptive attempt to shift blame.
  • Hole: a bad thing that can happen to stockings or tights. My Johnnylulu is a GOOD thing that happens to stockings and tights.
  • Honeypot: inference of imminent presence of bees.
  • Twat: an unpleasant melange of cow-pat, stupidity, and punching. No.
  • Bush: the band of the same name are tiresome. The vegetation has spiders. No.
  • Vag: sounds like the name of a busybody battleaxe, a la “Barb” and “Val.” Suggestion also of chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, and borderline addiction to bingo. No.”

 

I mean, really—”Vag”—she is so dead on with that description.

Oh, and then she goes on to list a few of the names that she does like, and that bit may actually be even funnier (especially if you like Star Wars and/or came of age in the 80s).

 

Moran is a British writer, born and raised in the countryside of Wolverhampton, who at 16 gets to go work for a rock magazine in London. Her upbringing is interesting, to say the least, especially to someone born and raised in LA like myself. It is not only foreign geographically, but culturally. She grew up in a small house, in the English countryside, sharing what little space they had with 5-6 siblings in addition to her parents and a dog. (She not only shared a room, but a bed, with one of her many sisters.) On her 13th birthday she gets, instead of a cake, a baguette filled with Philadelphia cream cheese. And the cultural, class, and gender differences just continue on from there.*

*note: there is not much said, or discussed, in regards to race throughout the book. end note.

Her chapters go from pre-adolescence to present-day womanhood, in chronological order, and one of my favorite aspects of this journey is her chronological commentary on sexism. Ironically, the chapter titled I Encounter Some Sexism!—found dead center in the book—is also the point at which I wanted to bang my head against a wall out of frustration. Really, it boils down to the fact that:

(a) she says “You couldn’t find a woman making music for love nor money” in the early nineties. Hello?! L7, Verruca Salt, 7 Year Bitch, PJ Harvey (whom she does mention, at least), Tori Amos, Hole, The Breeders… and I’m sure many of you can think of even more amazing female artists, both rock and otherwise.

(b) she furthermore states that we’ve “had little more than a handful of female geniuses” since women got the right to vote (“There was still no female rock band to rival Led Zeppelin…No female hip-hop artist to rival Public Enemy…”) *Ahem* I’d say Janis Joplin earns at least the right to rival Led Zeppelin, and as for female hip-hop artists: TLC, Lil Kim, Da Brat, and SALT N PEPA. And don’t even get me started on [musician] female geniuses between the 1920s and 1990s: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday (whom she does mention), Peggy Lee, Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane), Sarah Vaughan, Wanda Jackson, Alice Coltrane, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Kate Bush, Nico (The Velvet Underground), and I COULD name more…

finally, (c) I’m not sure whether it was in this chapter or the preceding one, but she does state at one point that she probably learned most about being a woman/how to be a woman from her husband; However, in this chapter she is upset at her boss saying, “You wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes,” when, as she says, she in fact is “a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes.” Well, Mz. Moran, given that you just stated you probably learned most about “being a woman” from a man, perhaps it is not so unfeasible for your male boss to know more about being a teenage girl than you. It just seemed a little hypocritical to at one point say you learned most about being a woman from a man, but then say, well, this guy is a jerk for thinking that he knows more about being a teenage girl than I do (because, once again, apparently your husband knew more about “being a woman” than you did…? Perhaps she could have at least expanded on this in order to clarify…) I just found those two aspects of the narrative a bit incongruous and I was miffed.

With that bit of criticism stated, I did love her “Is this polite?” sexism test (as I’m sure most people would- men and women alike), as well as her chapter on strippers and strip clubs. It’s a really delightful, laugh-out-loud funny, and insightful take on the whole sex work/sex worker debate. Something I’ve yet to decide on myself, but I do like what she has to say. One of my most favorite aspects of the book is the pairing of the two chapters, Why You Should Have Children, followed by Why You Shouldn’t Have Children (Chapters 12 & 13). Maybe it’s due to my legal studies background, but I do so enjoy how she is able to argue for each side, and quite deftly at that. My only point of criticism here is the last paragraph of the former chapter (chapter 12). Having studied childbirth, and having a midwife mother-in-law, that last paragraph made me give the book a sideways glance while thinking, “ummmm….ok, Moran, sure. uh huh.” But it’s a trivial piece of criticism, really. This book is truly and sincerely more than the sum of its parts.

She decides to almost end the book (it’s the second to last chapter) with abortion, and wow. It’s profound. It’s clearly well thought out. And of course, it’s contentious.

In spite of my pieces of criticism it really is a great read. I am so glad I read it and would definitely recommend it. I love her intellect, and perhaps most especially her humor. It will keep you entertained, and make you think, and I don’t think a book lover can ask for more than that.

 

“I want to be bright!”

During a study group session one day with two classmates (both black women who had children), our discussion turned to white aesthetics. Not unusual as we were all essentially Sociology majors within our interdisciplinary department.

My one friend tells me how her daughter, after the first day of kindergarten, came home and said to her, “Mommy, I want to be bright!”

Naturally she said, “Baby, of course you are going to be bright. You’re already so bright. I’m sure you’ll be the smartest girl in class.” Then her daughter corrected her, “Nooooo mommyyyyy… I want to be BRIGHT. Like the pretty girls at school with the light skin and the smooth hair!”

How would you feel hearing your five or six-year old daughter say something like this?

This is the world we live in. History and law books were established and written by privileged white men, and therefore standards of female beauty set by the pure and virtuous white woman- the object of the privileged white man’s affection. Think Lillian Gish (ahem, The Birth of a Nation!), Barbie (does it get any more normalizing/indoctrinating than Barbie?!), Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Gisele Bundchen, etc.

[Hence, why Bill Maher says something to the effect of, “That’s why you didn’t get that lead role in Titanic!,” to Kerry Washington at the end of this clip, though it’s cut off]

I may not be a black woman, but I am “other,” and I’ve fought my own battles against the overwhelmingly “white” standard of beauty. Growing up I was often called “exotic.” Not pretty, not ugly, but “exotic;” In other words, different, unusual, “other.”

Do you know about the growing popularity of the eye surgery to make Asian women look more “Western“? Do you know about Renee Rogers, an American Airlines employee who wasn’t permitted to wear her hair in braids while at work? (they asked her to pull it back in a bun and wear a “hairpiece” over it….) This also brings to mind the Chris Rock movie, Good Hair, a documentary set into motion by his daughter asking him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair…?”

I will now refer you to this awesome critique and compilation of images via “beautyredefined.net.”

*Editor’s note: This article now contains [an addendum]