Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Blog postponed

Our much anticipated baby made an appearance a few days ago--S was born on Oct. 20th. C & I are equally elated and exhausted, but we are very, very much in love with our little guy. Needless to say, I won't be blogging for a while, but I hope to be back at it in a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Frustrated and Saddened

It frustrates and saddens me that C and I are able to rely on certain things simply because we are a heterosexual couple. News like that of Gerry Studds death and the federal government's refusal to pay his spouse of 2 years (who was his partner for much, much longer) death and retirement benefits frustrates and saddens me. I have no other words to describe my emotions on this issue. Why is our relationship more valid in the eyes of the government (and most of society) than that of a same-sex couple?

I'm currently teaching Frances E.W. Harper's Iola Leroy; or, Shadows Uplifted, and with this reading, I'm struck by how many of the references to racial passing, the illegalization of miscegenation, and the stigma associated with being a biracial child are so similar issues in the gay community right now. Several of my students also noticed this and correctly, I think, pointed out that as much progress as we, as Americans, seem to have made regarding discrimination, we still have a long, long way to go. Perhaps my use of the term "gay community" is part of the problem. These are American and human issues, not issues of a specific community. Will we ever be able to embrace that as truth?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Something to celebrate

90 years ago yesterday, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. NOW has an interesting article on Sanger and the clinic. I find it interesting and troubling that we're still debating this and similar issues.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The First Gentleman?

I'm working on a conference paper on Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes; or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868). I've been reading an article by Katherine Adams entitled "Freedom and Ballgowns: Elizabeth Keckley and the Work of Domesticity" for the paper, and I ran across a quotation that made me question the position of the "First Gentleman." Adams writes "The First Lady, and the home life for which she metonymically stands, enable the president perfectly to resemble (without himself being of) the ordinary citizenry. In total, the domestic spectacle of the White House provides a topological referent of those utopian values of freedom and equality invested in the head of the state." Although Adams is ostensibly writing about the presidency in the 19th century and specifically about Keckley's representation of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, I believe her statements are relevant to today's political situation.

If the First Lady is a symbol of normalcy for the president and a symbol of domesticity, what would the "First Gentleman" represent? If we need to see the president with a "normal" home life, does this begin to explain why we have yet to see a woman run for president? Does it also begin to explain why Hillary Rodham Clinton was so demonized while she was First Lady? Is our need to see the nuclear family represented in the White House so great that we cannot accept that the best candidate may be a woman? I would argue that we're largely unprepared to see a woman ordering military leaders to go to war. We're equally unprepared to see a man on television explaining the theme behind the White House's decorations for the 2006 holiday season (which the First Lady's do every year). We may have made progress in our individual homes, evidenced by the fact that about 10 to 15% of husbands now stay at home while their wives bring home the bacon. But it seems as though we're still following a 19th--and perhaps even 18th--century construct: the President runs the country while the First Lady is in charge of domestic responsibilities, such as redecorating the White House and planning receptions.

And what would we call the husband of the first female president, assuming she had a husband?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Favorite things

I've been feeling particularly cranky recently, so I decided to make a conscious effort to improve my mood today. C and I had breakfast at our favorite place, we spent the afternoon outside, and I've been visiting some of my favorite places in the world via the web. I found myself drawn to the Met's website this evening. Since I can't get to New York to see one of my favorite paintings, I decided this viewing it online was the next best thing. Vermeer's paintings always make me feel better.

Love Your Body Day--Oct. 18th

Make sure to celebrate yourself on "Love Your Body Day," this coming Wednesday.

Why are breasts so fascinating?

I ran across a story entitled "Court Upholds Woman's Right for Topless Protest", and I immediately thought: why are breasts so fascinating? Let me qualify that: why are women's breasts so fascinating? For my entire life, I've wondered why it is acceptable for men to wander around town topless but not for women? Why is it ok for C to take his shirt off at the beach and not for me? I don't know that I agree that going topless is a viable means of protest, but if it is legal to burn the flag as a form of protest, why can't women take their tops off?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

One more thing

Here's one more annoying thing: people (generally family or close friends) who refer to the baby as "our baby" or, even worse, "my baby." How does one respond to that? My mother-in-law constantly asks, "How is my baby doing?" To which I generally reply, "C's doing just fine, working away on his dissertation; thanks for asking." She laughs and says "No, I mean my other baby." Then I say something to the effect of "My baby is doing well." I then try to change the subject. Another good friend constantly refers to the baby as "our baby," which annoys C as much as it does me. He recently asked me if this friend (who truly is one of our best friends in the world) played some part in the conception that he didn't know about.

I understand that people are happy and excited and anticipating the birth almost as much as we are, but come on! This person hasn't shared your body for the past 9 months! You had no part in creating this life form, unless you have some power over my body I know nothing about.

Obviously, I'm getting a bit cranky. Things that ordinarily wouldn't bother me are really annoying me this week. I would really love to write a thoughtful, intellectual post on the public nature of pregnancy and the intimate relationships that people already believe they have with our child, but I just don't have it in me.

Don't ask me these annoying questions

I have 2 weeks until my due date, and I am more than ready to be done with pregnancy for a while. For the most part, I've enjoyed being pregnant, until recently. I've been having contractions regularly for over a week now, and twice they've become so regular that we've gotten all ready to go to the hospital, and then, as if our unborn child were saying "Na-na-a-boo-boo" to us, the contractions stop. What hasn't stopped, however, are the inane questions from people, generally acquaintances and relative strangers. So I've decided to make a list of questions that no pregnant woman in her 9th month of pregnancy wants to be asked.

1. Are you ready to pop yet? Um, no, I'm not ready to pop, but I am ready to give birth. And thanks so much for taking the opportunity to remind me I look like a house.
2. How are you feeling? I'm 9 months pregnant--my hands and feet are swollen, my back hurts, my hips hurt, and I now waddle; how do you think I feel?
3. Are you prepared for labor? Based on my decision to go unmedicated, I can't even acknowledge this question without having to answer a whole bunch more annoying questions.
4. Are you ready for the baby? I have no idea what the appropriate response is to this question. I know it's just meant to be conversational, but for some reason I find it very invasive. I mean, are you every fully prepared for a life-changing event?
5. Isn't this just the happiest time in your life? Well, yes and no. Having a child isn't the only thing that's going on in our lives right now, but I've generally found that people don't want to hear about dissertation dilemmas, dying fathers-in-law, mentally ill mothers, or job searches when we could be talking about the baby.
6. When are you due? Again, I know this is a simple question meant to generate conversation, but after answering it about a billion times, I'm ready to have a t-shirt printed up with my due date on it. I will, of course, wear the t-shirt 24-7 so that I no longer have to answer this question.
7. Can you do (fill in the blank)? Well, I'm pregnant, not helpless, so chances are, yes, I can do whatever needs to be done. It may take me longer and I may look awkward doing it, but I probably can get it done.
8. How are you sleeping? Again, I'm 9 months pregnant. Turning over in bed is a production, and I have to pee every 2 hours. How do you think I'm sleeping?
9. Have you had that baby yet? This particular question typically comes from family and friends who do not see me regularly. I generally try to laugh or express some humor, but I really want to say, no, damn it! I haven't had the baby yet, and because of that incredibly stupid question, you just got moved down to the bottom of the list of people to be notified when I do have the baby.

I feel quite certain I could come up many more equally annoying questions, but these top my list right now.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Finally, some news about men, childbirth, and age

Let me start off by saying that I do not see what I'm about to write about as good news by any means. It's troubling and upsetting, especially for couples seeking to have children later in life. That said, I must admit that I find it reassuring to know that the media actually publishes articles about men, childbirth, and age: "Miscarriage risk may rise with men's age." After reading countless studies discussing women's increased infertility and the increased risk of miscarriage or having a child with birth defects as they age, I am glad to know that the medical community decided to research the affects of men's age on having children. Dare I dream that at some point in the future someone will write a book or even a long article about how men need to hurry up and have babies while they are still young rather than pursuing their careers first?

Breastfeeding as a lifestyle

My good friend, Sarah, who blogs at Mommy, Ph.D., and I have had several conversations regarding the benefits of breastfeeding. Sarah has frequently argued that many of the benefits associated with breastfeeding are more than likely due at least in part to the lifestyle choices typically made by breastfeeding mothers. I happen to agree. On average breastfeeding mothers are more health and exercise conscious, more concerned about the environment, and more likely to lead healthy lifestyles. Until now, a lot of this was simply speculation on our parts. I just read an article titled "Breast-feeding won't make your baby smarter" that seems to validate our argument.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Stupid, Stupid People

As an about-to-be-nursing mother, I feel compelled to respond (albeit belatedly) to the controversy surrounding a recent issue of BabyTalk magazine. A recent cover featuring a baby nursing, raised the ire of many, mainly, it seems, women. While I haven't begun nursing and, therefore, don't know how I'll feel about nursing in public myself, I am astounded by the number of people who continue to view breastfeeding as a sexual act. What is remotely sexual about feeding your child?

I have lots of friends who have nursed their children; some of them are comfortable nursing in public, some of them aren't. But I don't care whether they nurse in public or not, and I can't believe anyone else would either. In fact, it makes me more uncomfortable when a nursing friend leaves the room or goes to the car to nurse than it does to have the friend nurse in front of me. I don't want my friends to feel they can't feed their children in my presence; I'm much more concerned with their comfort than my own. The people who describe a breast that has a nursing baby attached to it as a sexual object seem to be missing the point of breastfeeding. It isn't erotic or sensual; it's necessary. I'm not bothered by C potentially seeing the breast of a nursing mother, and he's not bothered by another man potentially seeing my breast when I'm nursing.

The editor responded to the controversy by saying that "There's a huge Puritanical streak in Americans." Do we have to blame the Puritans for everything? As a scholar of 19th-century American literature, I know how influential the Puritans were (and continue to be) on American society, but we can't hold them accountable for all of our phobias. What about the Victorians? the politicians? the people who want to cover up nude statues? What about our own idiotic phobias about the human body? I feel certain (although I have no proof to back it up) the Puritans were more concerned with killing off the Quakers and Native Americans than they were with women breastfeeding in public.

Down with Shame

I ran across an article titled "Ms. to name women who had abortions" on MSNBC. I commend these brave, audacious women for publicly acknowledging a very private decision. I think if we could eliminate some of the stigma associated with abortion while realizing that women who choose to have abortions are not the heartless, callous monsters the Pro-lifers would have us believe we could make a lot strides for women. I have yet to understand how so many pro-lifers are also against gun control, claiming they have a constitutional right to bear arms but refusing to recognize that I have a constitutional right to control my body. There is a logical fallacy in arguing that abortions takes lives but guns don't.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Women and War

As I reading through my daily news sites, I came across an interesting article in Newsweek. Titled "Top of Her Class", the article focuses on the death of Emily Perez, a West Point graduate who was deployed to Iraq shortly after graduation. She was killed last month by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq. For the most part, this is a well written article, memorializing Perez, who seems to have been a wonderful young person, and praising the military's new willingness to accept women in combat roles.

As the daughter of a retired military man, I have always been interested in women's inclusion and participation in the military. My father and I have often debated to what extent women should be included in the military. I've always been clear on my position: women should be included as fully as men, including being drafted if the draft were ever to be reinstated. My father disagrees; he views women as important in support positions, but he sees them as a potential liability on the battlefield. Recently, I've begun to wonder why military women have been largely excluded from media coverage of the war. Aside from Jessica Lynch, General Janis Karpiniski (who was in charge of Abu Ghraib prison), and Lyndie Englund, we've heard very little about women's military roles in Iraq or Afghanistan. Then I come across this article.

On one level, the article is, as I already noted, a great tribute to a good soldier and a wonderful human being. On another level, it is also dismissive of women's roles in our society and the war. One sentence in particular bothers me: "Although in some circles the unprecedented role women are playing in combat zones is still contentious, the real surprise is how easily we've come to accept women's fighting and dying in war--and, with an overstretchedd military, how indispensable they've become." This sentence bothers me not because I question its validity; rather it bothers me because of the way the author uses the word indispensable. I don't think we've come to view women as indispensable to the war in Iraq. I think we've begun to view all life as dispensable--and by "we" I mean our government. What bothers me about this article (and the reality of the war itself) is that women are becoming indispensable to the fight because we haven't been able to control the violence. By and large, women aren't viewed as essential because they are good soldiers or because they are proving themselves in tougher roles and under impossible circumstances. To be blunt, women are needed because men continue to die. More than three years after the start of the war, we are still fighting on a daily basis, and we're fighting an enemy we can neither fully identify nor fully understand. American soldiers continue to die at the rate of 10 or more a week, and countless Iraqis have lost their lives. I'm troubled by the implication that women are achieving equality when in reality all life, regardless of sex or gender, is being viewed as expendable in the name of winning "the war on terror." I don't think that is what our foremothers had in mind when they began fighting for women's rights as early as the 18th century.

I applaud soldiers like Emily Perez, who clearly believed in what she was doing, but I question our government's willingness to sacrifice its brightest young people simply our prove a point. I am also angry at our media for implying that Perez's death is a sign of women's growing equality when it is little more than a sign that we still don't know what we're doing over there.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mama(e) in Translation

The more I blog (and admittedly I don't blog all that much), the more I've started wondering around in the blogging world. Here is a blog of another academic mother that I particularly enjoy: Mama(e) in Translation. She reminds me that I can manage to have a baby, a relationship, and an academic career.

Proposal Complete!

I have sent a complete draft of my proposal to my advisor! Now I must wait for her comments, and then, make the changes she suggests. I hope to send it to the rest of my committee by the end of the week. I also hope that I can come up with a decent title for my dissertation during that time.