Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Is it Suburban Spaces that Create the Problem?

CNN today has spent a great deal of its coverage on where we are two years after Hurricane Katrina. I have been listening to discussions of how well the President has made good on his promise to rebuild NOLA, how well Mayor Nagin is taking care of its citizens, how bad off the lower Ninth Ward continues to be and so on. Katrina continues to highlight the best and worst of American citizens; it introduced us to countless heroes while also underlying how poorly government addresses the plight of the poor. Katrina also reminded us of how much further we need to go before we can consider ourselves a color-blind society.

In one of the broadcasts, I caught Mayor Nagin say something that has stuck in my head for the last hour. It went something like this: "A city is only as strong as its people." That got me thinking a lot about an article that I read in graduate school by Iris Marion Young--I forgot the title--about how the city is an ideal space for imagining a community that not only handles difference, but thrives on it. (Maybe someone out there knows the title).

One of the more interesting points emerging out of the heated debates from my posts on social space and families with children is how much of our social spaces are commercial spaces. This is really true in suburbs, where you find a more homogeneous population in general. Dean Dad pointed out in the comments of my second post on social space and children that many folks, who have children or not, are willing to pay high taxes to fund their local schools in order to keep their property values up. This practice has the effect of keeping out a great deal of people who cannot afford to live in the suburbs. Hence, growing up in suburbia, like many of my students do (and I did!), leaves you with a skewed perspective on how widely people differ in how they live their lives. There is not a whole lot of diversity in suburbia.

I think that Young was onto something in thinking of the city--and I am sure she had Manhattan in mind--as the ideal form of social space that can teach more than mere tolerance of difference, but can inspire people to embrace it. Now, of course she was idealizing the city, and hell, few people can afford to live in Manhattan anymore anyway. But, I do think that urban places are far more capable of embracing difference--whether that includes Muslims, Gay couples, families with tiny children, childfree folks, Fundamentalist Mormons, Latinos, recent immigrants, etc. . . Urban spaces are more eclectic and accommodating. They have to be because there are so many different kinds of people in those spaces.

Perhaps the root of the problem of spaces is the manufacturing of suburban spaces?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gray Rape??!!??: Stop Reading Cosmo!

Echidne and Shakes led me to a post from Cosmopolitan, entitled "Shade of Gray Rape." First of all, the very notion of "gray" rape makes no sense (which Echidne points out). It is either rape or it isn't--there are no shades of gray on this one. Here is the text of this column:

True story that I wrote in three minutes because that's exactly how much time I felt like dwelling on it: this one time about nine years ago I got locked out of my house and went home with some vaguely smarmy hair-product using type from my ex-boyfriend's frat. I had slept with maybe two or three guys prior to that -- it was the summer between sophomore and junior year of college -- so when he, after about a half hour of fooling around, put on a condom I was like, "Whooooah, what are you doing?" But I'd had two forties and I kept drifting in and out of consciousness -- my tolerance, obviously, wasn't what it is today -- and I woke up to find him sticking it in. I'd said 'no' a bunch of times and when I came to I just froze, stopped, turned over and slept. In the morning I chewed him out (by informing him I wasn't putting him on "my list" -- oh no she didn't!) and after that he kissed my ass so liberally I thought he might have learned from it.

But then in Israel I saw this other girl who used to hook up with him and she assured me he remains a douchebag, only now one that practices medicine in New York. Anyway, I sure hope he saves some lives, and I remember that sexual experience a little more vividly than most of the consensual sexual experiences I've undergone in a similar state of intoxication, but neither sentiment makes it RAPE, does it? It's something, "date rape" I guess, but it's not rape unless I say it was, right?

All of which is a poignant, personal way of alerting you to the fact that Cosmo has come up with a new name for this kind of nonviolent collegiate date-rape sort of happening: gray rape.

And some feminists are angry, and they've launched a letter-writing campaign about it, though if you're reading Cosmo for purposes other than to revel in its unique special brand of inanity you have bigger issues with your sexual identity than what to call that time you fucked that guy you didn't really want to fuck. I'm not sure what to think about any of this, because while Laura Session Stepp (the writer of the Cosmo story) is a tool, reading the individual stories of "gray rape" victims that so closely mirrored my own -- they got too drunk! they said no, but then they passed out! when they realized they were having sex, they stopped! -- I felt absolutely nothing. It was one drunken regrettable night. One of so, so many more to come. And I have found that when a guy demeans you in a drunken state, it is more likely to stick with you and haunt you if you give anything resembling a shit about his opinion.

And come to think about it, how gross do you have to be to fuck someone when it's, like, three Goldschlager body shots away from being necrophilia?

Shakespeare's Sis tackles how messed up this. Here is her response to the piece:

1. Waking up "to find him sticking it in" after having said no "a bunch of times" is rape. It is not "fuck[ing] that guy you didn't really want to fuck." It is not "gray rape." It is rape, which is defined by a lack of consent.

2. It doesn't matter if the situation wherein a dude "sticks it in" without consent is "nonviolent" and/or "collegiate." Rape is not determined by the existence of force, but the nonexistence of consent.

3. "I remember that sexual experience a little more vividly than most of the consensual sexual experiences I've undergone in a similar state of intoxication, but neither sentiment makes it RAPE, does it?"—No, your lack of consent makes it rape.

4. "It's something, 'date rape' I guess, but it's not rape unless I say it was, right?"—Wrong. If you didn't give your consent, and especially if you said no "a bunch of times" and then fell asleep, then it was rape. And it really, really doesn't matter if you inform your rapist that you're not putting him on 'your list,' or if he kisses your ass the next day, or if you've "found that when a guy demeans you in a drunken state, it is more likely to stick with you and haunt you if you give anything resembling a shit about his opinion." You were still raped.

5. "And come to think about it, how gross do you have to be to fuck someone when it's, like, three Goldschlager body shots away from being necrophilia?"—Someone who does that isn't gross; someone who does that is a rapist.

All right. I'm done. I can't say anything I haven't said before about a thousand times, most relevantly here.

Except maybe this: I'm pissed that the woman who wrote the Jezebel piece has decided to go after feminists who are angry about the original "gray rape" piece in Cosmo, sniffing: "[I]f you're reading Cosmo for purposes other than to revel in its unique special brand of inanity you have bigger issues with your sexual identity than what to call that time you fucked that guy you didn't really want to fuck."

But I also feel profoundly sorry for her, because I've rarely seen an example of a woman so desperate to dissociate herself from the stigma of rape, so willing to engage in such pitiable semantic gymnastics to redefine a rape as something else, so clearly resolved to the notion that to admit victimization is to admit weakness.

And that's why this silly, contemptible feminist spends so much of her time blogging about sexual assault, saying over and over that to be a survivor of rape does not have to mean shame and brokenness and guilt, that it is brave, not weak, to say, plainly: "I was raped."

While I think Shakes has said all there really is to say on this post, I wanted to put it up here because I know that students read my blog and I also know that many of my female students read Cosmo. I am hoping that those who read Cosmo find this to be an unfortunate concept--gray rape--especially since many women have agitated for a long time on campus to deal better with date rape. The most troubling part of this post is that it starts to create a narrative that young women can adopt that "it isn't rape unless I say it is rape."

The attraction of this narrative for the Cosmo reader, I guess, is that no one will call you a femi-nazi and you can stay popular with the frat guy scene. It is true that if you call a rape what it is then you will suffer; it is certainly fucked up that you will suffer. If it is a fraternity rape, you will see fraternity brothers circling the wagon and challenging your story. You will see your reputation be shattered and you might even lose some of your female friends who side with the men. It is always amazing to me how much fraternity men have power on my campus. They aren't necessarily the brightest and most promising students, but they own the houses where partying occurs and this puts them at the top of the social hierarchy on campus. If you don't want to be socially ostracized, then, well you better not be accusing them of rape.

As Shakes says, saying you were raped is brave.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Uh Oh, Dare I Go Here Again?

Well, if I haven't already kicked up enough dust over my post from Saturday, "No Children Allowed," I thought I would continue the dialogue (or rant?) today. I think it is safe to say that folks with children read the comments differently than childFREE people. Some themes emerged in the comments worth talking about some more. For example, there were several mentions of children who are ill-mannered and the blame put wholly (at least that was how I read it) on the parents for this behavior. The idea is, sure, bring your kids out as long as you have disciplined them to behave like little adults.

I can guarantee you that most parents who saw these comments rolled their eyes, at a minimum, or wanted to curse out the jack ass who implied such things. Look, no one is going to deny that there are bad parents out there with ill-mannered kids. But putting that point aside, it is damn near impossible to expect a child, especially one as young as mine!, to behave well in public. They are not adults. Depending on their age, their neurological development is still underway and so they cannot be expected to sit quietly and speak in soft tones. Even the best behaved toddlers are going to have flare ups for goodness sake. Maybe they have missed a nap or maybe they don't feel well or maybe they are just having an off day. After all, I can think of lots of adults who behave badly in the same public spaces that we want to be childFREE. What about an annoying drunk who thinks its O.K. to park himself at your table because, you are single women out in a bar/restaurant. What about a spoiled rich bitch who commands everyone in the room to do exactly what she wants or she'll pitch a fit.

As someone pointed out in the comments, when you step into public space--commercial or not--you cannot expect to be free from hassles, difficult people, or god forbid, children who are staring you down while you eat.

But, what interests me most about this discussion is how incongruous these sentiments are with what I think are the politics of these people. For example, if you were to take your grandmother to a restaurant, and she has advanced dementia, and might wander off and sit at someone elses' table by accident, are you a bad granddaughter who refuses to respect dementia-grandmother-FREE people? What if your brother has Tourette syndrome and unfortunately says some unsavory things within earshot of another couple in the cafe you stopped in to buy him water? It seems odd to me that is perfectly reasonable to criticize parents for bringing their ill-mannered children out and spoiling an evening for the childFREE, but these same folks--I am willing to bet--would never voice such criticism about people willing to step into public/commercial space with their Tourette Syndrome brother.

What is that all about? Seriously.

You see, if you know, like most parents do, that you cannot be 100% sure that your child will be a perfect angel in public, then the only space that you can enter and not feel like an asshole is places set up for children, your house, or the homes of friends who have children. Your mobility is limited.

The other theme that emerged was paying taxes for the school district was a way of taking part in raising children. Yes, that is true. If you are a property owner, you pay taxes for the school district in your neighborhood. But I think we all know that our tax dollars for local public schools are useful, only if we can afford to live in a very expensive school district and pay extraordinarily high taxes. This is why, perhaps, so many idiots took out subprime loans to buy houses they couldn't afford so they could send their kid to a quality public school. If you own property in a less than high dollar locale, then your tax dollars are probably not doing much for the children in your neighborhood.

But I find it odd to hear people patting themselves on their back for paying taxes for school districts and thereby assuming they have done enough for the common good. Again, since I was really sort of bewildered by progressives, I just find it odd that folks willing to fight for social security, who want universal health care and other protectionist policies for U.S. workers, would suddenly take a sort of cynical attitude toward paying taxes toward public education. If we don't pay for public education, then we are all worse off.

What I do agree with is the view that we should be responsible about how many children we have and whether not we can provide for them. This is an important point and hence why I am passionate advocate of reproductive rights for women. I also think that it is the right thing to do for the planet.

Alright, let's hear your retorts . . .

Saturday, August 25, 2007

No Children Allowed!

Last year I wrote a post describing how family--child-friendly, really--New Paltz, NY was. I thought of that post last night as I was musing over this post as I was trying to intellectually wrestle with the reality of feminists (or progressives in general) who have little sympathy for families. That might not be the way they see their position, but the comments I have seen on my blog or elsewhere think of children as a "choice" for which the parents alone are responsible. The worldview is something like this: the fact that families are often strapped for cash, time, and sanity are regrettable facts, but--hey--only those who choose to have children are responsible, not the rest of us who have chosen a child-free existence.

Another iteration of this view is that women who stay at home, and therefore lose wages and future social security and retirement, have made that "choice" and its their own fault if they end up destitute because their spouse left them.

I never shared these views before having Maddie, but I am even more blown away by the reasoning now than ever. I am struggling to understand what about this radical individualism that I don't like. One could argue that I, like most people after children, have transformed from a liberal to a communitarian. But, I doubt that is the explanation. Maybe part, but not all. I still value liberalism and think it is a more sane political philosophy for dealing with difference without demanding too much compromise of ones' values or identity. Liberalism, furthermore, is not mutually exclusive with valuing families and children. I think any rendering of liberalism (especially the radical individualist views of many anti-child/family progressives) that considers parents alone responsible for all the "burdens" of child rearing is bad thinking.

So, what's the problem? How is it that otherwise good lefties can be so insensitive to the plights of families--whether those families be Republicans or Democrats? So part of my answer lies in the way we construct public space--hence, why I thought of my post on New Paltz wherein I praised how all of the business in the downtown were tolerant of children, but took pains to find ways to make them as welcome as possible. The next public space I thought of was my campus. I brought Maddie with me to campus on Friday and was amazed by how many other colleagues had their children with them and how welcoming and excitied the community was about the arrival of my daughter. A new colleague asked what people would think if he brought his 15 year old son to campus--let him sit in on classes or use the facilities--and I answered unhesitatingly that his son would be welcomed open arms. My workplace is not just tolerant of children, but thrives on the fact that employees incorporate their families into the fabric of this workplace. But, New Paltz and my campus are exceptions.

Most public space in the United States is intolerant of children. Squawking babies annoy customers in restaurants, patients in waiting rooms, etc. Many establishments are expressly not for families to frequent--loud music, smoke and happy hours. Very few workplaces would allow an employee to bring his or her children with them to work. You get the picture. When you have a tiny infant, like I do, it takes a lot of psychological work to get up the nerve to go out and enjoy public spaces--gosh, maybe I am talking about commercial spaces?--without caring about the dirty looks and sighs from people who can't stand your infant's cries.

But, certainly, there are many cultures that carve up public space much differently than we do. Some workplaces, in other parts of the world, are brimming with children and people holding babies. The culture embraces children and doesn't set up a strong demarcation between public and private. You see, how we inhabit public space does a lot to teach us about how we should expect to live. If you have children, expect to give up many of your enjoyments and ease in public spaces. If you don't have children, continue to have much freedom of movement. If you have children, don't expect others to delight in them, hold them, or wish your presence when you are with them. If you don't have children, you don't have to ever be bothered with them or take part in the educating of them.

This is unfortunate. I can see why it continues. How we cut up space makes it possible for many people to choose to be totally unencumbered. They are permitted and in some ways rewarded for staying childless. Again, this is unfortunate.

What are your thoughts on this anti-children/family wing of the lefties?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Notes from the Prozac Nation, Vol.1, No. 6

  • Kurt Cobain's cousin writes a helpful book for depressed teens.
  • Returning U.S. vets succumbing to depression. Is this really a surprise? However the results of a study of 168 returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq focuses on how their depression affects the family, including higher incidents of abuse.
  • The intersection of masculinity and psychopharmacology. Check out this interesting blog entry on what it means for men to seek help for depression and take medication.
  • An exquisite philosophical reflection on what depression means. Of course leave it to melancholic philosophers to have really smart things to say about the complicated nature of depression as well as voice ambivalence toward SSRIs. Here is a sample:
    "Whether we are going to speak about a tortured soul or about a defective brain seems to depend mostly on the rhetorical purpose at hand. Students hoping to be excused from some responsibility or other have learned to talk the medical talk very skillfully: how can a mere Ph.D. in philosophy, they seem to be saying to me, possibly argue with a medical note from a real doctor? We're talking about an illness here, not some fleeting mood. Doctors take on the social role of magicians, able to transfigure any procrastinating or hard-partying adolescent into a special kind of creature --a depressive, a manic-depressive, an obsessive compulsive, a sufferer from attention deficit disorder-- usually with nothing more than the most perfunctory speech act. I am not saying these categories do not exist (at least as far as the first three are concerned). Indeed, I have claimed some of them for myself. But I doubt that their reduction to medical conditions like any other is what best helps us to understand them, or to live with them."
  • 7 Facts About Antidepressants the Pharmaceutical Company Don't Want You to Know. Gregory Park dispels common misconceptions about SSRIs and what they do and don't do.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ain't Nothing All That Useful About Anxiety

I have been thinking a lot today about anxiety. I can do that because, for whatever miracle, I am not experiencing anxiety lately. This melancholic feminista has always suffered more from anxiety than profound depression. Don't get me wrong; I've had my bouts with depression too. But, anxiety is my more regular companion--and not a nice one.

What really bothers me about anxiety is that it makes all of your problems seem equally dire and you cannot sort out what is worth dealing with and what can be handled. You wake up in the middle of the night and run through everything on your never-ending "To Do" list. Once I have thoroughly stressed myself out with all of the things I haven't done, I start to worry about the world, my friends, how effective I am at my job, yada . . yada . . . yada.

Anxiety makes us worry, but it doesn't do a whole lot more than that. I have never actually crossed things off my list thanks to anxiety. Usually, anxiety just backs me up in a corner of my house and I wish I hadn't quit smoking so that I could do something with all that nervous worry. Anxiety colors the world black and convinces you that whatever jam you're in now, it will only get worse and worse and worse until you cannot fix it anymore.

Anxiety also messes with time (see my post about this from last week). You feel hopelessly locked into a bleak future, totally bypassing the present moment. When this happens, I start needing someone to rescue me, preferably my mother. But, I never get up the courage to ask her to rescue me and so I just stay stuck in anxiety.

So, what amazes me, is how effectively psychopharmacology can quash anxiety. Maybe it doesn't work for all people, but in my experience, it always works. And, hence, this is why I am so obsessed with Prozac and enhancement.

Before the advent of SSRI drugs, anxiety had a deep, meaningful role to play in human society. Martin Heidegger, for example, argued that anxiety is what forces all human beings to confront their mortality. Anxiety, for the existentialists, forces us to consider what makes a life meaningful.

I used to love all of that stuff because, after all, I was a girl haunted and crippled by anxiety. Why not elevate it to some important status so that I could feel better about feeling crummy much of the time.

But, Zoloft took that all away for me, years ago while I was still in graduate school. I went from being a brooding, intense Heideggerean to a more carefree, perhaps less deep, feminist theorist. I was less interested in what profound insights I would get from my states of anxiety. If taking Zoloft and the even-temperedness it brought on amounts to "enhancing" my natural state, then so be it. Since, anxiety was not producing for me; it was making me both narcissistic and solipsistic. My medicated self was much better at handling the inevitable stresses of life and I got along a lot better with everyone else.

What caused the anxiety didn't go away. I just didn't care as much about the problems. I just decided to deal with what was in front of me and be in the moment. Maybe it made me less reflective about my life, or maybe it helped me refine what really needed attending to and what was just gumming up the works.

What do y'all think about the role of anxiety in your lives?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Anti-Contraception Activism on the Rise

Via feministing, I discovered this Baltimore Sun piece by Cristina Page, "The Quiet Campaign Against Birth Control." I have to say, I am beyond disturbed to think that there is a growing anti-contraception activism among Republican candidates trying to woo the fundamentalist base. Page writes:

The American public is unaware of the new wave of anti-contraception activism by opponents of abortion, which makes it much easier for politicians to appease the anti-contraception base. Take, for example, President Bush. While he has delivered some big anti-abortion victories for the religious right in the last seven years (Supreme Court Justices John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., and the so-called partial-birth abortion ban), anti-contraception work has taken up more of his energy. He attempted to strip contraceptive coverage for federal employees; appointed anti-birth control leader David Hager to the FDA panel that approves and expands access to contraceptive methods; chose another contraception opponent to oversee the nation's contraceptive program for the poor; defunded international family-planning programs, and invested unprecedented sums into sex-ed programs that prohibit mention of contraception.

For now, the candidates vying for the Right to Life endorsement are doing their best to avoid directly answering mainstream voters' simple questions on the subject, such as, "Do you support couples having access to safe and effective birth control options, including emergency contraception?" Considering that even 80 percent of self-described "pro-life" voters and a majority of Republican voters strongly support contraception, it's no wonder why.

The "principle" that compels these politicians to jump on the anti-contraception activism bandwagon is the protection of life. Of course, any careful thinker will tell you that you need to define your terms, when does life begin. For this set, life begins the minute a sperm fertilizes an egg, which means that certainly Plan B is out and other contraception is soon to follow, since Plan B acts like other forms of birth control, like the pill. The medical community, however, defines the beginning of life at implantation, which makes plain that birth control is not morally equivalent to an abortion.

Now, I could sit here and quibble about all of these definitions of when life begins and when birth control becomes indistinguishable from abortion, but I have a life. Instead, what I want to shout out to all of these bonehead candidates suggesting that we deprive the citizenry of birth control is that they are ensuring the continuation of poverty and child abuse.

Taking care of a children is difficult work that requires economic stability, wisdom, and psychological equanimity. If you don't possess these things, you are likely to do a really bad job parenting and thereby endanger the children and create future headaches for society. Children badly cared for are not likely to be model citizens, enriching our state. For an insight into the unbelieveably cruel things that bad parents can do to children, read this NYT article, "Creating a Village to Foster a Child."

The religious right has just plain gone bonkers in this country if it wants to go after contraception. When you strip away women's access to safe and legal abortions, teach abstinence to children in sex ed courses, and then try to get rid of access to birth control, then will it be any surprise that you end up with many unwanted, unloved, and therefore abused children? Moreover, you are likely to see more horror stories of women abandoning their newborns or seeking very risky abortions in back alleys.

But, let's remember, these politicians are all men. And, I would venture to guess that none of them have put much of their own time into doing the hard work of rearing children--that's what their womenfolk are for . . .

Monday, August 20, 2007

Melancholy Monday: Can't We Get Over These Silly Debates?

The SFChron has an important article up about that underlines a-nony-nony's comments that many (if not most) mothers do not have a "choice" to stay at home or go out and work. In fact, the two things that bug me most about this debate, which seems to turn into a cattiness most of the time I see it in action, is that it ignores (a) institutional factors that make parenting and work life quite difficult--if not impossible--to balance and (b) it ignores class.

When I was pregnant, I grew incensed over the "natural" childbirth crowd who guilted out women who bought into the technological birth. Now I am growing frustrated with the SAH moms who guilt out working moms. But, what is common to both of these, frankly, catty debates is that they are going on between rather well-off, white, educated women. They simply don't apply to the majority of women (hell people) on the globe. And yet, they take center stage in the media--in a way similar to ultra-thin supermodels representing 'normal' beauty--so that all women are caught up in these narrow debates, feeling like shit and ignoring what is really wrong with the world!

It makes me melancholy to think that I will be dodging these stupid debates for years to come, when I would rather be doing something more productive like raising awareness about the importance of altering work institutions to accommodate parents or joining campaigns to provide universal healthcare and alleviate crushing poverty. These 'Mommy Wars' are akin to what Noam Chomsky says sports are to politics, they distract us from the real issues.

I end with Maya Rupert's words:

Thanks to this continuing fight, women are buying into the false dichotomy that you can either work or be a good mother, but you can't do both well; and if you have to do both, by extension, there is no way for you to be a good enough mother.

The Mommy Wars can be won when we redefine victory. This will require more nuance than the conversation has thus far been given. This will require us to rethink what it means to be a good mother. The concession that good motherhood requires an abundance of time to spend at home with children overemphasizes quantity over quality and presents an incredibly simplistic view of motherhood, one that stacks the deck against lower-income moms.

Additionally, it will require us to abandon the very premise of the discussion, which is that child rearing is naturally the domain of women. We need to rethink fatherhood and seriously question why we still expect mothers to take responsibility for the bulk of child care. But none of this is going to happen until we reject the negative third-wave model of feminism that has erased class from the equation entirely, and start rebuilding the world that the Mommy Wars has destroyed.


Sing it sister!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

For What It's Worth: Some Notes on the Never-Ending Debate between Working Moms and Stay at Home Moms

I can't seem to shake the what-happens-to-your-identity-as-a-parent theme. I casually referred to the stay at home vs. working mum debate in my birthday post and invited some comment on what I might or might not regret about being a working mum. I have been thinking about this for a couple of days, discussing this with my other feminista working mum friends, and have a few more things to say . . .

First of all, it strikes me as odd that in the framing of the stay at home vs. working mum debate, the choice is always either/or. Either you choose your career and make that a priority or you choose your child(ren). You can't have more than one top priority and "choice"--the buzzword of liberalism--entails that you must choose against something else. This all-or-nothing framework is bizarre. It seems to me that having children entails, in part, forming a community and relationships that do not involve erasing one person in the equation. To relate to another human being does not, nor should not, entail total self-sacrifice or annihilation. Relating is fundamentally about intersubjectivity, which means that the child is both cherished, but also learns that the whole world does not revolve around her needs, but that she shares the world with others and everyone has needs; sometimes she needs to give others time and space to pursue their bliss.

Secondly, one of the important insights that feminism taught me was that women, and in particular, mothers are more than merely the suppliers of emotional and nutritional needs. Mothers are not merely their bodies, offered up for infants or spouses. Mothers are complex subjects, already enmeshed in relationships with the world. Many of those relationships and duties must be reshuffled and reprioritized at different periods of your child(ren)'s life (lives). Obviously, the demands of a newborn have led me to put most of my obligations, professional life, and friendships way on the back burner. As my daughter grows in independence, I will add more and more of those things back, but never again will my life be exactly the same. It now involves a family--a husband and a daughter--who are my community and who orient me in the world. But, to totally give your life over to either your children or your husband seems to spell disaster for not only the caregiver, but the children. If you aren't taking care of yourself, then you aren't going to be a good caretaker of others. Furthermore, why would you want to teach your children that being a mother or a parent means total self-abnegation?

Thirdly, how the working day is structured is the real problem, the real enemy--not the selfish working moms. I have a lot more flexibility than most people thanks to my career. I can spend time at home with my daughter during the day and not just the weekends. I spent a lot of time working to get such a career that would make it easier to balance work and life, but many people don't have that choice, nor does their career ambitions accomodate their need to sometimes work from home, or work at unusual hours to get things done so they can be there for their children. A lot of the working mom vs. stay at home mom debate would dissipate, I believe, if our institutions of work were structured to accomodate parents of children, rather than unencumbered selves.

Finally, why is it that in the venues I have visited where this debate is ranging on, no one guilts out the father for 'missing' all the precious moments of their child's life. When I see that the conversation is mostly women talking to women and not parents talking to parents, I have a problem. It suggests to me that what is being assumed in the conversation is that women are the best nurturers of their children, and fathers should provide the financial support to enable them to do their nurturing. This very outdated patriarchal notion does not sit well with this feminista. If we are going to be sad about missing special moments of our child's lives due to the difficulty of balancing our work and home life, then we should extend that concern to our husbands/partners.

Ok, that's what I got . . . now, what do you all think?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Notes from the Prozac Nation, Vol. 1, No. 5

  • Flushed SSRI pills impede development of frogs and fish. Many of us have heard that old birth control pills in the water supply are making a lot of female fishies, now there are reports of how our flushed SSRIs are affecting the ecosystem.
  • The debate over underdiagnosing or overdiagnosing of depression continues. This BBC article discusses a debate between two Australian psychiatrists in the BMJ over whether or not the criteria for depression are too inclusive. Gordon Parker says yes, while Ian Hickie claims that we are getting better at detecting depression early enough that we can prevent serious cases and suicides. Where do you stand on the issue? (H/T SteveG)
  • A depression pandemic among the elderly in Britain. The Telegraph reports that suicide rates among the elderly are up, particularly among women over 75. Many of these victims of depression are invisible since they still suffer from the stigma of depression and won't seek help.
  • Americans are mentally ill because they are godless and take pills. So sayeth our favorite right wing news source, WorldNetDaily, wherein the author insinuates that Andrea Yates drowned her children because she was on Effexor, while Eric Harris of Columbine was on Luvox. Moreover, David Kupelian argues that if we got right with God and got some counseling, we would see a whole lot less mental illness. (FWIW, Kupelian represents what I call the Psychopharmacological Calvinist position!)
  • Residents of Norwich (U.K.) are trading in their antidepressants for mountain climbing. Apparently Norwich is the "pill popping capital of Central England," so some citizens go together to combat this by starting a walking therapy program to combat mental illness. (I would want to know more about why? Is this an either/or sort of approach?)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Birthday Wish for Integration

Today is my birthday. I am 37 years old (I still can't believe that). I like to believe I look really young for my age, but that fantasy was shattered after I visited the lactation consultant a few weeks ago, who wanted to say--without judgement (ha!)--that had I given birth when I was younger, I wouldn't be as affected by the sleep deprivation (I doubt that!).

Anyway, this has been an amazing year. I got engaged, pregnant, married and then Maddie showed up. It's stunning how quickly your life can change once you find the person to grow old with and figure out he is a damn good person to parent a child with too.

What I think is the hard part of having children when you are older is that you have lived a long time without encumbrances. Moreoever, I have had almost complete control of my time for over a decade. I decided when I wanted to work, when I wanted to goof off, and when to sleep. None of those things are up to me now. So, at age 37 I have to learn how to start over.

Yesterday I caught an old Oprah show wherein she pitted the stay at home moms vs. the working moms. I found myself totally and completely alienated from the rather strident stay at home mothers who, in underhanded ways, accused working mothers of not making their children a priority or of being selfish.

Throughout the show I was wondering how I will get back to work. I already have people asking for abstracts, editing work and soliciting writing. I get excited about each of these opportunities and then remember that I may not find enough time to do any of these things. For me the issue is not should I go back to work, but rather, how to reorient my life so that I can both nurture, love and care for Maddie, while preserving my public, professional identity. Afterall, I want Maddie to be proud of what her mother does; hell, I want her to look up to me.

So, my birthday wish today is that you fine readers give me hope that I will be able to integrate my new identities--wife, mother, and professional.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Melancholy Monday: To Feel Present in Time

Once again, my melancholy monday post is going up late. I am confident, however, that my readers will bear with me as I adjust to my new "schedule." Yesterday, I drove my mom back to the airport and started paying attention to the huge trees lining the highway. As I spaced out, contemplating these massive trees, I was transported back to 2000, the year I had back surgery, way before Za and Maddy. My mom had come out to help me get through the recovery and nurse me through a depression that hit at the same time as my herniated disk wiped out the feeling in my left leg. The operation was successful and almost instantly restored feeling in my leg, but my spirits were still quite low and I was desperate for the school year to end so that I could just sit in my house all summer, hide and read.

These memories came flooding back because I remember looking at the same trees lining the highway and wishing that they would bloom. My operation was in late March and spring was taking its time. In fact, that was the crux of my depression, everything was moving so damn slow.

That is what happens when depression hits. Time starts to slow down to a crawl. Everyday seems endless, every minute is felt, hours drag on. Time seems to be one of the worst enemies of the depressed person, who foolishly holds onto the belief that "in time, all things will heal."

The non-depressed person, especially in this day and age, can't seem to find enough time. Time is fleeting and underlines how transient life is. How odd that we feel a sort of melancholy for time whizzing by us when we are well, while time only imprisons and tortures us when we are ill.

Right now I am sort of in-between states of wellness and illness. Time is both haltingly slow and rapidly flying by. The hours seem long, but the weeks fly by and my daughter is growing and changing, while I am rebelling at the changes she is forcing on me. I am trying to get lost in time, but I cannot because I am unmoored by this little tiny being who cannot get her own bearings in time.

Moreover, as I emerge from this in-between space and start living in sync with time again, I start wishing for it to slow down so I don't lose this moment. Depression is long, drawn out, days that move at a snail's pace. Regular life is a race through the day. Neither option seems to give us what we all really need: to feel present in time.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Notes from the Prozac Nation, Vol. 1, No. 4

  • Doping testing in sports hurts honest athletes. So claimed Julian Savulescu, the Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford in his lecture at the University of Sydney.
  • Antidepressants needed to deal with modern life. A humorist, Lynne Tolep, penned this essay in the wake of the report from the CDC that antidepressants are the most prescribed drug in the U.S. The essay reminded me of this hilarious 'newstory' from The Onion a few years back, 'Zoloft for Everything Ad Campaign.'
  • A new study by Spanish researchers suggest the future of tailor-made Antidepressants. Science Daily reports: "in a foreseeable future, scientists will be able to produce measures to predict response to antidepressants taking into account each individual's genotype, i. e. they will be able to design tailor-made drugs according to each person's genetic configuration and their exposure to environmental factors."
  • Too much girl talk makes teenage girls more depressed.
  • 1.5 million Saudis are depressed because of a breakdown in family values. Or so claims Dr. Parisa Saed Al-Hashem, a clinical psychologist. Refreshingly, what Dr. Parisa Saed Al-Hashem means by family values is not the same as our backward Republicans. She is concerned about domestic violence and other social abuse of women.
  • Who gave Insurance folks their M.D.s? Rosalie Greenberg has an interesting piece up at Huffington Post about how Insurance companies reject the prescriptions that doctors request for their patients.

Maddie's First Lesson in Ethics

While driving around doing errands with Mom and Maddie yesterday, a real asshole cut us off, coming within inches of the car. I instantly cussed out the bastard and gave him the finger. My mom, however, reminded me that I should get in the habit of not swearing so much, especially as Maddie gets older. She turned to Maddie and explained the following taxonomy of bad drivers.

Mom: Now Maddie, we call those drivers who are just clueless and don't know better, TURKEYS.

Maddie: Puzzled look. Burp.

Mom: But, we call drivers that know better but still persist in dangerous driving, JERKS because they are EVIL.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sizing Up the Wives

I got to spend an hour or so with two newspapers today at the local coffeeshop while Maddie slept. The front page of the WaPo leads with a story about Jeri Thompson, who she is, how she met Fred, and how she got her start in Republican politics. The story is slightly critical of her past--unpaid fines, lack of direction, nepotism, etc--anticipating how the "values" voter crowd is going to like her as a possible first lady. I then switched to the NYTimes, which focused more on Judith Guiliani. Here we have a love affair that started as an affair affair. Mrs. Guiliani has been married more than once (oh, the horror!) and loves to shop. How will Judith appeal to the same "values" voters.

I have to admit that I take some pleasure in these unfortunate pieces on the political wives of the Republican front runners. While the Judith might want to style herself on Laura Bush, I don't see. I also don't see either of these women upholding the high moral ground of the holy rollers, who like to see their women silent, submissive, and spotless.

I just don't see how a Republican can get elected President in '08. Rove's strategy to court the evangelical and social conservative "values" voters will not serve a moderate like Giuliani well, nor will Jeri Thompson inspire wifely duty needed to shore up the bible thumpers vote for her husband Fred. Link

Thursday, August 02, 2007

When Mourning is Not Appropriate

It's been a slow week on my blog, I know. All of the family have left, Za is back at work, and so here I am facing the reality of my new life with Maddie. I realized today that Maddie is probably under-stimulated and bored now that so many family members have gone. She is a bit pouty that her Grandpa or Granna aren't bouncing her around and so, I discovered, a genius invention today: The Baby Bjorn. I can give her all the love she needs, while still trying to get some basic things done.

The interesting thing about being totally in the role of mother is how much I keep thinking that what I am going through is a little like boot camp. Whatever semblance of a person I was before, whatever pretensions I had of what I could accomplish, what I would like or prefer to do, is gone. Poof. I am being broken down--devasted really--to be completely rebuilt. Hopefully stronger and wiser. But, my memory of the old me--both body memory and self-perception--hasn't quite gotten the memo. I wake up from a 20 minute nap and realize that my time, my needs, my identity are no longer what rules my life. To make it worse, I keep thinking that I can beat the odds; I can somehow be the person who can hold onto her former self despite the total, all-consuming demands made on me by my daughter.

A wise, wise woman told me today that I have to just surrender; I have to embrace this new me and let go of who I was before. My former self is gone and there is no retrieving her. Mourning that woman is a waste of energy because someone marvelous and mysterious has been born in her place. We mourn when it is important to mark the passing of someone or something that was momentous in our life. Who I was before Maddie was, no doubt, formidable, but she did not die too soon or end tragically. She metamorphosed into this new self who I need to get to know and I cannot get to know if I spend too much time trying to retrieve what is gone and what I chose to banish.