Thursday, February 16, 2012

Happy Parentine's Day!

Having kids affects your romantic life in myriad ways. Less time alone, more fear of noises (for what Kenneth on "30 Rock" calls "grunting naps"), exhaustion, and becoming more mommy and daddy (or mommy and mommy or daddy and daddy or just mom or just dad) than the sexy individuals you once imagined yourselves to be.

Valentine's Day, in the context of family, is party about the kids -- getting them cards, gifts and chocolates, helping them make their Valentines and making sure they get one for their other parent. But you try to hold on to a little space for Valentine's to be about you as a couple. At worst, this devolves into stereotypical roles -- the guy brings flowers or candy or an expensive piece of jewelry and the woman accepts these gifts. The gendering plays out in ads, which always hail the man as the giver and the woman as recipient and always suggest that Valentine's Day is a test for the man, that if he fails to please his woman he will have hell to pay (or, as many have noted regarding a Telaflora Superbowl ad, they suggest that he better pony up if he wants any sex, ever). Even the President reminded men on Tuesday that it was Valentine's Day, made some typical joke about how he learned his lesson after forgetting once, and suggested to men that they "go big."

I actually got engaged on Valentine's Day, as hokey as that is. So my husband and I regard it as a sort of anniversary. This year, to celebrate, I ordered fresh lobster and clam chowder from Plymouth, MA, where some of my family lives. I thought this would be a lovely gesture -- a great meal with a little Annie Hall whimsy thrown in as we would laugh and chase live lobsters round the kitchen. So, imagine my surprise when my husband called me as I was commuting home from Indiana to tell me there was a problem. I thought perhaps the Fed Ex box had not arrived. No, it had arrived. But my son had discovered that the lobster were alive which meant that we were going to kill them. Now, understand, my son loves food and loves meat. He even cooks meat. The night before Valentine's Day, he cooked our dinner (a scheme I adopted from a NY Times article I'd read in which each of my kids plans and cooks a meal each week, even doing the chopping and sauteing themselves.) He made a pasta with sausage, slipped the sausage out of its casing and put it in the pan. He eats soft boiled eggs. He is not squeamish. But he can get sentimental. Once, after eating a rabbit stew and loving it, he found out it was rabbit and wept for hours. So, the lobster set him off. He began sobbing as soon as my husband picked him up from school, and continued off and on for hours until I got home.

When I got home, both kids were snuffling upstairs, asking if I was going to kill the lobsters, "Can't we keep them as pets?" I explained that even if we didn't eat them, they would die, that there was nowhere to take them, and that all the meat we eat required killing. My son accepted this, he said,. It was just the idea of US doing the killing that bothered him. (Okay, Michael Pollan, yes, I get it.)

We reached what I thought was a detente in which we would kill the lobster out of his sight but eat together as a family (his sister eating the chowder, him eating some pizza, as he does not like lobster or chowder). We cooked the lobster, less whimsically than I might have hoped, due to the anxiety leading up to it. I took a few pictures but it was felt less like documenting our Annie Hall moment than Abu Ghraib. Then we settled down to eat. My son sat with us for salad, but when the lobster arrived, he burst into tears and went upstairs. His sister followed and my husband and I ate our dinner alone. We got some solo time but it was not the bells and whistles of sexy non-parents, just the depressed after effects of traumatizing our children. So much for romance.

The next night, my son happily ate lamb burgers.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My job, my pill

Right now, we are in the midst of a national debate about whether the administration overstepped in demanding that Catholic institutions provide birth control to women who work for them. I work at a catholic university. I opted to get my health care through my husband's business years ago, in large part because I was fed up with paying exorbitant out of pocket prices for birth control.

The right wants you to think that it is about religious freedom. It is, but freedom is not a one way street. It is about acknowledging that not everyone who attends a Catholic school, works at a Catholic hospital, or teaches at a Catholic university is a practicing Catholic. Catholic institutions have non-discrimination policies in place and allow for religious freedom within the institution. This is about the religious freedom of those who do NOT want to follow Catholic church guidelines, then.

Let's be clear. Catholic women who choose not to use birth control are not being forced. Nobody is saying that priests have to hand our pills in church.

Rather, this is about health care coverage and women's access to health care. It is about allowing women who work and study at Catholic institutions to have access to perfectly legal drugs that they should be able to access like any other woman. It is about promoting wellness and giving women access to key tools that will hopefully prevent them from having to resort to abortions. And it is about money, about the church seeking ways to not pay for this.

The law is for all the gals at Catholic places of work who, Catholic or not, choose to use birth control. Many use it for family planning, some probably use it to allow a sex-filled single lifestyle, some use it to deal with hormonal imbalance, or other health issues. All have a legal right to it and none should have to pay insane amounts of money for it, like they are buying ingredients for their meth lab.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mothers of Sons

In my gender theory class, we have been reading some of the "oldies" -- Wollstonecraft, Stanton, De Beauvoir, Friedan, Orton, Angier, Wittig. They all have slightly different ideas about the hows and whys of female oppression, but they all agree that women are oppressed and it is men who do the oppressing. As I have said before, I love the clarity of early feminism, its ability to point a finger at an enemy and a victim. Of course, third wave feminism is less sanguine about enemies and victims and offers much more complex and contradictory pictures of the world. It is harder to call a contemporary feminist a man-hater but it is also harder to call her a feminist.

So, as we have been discussing the ideas about men in these theories in class, I have been thinking about whether I think men oppress women today. I mean, I do not doubt inequities and imbalances. But I tend to view these as structural, not individual. Still, the buck has to stop somewhere, right? And, as we know, the institutions that structure the patriarchy are themselves often run by men, so I know that while individual men seem to have changed a lot, men still by and large oppress women.

But then I look at my husband and son. Are they part of the problem or do they somehow escape the logic of the patriarchy? Wollstonecraft said that we were often blind to our oppression as a class because we focused on our individual relationships with individual men. And I am sure she is right. But a different way to think about it is that our awareness of ourselves as a class can help us help the individual men in our lives to change their ways, and hopefully help change those structures from the ground up. In my life, I know that my husband was already something of a feminist when we met, raised by a feminist mother, attached to two strong sisters, proud of his female family. But I know that as we have faced the changes and challenges of marriage and family he, like me, has been awakened to some of the imbalances, some of his own assumptions. I think he walks the walk more now than when he was younger.

My son is being raised by two feminists, then. And he grapples with gender issues all the time -- mostly trying to figure out why girls can have girl power and he cannot claim boy power, or recognizing that his sister can play video games, read graphic novels, use Legos, wear pants and other once-upon-a-time masculine pursuits whereas he has internalized some sense that his liking for cuddly toys, kitty cats and little Japanese figures might be seen as feminine, and therefore bad. He sees a woman working and a dad who cooks. He has a sister he admires. But what will happen as he gets older. Will the social pressure he already feels take control. Will he stop playing with those toys? Will he have to pretend to care about sports? Will he "man up" and lose his internal sense of fairness and equality? And what is my role? How do I shape him without warping him? I suppose that we will continue to talk about all of this, as we have done since he was little -- to acknowledge the ways it is hard to be a boy, but remind him of the tough history that girls have had, to acknowledge the distinction being his individual behavior and ideals of the patriarchy, but also to make him aware that while being a boy carries some responsibility, too, to change the system.