Blue Marble

We Over-Privileged Bitches Who Dare Not To Breastfeed

| Sun Mar. 15, 2009 11:29 AM EDT

My friend Hanna Rosin has such a deliciously subversive piece in the latest Atlantic that I've spent days over my witch's cauldron of a laptop diabolically trying to figure out which plums to excerpt for maximum outrage. The piece is called, (tee hee) The Case Against Breastfeeding. Pissed off yet? Good.

So, where to begin? What will most offend the tender sensibilities of MoJo's oh-so-progressive readers? How about this, the subhead?

In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice—it's a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?

Wha? I never miss Hanna's work, but this time, she had me at "instrument of misery." I just hope the drool doesn't crash my keyboard. The science behind 'breast is best' is bogus, just another conspiracy to keep those of us with vaginas barefoot and topless in public? Yes, as it turns out—the science is bogus. Can't tell that from, oh, what our pediatricians and 'lactation consultants' tell us, could we?

I only breastfed both my kids off and on, the first for about six months, the second for at most four. Why? There was a minor (though, with great effort fixable) health issue. But mostly it just felt so selfish. There was my then husband and my mom, both of whom had to sit there tapping their feet with lust to get at those luscious babies who spent most of their time latched onto me like lovely little leeches.

In the beginning, I pumped just so they could have that special feeding/bonding time with those precious bundles gripping so tightly with those little fingers. Truly—breastfeeding felt selfish. Which means that more or less subconsciously, I just didn't buy that they'd grow up to be hunchbacked mental deficients without my precious boob juice. There simply had to be too many other variables at play. I'm almost 50, so you know I wasn't breastfed, and I'm pretty smart and pretty healthy, like most folks of my generation. And remember—our parents drank and smoked the whole time (though not my mom. But it wasn't because she thought it would hurt us. Booze and cigs just were never her thing.)

 

My mom couldn't help me with the breastfeeding and, with my ineptitude, the little buggers hurt the hell out of me. I dutifully visited and revisited the lactation consultant but kept peppering her with questions about why formula was so bad, and how much mixing formula with breast milk might hurt them. Finally, she laid down the law:

"Look, I'm not here to tell you it's OK not to breastfeed, Debra."

I thought about that for a minute. Then said, "Fair enough." So I pumped less and less and joined the Enfamil crowd.

As Hanna admits in her piece, feeding time didn't feel any more special to me than any of the other hours I spent dreamily nibbling their toes and pretending to make stuffed animals dance. The time that was most special to me was, after eating, when they'd happily lose consciousness and burrow into my chest. So warm, so content, so secure. That time was sublime to me, that was when I felt most maternal. Breastfeeding was a time-consuming painful chore I didn't think worth it.

And when the folks in my tony, Ivy League crowd gave me the stink-eye as I whipped out a bottle, I just shrugged it off. When you have kids, the world is full of folks telling you you're doing it all wrong. But unless they're willing to walk the floor with my kids all night when they're sick, they can just suck it. Breastfeeding just wasn't high on my list of priorities in an over-stressed life. Besides, I had to work like a dog. Breastfeeding made a difficult career even more difficult, and something simply had to give.

Which gets me to the excerpt I'll leave you with, in hopes that you'll beat feet, in high dudgeon of course, to read the piece in full:

The Bitch in the House, published in 2002, reframed The Feminine Mystique for my generation of mothers. We were raised to expect that co-parenting was an attainable goal. But who were we kidding? Even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden shifts, in incremental, mostly unacknowledged ways, onto the woman. Breast-feeding plays a central role in the shift. In my set, no husband tells his wife that it is her womanly duty to stay home and nurse the child. Instead, both parents together weigh the evidence and then make a rational, informed decision that she should do so. Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick, and so on. Recently, my husband and I noticed that we had reached the age at which friends from high school and college now hold positions of serious power. When we went down the list, we had to work hard to find any women. Where had all our female friends strayed? Why had they disappeared during the years they’d had small children?
The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women's lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let's say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That's nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is "free," I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It's only free if a woman's time is worth nothing.
How dare she? What an awful woman! Her children should be taken away! Or, maybe, we should all just mind our own business.

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Feministing's Courtney E. Martin Guest Blogs on "Pole Dancers"

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 10:44 PM EDT

Guest blogger Courtney E. Martin is the book editor of the feminist blog Feministing.

After Debra Dickerson caricatures young women as pole dancing, attention-starved idiots, she then quips: "Harsh, you say? Uninformed? OK. Tell me exactly what today's feminists are doing for the struggle."

Glad you asked Debra, because it's clear you haven't had the benefit of knowing a real, live, breathing, thinking young woman and you're really missing out. Indeed, some of us like to blog about the political and social issues of the day (as it appears, do you). We actually see this as part of the struggle—an effort to speak on our own behalf about issues that affect us in a corporate conglomerated media landscape that too often trades in stereotypes like yours.

You write, "Blogging about your sex lives ain't exactly what we previous generations thought feminism was. We thought it was about taking it to the streets." At feministing, we get frequent emails from young women, often in isolated parts of the country, who read about sexual politics on our blog and get the courage to speak up about their rape or incest experiences, advocate for comprehensive sex ed in their schools, or come out to their parents and friends. We think that's profoundly feminist.

Outside of our media activism and public intellectual work, we're joyfully and dedicatedly going about all sorts of action to make women's and men's lives more just, equal, and authentic:

We are providing support and shelter for former teen prostitutes. We are training to be abortion providers and midwives and social workers. We are mentoring low income girls to write about their experiences. We are falling in love with feminist men and women and having our hearts broken and doing it all over again. We are running shelters for LGBTQ youth who have fallen through the cracks of a homophobic society. We are educating one another about STIs, STDs, and reproductive justice. We are doing community organizing. We are rebuilding New Orleans. We are going dancing all night with our girls. We are, indeed, protesting in the streets. We are starting organizations to provide support for women veterans of Iraq, 15 percent of whom have been sexually assaults. We are drinking beers on Saturday nights with our friends and talking about feminism. We are donating money to causes we believe in, voting for leaders we respect, getting political and media training. We are queering gender and getting sex change operations and delighting in our sexuality on a spectrum. We are dancing burlesque downtown to demonstrate our rejection of oppressive beauty standards and explore our sexuality on our own terms. We are writing op-eds. We are painting and break dancing and making documentary films and writing on one another's Facebook walls and refusing to let our friends date assholes and reinventing or rejecting marriage all together and speaking out at Take Back the Night and deluging corporate email accounts when they use sexist advertising. We are honoring our mothers and grandmothers with our wide-eyed, creative, tenacious spirits. We are feminism.

So that's just some of what we’re doing for the so-called struggle. How about you?

Courtney E. Martin is a writer, speaker, and teacher living in Brooklyn. You can read more about her work at courtneyemartin.com

Damming the Himalayas

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 6:51 PM EDT

A recent report by International Rivers details a rash of dam building projects in the world's most rugged and scenic mountain range:

Massive plans are underway in Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan to build several hundred dams in the region, with over 150,000 megawatts of additional capacity proposed in the next 20 years in the four countries. If all the planned capacity expansion materializes, the Himalayan region could possibly have the highest concentration of dams in the world.

It's almost certain that this will happen. Sometimes known as the "Third Pole," the Himalayas contain of 3,700 square kilometers of glacial ice, which is melting due to climate change and gushing down the slopes of the 14 tallest peaks in the world. South Asia's boom in population, economic output (which is surprisingly immune to the global downturn), and Western-funded carbon offset projects virtually insures that the forces of dam building will be almost as powerful as the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates.

Clearly the dams will export cheap and low-carbon electricity. But they will also displace hundreds of thousands of people, import hordes of culturally disruptive migrant laborers, wreck fisheries, and, maybe worst of all, breach in the likely event of an earthquake or climate-change-induced flood, unleashing a cascade of disasters. Novelist Arundhati Roy has eloquently opined against the Narmada dam project, though to little avail. We can only hope that the scenic Himalayas will fare better in the protective embrace of their poets.

Young Feminist Does Not Equal Pole Dancer

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 6:49 PM EDT
Some of the "young chicks" over at Feministing.com and RH Reality Check got fired up about Debra Dickerson's post on abortion providers, and weren't afraid to let us know. Check out the comments here and here. In the original post, Dickerson points out a New York Times article about the declining number of abortion providers. It's asserted that young feminists (male and female) are not making abortion services a priority, and as a result, abortion access in the future is endangered.

Firstly, I always take a New York Times trend piece with a rather huge grain of salt. These are the folks, after all, who brought us the Opt-Out Revolution and Dating A Banker Anonymous. Secondly, I think where Dickerson goes astray is when she suggests that young feminists today enjoy "pole-dancing, walking around half-naked, posting drunk photos on Facebook, and blogging about your sex lives" rather than working for reproductive rights. And thirdly, not all feminists are female.

As our commenters have pointed out, young feminists actually do lots of abortion-related work, whether it's protesting on the streets or volunteering for organizations. Living in San Francisco, I know a LOT of feminists, and none of them post drunk pictures of themselves online, or pole-dance, or walk around half-naked. Or at least, none of them have let me in on it. As for myself, I'm definitely a feminist, and youngish (30). I've cold-called for NARAL, donated to NOW, and marched in rallies, but have yet to walk around half-naked unless I'm changing at the gym.

Part of what I think rankled the Feministing crowd (and tell me if I'm wrong) is that Dickerson paints young feminists with a wide, LiLo-train-wreck colored brush. There's a big difference between what young feminists do today, and what the media depicts them as doing. The media publishes stories about 16-year-olds with racy MySpace profiles and sex-positive pole-dancers because they get a response. I think the best response to Dickerson's post, aside from pointing out the many achievements of young feminists, is a little bit of humor. As my co-worker and copy editor extrordinaire Nicole McClelland told me, putting all young feminists in the category of drunken strippers is a dramatic overgeneralization at best. "I didn’t know that that’s what the current generation of feminists thinks feminism is," said Nicole. "Now that I do, though, I’m totally going to call some and ask them if they want to party."

Earth Hour Hong Kong 香 港

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 5:35 PM EDT
Yeah, right, you say, it's so 2007 and when are we going to do more than turn off the lights for one hour a year? Except it's still a novel concept in many places and one waking up the Rip-Van-Winkles sleeping with their lights on.

I'm talking about Hong Kong. The most brightly lit place on Earth apart from Las Vegas, IMO. It's a neon wet dream. Strolling the streets after dark here is, well, the lure of a sci-fi siren, deadly and gorgeous with light.

Still, Hong Kong's per capita ranking of CO2 emissions falls well below the US: Hong Kong #72; US #10. And both are far shy of #1 Qatar, The Sheikdom of Squander.

Andy Cornish, Director of Conservation WWF Hong Kong, tells me that Hong Kong has not yet officially joined the 1,429 cities and towns in 80 countries (and counting) that will go dark for one hour starting 8:30pm Saturday 28 March. [Correction: Andy tells me Hong Kong IS onboard, Macau is not... yet.] Three hundred Hong Kong companies and countless individuals are already down with the plan.

The hope? That one billion people all over Planet Earth will flip their switches this year. But, hey, use protection, please, if that's your orientation. We don't need an Earth Hour baby boom nine months from now.

As for some of the pyrotechnics lined up in the dark:

  • Sydney (where it all started): every ferry in the harbor will sound its horn at 8.30pm
  • Melbourne: people will pedal-power a concert in Federation Square
  • Athens: a circle of percussion will be held at the Acropolis, people given instruments and led by a conductor
  • Oslo: people will peddle-power light bulbs
  • Lisbon: the city will go outdoors for candlelit dining

So, yeah, it's kind of 2007. Only the hour is later and bigger and DARKER.

The EPA's Most Wanted

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 3:45 PM EDT
The EPA's criminal investigation division has a website where you can print out wanted posters for environmental criminals who are on the lam. Who knew? Most of these guys look so perfect for Central Casting that you've got to wonder if they were chosen more for their oily hair and trucker glasses than their rap sheets. The website's America's-Most-Wanted feel is reinforced by a big red warning that reads: "Do not attempt to apprehend any of these individuals." What, not even this guy?

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Five-Foot Sea Level Rise to Hit San Francisco by 2100

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 3:32 PM EDT
The Chronicle ain't the only thing sinking in San Francisco. According to a new report commissioned by the state, the city will likely be 5' lower in the Bay by the end of the century.

The global warming-driven rise in sea levels will cause $100 billion in property damage, the report says, and put 480,000 people at risk of a "100-year flood event" if no actions are taken. $100 billion sounds substantial (actually, given the bank bailouts, maybe not so much) but the impact of an additional 5' of water really hits home when you see how much of land could slip beneath the waves.

The Pacific Institute, who conducted the study for the state, has a nifty online map showing exactly which areas would be at risk. With just a 5' rise, SFO airport, Alameda, parts of Silicon Valley, and the foot of the San Mateo bridge are all at increased risk for being nearly totally flooded. Ocean Beach, site of political protests, would be just ocean. In fact, if the waters keep rising as expected, and if "100-year flood events" keep increasing in frequency, the Pacific could invade Golden Gate Park 500 meters at one point, swamping its historic, water-pumping windmills and encroaching on endangered Western Snowy Plover habitat.

Of course, as in Katrina, the people suffering the most from the rising tides will be the poor. In San Francisco, the most dramatic water rise happens in the low-income, but developing, Hunter's Point neighborhood. Maybe the city can build that new Bay Bridge a little higher.

The Green View From Hong Kong

| Tue Mar. 10, 2009 10:57 PM EDT
Well, it's spectacular, 15 floors up overlooking the waterfront, complete with a skyline of mylar and mirror highrises, fleets of water taxis, ferries, more buses than I thought existed on Earth, and mountains to put Maui to shame. I haven't been to Hong Kong since the handover and it's different. There's a green theme sprouting from tarmac, billboards, newspapers. Hard to tell how much of it will stick and what's glitter—but the same could be said for the US.

One thing of interest: the Green Long March, built on the iconic Red Long March of Chinese history. It's an army of college students fanning out across the countryside each summer spreading green messages to villages, schools, orphanages, factories, farms. Two thousand students participated in 2007, the debut year, spreading awareness about water and all its issues. Five thousands students marched by foot and via trains and so on throughout 2008, carrying messages about green enterprise.

Caroline Hsiao Van, a trustee of the nonprofit Future Generations and founding member of the Green Long March movement (FutureGenerations/CHINA), tells me she's not sure how many students will march this year—but the Green Long March has become a year-round platform for students from over 50 universities to have a voice and affect change in their communities. Since it's possible that as many as 2 million of last year's 6-7 million graduating college students in China are unemployed.. and this year... well, there could be a lot of diploma-bearers, undergrads, members of the China Youth League and university environmental clubs looking for something to march toward this summer and the theme on the calendar is green energy.

Most amazing: the Green Long March has gained the support of the government of China despite its notorious skittishness about movements and students. FutureGenerations/CHINA is also partnered with dozens of Chinese universities. Corporate sponsors and foundations support students on their summer odyssey.

The idea is that the marchers bring a message, listen to the responses, and forge evidence-based decisions. The plan is to build from known successes, spread the solutions, and let the good ideas proliferate at the grassroots level. It's an approach grown from the founding father of FutureGenerations, an American, Daniel Taylor, who's been working to green and improve the lives of people in Tibet, Afghanistan, India, and Peru for decades.

So what about a Green Long March in the US? The machinery exists, left over from the Obama campaign. Why let it become landfill? Why not recycle the energy of so many eager to forge solutions? Who among us wouldn't march out to the greenless realms and talk and listen and make change?

Generals Open Up About Their Own PTSD

| Tue Mar. 10, 2009 1:28 PM EDT

It's about damn time. CNN spoke with two one-stars who are doing their part to destigmatize this oh-so-natural consequence of, you know, war and stuff:

Brig. General Gary S. Patton and Gen. Carter Ham have both sought counseling for the emotional trauma of their time in the Iraq war. "One of our soldiers in that unit, Spec. Robert Unruh, took a gunshot wound to the torso, I was involved in medevacing him off the battlefield. And in a short period of time, he died before my eyes," Patton told CNN in an exclusive interview. "That's a memory [that] will stay with me the rest of my life." Ham was the commander in Mosul when a suicide bomber blew up a mess tent. Twenty-two people died.

As bad as all the death and destruction is, imagine being the general whose day-to-day decisions put the rank and file in harm's way.

The interview's a start, but until these generals do a whole lot more to send the message down the chain of command that mental health is as important as physical health, we're going to keep seeing our soldiers come back unsalvageable.

The Future of Abortion Providers

| Tue Mar. 10, 2009 11:33 AM EDT

Today's feminists need to blog less and work more. If women want reproductive choice to remain more than rhetoric, they'd better stop assuming these clinics will be there when they need them. Because like priests and nuns, abortion doctors are not reproducing. From NYT:

"We worry about that a lot," said Sally Burgess, executive director of the Hope clinic, who is also chairwoman of the National Abortion Federation, the main professional support group for abortion providers. "Younger women have always had access to abortion care, they don’t fully appreciate the battle that was fought to have it available to them. And more important, I don’t think they know how precarious the option is at this point, even with Obama's election."..."What I observe for women in their 20s and 30s — there are fewer who really have the fire in the belly for this,” she said. At 50, Ms. Burgess is the youngest member of the Hope clinic’s leadership team, which includes Ms. Baker; Debbie Wiehardt, 57, the office supervisor; and the two doctors performing abortions (the only men on the 30-person staff), who are both in their 60s. A recent survey of 273 abortion clinics published in the journal Contraception found that 64 percent of their doctors were at least 50 years old, and 62 percent were men."

It's dangerous and gloomy. The pay sucks. Lots of people think you're a murderer. And, yeah, you might get shot. But you young chicks maybe need to go the Northern Exposure route, sending folks to med school in exchange for a few years running an abortion clinic. That feminist fire in the belly? I gotta say: Pole-dancing, walking around half-naked, posting drunk photos on Facebook, and blogging about your sex lives ain't exactly what we previous generations thought feminism was. We thought it was about taking it to the streets.

Harsh, you say? Uninformed? OK. Tell me exactly what today's feminists are doing for the struggle. Besides posting disses against old chicks like me. You got that covered.