Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An unconventional look

Before I forget what all my scribbled notes mean, I thought I'd put some thoughts together..

The climate of our society is changing.  It's always been changing of course, and people and groups and Facebook fans are rising up to voice their opinions everyday in an attempt to steer the trajectory of the world in their direction..  and some ideas are good.  Really good.  Things that remind me that hope is still thriving in this day.  But then there are things just stir my insides like a grande vanilla latte.

Tonight in class we talked about the debut of a book by Joan Wolf that's hitting bookshelves this Tuesday.  This book is particularly interesting to us being that the author vehemently argues against breastfeeding in today's society.  (With a title like "Is Breast Really Best?" you know there's going to be some heated discussion during our 3.5 hour class segment.)  If you know anything about what I advocate and the field of study I'm in, you'll know that I'm a strong proponent of exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age.  My stance is based not only on the health and nutritional benefits of breastfeeding to the mom and child, but also the sociological implications that it entails.  Not to mention, the design of the woman's body for such a role.

A little bit about this author, Wolf is an outspoken feminist with an equally loud group of followers.  Her articles and counter-articles about breastfeeding have been published on huge news platforms (paper and digital) and she's been spotlit on major broadcasting stations regarding the topic.  You'd likely falter under her rapid-fire arguments against breastfeeding if you weren't prepared.  Here's the gripping deal though.  Why so adament against this natural process?

Wolf argues that society has brainwashed the today's woman into believing in the concept of total motherhood.  This perspective obligates mothers to be experts in everything concerning the child, including their physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being and to be the primary caregiver in meeting all these needs.  On top of that, they are to be completely self-sacrificial, realizing that what the mom wants and what the child needs should never come into conflict.  For example, a sleep deprived new mother is woken up yet again by her screaming baby at 3am.  The mother wants to ignore the cries and go back to sleep but society has conditioned her into thinking that to be a good mom means to get out of bed and attend to her newborn's needs.

Furthermore, Wolf is ready to defend women who consume alcohol or take illegal drugs during their pregnancy asserting that "there is no consistent, reliable evidence to indicate that alcohol categorically affects fetal development".  Horrified that women could be placed at risk of legal prosecution for using drugs during pregnancy, she shifts the attention to questioning the role of the father in the upbringing of a child.  In her opinion, women should not be burdened by the pressure of having to be the sole provider of the growing child within her.  And neither should she be found in a position where she is forced to weigh the outcomes of satisfying her own desires with attending to the needs of her child after delivery.

Wolf writes that women today have bought into the lies of this total motherhood.  An epidemic that leads women to quit their jobs, stay at home and take complete control over the livelihood of their child all in the name of good parenting.  And if, for whatever reason, they are unable to adjust to the lifestyle of a traditional mom, they are to be shunned by other women who've mastered the art of motherhood, and they must inflict upon themselves guilt and self-hatred for not living up to these outrageous standards.

She believes that no woman should ever have to give up her desire to work because she thinks she needs to stay at home for the baby's sake.  After all (she concludes), research does not show any significant data that breastfeeding affects the positive outcome of a child's growth in any way.  In her book, the term sacrifice does not exist.

Upon reading her publications, I was horrified.  Can she really be making these claims?  And are there actually people who support her in this movement??  Personally I consider her a supremely radical feminist in my own terms, but I have a feeling this can be likened to the story of the frog being boiled alive.  Changes are happening in our society that are ever so gradual that we may not even turn our head to notice.

She has a captivated audience.  An audience that, 30 or 40 years ago may not have existed, but today, they're hungry for every word she's putting out.

These days more women are getting higher degrees in education compared to men.  Women are obtaining jobs in higher places and bringing home paychecks well over those of their male counterparts.  And yet they're still cursed with the biological role of birthing children.  So how does the modern woman they deal with this?  Another highly acclaimed writer goes so far as calling the state of child-raising a prison.  Surely any woman these days would not enjoy the frequent feedings of a newborn and the constant 24/7 attention it needs.  And breastfeeding?!  Yeah right!

With an increasing percentage of women in the workforce, there is also a growing movement of women who are becoming dissatisfied with the pressure of having to conform to the traditional female role.  This, of course, is nothing new.  We're all familiar with the women's rights movement, the advent of birth control, laws to protect women's rights in the workplace, etc.  And each time another women's rights battle is won, we celebrate a victorious milestone in our history books.  Except that with every milestone, I believe we are also moving farther and farther away from the biological role that women were created to be.

But still, these super women are looking for answers and Wolf is leading a strong pack that is telling them exactly what they want to hear.  The new message that is being put out now is that it's perfectly fine (and we applaud you) to choose a working lifestyle and we'll do everything we possibly can to help you raise a child as you grab onto another rung of the corporate ladder.  No more guilt, no more weirdo expectations of living up to a 50s era Stepford wife model, and no more days (and sleepless nights) spent at home feeding the baby when you've got a tin can full of formula goodness at your disposal.

Is it possible that we're missing one huge point though?  The last time I checked, the female body is the only one that is capable of developing the womb that carries the fetus.  Biologically, her body is the only one that can shift through the stages of growing another human life within.  Females have a skeletal structure that supports reproduction, an endocrine system that is so specific in its complex function of creating another life, and a mechanism for producing nourishment for the infant immediately after its birth that is unparelleled in males.  Just to name a few.  These basic facts are so intrinsic to the female design that it would be unnatural to override their functions.

* To be clear, I think that every family has a right to decide gender roles within their household and there is nothing wrong with the use of formula in infant feeding.  I am certainly not unaware of life's curveballs.

However, could it be possible that this shifting social construct of our generation is leading us farther away from the original design of man and woman?  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't enjoying the many benefits of the movement for equality between men and women.  But I believe that there are some things that have gotten out of hand.  This prison that Hanna Rosin talks about is a unique place where mothers have the ability to nurture and raise her children with the supporting role of the father.  And if that is your starting block, I really think a world of change can happen.

Now before any male reader starts thinking, "Yes, imma get me a stay at home wife to cook for me and fold my socks so I can live the life", I'd have to say much the opposite!  Quantitative evidence of greater female enrollment in higher education compared to males and similar proportions in the workforce should be a sign to the guys that they need to step it up.  In simple terms, unless men take up the responsibility to be men, then women in turn cannot fulfill their responsibilities as women.

Just like a frog being gradually boiled alive, our society is changing and there are a lot of seemingly innocent and subtle shifts in the way we do things.  On the one hand, I know and believe these changes are inevitable.  But on the other, I think there is a design that is perfect - and regardless of what the world says, this pattern just might be the hope for change in this world.

And now the caffeine has run its course in my system and I am very tired.   It's likely that this essay of a post doesn't make much sense at all as I just hashed out the remains of my brain at the end of a long day.. but it was worth a try = ]

1 comment:

  1. amazing. this is our society today. even in art school we have discussed the arbitrary-ness of gender and how that is a socially constructed thing. gender is nowadays, not defined by what body parts you have or what color you wear, etc...says the world. the lines have been mushed together. its existential. its distopic.

    in my opinion, society has brainwashed wolf herself into all this. ouch what a paradox. yet if i told that in her face, i would get slammed

    in the end, without the bible, people are just lost. as you said...we are being lead father and farther away from the original design of man. we as christians need to hold on even tighter so to not let subtle societal influences find their way into and muddle with biblical constructs.