Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Pregnancy, Coercion, and Responsibility

January 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Religion, Seeking, Sex, Stratification

I was reading about this abortion restricting bill in Michigan. While I realize that it is another attempt to regulate abortion out of existence under the guise of safety and regulations, something in that article struck me.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has approved a controversial package of abortion restrictions that will limit abortion access for women who live in rural areas, require doctors to prove that mentally competent women haven’t been “coerced” into their decision to have the procedure, and enact unnecessary, complicated rules for abortion clinics and providers.

Why those quotes around “coerced”? I know young women who were coerced into having abortions because their parents were embarrassed, because they said they would refuse to help take care of the child, because the father would not take any responsibility, because the community would not take any responsibility, because they had no other place to turn to.

I also know many women who were coerced into having children. Women have their contraception tampered with. They are pressured by their husbands and families to reproduce when they don’t want to, even though the primary responsibility for the kids will fall on them. They are pressured by their community and religious institutions not to abort. They are pressured by the social assumption that everybody “should” have kids.

If you read The Girls Who Went Away, you will read story after heartbreaking story of young women prior to Roe v. Wade who did not have the option to abort and who were coerced into giving their children up for adoption. When I say coerced, I don’t just mean the shame and social pressure. I mean that actual force was used to get them to sign adoption papers. Sometimes the papers were even forged.

And what about all those women around the world who have no access to birth control, much less abortion, and who are poor? Some wealthy couple from the U.S. or Europe sweeps in and pays an attorney tens of thousands of dollars to adopt the child. They take the child away from their mother and community and we are supposed to think that it is a happy ending. Meanwhile, if the mother received the money that went to the attorney, she might have been able to keep the child. Isn’t that a form of coercion?

Nobody should be coerced into having children and nobody should be coerced into not having children. But it is more complicated than not telling women what to do with their bodies. It is also about economics and social support.

And here is where it gets even more complicated. Whether or not other people have kids affects us. I sincerely wish that wasn’t true. I wish my decision not to have kids meant that I would never have to deal with the responsibility of children. But much as I hate to admit it, it just isn’t the case, not even in the best of circumstances. But it is especially true when really damaged people decide to bring kids into the world.

It may be tempting to say that some people should not be allowed to have children. But as much as I may cringe at the prospect of certain people being parents, even more cringe-worthy is the idea that there is anyone out there who has the right or the impeccable/superhuman/prejudice-free judgment to determine who is worthy to have children. We can’t have judges ordering women not to reproduce. We can’t let governments decide to sterilize people because they are trans or poor or disabled.

Other people’s lives and decisions affect us – even people we don’t know. Sometimes that really sucks. Sometimes people make horrible, irrational, and irresponsible decisions that we all have to live with – and that includes people who lived long before we were born. But sometimes people also do things that we all benefit from without having had to make any effort or sacrifice. While we are quick to condemn those whose bad decisions cause us inconvenience, nobody wakes up in the morning feeling guilty that they don’t have polio because some other person’s kid invented a vaccine.

I have written before about how I think the nuclear family is a failure, that it is really a mechanism for limiting our responsibility. It has also been used to control and shame women, especially poor women. Some of those Girls Who Went Away later found out that the only real difference between them and the adopted mother was a husband and a slightly larger bank account. But those two things are significant when we live in a society that likes the benefits without the responsibilities.

Conservatives want everyone to be in the supposedly perfect and stable nuclear family where the father and mother take care of everything and nobody else (supposedly) has to get involved. Maybe your church or neighborhood might pitch in. Liberals want to get involved (entirely too much) by legislating, taxing, or sending in some (hopefully) well-meaning civil servant who is getting paid to kinda care. Because paying a tax and sending in a social worker takes a lot less effort than actually getting involved in a kid’s life. Neither way is working very well.

All of which is to say that, when it comes to pregnancy and children, there are a lot of tensions that cannot be resolved. They can only be managed. The question is how to manage those tensions in a way that is not coercive or authoritarian. How to accept that we cannot seal ourselves off from others decisions, but also not leave us constantly cleaning up other people’s messes. How to get out of these intractable and unhelpful debates where we just grab onto a platitude and refuse to listen to anyone else.

Not easy.

To All the Marriage Pushers

March 04, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Sex, Stratification

If I have to read one more article on how a group of people must somehow be damaged because they aren’t in a 1950s nuclear family, I am going to spit nails.

Kay S. Hymowitz has a piece in the Wall Street Journal where she complains that men in their twenties “hang out in…a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”  Poor Hymowitz and her fellow women can’t find a husband and breed.  All the guys are playing video games, fucking around in bands, smoking pot, or watching porn and comedy central.

Don’t feel too bad, dudes.  Tracy McMillan, has been married three times and so styles herself some sort of expert on what is wrong with those loser women who haven’t even managed to get married once.  According to her, women are shallow, selfish, slutty, lying bitches who don’t spend enough time acting like a doting mama to their men. And if you are a black woman who isn’t married, well then your lack of a mate is headline news and asshats like Steve Harvey make money telling you all the ways you should change yourself in order to attract a charmer such as himself. (I just threw up a little.)

Why is it that people are so fixated on marriage?  Why is it so fucking important to them that they will excoriate anyone who doesn’t hop right onto the marriage bandwagon? (Why the hell is our tax money going to try to make poor people get married?)

Usually, marriage pushers say some crap about marriage being the foundation of society. Horseshit. Marriage as a monogamous death pact has not been the foundation of society. The foundation of society has always been much bigger than the fragile nuclear family.  If marriage has historically been the foundation of anything, it is privilege, hierarchy, sexism, and the accumulation of property.  The kind of marriage we are familiar with is an ownership arrangement.*

If you really want to get to the heart of why people are so marriage obsessed, you must read the conservatives on the subject. Here I actually appreciate them. Most people pretend that they want you to change your entire self for your own good. They tell you it is what you really want. They tell you it is about love. At least some conservatives are honest.

Sam Schulman says that marriage is about controlling sexuality, especially women’s sexuality.  And we can’t possibly let the gays marry, cause gay marriage has nothing to do with controlling who people can fuck. It’s like telling everyone they can go out and fuck willy nilly.  We can’t have that. And my god, didn’t you realize that,

Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband.

How the hell are two gays supposed to navigate those all important elite and gender specific roles? I mean all our parents hunt and belong to a club right? (Seriously, you should read his piece.  You can’t make that shit up.)

These people piss me off so much. They want you to revere an institution that gives them privileges. They want you to modify yourself to serve their needs. They want you to give up looking for something real so that you can be as miserable as they are. They want to stuff you into the same tiny box they have stuffed themselves into.  They want you to have the opposite of love.

Love is not about putting people into boxes, making them into something that suits you. As James Baldwin put so perfectly, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” These people are telling you to put on more masks, to be as phony and miserable and deluded as they are. And for what? So rich people can have a system for property inheritance? So selfish people can delineate which tiny group of people they have to care about in life? So men can delude themselves into thinking that there is some virginal housekeeper waiting to take care of him who will never, ever want to fuck anyone else?

To hell with that.

Guess what? Not every girl has that Disneyland princess fantasy that McMillan and the rest claim we do.  As Violet so eloquently put it, some women listen to all that crap and think “Yes, I’d like to put a ring on it. The kind attached to a ball gag.” And here is another crazy fact for you. Men are actually human beings with feelings and not just walking hornbots. No, it is true.  I swear. It is possible to be a man and actually want something more than sex or money from people. I know, I could hardly believe it either.

I have no intention of getting married. I knew that by about the age of fifteen. It doesn’t make me damaged. It makes me someone who actually thinks about things before doing them. I have no idea if my fourteen-plus year relationship will last another four years or fourteen years or forty years. I do know that I love my video game and guitar playing, pot smoking, porn and comedy central watching bfriend. And I have no intention of telling him to “grow up” and fit into some Ozzie and Harriet idea of what a man is supposed to be. And I know that he loves me, not despite the fact that I am angry and raunchy and thoroughly undomesticated, but because of it.

So to all you marriage pushers who want the rest of us to sacrifice our happiness on the alter of your delusion – I know you hate to see people be honest about who they are, despite the harsh social consequences people like you met out for not conforming.  It must remind you of your own phoniness, unhappiness and mediocrity. I kind of feel sorry for you, but mostly I just want to tell you to suck it.


*  If you have never read Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, I would highly recommend it.

The Nuclear Family is a Failure

October 13, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Culture

According to a study by Paul R. Amato, children  “who grow up in stable, two-parent families have a higher standard of living, receive more effective parenting, experience more cooperative co-parenting, are emotionally closer to both parents, and are subjected to fewer stressful events and circumstances.”

Amato admits that, while his research shows a relationship, it cannot show a causal relationship. But lets assume, for the sake of argument, that there is a causal relationship between two-parent households and positive indicators for children.  And lets assume that single parent households have a harder time providing the stable environments that help kids to thrive.

What do we think should be done?

Like many Americans, Amato concludes that “the importance of increasing the number of children growing up with two happily and continuously married parents… is self-evident.”  The U.S. government seems to agree.  Under the Bush administration, a program called the  Healthy Family Initiative was started to encourage marriage and to provide relationship skills training.  The Obama administration is continuing the initiative.

There is nothing wrong with a stable two-person relationship.  However, we seem to be offered only two choices for raising children – the “healthy” two-parent family or single (usually) mothers struggling along in poverty.  But the nuclear family is not the only structure for raising children in this world.

The Europeans who stumbled upon the Americas came from a culture where a man was only responsible for the children he fathered within a marriage.  He had no responsibility for children he fathered outside of wedlock, much less for other children in the community.  Many Native American communities, in contrast, had very different ideas of who was responsible for the community’s children.  In Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, Stephanie Coontz tells of how one Jesuit reacted to the sexual freedom enjoyed by native women.

One missionary warned a Naskapi man that if he did not impose tighter controls on his wife, he would never know for sure which of the children she bore belonged to him.  The Indian was equally shocked that this mattered to Europeans.  ‘You French people,’ he replied, ‘love only your own children; but we love all the children of our tribe.

Other native societies believe that every man who has sex with a woman while pregnant “contributes a part of his biological substance to the child” and has responsibilities toward that child and the mother.  And in some societies, it is not the biological father but the mother’s brothers who take responsibility for the child.

All of which is to say that structures for child rearing are cultural not immutable or “natural.”  And these structures of responsibility are as much about abdicating responsibility for “other people’s children” as they are about taking responsibility for “your own.”

The two-parent family is a structure that relies on two people. Half of all marriages end in divorce.  Parents get sick.  Parents die.  And (all too often in the U.S.) parents go to prison.  Ultimately, that means that many children are not going to have that two-parent family.  Rather than trying to bury our heads in the sand, wouldn’t it make more sense to question the cultural beliefs that lead us to only take responsibility for children on such a limited basis?

The nuclear family is a weak institution.  When one parent is taken out of the equation, as so often happens, the children suffer.  Kids need more than two people that they can rely on in this world.

Women Using Women

September 08, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Stratification, Work

I have worked with many self-described feminists who have housekeepers and nannies.  I am amazed at how few of them see the conflict inherent in building your freedom on some other woman’s lack thereof.  And I’m not talking about Wall Street women.  I’m talking about liberal women who supposedly care about inequality, oppression, racism and poverty.

What I find especially frustrating is how a reliance on hiring poor women allows men to continue to shirk their responsibilities.  How many of you have friends whose husbands refuse to clean or do their fare share of the childcare?  Did they confront their husbands?  Did they attempt to confront the sexism and unfairness of it all?  Or did they just cop out and use their privilege to buy someone poorer to make the problem go away?

Racewire has an important article out that you all should read.  It is called
Immigrant Workers at Home: Hired Hands Hold Family Bonds and it reads, in part:

So immigrant workers help lift white-collar mothers toward that coveted work-life balance. But back at home, work remains the same as it ever was: hard, endless, and never fairly compensated. The difference for domestic workers, of course, is that they are still outsiders in the home, culturally and professionally. And when overworked and exploited, they end up tending to other people’s families at the expense of their ability to care for their own.

And let’s not forget that domestic workers have few rights.  They work long hours for low pay.  They work without health insurance or other benefits.  And they are specifically excluded from the labor laws that protect the rest of us.  Families that rely on domestic workers to give them time to pursue their careers, are relying on an exploitative system.

All inequality is related. If we accept the inequality inherent in using money to resolve a problem for a few women, at the expense of others, then we accept inequality, period.

The Significance of ‘Blood Relations’

June 18, 2009 By: Mel Category: Stratification

I was listening to a podcast a bit ago when one of the guests said something about her “blood,” meaning her family. Every time I hear people talk about their family or ethnic group as their blood, it makes me cringe.

As someone who was adopted, I can tell you unequivocally that blood does not mean a thing. There are plenty of biological parents out there who have not done anything for their children. There are plenty of lovers out there whose bond is stronger than the bonds they have with their biological family, whether they had lifelong relationships with that family or not.

And truly, it’s a bit insensitive to speak in terms that make the relationship between this country’s 1.6 million adopted children and their parents seem less connected and less real.

Another thing I find truly offensive about talk of “blood” is where the talk stems from. Using the word blood to refer to relationships started in the middle ages. Talk of blood was talk of inheritance, aristocracy, and hereditary privilege.

As Benedict Anderson points out in Imagined Communities, Europeans believed that a persons stature in life was related to their blood. They brought these ideas of aristocracy and supremacy to all the lands they colonized.

European ideas about blood continue to saturate the minds of people in this country. Many people still believe in the one-drop rule, the blood of an African being so powerful that the tiniest amount makes them black (and inferior).

And talk of blood to denote family is a culturally centric notion of family. Many cultures have defined family as only those connected through the mother. Some trace lineage by the father. In some groups, children belong to everyone.

I know there are people whose only close relationships are biologically related to them. So I can understand how they might believe biology is the source of that bond. But it would be nice if people took a step back and thought about what they are really saying.


What’s Curious About Benjamin Button is Who Takes Care of Him

February 19, 2009 By: Mel Category: Art, Stratification, Work

Benjamin Button lived free and died young, very young. Here I am less interested in the young than in the free. He worked out on the ocean, traveling from port to port. Later, he hopped on a motorcycle and traveled the world.

The movie makes a point of showing that it is not money that prevents people from being able to do that. Button leaves Daisy all of his money before he takes off on his bike. What the movie does not look at is how an individual is able to pursue their interests so freely when the world is full of people (young and old) requiring care.

As a child, Benjamin’s father walked away from his responsibility to his son. It was a woman who took him in and brought him up. When Benjamin had his own child, he left that child to another woman (the child’s mother) to be cared for. When Benjamin ages, it is Daisy who takes care of him until his death. When Daisy dies in the hospital, it is her daughter and a female nurse that take care of her until her death.

Art imitates life.

Somewhere between 59% and 75% of all family caregivers are women. Even where men are providing family care, it is generally for less time than women. And the women who provide this care often have to juggle work with caring for children and aging parents.

Rich women have the option of pawning off this responsibility to poorer women, women like Queenie. Not only did Queenie take care of Benjamin, she took care of a house full of elderly people. Many of those people never had so much as a visit from their families. Rich women have options for taking care of their children as well. They can hire a nanny or fly in an Au Pair. They can afford expensive daycare.

And while the cost of daycare for a child or the cost of a home health care worker for an aging parent is astronomical, the workers themselves don’t make a living wage. The average nanny or daycare worker makes about $24,000 a year. The median wage of a home health care worker is $9.62 an hour and nearly half are far enough below the poverty line to be eligible for medicaid. Even worse, home health care workers are exempt from basic wage and overtime laws.

I wonder who is taking care of poor people’s children and elderly while they take care of everyone else?

The Immorality of Having Children

February 14, 2009 By: Mel Category: Stratification

I received two emails this morning that really got me going. The first was from Planned Parenthood letting me know that it is National Condom Week. The second was from Alternet and contained a posting by Vanessa Richmond called Is Breeding a Sin?.

Nadya Suleman has received a shitstorm of criticism for using fertility treatments to have 14 children with no visible means of financial support. Richmond’s article infers that it is wrong to criticize Nadya and applaud Brangelina for having a similar-sized litter. For Richmond, the only difference between the two cases is the amount of money they have.

While I see her point, nobody can possibly believe that the ability to support your children shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not you have them. More importantly, not only is there a very big difference between 14 children and 6, much of the Brangelina crew is adopted. And that makes a huge difference.

Any public discussions about breeding in our country always revolve around the abortion controversy. The discussions never focus on the amount of children who are neglected, abused, and lost in the system. In fact, a common argument from anti-choice people is that all these unwanted children will be adopted into loving homes. Even John McCain said it in one of the presidential debates.

At least McCain had an adopted child when he said it, which is more than I can say for most anti-choice people I’ve encountered. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there were nearly half a million kids in foster care as of September 30, 2007. And, according to a study by Mary I. Benedict and Susan Zuravin, kids who live in group homes are 10 times more likely to be physically abused and 28 times more likely to be sexually abused than kids in the general population.

But at least those kids have a roof over their heads and food on the table. According to World Vision, every day “nearly 25,000 children under age 5 will die from preventable or treatable causes”. Basic nutrition, re-hydration therapy, immunizations, and antibiotics could save most of them.

If there was a starving baby on the threshold of your house, would you step over it on your way inside to go get knocked up? If you had been thinking about having a baby and that starving child showed up on your doorstep, would you take that baby in? If you could only afford one child, would you forgo having “your own” in order to take care of that baby?

I think a decent person would take that child in, even if it meant not having a biological child. And I think people who have children make that choice every time they bring a child into the world. They are choosing to give their love, and their resources, to a new creation rather than giving them to people already on this earth who desperately need it.

What is the only reason people can possibly offer as to why they insist on bringing more people into the world, a world where so many here are not being taken care of? Biology. As someone who was adopted, I find that repugnant. Implied is that my parents (and the parents of millions of adopted children) loved their children less. It’s insulting.

Given the amount of children suffering and dying in the world, having children should be controversial. People who selfishly bring children into the world without thought to whether or not they can provide for them, nurture them, and raise them to be productive members of society are immoral. People who encourage people to have children they are not prepared to take care of (anti-choice activists and the pope included) are immoral. People who want only “their own” child and close their eyes to the suffering of other children are immoral.

It’s time we started acknowledging that we all have a stake in the health and well-being of others. A child neglected or abused today becomes the mess that society has to deal with tomorrow. This is not a personal issue only. It is a social issue.

So the next time someone you know gets pregnant, don’t just provide a knee-jerk congratulations. The next time some anti-choice person goes marching around with pictures of a fetus, make them stare at a photo of a starving child for a while. The next time some religious zealot says birth control is evil, read this story about a man who beat his toddler to death on the side of a road and tell me that man shouldn’t have used birth control.

So yes. Sometimes breeding is a sin.

Feminism and Work: Where Things Went Wrong

February 03, 2009 By: Mel Category: Stratification, Work

The 1950s ideal was a nuclear family where the father worked, the mother stayed home to take care of the kids, and everything looked like Leave it to Beaver. Many people still hold onto that ideal and there may even be people who live it and love it.

For others that ideal was anything but idyllic. Women who craved intellectual pursuits felt stunted. Those who worked, out of desire or necessity, were relegated to the least interesting jobs at half the pay. Women were dependent on men and sometimes financially trapped in abusive situations.

But women’s lack of opportunities for employment, financial freedom, intellectual stimulation, and positions of prestige were not the only problem with that system. And in their zeal to correct the injustices that women were experiencing, many feminists do not appear to have taken the time to examine the bigger picture.

The system was flawed in fundamental ways for men as well. Men were expected to be providers. They were valued for their purchasing power alone. They were, and often still are, treated like automatons with no ability to fulfill emotional needs.

Having worked for many years for divorce attorneys, I saw first hand how these societal roles played out in the worst situations. Yes, I saw women who gave twenty years of their lives to husband and family and then got dumped for a younger woman. And I saw deadbeat dads who refused to pay child support and flitted around the world living like kings while their ex wives waited tables to pay the rent.

I also saw cases where men were assumed to be of little value in child rearing and where the wife received preferential treatment in deciding where the kids would live. And I saw many wives keep children away from their fathers out of spite.

But the problem was more fundamental than how people were stunted by the gender rolls they were playing. What women should have been doing is questioning the hierarchy that we are all serving. They should have been questioning the assumption that only paid work is deserving of admiration. They should have been questioning how much of ourselves we are giving to our employers and how much is left over for ourselves.

A middle class family could once support itself on the wages of one decently paid man. Now most families have two wage earners and struggle. That isn’t news to anyone. Rarely, however, do I hear that issue couched in terms of how many family hours we are giving to someone else. If a family used to give 40 hours a week to the company and is now giving 80, 100, or more, we went terribly wrong somewhere.

In fairness, we should have split that working week with men. We could have had some of that intellectual stimulation and income, and they could have become more a part of the emotional lives of their children and the civic lives of their communities. Even more importantly, we would not be relying on poor women to clean the homes and take care of the children of the more privileged.

The people who have benefited the most from the gender wars are our employers. They have been able to get more and more out of us and we have received less and less in return. It’s time we stopped battling each other and started working together to bring that family work contribution back down to forty hours.

Then men and women can go back to fighting over who is going to do the dishes.