So, yeah, it's been awhile.

I meant to write. I mean to every day. It's just that the only free time I have is naptime and bedtime, and frankly I'm using those times to catch some sleep myself these days, since my almost-11-month-old baby is sleeping like a newborn. I can't remember the last time I got more than four hours of sleep in a row, and the sleep deprivation is robbing me of my creative impulses, not to mention my will to live.

The husband joined the National Guard, and has one week to go of his 3 weeks of annual training. He'll be gone for all of October for more training, and then if things go as planned, he'll be headed to Officer Candidate School in January for 8 weeks, followed by more OCS and training for whatever branch he winds up in, all of which could total around 6 months. Penny and I are staying with my dad, who has kindly taken us in so as to save me from a breakdown while my spouse is off playing Army.

Things are stressful. I'm dealing, sort of.

I don't know how single parents do it; I'm ready to throw in the towel after only 2 weeks of parenting without my husband. I love this baby, but GOOD LORD does it seem like she's trying to kill me half the time. I spend about 50% of my time feeling completely inadequate and unsuited to motherhood, and the other 50% trying not to cry. There is a blog post in my head about that. Hopefully I can pry it out sometime in the near future.

Posted byMJ at 8:44 PM 1 comments  

The Fabulosity of Stay-at-Home Momming

When you're pregnant, you discover that every woman who's ever had a baby suddenly wants to tell you her birth story. Women you'd barely spoken to at work suddenly are keenly interested in the progress of your pregnancy, and desire urgently to describe to you in painstaking detail their own pregnancy/labor/delivery experience. You appreciate the encouraging stories, suffer panic attacks from the scary ones, and begin to wish in general that people would just quit talking about it already. Being pregnant is terrifying enough without the lurid descriptions of labor pain from the woman whose epidural line came out after an hour and nobody believed her when she said she was in pain, or the dire tale of the woman who needed an episiotomy and couldn't have sex for a year afterward, or the woman whose labor lasted 43 hours and ended in a C-section.

But you get through it. You have the baby with a little (or a lot) less dignity than you'd hoped, but it's sort of made up for by the awe you feel at the fact that you just squeezed a baby out your wee-waw (or had it cut out of you in a C-section) without either dying or going insane from the pain. Suddenly you're a parent, the event you've been anticipating for the past nine months is over and done with, and you're supposed to settle down and raise the perfect child after they let you take it home. If it's your first (and maybe even if it's not), you take a few days to pick yourself up off the floor after the responsibility comes crashing down onto your head. After a few sleepless nights and several days spent trying desperately wipe the deer-in-the-headlights look off your face while you attempt to navigate this new life, it begins to sink in that nobody is going to show up to take this kid and pay you twenty bucks for your time. It's yours. Yours. And you have to take care of it even if you haven't slept in three days and the milk's gone sour in the fridge and the catbox is overflowing and the dog needs to be taken out and you're hungry for something besides cheese and crackers and all your friends want to come over to see the new baby and you're down to the last roll of toilet paper. There is no escaping this responsibility, and you start to have moments where you think it might actually kill you. It doesn't, of course. You get through it however you can, and at the end of each day you wonder what the heck happened to that pleasantly child-free life you used to have. Your baby is amazing, and you love him or her, but man, this shit is EXHAUSTING. You begin to understand why rich people hire nannies.

At some point, you start seeing people again. Maybe you go to work part-time or you're only venturing out to the grocery store, but one way or another you start to see people. And just like the birth stories, you discover that after the obligatory exclamations over the baby's cuteness, they all want to ask you some variation of the same question: "Don't you just love being a mom?"

There are many ways to answer this question: you could refer laughingly to the lost sleep while assuring your partner in conversation that your baby is totally worth it; you could describe the magic of her smile and how this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream; you could answer in the affirmative but mention wryly that you could do without the dirty diapers and midnight feedings. Lots of way to phrase it, but only one right answer: yes.

The answer that is entirely unacceptable, of course, is "no." Even though every woman who's ever had a baby understands the torture of sleep deprivation, the endless frustration of trying to entertain a baby with a three-second attention span and a hunger for new stimulation, they still expect-- maybe even need-- you to expound enthusiastically on how much you love motherhood. If you should have the unfortunate judgment to answer honestly, and your answer is not the one they expect, the shock and horror you encounter will rapidly convince you to lie in the future.

I learned the hard way. Somebody asked me if I was enjoying parenthood, and I laughed and said, "Not really!" The asker reacted as if I'd just told her I store the baby in the oven when I don't feel like playing with her. She physically recoiled with this look of horror on her face and said incredulously, "Really?"

No, not really. I just enjoy the feeling of being judged by people who believe they already know what I should feel!

If you want to know the real truth, there are moments when I question the sanity of any woman who claims to love taking care of babies. If you want even more truth, there are moments when I question my own sanity for even having a baby in the first place. I love my baby, certainly, and I do my best to give her a good life, but I cannot honestly say that this experience is one I'm particularly loving at the moment. I miss sleeping in, and I miss drinking coffee when I'm sleepy in the morning. I miss drinking wine with dinner. I miss having time to myself, and being able to do chores at my leisure instead of trying to squeeze everything into naptime. I miss working and going to school, feeling like a person with goals and a plan for achieving them. I miss going out on weekends, meeting friends for the occasional short-notice happy hour, eating dinner whenever I felt like it, spending quiet evenings on the couch with a book.

My life has been turned upside-down, and yes, I knew it would be, I expected it, I read all the books and blogs and advice columns, but the thing that has surprised me is this expectation that I should be enjoying it. "Enjoy this time!" I am regularly exhorted. "They grow up so fast!"

You know what? I would welcome a little growing up right now. A little room to breathe. A kid instead of a baby. A full night's sleep.

Maybe I'll look back and regret that I didn't savor babyhood. Maybe in the future I'll remember this experience fondly and advise new mothers to enjoy it. Right now, though, I'm just trying to make it through each day without surrendering to the nagging feeling that I've given up everything that made me me, to reassure myself that it will not always be like this. I'm trying to figure out how to be a good mother without sacrificing my identity entirely.

I don't love this, but that doesn't make me a bad mother. It makes me human.

Now quit looking at me like that.

Posted byMJ at 12:18 PM 2 comments  

My Body, My Choice, My History

It's Blog for Choice Day 2009, and I'm bringing the blog out of retirement to mark the occasion.

2008 was a big year for me: I gave birth in October to a perfect baby girl, and that choice is inextricably linked to the issue at hand on this 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The topic this year is "What is your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress?", but before I tackle that question, I first need to tell a story.

Just over six years ago, about a month after my twenty-first birthday, I found out I was pregnant. I was working full-time at a stressful job, without health insurance, and living in a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and my brother, neither of whom were employed. My boyfriend and I both felt very strongly that we didn't want to have children, and even if we had wanted children, our situation was not a stable one into which it would be advisable to bring a child. So I had an abortion.

I kept it a secret. My brother and my boyfriend knew, but I didn't tell anyone else. On a Monday, I had to go to my vocally born-again Christian boss and ask him for Wednesday off so I could "go to the doctor," quietly willing him not to ask why I needed the whole day and couldn't come back to work after the appointment. He allowed me the day off, much to my relief, but I was too afraid of questions to ask for another day to recover, so Thursday morning I walked a mile to the bus stop, exhausted and in pain, and put in a full day at work as if nothing had happened.

Let me be very clear: I did not then, nor do I now, regret my decision to terminate the pregnancy. It was the wrong time for me, and the wrong partner, in the wrong place. I knew these things, and I was the only person in a position to know them; it was my choice to make, and I made the right one. I did, however, feel a great deal of shame. Not because I believed I had done anything wrong, but because I felt the weight of other people's judgment pressing in on me from all sides. From the protesters outside the clinic, whose vicious stares made my face burn as they marched around with their signs condemning me as a murderer, a sinner; to the vociferously pro-life aunt who parroted such anti-choice propaganda as, "You know, they say the babies scream when they're being torn apart inside the mother"; to my own parents, whose refusal to discuss the sensitive issue in our religious and politically conservative house when I was growing up made me too afraid to broach the subject with them later, when it was a very real and personal issue to my life. Though I believed strongly that I was making the right decision for myself and my life, I did not know how people would react to it, so I felt I had to keep it secret, and it was that silence that caused my suffering. My emotions swung wildly as the pregnancy hormones left my body, and I longed to talk about my experience with someone, but fear of judgment kept me silent, and my secret festered.

Though I felt terribly alone and isolated, I was not. I saw women of every age, color, and economic level in the clinic that day. I overheard one woman in the recovery room tell a nurse, "I'm 43 years old and my children are in college; I'm done having babies." The woman in the bed closest to mine was weeping openly, thanking any healthcare worker who wandered close enough to hear her. Most of the women already had children, and most of the rest would, like me, have them eventually. None of us was there out of a perverse hatred of babies or cavalier irresponsibility. The common thread among all of us was that we had each decided that this was not the right time for us to have a baby, and we did what we needed to do to manage our lives.

It boggles my mind that some people would take away the rights of fully half the population to control their own fertility. Certainly, if you believe abortion is murder, you are free not to have one. But for all of us who don't believe that-- for people like me, who don't believe in the existence of a soul, or who fear the slippery slope of granting personhood to a fetus-- we simply want to be free to make the choice for ourselves. Every woman who's ever terminated a pregnancy had her own reasons not to want a child at that particular point in time. Is it really so hard to trust that an adult woman is capable of making a wise decision regarding her own reproductive life? To believe that what she decides is best for her is, in fact, best?

Which brings me to my pro-choice hope: that Obama, and the pro-choice members of congress, will frame this issue as it deserves be framed-- as a matter of trusting women to make our own decisions regarding our own bodies. So often abortion is discussed as a purely philosophical matter, and the real lives of real people are obscured by the rhetoric of both sides. The anti-choicers claim their opposition is motivated by a reverence for "life" and saving "babies," while well-meaning pro-choicers delve into the problems of personhood and when, exactly, "life" can be said to begin; both of these approaches completely overlook the living, breathing woman who will be forced to spend the better part of a year physically supporting another life if a pregnancy is allowed to continue. Having recently experienced a pregnancy from beginning to end, I am now more pro-choice than ever. Pregnancy and childbirth were the most miserable physical experiences of my life, and I can't imagine forcing any woman to endure that if she didn't want to. We must trust women to know what is best for them, and we must always bring the conversation back to this point: that adult women are autonomous people, capable of making our own decisions about our reproductive health.

Obviously, there are many other facets to the abortion issue that I'm not going to address: availability, affordability, doctors who refuse to perform abortions or refer patients to doctors who will, religious motivations for anti-choice arguments and the problems inherent in enshrining those beliefs in law, on and on ad nauseum. The most powerful argument I have to offer is my own experience, and the way the politics of abortion have affected my life. Now that I have a daughter of my own, I can only hope that if she should ever have to make the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy, she will do it in a very different atmosphere from the one I faced. I want her to know my story, to know that above all it is a personal issue between a woman and her doctor, and to feel free to make her own choice without judgment from people who have no business meddling in her life.

I had an abortion in 2002, and I don't regret it. I made the right decision.

Posted byMJ at 4:52 PM 4 comments  

"I Like Your Tits!" is Not a Compliment: A Guide For Men

My raging feminism combined with almost-daily experience of street harassment leads me to think about the problem perhaps more frequently and more in-depth than most people would care to, but my interest lately is not so much in the harassment itself, but in the way we think about and discuss it. You'd be hard-pressed to find a woman in the United States who has never experienced catcalls, leers, and the occasional outright hostility of entitled men who believe it is their right to evaluate women's bodies and then demand attention from them. When you speak about street harassment to a group of women, there is always disgusted eye-rolling, groans of recognition, and a general understanding that being harassed on the street is both unpleasant and scary. Women who have experienced it have respect and sympathy for the horror stories of female friends, because even those of us who haven't experienced the more extreme forms of harassment can still imagine the more benign encounters escalating to that level.

Men, on the other hand, are a different story. Perhaps it's that they don't experience it themselves, or that it almost never happens to their female friends when they are along, but men rarely seem to recognize the seriousness or the ubiquity of street harassment. If you speak about street harassment to a group of men, while most of them will shake their heads in disapproval, it's not at all unusual to get somebody asking what you were wearing, or suggesting that you don't know how to take a "compliment." They honestly don't understand what's so upsetting about a few little catcalls, and it's a hard thing to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it.

The old "put yourself in another person's position" mental exercise is usually a good one for triggering empathy and compassion in another, but when you suggest men imagine what it would be like for them to be sexually harassed on the street, many of them respond with, "I'd love it if women were hitting on me all the time!" I couldn't figure out why so many men would see it as a positive thing when it's generally such a negative experience for women, until one day it hit me: men are imagining being catcalled by women, and the sexual politics of our culture dictate that such an encounter is going to be experienced differently by the harassee depending on the gender of the harasser. So, men, let's try this a different way:

Imagine you are on your way to work, dressed as you always dress for work, minding your own business. As you wait at the bus stop, another man says to you with a vaguely malicious tone, "Nice ass!" You are startled and look at him in shock; he is clearly larger and stronger than you are, so you don't feel safe to express the rage that is beginning to boil inside your sternum. You keep quiet all the way to work, where you finally tell your coworker Joe about your experience. Joe shrugs and says, "Well, you do have a nice ass; if you're going to wear pants that flatter it you're just going to have to expect some comments. I'm sure he was just trying to compliment you anyway." In just two sentences, he has dismissed your experience, invalidated your feelings, and suggested that you were asking for it by dressing the way you dressed.

Okay, I realize that the odds of the above scenario actually happening to a heterosexual man in this country are about eleventy-bajillion to one, but that's sort of the point. The mental exercise doesn't work if you're imagining being ogled by a woman, because women are not accorded the same social status as men, and also are not usually physically threatening. So while it's possible to imagine a strange woman making a sexual comment to you, the element of physical danger will almost certainly be absent, because how many women are bigger or stronger than the average man? Also, some cultural ideas of masculinity are tied to aggressiveness and dominance, and this is something that can escalate harassment when the person being harassed does not respond in the manner desired by the harasser. If a woman commented on your ass and you got mad at her, she probably won't feel like you just threatened her femininity, while a man who comments on a woman's ass may fly into a rage when his comments are not received well, because he feels that the woman has emasculated him by rebuffing his advances. Men, you may not personally harass women, but let me assure you, a lot of other men do, and a lot of them also take it personally when we don't enthusiastically give them our numbers after they have loudly shouted their approval of our tits.

A good portion of the confusion of the decent dudes stems from the fact that many of them don't seem to understand the difference between a compliment and harassment. It may seem like a fine line, but honestly, this stuff isn't that hard to figure out if you follow three simple guidelines.

First: complimenting a stranger is almost always creepy. You have to be very friendly and benign to pull it off, and frequently it's still going to come off creepy because underlying a compliment is the implication that the complimented person ought to care what you think. The true power of a compliment lies not in the words themselves, but in the relationship between the two people. This is why a comment like "Wow, those jeans make your ass look fantastic!" will please me when it comes from my husband, but disgust me when uttered by a stranger. I care what my husband thinks of me; I couldn't give a shit less about whether a stranger approves of my jeans and would frankly rather not think about the fact that a stranger is noticing my ass in the first place.

Second: be appropriate. If you're trying to ingratiate yourself to someone in whom you are romantically interested, limit the compliments to non-sexual things like her eyes or her smile. Do NOT, unless you are already in a sexual relationship with her and know her comfort level with such comments, compliment her tits, ass, or any other culturally sexualized physical feature. If you're complimenting someone in whom you're not romantically interested, it's best not to comment on any physical features at all.

Third: own your words. If she expresses discomfort with what you've said, apologize immediately and sincerely. Don't get angry if your compliment is not received in the manner you expected. You cannot dictate a person's reaction and a compliment in many ways is a verbal step inside someone's personal space, so if she requests that you step the fuck back, you must accept that you have violated her comfort zone and this is your fault, not hers.

I hope that someday street harassment will be a thing of the past, but I'm not holding my breath. We women can only repeat our stories so many times before we start to get tired of being second guessed and dismissed and blamed for the actions of men who are convinced they've done nothing wrong by perpetrating what feels to us like a mental and emotional violation (which sometimes turns into physical violence too). I think one of the best things individual men can do is stop tolerating such behavior from their friends. It's not good enough that you don't do it yourself; you need to speak up when your friends treat strangers poorly, and begin to untangle the web of dominance that has become so closely tied to male/female relationships.

I know it's a cliche, but come on: if we'd all just treat each other with respect and see each other as people, we wouldn't be having this problem!

Posted byMJ at 12:55 PM 5 comments  

Craptastic

It sucks to take the dog out every 20 minutes when he has the shits; it sucks more to leave him alone in the computer room for 10 minutes immediately after a trip outside so I can take a shower, and emerge to find a rank shitpuddle on the carpet behind my chair. What sucks most, though, is waking up at 4:30 a.m. and realizing the dog is sick again, and this might be the last time.

Posted byMJ at 11:20 AM 1 comments  

The hype over the Harry Potter books

I just don't get it.

I tried a few times to get into the first book, but children's fiction just doesn't do it for me; I found it unbearably dull. Am I the only one? It sure seems like it.

Posted byMJ at 8:01 AM 2 comments  

Excuses and Explanations

I have a hard time updating this blog regularly. I didn't set out to write an exclusively feminist blog, but somehow it turned into that since feminist issues are usually the ones that get me fired up enough to write. Now that the blog has become that, I am sometimes reluctant to post things that don't fit into the whole feminist blog paradigm-- silly little stories, random quotes, offhand observations that have nothing to do with patriarchy or misogyny or women's place in a world that is ever-changing. Although I know it's my blog and I can do anything I damn well please with it, I feel like I should have some kind of unifying theme to my writing here, something bigger than "all things Molly."

I suppose I should just say "fuck it" and write whatever I want.

This blog has, in many ways, become the space in which I grapple with my identity as a woman, a wife, a twentysomething college graduate with murky ambitions and potential limited only by the glass ceilings against which I fear breaking my lovely and delicate nose. I am finally, at almost-26, coming to grips with the fact that I'm an adult now, that I am married and might potentially become a parent within the next few years, and struggling with the implications of these choices on my economic prospects. I'm trying to find a job, and I've met with the frustrating reality that despite my newly-minted diploma from Oregon State University, I am qualified only for the exact same jobs I was doing before I went back to school-- jobs that rarely pay more than about $12 an hour. I've set my sights on a Master of Library Science degree program, which means another three years of school and who knows how many thousands of dollars in new student loans, and the end result-- being employable as a librarian-- sounds like something out of a gorgeous dream, but how will this economic goal affect my personal life? What if, in three years, there is no job market in this area for librarians? Can I expect my husband to pick up and move if I find a job elsewhere? What if it doesn't pay well but offers significant opportunity for advancement? Where are the lines in these potential conflicts? Obviously, this is a take-it-as-it-comes situation, yet another scenario in which I drive myself crazy pondering the what-ifs, but the fates of women who have come before me have made me wary of being too willing to sacrifice my personal goals for marital peace, and I worry sometimes that that caution will lead me to be too inflexible, too stubbornly determined to achieve my own goals, and then I wonder if there really is such a thing for a woman.

Concepts of body image and health-consciousness are also a constant roiling mess in my head as I fight to define for myself what constitutes "health" and "attractiveness" and how hard I should strive to achieve each of them. Two of my close female relatives had plastic surgery this year (two boob jobs, a tummy tuck, and some liposuction), and my own reaction to the news really threw me for a loop. I've always known that my body cannot fit the ideal of "hotness" and it never will; no matter how hard I work out or diet or how much makeup I wear, I will always have round hips and a 32A chest, and I will not look proportionate in tight clothing. I have a pretty face and a reasonably trim figure, but I am not "HAWT" and I never will be.

It was always a great comfort to me to see those older female relatives with bodies like mine living successful and happy lives, and it gave me hope that someday I might be able to accept myself as I am. Then two of my role models had surgery to change their bodies. It seems like the right thing to do is to say I respect their decisions, and while I do understand perfectly why they both did it, it has nonetheless been dismaying to me to recognize that women in their 40's and 50's who are shaped like me have come no closer to accepting their bodies than I have. I don't respect their decisions. In fact, I sort of hate them for those decisions. Of course they have no obligation to leave their bodies unaltered just so I can feel better about my own predicament, but it really is disheartening to see older women struggling with the same feelings of inferiority that I face, and it depresses me to know that it doesn't necessarily get easier with age. I truly hope that I will never grow so dissatisfied with the way I look that I'm willing to have surgery to change it, but who can say how I'll feel in 20 years? It infuriates me to think that I might still be striving for "fuckability" as a (happy and successful, I hope) fortysomething who cannot possibly hope to compete with the fetishized 18-year-olds who have become the gold standard for female attractiveness in this country. Is that what I have to look forward to? Is there really so slim a chance of me accepting and feeling comfortable in the body I have?

All of these conflicts and issues are knocking around in my brain on a daily basis, but I have no idea how to turn them into a coherent blog post. I don't want to abandon this endeavor, but it doesn't feel fresh and full of promise anymore. So I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I don't know what my goals are here anymore. Bear with me. I'll muddle through.

Posted byMJ at 1:06 PM 1 comments