Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cville Women's Blog

Anybody interested in blogging about Women's Issues in a collaborative way? I am amazed how much good discussion has come out of the Newton's Laws post. I have been dreaming of having some Women's Conference take over Charlottesville, just like the Festival of the Book. Maybe what we need to start with is an "online conference." What I like about this is that it would have many many team members with some sort of common goal like "education and outreach about women's issues." Women's issues are also men's issues, of course, but my goal would be to get a representative from almost every non-profit and women's focus area to contribute here and there. Sort of a PNOC but about and for women in all life stages. Not another parenting blog, although parents SHOULD blog. Not another feministing, although feminists should blog. Something that brings us all together and has a goal of social change specific to Charlottesville and women's health outreach. Obviously it would be as unique as each blogger. It would function as a place to meet community-minded women of all ages and then having those women share what they know about our community.

After the community is formed online, then we could figure out some sort of regular meeting. I would stress that this would not be some sort of political group. This blog would focus on the information we think other women need to know to make informed decisions, not telling other women what is right and what is wrong.

The difference between this and simply streaming every Charlottesville woman's blog into one site is the collaborative spirit in information sharing. Does this make sense? The beauty would be that it is by and for Charlottesville area residents but will also be available to the rest of the world, just like PNOC. It would be a place for experts in women's issues to post the latest research. New women's health care providers could post their arrival to town. It would be a place to share employment opportunities for women who want part-time work. It would be WomensNews or WomenShare or simply CvilleWomen.

Perhaps you have already started this blog. That would be great, let me know!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Newton's Laws of Feminism

Inertia. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. This post will likely make a lot of sense to you or no sense at all. If you think I am mouthing off, maybe I am. All in an effort to get some discussion going. I have sat on this post for awhile and am now in the mood to get it out of my brain space before the New Year.

Newton Law #1: A feminist is a feminist until an outside force acts upon her.

When did you become a feminist, when did you find yourself no longer a feminist and when did you personally redefine the word "feminist." I figured all women in my generation were feminists until recently. I started asking women older and younger than I if they thought of themselves as feminists and I have been really surprised how few women say "of course I am a feminist!" What are the forces acting on women that keep them from identifying with that word?

Some observations:

The feminist in an academic environment stays a feminist. She is surrounded by people who are constantly talking about sex and gender, questioning what wave we are all on. She is used to articulating what feminism means both to herself and others around her. She has community who cares.

A feminist who leaves school for non-academic work considers herself a feminist for a little while but then really defines herself more as a "worker". She begins to see her issues as worker issues, not always feminist issues. She leaves behind some of her worries about how the non-academic world might be since now she is living it.

One observation from this group of workers: When I have asked "worker" women this question, many worker women do not like the word "feminist." Often they say "well, I don't think I am a feminist because I think women can decide to stay home and shouldn't feel judged for that." WHOA! OK, it is true they are talking to me but...hmm. Very interesting. I have also been shocked at the replies of worker women to my suggestions of changing the system. Not usually a whole lot of interest. Doesn't sound very "old school" feminist to me. Some say worker women are feminists simply by working. If these women are not constantly questioning or challenging societal norms, that doesn't seem very feminist to me.

Enter an even greater force than leaving academia. It makes the academic and worker feminists in motion rest, some only for a few weeks, but it causes introspection for a lifetime.

Let me call the result of this force, "Feminism in the Childbearing Years". Motherhood both creates and ruins feminists. This force causes women to question everything everything her mother, sisters, friends and mentors ever told her about what it means to be a fulfilled woman. For every mother, finding her balance to happiness becomes so unique that she struggles to find a mentor, let alone a heroine. This force is so hard to describe that it has actually made factions within feminist groups.

As I contemplate the forces that act upon feminism--education, working, motherhood, surely there are more forces that energize or deflate the feminist within all of us. And more important than finding all these forces is finding the place where they can all coexist. Why is this so hard?

I get to plead naivete. I have very little feminist history under my belt. I like it that way. I was born in 1977. My world is feminist. And it is not. I choose to use the word "feminist" because I am immersed in women's issues right now. I occupy a world where I often discuss the woman's choice of WHERE to birth her baby, not IF she wants to birth the baby. Another important choice is to breastfeed in a bottle-feeding society. Do Reproductive-Rights-Oriented feminists make me feel like they want to hear about these issues? Not always.

Why do so many of my activist sisters feel left behind when we describe a modern feminism? I think we are some of the most active feminists in the country. I would like more recognition and more air time. From all media, but especially feminist media. They may not understand the force that is motherhood and how it affects women, but perhaps they can provide the space on their blogs for the discussion. Here is the last "midwifery" link on Feministing and I somewhat happily found this on BitchPhD. But I want more, I want variety and I want often. I would like some of these feminists to question their systems a little bit more. If you don't like your situation, change it. I am tired of people not being part of the solution.

Enter another force I see acting on feminists: group emotion. My husband does not like conferences, at least not that much. But oh do I get excited for a get-together with other women who think like I do. But...what fires me up does not fire up the worker feminist or the academic feminist. In fact, what fires up the academic feminists on BitchPhD is somewhat offensive to me. I know that I am not alone. By a some kind of reflexive property of offensiveness, I would guess "my" feminism must be offensive to them too. They will likely not want to discuss it. For instance, we all vilify Larry Summers, don't we? NO! I don't anyway! So I am not in the club? And honestly, I do not think congratulating yourself for keeping your children out of daycare merits self-loathing. What message are you sending me again? Do Caregivers Count? I really am such a babe in the woods still. All I see are the numerous women's issues we agree on and I think we could do so much for our country if we could meet each other half-way on those we do not.

I may be young but I can be loud too. Thirty may be the new twenty but maybe it is the right age for me to speak up. Maybe I can call myself a feminist and mean it. We all can. Be a feminist, you already are in my book, just tell your version of it. I am really tired getting the vibe that women who focus on feminist issues of mothers are not "real" feminists. NOW thinks they are but do not give them center stage. Well, maybe it is because I was a dancer but I am ready for the stage. Give us the stage! Where is my leader? I have some nominations ready to go: Deren Bader, Therese Hak-Kuhn, Peggy O'Mara, Brynne Potter, Sheryl Rivett ....can we please give these women the floor? They are amazing leaders--it isn't a generation issue, it is an opportunity issue.

Newton's Second Law of Feminism: the force of feminism should be equal to all women, including mothers (yes, even those including those that take mothering practices such as birth and breastfeeding very seriously), multiplied by the injustices each of them have seen along the way.

Can this force please start making itself known? Here are two conferences where I think it will show itself: BlogHer and Fem2.0. I would love to go to both of them. I have even registered for Fem2.0. However, I am also a mom of three children ages 5 and under and so I am realistic that I may not be able to attend. No matter what, I am excited about 2009 and many feminist years to come--no matter what forces may act upon me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Negative Talk at Birth Circle

Rh negative talk has become a hot topic at Birth Circle. Tonight marks the second meeting in a row where the routine treatment of RhoGAM for Rh negative mothers came up. Two months ago I hadn't met a woman who was questioning the protocol for being Rh negative and now I know four. FOUR women questioning a medical norm in two meetings, 4 weeks apart. I am excited for this group to start discussing their choices of treatment with me so I can pass on this wisdom to others out there. It seems like yet another support group in the making. Rh negative women should know they are not alone in questioning their treatment.

One thing that became clear is that Rh negative women do not feel they have enough information about the latest treatment, Rhophylac (and other preservative-free RhoGams: BayRho-D® Full-Dose; BayRho-D® Mini-Dose; MICRhoGAM®; RhoGAM®; Rhophylac®; WinRho SDF®). The traditional treatment of RhoGAM got lots of attention with its possible negative side effects to the baby so you can see why these women want answers.

I have to admit, I did not know much about this treatment because I am Rh positive and even if I were negative, I had my first baby at a teaching hospital in 2003. Perhaps they were already using a preservative free-RhoGAM and the controversy had calmed down?

Thimerosal, the preservative that is 49% Mercury, was removed from RhoGAM in 2001. Women in 2009 are hunting for studies and data to help them make hard decisions.

I have learned a few things that I think all Rh negative women should know:

1. If the father of the baby is Rh negative, you have virtually nothing to worry about. Care providers rarely ask what the father's blood type is.

2. If the baby is Rh negative, also nothing to fear. Women rarely hear about their chances of birthing an Rh negative baby.

3. Childbirth is designed to work. In a normal birth, baby's blood should not cross to the mother. The small risk of this happening is not discussed with women. Interventions increase the risk of baby's and mom's blood mixing so guess where most of these women are choosing to give birth....that's right, at home with midwives.

4. If the baby is Rh positive, you have a 72 hour window to give the mother the post-natal treatment. It isn't some sort of sudden panic at birth, you have three days to manage this situation.

What seems to be a common thread is more women questioning the traditional treatment at 28 weeks gestation. Women do not trust that the preservative-free RhoGAMs will not have some side effects to their babies or to their own bodies. These women want studies and they also want community. They want to see how other women proceed given different situations.

I would love to know what, if any, recent studies we have to cite for this topic. Please comment away if you have any perspective on this subject at all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ways of the Day (to make a difference)

Interested in how toxins in our environment may be affecting you and your children? I am happy to introduce Lisa Frack from Portland, Oregon to all of you. Lisa is working for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) whose mission is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. As the Online Parent Organizer, Lisa connects with parents to share EWG's research and activism opportunities. I am very interested in what I can do for the cause as a mother and an activist on the East Coast. Right now she is gathering contacts before she makes appearances around the country in 2009. If you or your friends live in TN, IA, PA, KS, or AZ, please let her (lisa@ewg.org) know so you can get you and your legislators involved! To learn more about this cause, please visit the EWG website and read about the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. You can sign The Declaration here.

Another great cause is the United States Breastfeeding Committee. Please sign their petition to President-Elect Obama. From the USBC petition site:
In the coming months, our leaders will be focused on our economic and financial future. This time of crisis also presents an opportunity to remind them that working mothers are an essential part of our nation's economic security, just as the health of our children is a critical part of our future. A full three-quarters of mothers are now in the labor force. As government and employers cut back in response to the recession, many more families are struggling to cover the rising costs of health care, groceries, and other necessities. We need your support to ensure that in these troubled economic times, all women and families can access the resources and support they need to do what's best for their babies.
And speaking of Obama, did you know it is House Party time? But seriously...Get to know your neighbors and help fuel the grassroots community that got Obama elected by attending a House Meeting and voicing your concerns for the administration. If there isn't one planned yet near you, host one!

There are many other great easy ways to get involved, let me know of your current favorites.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Blowing Bubbles in the Cold

"It is a great day to go outside and blow bubbles!" my son happily announced one very typical almost-winter day here in Charlottesville. Yes, it was cold, rainy and all my friends posted to their Facebook pages how they planned to stay inside and read under the covers. My knee jerk reaction to his suggestion was pretty predictable, "bubbles? It's raining, it's cold..." and so on. But after I allowed myself those first few replies I then asked, "why do you think it is a good day for bubbles?" It was in true interest of what makes my little guy tick that I asked but I hoped it wouldn't make any sense at all.
"When you blow bubbles on rainy days they stick to the ground and don't pop." Marcus, age 5
Hmmm. He was so right. Off we went. The bubbles looked great sparkling all over the lawn and the little guys had a blast stomping them. I got thinking about how grateful I am that he thinks unique thoughts like this. I am only regaining this ability. My five-year old sees many situations in ways most of us do not...and he doesn't even know it. I got thinking about how this mentality does relate to much of the activism I do lately. I try to look at a "cold environment" and try to blow bubbles in it anyway. I started vowing to myself I would not preach to my children from the default pulpit until after I hear their innovative approaches to situations. I shudder to think I almost didn't ask him his thoughts that day. I hope he always finds an audience for his unique perspective. Part of activism is finding the people that want to listen. Part of activism is also creating the audience.

Another example of bubble blowing happened to me about two years ago. I complained to a friend how much I hated matching socks. I can handle the laundry chore fine but oh the socks. My husband uses two pairs a day, minimum, and the white socks just mock me when I see them in the hamper. My friend quickly replied, "socks? That is my favorite! I just open up the drawer, dump them in, and move on!" I was dumbfounded. Not match socks? My mother not only matched socks but matched similarly-stained socks. I was wrestling with looking at relative styles at this point--already bringing shame to the family name. Well, my husband can affirm that one discussion has changed my life. I had never even considered just letting the socks float around in a drawer. And yes, I do still match the easy socks, the patterns and the boys' easy-to-match Hanes-stripe socks. But adult white male socks now get the stack-and-go approach.

An environment that was cold is now warm. Wow. There is something to thinking like this. Maybe it starts like this: You think of that thing that you don't love and wonder "what if this was my favorite thing, why would that be?" and maybe you find just the approach to change your focus. Sometimes it is really hard to wrestle your mind from all those cultural norms.

This got me thinking about all the things I now think are cultural norms only because I have a bubble of friends who have similar parenting styles as my husband and I do. I started laughing to myself how there are plenty of norms in my household that only 6 years ago I would have thought were completely fringe. They still are--just not to me. I started seeing my lifestyle as one big yard full of bubbles twinkling in a cold, wet environment. Here is a quick list of norms I have in my head that I easily forget many people do not have:
  • Cribs? Oh yeah, those. Toddler beds? Bed frames for children at all?
  • Quinoa? Most adults don't know about this awesome food? Gosh. That was me. (and p.s. Blogger's spellcheck doesn't even recognize "quinoa" as a word!)
  • Breastfeeding a toddler is "out there"? oh yeah, I remember thinking that.
  • Bribing you children with dessert, $1 toys at Target, video games? ate my words there.
  • Cloth diapers with PINS? I totally forget that image is out there.
  • Taking your baby to work is a radical idea? "Radical?" I am...I am...wow, I am proud to say that I don't see it as radical at all!
And so on. Realizing my norms that were not my norms ten years ago is my new game. Keeps me grinning.

I also recall how I cracked up a friend when I asked what exactly her smelly spray did for her kitchen table. She was pretty stunned at the question. I admit, I come from a spray-free culture but had never felt comfortable admitting it until then. I was feeling particularly brave and safe that day. I told her I usually go the water and washcloth route. We laughed about it, shared perspectives and...she is still one of my closest friends! Hallelujah! Why can't people ask each other questions like "why do you do this?" more often? I wish somebody asked me why I was matching socks many years ago. I would have realized there is more than one way to go about even the most simple rituals in our day. Is it possible to start evaluating everything we do and decide if the norm even makes sense anymore? I am trying to, especially the things I do not like to do.

Thinking all of this made me so proud to be a member of La Leche League. Here is one organization that knows how to blow bubbles in a cold environment. For instance, we often discuss the benefits of breastfeeding in our meetings. Simply by sharing a personal favorite, you give women extra support to put in their arsenal for doubters' questions. As the holidays creep closer, there will be plenty of people questioning new moms' practices in their families. Now here is a time when people feel very comfortable questioning and even challenging a personal/family norm. I want to stay optimistic and say just maybe these people truly want to understand "why breastfeed?" and do not know how to ask this question. Maybe they feel left out of the culture and judged. It is hard to let yourself be perceived as ignorant. But for some women learning that they are "allowed" more calories a day nursing than pregnant is exciting news, for others the ease of feeding your baby in the night is a huge perk. Health benefits for mother and baby are great pieces of knowledge to share and the list is practically endless. We can compare how the word "ease" is often equated in our society with warming bottles and sterilizing bottle nipples instead of simply holding your baby to your breast with no cleaning necessary.

I am quite excited to hear about ways others have found how to flip cold environments into warm ones and what other new norms you thought were for "crazy people" only a few years back. I think people often don't ask the question "why do you think the way you do?" and just keep their mind mainstream. It is a comfortable place to be. But the more we get used to standing out and illustrating why other points-of-view make sense to the mainstream culture, the closer we are to blending our personal norms into those of society. I'm sure the neighbors thought I was nuts blowing bubbles that chilly day but I think I brought a smile to their faces at the same time. They had to have seen those bubbles too, you couldn't miss them.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Industry Journals

Guess what I did today...yes, I am very excited about it.

I introduced both Mothering and Brain, Child magazines to a classroom of 17 University of Virginia undergraduates. I used these magazines as visuals for a paper I presented on what I feel it means to be a feminist today. In this paper, I tried to synthesize various feminist voices such as Gloria Steinem, Linda Hirshman, F. Carolyn Graglia and Sandra Tsing Loh into one Third Wave SAHM voice. My professor liked my paper but...he wasn't so sure about my idea of taking your baby to work, at least at first. I gave a passionate mini-speech about how the critics, once upon a time, thought women would never become doctors in great numbers. The medical field was too hierarchical and male and it was just...just...just...no, it just won't happen. But now women outnumber men in medical schools and many patients prefer a female doctor. Lest my professor and classmates think I was a crazy loner with a loud voice about activist mothers, I held up these two magazines and called them "journals for my industry."

The Mothering issue was the 2005 "Bring Your Baby To Work" issue and the Brain, Child was a 2005 "Mothers' Revolution" issue. Most women in the class saw the Mothering and spent a few minutes looking at many pages within. The Brain, Child got stuck half-way around the room but I presented both magazines clearly enough that hopefully they will stick for future reference. The idea of introducing alternative periodicals (than those at your average grocery store check-out) to women before children or even marriage are on their radars really pumped me up. Then I got thinking....

What other "journals" should we be reading and sharing with women 10 years younger than we are? What magazine do you feel represents your industry? What magazines really address women's issues after the childbearing years? If you have ideas, please let me know (comment, please!).

For breastfeeding specific reading I recommend New Beginnings, the bimonthly La Leche League member publication. For girls ages 8-12, I recommend New Moon. My niece has liked it so much that I have renewed it for a third year.

I also encourage other bold women to find ways to show our industry journals to women who should know they exist. How can we do this? One idea is to find women's groups like UVA's FIFE or NeW and get these young women thinking a few years ahead. Another idea is to donate/gift subscriptions to professors you think could use them in their course material. The topics certainly fit under sociology, women/gender studies and policy umbrellas. Of course, you can also take an undergraduate class and be an older, wiser Third Wave voice that your classmates do not even recognize as their own until the semester is practically over. Other ideas? Please comment with other fun and stealthy ways to leave Mothering magazines near impressionable minds!

I told my professor to hang on to those two magazines for as long as he would like. In the meantime I will dream of young women stumbling upon our industry journals when they least expect it.