Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is an HBO documentary detailing the footing of abortion access in Missouri, a state where restrictive laws render it one of the most difficult states in the nation to obtain an abortion. Women often have to drive hundreds of miles to reach an abortion provider, and within the state are subject to a 72 hour wait period even if the baby is afflicted with a condition not compatible with life.

This is a good documentary, highly watchable, and it makes an effort to allow both sides to speak to the camera. Clinic security guard “Chi Chi” is a character unto herself, snidely telling off protesters- “I wish I could abort HIM!”- she quips of one, and castigating women who churn out babies for welfare (her words, not mine).

We are introduced to soldiers on both sides of the line: clinic escorts who usher shell shocked patients to and from vehicles, pro-life activists who make a veritable career from organizing pro-life events and protesting at clinics. At one pro-life dinner a teary eyed Susan Jaramillo takes the stage like a quasi rock star, telling her tale of abortion woe and destruction. Her books are for sale on a nearby table.

In the documentary numerous women describe their decision to seek out an abortion. Most cite financial distress, a few cite abusive husbands/ boyfriends, one woman sought an abortion when she learned the father of her child was married. A few women terminate pregnancies after the baby is diagnosed with severe anomalies.

I had a lot of sympathy for all people featured, yes, even the obnoxious preachers raining hell fire on bewildered patients stumbling into the clinic. I can see why people hate them, but having known militant pro-lifers myself, I understand where they’re coming from. They truly believe they are fighting the most heinous form of murder known to humanity.

My own views on abortion are not so clear cut. I’m unsure if I’m pro-choice or pro-life. I’ll tell you my views and maybe you can let me know what I am.

I absolutely believe the unborn baby is a nascent form of human life. How anyone could pretend otherwise, even atheists, I cannot understand. As my friend the atheist once said: Everyone who is for abortion was born. Not complicated right?

I also believe, that as a nascent form of life, the unborn baby is precious and deserving of protection.

However: I also believe forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term is tantamount to rape. Pregnancy and childbirth involve the penetration of the mother’s body, both of her uterus and vagina, sometimes other parts- even if the baby is going “out” the body is still being penetrated, sometimes horrifically (yes I know the “horrific” part firsthand). Penetration without consent is rape.

So on the one hand you have the taking of a human life- murder- and on the other hand you have rape. Forgive me if I can’t decide which is worse!

I have one other thought on abortion, and this is something pro-lifers refuse to acknowledge: women will always have abortions. It doesn’t matter how many laws you lay down. Women will seek and obtain abortions even where it is illegal.

Therefore, if you are faced with an inevitable abortion, and you can either lose one life (the baby’s) or two lives (the baby’s and the mom’s), you are ethically obligated to protect the one life you can reach- the mother’s! Why pro-lifers refuse to see this is beyond me. If they successfully outlaw abortion there will be MORE loss of human life at the hands of shoddy purveyors of abortion, not less!

While Abortion: Stories Women Tell attempts to be even handed, it comes out slanted for the pro-choice side. I’m not sure if this is because the pro-lifers featured are so obnoxious, although one pro-choice SJW type gives a pestiferous rant toward the end of the film, or if it was deliberate. Either way this is one of the better abortion documentaries I’ve seen, and I recommend it to anyone with ninety minutes to spare. It is available on HBO GO as of this posting.

Spreadsheet Sex

A darkly humorous story went mildly viral a couple weeks ago, about a reddit user who posted an excel file her husband created detailing the number of times he had requested sex over seven weeks (27) and how many times she refused (24). Here is a link to the original thread but it looks like the poster deleted her post, which read:

Yesterday morning, while in a taxi on the way to the airport, Husband sends a message to my work email which is connected to my phone. He’s never done this, we always communicate in person or by text. I open it up, and it’s a sarcastic diatribe basically saying he won’t miss me for the 10 days I’m gone. Attached is a SPREADSHEET of all the times he has tried to initiate sex since June 1st, with a column for my “excuses”, using verbatim quotes of why I didn’t feel like having sex at that very moment. According to his ‘document’, we’ve only had sex 3 times in the last 7 weeks, out of 27 “attempts” on his part.

And the spreadsheet (source):

excel

She acts all shocked and flummoxed to receive this from her husband, but in looking at the pattern of refusals she seems to know exactly what shes doing: she’s got her husband on a 2 times per month schedule which is probably the least she’s decided she can get away with. Even her excuses follow a pattern- too tired, too drunk, too full, too unbathed. Since when have food and alcohol gotten in the way of sex? It sure didn’t stop King Henry VIII who, by the time of his death, weighed 400 pounds, never bathed, and his castle offered a 1 gallon per day ration of beer, not including parties. Yet he managed to go through six wives and countless mistresses without complaining about being too full.

[An interesting aside about King Henry VIII is that despite having six wives he managed to produce only three living heirs, and only two of those lived to adulthood. I’ve occasionally read this might have been due to Henry having a venereal disease that impacted the fertility of the women, yet, he had as many as seven living children by various mistresses, most of them going on to live long lives. It makes you wonder if, instead of disease, there was some environmental factor within Hampton Court that impaired female fertility (lead? a bad royal doctor?) as one assumes his mistresses were not housed long term in the castle.]

I wonder why excel guy didn’t turn to the manosphere for sage and proven wisdom on how to get his wife to tear off her thong. Back in my message board addiction days, I spent a lot of time on marriage boards where there was an endless stream of beleaguered husbands whose wives simply wouldn’t have sex with them more than once or twice a month, if at all. (Rarely women showed up with the same problem re: their husbands, but it was the exception.) Most had tried mansopheresque techniques like acting more “alpha,” acting indifferent to sexual refusals, and going about their own lives in order to rebuild their confidence (a lot of them take up fitness). But in most of the severe cases, nothing worked.

My impression is if a couple starts out with compatible drives but they’ve hit a rut sexually, then yes, these techniques and others probably can come to the rescue. But if a couple had disparate sex drives to begin with, the imbalance becomes even more entrenched over the course of a marriage until the husband (it’s usually the husband) is expected to be celibate or close to it. Though the female refusal of sex has been going on since caveman days, I have wondered if feminism was the death knell of married sex. Throughout my adolescence and young adulthood it was hammered home that if a woman isn’t absolutely driven to have sex, or has even the slightest inkling she doesn’t want to have sex- even if she changes her mind for any reason partway through- she’s under absolutely no obligation to please her husband, even if she’s the only sexual outlet he has. And since women tend to have more fragile sex drives than men, especially as they age, this leads to a lot of sexually starved men with few options (well there’s always Tarna).

Turning your husband down 24 out of 27 times because you “don’t feel like it” is unconscionable. Entering into a marriage is a sexual contract as much as anything else, and unless you’re loud and clear upfront that your partner should expect sex only 10% of the time he desires it, a sincere effort in the bedroom is called for. But good luck telling wives (and a few husbands) that.

I sometimes wonder how King Henry would fare were he alive today. He’d probably reinstate public executions and get rid of all the immigrants. Maybe he could go on Supersize vs Superskinny to lose some of that weight, though he’d probably just drag the superskinny back to Hampton Court, to fatten her up for his own purposes.

National Geographic: The New Face of Hunger

National Geographic Magazine recently came out with The New Face of Hunger. Like A Place at the Table the article details the “new hungry” in America: many are working poor and most are overweight. So I would have to disagree with the article header that these people are “malnourished.” They are, in fact, over-nourished, like the rest of America. But that doesn’t mean they don’t go hungry or have inconsistent access to food. In fact, overweight people are going to feel hunger a lot harder than a thin person, since their body is accustomed to eating more.

At many points this article had me scratching my head. We hear the usual themes, namely:

* healthy food is expensive
It’s not, and I’ve shown it many times over in this blog. Yes, organic kumquats from Whole Foods are expensive, but non-organic romaine and carrots are cheap at hole-in-the-wall produce stands. I can easily feed my family of 9 on $180-200 a week, which is below what our SNAP allotment would be were we eligible.

* you need to eat healthy foods to stay fit
Again, not true. If you read my blog you know that fruits and vegetables don’t make you lose weight. People can lose weight on twinkie diets. And the “fat head” guy lost weight and improved his cholesterol levels eating nothing but “unhealthy” fast food (he didn’t eat any of the salads). He did, however, limit his daily calorie and carb intake to 2000 kcal and 100 g respectively. And in Supersize vs Superskinny, most of the superskinnies eat junk. One superskinny woman survives on toast and a candy bar each day.

*poor people are more likely to be fat due to the above reason
If you look at data from the CDC you will see the supposed correlation between poverty and obesity is weak, especially in adults. People across all economic strata are overweight. In fact, among certain races and genders, like black men, the reverse it true: wealthier ones are more likely to be fat.

*poor people live in food deserts
The notion of food deserts was long ago disproven. Even the NYtimes admits they rarely exist. Instead, the real problem is when people in suburban and rural areas don’t have a working vehicle. That definitely is a problem when trying to shop frugally for food (or anything else). Perhaps food banks could expand their services to include volunteer grocery runs for car-less families.

The NG article is strong on the ubiquitous push for fruits and vegetables to solve the hunger problem, even going so far as to blame the government for subsidizing corn and soy but not fruits and veggies. As much as I personally love fruits and veggies, they have a very low satiation index compared to protein rich and fatty foods, and this is why the new USDA breakfast/ lunch standards are so troublesome even if kids weren’t throwing most of it in the trash. Indeed, the overweight three year old in this article refuses his free breakfast even when his mother intentionally sends him to school hungry.

Here’s the thing though: not only do they not make you lose weight, but fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten by hardly anyone- either rich or poor. Here is a USDA pdf containing a detailed list of calorie sources for Americans by food type (scroll to page 25 for it). Unless potato chips, fruit drinks, and french fries count, fresh produce doesn’t even make the list.

caloriesourcesamericans

So why are we wagging our collective finger- and that would include the first lady’s ever reaching finger- at the poor to eat their veggies when no one else is doing it? It would be more efficient simply to encourage more homecooking, whether of foodie-approved dishes or not, to stretch SNAP dollars as far as possible. Perhaps SNAP recipients should receive complementary kitchen items like crock pots and mixers; while it would be an added expense, it would save money- and prevent hunger- in the long run.

For instance one family in this article complains their $125 monthly assistance leaves them with empty cupboards (this is on top of the income of three working adults). But I immediately ran the calculations in my head: $125 can buy 350 lbs of flour (a 50 lb bag is $17), which in turn would make more than 500 3-cup loaves of bread. That’s 16 loaves of bread a day in addition to what they purchase separate from SNAP. Bread may not be the most filling thing in the world but a three cup loaf will certainly get you through, especially if it’s not all you’re eating. But apparently most of these people- and people in general- don’t cook either due to lack of knowledge or because they’re too burnt out, tired and stressed. This is where a housewife would come in handy, but those are going the way of the dodo. In fact the only family in this article that does eat well (and interestingly, isn’t fat) and has a small food stockpile that could last months, is a family where food is managed by a stay at home mom. Ironically she got the nastiest comments from commenters (I haven’t read comments on NG, but did on another site) criticizing her for “not working” and for her irresponsible breeding. I guess we women only have ourselves to blame for this attitude. Ever since second wave feminism, having children and managing a household are considered a pathetic waste of time. And if a mother is poor to boot, forget about it. Her ovaries should be ripped out for the sake of humanity. Thanks a lot Betty Friedan.

The Feminists and Me

Back when I was in graduate school, I one day noticed a help wanted sign posted on the announcement bulletin board (since these were just the proto-days of the internet, it was an actual, physical bulletin board). The Women’s Studies office needed an office assistant. Women’s Studies! Well that sounded like a friendly place to work. I imagined an office full of chatty, supportive women. So I headed on down to the Women’s Studies department and found an elderly, ghostly thin woman behind a desk. I told her I was interested in the job. Did I have experience? Why yes I did. I’d had any number of office assistant type jobs in college. I was hired on the spot. In retrospect, her eagerness to hire me so quickly should have been a warning sign, as no one lasted long in the Women’s Studies department.

The Women’s Studies office workers consisted of me, the elderly lady, and a white girl with dreadlocks who, like her elderly counterpart, was also bone thin. The dreadlock girl invariably wore the same outfit of black jeans and a black tank top; she was so thin the jeans had to be held up with a thick black belt. She spent her time in the office quietly arguing on the phone with her boyfriend (since these were the proto-days of the internet, cell phones were also rare). She confided to me in private that he was abusive and had spent time in jail for hitting her. The elderly woman spent her time on the phone with kosher butchers, eateries, and her husband planning the details of dinner that evening. During the day she snacked on pre-sliced bell peppers that she kept in a ziplock baggie in a desk drawer. She ate them at regular ten minute intervals, and advised me that they increased calorie burn.

The three of us were ruled over by the Women’s Studies chair. She was a hulk of a woman who looked like a football player with boobs. She wasn’t there often, but when she did appear she was full of demands, criticisms, and condescension. She piled us with impossible and pointless filing and organizational tasks, and liked to summon us– me especially– into her office to pick up things from the floor. Once she summoned me to her office and told me to pick up a piece paper that lay on the floor two feet away from her.

One of my duties was to field calls from prospective Women Studies majors. I was to obtain their name, address, and phone number, so a tidy informational packet could be sent out. Without fail, every last woman who called (and it was all women) was unbelievably rude and nasty on the phone. “You BETTER get my address right. Send me that packet IMMEDIATELY. You understand what IMMEDIATELY means don’t you?”

A few weeks into my employment I was informed I’d be setting up, and cleaning up, for a presentation in another building. Keys in hand I ventured to the designated room and set up the chairs in neat rows. Turning to refreshment duties, however, I found a broken coffee maker and broken can opener (the fruit juice was in cans). I called the office in mild panic, as the audience was set to arrive within minutes.

“The coffee maker’s broken?” said the elderly woman with feigned surprise.

“And so is the can opener,” I replied.

She told me to go up and down the hallways to other departments begging for use of their coffee makers and can openers, which is exactly what I did. Several departments later I’d only procured a can opener, so I gave up on coffee and poured the juice into paper cups.

Then the band of feminists arrived, including a women’s studies professor who, like the department chair, had an attitude the size of Mount Rushmore. She was furious over the lack of coffee and the lack of variety in desserts (I’d been given a single bag of cookies by the elderly woman). I explained that the coffee maker was broken and the cookies were all I’d been supplied. Somehow the women survived the unimpressive refreshments, and they settled into chairs to listen to the lecture about the oppression of women. I took this as my cue to quietly wait in the wings, so I took my book, sat off to the side, and read as the lecture droned on. When it was finished the professor made a beeline for me.

“Why didn’t you participate?” she hissed, clearly furious.

“Excuse me?”

“No one said you could just sit there reading. You should have participated.”

“Participate how? I’m not in Women’s Studies. I’m here to set up chairs.”

“You need to understand there’s a hierarchy here and you’re part of it.”

Whoa…. this was too much for me. Had I fallen down the rabbit hole? But instead of a magical fantasy world, I was surrounded by a bunch of crazy bitches. By this point she’d raised her voice such that the other feminists in the crowd stared at us uncomfortably.

“Look, I was told to come here, set up chairs and food, then put the chairs back. No one said anything about participating.”

“It was disrespectful to sit on the side reading.”

I decided then and there to cut my losses. “You know what? I’m three months pregnant.” When I said the word “pregnant” the professor flinched back like a vampire faced with a cross. I placed my hand instinctively over my abdomen, where my now teenage son was residing. “I don’t need this kind of stress. I’ve never dealt with such nasty people in my life. I’m done!” and I walked out of there, leaving the feminists to stack their own chairs.

I’ve occasionally wondered where all those women are today. Is the elderly lady still living, if so is she still munching bell peppers to stay scrawny? Did dreadlock girl break up with her boyfriend? Did those nasty professors ever get what was coming to them, or did they continue to stomp through life like bulls in china shops. All I know is– I’m glad I escaped.

The World Before Her

“The World Before Her” is an outstanding documentary detailing the crossroads of modernity and traditionalism in India. Canadian documentarian Nisha Pahuja follows two groups of women– one preparing for the Miss India beauty pageant, and the other being trained at a quasi-military Hindu nationalist camp for girls.

The beauty pageant contestants are subjected to 30 days of botox, skin lightening treatments, body-toning aerobics and “hot leg contests.” The girls at the Hindu camp are taught to commando crawl, shoot guns, and are drilled on the importance of being married by age 18 “because by age 25, women are unmanageable.”

I had not known this, but the existence of beauty pageants in India has long been a contentious issue, with traditionalists convinced that the trojan horse of such past times will usher in the decay of Hindu culture and human dignity. As Prachi Trivedi, the hard nosed daughter of a camp leader eloquently states: “Egyptians, Romans, they are history now. It’s going to happen with us. So we are trying to save ourselves. That is the only thing I want, nothing else.”

I was gobsmacked by how much “work” the pageant contestants– who are all stunningly and naturally beautiful– have done in preparation to capture the crown. The skin lightening chemicals are painful to endure (one girl is seen writhing on the table), and the net result is a greenish, unnaturally pale complexion that makes the girls look seasick. And what 19 year old, especially an unbelievably beautiful 19 year old, needs botox? So I felt the girls actually looked less attractive after they washed out their complexions and plumped up their lips. But my understanding is that skin whitening is all the rage in India.  Indeed, in “Enlighten Up,” the laughing guru had that same unnatural, corpse-like paleness to him.

The film opens on an upbeat note, and the comparison between the nationalist camp and the pampered beauty queens makes the documentary temporarily lean toward fluff piece, until 2009 Miss India and her mother describe how she narrowly escaped infanticide at birth. Miss India’s mother was given two choices by her husband: surrender the newborn daughter to an orphanage, or kill her.

pooja chopra
Pooja Chopra, Miss India 2009

What is startling about this is that the contestants draw from middle class, urban and suburban families. I had no idea abandoning and murdering baby girls was still practiced in urban, educated settings. I always assumed this sort of thing took place in backwoods villages by families with no education or means. I have seen pictures from Pakistani morgues showing rows of sheet-bundled infant corpses neatly lined up on metal tables, all of them baby girls killed at birth, their bodies discarded like trash.

At this point in the film, the images of beautiful women poised on display suddenly take on a chilling and haunting tenor. As the mother of six daughters, I found myself, while watching this film, very grateful to live in a society that does not routinely pressure women to abort, abandon, or kill baby girls. This is not to say that we don’t have our own gender hopes and disappointments; I know for a fact my own parents were bitterly disappointed when I came into the world a girl, as they had desperately wanted a son. But it would be virtually unheard of, in mainstream American society, for a child to be abandoned solely for her gender. Yet I doubt even the most tolerant and urbane Indian husband would endure six consecutive daughters (there were actually seven, if you count the one I lost).

If you’re a documentary hound like me, you know that the topic of a well done documentary is of little importance; it’s how the subject matter is handled that makes or breaks a documentary film. “The World Before Her” is beautifully filmed, expertly handled, and its fascinating characters shine unfiltered from the screen.  So even if you have no interest in Hindu nationalism or beauty pageants, Nisha Pahuja’s offering comes highly recommended.

Hens in Wolves’ Clothing

I finally found something I can bitch… err… blog about even in my compromised cognitive state. A gender studies professor has come out with an article about why she won’t breastfeed her next child… because it’s sexist to do so.

First, let me say that this lady is a complete cuckoohead. Second, let me say that I’m glad I’m not her husband, because reading between the lines, she looks like a henpecking nitpicker cloaked in academic jargon. Honestly there are women out there who will do anything to control and yank the chains of their husbands… even if it means writing a crazy article like this.

Breastfeeding, quoths Ms. Erikson, “provides an infrastructure for an unequal distribution of the work (and rewards) of parenting.” You know, because women have beautiful, lactating breasts, and men don’t. To her apparent dismay, long after weaning, her young son still prefers her over her husband when it comes to story time, and all that time at the breast is to blame. Not the fact that maybe her kid just likes her better. After having seven children, and breastfeeding them all, I can assure you that kids tend to like one parent over the other in the early years (and that this preference can shift with a vengeance in the teen years). My oldest daughter was much chummier with my husband, than she was with me, when she was little. My youngest will happily toddle over to him while blowing me off. My second oldest daughter was nonchalant toward me as a baby and toddler, but today, at age 11, sticks to me like glue and requests my (and only my) guidance for all life decisions.

Breastfeeding, according to Ms. Ericson, creates a “privilege” for the lactating mother, and like all those despicable, malignant privileges out there, must be banished in the name of dogged equanimity. Breastfeeding is a “power trip” (like taking a private jet?); breastfeeding is an “ongoing inequality” (like only letting hot women work at Hooters?); breastfeeding is a dangerous influence that she and her husband will “work to unwind” over the years to come. Oh, let me also add: I’m glad I’m not this woman’s kid.

I personally know a woman whose daughter survived infancy because she was breastfed. The daughter had an undiagnosed heart defect, and as a baby underwent several emergency surgeries. Not only did the pediatric cardiologist tell my friend that her child would not be alive had she not breastfed her, he ordered her to continue breastfeeding her daughter as long as humanly possible (the daughter continued to nurse well into toddlerhood). One of my own daughters (the 11 year who adheres to my advisements) is probably alive today because she was breastfed; she had severe, undiagnosed asthma that put her in respiratory failure and a week of ICU at age four. Had I not breastfed her, as I did for a year, her asthma would probably be worse. But even with the motivating factor of health aside, it’s just nice to breastfeed your baby. Really, really nice, like holding a teddy bear as a kid, but a thousand times better.

So why can’t Ms. Erikson, and all the other feminists out there, calm down a little and accept some things are just done for love, and it’s not that complicated?