In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

Quick hit: We Bought a Huge Effing House, and Now We Can’t Afford More Kids

An Elle Decor essayist has come out with a horrible confession: She and her husband sacrificed a child to buy their dream home.

(How awesome would it be if that were the actual story? “Our realtor didn’t mention the fiery, bottomless hellpit in the basement into which we have to throw a small child at the peak of the new moon to keep our mortgage rate low. She said it was a walk-in wine closet.”)

Alternative Family Structures: The Baby Book Edition

If you’re part of an non-conventional family and about to welcome a new child, finding a baby book is…probably the last thing on your mind, actually, as you have a million and one other things to think about.

But it was really preying on my mother’s mind. She didn’t want me to have to get a baby book with a traditional family tree, one side of which would be left blank, and no spaces to write down the baby’s real family, i.e. the friends with whom I live. So she went searching, and she found me this:

Welcome to the World Baby Memory Book: Celebrating All Families

It seems to be out of print, but it is a sweet book. It does not ask you to specify your baby’s (presumed) gender, and the family page is perfect for a family like mine. Instead of a tree, there are two pages with spaces to list the baby’s family members’ names, their relationship to the baby, and to add notes of anything you want about them, arranged in a column. With that set-up, there’s not even enough room for all of the baby’s family–never mind about an entirely blank page where the father’s side of the family might be.

So I thought I’d give the book a little love here. It’s not without a problem–while most of the illustrations are of cute little animals, there are a few of babies, and I would have preferred that those illustrations not be of only white babies–so it’s not going work comfortably for everybody by far. But it’s something.

Alternative family structures

So when I was growing up, I had an understanding: one would grow up, fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, marry him/her, have kids, and be happy. As I got older, this understanding was expanded to include the possibility of falling in love with someone of the same sex. These, as I understood it, were my options, along with the ever-popular dying alone and childless (it would’ve been childless for me, I’m not commenting on anybody else’s child-having preferences). The older I got, and the lesser my aptitude for romantic relationships was revealed to be, the more convinced I became that dying alone was my doom.

That’s actually not what has happened (yet, anyway). I have grown up, but I never fell in love with anybody, at least not in a way that stuck, and as yet I have not married (it seems less and less likely to happen, though I won’t rule it out). I live with my best friend and her husband and their child, my godson. I am pregnant with, I’ve just found out, a baby boy (if the kid is cis) and my best friend is due to deliver my wonderful goddaughter any minute now, actually. And we are a family.

Since this seems to confuse or arouse the interest of a good many people, let me just make it clear: I am not sleeping with anybody in my family constellation. That’s not the kind of relationship I’ve built my life around. This feels right to me, as I’ve always had very enduring, very intense best friendships, lasting for years. Of the best friends I’ve had since turning 13, one friendship ended when my friend’s parents very deliberately separated us by moving her out of state (they thought we were gay; we’re friends again now); one ended when we did drift apart after several years; one ended when my best friend died; and one is my best friend now. That’s not a bad track record. That’s not a bad kind of relationship to build a life or a family on. My sexual/romantic relationships though–one, when I was in my early twenties, lasted a year and a half. That’s the best I’ve ever done. More usually, they last 3-6 months and are long distance and fraught with anxiety and insecurity. That’s no way to raise a child. It’s really no way to be happy, either.

I feel like I’ve hit the family jackpot. I can be happy with the people I love best in the world, who love me best. We take care of each other. And the pressure is off, I can date or not date, and it has absolutely zero effect on my long-term family plans. I can have the best of both worlds–a loving, reliable family, and I can still sleep with cute, feckless young men on the side, if the opportunity arises.

I know another family trio, a polyamorous family, who are equally happy. And of course, middle-class white people are quite late to the party when it comes to non-nuclear family structures. The essential role of extended family in African-American communities, including family who are not blood kin, such as othermothers, is well documented. I first ran across the concept of othermothers in the work of Patricia Hill Collins, I believe Black Feminist Thought. And numerous cultures, including Native American ones, build family with and around people and relatives white people would term “extended” family.

These families are real and effective in doing all that families do–caring for each other, supporting each other, fighting with each other, raising children if children there be. But, like same-sex marriage in most of the US until the past couple years, they have no legal protections. People with resources and knowledge and money can see a lawyer and draw up a number of documents, none of which are iron-clad–co-parenting agreements, wills, stand-by guardianships, health-care proxies. But there is no recognized way to make somebody part of your family unless you marry them or adopt them. Even if you are family, there is no way for say, a sister and brother to legally protect a primary family they choose to make together. Why? We do we base our standard of family on sexual relationships between two people not otherwise related? Yes, reworking our definition of family would require reworking lots of things–how we apportion health insurance, for instance. But so what? The way we apportion health insurance in this country is pretty stupid anyway. What makes sexual/romantic relationships so special that they deserve recognition available to no other kinds of relationships? Or, to put it another way, what makes my decade-long bond with my best friend so much less deserving? If love, as we have said, makes a family, why are we making invidious distinctions among types of love and family bonds?

The Feminist Anti-Contraception Crusaders

The right-wing anti-sex “real woman” backlash seems to have hit the feminist movement this month, with the publication of books telling women to swear off the Pill and to swear off sex. I’m writing about it in the Guardian: That we’ve come a long way, baby, but gender relations remain fraught, and living with a wide variety of choices that look wide-open but end up constrained is much more challenging than having one or two paths to choose from. It’s easier, in many ways, to offer simple proscriptive advice about “real” femininity than to have to figure out how to be a woman when the definition of “womanhood” is increasingly broad:

A Woman’s Right to Chores

Now that I have begun to take notice of this trend, it makes me tile-scrubbingly angry. Why is it that in television commercials for cleaning products, women are still doing all the work? We’re still the only ones trailing our fingers ruefully over dusty tabletops, fretting over grass stains on soccer uniforms, and grimacing through smudged windows. Just once, I’d like to turn on the TV and see a man drying his hands complacently on a dishtowel after washing a sink full of dishes. Am I dreaming too big here?

Our feminist foremothers didn’t fight for your right to enjoy your life.

Apparently they were fighting for… the obligation for you to feel guilty about having a life you like? The need to be told you’re selfish, shallow and immature for concluding that children are expensive, you don’t feel any strong pull to have them, and you prefer to use your disposable income to do the things you love? The rights of an advice columnist to trot out stories of women who can’t plan their families as a way to shame you for the fact that you not only can, but choose to? Ok then. Feminism!

The rise of female breadwinners, and the betrayals of U.S. policy

Over at the Guardian, I’m writing about the new stat that 40% of breadwinners in American families are women. With women making up half the workforce, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we’re an increasing proportion of primary earners. But the 40% stat doesn’t tell the whole story. For starters, the majority of that 40% are single moms — the breadwinners in their families, yes, but not because they’re married to men who make less. Those women make an average of $23,000 per year. The third of breadwinner women who are married to men are significantly wealthier, with a combined family income averaging $80,000. And when you look at divorce and marital satisfaction stats, the happiest couples are those who both work, but where the husband makes more money. Stay-at-home moms have higher rates of depression and marital dissatisfaction, and unhappiness comes in again at the end of the spectrum where a wife out-earns her husband. A strong majority of Americans also believe that the best situation for a child is with a mom who stays home (only 8 percent believe the same about a kid with a dad who stays home). These problems are complex, but traditional ideas about gender play a strong role, and those ideas shape the social policies that leave working parents between a rock and a hard place. Our particularly American gender traditionalism coupled with our idealization of individualism-as-freedom (without recognition that such individualism has generally been a male pursuit, enabled entirely by an unpaid female at-home support system) creates major cultural disincentives to implementing the kids of policies that could actually help families. The full piece is here, and a section is below:

Selfish singles are good for society.

My latest in the Guardian is about that “Rise of Post-Familialism” study that has everyone in a tizzy, panicking that Western nations are facing a baby-shortage and selfish, indulgent single people are ruining the world. I take the position that the very things the study and conservative commentators brand as “selfish” are actually just smart, and the logical responses to both social progress and continued constraint. It’s one of my favorite columns so far, so I hope you’ll read the whole thing. A bit of it:

But the moral case against individualism and choice doesn’t have legs. It’s a moral good when people have a wide array of choices and increased personal freedom – not just for the individual, but also for children, family and society. And the evidence backs that up.