Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Limits of Academic Feminism

I was musing on the annoying (and often oppressive) nature of many academy-educated feminists after a dear friend came to me ranting about the antics of a mutual acquaintance.

To clarify, by academy-educated feminist, I don't mean a feminist that has been educated in academia or holds a degree in higher education. I mean feminists who received all or most of their education about feminisms in the academy, whose entire view of feminism has been shaped solely by the power dynamics present in each and every university classroom (yes, even the gender studies courses).

Looking back, my gender studies classes provided very little of what makes up my identity as Feminist today. I left school gung-ho about abortion rights and, while I had some vocabulary to discuss intersectionality, my Feminism was largely limited and, at times, point-blank oppressive.

This isn't uncommon. Look at any syllabus for a survey feminist theory course and you'll find pretty much the same format:
  • First Wave Feminism - Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, suffrage, and a white lady's account of Sojourner Truth.
  • Second Wave Feminism - Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Roe v. Wade, Title IX. 
  • The 1980s - Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin and the "feminist sex wars." Poststructuralist feminism, featuring Judith Butler and the obligatory mind blowing of fresh-faced academes. 
  • Third Wave Feminism - Really just "We're going to spend a month reading Jennifer Baumgardner."
  • Literally one or two weeks to "cover" non-mainstream feminisms - Black feminism, transfeminism, sex-positive feminism, cross-continental feminism, etc.
See the issue? All the mainstream stuff is taught chronologically, and if we have time at the end, we're going to go back in time to cover "the other stuff" that "doesn't fit" within the feminisms we're already familiar with.

A bunch of gender studies professors relegating "other" feminisms to the back of the syllabus isn't a huge surprise, of course (as I said, university power dynamics). The worst part about this trend is the five minute feelgood spiel they'd always give at the end: "Let's take a moment to reflect on how it's problematic to teach gender studies this way. ... Okay, have a great summer!"

Wait, hold on! Did you just say that everything you've been doing all semester is problematic? Can we talk about that for a moment? Maybe think of solutions?

No, because class is dismissed and everyone is jumping up from their seats to head to their next class.

(Besides, the professor's problematic syllabus probably won't be on the final.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Doula Identity Crisis

For a number of reasons, I'm toying with not recertifying with DONA International next year. (The reasons are best left to a different post.) When considering my options for a new certifying organization, an interesting thought crossed my mind: why recertify at all?

Think about it. Doulas are not medical professionals; there is no such thing as "practicing labor support without a license." It doesn't take a sheet of paper and a nametag to offer holistic pregnancy and labor support. It takes training, knowledge, and most of all, a committment to your cause.

Your cause. And what is my cause? This whole inner dialogue, do I recertify or not, has driven me into a sort of Doula Identity Crisis.

Credentials or not, I am a Doula. I have always been one, and while I haven't always attended births (or, for that matter, attached that term to what I do), I have always played the Supporting Role in whatever challenge my friends and acquaintances are facing. Learning this about myself has given me the opportunity to playfully attach the term to many aspects of my life. Listening to a friend work through issues with her partner? Relationship Doula. Volunteering at Transformus' Sanctuary? Burn Doula. My partner mentioned his fire department's auxiliary. What I heard? Fire Doulas.

What we've come to forget - strangely enough - is that doulas have been attending births long before it was a paid profession. In fact we hear this history when we attend the trainings: women have been assisting women through childbirth for probably as long as childbirth has existed. Many mammals (i.e., elephants!) doula each other through labor. We know this, and yet we have allowed "those who are doulas" to be separated from "those who are not doulas" by a mess of paperwork, fees, and credentials. Even my local professional association of doulas separates certified doulas from non-certified doulas with the categories Certified Doulas and Trained Doulas Working Toward Certification.

Which leads me to ask again, What The Hell Are We Doing?

There must have been something in the air, because right as I started questioning this whole notion that "doulas are paid professionals with credentials," Miriam Perez penned an article on this very topic. She muses:
I think doula work is valuable and important, and I also don’t believe the essence of doula work—non-judgmental and unconditional support for pregnant and parenting people—needs to be locked away in a system that says only a certain amount of training, certificates, or other paperwork bestows upon someone the right to provide this support. We run the risk of replicating the model we’re trying to revolutionize. And I don’t think that is where real social change happens.
Let me pause for a moment and say that, had it not been for my training and push towards credentialing, I would not harbor the knowledge and skills I have today. I see the need for these trained and certified doulas that charge for their services, and I hope to remain one of them for a very long time. The work is invaluable, and charging for services rightfully reimburses us for the hours upon hours spent with someone's family (read: away from ours). It also helps to set a standard of practice so that families know what to expect - and not expect - from a prospective doula.

But as Perez rightly notes, we could be defeating our cause by over-stressing the importance of these things.

Last month, this piece sparked some heated discussion on my Facebook feed. On the one hand, I agree with the author that valuing our work and not selling ourselves short is important. On the other, her point completely ignores the vast number of families who should not be denied trained labor support simply because they cannot front a $500-$1000+ payment to someone who, let's face it, isn't exactly a mandatory part of the birthing process. This population, the under-served and often less educated, needs doula services the most. They are more likely to lack a constant support person throughout the process. They are more likely to be "rushed through the machine" of the hospital system. They are less likely to feel positive about their experiences. They need doulas, and anyone who says I'm "cheapening the profession" by volunteering my time to help someone have the birth they want needs to reassess the reasons they became a doula in the first place.

Fast forward to today. I have a client with one of the more medical physicians practices in this city. They've scheduled an induction for Monday, four days after her estimated due date, because "baby is measuring big." After venting about the obvious issues to a friend, I found myself thinking, "I just need to stop taking clients with this practice."

Woah woah woah woah. What am I saying?

Suppose for a moment I wasn't her doula simply because of who her doctor is. And say all other doulas felt the same way. This mama would still be induced on Monday, but I wouldn't be there to support her through it. No one would, and with a practice like this, it's these women that need my support most.

I'm envious of the doulas who "only attend home births" or "only work with patients of midwives." They are helping to support a certain portion of the population that deserves a doula as much as anyone, and I'm not saying their work as doulas is less important (far from it). However, if their goal is to only work with care providers that are already extra supportive of natural chlidbirth, then I can only imagine their mission differs from mine.

Thing is, I get it. I love working with the midwives, not worrying about contradicting a care provider's advice, not having to hide granola bars under hospital gowns, avoiding unnecessary interventions, etc. I'm excited to have two clients next month who are having water births.

But my mission is to help every person have a supported and satisfying birth. For everyone experiencing abortion or miscarriage to be validated and supported throughout the process. For all my friends and people I care about to have a non-judgmental ear, to have their backs rubbed when they need it, to be reminded to just simply take care of themselves. I'm not doing that if I'm limiting the population I'm willing to work with, and I'm certainly not doing that if I'm more concerned with my credentials and fee schedule than I am my ability to simply be there.

I have a lot to think about over the next year when my DONA certification expires. Do I want to certify with another organization? Let it go and work without cert? Does it even matter? I'm not entirely sure. What I am sure of is this: if I look at myself in the mirror and can say with confidence, "I am a Doula," I know I'm on the right track.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Gun Thing

A lot of people don't realize that I am in no way against responsible gun ownership. I'm not a huge fan of the things, but I've shot them and - aside from that incident at summer camp where I accidentally killed a bird - I rather enjoyed the experience.

What I am against, however, are the people who incoherently rail on about the Second Amendment while not being able to tell you what, exactly, the Second Amendment actually says. Or those who evoke said amendment without understanding the context in which it was written, or the reasons why that context is deeply problematic in and of itself.

I am against any discourse that doesn't take into account the mess of white privilege tangled up in every cry for the right to keep and bear firearms. The way we push for armed guards in suburban elementary schools without any mention of the way such guards have impacted inner-city learning institutions, led to increased police brutality within schools, and reinforced the growing school-to-prison pipeline.

I am against the way we explain away mass shootings by white people with simple phrases like "mental illness" while blaming "thuggish" black kids for their own death at the hands of a firearm (and never suggesting they should have been carrying for their own self defense).

Those who look at George Zimmerman and believe he was truly justified in his right to self defense, but make not a peep when Melissa Alexander gets thrown away for firing warning shot near her abusive ex-husband.

Those who co-opt the language of sexual violence prevention only when it suits their pro-gun agenda, coincidentally ignoring the countless instances where possession of a firearm has made women more vulnerable to death from abuse and assault. Not to mention that this idea - that women should carry as "rape prevention" - reinforces rape culture by placing emphasis on me being responsible for protecting myself and not on a collective effort to combat systematic sexual oppression.

Those who don't see how making a case for more gun rights after a tragedy is markedly different from making a case for ways we can keep them from happening again.

Those things. I'm against those things, not gun ownership itself.

And yet, when I bring up any number of these issues, I am summarily accused by my culture's blind affinity for dichotomy of being "against responsible gun ownership." Of being a "bleeding heart liberal who wants big government to take away my rights."

I'm done with it. I am so tired of the dichotomy, of being put into defense mode, of feeling the need to relive the night I was nearly raped just to get my point across, of having my commitment to individual freedom called into question by folks with no visible care for collective justice.

So this is my final statement on the matter, one that I will probably be copy/pasting for years to come: I have no problem with your right to purchase and keep a firearm. I have a problem with you not recognizing the ways in which your arguments are ignorant, short-sighted, and oppressive.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Equality, assimilationist, and other buzzwords trolling my feed today

I've been trying to put into words my feelings on all these red equal signs and greater-than signs popping up on my feed all day, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on what appears to be an ingrown divide.

I was married once. And no, it didn't contribute to my liberation at all. It did, however, make living in this society a little bit easier. Filing taxes jointly, knowing I was assured health benefits and hospital visitation rights, and other protections I gained by enmeshing myself in that institution were all lovely privileges that I was thankful to have at my fingertips. I was also looked at differently: I was an adult woman living with an adult man, and we were married. There was more approval of our relationship, of the way we were living. It was more palatable to our society's views on relationships and love. Problematic at its core? Oh hell yes. Easier? You betcha.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any actual member of the LGBTQI community who actually thinks the right to marry will ensure total liberation for them or anyone they know. Sure, the neo-liberal tendencies in the more powerful lobbies make it seem that way. But their proponents know as much as the most radical queer motherfucker out there that the right to marry isn't about to solve the nation's health care crisis, combat institutionalized racism, end bullying, or provide housing for countless homeless queer youths. But I also don't believe their personal desire to enter into that institution sets anyone back; far from it, it is our short-sightedness on the issue that holds us back, not granting the right to those who wish to access it.

It's easy to look at this whole thing and write it off as some big movement to make every queer person look like a gay June Cleaver. The "assimilationist model" is indeed problematic, however, that you are so willing to dismiss a push for the right to marry as "totally assimilationist" is divisive and hurtful as well.

Is it possible that, for many same-sex couples living without radical separatist bubbles to call their own, a societal affirmation of their relationship will help make living their lives a little bit easier?

Press on for radical, ground-breaking change, YES. We should do that ceaselessly and without apology. You may say marriage is an oppressive institution fraught with conservative ideology, and I may partially agree with you, but still... what's really the harm in granting others the right to marry if they so choose?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Being an Ally, Step One: Shut Up and Listen

A number of months ago, I became aware of Trevor MacDonald, a trans* man and father who is now best known for his rejected application to become a La Leche League leader following the tremendous support he received from his local LLL chapter. His blog Milk Junkies covers more than the struggle with LLL Canada, chronicling his experiences being pregnant with and giving birth to his son, chestfeeding, and his family life in general. He started a Facebook group (closed for the sake of privacy, but welcoming to all queer parents and allies) that has become a beacon for queer and gender non-conforming parents of all stripes to gather, exchange information, support one another, vent, etc.

Trevor's situation has driven a depressing wedge in the feminist birth worker blogosphere. Navelgazing Midwife, whose blog I used to frequent, laments, "can’t there be a place where mothers are permitted to just be mothers?" (Sound familiar?) Other "feminist" bloggers have come out in support of LLLC's decision, echoing the same tired arguments we hear in regards to trans* women "invading" woman-only spaces, and of course, adding insult to injury by proposing a "separate" space for trans* and gender non-conforming parents.

Granted there are countless feminist birth workers (and birth workers in general, feminists in general, etc) who have taken this opportunity to look sharply at their own perceptions of gender and parenthood; they have joined in the cry for LLLI to reconsider their moms-only policy. The leaders of Trevor's local LLL group, for example, were the ones who encouraged him to pursue leadership in the first place.

But I digress.

I contacted Trevor right after I learned about his situation, offering my support and echoing his many praises of Dr. Jack Newman (breastfeeding guru who has been instrumental in Trevor's ability to produce milk for his baby). I introduced myself as newly certified IBCLC, and he responded asking if I might join his Facebook group to provide expert advice on clinical lactation issues.

You must understand that when I say newly certified, I mean newly certified. That a well-known figure in queer parenting circles would want my expert advice on anything was far beyond flattering. So I accepted, immediately perusing the board to see where my "expert advice" might be best tossed around.

Six months later, my credential has yet to provide me with any knowledge that would best be offered by someone with, say, actual experience being a chestfeeding parent.

Sure, I've offered some advice from a run-of-the-mill lactation consultant's perspective, digging into my arsenal of research on galactagogues and other ways to overcome suppressed supply for a variety of reasons. But I think it's safe to say that I've done far more learning than teaching in this group. When a trans* woman messaged me privately to ask if she would be able to produce milk for the baby her partner was about to give birth to, I found myself only able to offer information on initiated lactation in general, the same information I pass along to DFAB mamas hoping to provide milk for an adopted baby. After encouraging her to post her inquiry on Trevor's board, she received some amazing information and support from another mama who had been in her exact situation. Not an IBCLC, not a health care provider, just someone who had been there and knew what was up.

It's hard for me to keep my mouth shut, especially on topics like birth, lactation, and other things I'm passionate about. But to be an ally to trans* and gender non-conforming parents, a topic with which I have no personal experience whatsoever, what can I do but listen? Sure, it's nice being the best-trained person in the room, the person that holds an expert credential recognized the world over. But compared to these parents who have been through these unique challenges themselves, I might as well know nothing. Especially given that my extensive training offered no information on trans* health issues in the first place.

Such is the reality of being an ally. Too many people toss around this term, believing it to be a label you obtain by simply proclaiming yourself a supporter. But without a constant re-examining of your internalized biases, a willingness to admit you don't know everything, and a humble attitude about your intersecting privileges, being an ally doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot. In other words, being an ally is less of a label and more of an ongoing process.

I'm hardly trying to paint myself as the "more-badass-ally-than-thou" here, as I struggle with being told I don't know everything as much as the next "expert." But that's really the first step, one that even us uber-passionate loudmouths need to focus on. Shut up. Resist that urge to interject something you read in a book once. Wait. Listen. Validate. Then answer, probably with another question. Also: don't do it to garner thank yous and praise (because you probably won't get much). Do it because it's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Last Night's Nums: Mediterranean Mac and Cheese

Anyone who knows me well (or has simply had a conversation with me about food) knows that I'm an annoying elitist about my mac'n'cheese recipe. Being a Southern Girl, mac'n'cheese is an important staple in my food repertoire. I'm not just an elitist about my recipe, I'm an elitist about how it's prepared at all (I'm sorry, but pouring cheese sauce over pasta does not count as "mac'n'cheese").

So you know that I'm not likely to give any other macaroni and cheese dish a chance unless it looks pretty damn good.

Enter Mediterranean Mac and Cheese. I discovered the recipe on Tumblr, an adaptation from a Martha Stewart recipe. Okay sure, why the hell not? Especially when it includes a cast of ingredients like this:

The result was a very tasty blend of Mediterranean flavors tossed together with a traditional macaroni and cheese. Pretty good, I must say, though a bit runny; I'll be sure to drain my tomatoes better next time and will probably add more cheese.

As always, I diverged from the recipe here and there. My trouble-with-authority moments are noted in italics after the original recipe.

You will need:
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can fire roasted, diced tomatoes, drained well
  • 1/3 cup chopped black or kalamata olives
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish [LOL, no. I used an entire handful.]
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano [Again, no. I likely added upwards of two teaspoons here.]
  • 8 oz elbow macaroni pasta [I had whole wheat noodles, so that's what I used.]
  • 2 Tbsp butter, plus more for baking dish
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely minced [Y'all know I always scoff at this notion of "one garlic clove." Nope, my recipe included no fewer than four, and I wouldn't recommend doing it any differently.]
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cups whole milk [I used 2%]
  • 4 oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8 by 8-inch baking dish or a 9-inch deep dish pie dish, set aside. Boil pasta to al dente according to directions listed on package. Drain pasta well and return to pot.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, combine red onion, garlic, drained diced tomatoes, chopped olives, most of your basil, and dried oregano. Meanwhile, melt butter along with olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add mixture, about 3 - 4 minutes.
  3. Lower heat to medium. Whisk in flour, and cook stirring constantly for about 30 seconds to a minute. While whisking vigorously, slowly pour in milk. Increase heat back to medium-high and bring mixture just to a boil, stirring constantly. Once mixture reaches a boil reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring constantly until mixture has thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in 2 tbsp feta cheese and mozzarella cheese then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Pour sauce  mixture over drained pasta in pot and toss to evenly coat. Spread into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining crumbled feta cheese. Bake in preheated oven 20 - 25 minutes until edges are bubbling and top is golden brown. Serve warm garnished with fresh basil. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Nice Guy Hijacker

For better or worse, rape culture has become an increasingly popular topic of conversation in both feminist and non-feminist circles alike. From politicians shooting themselves in the foot to survivors being empowered to speak about their experiences, conversations about sexual violence have pushed their way to the forefront of sociopolitical discourse.

Let me pause here to say that I define rape culture as a culture in which rape and sexual violence against oppressed and sexually-vulnerable people are systematically excused, tolerated, or condoned. One does not have to actually assault someone to perpetuate rape culture: one may contribute to rape culture by participating in victim blaming, by diminishing the importance of consent, by making or excusing "rape jokes," or simply by denying the existence of sexual oppression. Rape culture is also perpetuated by other kinds of attacks including sexual harassment and the use of sexually oppressive language.

I also wish to clarify that rape culture does not only affect women. Any number of oppressed people are likely to find themselves vulnerable to sexual attack at one point or another. Cis-women receive a large portion of attention in this area, but LGBTQ folks and incarcerated people are also highly vulnerable to being attacked or oppressed as a result of rape culture. And while heterosexual cis-men are occasionally assaulted by female attackers, patriarchy continues maintain the hierarchies that perpetuate the cycle of sexual violence, even when the assault is perpetrated by women.

That being said, this whole "nice guy non-rapist" thing has got to stop. On more than one occasion over the past week, I have been engaged in deep and respectful conversations about rape culture only to have the thread hijacked by some guy's pious remarks about his status as a "non-rapist."

One such incident was a Facebook thread where a person had inquired about the needs of assault survivors in health care. The original poster was a health care worker and wanted to know how she could provide respectful and compassionate care to folks with a history of sexual assault. A respondent replied by sharing her experience in detail: a survivor of an abusive relationship that included many instances of rape and emotional abuse, she spoke candidly about how she feels the health care system has failed her. Others came forth to offer support, sharing our own experiences about times we've felt violated in one way or another. The conversation was absolutely enlightening, respectful, and supportive. There was a sense of camaraderie and sisterhood even though many of us didn't know each other in real life. Then came the Hijacker.

"Can I just say I'm really happy to be a part of this conversation. I'm proud to say I'm not a rapist and I never will be. I don't understand how a guy could do that to someone." And just like that, the conversation was over. No one responded. No one continued to share.

It's difficult to navigate this kind of thing. On the one hand, wasn't he just offering his support? Wasn't he just vocalizing his appreciation that our conversation was happening? Wasn't he just, dare I say, being nice?

I'm positive that these are things he thought he was doing, and in that respect it's very difficult to tell him not to do them. But whether the he knew it or not, his entry into the conversation was unwelcome. It hijacked a situation where people with shared experiences were listening to and learning from one another. It silenced us, and his claims of being "a part of this conversation" just added insult to injury. However, to tell him these things - to suggest he butt out - would likely be met with hostility, not to mention those cries of "I was just being nice" that fatigue me to no end.

And again, I don't doubt he felt he was doing a good thing by letting us know he supported us and had no intention of raping any of us. But you can't argue with results: these kinds of comments - whether it's a guy saying he's not a misogynist or a while person saying they're not racist - always bring conversations about oppression to a screeching halt. It violates the safe space that individuals with shared experiences have built for their own use. Not to mention, it smacks of masturbatory self-importance, a person's way of acknowledging that oppression exists while summarily excusing themselves of any way they might have contributed to it.

Now one could argue that this was Facebook, and doesn't everybody have the right to comment? This is true, however, just because you can doesn't mean you should. There is value in silencing yourself to make space for voices that are usually silenced. Those of us with a certain amount of privilege find this a difficult pill to swallow. We've known our entire lives that we have the right to free speech. We should speak our minds and anyone who tells us otherwise is violating our rights. But again, just because you can doesn't mean you should; you can make space for others to claim that same right simply by curbing your claim to it.

So the next question here is likely to be, if you shouldn't speak up in these conversations, what should you do?

Put simply, you should learn that you don't get a medal for not being an asshole. You should accept that you don't deserve thanks for being an ally, but rather see your desire to be an ally as a charge to never stop examining your role in the oppression of others. Most of all, however, you should shut up and listen. You should make space for other voices, and you should do so because it's the right thing to do, not because people will thank you for it (they won't).

But if you still have that desire to get rewarded for your valiant efforts at not being a rapist, I can offer you this: