Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thanksgiving week 3--Feminism Strikes Again

I'm a few days late on this... but we'll all politely ignore that, ok? It's still the first half of the week. That's close enough!

This week I have been reading a book about the women's movement in the United States from 1960-2008. I was fairly uneducated on all of this, having heard snippets of "bra burning" and "ERA marches" but not really knowing the details of any of it. When Everything Changed by Gail Collins is 400 pages long and I have devoured it in a week. It is fascinating.
As I gain a better understanding of the status quo in 1960, I sympathize with why those feminists were so radical. They had to be. Women fought for 100 years to get the right to vote, but even after that they were limited in many ways. For example, a woman (even a single woman) could not get a credit card or loan unless she had her spouse (or father) to co-sign with her. One principal proudly explained that he loved hiring women teachers because they were just as good as the men "but I can pay them half as much!" As late as 1972, a woman senator was literally forced to share a chair (with a black male senator) in committee, because the committee chairman considered them each to be "only half a person."

Wow we have come a long way. And yet in some areas we continue to fight exactly the same problems. Although I love being a stay at home mom, I recognize that not everyone wants to do that, or is able to do that. While the economy struggles, more and more women feel that they need to work, even if they want to be home with their children. Most women in this country (and certainly teachers) now get paid more than half of men's wages...but the national average is 78%, so the gender gap is still there. Women are half the population, but only 17% of the US congress. Is this because fewer women run for office? Or because the citizenry believe that men are more capable? Regardless, it does mean that most of women's concerns are underrepresented in federal legislation. In households where both parents work, usually the woman is still expected to handle the majority of the housekeeping and cooking. In broken families, women usually keep the children, but about a third of fathers do not contribute financial or other child support. Only 3 of every 100 rapists ever spends even one day behind bars. In other words, we still have a long way to go.

And so in that spirit, I would like to share a list of things that this feminist is grateful for this week

  1. That my husband (both financially and otherwise) supports my desire to be a stay at home parent.
  2. That my parents (especially my mother) taught me frugality and sustainability as a way of life, so that I have the skills to live modestly and within our means.
  3. That I have sufficient education (and in an appropriate field) that I could support my family if I needed too.
  4. That I and my family have been able to take advantage of programs such as WIC and medicaid to help us make ends meet when we were struggling.
  5. That, in spite of how notoriously low teacher's pay is, that it also comes with good medical benefits.
  6. For the many women--and men--who went before me, fighting battles for women (such as getting the right to vote, or to get loans, or own property, or escape abusive marriages) so that there is a little less left to fight for now.
  7. For the many women--and men--who are still fighting the good fight, in their many ways. Whether they are teaching their daughters that they are equally important with their sons, or giving them the skills and education to go somewhere in the world. Whether they are making laws or catching babies or counseling victims. And for the many who will continue to do these things in the future.

Why this Pro-Lifer Votes 'Pro-Choice' (for now)

I hope you don't mind if I share a thought on an issue (which is a realization that led me to shift my political stances significantly a few years ago).

I am heartily pro-life. In the past I had sometimes let that issue be the single issue that determined who I voted for. After all, killing babies is evil, so anyone who doesn't fight abortion must also be evil. But in light of the facts I've changed my mind.

I appreciate that there are a GREAT many arguments about when a baby becomes a baby...certainly in the first few hours or days after the sperm meets the egg it doesn't seem like much of a baby. A significant number of these joinings don't manage to implant in the uterus and are miscarried...sometimes this is the result of a birth control pill or an IUD or something like a morning-after-pill, and probably just as often it just happens naturally. I, personally, do not consider this to be an abortion. I think that morning after pills should be readily available to victims of rape and incest, and you know what, frankly, probably to anyone who wants them. A morning after pill taken the day after sex works the same way as a birth control pill taken the day before.
Once we get past implantation though, things change. Human babies have a heartbeat by about 5 weeks gestation (this is 1 week after mom has missed her period, or within a few days of when she gets a positive pregnancy test). I know plenty of people who will argue about whether the spirit/soul of the child is in there yet at this stage--the baby certainly doesn't look very human yet. [see image]
But a heartbeat seems to me to be a fair designation of "life." In other words, I think a baby is a baby by the time that mommy knows it is there.

Without equivocation, I affirm that I want to protect the lives of babies before they are born. I also state, equally vehemently, that I want to protect the lives of people of all ages after they are born. I think that someone who values life needs to value comprehensive healthcare and welfare programs for the impoverished, because every year far more people die preventable deaths outside of wombs than in them.

I really hate abortion, personally. I cannot imagine a circumstance where I would ever have one, nor would I ever advise a friend to do so.  BUT, currently our society has SO LITTLE support for poor parents, single parents, working mothers, etc that I have sympathy for why some women feel that they simply cannot have a(nother) baby. They can't afford the child, the diapers, the food, the clothes, the childcare, etc etc. Giving up babies to adoption is stigmatized, keeping a baby and raising it alone is stigmatized... it's a lose-lose-lose situation. Some of these women are married and simply feel they cannot afford another baby, or are afraid to bring a child into an abusive situation. I know we sensationalize stories about abortions for gender-selection and things like that, but those are such a small minority. The one person I have personally known who got an abortion did so because she had been drinking and using drugs at the time she conceived and she feared that her actions would harm the child for a lifetime. She considered abortion the humane choice. Whether anyone else agrees with her is not the point. The point is that she took the matter seriously, and was trying to make a moral choice from her perspective.

If we make abortion illegal, then women are still going to do it, but instead of going to doctors in clean offices they will be doing it with coat hangers in basements...that's what they were doing before 1972 and I have no hesitation in thinking they will do it again. Women used to die from those abortions. Yes, babies are dying now, but the death toll was twice as high when both baby and mother died. Making something illegal doesn't make it stop. Consider marijuana! Or the speakeasies during prohibition!

I would love to see the abortion rates go down in this country, but I don't think that overturning Roe vs Wade is the solution. In order to reduce the abortion rate, the first step is to reduce those unwanted pregnancies. This requires easy and affordable access to contraceptives for any woman who wants them. It requires reducing the cultural stigma that surrounds rape, so that women who are raped will not be afraid to go to the hospital (and get the morning after pill). It should include reducing rape--a good first step there would be to prosecute and punish more than 3 of every 100 rapists, or to even report more than the half that get reported currently. It also requires more comprehensive sex education for every young person in the country. I love the idea of having parents do this teaching, but since most of them don't, then it should be available in schools. (Abstinence is a great part of sex ed, but should never be the only thing taught, because there will always be kids who simply are not going to do it.)
Once we've reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies, there remains the question of how to address the ones that do happen. Here again, society needs to step up. These women and girls need to be supported. They need to know that if they have this baby, they will be able to afford those diapers and clothes, that food, that childcare. They need people around them who will help them through the pregnancy, birth, and parenting processes. If they choose to give the child up for adoption, they need to have the option of choosing the adoptive parents, having an open or closed adoption, or whatever else feels most comfortable to them. AND they need to be supported before, during, and after the adoptive process (I hear that giving up a child for adoption can feel very much like losing a child, and that intense grieving is normal, even for a mother who felt sure in her choice. If she felt pressured into it at all, I'm sure it is much worse.)

I am pro-life, but I believe that abortion needs to remain legal in this country, at least for now. I certainly support there being some limitations and restrictions, but until the social structure and support is in place for these women and girls, I find it counter-productive to try to make abortion entirely illegal. There is a letter here which provides an excellent example of someone who is trying to work on that social support (I know it's long, but it is really really good). It is one tiny step and we have so much further to go, but it is heading in the right direction. My hope (and my vote) go toward supporting the social policies that will reduce the unplanned pregnancies, and support those who have them: it is the most pro-life option I can think of.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Paper plate eyeball experiment

This semester we are studying the human body. I remembered doing this experiment as a kid, and my kids (kindergarten and 7th grade) both enjoyed it.
This is something that is easy to do, you probably have all the materials on hand already.  It's a really good visual aid for how our eyes work. I had seen diagrams of this in books, but it never made as much sense as when we did this experiment.

(My apologies that the photos aren't great, the angles and lighting were not conducive to good photography, as that was somewhat of an afterthought to this project!)

a large eye lens (made with a paper plate or cardstock)
several yards of string or yarn
a piece of butcher paper
2 or more volunteers
  1. First, make an eyeball. Color the iris if you like. Cut out the middle.
  2. Secure the eyeball about 2 1/2-3 ft from the floor (depending on the height of your volunteers). You can tape it to the top of a yardstick and have someone hold it, or tape it to a chair. The important thing is just that it stays still.
  3. Have someone pose in an interesting way (something non-symmetrical) a few feet on one side of the eyeball. You may want to have them on a chair, because they will need to remain in the pose for several minutes without moving.
  4. Hang the butcher paper on the wall on the opposite side of the eyeball from the poser, at approximately the same distance from the eyeball.
  5. Tape one end of a piece of string to the posing volunteer, pass it through the center of the eye, and tape it to the butcher paper (wherever it ends up after being put through the CENTER of the eye). 
  6. Repeat step 5 with 2 or more other locations on the body. (I recommend head for one, and then try elbows, knees, shoulders, or other joints).
  7. Using the strings as guides, sketch a rough outline of the person on the butcher paper. As you do this, you will notice that the person is upside down on the drawing. This is because our eyes take things in upside down, and it is then our brain that flips them back up.
our model

the eye (and strings)

the 'back of the eyeball' upside down picture

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thanksgiving week 2, "Committed" and "The Vow"

I don't know if this will continue for all the weeks of thanksgiving this year, but this week as I think over my list of things I'm grateful for, I again find myself pondering over things I have read and seen in recent days.

This week I began reading "Committed: A Love Story" by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was recommended by a friend, and I didn't realize when I got it that it was a memoir (I thought it was more of a marriage advice book). Ms Gilbert had been through a really rough divorce, and swore she would never marry again...but then her boyfriend got deported and they realized that the only way they could be together was to get married... and so she spent a year researching marriage (via both reading and doing interviews around the world), to try to warm up to the idea. In the book she contemplates the religious and social functions of marriage, the purpose of it, and the implications. In many ways she gained a more mature view of marriage, and learned a great deal about what makes marriages work (or not), and how to have a healthier marriage for herself on her second time around. One of the major things she discussed was being responsible for her own happiness, rather than expecting marriage to automatically make her life into a "happily ever after," and she went on at some length about accepting each other as whole people, with our grubby parts as well as our shiny ones.

Last night I watched the movie "The Vow" which is based on a Nicholas Sparks book. In the story, a young married couple got in a car accident and she suffered a serious head injury. After she woke up, she had no memory of her husband or their courtship. She had previously cut off contact with her parents, but after the accident she had no memory of that either, and they were only too happy to have her back--and to cut him out. The husband patiently works to court her and try to get her to fall in love with him all over again. What I loved most about the story was not the (perhaps inevitable) happy Nicholas Sparks ending, but that the whole thing is based (I don't know how loosely) on a true story, and that the real couple is currently married with two kids, even though she never did regain her memory.

So, with those things on my mind, here are the things I am grateful for this week:
  1. My husband
  2. That my spouse knows my faults not only likes me anyway, but also helps make up the slack with his own strengths. (We both tend to take up the slack for the other.)
  3. My egalitarian marriage.
  4. The opportunity to be (and support from my spouse in being) a stay at home parent
  5. The opportunity to birth and raise children
  6. My children themselves, both for the fulfillment they bring me, and for the lessons they teach me.
  7. The repeated validation that the most important and worthwhile thing I can be doing with my time and energies right now is to be present with my children, and teach them to love.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why is it all in October?

Today is a microcosm of something I have felt about October in general.

Today is the first ever International Day of the Girl, but it's also National Coming Out Day. With respect for the validity of recognizing both issues, what am I supposed to put on my blog or my facebook page anyway?
(I might abstain, except I actually care about this stuff, about the courage of the people involved, so I want to participate...)

October is breast cancer awareness month. I have family members and friends who have fought breast cancer. October is pregnancy loss and infant loss awareness month; oh boy do I have feelings about that. October is also SIDS awareness month, autism awareness month, domestic violence awareness month, bullying prevention awareness month, fair trade month, German-American heritage month, national popcorn month and national pizza  month. (really!) And those are just the ones I care about.
In addition, there are weeks or days in October designated for focusing on children's books, non-violence, teachers, Leif Erikson, appreciating children, appreciating dead ancestors and friends, the purchase of Alaska by the United States from Russia, and crunchy leaves. (OK, I made up the last one, but it should be real!)

Admittedly, there are awareness months and days all year long. Probably every month is full of something. But October has a disproportionate number of things that I care about. In addition, there is an intense cultural focus on one of those things: Breast cancer. (I'm going to go ahead and guess that this is because our hyper sexualized culture likes any excuse to fixate on breasts, because in spite of the uber-pinkness of a decade of Octobers, we still are not any closer to decent treatments--let alone cures or prevention--of breast cancer.) More women miscarry than get breast cancer, and that's a fact. But breasts are cool and dead babies make people uncomfortable. And battered wives, teenage girls getting shot by the taliban, nine year old brides, slave labor and gay people make people really uncomfortable. So we'll stick with breasts. And maybe the occasional feel-good story about a girl (right here in Kotzebue) who started a movement to stop wearing makeup on mondays.

So let me see, what shall I do this month to try to be more balanced?
I'll read books to my kids.
I'll join the wave of light next monday and light a candle from 7-8 to remember my angel babies (maybe I'll light 4).
I'll hug somebody who is out of the closet.
I'll read and share stories about brave women and girls all over the world who are fighting injustice, speaking up against violence, and holding up half the sky.
I will donate to causes that are helping to educate and uplift those girls and women.
I will snuggle my kids.
I will make pizza and popcorn (and pie, for good measure).
We'll talk about our ancestors and tell stories from their lives.
And if we had any crunchy leaves here, I would stomp on them. But we don't. Before the end of the month though, I'm pretty sure I will have a chance to stomp on crunchy snow, so maybe it's ok.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Thanksgiving week 1, and Half the Sky

This weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving.
The US celebrates Thanksgiving in about 6 weeks.
Since I began homeschooling, I spend far less time blogging, which I think is good, but I'm going to shoot for weekly posts during this time (because daily ones are laughably unrealistic!) Every week, I plan to post at least 7 things I am grateful for.

 This week's list is much inspired by the PBS Special Half the Sky (which is available to stream for two more days, and then will be available for purchase via pbs--maybe you can talk your local library into getting it. It was fantastic).
The title "Half the Sky" comes from the thought that half the sky is held up by women. The documentary (which is 4 hours long) is based on a book of the same title, written by a pair of journalists who were writing on economic and political issues in southeast asia, and realized that issue after issue related to women.
I recently heard the statistic that women do 40% of the world's work, but control 1% of the world's money. Throughout the world (especially in third world countries and impoverished regions, but truly everywhere) females are regarded as inferior. Sometimes they are even seen as completely expendable. Everything from gender-based abortions or infanticides to rape, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation, and keeping girls out of school to run the house (so that both parents can work)...the lists are long and painful. In watching the documentary, I was struck by two things: 1--how blessed I am to live where and when I do, and 2--how unconscionably selfish it would be if I did not share of my abundance.

And so, without further ado, this week's list of thanksgiving:

  1. I am grateful to live in a land of plenty, where even though I may get bored with what is available for dinner, I never have to go without dinner.
  2. I am grateful to live in a land where education is readily available to every child, regardless of race, sex, or income, where my parents never had to literally skip meals in order to pay for me to be literate, and where I do not have starve myself to educate my own children.
  3. I am grateful for the education that I have.
  4. I am grateful to live in a family with people with whom I can feel safe, without fear of being abused, abducted, sold, belittled, or held back from my potential.
  5. I am grateful that right now kiva.org is hosting a sponsorship program, so that every new person who signs up (you can do it via me at this link) can send $25 of microloan to someone (of their choice) at no cost to themselves. If you feel able to do so (and truly, we all should) you can add some of your own money as well. If you do, then when it is repaid to you (often within a few months), you can turn around and re-loan that money to someone else. Kiva is a wonderful and reputable organization.
  6. I am grateful for the way that modern technology makes it so easy to share of our abundance with those who are in need. (Today, via kiva, I helped a woman in Peru buy a cow, a woman in Tajikistan buy a sewing machine, a woman in Albania send her daughter to school, and a woman in Ukraine buy goods for her store...all without having to leave my chair.)
  7. I am grateful for the ability of one person to be a force for good in the world. May I ever be so. May we all be so.

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