Swagga like her

M.I.A. on stage at the Grammys (AP photo from the Daily Mail)There are, like, eleventeen more important issues I’ve been meaning to blog about for weeks, but since it is not currently possible to draw a breath without hearing more about this story, I have to get this out quick.

Women are more than their wombs. Women do not stop being the people they are when they get their periods, when they stop getting their periods, when they get pregnant, or when they cease to be pregnant. And the massive controversy over M.I.A.’s 9-months-pregnant performance at the Grammys on Sunday highlights how incapable our culture is of understanding that simple fact.

M.I.A. is an enormously successful music star. Her career did not fall into her lap from thin air; she worked extremely hard at it for years and years, just like every other performer on that stage that night. She did not stop being ambitious, driven, or professional because a fetus took up residence in her uterus. Her pregnancy did not change the fundamental nature of her. She is still the woman she was 10 months ago, just rounder. So then why is it surprising that she would choose to perform if at all possible? And why do so many people find it unseemly?

We have this myth that women—at least some women—can be people as long as there’s nothing going on in their uteruses. But as soon as something changes in there, BLAMMO! Instant revocation of humanity. Women having, or about to have, their periods are shrill and hysterical, screaming for no reason one minute and crying for no reason the next. Women who no longer get their periods are shriveled and mean. Women who are pregnant put out a beatific glow, and do little other than mince around delicately while gently cradling their bellies. Women who have given birth suddenly find the domestic sphere more satisfying and more important than careers or social lives.

But did your mother stop making terrible puns when she hit menopause? Did your sister stop loving baseball when she got pregnant? Does the friendly barista at your regular coffee place start spitting in your latte once a month? Did the new mom at work forget how to manage the payroll when she came back from maternity leave?

Women are people, fully realized people, with widely differing personalities. Each will react differently to the various changes her body undergoes, but those changes are primarily physical. We don’t get brain replacements every time there’s a change in the status of our uteruses. Furthermore, these changes are all either regular (menstruation) or relatively long-lasting (pregnancy, menopause, parenthood). We adjust. Anything that’s a part of your life so often or for so long, you find a way to live with it, around it, through it, whatever. We make it work.

M.I.A. made it work. Yes, obviously, she could go into labor at any minute, but that was true two weeks ago, too, and every pregnant woman has to weigh for herself the costs and benefits of putting her life on hold while waiting to deliver. And the worst that could have happened would have been that her water broke onstage which, while embarrassing, isn’t particularly dangerous. So she went for it. And she was great. Not only did she take the stage with some of the biggest male stars of hip-hop and show that she belonged, she was confident enough to show off and play up the physical changes pregnancy has wrought.

She dared to be bold, be active, be the center of attention, be sexy, and be expecting. And in our society, that’s just not acceptable.


Shocking announcement!

Ready for it? Sitting down? Paper bag at hand? Because here it is:


No! I do not! You know why? It’s not that exciting.

Millions of 17-year-olds are fucking as I type this. Some of that fucking will result in pregnancies. Some of those pregnancies will result in live births. Bristol Palin, like thousands of others, hopes to be in that last category. I don’t care about all those other 17-year-old parents-to-be, so why should I care about this one?

It doesn’t matter one tiny bit that her mother is running for veep. Bristol’s actions are her own, and do not reflect on her mother. And even if we could somehow demonstrate that an independent, basically-adult person’s actions gave some indication of a relative’s character, there’s no reason that Bristol’s actions should indicate anything at all about her mother’s character, because they don’t even indicate anything about her own character. She fucked, which about half of 17-year-olds do, and became pregnant, a known side effect of fucking. That’s all normal—not good, not bad, not anything. Average, common, quotidian, bland, boring. Means nothing.

And anyone who claims to be progressive needs to stop talking about it immediately. Her pregnancy tells us nothing about abstinence-only education: We already knew that’s a failure, and furthermore we don’t know, nor should we ever find out, what kind of sex ed she received, what birth control she did or did not use and why she did or did not use it. Her pregnancy tells us nothing about the effects of fundy values: Plenty of children of non-fundy parents become or cause someone to become pregnant while teenagers, and furthermore we don’t know, nor should we ever find out, what factors led to her decision to continue the pregnancy. Her pregnancy tells us, in fact, nothing at all.

Which leaves only a few reasons that people could want to talk about it. One, they have a pervily intense interest in a minor’s sex life. Two, they think slut-shaming is a fun pastime. Three, they derive unseemly glee from watching a woman who has the gall to be openly and unapologetically ambitious encounter impediments to that ambition. Four, they don’t think all women have the right to decide what to do with their uteruses in private, without interference, unsolicited “advice,” and judgment.

But I’m sure those who want to discuss Bristol Palin won’t mind my asking them to first identify which flavor of misogynist asshat they are.

The hidden costs of redefining pregnancy

I’m sure everyone has heard about installment #356,274,615,304,229 in the Pro-Lifers Don’t Really Care About Babies, Just Want to Oppress Women series: the Bush administration’s attempt to define pregnancy as beginning at fertilization. This would semantically turn every sexually active woman in America a serial abortionist and all hormonal contraceptives into abortifacients. Of course, that would make the preferred methods birth control for 40% of Americans exponentially harder to get and, as a result, cause a huge jump in the number of actual abortions. But that’s A-OK by pro-lifers, as long as it makes women rethink their uppity ideas about choosing their own partners, making plans for their lives, and not being at the mercy of their husbands.

But there’s another aspect to this. The proposal would protect medical professionals who refuse to refuse to perform any action that they personally believe constitutes abortion, whether scientific evidence backs them up or not. So I wonder, would some doctors, nurses, and pharmacists also refuse to give any woman of child-bearing age drugs known to increase the risk of miscarriage? After all, there’s no way to know if a woman is currently harboring a fertilized egg, or if she might do so at some point during the course of her prescription. Would general practitioners deny women antibiotics because some of them may cause miscarriage? Would dermatologists deny women Accutane or Retin-A even if they took all the required precautions? Would psychiatrists deny women antidepressants, since they can cause birth defects and high blood pressure, increasing the risk of fetal death or dangerously premature labor?

This last particularly bothers me. Women are already twice as likely as men to suffer a depressive episode at some point in their lives, and making it more difficult for them to get access to antidepressants would have wide-ranging but difficult-to-measure effects. Depressed women may feel unmotivated at work, leading to their not fighting for promotions and raises or even dropping out of the workforce, increasing both the wage gap and the number of women and children living in poverty. Because women are still usually the primary caregivers for dependents, their depression would also negatively affect the lives of children and the elderly, probably also causing higher rates of depression among those groups. Depressed people are less likely to take care of their health, and depression can make preexisting conditions worse, which is especially dangerous for women, who are already significantly less likely than men to be covered by an employer’s health insurance, a gap that would only increase as women who could no longer successfully control their own fertility left the workforce to bear and raise children. Furthermore, most employees of the service sector, which makes up about 80% of our economy, are women, so as mental and physical illness, and unexpected pregnancy and parenthood reduce their presence in the workforce, our economy would deteriorate even further. And a worsening American economy means less foreign aid to countries that rely on it, which, like all poverty issues, would disproportionately impact women and children. Extremely poor women or depressed women, both here and abroad, may be forced to engage in or be more easily coerced into risky sexual practices, which help spread HIV/AIDS.

I could probably go on forever. My point, obviously, is that women’s issues—even those involving uteruses—are never “just” about women. Everyone pays the hidden costs of women’s oppression.