Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Real boys play with dolls AND that breastfeeding article

I just wanted to quickly share a link to a lovely article in this month's Mothering magazine - "Real boys play with dolls."

While I am at it (link sharing, that is), I should probably put up a link to a controversial article that I read last week - "The case against breastfeeding." I have been wanting to write a post about my reaction to this article all week, but I really can't justify the time out of my PhD right now. Briefly, I should explain that while I can understand Hanna Rosin's argument that it is unfair on women to feel as though they have no choice but to breastfeed their baby, whether they want to or not, I completely disagree with the entire premise of her argument.

Rosin argues that breastfeeding is the cause of women's inequality in the workplace and in their relationships post-baby - because it takes so much time and it creates an assumption that the mother will do all of the work of nurturing the children. This argument then seems to become the foundation for implying that making the "choice" to bottlefeed is the only way that women can free themselves from the subjugation of breastfeeding their babies in order to go back to work sooner and claim their equality.

There are so many problems with this analysis and, as I have said, I really don't have the time right now to deal with them properly, but allow me to just list a few lazily:
  • Essentially Rosin is impliedly placing all of the blame for workplace and marital inequality on a woman's choice to breastfeed her baby. This completely ignores all of the structural and societal influences on these problems, such as:
  1. the lack of support structures available to breastfeeding mothers to establish and maintain a good breastfeeding relationship;
  2. the absence of adequate (paid) maternity leave;
  3. the inflexibility of workplaces, and the lack of onsite daycare centres or childfriendly workplaces;
  4. societal expectations of fathers and breastfeeding mothers; etc (oh I could go on and on and on, but you get the idea).
  • I found it incredible that she thought that breastfeeding after returning to work was unrealistically difficult because it was to hard for a women to "demand a 'clean, quiet place' to pump, and a place to store the milk." I completely agree that they shouldn't have to make that demand of their employers - such a place should already be available to them or, better yet, they should be able to pop downstairs to the onsite daycare centre and feed their child themselves! (And, yes, in some industries taking the time out is completely unrealistic. However, isn't that a problem with the way that the industries are allowed to operate, rather than a problem with breastfeeding itself?)
  • Additionally, I thought that it was a fairly thin argument to state that once you choose to breastfeed then you automatically take on everything else forever. Choosing to breastfeed does not prevent anyone from engaging in an ongoing negotiation with their spouses about the allocation of all of the many other tasks around the home (including a range of nurturing activities). For example, my partner recognises that breastfeeding our daughter takes up a lot of my time and energy and so, while I breastfeed her in the evenings, he does the dishes, cleans the kitchen, hangs out laundry etc. He also takes a very active role in nurturing our daughter and has done so from day one. His confidence in doing so was considerably aided by his ability to take 6 weeks paternity leave after her birth and to employ flexible work arrangements in order to care for her during the week - again back to the structural issues that effect equality far more than a woman's choice to breastfeed!
  • Rosin simply assumes that bottlefeeding removes all of the problems that she has blamed on breastfeeding. However, babies still need to be fed day and night even if it is from a bottle, and while things remain as they are (in terms of gender equality), it will still mostly be women who are the people feeding their babies - even if it is with a bottle instead of their breast. Yes, they won't have to express in order to go out or to go to work, but that is only one of the many things that she blames on breastfeeding. Her comment that breastfeeding is "only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing" is valid, but still ignores the time that is also needed to bottlefeed (in addition to the cost of actually purchasing the formula itself).
  • Rosin's dismissal of the health benefits of breastfeeding seems to be based on pretty flimsy evidence. Her argument is that the case for breastfeeding isn't as strong as she had thought it was and so, therefore, there is no medical evidence to support breastfeeding. I found this extremely unconvincing.
  • Rosin's dismissal of the medical benefits of breastfeeding also completely fails to take into account any of the psychological benefits for both mother and baby of a successful breastfeeding relationship. I completely accept her point that if breastfeeding is disagreeable for the mother then it is unlikely to provide such benefits. However, once again by reducing the issue completely down to the "choice" of a women to breastfeed or not, Rosin completely ignores the role of familial and societal support. If breastfeeding is disagreeable for so many women, I would argue that this is significant evidence of a massive failure on the part of our society to adequately support women while they are breastfeeding their babies - to support them in establishing their technique and attachment, to support them while they are spending so many hours breastfeeding their babies, to support them financially (and emotionally) to stay at home with their babies if they wish to do so, etc. While this support is not being provided then both women and children are missing out on the benefits of a successful breastfeeding relationship, regardless of their individual choices - which are far from free.
  • Finally, (although I do have plenty more to say, I really must stop now) Rosin seems to assume that getting back to work (quickly) is something that all women want to do. I have no problem with the fact that many women do, indeed, wish to return to work (but think that the issue then is the failure of workplaces to be child-friendly, rather than the failure of women to bottlefeed), but I have a problem with the assumption that this is a priority for all women. What about those who would like to be supported to stay home with their children and to maintain a longterm, healthy breastfeeding relationship (which is different from expressing milk for someone else to feed to your child). Rosin's argument that they are free not to breastfeed is not particularly helpful for them - and, once again, places all of the burden on women rather than on society.
As Kate has already argued, essentially it comes down to the question of support (or lack thereof, to be precise). Rosin places all of her emphasis on the benefits of choosing to avoid the 'difficulties' of breastfeeding, as if formula were a panacea for all of the problems of child-unfriendly workplaces (and society more generally), unequal marital relationships, and a general lack of support for parents and mothers in particular. At the end of the day her argument lets everyone off the hook and once again tells women just to suck it up and make use of modern technology and conveniences to make things a little easier to tolerate.

How about we do just the opposite? How about we demand that our relationships, our families, our workplaces and our whole society provide much better support to mothers (and fathers) - especially in the first year of their babies life when they require so much love and care regardless of the origin of the milk that they are drinking?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

2nd birthday party take two

We had Lily's "friends" party yesterday afternoon and it went really well.

We had a lovely mix of children from 7 months to 10 years (along with their parents) and my best friend (who coped well with being in a sea of small people). The kids all made their own party hats (with cardboard, glitter glue and stickers), and played really well together. Lily's cousin took her first steps, which was very exciting!

I made far too much food (but at least we now have yummy left-overs - choc-chip cookies, lemon-blueberry muffins, wedges, guacomole, hommous, pide, crackers, olives, fruit & an enormous chcolate rocket cake... Actually we could do without the cake), and Lily received some lovely gifts (handmade slippers, handmade butterfly skirt & bag, two handmade dolls, some lovely books, fairy wings & wand, and a crafty placemat kit). All up it was a perfect afternoon.

The only sad part was that our faithful camera battery died mid-way through 'the cake' - meaning that we didn't get many photos. Probably I should have plugged it in before the party - since we last charged it well over a month (and about 1500 photos) ago...

World Water Day

  • Did you know that over 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water?
  • Did you know that over 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation?
If you have heard these statistics before, did you know that:
"‘Not having access’ to water and sanitation is a polite euphemism for a form of deprivation that threatens life, destroys opportunity and undermines human dignity. Being without access to water means that people resort to ditches, rivers and lakes polluted with human or animal excrement or used by animals. It also means not having sufficient water to meet even the most basic human needs."*

"The conditions here are terrible. There is sewage everywhere. It pollutes our water. Most people use buckets and plastic bags for toilets. Our children suffer all the time from diarrhoea and other diseases because it is so filthy."
Mary Akinyi, Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya**
  • Did you know that every year over 2 million people die from diseases related to water scarcity and contamination?
  • Did you know that water poverty impacts most severely on the poor, and most severely of all on women and girl-children (who do most of the labour of collecting and carrying water)?
"I will never forget how I suffered due to the lack of water. There was no water to wash the baby or myself. I was ashamed of the unpleasant smell, especially when my neighbours visited me."
Misra Kedir, recalling her child’s birth, Hitosa, Ethiopia**

“It’s really hard work because the water buckets are so heavy… I’ve heard that in other places people just turn on a tap in their house and the water comes out. I would love a tap like that in our house.”
Osuda Hasanova, Shibanai village, Tajikistan***
The following organisations do some great work in assisting people around the world to access clean water & sanitation and to promote the right to water globally: WaterAid, COHRE, Oxfam, World Toilet Organisation.

** Ibid, p.1.
*** Bethan Emmet, 2006, "In the public interest", Oxfam & WaterAid, p.17.

Images credits: AP & AusAID.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Speeding in a city of speeders

This morning I heard a news report stating only 12% of ACT drivers surveyed say they never speed.

At the time this news aired I was in a taxi travelling at 85kph in a 50 zone!

Not quite irony, but still highly amusing at 5.30am.

Monday, 16 March 2009

24 months

Dear Lily

On Saturday you turned two. At the serious risk of becoming a broken record - I simply cannot believe how big you are getting. What happened to my baby?

We had planned a party for your birthday - one with lots of family, cousins and little people friends - but, sadly, you came down with a nasty cough and so we had to ask all of the little people to stay away. On the upside, this way you will get to have two parties!

Your first, low-key, party was pretty good. Lots of family made a special effort to be there (Grandma Meg even surprised us by flying in from Darwin in the middle of night!) and you got lots of lovely books, a lovely skirt, a new table and chairs and a brand new rocking horse (because clearly a girl can never have enough rocking horses...). Despite feeling sick, you perked up for the festivities - opening cards and presents, blowing out your candles and sampling a tiny bit of the food. Then, after an hour and a half, you crashed and had a much needed sleep, while the party went on with out you. (Oddly, you did exactly the same thing at your first birthday party and on Christmas day!).

This past month we have been doing lots of creative activities. You have been really into painting - especially with your hands - glueing, and making lots of fantastic creations with your playdough. You are especially fond of turning playdough into food and feeding it to anyone who will cooperate. Recently you have discovered that your animals are especially compliant on this front and so they have been on a diet rich in playdough ever since.

The ongoing warm weather has also meant that we have been spending lots of time outside. This has included quite a number of trips to neighbourhood parks and a bit of time digging in the garden, but mostly we hang out on the deck. Here you can play in your sandpit, ride your bike and gorge on tomatoes. Fortunately, our tomato plants have done really well this year. The funny thing is that, despite this fact, not many tomatoes actually make it into our kitchen... This is because the minute that they turn red you run to the vines and pluck them off - and then pop them straight into your mouth. It is so lovely to see you eating food straight from the garden and it has really inspired me to make an effort to grow even more of our own food this year.

The weekend before last we went camping down at the South Coast. Somewhat randomly some of your cousins (and aunty & uncle) were also at the same camp site with a bunch of other kids (and their parents) and so you had an absolute blast. In addition to having lots of kids to play with, you really enjoyed your first experience of camping. You thought that sleeping in a tent was pretty cool, you loved being outside all the time and you thrived on having so much space to just run around and exist in. We will definitely be doing it again soon.

I am so looking forward to seeing what the next year brings. These first two have been just incredible.

Hopefully your cousins and friends will be able to make it to "Lily's party take two" next weekend. I still have to bake you that "blast off" (AKA "rocket") cake that you requested - and to be perfectly honest, I am really looking forward to it.


Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Constantly in motion

We went camping at the coast over the weekend (it was a long weekend here in Canberra). We had a lovely time. Lily thought that sleeping in a tent was fabulous and she had cousins and other children to play with all the time. Essentially: she was in heaven.

Sadly the weather was not really 'coast-y' - although I should be honest here and admit that it does tend to be overcast and drizzley whenever I go to the South Coast in summer. I seem to have that effect.

Anyway, despite the clouds and cold wild (and the trampolines, playground, cousins & pool competing for our time), we took Lily to the beach for a play. I am so glad that we did. From the minute our feet hit the sand she was in constant motion. It was a joy to watch.

To give you a feel for the 'Lily-whirlwind', here are some of the (many many many) photos that we took.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Writing for a living...

While writing a PhD is not the same as writing a novel, it still involves pumping out around 100,000 words and it still forces you to confront many similar issues, including the self-doubt, the isolation and the incredibly low pay.

Anyway, because of this, I really enjoyed this article in The Guardian. It is basically a collection of quotes from novelists about what they enjoy and/or hate about writing for a living.

My favourite one was from Hari Kunzru:
I get great pleasure from writing, but not always, or even usually. Writing a novel is largely an exercise in psychological discipline – trying to balance your project on your chin while negotiating a minefield of depression and freak-out. Beginning is daunting; being in the middle makes you feel like Sisyphus; ending sometimes comes with the disappointment that this finite collection of words is all that remains of your infinitely rich idea. Along the way, there are the pitfalls of self-disgust, boredom, disorientation and a lingering sense of inadequacy, occasionally alternating with episodes of hysterical self-congratulation as you fleetingly believe you've nailed that particular sentence and are surely destined to join the ranks of the immortals, only to be confronted the next morning with an appalling farrago of clichés that no sane human could read without vomiting. But when you're in the zone, spinning words like plates, there's a deep sense of satisfaction and, yes, enjoyment…
I can relate to this SO MUCH right now (except the part of about being "surely destined to join the ranks of the immortals" - I have never ever written anything that has made me think such a thought - not even for a fleeting second!). At the moment, I am even enjoying the occasional moment of being 'in the zone' and it is actually really quite fun.

[On a slight tangent: I am also currently obsessed with successful community-driven sanitation projects in large informal settlements - slums - and their potential to change so many lives and empower so many people... It is incredible how significant a toilet can be to people's quality of life.]


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