Monday, February 27, 2012

Please, Friends with Kids/Jennifer Westfeldt

When I think about the movie Friends with Kids, I have to take deep calming breaths. 

Friends with Kids Poster

The poster is enough to make anyone who loves their spouse and children squeeze a 96-count box of Crayolas into melted wax with their bare hands. Nick showed me the poster the other night, and read this irritating, sappy synopsis from Apple Trailers:

"Friends With Kids is a daring and poignant ensemble comedy about a close-knit circle of friends at that moment in life when children arrive and everything changes. The last two singles in the group observe the effect that kids have had on their friends' relationships and wonder if there's a better way. They decide to have a kid together - and date other people. There are big laughs and unexpected emotional truths as this unconventional 'experiment' leads everyone in the group to question the nature of friendship, family and, finally, true love."

The synopsis doesn't have to elaborate on the "changes" or the "effect that kids have had on their friends' relationships," because it's already a commonly held notion that kids=more stress, less sex, and no social life. Right away, I knew that this film had been created by someone who doesn't have children. And I was so right. The film is written, directed, and starred in by Jennifer Westfeldt, who is 42, has never been married, and does not have children. So of course, here are some other assumptions of the film(;cbv;[bn[;pnb/gh[-p) (Luke's contribution) as noted in The Film Stage review:

--Built upon the idea that friends who couple and have kids will destroy what once was
--Children trump late nights out on the town, language should be held in check and the limited destinations allowing crying babies hinder the friendships you once cherished more than anything else.
---Cynical and selfish, [the last two singles, Julie and Jason] enjoy the single life and not having to worry about ‘the cards’ the others must play when free time is few and far between. If they want something they just reach out and grab it, no questions asked.
--If two people want children badly, they must sacrifice their own happiness in marriage to get one. This is the conclusion Julie and Jason create. But what if you could bypass the marriage, the inevitable self-loathing and divorce?
--They are the best of friends and would die if anything changed that, making the addition of a baby to the equation nothing but damage, right?

The old counsel about writing is to write what you know, and so I suppose it's fair for Westfeldt to write a film about people on the outside of marriage and children. But she doesn't know anything about what it's like inside a marriage with children. The idea that children inherently damage a marriage is so...naive. 

Seeing your shirtless husband do skin-to-skin with your newborn baby while your labor tear is sewn up--That strengthens a marriage.
 Having a toddler that 99% of the time says "Dada!" with absolute rapture immediately when he wakes up--That strengthens a marriage.
Napping with the whole family in bed on a Sunday--That strengthens a marriage.
Your husband telling you every day of your gestation "You're so beautiful and pregnant!"--That strengthens a marriage.
Feeling your baby girl press and kick and wiggle against her father's face while he lays in your lap and reads a book aloud to you at the end of the day, and knowing that in the womb she already knows his voice--That strengthens a marriage.
Calling your husband when you have lost your patience and been harsh with your baby and feel so weak, so consumed by anger, and being overwhelmed by his compassion, forgiveness, and love--That strengthens a marriage.
Listening to your husband give a priesthood blessing to your sick child--That strengthens a marriage.
Lounging on the love sac with your husband and having your toddler come and snuggle right in between the two of you--That strengthens a marriage
Marveling together as your child learns to speak and to express love and affection--That strengthens a marriage.
Encouraging each other to calm down and be patient when your baby is sleepless and inconsolable in the night, giving each other the strength to hold his little body and rock for just 15 more minutes--That strengthens a marriage.
Laughing at the cheeky smile your toddler readily flashes--That strengthens a marriage.
Watching the rapt expressions on your toddler's face while your husband reads him Where the Wild Things Are--That strengthens a marriage.
Greeting each other at the end of the day, knowing that every single page of law textbook your husband read that day was done completely for you and your child, knowing that his greatest joy is being home with his family, not out drinking, partying, sleeping around, or making gobs and gobs of money--That strengthens a marriage. 

And you know what weakens a marriage?
Being selfish
Not taking on responsibility
Begrudging your family the time and effort they deserve
Wanting to act like a college student (who can do whatever they want wherever they want whenever they want) your whole life
Not sharing workloads
Speaking sharply about day-to-day frustrations
Blaming each other
Not being able to adjust, compromise, and sacrifice
Taking each other for granted, not expressing enough gratitude
Not changing and growing together
Acting like a spoiled child when things are hard
Arguing about resources
Not being creative about your quality time and social life
Looking outside of your marriage and family for emotional fulfillment

My thought is that children make a good marriage incredible, the best it could ever possibly be, transcendentally satisfying and beautiful. But if your marriage is subtly weakened by many of the things listed above (or any other number of issues), then children will shed a harsh light on the areas where you need to improve. What you do once your children show you the true state of your marriage is your own choice. But just remember--it may be easy to blame an innocent child for marital strife, but those problems were there long before the child was born. You--as the adults--need to grow up and learn to cope with joy and grace.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Please, Disney star machine

I don't know anybody who feels a bit of joy or even schadenfreude about the self-combustion of Lindsay Lohan.  She's my same exact age, and in the years since Mean Girls, I have sadly marveled at her desperate downfall. I don't know in what order, but it seems like she got trashy, started partying, and got addicted to drugs. The most recent thing I heard about her is that she had a full nude spread in the January/February 2012 Playboy. I have no love of pornography or its impact on men and women, and I see this as a last resort for Lindsay--selling her body.

Lindsay isn't the only Disney gal to have a rocky transition to adulthood. There's Miley Cyrus, with a slew of slimy photos and videos and her album Can't Be Tamed. Her outfits for both the album cover and the live tour were distinctly bondage-inspired and hyper-sexualized.

There's Demi Lovato. She used to be pretty normal looking and cute, and seemed a lot more real than some of the girls I saw on Disney. But then I saw her hosting MTV's New Year's Eve 2012 broadcast. I didn't even know it was her at first. Boobs popping out of her dress, severely waxed brows, and absolutely garish makeup. She didn't look like a maturing young woman. She looked like she was trying way too hard.

And innocent little Selena Gomez, of Wizards of Waverly Place fame, has graced the cover of the March 2012 Cosmopolitan (while she's still a featured actress on the Disney Channel website! Along with Demi and Miley). It was unnerving to see her there because she has a such a young looking face. She still looks like she's 14, no matter how much cleavage she's baring.

Oh, and let's not forget about Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale from High School Musical. They've also done nude photos, like our friend Lindsay.

So is there no other way to prove your maturity than ostentatiously flaunting your body? Why have none of these Disney stars transitioned into womanhood by, oh, I don't know, taking on more serious roles in film? Or becoming advocates for important causes? Or *gasp* enrolling in college?

That's one thing I noticed while researching. None of these young women have gone to college. Instead, they've switched straight from sugar cubes to sexpots. Some Disney grads who have taken college courses or gotten a degree? Christy Carlson Romano of Even Stevens, Brenda Song of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Anne Hathaway of...lots of things. Not that these actresses are perfect, but I have to wonder if college has helped temper them.

Also, none of these actresses who went to college were the front runners for a Disney Channel franchise. They were either side characters or the stars of wide release movies. Maybe they had more flexibility? Maybe there wasn't as much pressure on them? Maybe they had time to get better acting training? I don't know.

Disney is so huge and has so much money. If they wanted to, they could help all of their young stars gain serious skills that would let them transition to the real world of acting and musical performance. Instead, Disney Channel just produces show after show that is identical--empty, meaningless, and smothered with laugh tracks. So most of their girls leave the oppression of Disney with nothing but their bodies.

I saw a documentary recently about girls in this same exact situation. Young and sexually exploited, trapped in a radically different life from normal girls, lacking education and skill sets, never having the opportunity to go to college...It was called Very Young Girls. And it was about prostitutes.. Maybe the Disney star machine has the same impact on its starlets that a pimp has on his ho's.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Thank you, Cait

Don't you love having a friend who makes you think? Who makes you delve deeper and want to do research and be more think-y and intelligent? That's my friend Cait, who I've mentioned before here.

This entry is essentially a follow-up to "Please, Susan G. Komen naggers." When Cait first commented and said Planned Parenthood doesn't need to get involved with breastfeeding and that low-income women can always go to WIC, it got me thinking. What unique things could Planned Parenthood offer to breastfeeding women in this country?

If you haven't noticed, I'm really bothered by how few women breastfeed in the US. I often think about what resources there are for nursing women, and who else ought to help. There's La Leche League, of course. There's doctors and lactation consultants at hospitals and health clinics. And there's lactation specialists at WIC. And all of the resources available online through helpful websites and social networking are not to be discounted, either. But somehow, these current resources are not enough. The numbers are still low, and women still find it insanely difficult to juggle nursing and a full-time job or even to nurse in public without harassment. Women need more to breastfeed in America--more advocacy, more education, and more on-site assistance. Planned Parenthood could potentially excel in all of those areas.

Advocacy--Anything that Planned Parenthood touches is seen as a women's rights issue. People that have a stake in breastfeeding of course currently see it as a right, and there are many laws touting it as such. But I really think there is a disconnect with the public at large. Maybe I'm wrong on this, but I think most people and employers really see breastfeeding as just a choice, an option. Formula moms may complain about feeling judged, but they don't get badgered and kicked out of places for feeding their babies. They don't have to get hauled in to HR because a fellow employee was complaining about how they feed their child. They don't have to fight their employers and risk losing their jobs just so their baby can be fed. I don't see why any woman should have to go through any of these things to meet a biological norm that is the optimal choice for her personal health.

Because Planned Parenthood is supposed to be all about women's health (and their non-birth control, non-abortion health services are how they justify themselves to their detractors) they should advocate for women on breastfeeding. This is a critical health issue where women are consistently discriminated against and repressed. Who knows how PP's commitment to breastfeeding could transform women getting to pump or nurse in the workplace?

Education--Planned Parenthood seems very committed to educating women realistically about different health issues. Their website has very thorough information on many subjects. Sadly, as I mentioned in my last entry, their only discussion of nursing is using it as birth control, and the explanation is very sparse. One huge obstacle that women face in the US is misinformation about breastfeeding. Parenting books are not a reliable source. Friends may or may not be a reliable source. Even--might I say especially?--pediatricians and nurses often know jack squat about breastfeeding, and if you hit any bump in the road with nursing, the first thing they say to you is "Some women just don't make enough milk." I had a CNM say this to me before she even asked me any questions about my nursing habits!

Planned Parenthood specializes in educating about birth control in particular. Women who do attempt breastfeeding sometimes don't get to take full advantage of lactational amenorrhea because they don't know enough about nursing, and their feeding habits are misguided. Other than natural family planning, breastfeeding is the only birth control that is completely free, biological, and has no side effects for anyone. Breastfeeding's status as a health issue and a birth control option should put it on Planned Parenthood's agenda.

On-site Assistance--I was interested by these numbers:
WIC Clinics: ~1870 throughout the US
Number of participants served: ~9,540,481
Budget: ~ $6,200,000,000
(in the 2008 report, most recent national data I could find)

Planned Parenthood Clinics: ~840
Number of services performed: ~11,003,366
Budget: ~ $1,040,000,000
(combo of Wikipedia and PP's annual report)

Even though the number of participants is a different thing than number of services, it seems that with less than half the infrastructure and budget of WIC, Planned Parenthood reaches just as many if not more women. Planned Parenthood is very well-known, and according to them, 1 in 5 women has visited a PP clinic. The same cannot be said of WIC, which I had not even heard of before I became pregnant and which I have had to explain to everyone I know that is not currently a poor student family.

Further comparing on-site PP assistance to current breastfeeding get help from a doctor or lactation consultant, you need insurance or Medicaid. To get help from LLL, you have to go to a meeting with lots of other people, which some women may not be comfortable with when breastfeeding is really a struggle (myself included in that number). Plus, many LLL groups only meet once or twice a month. By the time a woman could actually get to a meeting, she might already have caved to formula. And to get help from WIC, you have to navigate a lengthy approval process and have the proper income. Planned Parenthood has none of those stipulations. It is private, accessible, and affordable/free. There is a no-questions-asked feel about getting help from Planned Parenthood. Women could get confidential, free, accurate on-site help with breastfeeding immediately. This is simply not available to women currently.

It's funny--at first, I just felt kind of irked that as a women's health organization, PP didn't already have helpful info about breastfeeding. But the more and more I thought about it, the more I realized the tremendous good that Planned Parenthood could actually do for nursing women. Not that I'll be starting a petition or anything, I just wanted to share the train of thought that Cait put on the track.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Please, Susan G. Komen naggers

By now, most people have probably stopped thinking about the Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen tussle. But I haven't. I have been thinking about it all weekend, even in the middle of the night.

Most of the time, I try to just kind of ignore Planned Parenthood. It's a really touchy subject. When I heard about Susan G. Komen's decision, I thought it made sense. They kept funding the three PP clinics that did offer mammograms, and stopped funding the rest. I was really surprised that Susan G. Komen was sufficiently bullied by PP supporters that they actually reversed their decision. I even got an email from the American Association of University Women reassuring me that they sided with Planned Parenthood on this issue--because obviously all university educated women value Planned Parenthood above any other women's health organization.

The biggest irony is that, whether PP offers helpful cancer screenings or not, you could say that physiologically and philosophically, PP actually helps contribute to women getting breast cancer in America--so maybe Susan G. Komen never should have been giving them money at all.

If you haven't taken an evolution course, you may or may not know that breast cancer is primarily a disease of civilization (I'll be referencing Evolutionary Analysis by Scott Freeman and Jon Herron in this paragraph). In other words, women tend to suffer from breast cancer considerably more in modern societies than they do in traditional societies. When women have their period, cell division occurs in the lining of the milk ducts. More cell division=more chance for having cancer. So the more times a woman has her period in her life, the greater her chance for breast cancer. What stops women from having their period? Pregnancy starting in her 20s and exclusive breastfeeding. (And there's artificial birth control that does it, but those do not prevent the hormonal cycling that stimulates cell division in milk ducts. Artificial birth control does not lessen your chance of breast cancer as a modern woman). In traditional societies where women start having kids in their 20s, have more than 2 children--more like 4 to 7 children--and breastfeed all of those children for several years, women have less than one-third the number of periods as a typical modern woman does throughout her lifetime. Hence, the breast cancer rates in traditional societies are a mere one-twelfth what they are in modern societies.

Most of Planned Parenthood's efforts go to helping women have sex without getting pregnant. In a biological way, it's almost like they want to turn women into men and completely divorce sex from having children. PP gives out a lot of artificial birth control, and as my friend Chelsea noted, they performed over 390 abortions per adoption referral last year. Looking over their annual report, it seems like PP puts a huge emphasis on the "planned" and very little emphasis on the "parenthood." I feel like the services they offer and the mindset they encourage are a huge part of the reason that the epitome of women's rights seems to be preventing motherhood. PP has become this sacrosanct institution, and if you don't support them, (or if heaven forbid, you decide to remove a paltry amount of funding from them) then you somehow hate women, hate low income women, and want to repress all women. I just think there's more to women's health than STD tests and IUDs.

For instance, breastfeeding is vastly important to women's health, and the breastfeeding numbers in this country are ridiculously low. If PP cared more about parenthood, then maybe they would offer some serious lactation counseling--I assume it's a negligible part of their services since it's not mentioned at all in their annual report. And maybe they would have more helpful information about breastfeeding on their website, instead of a handful of sentences and the insulting and ignorant jab that your breasts might not feel as sexual anymore if you breastfeed. Maybe if PP helped women breastfeed instead of just drugging themselves up so they don't have babies, then more women in the US would get to take advantage of the 14.5 months average of lactational amenorrhea. Maybe if PP really cared about breast cancer, they would encourage the natural birth control that makes a woman less and less likely to get breast cancer the more she uses it--in addition to reducing the chance of uterine and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and obesity. Planned Parenthood has vast amounts of influence and infrastructure. If they offered as much education and help about breastfeeding as they did about being sexually active, then it could truly make a difference for women in this country.

I resent that Planned Parenthood is so important to so many women, that it's seen as this beacon of modern femininity, when they spend so much time and effort discouraging motherhood. The base assumption is not "Babies are inherently a joy and a blessing, and we want to help you make them a part of your life," it's "Babies are an inconvenience and a burden on women and the world unless they're planned, and then maybe they're okay." The last time I checked, the only things a woman can do that a man cannot do are bear children and nourish them with her own body. If Planned Parenthood is really all about women, why are women's unique gifts what they devote the least resources to?