Abortion, Autonomy, and the Adversarial Pregnancy

This really caught my eye:

In the Japanese arena the protagonist of pregnancy is the interconnected entity of the mother-baby, whereas in the Israeli case the protagonists are the pregnant woman and her suspect fetus. Pregnancy is conceptualized as an early stage of parenting in Japan and is all about the interdependence of mother and baby and their ongoing relationships. The Israeli model defines pregnancy as a state “in limbo” that involves two separate individuals (of whom only one is a person).

In this respect, perhaps, Israel can stand in for the whole West.  At some point autonomy became the premier value in Western, especially American, culture.  Relationship thereby came to seem at least as much a threat as a necessity.  Women, assigned to be the tenders and maintainers of needed but denied support systems, were themselves often regarded as a regrettable necessity; they, and the part of men that needed them, were regarded with contempt.  Just think of the rejected man who kills the woman, their kids, and then himself.  Women in feminism’s second wave aspired to the prized virtue of autonomy (I was there!  I did!), believing that only when they became as monadic as the mythic ideal man would they have attained full and equal human status.

The biggest threat to a young woman’s hard-won, fiercely guarded, precarious autonomy is her body’s propensity to get pregnant.  Young feminist women who advocate abortion on demand seem to regard an ill-timed embryo as a parasite, a hijacker, almost an assailant — a infiltrating secret agent of all those who would throw a net over free women and curtail their autonomy, forcing them into service to others than themselves.  (The male equivalent of this alienation of affections from the self used to be shotgun marriage; now, I guess, it’s child support.)  They cast abortion almost as an act of resistance to oppression.  (Autonomy doesn’t mean Western women are never willing to serve others than themselves, but it does mean they want to be the ones to decide whom and when.)  In my own essay on abortion, I tried carefully to describe it in a more balanced way:

It is a kind of self-defense – one life in precarious progress fending off a blameless hijacking by another barely begun – yet it presents the stomach-turning conundrum of self-defense against the defenseless. To define this act as either a crime or a right is too simple. It‘s a tragedy.

The author of the blog post that caught my eye tonight, reporting on an Israeli anthropologist’s comparative study, is a Christian who resonates more with the Japanese view:

The notion that the developing baby is indeed a baby right from the start reflects my own convictions, and I was especially drawn to Ivry’s descriptions of the Japanese practice of taikyô, which involves speaking to the unborn baby. In the words of a bestselling Japanese prenatal guide, “It is practiced in order to deepen the bonds between the mother and the baby, through the mother’s recognition of the baby and her acceptance of him.” Ivry’s descriptions of Japanese mothers practicing taikyô with their unborn babies reminded me of reading the Bible to my daughter, moments after I discovered I was pregnant.

Yet it doesn’t escape Elrena Evans’s notice that early abortion is legal and practiced in Japan:

Although Japanese pregnancy culture embraces the growing child as a current—not future, or potential—person, and the abortion rate is lower than it is in the United States, abortion is not rare in Japan. “To this day abortions are available practically on demand in Japan,” Ivry writes, though there are limitations on how far into a pregnancy abortion can be performed.

She says no more on this fascinating subject, which, like other aspects of Japanese culture, always gives me a through-the-looking-glass feeling. (Follow that link!)  Imagine:  “the process of government certification for abortionists in Japan makes them members of the Motherhood Protection Association.”  And an aborted embryo or fetus, like a miscarried one, doesn’t cease to exist as if it never was; it remains a part of the family!  Who is weirder, us or them?

It reminds me of my own frustrated efforts to get people to hear what I’m saying about my abortion.  I keep saying, “I don’t feel guilt, I feel regret,” and they persist in conflating the two, saying again and again either “You have to forgive yourself” or “God forgives you.”  I feel as if I’m not being heard.  Guilt can be absolved and resolved by forgiveness.  Regret is forever, without even the sadomasochistic satisfactions of blame.

ADDED: Evans’ blog post goes on to describe the Israeli experience of pregnancy as less one of assailed autonomy than one of anxiety about the normality of the fetus.  The broader difference between the Western and Japanese views, it seems to me, is the scientific materialism that’s come to dominate the West.  To a majority of Americans, when a baby is physically aborted, it’s gone as if it never existed.  And if it’s physically flawed (but viable), it should never have existed.  I don’t know whether the Japanese test for and abort, e.g., Down syndrome babies.  But while they may bring  little knitted caps to the shrine for aborted fetuses, they are notorious for being callous towards the disabled.

None of this is simple.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

A Forgotten Classic of Feminist Psychoanalysis

Sounds horrible, doesn’t it?  Like the worst of both worlds — academic, jargon-ridden, hatchet-wieldingly ideological?  But no, in this rare case it’s the best of both worlds: humane, expansive, magical.  I’m not sure if it’s possible to change human nature, but Dorothy Dinnerstein thought that if anything could, it would be the new fatherhood.

I found these quotes I’d copied out in some old notebook/ commonplace books.

And this mysterious body, this body whose transience we try so vainly to feel as a fact, is loved with a special reverence for continuing, miraculously, to live, and hated with a special loathing for promising, incredibly, to die.

*     *     *

The sinking sense of falling — loss of maternal support — is the permanent archetype of catastrophe.

*      *      *

[T]he sexual realm . . . is a wildlife preserve in the civilized world, a refuge within which inarticulate, undomesticated private creative initiative is protected from extinction.

They’re from Dinnerstein’s  The Mermaid and the Minotaur, which relates to the Jimmy Buffett lyric, “Some people claim/ that there’s a woman to blame . . .” From Amazon reviews:

I read this book twenty years ago when I was in college. I found (and still find) Dinnerstein’s feminist argument for shared parenting to be one of those books that has the potential to change lives. . . . The kernel of her argument is that so long as we all are raised (exclusively or predominantly) by our mothers or by female caregivers, children will grow up with a deep-seated resentment of the feminine (since no parent can perfectly anticipate a child’s needs, and all children, in growing up, will be conditioned by our infantile rage at our parent’s imperfections). . . . At the age of twenty, I was persuaded by Dinnerstein to be (when I did have kids) an active and equal participant in the raising of my children, from changing diapers to feeding and everything else. I was so convinced of the importance of her analysis, and of its potential to change lives, that I have, in the past few decades, bought and given away as gifts eighty-eight copies to male and female friends. (I figured that if I just told people what a great book it was, few would follow up, but that if I actually bought it and thrust it into their hands, they might be moved to actually read it.) I’m not sure how many of these were actually read by the recipients. But I can report that out of 88 copies given away, eight people came to me afterward and said something to the effect of, “This book changed my life.”

*      *      *
Dinnerstein also relates the fear of death to how women rule the infant’s world and men the adult’s world. Seem unrelated? Phrase “womb to tomb” captures it best perhaps.

*       *       *

it is not “just another” “feminist ” title. Indeed quite a few feminists have objected mightily to it over the years. The big problem, though, it that it has been roundly ignored over the years!

I agree.  Although it is quite Romantic, the book made enormous sense to me when I read it around age 30, especially in explaining the cruel control of women in so many traditional cultures.  Its influence still lingers.

“She Has Had No Role in My Life Except…”

. . . to keep me sane, fed, housed, amused, and protected from unwanted telephone calls. Also to restrain me fairly frequently from making a horse’s ass of myself in public, to force me to attend to books and ideas from which she knows I will learn something; also to mend my wounds when I am misused by the world, to implant ideas in my head and stir the soil around them, to keep me from falling into a comfortable torpor, to agitate my sleeping hours with problems that I would not otherwise attend to; also to remind me constantly (not by precept but by example) how fortunate I have been to live for fifty-three years with a woman that bright, alert, charming, and supportive.

Wallace Stegner, who died in 1993 after a car crash, on his wife of almost 60 years, Mary Page, who died last week at 99.  Perhaps fittingly for someone who so self-effacingly played the helpmeet role —

[Their son] Stuart Page Stegner said that while his mother was an accomplished violinist with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, most of her attentions were lavished on her husband and marriage.  “She quite deliberately decided that his gifts and talents were so great, the best role she would play was to be his helpmate,” he said [in her Salt Lake Tribune obit].  “She wouldn’t win any points in the modern women’s movement for that, but that’s what she did, and did deliberately.”

— Mary Stegner is represented in her brief L.A. Times blog-obit by a photo of her husband!

But she outlived him by almost two decades!  What did she do, who was she, for those 17 years?  Only a living memorial to him?

An occasion to ponder the costs and gifts of the helpmeet role, without which the helpee’s great work might never have fully seen the light.  It’s not exclusive or “natural” to women — Leonard Woolf comes to mind — but for most of history, it’s been overwhelmingly a woman’s job, and until fairly recently, her identity.


Triple Goddess, My Ass.

“Urban shaman” Donna Henes points out that the moon has four quarters, not three, and that the Triple Goddess model popularized by Robert Graves — maiden, mother, crone — leaves out a whole phase of women’s lives that many of us are currently enjoying to the hilt.

When you think about it, the Triple Goddess is a guy’s-eye view of a woman’s life.  First she entices him, then she bears his children, and then she shrivels up into irrelevance.  But this is not how it looks from a woman’s point of view at all — especially not now.  Post-menopause but pre-crone is a whole rich slice of life when women really come into their own, untrammeled by the biology of beckoning and bearing and not yet trammeled by the biology of dying.  It’s fulfillment of a whole other kind.

I’m not usually too into this New Age stuff, but Donna is the very best of it — tart, not gooey, and a good writer.

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rima Fakih and a cloister of nuns, sisters under the skin?


Rima Fakih is Gorgeous; That is All,” The Anchoress — aka Elizabeth Scalia — titled her definitive and richly-linked take on the swirl of frothy and sometimes frothing-at-the mouth commentary that followed in the wake of the crowning of Muslim beauty Miss Michigan as Miss USA last night. AP photo.

“The contrast between images of the Catholic American women [below] and the Muslim American woman [above] of your previous post leaves me speechless” we twittered The Anchoress this afternoon, referencing her two latest blogposts. “Write about it!,” she twittered back. “I hadn’t thought of it, and must dash out to volunteer at hospital.”


A Plethora of Nun Pictures,” was the title of Scalia’s post immediately following the one about Rima Fakih’s triumph (top photo). Here the photographer catches a moment in the “solemn professions” of a group of Benedectines of Mary, “really great pictures giving a good sense of the meaning of community and sisterhood.”

What does a scantily-clad beauty queen of Lebanese descent have to do with a cloister of fresh-faced nuns habited from head to toe? It has something to do with the promise of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, together with the Nineteenth Amendment that granted us the right to vote in this land of opportunity where a woman is free to pursue her own vision of her best and truest self. We used to call this Shining City Upon a Hill a “melting pot,” a term in disfavor now among politically correct elites and their fellow travelers in the media who would impose a stultifying identity politics of grievance upon the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Fortunately, the Michigan community of Arab immigrants where Miss USA 2010 grew up never got the memo, according to this CNN report:

“For once, we’re talking about beauty and not terror,” said Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab-American News, in Dearborn, Michigan, who knows Fakih and her family.

He and about 150 other Arab-Americans watched the pageant unfold on a 100-inch television screen at La Pita Restaurant in Dearborn, which was packed with her friends …

“This sends a signal that we’re part and parcel of this great country … this is a part of being American. The American dream is still alive and kicking. Nobody can tell us that a Muslim cannot make it. Yes, we can make it.”

As The Anchoress quips, “Who needs ‘smart’ diplomacy? Bring on the pretty girls!”

Update: Dan Drezner has the last word:

A Very Important Post about …beauty pageant controversies

Update II:My own response has been reduced to sputtering incoherence,” confesses Rick Moran, fed up with “many on the right who have exploded in anger and cries of ‘dhimmitude’ because a Muslim woman was named Miss USA.” So there.

Update III: Michelle Malkin’s “Buzzworthy” links!

Update IV: Instalanche! Thank you, Professor Althouse.

Crossposted at sisu and Liberty Pundits.

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 10:15 pm  Comments (4)  

May murdered baby girls haunt your dreams, Mr. President


The preening perversion of men who would murder children fresh out of their mother’s womb for the crime of being born female sickens our heart and soul. Hatred and fear — side by side with love and adoration  — of the female of the species is universal throughout all cultures, of course, but common sense would have told Communist Chinese functionaries that killing the girls would lead to a generation of desperate men. Common sense? Unintended consequences? That’s never been part of the utopianist statist’s palette. They know better than we what’s best for us, and our individual hopes and dreams and human nature be damned. Above, Mary Cassatt’s “La Toilette,” oil on canvas c. 1891, The Art Institute of Chicago.

May murdered baby girls haunt your dreams, Mr. President,” we twittered in horror at the latest brain-dead outrage perpetrated by the current holder of the Leader of the Free World Seat. A horrified, outraged Jay Nordlinger at The Corner explains:

We, the United States, have been having human-rights talks with China. Our side is apparently led by Michael Posner, an assistant secretary of state. I will quote from an Associated Press report:

Posner said in addition to talks on freedom of religion and expression, labor rights and rule of law, officials also discussed Chinese complaints about problems with U.S. human rights, which have included crime, poverty, homelessness and racial discrimination.

He said U.S. officials did not whitewash the American record and in fact raised on its [their?] own a new immigration law in Arizona that requires police to ask about a person’s immigration status if there is suspicion the person is in the country illegally.

I hope I have read that incorrectly, or am interpreting it incorrectly. Did we, the United States, talking to a government that maintains a gulag, that denies people their basic rights, that in all probability harvests organs, apologize for the new immigration law in Arizona? Really, really?

But even as President Obama’s mandarins mock the custodians of the Shining City Upon a Hill and insult all humankind and womankind by their unconscionable sit-down with the perpetrators of genocide and gynocide, a new generation of American women “walk softly but carry a big lipstick,” as Lori Ziganto writes at Hot Air:

The left hates that phrase and they have ridiculed me for it on more than one occasion. You see, they don’t get it. It’s not surprising, really, as we’ve all known for some time that while the left trots out the For The Women™ meme constantly, they are anything but. The same way that self-avowed modern-day feminists are anything but feminist. In fact, they are diametrically opposed to feminism, by it’s very definition, because their entire agenda is actually harmful to women. This is why I now call them Femogynists and I’m taking the term feminist back.True feminists are women like Sarah Palin and Nikki Haley. They are the new faces of feminism. That has a great built-in bonus, too — they are far easier on the eyes and exhibit none of that irksome hysterical screeching like the irrelevant and soon to be extinct femogynists. They, and women like them, are coming to the forefront now.

You go, girls!

Crossposted at sisu and Liberty Pundits.

The war between women and men: He is all pine and I am apple-orchard

Detail of “A Mermaid” by English Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse. (Oil on canvas 1901, Royal Academy of Arts, London)

Boys will be boys, and we have no quarrel with Stacy McCain’s forthcoming frolickingNational Offend a Feminist Week 2010.” Once the Gramscian march through the institutions co-opted the public face of feminism with that whining, male-bashing, soul-deadening, identity-politics odd duck dubbed “Women’s Lib” in the Sixties and Seventies last century, we were out of there. But still, like Robert Frost’s Yankee individualist yearning to breathe free, there’s something there is in this feminine heart that doesn’t love a wall:

He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down!


“Well women, of course are delightful persons, and I hear a strange and strident voice that I think is attempting to stop some of this progress being made in behalf of woman. That’s the braless bubblehead, I call them,” Sen. Jennings Randolph (D WV) unwittingly presciently told a reporter back in August of 1970 as Women’s Liberation, the third wave of Amercan feminism, took center stage in the national debate through promotion of an ill-fated Equal Rights Amendment.

Some insight here from Stuart Shneiderman’s essay “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” that may give a little scientific heft to the point we’re trying to make regarding why women can’t “detatch their emotions from intimate relationships as easily as men” — tear down this wall, Mr. Wonderful! — and vive la différence:

I have occasionally suggested that when teachers and therapists try to make men more sensitive, more empathic, and more deeply feeling beings, they are effectively refusing to accept boys and men for what they are. They are trying, through psychological and other means, to make men more like women…

All of which is to say that I was shocked to read yesterday about experiments in Germany and the United Kingdom where men were treated with a nasal spray containing the hormone oxytocin.

What is oxytocin? It is a hormone that men and women possess, but that women possess in larger quantities. According to the article, it triggers labor pains, helps mothers to bond with their babies, and produces enhanced sensitivity and empathy.

We delved into the earth-shaking implications of the presence or absence of that hormone in early development in our July 2004 post “Oxytocin dearest.” But back to Shneiderman:

The article fails to mention that when a woman has a sexual experience her body produces extra oxytocin, thereby drawing her closer to her lover. Researchers call oxytocin the “cuddle hormone.”

Oxytocin is one of the primary reasons why women who make a habit of hooking up cannot detach their emotions from their sexual experience as easily as men can.

Forget about making a habit of hooking up. It’s part of what it is to be a woman. Or so we think. It’s why on some important level we don’t quite get the men we love, and they don’t quite get us. Or so we think.

Not unrelated:Do conservative women prefer macho men?”

Crossposted at Liberty Pundits and sisu.