Monday, August 31, 2009

Still more demands on the "good mother," in an age of women in combat

"Soldier's Service Leads to a Custody Battle at Home" is the headline for a story in today's New York Times. It tells of Leydi Mendoza's ten months' service in Iraq with the New Jersey National Guard, only to return to the U.S. and find that her former partner is challenging her right to see their young daughter. He claims it is too disruptive for toddler Elizabeth to spend more than a few hours with “a mother she doesn’t really know or recognize that well.”

Here's an excerpt that gives an overview of the child custody consequences of the increasing deployment of women soldiers:
Custody disputes involving returning members of the service have long been an unpleasant fact of military life, but the increasing number of women involved in combat overseas has brought new wrinkles. The Pentagon does not keep statistics on such custody disputes, but military family counselors said they knew of at least five recent situations around the country like the struggle over Elizabeth, in which a mother who served overseas is fighting for more access to her child. Some advocates say an unspoken bias against mothers who leave their young children has heightened both legal barriers and social stigma when these women try to resume their role as active parents.
Mendoza had a "family care plan" that the military helped her negotiate with Elizabeth's father, but it is apparently not enforceable. Now, advocates for folks like Mendoza are saying that the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act, which protects service members from losing their jobs or their homes, should also protect their access to their children.

I've seen mothers get judged harshly for all sorts of situations and "behavior," such as the one written about here, but I must say that this story about a soldier mom--with no choice about her deployment--really takes the proverbial cake.

How many drinks is okay?

Recently, I got my first mammogram. Not because it was recommended by my doctor (I am still a bit young for routine mammogram), but because I have been plagued by talk of a study (or a group of studies), that suggests that women who indulge in more than one alcoholic drink a day are putting themselves at higher risk for breast cancer. (The full text of one of the studies is available here). Not surprisingly, the risk goes up for women who drink regularly, or who drink in excess of 15 oz per day (that's less then one pint, ladies). Unfortunately, that means I am one of the women with the greatest potential increase in risk. And the truth is, most of my female friends and even some family members also fall into this category. Not only does this raise issues about our health, but also about our dependency on alcohol. Although the term 'alcoholism' comes to mind, most of the women in my life would not consider themselves alcoholics, including me. Why? Because, we use any number of excuses to justify our drinking habits - it's 'just a couple glasses of wine' at night, and that's no big deal. And if we do 'binge' drink, we get home safe, we wake up in the morning and go to school or work, and for the most part, we didn't do anything too stupid while drinking the night before. Oh, and we can have 'just one drink' (we just choose to have more, usually...). Now, keep in mind that 'binge' drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as 4 or more drinks during a single occasion (for women). Although this may sound like a lot, a 'drink' is 12 ounces of beer, or 5 ounces of wine. Most beers are served in 16 ounce pints, which means 3 typical beers in an evening means you're bingeing.  My point is, many of us don't realize that what we would consider 'moderate' drinking is actually 'heavy' drinking as defined by the medical community, and it could have real affects on our long term health.

I have searched for a definition of alcoholism to guide me in evaluating my own alcohol consumption for a long time, in part because my father is a recovering alcoholic. Yes, one of those people who can never have a drink ever again! The very thought of this frightens me (probably a bad sign), and yet I have found ways to set myself apart from my fathers behavior, never admitting to being an alcoholic in the traditional sense of the word (whatever that is). So, this new information about the risks to my health is adding a whole new layer of complication. Namely, if I can't stop drinking in the face of this new evidence, am I really in control of my drinking?

As I was pondering these questions for my own life and the lives of the female family and friends who are also habitual drinkers, another article caught my attention in the New York Times, "A Heroine of Cocktail Moms Sobers Up."  The article is about a woman who blogs about motherhood, and intersperses her commentary with funny and charming anecdotes about drinking, most of which I find quite hilarious and even pretty normal. But interestingly, when I instinctively hit the 'forward' button and began typing the names of all the moms in my life, I feared they would get the wrong idea from the article. Maybe it would seem like I was hinting at their need to sober up? After forwarding to my least sensitive friend and deciding not to forward to others, I did some internet research on this phenomenon of mom's and drinking, and found the internet flooded with posts and blogs devoted to the subject (I invite you to google "drinking and motherhood"). Granted, the internet is flooded with posts and blogs on just about every subject, but nevertheless I was a little shocked to find asking "How Honest Should I Be?", and espousing the wonders of 'drunk sex'.  I know that google is not hard research, but it seems that women in general and maybe moms especially are drinking more than ever, and are just as confused as I am about what their drinking means. Or, perhaps drinking and womanhood have always gone hand in hand, but women are only just now able to use the anonymity of internet blogging to discuss it.

Either way, I am beginning to wonder if there isn't a link between women's public struggle for equality, and their private struggle to cope with the pressures of being female. Does chronic low-level drinking contribute to or reinforce negative gender roles?  Are women simply coping with their unhappiness by staying a little bit tipsy, instead of fighting back?  For me, looking more closely at the links between stress at home and my own personal alcohol consumption is a way of answering this question.  It seems to me that, even if the Oxford study isn't completely accurate, my emotional health is just as important as my physical health, and drinking regularly really can't be good for either. At least for now, I can take comfort in my mammogram results (normal!). Although if anyone is free to celebrate, we could grab a beer...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jaycee Lee Dugard

I think that any blog about this tragedy should be focused on the inadequacies of the police departments of the world, but there is definitely something to be said about women and their intense vulnerability in this world. When someone can be kidnapped, held hostage and raped repeatedly from 1991 until the present, even after attaining adulthood, our world as women becomes a much scarier place. Will it happen to me? Will it happen to my daughter? My granddaughter? We may scoff at countries that allow their daughters to be married at age 9, yet this girl right here literally in our own backyards was raped at a similar age and bore two children while a minor. This is not just a failure of the justice system, but a failure of the social system that anyone could think they could treat a girl / woman this way in our country today, after all the progress and increases in women's rights and women's safety that has happened so far.

The Sacramento Bee's full story is here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Women's Crusade

That is the title of one of the most emailed items on the NYT website for the past few days. It is by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Here's an excerpt:
[I]n a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Women and/as folksy

A couple of recent New York Times stories referring to female politicians as folksy--in headlines no less--caught my eye. The first item is Jeffrey Gettleman's Sunday Review piece on HRC's recent trip to Africa, "Hillary Clinton's Folksy Diplomacy." The second is David Kocieniewski's report on New Jersey politician Loretta Weinberg, "Corzine Running Mate Brings Folksy Pragmatism."

What, I wondered, did they mean by "folksy," especially in light of the fact that one of the women so labeled was Hillary Rodham Clinton? Now, I'm a big fan of Hillary's, and I think of myself as a bit folksy, but what is folksy about Hillary? After all, hasn't her aloofness--a seemingly opposite trait to folksiness--been more often commented upon and criticized? In short, I thought Bill was the folksy one.

Well, apparently what Gettleman saw as folksy is what he elsewhere characterizes as her being "a recovering politician, with First Lady tendencies." He suggests that it is folksy to smile a lot, which Gettleman says she did, whereas her Secretary of State forerunners like Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger did not. Maybe it is folksy just to be gracious--if those to whom you are being gracious are regular folks and not just other diplomats.

Here's a quote that Gettleman says sums up Clinton's "emerging style":
She stuffed her days with what felt like a dozen events, a blur of high-level meetings, roundtable discussions and “townterviews.”
* * *
She can’t resist the rope line even when it’s in a South African housing project teaming with glassy-eyed men and her secret service agents are practically shouting into their cufflinks. Her style is to go heavy on the politics, heavy on the policy, but mix in some real people as well.
In short, I guess when you are U.S. Secretary of State, pretty much anything that puts you in touch with the hoi polloi is "folksy."

As for the Loretta Weinberg story, here's the lede:
When she signed on as Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s running mate in late July, Loretta Weinberg, a longtime state senator, introduced herself to voters as the “feisty Jewish grandmother” of New Jersey politics. Since then, she has wasted little time trying to fulfill her colorful proclamation.
And here's another excerpt:
And in a smattering of face-to-face political appearances, Ms. Weinberg, 74, has done nothing to diminish her reputation as a seasoned schmooze artist, doling out small talk and compliments as if she were serving up brisket and kugel.
I thought most politicians were schmoozers, but maybe in the context of New Jersey, it doesn't take a great deal of "common touch" to be folksy.

Some posts about folksiness, politics, and gender can be found on my Legal Ruralism Blog here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Women in the military

The New York Times is doing a series on women serving in combat and how recent experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq are bringing down barriers. The first in the series, by Lizette Alvarez, is "G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier," and the second, by Steven Lee Myers, is "Living and Fighting Alongside Men, and Fitting In."

Here's an excerpt from the first story:

Before 2001, America’s military women had rarely seen ground combat. Their jobs kept them mostly away from enemy lines, as military policy dictates.

But the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, often fought in marketplaces and alleyways, have changed that. In both countries, women have repeatedly proved their mettle in combat. The number of high-ranking women and women who command all-male units has climbed considerably along with their status in the military.

And here is one from the second:

Opponents of integrating women in combat zones long feared that sex would mean the end of American military prowess. But now birth control is available — the PX at Warhorse even sold out of condoms one day recently — reflecting a widely accepted reality that soldiers have sex at outposts across Iraq.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first in which tens of thousands of American military women have lived, worked and fought with men for prolonged periods. Wars without front lines, they have done more than just muddle the rules meant to keep women out of direct enemy contact.

They have changed the way the United States military goes to war.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The "Tide of Trivialization" that dogs Hillary Clinton

Read Judith Warner's marvelous column on Clinton's trip to Africa (Hillary Clinton's trip, that is). In it, Warner questions why Secretary Clinton's mission to "make women’s issues “central” to U.S. foreign policy, not “adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser” keeps getting lost in other news, including that about Bill Clinton.

The column is here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bob Herbert on Misogyny

Here's an excerpt on Bob Herbert's column, "Women at Risk," one of the ten most popular stories on the NYTimes website a day after it was first published.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.