Female Future Leaders

In response to bloggers who say I don’t talk about women’s issues very much I thought I’d capitulate and see if I can come up with something that they would like.  Of course if I were to be honest, I’d say the real reason is because the inspiration I felt from the women’s march on inauguration day gave me so much strength.  It was a great way to begin what are likely going to be 4 hard years.

An article that I thought was very well written was a response to post that made its rounds on inauguration day that was no in support of the women’s march.  That response is titled “You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry.”

Not surprisingly this article elicited a response and I’ve chosen to critique this response for two reasons.  One this article was posted on a website called Future Female Leaders – America’s leading social movement for young conservative women. They have merchandise by the way, and all future female leaders are apparently thin, white, and pretty (and also apparently only two women), but I digress.  I also wanted to critique this article because I found the rhetoric in the article to be full of the very things that tend to harm women.  There are Christian undertones without actually talking about Christianity, there are weak and fallacious arguments that do nothing to demonstrate that there are strong intelligent women out there, and then there is also the beginning sprouts of the Republican establishment philosophy which I am sure will make the author quite popular with the patriarchy and those who wish to be complicit with it.  So feel free to check it out for yourself, it’s called: “Yes, I Am Equal. I’m Sorry You Are Offended By Us Women Who Lack A Victim Mindset”.

From the very start we have one logical fallacy.  The title contains a strawman argument.  If you’re a feminist who believes that women should be equal to men in society, and apparently disagree with her, then you must have a victim mindset.  Apparently that’s what feminists are.

  1. The first point here begins with a misquote and demonstrate that this future female leader is someone who is unable to research well and is willing to take things out of context to argue her points.  Here is a well-researched article from politifact about Sanger’s quote.

“Those who think Sanger wanted black genocide cite the Negro Project. But even their strongest evidence, a passage from a letter she wrote advocating that organizers recruit black ministers for the project, does not come close to proving a genocidal plot.

Sanger wrote that “We don’t want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs.”

But her correspondence shows this sentence advocates for black doctors and ministers to play leadership roles in the Negro Project to avoid misunderstandings. Lynchings and Jim Crow laws gave blacks good reason to be wary of attempts to limit the number of children they bore. In Harlem, she hired a black doctor and social worker to quell those fears.”

This should be enough to not take this writer seriously, but since she might be a future female leader let’s move on.

  1. It’s true that we have laws set up that give women equal pay for equal work. But this isn’t at the heart of gender gap in pay.  The wage gap is based not on a straight calculation of pay, but other factors that impact the careers options women have in society. Most jobs if they do give parental leave, it’s only for the women.  What the pay gap is about is demonstrating that we still live in a society where women are the ones expected to shoulder a larger share of the parenting duties in favor of their career.  This impacts the careers they choose, and the fact that they often choose flexibility over pay as a result of this as well.  Women also face difficulties where their assertiveness is not valued, even though for men it would be.  They are seen as a bitch or abrasive.  Asking for raises is such a behavior and is often not looked kindly on in the workplace.
  1. Scientifically speaking, a fetus also isn’t a tenant in a woman’s body who can come and go if it pleases and compensates each month with rent. Also a fetus is NOT the very definition of a human being, which makes me wonder if this future leader has picked up the dictionary.  Look, I know the debate about personhood may never be resolved.  But the fact remains that the fetus takes from the mother in order to live.  It’s not even a symbiotic relationship, it’s closer to parasitic.  Now you can chide me for being unromantic about the most beautiful experience ever, and, believe me, when my son was born it was a beautiful thing.  But I also saw my wife go through pregnancy and I am aware of how taxing it can be, how delicate her life becomes for a mother when something is trying to feed off of her in order to survive.  My wife had very high blood pressure near the end, and was essentially on bed rest.  In the end it is her body, and her right to decide what happens to it. A fetus is not a human being, and if you want to call it that, fine, but consider the woman’s humanity too.  That seems to always get lost on so many pro-lifers.
  1. Not sure what her argument is here. There is an issue about the Tampon Tax.  I could find no evidence of it being taxed more than other items, but there has been lots of research that women pay more for identical products than men.  Whether this is sexism, or price gouging, or both, we can debate, but certainly points to the emphasis in society of female appearance.
  1. She thinks rape and sexual assault is because society lack of morals. And apparently the way to deal with a lack of morals is to carry a gun.  She’s a regular Republican talking point there.  Whether you carry mace or a gun isn’t the point, and it does nothing to solve the moral problem.  People are getting raped.  That’s the problem.  Also why is it society’s lack of morals?  Isn’t a rapist’s lack of morals?  Which as it turns out, tend to be men.
  1. Yes both men and women are objectified. But I think we might be a bit confusion on the issue of proportion as well as the attitudes such things generate toward the different genders. I think there is pretty clear evidence that women are objectified more than men.  An interesting study here demonstrates why that might be.
  1. While it’s true that men are also victims of domestic violence, the one place where this future female leader decided to post a link in support of her argument is irrelevant at demonstrating the women have little to fear, but seems aimed to try to demonstrate that women are more dangerous than men. Overall statistics that look at violence against women demonstrate that women are most often victims (in the U.S. it’s better than in many other countries in the world), and when you factor in things like stalking, and rape, the level of fear that women experience is far greater than what men go through.
  1. Talk about a reductionist argument here. This is about how girls are raised, and treated by others, not meeting them on the street.
  1. Legally guaranteed rights doesn’t mean that oppression goes away. I mean the same laws exist to protect African-Americans but racism still exists.  Of course I suppose since she a future female conservative leader she probably disagrees.  I mean we had a black president right?!  The constitution has guaranteed equal rights for all citizens of India, so the caste system is gone as well!  Millennia of oppression is always instantly wiped out with laws!  Sorry for the sarcasm here, but I couldn’t help it.
  1. Well she doesn’t think that women are less than equal here in the U.S. So not much to say here.  But it’s insulting.  And apparently if you’re a feminist if you’re fighting for the right to legislate your own body you aren’t a real feminist.
  1. Feminism is about empowering women. I know many who have been empowered by the ideals of feminism.  I am not sure where you are getting your definition.  Perhaps you are getting it from the most extreme in the particular group.  Every group has it.  There are those that call themselves feminists who are not after equality but dominance.  These are small amount.  Just as there are small amount of Christians who are the Westboro Baptist Church.  Thus your argument is a fallacy of composition.  And it may be true that many women are afraid to label themselves feminist.  Because labels carry with them complications.  But maybe they are afraid of the label because of people like you who misunderstand feminism.  I consider myself a feminist and am unafraid of that label, because I know what the movement is really about.

And this young lady’s response of course ignores many of the statistics in the first article, and so there is a lot of intellectual dishonesty here, whether purposeful or not.  Look I’m not going to make assumptions about her back ground but if this is the attitude behind our future female leaders, I am going to say no thanks for now.  The fact that you can even have a dream of being a future female leaders is because of this feminist movement that you are denigrating.  Elisa is still young, just a college student.  I hope in that time she will learn more, and most importantly get to know more women.  Not just ones like her.  Really understand what women go through and realize that there are many strong women who don’t consider themselves victims but would steadily oppose her views as I do.  And for her to put down this march is really insulting to so many women.  We have a president right now who is very much a misogynist.  It’s not just about abortion.  It’s about having a leader who normalized sexual assault, and the objectification of women in the way he speaks.  And how that wasn’t enough to prevent over 60 million people to vote for him.  Most of them men.  Women have cause for concern, and the millions of women who marched for the purposes of saying their freedom, their autonomy, their equality, and their humanity should not be belittled.  Especially from a future female leader, who hasn’t done her homework.

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The Long Silencing of Women

Sometimes I think about this world, and all the problems we have and begin to wonder what kind of world it would be if women were considered truly equal to men.  Imagine all those gifted females throughout history who would have made amazing leaders, who would have made amazing scientists, scholars, inventors, who would have made amazing artists, performers, musicians and who were instead suppressed, killed, treated as property, relegated to one role only.  A society thrives on its intellectual capital.  How much have we lost?  We will never know.

And how much are we still losing?  Here are some important things to note about the state of women around the world:

Women are still very much treated like property.  It has only been in recent history that the dowry system has gone away in many parts of Europe and North America, but it is still quite prevalent in many countries.  The idea that a daughter’s family should have to pay, just to have their daughter become the property of a man, and that failure to give an adequate dowry ends in violence against the woman is deplorable.

If this was not dark enough, when it comes to women being treated as property one only has to look to human traffickingWomen make up 98% of all humans sold for bonded sex or labor.

When women are seen as objects or property rape is even more common place.  These rape statistics are truly horrible to read.  And if you want to get all picky on how hard it is to collect rape statistics and you don’t trust these numbers you can factor in a liberal margin of error and still be see some devastating numbers.  And the difficulty in ascertaining how common rape is, should give you more cause for alarm than less.  Darkness is much more successful remaining hidden than exposed.  Some highlights from the linked article (which is well referenced) is that somewhere between 60-99% of all rapes are committed by men, and 91% of rape victims are female.  Also 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and to those who think there is a large amount of false rapes reported, this number ranges only between 0.7% and 8%.  So even by your most liberal margin of error the raping of women is far too common.  Especially given that it is estimated that only 40% of rapes are reported to authorities.  These statistics are largely just from North America where rape statistics are easier to gather. A U.N. study found that “worldwide, a whopping 25% of men (1 in 4) had raped someone in their lives. 1 in 10 (10%) had raped someone who wasn’t their partner.”

Not unrelated to the points above is the greater crime of outright killing of our daughters, both in the womb and without.  In countries where women have limited opportunities for employment, where women will cost their family great financial burden from having to pay dowries, females are aborted or killed as babies disproportionately.  While this number favors countries of India and China, it estimated that about 200 million females are aborted or killed as infants every year.  That is 1/35th of the world population.  In other words 3 out of every 100 pregnancies end in death for that fetus or child solely on the basis of gender.  As I’ve argue before there is a strong correlation between abortion and infanticide and what the cost of that child is to the family.  A woman is a cost and a burden to many families.  There is logic or rationale for why this must be so.

On how much money can a daughter bring to a family if she is uneducated? In a not too terrible statistic 53% of the world’s out-of-school children are girls, however, 2/3 of the illiterate people in the world are women.  Indicating a different quality of education for women, or different amount of time girls are allowed to stay in school.  Educated women make better choices about their health and pregnancy.  For example in Mali, women with a secondary education or higher has an average of 3 children, whereas those with no education have 7.  Women without education tend to not use birth control or even know about it, thus uneducated people, who can provide less successfully for their children have more of them.  In Pakistan the difference between gender in education is an astounding nearly 700,000 less girls being educated instead of boys (although to be fair an even more astounding statistic is that over 5.5 million children are without education in Pakistan).

What do the statistics say about women and politics?  Here is a list of major countries that have only within the last 125 years or so have even given women the power to vote.  For much of “civilized” history women have had little or no say in choosing who governs them.  And how do we stand right now on the role of women in actually governing?  This link shows the incredible disparity in representation in government around the world between men and women.  Perhaps the most telling statistics from this article is that what is considered a successful benchmark for women in government is 30%.  Women make up 50% of the population and yet a goal of 30% is considered admirable. Few countries have reached that benchmark.  Currently only 22% of all national parliamentarians were women.

In science trends are more promising.  Women still only make up 42% of all science careers in the U.S.  A great international study that looks at the role of women when it comes to published scientific papers, finds that males outnumber females as lead authors in every country.  The authors admit that this may be due to the predominance of senior scientists that are men and this may hopefully change in the future, but currently women are still under-represented in science.  The study also notes “despite more than a decade of policies aimed at levelling the playing field. UNESCO data show that in 17% of countries an equal number of men and women are scientists. Yet we found a grimmer picture: fewer than 6% of countries represented in the Web of Science come close to achieving gender parity in terms of papers published.”

I won’t even pretend to have even listed all issues women face.  There are of course many others, a lot of them ripples of the deep impact from the even greater patriarchy of the past.  Even those ripples will take time to calm, and return us to equilibrium.

I am not insensitive also to issues that men face, some are very harmful and perpetuate the very serious realities that women face also.  Men have their burdens, but it is clear than women have the heavier load.  A burden they never chose to carry, a burden that men have given them.  This is not the oppression of a minority; this is the oppression of half of the human population.  Oppression so deep and ingrained that many women are even complicit to their own oppression, thinking that the extra burden they carry is normal and deserved.  I don’t care to point out how religion plays a role in all of this, although gender bias is deeply ingrained in many religious doctrines, and denying many women a place in the religious hierarchy.  The point is, there is zero moral justification for the way so many women are treated in this world.

To all the women who weren’t able or aren’t able to be all they could, I just want you to know that as someone who continues to strive towards being a better feminist, I hear your voices.  It may do no good to wonder what could have been, but we all should be in the business of wondering what could be.

 

*I dedicate this post by my friend Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes.  A more intelligent and compassionate woman you will not meet.

The choice of having children: Not having children

In this series I have tried to take a look at the process of having children from the standpoint of essentially energy. In that what we have is a finite amount of it, and having children requires quite a lot. I have also tried to show that having children is a decision that is related to both the individual and the community. Population control is something practiced by man since we first became a species both through planned pregnancies and the unfortunate act of infanticide in extreme cases where the individual or group was threatened by a severe lack of resources. As we make our way into the modern era we find more and more couples in western countries with strong economies to be choosing to have fewer or no children. Should we be concerned by this?

Dhya_iowaAs someone who has entered the community of being a parent, I can honestly say there is a great joy to being a parent that no amount of rational thought beforehand could have prepared me for. No matter how many other parents I talked to and even if they could tell me their joy I would not know what it is like to have one of my own. Part of me wants to shout out to the world that this is an experience that is worth doing and yell at people to have some babies! But what do I know? We all know people who are extremely stressed, who are burning candles at both ends. Some are in imperfect marriages and feel unsupported by their spouse, or don’t get any joy about the combined effort of working with their spouse to raise children. Some people may have had horrible parents themselves, thus feeling ill-equipped to do the same. Some feel driven by their careers, feeling fulfilled in their everyday life, liking what they do and may actually prefer to give to the world in this way. Some, simply through deep introspection feel that they don’t have what it takes to be a parent, whether it’s a lack of energy or patience, too much anxiety or stress, depression, or other reasons. I came across this article, and I really loved it. There is lots of good stuff in it, but the important point that I got from it is, “Is it anymore selfish to have children than to not?”

If having kids is as wonderful as I’m feeling about it, and I’m doing this act that gives me an intense amount of joy, what difference is there between me and the woman who wants to focus on her career, wants to travel, wants to have smashing social gatherings with her friends? Should we force anybody to give up the things they want to do so that they can instead save money for her child’s tuition, travel less because every trip requires more money than it did before, seeing their friends less socially because babysitters are expensive, or trading a night out for dinner for a play date with a fellow parent? In todays world, having children may actual decrease happiness for many people, and is this the environment we want kids raised in?  If I’m honest there is a part of me who misses my life before children, but not so much that I regret it in any way. None of it feels like a sacrifice and I had a lot of freedom for a lot of years, and then I chose, with my wife, to have children.  We did, and are happy with our choice in every possible way. Why should it feel like sacrifice if it is what I wanted?  And if you’re a parent and it does feel like a sacrifice you probably should have thought about it more before having children. There are some hard days, but it’s just part of being a parent and I really don’t mind.

In my last post I looked at the issue of abortion, because here is a situation in which we judge women for terminating a pregnancy and killing an unborn fetus, and yet we also find we are treating many women who choose not to have children with nearly the same level of incredulity.  I am not saying the anti-abortion crowd is the same as those that are critical of women who don’t have children, but it’s sad that women really can’t win it seems unless they are popping out babies and loving every minute of it. Regardless of whether it was planned, or unplanned if you don’t want kids women are made to feel that there is something wrong with them. Like they are “going against the natural order of things”, to quote the article above.  And this is not a fair judgment.

But this is why I wrote this series is because human life is not simply about reproduction. Certainly a species needs to reproduce, but remember what I said in the first post? Our evolutionary advantage is intelligence. So here we have this social species, living in a now global community, who is intelligent. We are the most intelligent species on the planet (at least in theory) and our survival is not just about a numbers game. There is a reason other species have big litters, lay a 1000 eggs, or reproduce more frequently.  It is simply because if they didn’t, they would not survive. They are preyed upon, they have more accidents, they cannot cure themselves of disease, they cannot heal their injuries. Living in the wild is a hard life. In fact given that we evolved in the wild, and were limited in our rate of reproduction given our non-sedentary lifestyle, it reveals how important our intelligence was to our survival. But even if you wanted to argue that it was a numbers game for humans too, well you might have something…we’ve quite successfully made it to 7 billion people, I would say that we aren’t in any danger of dying off too quickly unless some gigantic asteroid hits the planet without warning.

As we move into the modern world, the newly acquired sedentary lifestyle which has led to a massive population has also led to a wide variety of roles that people can play in society and specialize in. Instead of everyone being a jack of all trades, we have people who are just really good at a few things and really just do one job. Whether that is a better way to live, I can’t say, but that’s sort of how society is right now, and we all work together with our different skill sets to make society function. Some people really want to be parents, some people really don’t. And we really need to be okay with that, because we are just fine. I can guarantee you that should something happen that would leave only a few thousand of us standing, everybody would pull together and start breeding like bunnies again to the best of our ability. Even homosexuals would probably kick in a few sperm here and a few eggs there to help humanity out. And if you want to be a lover of the natural order of things, I ask you to think about what is natural about dumping massive amounts of carbon and other pollutants into the air, hunting species to extinction, dumping plastic and toxic waste into the oceans, collective radioactive material and bringing it to the surface, and then expecting everybody to create even more people to do even more of all this stuff we are doing to the planet, all so they can experience the joy of having children. Now who is selfish?

But listen, I’m not knocking parents either, I’m only saying that we need to all relax and recognize that we all might feel passionate about different things and this is okay, because it is that diversity that enriches humanity.   What is best is that we all fulfill our roles well, not all fulfill the same role. If civilization is to have any advantage to our hunter-gatherer days it is that we can use the extra time that farming has given the rest of us to make the world a better place, and this doesn’t need to be done by everybody having children. For many there are some pretty good reasons not to have children, and we should respect the intelligence that was shown to make that decision, and the same intelligence should be put into those who want to have children as well. Raise your children well. Raise them to decrease the suffering of others. Raise them to make the world a better place.   Spend less time worrying about whether or not other people are having children, because there are many ways to make the world better. Future generations will be fine as long as, whatever we do, we use that intelligence that has helped make it this far.

The choice of having children: Why abortions happen

In having a discussion with someone a while back who is anti-abortion she said, “Isn’t it interesting how when they don’t want it, it’s a fetus, but when they do want it, it’s a child”.  The implication being that the argument on when personhood occurs is arbitrary.  Aside from the fact that she’s wrong, because a lot of people, even when they want a child and get pregnant, they still don’t think of the fetus at 14 weeks as a person, she made an important point without realizing it.  There is a big difference in our attitude when want to have children (even if it isn’t exactly planned) and when we don’t.  Meaning that the important question to ask is, if we don’t want the child, why would someone get an abortion?  Given that it has happened since we existed as a species, either there are a significant proportion of psychopathic humans who love murdering babies, or there is a natural and logical explanation for it.

In my last post, I talked a little bit about the fact that we are wired not only to procreate, but also to sustain ourselves and our community.  Community is much different than it was in hunter-gatherer days and in some ways it is much worse.  Western society especially can be very individualistic and so support may come from nowhere else but yourself, and you’re often lucky if you have a partner who is willing to support you if you become unexpectedly pregnant.  To our Paleolithic brains the worry about the scarcity of resources to care for our child is going to make us look for options other than not having the child.  If you feel like you have inadequate resources to care for the child, you will likely not want to carry it to full term.  I read a blog just recently about how great Christian communities can be when someone loses a job in helping them through that, but it’s a very different story when a teenage girl has a pregnancy out of wedlock.  She risks being shunned by family and friends. And I don’t mean to just single out Christians, because there are great many other cultures that stigmatize girls for getting pregnant outside of marriage.  So no matter how supportive a community might be in other aspects, when an unwed girl gets pregnant she is often treated much differently.

When you look at countries that have the lowest rate of abortions you find that these are societies that give adequate health care to pre-natal mothers, give financial support to mothers once their babies arrive such as 1-2 years of maternity leave for the mother, and even a good deal for the fathers.  Women have free access to birth control, and there is a lot of emphasis placed on sex education and proper child care.  Is it any wonder that such countries have low abortion rates?  The country I’m in right now is Poland.  Poland has banned abortion for social reasons and only allows for abortions in the case of 1) Risk to the health of the mother 2) serious birth defects 3) Cases of rapes and incest.  I can say that there is at least some compassion here as many in the U.S. do not even want to give women these options.  That being said, as this article indicates, the policy was put into effect (in 1993 before which abortions were allowed for social reasons) with little forethought in supporting mothers and thus abortions have not stopped and have simply had to go underground and try to terminate pregnancies less safely.  And this is the important point.  Making abortions illegal does not stop abortions.  This article is a bit old, but looks at abortion rates worldwide.  In countries where abortions are illegal they have a hard time getting data on the number of illegal abortions, but use techniques based on estimates of how many women have to be hospitalized after getting an illegal abortion.  There are about 5 times more women getting illegal abortions than those hospitalized after the illegal abortion.  And despite a country like Brazil having several hundred thousand women hospitalized it does not deter women from having abortions.  When abortions are banned they still happen and are unregulated.  They happen more expensively if you want it done right, but for most people, they will simply not be able to afford it or the more qualified person will simply be too far away or too booked up, and women will use a cheaper, less qualified, and less sanitary, less safe method for the abortion.  Perhaps heard of “coat hanger abortion”, this was a reality when abortions were banned in this country when some women would try to terminate their own pregnancy.  A follower on the last blog post said she knew someone that used abortion as a form of birth control and had multiple abortions.  I agree wholeheartedly that this is a terrible situation, and one does have to wonder what would be wrong with someone who thinks that it is a valid form of birth control.  It seems fairly clear that such a person is not mentally sound, but one therefore must also ask the question, if abortions were illegal, would such a person be deterred from having multiple abortions?  Once again we must go back to the question, why would a woman want to terminate her pregnancy if the drive to reproduce is so strong in life, and if we can answer that, what are the necessary conditions to deter women from having abortions?

If you were paying attention to the last post and this one you will realize that one factor is of primary importance to the brain in determining whether to keep one’s baby.  The first is to feel supported.  This means feeling supported by your family and community and feeling that you have the material resources available to care for your child.  Now it’s probably true to say that there or many women who may have the resources or have the support, but simply perceive that they don’t but perception is also relevant.  Just because you may see someone as having more options than they have, we build our own realities. Furthermore, no matter how much we may love and be willing to sacrifice for our child a perceived strain on being able to proffer our own survival or drain the resources of our supporting community will impact our decision.  For instance a woman might think that they could have the baby, but they would need financial help, and while she might know her parents would help, she also knows they would have to blow through their retirement nest egg to do so.  And it’s important to remember that there are other factors that come into play.  Perhaps the father of the child is abusive.  Perhaps the parents will simply kick the mother out of the house for shaming the family.  A woman using abortion as a form of birth control might be doing so to continue her heavy drinking, drug use, and wild unprotected sex lifestyle.  Is this the type of person we want to raise a child?  Becoming pregnant can be a transformative experience for some, but for others simply makes matters worse and now there is a child in the world with a parent or parents ill-equipped to care for it.

Personally I feel there is a lot of vitriol aimed at the pro-choice crowd, but I don’t think any of us are opening up a bottle of champagne every time there is an abortion.  We have common ground, and we’d all like to see a respect for life that is equal to the respect for women who have unplanned pregnancies.  Shaming, blaming, and scorn only exacerbates the feelings of isolation and a lack of support and simply doesn’t help.  So if you love babies and you want every child to have a chance at life here are some things you can do to help:

  1. Fight for all women to get a minimum of 1 month maternity leave.  In that first year, she shouldn’t have to worry about money while doing the very difficult job of trying to adjust to having a new person in her life.  And if you can give the father 6 months paternity leave, that would be awesome too.
  2. Fight for universal health care. Don’t like the APA then improve it.  This helps all women have easy access to birth control.
  3. Make sure the education system treats sex openly and responsibly. Enough with this abstinence only stuff.  It doesn’t work.  Make sure your kids can get actual information about sex.  Instead of pretending it’s not going to happen to your kid because you taught them it is a sin to not have sex until marriage, accept that they might have sex and make sure that if they do they don’t get pregnant.  Fight to make sure your kids are informed.
  4. My cousin had 3 children by the time she was 19, and my aunt, like a champ stepped up and supported her daughter. I am sure she sacrificed a lot for her child, but knew that if she wanted those girls to have a chance, and her daughter to have a chance to improve her station in life she was going to need help.  Let’s stop shaming our daughters, our sisters, and friends for getting pregnant accidentally and make sure they know you are there for them no matter what.
  5. As a community of people against abortion, use your combined resources to not lobby the government but start funds to help young mothers, adopt babies yourself, and spread the word about adoption as a viable options and convince people that their child will not end up in the foster care system because it spends the first part of its life without being adopted. There are a lot of myths about adoption out there, and for some people it is very costly compared to having your own and having it covered by health care.  Help parents who might want to adopt with the cost, so that pregnant women know that the option is there for them.  I think there is a lot of positive and negative information about adoption out there, and we can do better to make the system more efficient and make women who have unplanned pregnancies more confident about giving their child up for adoption.   I do think things are getting better.
  6. Fight to improve the foster care system, so that children who end up being born to unfit parents have a chance at something better.

When we treat women as only having value for the ability to procreate we also commit a heinous crime to the living.  When we create laws that takes away a women’s right to decide what happens to her body this, to me, is also immoral and is harmful to women.  Especially given that it does not deter abortions from happening.  Can we really force someone to raise a child?  Especially when we make no provisions for how they do so? And speaking of the how, what about the fact that we hold no parents responsible for what crimes their child commits?  Parents are free to teach their children to hate, lust for power, oppress, be greedy, etc.  What of the parents of Dylann Roof, Timothy McVeigh, or an Adam Lanza?  You might argue that these are unique cases, but I bring them up to show the possibilities of what can happen when parents are ill-equipped to raise a child.  What harm to the world have such parents caused, and none are accountable for how they have raised their child.  Are these not crimes as well?  What are the results of having parents who raise a child who genuinely feel like they should not?  The foster system is full of children removed from parents who neglect and harm their children, and the system tries hard, but ultimately many who go through that system end up committing crimes and not having productive lives.  It is this multitude of people who increases the financial burden on others as well, increasing the need for taxation.  Something the conservative crowd that is often anti-abortion is also against.  If we are also against paying for all these unwanted children brought into the world, what is the option?  Letting them starve?  Letting them live in the streets? Is this demonstrative of this love of children that would have scorn those who have an abortion?

Perhaps these crimes are no worse than aborting a fetus, but coming together on this divisive issue requires that we find a solution that tries to minimize all these crimes.  It requires us to minimize the overall harm.  It is completely simplistic to simply tell someone they shouldn’t have sex, or they should have used protection.  It’s quite possible that the reason you have been able to make good decisions in your life, and others have not is because of completely different set of variables in their environment.  There could be a multitude of reasons why that person feels like they have inadequate resources and insufficient energy to raise a child.  But all of us who are pro-choice and pro-life must come together to deal with this issue.  The things I outlined above are a good start and reflect the values that are held in countries that have low rates of abortions.  Of course most of the people I know are pro-choice and you need only to talk to them for a short time to know that there desire to preserve life is as great as anyone.  In some ways moreso as they are anti-war and anti-death penalty and often fight for the preservation of life in many important issues we face today.  As a result I refuse to refer to those who are anti-abortion as those who are pro-life.   We all value life in our own way, so let’s work on solutions that meet that common goal.   As someone who has a child now, that I love an immeasurable amount it is hard for me to imagine life without him now.  Abortion seems all the more tragic, but I also know there are many couples who regret having children when they did, or at all, and it makes me wonder if they would have been better served waiting until a later time, or not having children at all.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and of course I know if I didn’t have my son, I would never know what I was missing.  Most women, not surprisingly don’t regret having an abortion.  Somewhere in the Bible I believe God says to “Be fruitful and multiply”.  We have certainly multiplied, but we have yet to ensure that all people on this planet can be fruitful.  It is the being fruitful that gives people the freedom to multiply.  To feel fruitful, mothers-to-be need to feel supported by their spouses, but their family, by their community, and by their government.  It may never be possible to stop abortion completely, something that has always been part of our nature, but we have the ability to reduce it greatly if we work together and create the environment that mothers need to keep and support their child.

Blogging about abortion is the one way ticket to getting people to hate your gets, but it is important to talk about, even very divisive issues, and hopefully I have made a case for how we can all work together on this issue.  I will finish off this series by talking about the choice to not have children at all, which seems to be increasingly common these days and why having a family with children is not the ultimate life goal in today’s age.

The choice of having children: The Nuts and Bolts

One of the things that has been on my mind a lot lately was inspired by article that talked about why women aren’t choosing to have children in our society.  I was originally going to write about that first, but in my mind I ended up always going into the topic of abortion, and given how much the defunding of Planned Parenthood is being talked about today, I thought I would talk about this controversial subject first, and then follow up with a piece about wanting or not wanting to raise children, because ultimately much of what I will talk about here feeds into that.

Recently my wife and I had our first night away, together, from our child who is now 19 months old.  It was a weird place in both our minds because it felt like we were fighting some primal urge, vs some rational thinking machine.  One was very emotional and was worried about the stress on my wife’s parents who were watching him, worried about whether he would wonder if we just left him, worried that he was crying helpless wondering where mommy and daddy was.  The other part of us was thinking how good this was for him and us.  He was with people who loved him and quite capable of taking care of him.  And it was healthy for us to have some time away together, because it certainly is a good thing for a baby who have parents who have a strong friendship and love and some time away certainly helped that.  Also in the long run this was beneficial for healthy sleep patterns, gaining independence and trust.

The trap in the thinking here, is that we often believe that these are almost two separate parts of us.  One might criticize us for being too emotional, and another would criticize us for being too rational about it.  Of course both are evolved and necessary parts of what makes us who we are.  Those strong emotions we feel are extremely important for protecting and bonding with the child.  That rational part of us is there to make sure we do it in the best way possible.  It can be a see saw at times and we all vary in how much we let one side take a hold over the other.  The point is that regardless of the emotions you feel, it is also sensible.  It is sensible to be emotional, and it is sensible to be rational.

This leads us to a very uncomfortable thing that few of us want to admit about child rearing.  It really boils down to a lot of math.  We need both the emotional and the rational, but the one that win depends a lot on circumstances.  It could be circumstances of the environment, culture, family values, etc, but there is natural state of a human that favors one side or the other.  My mom told me once that she couldn’t accept that I was just a biological thing that happened, and that part of her belief in religion is founded on the fact that she sees things as much more than the sum of their parts.  The thing is, I feel the same way, but I also know that it is part of our biology to do so.  And all of that to me is amazing even if it is explainable.  But our brains are constantly working to make decisions that ensure both our survival and our genes survival, and the emotions we feel, and the rational decisions we make support that drive in us.  It gets even more confusing given that the rational part of us tends to actually make us feel like our emotions are rational.  “I really want that piece of cheesecake, but am trying to lose weight.”  Suddenly you start to rationalize…well I’ll just have a small piece, or so-and-so makes such good cheesecake it would be rude not to have some…I’ll spend an extra half hour at the gym tomorrow.  We’ve all been in this situation before, even if not about cheesecake. 🙂

So let’s take a look at some of the math of having children.  But before we start let’s remind ourselves that while we may live in a modern world where we have smartphones, cable TV, and airplanes, but from an evolutionary standpoint our brains haven’t progressed much from the stone age.  A couple hundred thousand years ago, when man was relatively what is today in terms of brain size and structure, is really a blink of an eye on the time scale of evolution.  Now we know that we are a social creature, but we didn’t live in populations like we do today.  As hunter gatherers we searched every day for food and lived in groups of around 200 people.  If you or someone you know has been pregnant and you’ve seen them go through it, you know a lot changes in them.  They tend to have less energy on average, and they tend to require more resources.  More water and more food.  In a group of 200 people where everybody has to pull their own weight, having less to give to the tribe in terms of energy, and you are taking more energy away from them as you require more resources.  You are a drain to your group.  Now certainly a necessary one, and I’m sure no one minds since in egalitarian groups such as hunter gatherers the ability to help as a community was strong, and of course later you’d be expected to do extra duty to help out other women who were pregnant.  But that doesn’t change the math one bit.  So one woman getting pregnant wasn’t too bad, but if all the women got pregnant at the same time, that would probably be bad.  Once the child is born of course resources get even more drained, because that new member will need calories as well.  Hunter gatherers needed to practice population control making sure the group didn’t get too big and also not too small.  Furthermore, small children were a strain on mobility.  My son at his age, still requires being carried a lot, and even though he sometimes likes to walk it’s not overly fast and, more importantly, not the direction you want him to move in.  His cousin however who is 4 and half and can keep up quite well, and will respond to voice commands even if somewhat reluctantly. 🙂  Anthropological evidence shows that women spaced their children apart about 4 years apart at minimum so make sure that their child was old enough to keep up with a tribe.  Most hunter gatherer tribes were not sedentary for very long.  After using the resources in one area that had to move until that previous areas recovered.  And depending on the environment, they may have had to make very long treks.  The luxury of having children at will, would not come until the age of agriculture.  An important theme that I will by discussing throughout this series, is to remember that our evolutionary advantage is our intelligence.  Everything reproduces, but we found a way to make having one children at a time work and make smart decisions about how many children to have and when to have them.

Abortion is by far not a new thing, but it is at the very least a more advanced process considering what life was like pre-civilization.  Despite the cool rational population control practiced by hunter gatherers, mistakes were going to happen.  Sex after all is pretty fun, as it needs to be, in order for us to want to reproduce, but the best laid plans go awry.  They do today and they did back then.  For them it could have been not as many people got eaten by lions that year, or not as many of the older people in the tribe died and populations were approaching critical.  Likely they would still try to survive, but the wild card that likely created the most population pressure was the environment (A great book on the impact of the medieval warming period on aboriginal tribes throughout north america and Europe can be found on Amazon here).  Perhaps it was a long term climate trend, drought, or some geological catastrophe blocked a passage they normally took to areas where they knew food was, or some other resource was scarce.  Whatever the case, evidence also indicates that infanticide was common.  It’s likely the rates were around 15-20% (I’m sorry the source is wikipedia here under the paleolithic and neolithic sections, but references are given on the page), which is extremely high given that even the worse abortion rates now are at around 5%.  Despite the emotional trauma the parents must have went through, with abortions not possible, this was the only way to make sure that a larger portions of the group didn’t starve to death.  And in an extremely cold and rational way, the truth is, the mother can always have another baby when situations allow, but an extra member of the tribe, until early adulthood, was a drain on resources.  We are made of finite energy, and we have to unfortunately look at ourselves as an energy budget, a tribe or group as the combined energy budget, which while more efficient is still finite.  So if anything, human history has helped us not only have more children, but see less overall (as a percentage) die.

I am going to end this here with the thought of our finite nature, and continue in my next post to talk about some of the more modern day points about abortion, and why people who are anti-abortion aren’t helping (and in fact making things worse), and give them some realistic suggestions about how they can actually help reach their goal of an abortion free world.

Valuing Life: Death Part II

One of the unexpected things that happened when I realized that I was an atheist was that I began to have a greater respect for life.  I know the existence of an afterlife cannot be disproven, but neither can it be proven and so if this is the only existence we have, and death means non-existence, then appreciating this existence is paramount.  I know that being atheist isn’t a pre-requisite for an appreciation for existence, but that’s just how it happened for me (not that I was ever in support of violence).   I realize also that I am in an economic position in life to enjoy it much more than others but it is often surprising to me how often poor people are happier and more generous than those with wealth.  There is something to the old adage “Take joy in the simple things in life”.  Nevertheless there are those beyond just being poor.  Countless millions who do not get their daily need for food and water met.  If one values life then it should be our first and foremost goal to lift all those up to enjoy the marvels of existence.

When someone says they value life, it is often unclear what they mean.  First of all, what do we define as life?  Some people just seem to mean human life.   Some value other animals as well.  For some it is just certain animals that we think of as pets, but not ones that we use for food.  This tends to vary by culture.  Some value the life of animals, provided that they die without suffering and are treated

From http://www.jigzone.com

humanely in their life.  Some value the life of an animal based on how close to a human it is, and are okay with ending the life of simpler creatures.  Finally some value all animals and only eat vegetables.  Why is plant life less important?  Should feelings, or the fact that they are part of Kingdom Animalia at all be the deciding factor on how valuable life is?  As I have argued before that whenever we put value on life just because of its similarity to us, there is a certain human conceit there that I am not so sure is healthy.

For those that value human life, even that is inconsistent.  It is clear that we humans have a different line of reasoning when it comes to the harming of those that we deem innocent.  People often get much more outraged at a mistreated animal, or the abortion of a fetus, than a mistreated adult.     But we were all children once.  A child who is taught to hate minorities will become an adult who hates minorities.  If that adult commits a hate crime, why do we hate him back, call for his punishment, or even death.   In reality he is simply just an older child who was never taught to see the value in all people and that we are all brothers and sisters on this planet.  It is akin to me being upset at someone for not knowing calculus.  How could they if they were never taught?  It always seems to be assumed that as an adult we have choices to just change the way we think in an instant.  This is clearly not true, and in fact it gets harder as you get older, not easier.

From tardis.wikia.com

The biggest paradox I see for those people who are both “pro-life” in relation to abortion, is that they tend to be conservative in their views on capital punishment, war, and gun control.   Abortion is a tough issue, no question, and one where I truly understand the “pro-life” point of view.  What is clear to me is that no legislation should force a woman to go through something that profoundly effects her body, and for which there is no such equivalent or societal requirement on the father.  And the cold reality of the matter is; mothers ending the lives of their infants are a natural part of our psychology.  It is uncomfortable to accept such a cold fact as this, partially because it almost makes no sense in a modern society.  It is important to remember though that most of our evolution did not take place in civilization, but in the wild.  And in the wild resources are often scarce and raising a child, as anybody even today will admit, takes a lot of resources.  So in our brains when we feel like the child is not going to be able to get the support it needs, women will make the logical choice of abortion.  There is some logic to it.  Yes I said it.  Our brains are not programmed for birth control; our brains are not programmed for a society in which adoption is possible.  In the end, our world is the one right in front of us and in that moment ending an unwanted pregnancy is sensible.  This is why abortion rates are lowest in countries with adequate health care for all citizens, especially mothers, easy access to birth control, and plenty of education about sex and the consequences thereof.   Then of course there is the issue of whether a fetus counts as life, counts as human?  I don’t think that it can be answered anytime soon.  All I know is that it is not my place to decide what happens to an embryo inside a womb in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.

From talkingpointsmemo.com

But if I weep for an aborted baby, then why do I not weep for all those people killed in war, shot down by gun violence, sent to the electric chair, or for even that matter the 20,000 people who die every day from hunger.  The answer comes down to the fact that killing is serious business and we have to justify it.  Perhaps abortion is just killing that we have justified.  But then it is no less immoral than any other killing that we find acceptable.  If we can justify abortion based on the grounds that it is not a child so early in development, then is it not the same reasoning we use for any other type of killing we support and even call for?  It comes down to dehumanizing people.  Whether it’s Muslims, criminals, poor people, minorities…whenever we say that any human life has less value then our own you will find things like abuse, torture, and killing.  Dehumanizing at a fundamental level involves two things.  First is the stripping away of things like the individuality of a person (i.e.  All Muslims hate Americans).  Secondly it focuses on making out their desires to always be about negative things.  Things that we consider the worst qualities of humanity or just the opposition of the virtues that we value most highly in our species.   So we can say “All Muslims hate freedom”, rather than suggesting that they are more like us than different, and that all Muslims want is to have a livelihood, take care of their families and have self-determination in their lives.  Something we all want.

This same reasoning can be applied to how many people think of the poor, other races, political affiliations, criminals, etc.  It concerns me that in this country that there seems to be a decreasing value placed on life.  The Travyon Martin case exemplifies this all too well.  Not just about his murder (it is at the very least manslaughter) itself but by the “Stand Your Ground” law.  If being threatened is enough to justify killing another human being then I think we need to seriously address this philosophy in our society.  Something must have gone wrong somewhere for such a law to even be proposed. Should someone’s existence end for stealing a television set?  There was a recent story about a woman who shot at a car for turning around near her driveway.  There were 4 children in the car and children could have been shot.  Luckily the bullets only hit the car.  The woman’s explanation was that her driveway was getting ruined because people were turning around on it all the time.  What does it say about our society when something so trivial as a driveway takes precedence over life?

From http://www.screen-wallpapers.com

As far as we know it, death is the very end.  Even if it isn’t, this existence must have value or we would not be born into it.   We must therefore question ALL killing.  We must be forgiving and believe in redemption.  We must look at a human as a product of his experiences rather than a creature who always has the power to make conscious choices to do acts of good and evil.  This planet teems with life and we are connected to it all.  Nothing that lives has more right to life than anything else, and yet killing is also natural whether it is for food or for protection.  As a species we have the ability to kill with the strength and power like no other species, but we also have the equal ability to find alternatives to killing.  The latter should always be our goal.  We should be continually striving to find ways to survive that do not deny the right to life of others even if killing happens along the way.