Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Your Honor, I plead innocent by reason of testicles."

I don't think I'm likely to make additional cyber-friends with this post, and I may well lose some of the few I've got now. So what else is new.

See, I basically have no problem with women who "want it all." We all want it all. In that most whimsical, Utopian corner of our brain (the same corner that also imagines us hoisting the trophy as MVP of the World Series or having roses thrown at our feet on Broadway or accepting kudos, and that very nice check, in Stockholm), we want a life without trade-offs and sacrifices and compromise. A life without either/ors. We want to be able to come to that fork in the road and "take it," as Yogi Berra famously said. I dare say, we want a life of full and unabridged Empowerment.*

I understand that. I've been there. Some would say I never left there.

What I question is when, in addition to wanting it all, women want to have it both ways. They want to be regarded as "just like a man" in some areas, yet also seek special protections for being women in others. And they go on to mount a "well-reasoned" argument for same.

I am mindful of such things on this glorious pre-autumnal morning because of one Sophie Currier of Brookline, Mass. Currier, a Harvard med student, petitioned the National Board of Medical Examiners for a time-out during her nine-hour medical licensing exam** so that she can breast-feed her 4-month-old daughter. The board said no. Currier went to court; the court said no. Now she's on her way to the highest tribunal in Massachusetts, the State Court of Appeals. One would assume that if she loses there, she moves to the Supreme Court (of course, there's no guarantee the latter Court would agree to hear the case). Some say this could be another one of those watershed moments in the battle for women's rights. (Incidentally, Currier is not the woman shown in the photo, above...and is that woman, whoever she is, breast-feeding, like, a 7-year-old?)

But really now—once and for all—would someone please tell me, what is the argument that underlies "women's rights"? Is it:

A, that we should all be treated fairly and equally under the law? "A human being is a human being, period"?

Or is it:

B, that women deserve special accommodations in certain areas because of the fact that they're biologically women?

I don't think you can mount a logically consistent defense for both A and B. In the case at hand, if you want time-out to breast-feed, you're arguing B. Oh, you can couch your argument in terms of A; that's what Currier did: "Men do not have to put off their careers because they are feeding a child." But you don't really want equality; you want inequality in your favor. You can't argue A by saying, "Well, men are lucky, they don't have to worry about this, so therefore, in order to make things even-Stephen, I need time-out to breast-feed." Because the very act of giving you that time-out is an accommodation that recognizes a fundamental difference between the sexes. Good-bye argument A.

Lemme throw something at you. After all, I'm a man, and that's what we do: throw things. Which is really where I'm going in this section. Suppose I said to you, "Isn't it true that men have a lot more testosterone than women? And further, because of testosterone, among other things, isn't it true that men are more naturally inclined toward physicality, even aggression, than women?" You'd probably say yes, right? You'd agree that men—by nature—are more predisposed than women to resort to a violent solution (or at least are quicker to give up on diplomacy). And, for the record, you'd have science on your side (at least as we currently understand it). Well, if that is true—if aggression is as much a physical part of a man's nature as, say, Currier's breasts are to a woman's nature—then, using pretty much the same logic that she's using in her case against the Medical Examiners, couldn't I say, "Well, since my threshold of violence is much lower than a woman's, shouldn't the laws reflect that fact? Shouldn't laws against violent felonies be more forgiving when a man commits the crime—yanno, just to make things even-Stephen?" Maybe the laws against domestic abuse should give a guy a freebie on the first battering, whereas the violent woman goes straight to jail. Hey, we want everything to be "fair," right?

Think that would fly at NOW?

Seems to me we either go for true equality—all the laws and rules are precisely the same for everybody, no matter what; no quotas, exemptions, accommodations, etc. (which means we might even have to throw out the ADA)—or we start breaking society down on a case-by-case basis, examining every single aspect in terms of how that aspect relates to the inherent physical nature of the people governed and affected by it. One way or the other.

P.S. THURSDAY, 4:30 p.m. Part 2 of my rant on life coaches comes tomorrow.

* In fact, I could go on and on about how it's precisely because of Empowerment (and some of the other bright ideas that came out of self-help) that so many of the social movements that sprang up over the past several decades have goals that aren't even self-consistent (and in some cases, reduce to absolute nonsense). But I didn't want to move that far off-point today.
** which, to be clear, is the exam she must pass in order to formally be declared a doctor and take the job that awaits her at Massachusetts General Hospital.


Tomas S said...

Mindboggling, that Currier lawsuit.
What medical complications will she risk, that millions of other breastfeeding women around the world are not getting?
I don't know about the US education system, but would there be a possibility for her to take a year off and continue her studies later? I mean, it could not possibly be for the newborn childs best to have her mother gone all day, either..
Very unclear to me what she's trying to accomplish here..

On the topic of womens rights, I partially agree with you. Believing in equal rights & liabilities for both men and women, I still see that there's fields where women are treated unequally compared to men, and in some cases it might be necessary to give women more rights than men as an interim solution just to balance things up for the future. Not just in this case..

gregory said...

reading the story, she is suing for an extra fifteen minutes... hmmmmm.. gender is interesting to discuss, but i have something else in mind;.... you dont have to post this.. am just sending you a link... i have been thinking about media lately, and it's effect on people's ideas about life.. here is the link...

it is about the imbalance of the recent days, oj a big deal habeus corpus not... maybe a good future blog subject,

Mary Anne said...

I am a woman, though there are those who question that, and I vote for plan A. Currier decided to have a baby and should be responsible for that decision. My question is why did she decide to have a baby at this point in her career? Unless of course it was an unplanned pregnancy, but still she chose to try to do both.
A little off topic yet a little on this topic, I have an issue that is REALLY bothering me. The issue is women who decide to have babies WITHOUT husbands/partners via sperm donors. I think this is such a selfish thing to do just because a woman can do it. This option of having a child without a mate was suggested to me by someone, since my clock is ticking. What was so sad was how nonchalant a lot of people are about this. I know quite a few women are doing this, but just because they can does not mean they should. What about the child? I guess the child never fits into the equation.

Cal said...

It is good you have a picture of the Yanks-Red Sox brawl from a few years back. Would you roll back Title IX as a part of this? One of the reasons I think that there are less American major leaguers (especially from certain communities) than in previous decades is that the softball facilities have to be up to the same standards as the baseball ones. And this is starting to happen in basketball too. I wonder how much of the men's revenue generating sports (i.e., football and basketball) are being used to subsidize women's athletics. I see a new women's soccer league is starting up again. Why does this, and the WNBA as well, continue to get crammed down my throat?

You are right. You generally can't have it all. Why isn't this being taught in college (or before)? In fact, the opposite is taught as it seems to me.

Another area I see are people with "special needs". I'm sure this is not politically correct either. But I hear that some scientists believe that kids on some of these drugs have an advantage in school over the ones whose parents can't afford them.

gregory said...

your post turns out to be prescient... making its way up reddit and digg today is this... the essence of which is if girls have to wear bikinis, then boys should also...

Steve Salerno said...

A couple of "quick hits" here:

Title IX has always been a pet peeve of mine. I've written (formally) on it. I have never quite understood why we can permit a situation where boys who are absolutely passionate about second-tier sports like swimming or wrestling arrive at college only to find that the team has been defunded so that the AD can go hunting for girls who never really wanted to play sports in the first place, but must now be "found" so that the school can show the appropriate gender balance in its athletic programs. That, to me, is unforgivable and terribly sad. It's another one of those instances of trying to micromanage life that have become so popular in today's nanny state.

As to Mary Anne's comment, I don't want to wade too deeply into the working-mom quagmire--my feelings are actually mixed--but I'll say only this: My wife works part-time in day care and is usually assigned to the room where they warehouse the infants and toddlers all day. When the toddlers wake up from naps, many of them cry for "ma-ma" or Mommy; often they are inconsolable at first. Yes, they do get used to the deal in time--humans at any age show an amazing capacity to get used to almost anything. (Kids in Iraq smile as they jog past the burning rubble of bombed-out cars on their way to school.) But you wonder, or at least I sometimes do: at what psychic cost?

Steve Salerno said...

I guess the larger point with this post--and so many of the others--is that I wish, oh how I wish, people would stop trying to justify, on an intellectual basis, something that they want to do for emotional reasons.

Women: Stop trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Don't mount all sorts of sophisticated arguments for why you want and deserve to be BOTH a Mommy and the president of IBM, and for why such an arrangement is actually good for your kids, despite empirical evidence to the contrary. Just say: "Look, right now my own life and personal fulfillment are of paramount importance to me. I don't really think my kids are suffering in day care--but if they are, well, it won't kill 'em. I simply don't want to be home talking gibberish to toddlers all day. And I want a big house and nice things, and you can't do all that on one salary today. But I also want a family to be there when I'm really to enjoy it. So sue me."

George Bush: Stop talking about WMDs and "fighting 'em there so we don't have to fight 'em here," and just SAY, "I never liked Saddam, I wanted him dead--he tried to kill my own Daddy!--and let's face it, a lot of these Middle Eastern types are nuts and were probably gonna be a threat to us anyway at some point. So I'm gonna try to get as many of 'em as we can."

People in general, in all walks of life: Stop trying to elevate what you mostly feel to the status of unimpeachable wisdom. When asked for his "gut feeling" on the existence of life elsewhere in the universe, Carl Sagan memorably replied, "I try not to think with my gut." But see, I think Sagan had it backwards; in my opinion, most of what we actually DO in life, we do because of our gut--and then we fabricate intellectual reasons to defend it.

Anonymous said...

This documentary talks about how marketers have sold more products by encouraging individuals to want to have it all.

It's called the century of self.

Mary Anne said...

First Currier doesn't make sense, because she can use a breast pump and have someone feed her child while she takes her exams. My blog question was more on the lines of why women get away with making choices men could never get away with. Look at Britany and KFed. What more does Britany need to do to have custody taken away? If KFed or any man showed that type of treatment of his children, he probably would never get to see them again. I know a lot of AMAZING fathers who are better parents who should get primary custody, but do not. Just because a woman gave birth does not mean she is mother any more than a man who gets a woman pregnant is a father. It is a double standard no matter how I wrap my brain around it and it is NOT what equality is all about.

Matt Dick said...

People in general, in all walks of life: Stop trying to elevate what you mostly feel to the status of unimpeachable wisdom.

I'm going to go way off-topic on a riff based on what you say here. If you think that music is over priced, fine, go steal the latest Britney Spears album. Just don't phrase it like you "practice file sharing so that the great music industry evildoers will be brought to heal." Just steal your music and shut up about it.

Steve Salerno said...

Exactly, Matt. Thank you so much for popping up again to throw that in. It's like when the teacher's union goes on strike and releases a 19-page manifesto, one (very minor) element of which is that they'd like a raise. Then when the strike is finally settled, it turns out they got the raise and nothing else--and you never hear another word about all of those other, airier "demands."

Look, we all know that teachers are underpaid. Woefully, in this country. But SAY THAT. Say, "We want more money, and we won't go back to teaching your stupid kids till we get it. You don't like it? Tough!" Why do we feel the need, in this country, to couch everything, every single desire, in terms of Cartesian logic or some supposedly supravening, Christ-like ideal??

jpatti said...

I don't understand how she expects to complete her residency while breastfeeding; working 36-hour shifts is pretty incompatible with caretaking an infant.

Some things are just not compatible with other things.