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On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be talking with David Futrelle about the myth of the “friend zone” and the male entitlement issues that go into it. Also, why are people politicizing Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy and how hard is it to be a woman who chooses to have a baby in 21st-century America? Hint: It’s not easy.
There’s an interesting new Kickstarter raising money for a documentary called Fattitude.
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You can find out more about the documentary at fattitudethemovie.com.
Much of the discourse around reproductive rights centers around attempts to keep you from being able to say no to pregnancy, with attempted bans on abortion and restrictions on contraception access. But lately, there’s also a growing trend of attacks on women who want to go forward with their pregnancies and actually have babies. Women in this country are increasingly put in a no-win situation, facing laws that make it harder for them to decline child-bearing, but also facing more abuse and discrimination if they do have babies. Look, for instance, at Tennessee, where lawmakers are looking to pass a law that would criminalize having a baby while struggling with drug addiction.
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It’s one of those things that gets all this knee-jerk support, because everyone agrees that using drugs while pregnant is a bad idea. However, actual experts on the issue think that laws like this are a bad idea, because they actually backfire. If you’re trying to bring a pregnancy to term and you’re addicted to drugs, a law like this will encourage you to conceal your addiction from the doctor or even refuse to see a doctor at all, rather than run the risk of being reported and going to jail.
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What the NPR story fails to note is that these kinds of prosecutions are selectively enforced. Indeed, this proposed law would only apply to illegal drugs, and not to alcohol, even though alcohol abuse is known to cause birth defects, while the science on various illegal drugs is inconclusive. The fact of the matter is that women who are investigated for possible drug use while pregnant are more likely to be poor or women of color, even though drug use during pregnancy is a problem that cuts across all sorts of race and class lines. Laws like this just make it harder for women to get the care they need.
The increased threat of jail isn’t the only thing looming over women who choose to have babies these days. Even if you’re totally clean and sober, choosing to have a baby can often mean running into danger of losing your job. Even though there’s laws protecting pregnant women from discrimination, a lot of women are finding that they’re being run out of work for having babies anyway.
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She eventually settled out of court, and Walmart has promised to be more reasonable going forward. But it’s hard to say what that means. Pregnancy discrimination is part of a larger and growing problem of workplaces, particularly in the service industry, treating workers in the most degraded fashion possible, such as not allowing basic stuff like access to water or bathroom breaks. These kinds of restrictions are terrible on non-pregnant people at the peak of health, but for women who are pregnant, it’s impossible and punishing. It’s also bad for your baby. It’s illegal, but the only remedy, as this case shows, is to sue under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. For women who can’t afford to sue, then, the choice is an impossible one of giving up your health or losing your job. Because of our high unemployment rate, sadly, employers often feel free to issue ever more impossible and miserable demands, knowing that if their current employees fail to meet them, they can always just hire some more people who are desperate for work. That’s why these kinds of problems plague certain industries.
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That’s where we are as a country, especially with regards to low-income women: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you don’t want a baby, well, too bad, the states are slashing funding for family planning and employers like Hobby Lobby are actually suing to avoid covering basic contraception services as part of their health-care plans. That is, if you are even lucky enough to get a health-care plan. And if you do need an abortion, you often need not just the fee for the abortion, but gas to drive hundreds of miles and money for multiple nights at a hotel to cover the state-mandated waiting period. If you do want to have a baby, though, you are opening yourself up to harassment from law enforcement and, even if you’re the most law-abiding citizen ever, you still might find yourself fired for having basic physical needs at your job. If you’re beginning to think the system is rigged so women always lose, then you definitely aren’t wrong.
Of all the news stories out there that are kind of hard to cover, deaths, births, and weddings may be the hardest. Mostly because they aren’t exactly news. I mean, they’re new, for sure, but there’s no real mystery to most of them. People are born, people get married, and people die. Most of the time, barring some great trauma or unusual circumstance, there’s nothing interesting to say about any of these things beyond just noting that they happened. And so it goes with the announcement that Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, is expecting a baby.
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Hurrah for the happy couple and the soon-to-be grandparents, of course, but there’s not much more to say about this. This is basically personal family business and doesn’t have any ramifications for the public. This isn’t a matter of policy or politics. But despite the fact that there’s not much to say about it, there is still an overwhelming amount of public interest in this pregnancy, probably because, as the popularity of tabloids show, there’s an endless desire on the part of the public to hear that famous people do the same things we do, such as have babies and get married and get divorced.
This creates a gulf between the amount of interest in Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy, which is immense, and the actual meaningful things to say about it, which are close to zero. Which is one reason, I suspect, there was all these attempts on TV to say something, no matter how asinine, about this pregnancy. But really it was more than that, because Chelsea’s mother, Hillary Clinton, is expected to announce a presidential run in early 2015 or late 2014. Since Hillary is, you know, female, the press is forever trying to find ways to suggest that she’s not quite as capable as a man would be at tasks like running for president. And so that inevitably became part of the Chelsea pregnancy coverage, such as this moment on Meet the Press.
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There’s already a long-standing tradition in the media of using motherhood as an excuse to be sexist to women, for instance, by asking if women can “have it all,” by which they mean be both a mother and have an ambitious career. No one asks this of men, because it’s just assumed that men can “have it all.” But since it is true that women are still expected to do most housework and childcare, there was at least a veneer of reasonability in asking if women have enough time in the day to do all these things in an unfair world. But asking it of a grandmother just shows that it’s nothing but concern trolling, a cheap way for the media to suggest women are less capable than men without coming right out and saying so. Mitt Romney had grandchildren born while he was campaigning and no one suggested that his campaign would be compromised because of it. Many male candidates have young children at home, including Rick Santorum, whose daughter is disabled. And they get less concern trolling over it.
Sadly, though, the exploitation of Chelsea’s pregnancy to attack her mother just got worse. The conspiracy theorists that tend to flock whenever a Clinton does anything went a little nuts. Right-wing commentator Steve Malzberg kicked it off.
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There’s a peculiar kind of misogyny at work here, along with Clinton derangement syndrome. There is just a certain stripe of misogyny that imagines that women are always plotting and everything they do, even having babies, is done for dark, nefarious reasons. Like online misogynists who assume women are sperm-stealing to get that sweet, sweet child support cash that covers less than half their new expenses, the possibility that Chelsea got pregnant because she wants a baby is discounted out of hand. Then again, we are talking about anti-choice conservatives. The anti-choice argument often assumes women won’t have babies unless forced, so of course, when confronted with a pro-choice feminist like Chelsea Clinton actively choosing a baby, they have to invent some nefarious reason she must be doing it. After all, Malzberg was hardly the only one. This conspiracy theory made the leap to Fox News.
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It’s kind of funny that all these people are so paranoid, but it’s also telling. We live in a society where women’s bodies are treated like public property, especially when they’re pregnant. Because of this, Chelsea Clinton is not allowed to simply be a woman having a baby. No, all these conservatives somehow have to make this baby about themselves and their paranoia. They can’t just let Chelsea Clinton be, any more than they can let any pregnant woman be. All your bodies belong to them.
And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, 7-Eleven edition. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is not only not a woman and not a doctor but is supposed to be a celibate man who has no relationship to women’s sexuality whatsoever, was ‘splaining to women how they’re supposed to use contraception, which he opposes, recently.
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Basically, his argument is that it is wrong to deny benefits, unless of course you are an icky woman who has all the icky sex. But he is simply wrong that you can breeze into a 7-Eleven and have a doctor write you a prescription for birth control. He clearly is referring to condoms, of course, and thinks he knows better than you and your doctor what is the best contraception method for you. Imagine if he did this to anyone but sexually active women. Imagine if he said, “You don’t need your allergy shots when you can breeze into 7-Eleven and buy Benadryl.” Or said, “You don’t need your prescription painkillers when you can breeze into 7-Eleven and buy aspirin.” People would rightfully be up in arms. But inject a little misogyny and suddenly folks are making excuses.