SOWING CLOVER: The Trouble with ‘Women’s Issues’ …by Tonya Stiles

I’ve read quite a few articles over the years–and it seems like a slew lately–telling me what “women” are saying, thinking and wanting. All are about as predictable as you’d expect. Usually they refer to some small subset of women claiming to speak for the whole gender. One obvious example would be the “One Million Moms,” whose delusionally optimistic name would be more realistic if they didn’t label all lesbian mommies as “filth.” (A stupid move, considering lesbian couples are like a buy-one-get-one-free for women’s organizations.)

Not to say that all left-leaning women’s groups get it right either. I was particularly annoyed by the furor over Larry Summers, the former Harvard president, a few years ago, when he suggested that the dearth of females in science and engineering may be partially blamed on biology. For one thing, the differences between male and female brains are pretty commonly acknowledged–and usually skew more positively toward the female brains. We’re supposedly better communicators, better at catching subtle meanings, better at making connections and creating synthesis among seemingly unrelated topics. We’re less likely to resort to violence because we aren’t frustrated by difficult verbal exchanges. And when these studies are published, usually it’s women who embrace their findings as proof of our innate superiority and potential for leadership.

Of course, a caveat. To say that these predispositions are more likely in female brains isn’t to say that all females will develop those traits. Just as some men are remarkably verbal and intuitive, some women are brilliantly methodical and technically minded. But when we fight for the acceptance of our transgendered neighbors and friends, who feel that the sex of their body doesn’t match the gender of their brain, we are acting on the assumption that something in the brain is innately gendered.  And to erupt in fury over a scientist saying the same is ridiculous.

And so, when I hear a cable newscaster, or scan a headline, and the topic du jour is “women” or “women’s groups” saying or doing or feeling something, I’ve learned not to assume it holds any concern for me.

Some recent examples:

“Moms outraged over Urban Outfitters girl-on-girl kiss.” Nope, not for me.

“Women elevate smut to a new literary status.”  Definitely not for me.

“In abortion move, Kansas pharmacists can refuse some prescriptions”…Wait. That one’s for me.

Apparently my adopted state of Kansas passed a law this month allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription they “believe” may be used to cause an abortion. Since the law doesn’t specify which medications might fall under such a definition, we can assume the Plan B pill and any oral contraceptives are on the line. Silly me, I was pretty sure the Supreme Court had already decided this matter in 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, when it affirmed the right to marital privacy and the choice of contraception, (not to mention Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972 which, sensing the loopholes in the first ruling, made it clear the right to privacy also extended to unmarried persons.) But I suppose Governor Brownback figures, since it isn’t the state itself denying contraception, he’s in the clear. Sort of like a Governor passing a law that says, while the state doesn’t enforce segregation, individual schools and businesses have the right to refuse people of whatever race they may not like. But I’m pretty sure laws like that latter one didn’t stand up well to scrutiny, and I’m hoping the former won’t as well.

In the abstract, I can almost understand the rationale behind such a law. If I were a pharmacist and believed that one or more of the legal medications I was dispensing were also being used for the purposes of murder, I would probably try to find a way to stop them from serving that purpose. However, I like to think, if those medications served multiple beneficial purposes when taken properly, and if the “murders” were only a result of people deliberately overdosing themselves, that I would place the fault with the patients and not with the pills. Contraceptives taken as prescribed into a pregnancy won’t usually cause an abortion. If it did, we would have scores fewer accidental pregnancies among women who are a bit forgetful with their daily pills. And the Plan B pill will have no effect on an egg once it has implanted on the uterine wall. That’s why it’s called the “morning after pill.” It’s only helpful during that short window of time. So, even given the belief that abortion is a murder, neither of those pills should qualify as homicidal weapons. And then add into that equation the fact that “abortion,” whether or not one believes personally that it is murder, is not defined as murder by the courts–even in the state of Kansas–and the logic of the new law deflates into absurdity.

Basically, if everyone gets to decide for themselves what qualifies as murder and what doesn’t, regardless of the actual homicide laws, then I know some “meat is murder” vegetarians who will be thrilled to take away your steaks.

But, you know what my greatest problem is with politicians, in my state or anywhere else, messing with contraception and family planning? The fact that it’s always reported as a “women’s issue.”

Now, I am a married woman. My husband and I don’t currently want to have children, so my ability to access contraception is pretty damn important. You know who will be upset if I no longer have that access? Both of us.

Where are the men in this discussion? I’ve read ten different articles in the past week bemoaning the ongoing “mommy wars.” Apparently working mothers get a bit defensive about their choice to work, and stay-at-home moms get a bit defensive about their choice to stay home. Vice verse with mothers who breastfeed, or use formula, or sleep with their babies, or use strollers, or blah blah blah. And the line every group uses to frame their issue? “Motherhood is the hardest job in the world.”

My issues are manifold. First of all, I’m pretty sure that the women and children stitching together three thousand pairs of blue jeans a day in Malaysian sweatshops would be surprised to hear that a bunch of middle-class American mommies have bested them for the title of “hardest job.”

Secondly, since when is being a mom a job? Isn’t it actually a bit demeaning to the role of motherhood to reduce it to an economic duty? Being a stay-at-home mom can be stressful and difficult, I agree, but to call it a job? A job is what provides the money to support your real life–the life you spend as a mother, father, partner, wife, husband, friend, pet-owner, etc. The rest of the world seems to understand this. It’s only Americans who have to frame every choice in terms of work and productivity. Motherhood is not professional. It’s personal. And we’d be better parents, as a nation, if we respected that distinction. looked to our own families, and stopped competing with each other like employees jockeying for approval from “the boss.”

And, finally, if motherhood is the hardest job, where does that leave fatherhood?

By framing all family issues as “woman” issues, we completely discount the opinions of all boyfriends, husbands and fathers. The assumption seems to be that men truly do not care whether they have babies, how many babies they have, or in what way those babies are raised. Maybe some men do feel that way, but every husband and father I’ve ever known has agonized just as much as the mother over how the baby is fed, whether the baby has clean clothes, who the baby’s friends are, whether the baby has a ride to soccer practice, etc.

Now there’s an “awareness” issue Americans could sink their teeth into. Where are the public representations of fatherhood? Why is it that every man I see in sitcoms and commercials is a blathering, lazy idiot around the home? Is that supposed to be a sign that women have won the culture wars? It seems, as far as our culture is concerned, the man’s role is to work, bring home money, and then look confusedly to camera whenever a parenting issue arises. I can’t remember the last time I saw decent parenting from a man on TV. The men, in American culture, may be kindly, but they are flummoxed by children. They don’t understand what laundry detergent is. They don’t know where the vacuum cleaner goes. They forget when homework is supposed to be done. It’s a wonder the scriptwriters allow them properly-tied shoelaces.
Honestly, men, I’m offended on your behalf.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from marriage, it’s that very few choices affect only you. The food you buy, the money you earn, your morning crankiness, affect both of you. And the impact of those choices is only magnified with the addition of children. One person cannot rule a healthy marriage, or a healthy family. One partner’s concerns must be the other’s concerns. And the choice of whether or not to have children, when to have children, how far apart to have those children, and how to raise those children, cannot be the sole terrain of the ovary-endowed partner.

Any culture that pretends those family choices are just for women isn’t just an anti-feminist culture; it’s an anti-male culture.

Tonya Stiles is the co-publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.






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6 comments for “SOWING CLOVER: The Trouble with ‘Women’s Issues’ …by Tonya Stiles

  1. Melinda Price Wiltshire
    June 1, 2012 at 10:48 am


  2. Rachel White
    June 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks Toyna for writing this excellent column…I agree with your thoughts and think it captures the mindset of intelligent people today who are ready to move beyond soundbites and gender wars. You and Jim are an inspiring couple..thank you!

  3. Carme
    June 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    I think my feminist friends would cringe a little bit, but I really liked your article. Thanks for writing about people rather than men versus women.

  4. Mike
    July 11, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Spot on, Tonya.

  5. Rachel White
    July 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I think some of the one-sided orientation of these discussions evolved out of women demanding the ability to make decisions that were formerly made for them, exclusively by men. Sadly many couples are not functional, or even couples, and the language and laws that women have worked for are designed to handle the situation where men and women do not agree, and aren’t able to find common ground. As a person who has been with an abusive partner, I’ll say I’m glad that ultimately it’s me who decides whether I’m going to carry a child or not. I would like to see the world move beyond these arguments, and the generation after me seems to have made some progress… I like where your thoughts are going.

  6. Jennifer Phillips
    July 13, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Right on! Totally agree. I’ve always thought it funny that so many of these issues are only seemingly supposed to “affect” women. Well put.

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