Bodily independence


Ariel and I went to Slimbridge today on a whim and saw ducklings hatching!

We went into the duckling room first thing to admire the ducklings and there were two eggs in the hatchery (a little warm box where it is a little drier than the egg incubator, to help the ducklings dry out once hatched, where the eggs are moved once there are signs of life). They were apricot silver calling ducks, I think. They looked very much like the one pictured, although a bit less wet and straggly!

The two eggs were both intermittently rocking a little and one had a crack where the duckling had started chipping at the shell from the inside. Duckling Woman told us that it can take many hours, even a couple of days, for an egg to hatch and that they were in the early stages, but that if we checked back later we might see a little hole in the egg rather than just a slight crack. Apparently it takes a lot of effort to break an egg with a miniscule little “egg tooth” (not a tooth, just a sort of bump really) so they often have a few little sleeps while in the process of hatching out.

When we went back an hour or so later there was a third egg which had been brought in and it already had a hole in it! We could see movement through the hole, the little beak chipping away, and feathers, and we could even see the movement of the ducking breathing. Apparently, the little air sac inside the egg gets bigger as the duckling uses up all the nutrients in the egg. When the littl’un is ready to hatch, it starts by breaking into the air sac at which point it begins to breathe! From that moment, even before it is hatched, the duckling begins to cheep. We couldn’t hear any cheeping as the 5-day-old Laysan Teal ducklings (rarest duck on earth) on the other side of the room were very noisy. But apparently they cheep to one another as they are all hatching together and this encourages them, hearing one another, and maybe it also lets mummy duck know what is going on. Anyway, it was really cool and we watched it for a while, the two original eggs had both progressed a little – the one that previously just had a little crack, had chipped almost all the way around while the other which was just rocking before had got some cracks.

A drink and a snack in the cafe later and we decided to go back and see the ducklings on our way out. All the eggs had progressed a little bit and the “middle egg” was catching up, with a visible hole although not such a big hole as the third egg. We went over to see the ducklings and just as we were looking at them and talking to Duckling Woman, someone cried out “oh look it’s come out!” and we rushed over to see the duckling hatch. It was the middle egg which had obviously got a wiggle on and overtaken its more advanced clutch-mate. It had its head out but not its feet and we saw it wiggling around and coming out – very ungainly, but just amazing to watch.

There is a little yellow sac thing that comes with it – like a placenta?? – but otherwise the egg is empty. The duckling, once unfurled, was huge compared to the egg! We got to have a look at it later on and inside the egg you could see the blood veins which had nourished the littl’un before it hatched. Duckling Woman had told us to expect that the duckling would just collapse in a heap and snooze after the mammoth effort of hatching itself, but it seemed to have plenty of energy left – maybe because the “birth” was so unexpectedly quick and easy – and spent a while just crawling around and trying to get onto its feet, rolling its fellow-eggs around and trying to cosy up to its own broken egg (return to the womb??) It was fab!

After that Duck Man came in and had a look. The third duckling – the one everyone thought would hatch first because it was ahead of the others – by now was trying desperately to push out of the egg even though it hadn’t chipped all the way around the edge yet. It was just pushing and pushing. I think (in my anthropomorphic way) that it was annoyed at having been overtaken, and encouraged by the now much louder cheeps of its clutch-mate, and possibly annoyed at the fact that the duckling was rolling the egg around as it tried to get on its feet – no wonder it wanted to get out fast!

Anyway Duck Man came in and decided to “help” by breaking the shell open a little (impatient obstetrician! episiotomy now!) I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing for the chick, and it didn’t feel right, to my wholly inexpert eyes, for him to interfere – however it had the unexpected advantage for we onlookers that we got to see the second duckling hatch as well. It came out within less than a minute of being “helped” and it too was completely amazing. It came out in one go, not head first and legs after like the first one – or legs first and head later like the cartoons…

Oh it was amazing! (Amazing!) I’ve gone on and on about this – I felt while watching it, so privileged and awed.

I kept relating it back to what I know about childbirth in terms of the length of the labour, the experience of the hatching bird / birthing child, the need for time and rest, and this probably coloured my reaction to Duck Man’s intervention. It was a thoroughly absorbing natural process and it was tainted somewhat by the intervention. But still.

What a surpisingly and wonderfully powerful experience: I was walking on air for a long time afterwards – it was a little moment of Joy.

The other day I came across a report produced by the Advertising Standards Agency recently. They have done a survey of advertising compliance in the cosmetics industry and discovered that 93% of the adverts surveyed complied with the law. That may sound good – 93%! – but then even gambling adverts have a 99% compliance rate while food and drink advertising is at 99.2% – and both of these industries are held to special higher standards with tighter controls than is the case in the general law. There are seven times more non-compliant beauty ads than either gambling or food and drink ads. Skin cream adverts were the worst offenders with a 19% breach rate.

It interested me, so I share it.

I could go on a bit – I could refer back to The Beauty Myth and body fascism and talk about how horribly the cosmetics industry perpetuates and exploits women’s socially created insecurities, trying and too often succeeding at making us all feel inadequate and unacceptable for not being supermodels, blah blah blah. I could relate it to the woman and her two male friends who thought it was OK yesterday to make loud remarks (from a safe place on the other side of a high fence) about how unacceptable my tits are, my tits which do not even try to be “acceptable” and yet which still felt humiliation at having their inadequacy pointed out so loudly, pointedly, rudely, aggressively. Poor boobs. Lovely boobs. Stuff’em.

Or maybe I could go in another direction. I could get into an ASA groove and relate an adjudication I read about today on four TV ads for a gambling website, which featured the (self-)humiliation of a number of people with dwarfism. The adjudication considered at great length to consider whether or not the ads were juvenile and therefore likely to appeal to young people and encourage them to gamble. They were also careful to refer to the characters in the adverts as “persons of restricted growth” or “persons of short stature”. Which is all very sensitive – yet why is the horribly offensive nature of the advert – which features little people participating in stunts designed to belittle them, to humiliate them, to make them look silly, to use their bodies as entertainment, as entertaining (so reminiscent of the freak shows and the dwarf tossing of days gone by) – why is this overlooked entirely? I’m not sure to be frank whether to call this kind of advert “ableist” as it may depend on whether you consider dwarfism to be a disability… but surely, whatever you call it, it isn’t acceptable in a just society?

Well I could go on and on and on, following these little avenues or maybe some other avenue or – like – whatever.

The trouble is, I’ve been deep inside a place at the centre of me, looking out, pondering, looking in, allowing slow thoughts to come clear. Digging, thinking, working things out. Planting seeds and allowing them to germinate in their own good time. Gardening starts to teach you patience, starts to make you think, a little, of the long view. This is all jumbled up because it is that time when jumbling happens, when clear thoughts emerge from soup. Have patience. The seeds are here.

What I’m saying is that – in the scheme of things – skin cream? Skin cream?

People are dying out there. Women are dying. They are under boots and behind doors and inside the Woman’s Room. We are being beaten and tortured and imprisoned and starved and raped and ignored. All over everywhere. And I put on my boots and I dig in the soil and I look forward to harvesting – what? That sneaky “we”, it isn’t “we” at all… And I can talk about this guy, or this woman, or this company, or whatever and – it all comes back to – the woman looking in a soul mirror, a woman looking in her mirror and seeing blood. But not her own. Not my own.

I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this.

That oath. It was sworn long before me, long before my babe who lies safe, safely sleeping – yet both of us have the blood on our hands, our innocent hands. The oath sworn, before either of us, nevertheless binds us both, just as surely as it binds every woman and every man on this entire planet. I am not afraid of blood, but whose blood is it? And what can I do to heal the wound it came from, to unwind the oath and save the babe? Whose babe? Not mine, for she is safe asleep, with blood on her hands too.

Oh, and I want milk. I want milk.
But whose babe will go without?
And how much of this is menstrual poetry?
And how much of it is real?

I saw this poster on the bus today. In case you can’t make it out, there is an image of a punchbag set in a dishevelled kitchen, and the caption says:”A domestic violence victim will be beaten 20 times in the next year, unless a friend stops it sooner” with a line at the bottom saying “Enough. Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support.”

I did think for a horrified moment that this might be a campaign sponsored by Women’s Aid and/or Refuge, who I think run the helpline. It’s not. Surprise! It’s the Home Office.

There’s another similar poster where the image and main caption are the same, but the sub-caption reads: “If your friend is being hit, she’s probably too scared to do anything to stop it. So her beatings will just go on and on. Help her take the first step, call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support.”

(Link to the similar poster – PDF)

Just who is doing the beating here?
These women – sorry, not “women”, “domestic violence victims” – are magically getting beaten by – who?
As usual in the case of crimes against women, the perpetrator drops out of the limelight.

I do get that a campaign encouraging friends to support those who are being abused has a place. I do get that perpetrators often seek to isolate their partners, to cut them off from the friends who may help them to escape – that encouraging friends to see through what is going on, encouraging friends to take an active role in helping victims is, on the whole, a good thing.

But.

Why do we have a campaign telling a woman’s friends that they are responsible for “stopping” the violence when they can do nothing to stop the violence and can only offer support to the victim who might otherwise feel or actually be unable to escape? And why don’t we have a campaign targeted at men to just stop hitting and abusing women? And why don’t we have a campaign targeted at men to stop their friends from hitting and abusing women? And why is it always the women (and her friends) who get the spotlight, when the people who actually can stop the violence, or influence the perpetrator to stop the violence, are offstage somewhere, overlooked?

Is it that we feel these men are so far beyond the pale, so monstrously twisted, so clearly unhinged that no campaign or well-meaning friend could possibly influence them to modify their behaviour? Because that aint so. Men who beat and abuse their partners are human beings, just like us. Human beings, not monsters. Maybe when we search our souls for solutions to the problem of domestic violence we should ask ourselves fewer questions about how we can help women to escape and a great deal more about why these men commit this violence and what can be done to make them stop.

To make them stop.

I have given suck, and know
How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me

What is the consequence of giving Woman to Man?

What is the consequence of placing an individual at the head of a closed family, of giving him authority to rule and guide his family, the family that is his?

What is the consequence of giving Woman in submission to Man? Of placing children, his children under his absolute care and control as the head of his household?

What is the consequence of empowering Man and, as a corollary, disempowering his family, his woman, his children? Allowing him to rule and guide through the mechanisms of submission, obedience – control.

Is it, sometime, abuse? Could we, perhaps, expect that abuse will happen almost inevitably as a result of such a family structure?

So should we be surprised if, sometimes, the consequence is that a man in control of his disempowered family can lock up a daughter in a place where nobody can hear her scream or see her bleed? That he can keep her there, utterly dependent on him for survival, a prisoner for twenty-four years, twenty-four years, as he rapes her and rapes her and rapes her. Repeated sexual abuse my arse. He raped and raped and raped his own daughter. Should we be surprised that he could impregnate her repeatedly, and keep her imprisoned, alone through her pregnancies and labours, imprisoning her children with her, the children of his rapes and rapes and rapes – should we be surprised that this happened? Horrified, yes, of course horrified. But can we really be surprised that this happens?

Should we be surprised that a man capable of such systematic, long term abuse, such cleverly designed, coldly planned cruelty can keep his abuse a secret? From neighbours, friends, associates. From his own family, his own wife, the people living in his house, with him and his imprisoned daughter and his imprisoned (grand)children, the fruit of his shocking, incestuous rapes… is it really so surprising that a man who can do this to his daughter and his (grand)children can control his other family members to the extent that they also knew nothing of what he did in the basement.

How he did it we can only speculate. Perhaps he ruled them with terror, perhaps with violence, perhaps with drugs or alcohol, perhaps he wore them away until they lost themselves and didn’t know even so much as the day of the week. We can only guess.

Why he did it is not guessable – we can say no more than that he did it because he could.
Why is it that he could?
See above.

Or, to put it another way: what about the wife, eh? The mother! How could she not have known what was going on in her own house? You can’t keep something like that secret from your wife! She must have known. It just seems so terrible, her own daughter. Mm. Hey, did you see O’Sullivan’s 147 last night?

Such things hollow a person out.

There’s no denying it: Ariel and I have begun our weaning journey in earnest.

This is a time I knew was coming but tried not to think about. I don’t know how to parent without breasts, without milk. I don’t know how to feel like a mother if milk is taken out of the equation. What’s the difference between a mother, then, and just some woman whose house you happen to share? Is there one? Does it matter?

I wrote some weeks ago that a night came when Ariel chose not to have MummyMo at bedtime. She chose CowMo instead. I think she had been impressed by some chance remark of mine that the reason Oliver Dunkley had CM at bedtime was because he was too big for MM. (Yes I know. It seemed like the easiest answer at the time.)

After that first night of abstention, the choice between CM and MM for bed-time milk went about evenly one way or the other, but mornings were still the undisputed territory of Teh Booby. One day maybe ten days later, Ariel overslept and completely missed out on on her morning MM (a very rare occurrence indeed – this is not a girl who oversleeps, never mind missing out on mo as a result) – but still decided to have CM at night. That was the first time she had ever gone 24 hours without mummy mo.

Last week she hurt her tongue. I think she managed to strain one of those little muscles or whatever at the root – ever done that? it hurts! – so that it really hurt her to use her tongue for suckling. She told me she couldn’t have any mummy mo, and had CM instead. She was upset, and I told her that if she felt better later on she could have some mummy mo then. She didn’t. In the morning:

ME: How does your tongue feel? Do you want some mo?
HER: I will try… (trying)… oh I can’t mummy.
ME: Poor old you. I’ll get you some CowMo and then we will try again tonight if your tongue is better at bedtime. I’m sure it will be.

For the next three days – the same, morning and night. She would go to latch on, and then pull back – it doesn’t work, mummy. I began to wonder if that was it.

Then on Saturday afternoon, she tried surreptitiously to lift up my T-shirt:
ME: Hey, what are you doing?
HER: I’m going to have some Mo now.
ME: At bedtime you can have some.
HER: Well I am too big for Mo now because I am three.

And at bedtime? She “tried” – but it doesn’t work anymore mummy.

I wondered whether she was putting it on. I couldn’t believe her tongue was still hurting and she wasn’t really complaining about that. Nor was she making much more than a show effort at latching on. Could she be pretending? Why would she?

I began to wonder if this is how it goes when children forget how to, or lose the ability to suck. Even though I also believe that this theory is probably nonsense (grown-ups, even those who haven’t sucked mo for years, could manage it – why not a little girl who had some only a couple of days ago?) and in any case three is too young given that everything I have read points to a natural weaning age of at least four… Anyway.

Fast forward through the night to Sunday morning. Ariel woke early. By 7am she had run out of ideas for amusing herself quietly and came back to bed, wanting Attention. Which I was not ready to give her. Do you want some Mo? I tried. (In the past this would have been sure-fire – this time I was less confident.) So she made her now familiar half-hearted attempt to latch on, complained that it didn’t work, and sat right back up. But you didn’t really try! Have another go, properly this time.

And she did. It was so nice.

After she’d had her fill (and I’d had a bit more dozing time) she said But mummy – I am too big for Mo. We cuddled. I told her that she wasn’t too big. I told her that she could have Mo if she wanted, that she could choose and that she was still quite small, that she could still have mo if she wanted, even if she was quite big as well.

[If it hadn’t been for her obvious conflict, her conflict between wanting mo and wanting to be big (like Oliver Dunkley?), I would have been cautious about writing this. I would have felt like one of those women that feature in the minds of anti-breastfeeding Daily Mail readers, a woman who manipulates her child into breastfeeding for her own selfish purposes. I freely admit that I had selfish reasons on this occasion for wanting Ariel to have some milk, a good long milky cuddle – huh, I wanted to sleep! But also, my little girl had full agency in this. I wasn’t manipulating her. I was giving her permission. I was telling her that she didn’t have to grow up all at once, that she could be getting big and at the same time still be quite small. That it was OK to want and need her mummy. My words to her were not commands, not imperatives, but permission.]

She had a bit more.
In the afternoon, she tried the T-shirt-lifting trick again.
And at bed-time she chose CM…
…this morning MM, at bedtime just now, CM again.

So, yes, weaning is definitely on her mind. I think she knows that she isn’t quite ready yet, but she is starting to look towards the day when she will be ready. She realises that big people don’t have mummy mo, and she sees herself as someone who is getting bigger. She knows the time will come and she is trying to wrap her mind around the idea of living without Teh Booby. She is experimenting, practising. This is good, I guess. This gentle lead-up is giving me the chance to wrap my mind around this weaning idea, to experiment and practise breast-free parenting before she weans for real. She is weaning us both – gently…

I know I look so big to you,
Maybe I seem too big for the needs I have.
But no matter how big we get,
We still have needs that are important to us.
I know that our relationship is growing and changing,
But I still need you. I need your warmth and closeness,
Especially at the end of the day
When we snuggle up in bed.
Please don’t get too busy for us to nurse.
I know you think I can be patient,
Or find something to take the place of a nursing;
A book, a glass of something,
But nothing can take your place when I need you.
Sometimes just cuddling with you,
Having you near me is enough.
I guess I am growing and becoming independent,
But please be there.
This bond we have is so strong and so important to me,
Please don’t break it abruptly.
Wean me gently,
Because I am your mother,
And my heart is tender.

Today is a double celebration in that this post marks both International Women’s Day and, more or less, the anniversary of my moving this blog to WordPress.

Woo, as they say, hoo.

I’m unable to get excited about this year’s event. I guess it is just the sheer depressing fact that today, and all its excited preamble, merely reminds me that the other 364 days of the year (365 in the case of 2008) are International Men’s Days.

Anyhow, this blog is year-round woman-centred and often international – so where would be the fun in getting all excited over a woman-centred post especially for 8 March? Really? So, in satirical mood, I hereby declare 8 March 2008 as Touchingly Naive Men’s Day, my day to focus on da menz.

I struggled to think of anything much to celebrate about “how far men have come” and it wasn’t easy coming up with “issues men still face today”. But I am woman enough to acknowledge that men *do* have their problems and today I would like to focus on a very real area of specifically male oppression. Yep, I thought of one…

************************************

Beards. Who likes beards? I don’t. They are – beardie.

In my personal facial hair hall of fame/shame, I would rank men’s bearing choices as follows (most acceptable first):

  • Clean-shaven. Smooo-ooooth.
  • Full beard with moustache – as long as it’s not *too* bushy!
  • Then a few that tied for third place: just a mustache, no beard; stubble but not a full-grown beard; or a “lovely” sculpted goatee.
  • Great big bushy beard, complete with monster eyebrows… honestly, have these people never read The Twits?
  • And finally, least acceptable bearding choice of them all – a big, full-grown beard with no moustache. Seriously, this is the worst – the “hair that goes all the way around your face” look. What is this? You carefully shave your upper lip every day, but leave everything else to grow like topsy? Why?

I must admit that, since I am not in fact a manhater etc etc, I have been making some effort to overcome my beard prejudice. After all, if we castigate men who expect us to shave our body hair, surely we should bring a little consciousness to the party and stop judging men as acceptable or not based on their shaving choices…

…And this is much easier once you have decided that you are never actually going to snog a man ever again so there is no danger of stubble rash as a result… ;)

In the spirit of critical analysis, I have to wonder – why is it that we have a cultural preference for clean-shaven men? I know very few men with beards. I know several who have grown beards in the past, come under enormous pressure to debeard, and then received universal praise for their “new, younger” clean-shaven look once the beard finally goes. The pressure on da menz to shave their faces is just as intense as the pressure on women to shave their legs and armpits… Of course, the context is difference because men are not the sex class and are unlikely to face, say, actual disgust and job discrimination if they refuse to comply. But, still.

Why? Why do we expect men to be clean-shaven?

It isn’t just because we like to kiss / be kissed by clean-shaven men*, because since when did the sexual or romantic preferences of women get to dominate cultural norms? Since when did our ideals even get taken into account, let alone become an oppressive social requirement? Since never, is when.

[* Anyway, kissing someone with a proper beard can be just as nice a feeling – albeit a different one – as kissing the smoothest face there is. And at least with a decent beard you won’t be caught unawares by stubble. Ouch. Maybe we like to kiss smooth men because we can close our eyes and imagine, subconsciously at least, that we are kissing women. Hehehe, evil laughter. Another possibility is that we like smooth men because they remind us of when we were girls kissing boys, and we like to pretend that we are still just a girl, just kissing a boy. That would make sense – the men win too if we believe we are girls kissing boys, that none of it is very grown up or meaningful; if we deep down understand kissing as a time when we are girls and they are boys, then we won”t act as full-grown women or make grown-up demands on the other person… Hm, stuff.]

So anyway – if the pressure to shave isn’t for snogging purposes, why is it?

Jacob was a smooth man; Esau was a hairy man.
And Esau, trusting Esau – got screwed.
No wonder our value system prioritises the smooth men – we have the bible to prove that hairy ones get screwed.

And it is probably no coincidence that, as noted above, shaving helps a person stay younger-looking, which is so the thing to be, right? Adolescents don’t have beards; nothing says “old man” like big ol’ beard.

In this regard, of course, men’s oppression is very different from women’s oppression in kind if not in form. We are expected to shave our body hair (all/most of it) so that we can be marked out as the infantilised and subjugated sex class, so that we can present as pre-pubescent and therefore as non-threatening – on pain of disgust, on pain of exclusion, on pain of hear and hate. The same does not apply to men because they are not infantilised, subjugated, unmanned or de-clawed by this pressure to shave.

Perhaps this stamp of youth helps men in patriarchy to prove their thrusting, virile status as members of the dominant class, to gain acceptance within patriarchy.

Or maybe – am I cynical enough yet? – it is quite simply a matter of marketing. How many razors, blades, gels, lotions and other assorted shaving paraphernalia would Gillette and their ilk sell, if we valued a hairy chin instead of a naked one?

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