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Thursday, December 23, 2004

We aren't Greeks

And Amy Richards is not Medea.

Yes, my friends, the "How big a bitch is this woman for not considering the opinions of total strangers before she made her decision?" debate is fired up again at Alas, a Blog. And as usual, there are complaints not about her decision itself, but about the lack of maudlin scenes of despair in her account of it. From Courtney, who started it back up:

It's not so much the fact that she went though with the SR (which I was asked to consider with my quad pregnancy) its the fact that she was so cold about it. While I was going though it I was an emotional mess, the minute I saw those heart beats on the screen I was attached to them, I KNEW they where MY childern, my first though was definatly not "How can I get rid of a few of them".

And this:

It has nothing to do with feminie emotion (my husband wept in my arms because he did not think he could take part in the decision of which one of our childern would live and which would die), it has nothing to do with puffing up my own maternal dedication (which every mother should feel, and if she dosn't she should not bother to have children). It has to do with the fact that she saw her childern on the screen and said "What is the best way to destroy them, how can I stop their little beating hearts because I don't THINK I can handle it."

Maybe everyone should struggle with infertilty and the desprate want of a child in order to understand what an amazing blessing they are.

Initially, my annoyance at this stems mostly from Courtney's seeming belief, which is common to those who were angry about this article, that you don't "deserve" the selective reduction unless you have suffered, and loudly, for it. Regardless of perfunctory "men cry too" denials to the contrary, this is a very sexist reaction. If husbands or boyfriend stoically suck it up and say, "Well if it must be done, then it must," then we applaud their courage. But anything less than maudlin weeping from women is considered a sign of cold bitchiness.

And then I realized, the strength of my annoyance is about more than just sexist stereotyping. These demands that women who abort or have selective reductions weep and gnash their teeth about it insults my taste. My god, that would have been a shitty story, way below the writing level of the NY Times! Let us review the detail that everyone likes to pick at to demonstrate how cold Richards is.

I'll never leave my house because I'll have to care for these children. I'll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise. Even in my moments of thinking about having three, I don't think that deep down I was ever considering it.

This was the most moving part of the story to me. This is where I felt the finality of such a decision, because she's invoking the possibilities that are lost when final decisions are made. Granted, the lost possibility is a grim one, but it's a possibility nonetheless.

So why focus on the small details like Costco? That's what's called writing. It's the style that is familiar to the audience. If I were writing a story about a similiar necessary but sad decision, like breaking up with a boyfriend, I wouldn't concentrate on the heavy-duty crying. No, I'd go for the poignant details, like divvying up a record collection or ruminating on having to watch the kind of movies we liked to watch together alone. Telling details that both personalize a story and hit upon universal feelings the entire reading audience can understand.

And I doubt that I would come under fire for such a story, even though breaking up with someone is difficult and painful. It's not "cold" to meditate on small details. It's poignant. (I would also point out that being housebound is not a small detail, but instead is a soul-sucking pit of hell for some people, but that's off-topic here.)

The slightly stoic, detail-oriented way of handling grief, from large griefs like death to smaller ones like lost possibilities, is our cultural lexicon. Go to a funeral if you'd like for this. After subdued crying, people generally gather at the wake and discuss little things they remember about the passed person as demonstrations of vast love. (Boy, if that's not the difference between abortion and actual death of people--that abortion is considered in lost possibility whereas death in actual memories--I don't know what is.) If people would like to make an argument against our cultural style, you're free to do it. We could return to the era of stylized lamenting, having Greek choruses shouting behind actors making speeches, and professional mourners at funerals doing all the loud crying and lamenting that the actual mourners are too grieved to do, but I would find that style a bit false and jarring myself.

26 Comments:

Blogger zuzu said...

Ugh, this whole thing again. Oh, you can have the procedure, but only if you feel bad enough about it.

I did find it interesting that a lot of people focused on the Staten Island/Costco thing. OTOH, I noticed that a lot of the people who fixated on that live in places with Costcos, so maybe they don't understand the seismic shift that would have to occur in the life of an East Villager to uproot herself and move to a place where everything would be alien to her. It's easy to belittle that if you're already accustomed to the way of life that she's dreading, but for her, it's much more than just finding ways to save money. The way that she's ordered her life would have changed in a very fundamental way -- one infant is doable in Manhattan with a few adjustments, three pretty much requires a move to the suburbs and full-time service to the family.

In fact, I don't think I've ever seen triplets in either Manhattan or Brooklyn, where I live -- and in some neighborhoods of Brooklyn, it's almost a requirement that you have a baby or two.

12/23/2004

 
Blogger La Lubu said...

Now see, the Costco thing didn't throw me a bit, because I've long been incensed at the equation of motherhood with suburban middle-class status, as if the rest of us are not nor do we have a right to be, mothers! You know, another version of the tired old "who's the real woman around here" argument. Bah! I knew exactly what she was talking about.

12/23/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

I definitely see that, but I don't find that "What's wrong with Costco?" attitude okay. What if I said that in order to me a properly unselfish woman, a woman who likes her life in the suburbs has to move to the East Village? Would that be okay? No, it wouldn't.

That is just more nonsense of people trying to act like their life choices (suburbs, Costco, lots of kids) are morally superior, to what ends I don't know.

12/23/2004

 
Blogger La Lubu said...

Point taken, Amanda. And I agree. But the women in the suburbs aren't the ones being told, from the street to the silver screen, that they made the wrong choice.

Kind like women who are upfront about having had an abortion are told they made the wrong choice, regardless of circumstances. And my position, to the judgement hall crowd, is: it ain't your choice, pal. It's hers. Period. Get off ya high horse. Because out of the other side of their mouths, they come down hard on single women who haven't had an abortion, too.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. When in doubt, blame a woman.

12/23/2004

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Nice title, though I am not sure where Jason fits in all of this.

I'm on hiatus from blogging about abortion, but if there was one of my posts I'd like to rethink, it was my first Amy Richards post that was so emotion-driven -- except that it found me you, Amanda, and several other feminist bloggers. For that, I am immensely grateful.

12/23/2004

 
Blogger james d said...

When I saw this I thought of you http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/prebirth_experiences/

Just think of all the ramifications on abortion, birth control, etc. :)

12/23/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Ah, this happened to me last night. I went to bed alone as my boyfriend was working nights and in my dreams the child we neglected to conceive last night came to me and asked, "Why, Mother, why?" I reminded the child that Daddy and I practice birth control and so it was a moot point anyway. And then the cat woke me up by biting my chin.

12/23/2004

 
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