Category Archives: Race, Class, Gender

Breastfeeding in Public

My Che is now 9 months old. At this point, we are planning on putting all of our eggs in one basket (oo pressure, kid) — so I have this knowledge and experience that I can at least share. I hope if you are looking for some advice on breastfeeding in public that you find this post helpful.

When I began nursing my newborn, I was a bit hesitant about how and where to nurse. I knew one thing for sure — I did not want to be “banished” from a room. I didn’t want to have to go hide myself at holidays or when we had visitors, as we so often did in the beginning. I’m social. I like to chat it up. I also know that I would have a hard time merely staying at home all day. I needed to get out of the house. This, of course, involved feeding Che on the go.

At the time, I did search on the internet for good places to breastfeed. I quickly learned that this is still word of mouth type information, one can only assume because of the taboo around it.

So how did I maneuver in this new territory? When it came to guests at our house or visiting others, I would usually ask, “Do you mind if I nurse.” I think that is actually particularly generous and considerate on my part, because the reality is my kid had to eat whether anyone else liked it or not. Only once did I have a really awkward situation where I was banished to a room — a room with children in it. But in such situations, if I was not “welcome” to nurse where I was, then I’d ask my husband or someone to hang out with me. There were a few instances when I nursed privately when around older, more traditional folks, but even that was pretty rare. I do recommend asking a buddy to hang with you. I found that the overwhelming majority of people were completely fine with me breastfeeding. Even in the instances of being “banished,” several people seemed to want to accompany me into my banishment.

The next road to navigate: where to breastfeed in public. I think I feared more people not being okay with it. Luckily, I have not yet encountered any kind of rude looks or stares. Frankly, I sometimes wonder if many people even notice when I breastfeed. They don’t.

Initially, I looked for nursing-friendly places. I live in West Hartford, CT — so here is a run-down of some of the good local places as well as generic places. It was fall/winter when my son and I were out and he nursed often, so we went to the West Farms Mall. A lot. The bathroom off of the men’s department in Nordstrom has a separate nursing room, which is quite nice, though I preferred the main lounge in the bathroom because it has comfy couches. Nordstrom even has free wifi, though it is a bit slow.

The family bathroom in the middle of the mall downstairs is also a great place to nurse. It’s definitely not as comfy as Nordstrom, but it works.

In West Hartford Center, I found Reuben’s Deli to be particularly friendly — not just to breastfeeding, but to babies in general. The Noah Webster Library (main branch in WeHa Center) is also breastfeeding friendly. I nursed there once in a pinch — early on when I was more nervous about it. I went into the stacks and quietly nursed. Once I asked if there was anywhere I could nurse in the library, a librarian told me — you can nurse anywhere in the library. If you want privacy, you can use the parent conference room, which is in the children’s department. Let me also make a plug for the awesome facilities at the children’s room in the library!

Another great thing is if you ask, I found places were often very willing to accommodate. As my husband and I tried to open a bank account for Che, I asked if they minded if I nursed as we waited, and an officer opened a meeting room for me. Asking opens doors, literally.

It wasn’t long before I got over my nervousness about breastfeeding in public. I had a nursing cover, but it was a pain in the ass to use. I quickly gave that up. Then my favorite places to nurse where usually coffee joints or some kind of restaurant. I have nursed in many Starbucks and the like. If we went out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner — nursing was usually part of the event.

I traveled with my baby — with my husband and alone. I’ve nursed in rest areas. It was actually in New Jersey at a rest area where I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone breastfeeding in public. Then I further realized, I don’t think most people are even remotely aware that I am breastfeeding when I am. I think I just missed it when others have nursed in public. So if you are feeling nervous about it, think of that reality check.

Obviously nursing at playgroups, doctors’ offices, baby stores, La Leche meetings, etc are all welcomed and encouraged.

Once my son hit about 6 or 7 months, my public breastfeeding habits changed a bit. I still do it, but less frequently — partly because he is also eating solids, but partly because he is more aware of the world now and gets very distracted. Even so, I feed my kid on the run frequently, and it is perfectly fine.

The bottom line is that you need to feed your kid. In most states, you are protected by the law. And the vast majority of the time no one cares — or notices.

Welcome?

A bit of culture shock hit me today. I am really enjoying myself here, and yet there are a few cultural aspects that are hard to get used to, particularly what seems to me like rampant sexism.

For example, I smile at people. It is who I am. Yes, I’m sure I look insipid, but that is what I do. Culturally speaking, women should not smile at men here. Yet I smile without thinking, and then I get a disdainful look. I brushed it off, but when I was rejected from a temple today, it all suddenly got to me.

We (Jon and I) began our day out by going to the large temple to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. It is a very beautiful temple. I bought flowers and prasad outside the temple and gave offerings as I went through, and I did pronom to the various gods to which I gave offerings. Priests gave me a third eye with the red powder (they dab a bit of red powder on your forehead). It was a very lovely experience. One of the priests talked to us for awhile, explaining various mandirs. It was a lovely beginning to the day.

Then I wanted to see the nearby temple to Kali, the goddess of destruction. I really like Kali, partly because of the role she plays in Bharati Mukherjee‘s novel, Jasmine, and partly because she is a strong goddess, a female role model to some degree. She is a mother figure in Bengali tradition, though she is also very fearsome. She exudes power. I like this description on Mantra on Net. A devotee of Kali, Ramprasad, writes:

To be Kali’s child, Ramprasad often asserts, is to suffer, to be disappointed in terms of worldly desires and pleasures. Kali does not give what is normally expected. She does allow her devotee/child, however, to glimpse a vision of himself that is not circumscribed by physical and material limitations. As Ramprasad says succinctly: “He who has made Kali . . . his only goal easily forgets worldly pleasures”. Indeed, that person has little choice, for Kali does not indulge her devotees in worldly pleasures. It is her very refusal to do so that enables her devotees to reflect on dimensions of themselves and of reality that go beyond bodily comfort and world security.

So when I went to the Kali temple, Jon and Chauhan came with me. I was wearing a long sleeve kurta, and I had a dupetta on my head. I was also wearing a calf-length skirt. Chauhan went up first, and then Jon. It was I who really wanted to see this temple, and a man came up to Chauhan and said I could not go because I was wearing a skirt, so I turned and left, waiting outside in the sun with some kid asking me for rupees while Jon and Chauhan visited the temple. As I read now what Ramprasad said, I can see more clearly the serious iniquities between men and women here. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some serious iniquities in the US, but when I was rejected from this temple, it made me more acutely aware of the ways I was getting second class treatment. And it made me feel very unwelcome. I realize it is not personally directed at me, but I am an individual, and my experience is my own, so in that sense it is personal.

The disdainful looks (and I have been dressing very culturally sensitively — salwar kameezes, mainly), the direction of all questions, comments, tours, etc at Jon rather than all of the adults and children — they bothered me after that last straw.

I wouldn’t say that it ruins my trip, but it makes me very sad. I am not in the slightest expecting to be treated like a maharani, I just wanted be treated as respectfully as I am treating others. Though I was unable to stay in her temple, Kali taught me a lesson today.

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“Killing in the Name of…”

Sujal and I were just watching bits from Rachel Maddow’s show where she shows some O’Reilly clips and his incendiary sputum about Dr. Tiller and then his “clarification” that he said nothing that advocated violence.

I told Sujal, I wasn’t really writing about this murder, because I didn’t have a lot to say other than I’m disgusted, saddened, and disappointed. It makes me feel a little bit more hopeless. It is coersion at its worst.

I went on to say that I don’t know that I really feel O’Reilly is culpable. He is culpable only in the way that he is part of a society that purveys this kind of hatred. I really see culpability in a greater, more pervasive misogyny that exists in our culture. It manifests itself in all sorts of forums, and this is one. Anyone who knows me well knows that this is an issue that is deeply important to me, as are all women’s rights. So I write to say I don’t know what to say. It’s like reading a Jhumpa Lahiri story or some Faulkner pieces — I’m just left feeling like I just got kicked in the stomach.

The book Absolute Convictions by Eyal Press details the anti-choice movement and events in Buffalo, New York (my hometown) that culminated in the murder of Dr. Slepian, who happened to by my best friend’s gynecologist. Check it out, because it reads less biasedly than anything else I have read. It closely examines the chaos and high emotions surrounding the issue.

I wrote a little bit more about it here and here.

Why? Why? Why?

I opened my computer to do a quick email check during my grading marathon and say that an abortion provider, a healthcare professional, a doctor, was murdered in church. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that someone murdered him based on religious beliefs, and if that is so — ugh — the irony. This makes me very sad. Very, very disappointed.

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Gender Identity: NPR, Zucker, and Ehrensaft

As I was driving on Wednesday, I heard this piece on All Things Considered. I heard most of it then, but I looked it up today after work. It’s part of a two-part series, and I listened to the second part today, as well.

The first part deals with small children (2, 3, 4) who strongly identify with the gender that is opposite of their genetic make-up. It details two boys, one on the east coast, one on the west — both who strongly identify with being a girl and with “girl-things.” The set of each boy’s parents goes to see a doctor about their son. The east coast set goes to Ken Zucker, and the west coast set goes to Diane Ehrensaft.

After listening to this piece, I began to read up a bit on Zucker and Ehrensaft. This article called “Drop the Barbie! If You Bend Gender Far Enough, Does It Break?” reveals how “behaviorist” and rigid Zucker is. As part of his therapy, he has parents take away all of the “girl” (in this case) toys. He has the parents disallow him to play with girls or pretend he is a girl character is his play. In the ATC piece, he brings up that if one were to bring a black child to a therapist, and that child says, “I’m white,” then should the therapist have that child live as white? or should the therapist try to make that child comfortable with whom s/he is? He says one would do the latter. He claims that both “confusions” stem from surrounding dysfunction.

This is not an apt comparison. At the very least, racial identity has more to do with cultural identity, since race is a social construct. Whereas gender is obviously cross-cultural, and it is biological to at least some degree. [Honestly, there is a lot more to this — I can intuit it. It is not an apt comparison, yet at the moment I do not have the words to fully articulate it. One one hand, a) a black child identifying as white — what does that even mean? White culture? The whole question of a black child claiming to be white relies on an idea that there is a limited way to be black and a limited way to be white. b) Does this happen? If anyone has thoughts on this — I’d love to hear them!]

In terms of Zucker’s idea that gender “switching” in small children is caused by dysfunction (thus nurture), he, of course, seeks to find the cause (from the article “Drop the Barbie!”):

Zucker and his colleagues try to uncover the psychodynamics in the family that might be at the root of the child’s gender distress. Girls may develop GID, he believes, because they’ve formed the perception that being a girl is weak or dangerous. One little girl he saw recently, for example, had witnessed her mother being assaulted by the mother’s boyfriend. A boy, on the other hand, in a family where the mother is suffering from depression and is emotionally unavailable, might make an effort to act like a girl to get closer to her.

He goes on to say:

Parents are encouraged to set limits on the cross-gender behavior of the child. “We urge them to say, ‘Let’s figure out what other things you can do besides play with that doll,'” Zucker says. “In some situations, we have to work hard with parents’ own issues about gender. Could be a mother who’s had difficulty with the men in her life and has a lot of mixed feelings toward men. That gets translated to the boy, and her fear that he’ll grow up to be like those men causes him to reject being a boy.”

Hmmmm. This smacks to me of the ol’ “Let’s blame it on the mother…” “Gay son — he was mothered too much!” Here, mom is the cause of both disorders. I can’t say I see sound logic here, either.

When Ehrensaft was interviewed, she said something that I thought was pretty profound (from ATC):

Ehrensaft, however, does not use that label. She describes children like Bradley and Jonah as transgender. And, unlike Zucker, she does not think parents should try to modify their child’s behavior. In fact, when Pam and Joel came to see her, she discouraged them from putting Jonah into any kind of therapy at all. Pam says because Ehrensaft does not see transgenderism itself as a dysfunction, the therapist didn’t think Pam and Joel should try to cure Jonah.

“She made it really clear that, you know, if Jonah’s not depressed, or anxious, or having anything go on that she would need to really be in therapy for, then don’t put a kid in therapy until they need it,” Pam says.

If it’s not a dysfunction, then don’t make it one. Human nature is such an odd beast, and I wonder if I’d take that approach if it were some behavior that seemed truly wrong from my perspective. I guess the difference is that in order for something to be truly wrong, I would think it would need a component of causing harm — causing harm to the self or to others. Part of what is difficult for me is that this feels like an automatic response for me, to use a phrase I don’t really like, a “no-brainer.” Yet, I am having a very difficult time articulating why. Anyway, check the series out and let me know what you think.

Seahorses, Pipefish, and Thomas Beatie

What do they all have in common — as males, that can be pregnant and give birth to offspring!  I used to want to be a seahorse so my hubby would have to carry our baby, but Thomas Beatie, a transgender male is carrying his child. His story is pretty amazing, so read the article.

Sujal, and you think I don’t read your blog!

Will and Testosterone

In my recent e-conversations with my college friend Lani, now Will, we have talked about the effects of taking testosterone. I knew someone else who transitioned from female to male, and when he began testosterone, he began losing his hair because of male patterned baldness, not something I’d ever though about it. So I mentioned it to Will, which prompted this amazing list on his blog, Self-Made.

It blew me away! We talked about it for a bit, that one experiences the world in a set way, and then suddenly, because of a hormone, one’s perception has changed. Talk about getting a new perspective, or walking a mile in someone else’s shoes! The new expression will be, “Try taking someone else’s hormones.” It’s actually really helpful information to realize just how much hormones affect us.

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Pequot Museum & the Hill-Stead Museum

A friend and I visited the Pequot Museum in Mashantucket, CT today. I’d been wanting to go to this museum since I moved here, but things just kept getting in the way.

Overall, it was a pretty cool museum — one that spared no expense. It’s nice place. My friend and I were particularly intrigued by the supercool looking firehouse on the reservation — very cool architecture. We both agreed that this was the hippest fire station either of us had ever seen. And I’ve been to wedding receptions at fire stations.The museum had a lot of diorama-type displays — the “ancient peoples” displays of history museums. Those kids of exhibits always make me think of this passage in The Catcher in the Rye where Holden is in the Museum of Natural History in NYC by the Park, and he describes the diorama exhibits and mentions how he feels comforted by them because they never change, that no mater when he visits, that eskimo will always just have caught a fish, and that deer-skinned clothed woman will always be starting a fire. Not that there’s any correlation between the two, other than the fact that those kinds of exhibits make me think of the novel.

While I did really like the museum, I wasn’t blown away by it like I was the National Civil Rights Museum, which I visited last year when I was in Memphis. I highly recommend that one.

Last week we went to the Hill-Stead Museum, which I also had been wanting to see for awhile. It was an enjoyable tour — and I really like having a tour guide. But I also thought the museum was a little stodgy. Okay — I do love china, especially antique china (it’s my one anglo-phile weakness) (okay — Jane Austen, too) (Who am I kinding — there’s lots more English “stuff” I like — but not colonialism!). But the museum is a little self-important in terms of commemorating Theodate Pope and her wealthy, art-collecting father, Alfred. And when we asked questions of our tour guide, she did not seem to like that our interests went beyond the realms of the immaculate life of Theodate Pope, whose name incidentally means “gift of God,” a name she took on. I’m going to start calling myself Gift of God and see how people react.

Don’t get me wrong, the Hill-Stead museum and grounds seem to do a lot of great things, like the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, and I did enjoy the museum. At one point we saw these two little paintings — clearly Indian in origin, and I think they may have been mughal miniatures — a fascination of Bharati Mukherjee. In an interview called “Holders of the Word”, she describes the way these paintings influence her writing. When I asked the guide about these two works, she consulted the “room guides” to all the pieces of artwork, and those were not listed. While there were two or three Japanese woodcut prints in the house, the fact that there was no listing for these obviously eastern pieces made me think that this house had a particularly Eurocentric point of view. And that irked me a little. I suppose it has every right to be Eurocentric, but again, it seemed a little like the wealthy class patting itself on the back for being so wealthy. I was particularly interested in the library which had a large collection of old books. I searched titles that the family owned — and I saw noting that seemed “against the grain” in any way. The guide was trying to portray Theodate (and she continually referred to her as Theodate) as this very progressive woman, simply because she became an architect at the turn of the 20th century. She opposed a woman’s right to vote — how progressive could she be. So she was wealthy enough to pursue her own goals… Grr.

Clearly I felt some classism that drove me a little nuts.Nonetheless, I plan on going to see Billy Collins this summer. So there.

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Lani to Will

A college friend of mine very recently underwent gender transitioning surgery. He has a blog called Self-Made Lani that chronicles the experience. It’s really interesting (and personal). Check it out.

One of the things I have found most interesting from anecdotes told to me by people who have transitioned is the way hormones — and genetically passed traits — have drastically impacted them in ways they may not have expected. While living in Northampton, I had an acquaintance who began losing his hair after taking male hormones because of male pattern baldness. That idea never even occurred to me before.

Anyway — I wanted to pass along this interesting read.

College Admissions Timeliness

I wrote this post a few years ago, but I was just talk to a friend about it. Since ’tis the season to write letters of recommendation, I think it’s interesting to revisit. I, of course, also feel that ETS has a classist monopoly. Oh, sweet college admissions process — so arbitrary you are.