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Stick figure families, chill’uns and dolla dolla bills, yo

29 Sep

There was an excellent post over at Sociological Images yesterday on the topic of those stick-figure family bumper stickers/window decals you see on the backs of automobiles nowadays. One of the illustrations for the post is a comic from XKCD, which I enjoy thoroughly:


Yes, yes, yes, I know that children do not equal money (except, you know, statistically). It’s still funny, especially because these stickers drive me bonkers. “Look at me!” the stickers seem to shout. “I’m a cisgendered able-bodied person in a heteronormative socially-sanctioned relationship with an appropriately structured nuclear family unit! I feel the need to proclaim my privilege with a set of pseudo-personalized stickers, because my luxury minivan is not enough of a status signifier for the strangers driving past on the highway!” Of course, even in the comic version, man + woman = the norm, although I suspect that was chosen for contrast more than anything else (the comic would’ve been a different sort of commentary had the cartoonist chosen to swap out additional standard-issue family members).

It’s also funny because, every once in a while, when friends/acquaintances/coworkers email me unsolicited pictures of their children, I get the urge to respond with an unsolicited picture of my paycheck, or something equally inappropriate and totally unrelated to whatever it was we were emailing about. It’s one thing if I ask, “So, how are the kiddos?” and get a photo in response; it’s another thing entirely if we are discussing, say, the political climate in Uzbekistan and the response is something like:

“I don’t know about those Uzbeks, but aren’t my kids just too cute?!”

Yes. Your kids are cute. And so is my paycheck (zing!). But let’s have appropriate segues, okay? There’s no excuse for non-sequiturs in email communications.

Children and taxes: A Mother’s Day Special

8 May
No babies for me, thanks. No, not even turkey baster babies.

No babies for me, thanks. No, not even turkey baster babies.

This mother’s day, let’s skip the adorable kitten greeting cards and bunches of roses bred to within an inch of scentlessness, picked by fourth-world residents working in inhumane conditions, trucked halfway across the globe and sold at ridiculous markups, shall we? Instead, let’s talk about the politics of child-rearing! Or, more specifically, the politics of taxes for child-education and other kiddo-focused expenses.

I recently heard a new-to-me, somewhat shocking opinion on the topic. Here it is in summary:

“People who make the responsible choice not to have squalling brats should not have to pay to educate and feed other people’s mistakes.”

Harsh words, no? That’s not quite how it was put, but that was the basic premise.

As a properly trained tax-and-spend liberal, I like having lots and lots of social services, some of which I use, some of which I don’t: Maintained roads, public libraries, rest stops, Medicare, social security, food stamps. And I’ve seen the contrast between public schools in well-heeled communities and those in poor towns: I have matriculated at some of the west coast’s best-funded and highest-performing public schools, and also attended the educational equivalent of Siberia in the state’s poorest county. But still, it got me thinking.

As an adult, my senses and my pocketbook are constantly assaulted by pleas for the children. Stop domestic violence … for the children. Build new libraries … for the children. Fund high school sports teams … for the children. Build shiny new after-school facilities with free classes in underwater basketweaving and Tae-Kwon-Do and other oh-so-useful life skills … for the children. Build cushy juvenile detention and drug rehabilitation facilities … for the children, dammit!

It makes one wonder – who is looking out for the old people while we’re busy babying the babies? Social services (in this state, at least) are almost exclusively focused on children, or people with children. As an example, kids under 18 can get subsidized health insurance, but adults cannot (the one notable exception being pregnant women).

This makes a modicum of sense. Faced with a choice between cutting the service entirely or funding it for kids only, it’s a no-brainer. But still. There are a lot of very sick, very poor adults out there not getting the care they need. Why? Because they don’t have cute button noses and tiny little hands. They’re not helpless. Poor children, they just can’t help being born poor! It’s not their fault their parents made such terrible life decisions like being born poor themselves. But once they’re adults it is 100 percent their fault that they’re still poor. What’s changed, other than 15 years, give or take? Nothing but society’s attitude toward them.

And don’t even get me started on the blatantly pandering marketing campaigns around school-funding measures. It’s voting time here, and The Hizzy is being hit with slick upon slick, all featuring pictures of cherubic, well-scrubbed white kids with pleading, watery eyes in grayscale. Turn the slick over and you’ve got the skinny white moms, looking concerned and wearing North Face sweaters, standing sternly with crossed arms next to bulleted lists of reasons why their little Madisons and Jacobs need music programs, shiny new cafeteria platters and better insulation.

So my opinion is wavering. I don’t have kids. I’m not GOING to have kids. Why should I pay to polish the silverware at the elementary school in my neighborhood? Those children having their school spiffed today will be the bitter, abusive high school dropouts that will wipe my nose at the health-code violating old people’s home I’ll live in during my infirmity. If I want care that minimizes humiliation in my old age, I’ll have to shell out for a private facility, since wrinkled faces with watery, pleading eyes just don’t test well with the focus groups.

Grown-ups, especially those with lots of wrinkles or otherwise socially undesirable characteristics (like poverty or disability), get the short end of the stick. They work their whole lives paying taxes to educate and care for the next generation, only to get tossed aside once they can no longer care for themselves. Where are the direct-mail marketing campaigns advocating for safe wheelchair routes and better elder-care facilities? Where are the ballot measures begging for community education and outreach programs designed specifically with old fogeys in mind? And what about crime – why does a 17-year-old get leniency and a clean record, when an 18-year-old in the exact same circumstances gets prison and a lifetime of employment discrimination?

Cutting services to young people can’t be the answer, but a more balanced approach to public policy is certainly worth a look-see. What are your voting habits? Does your having or not having kids influence how you vote on school tax measures and the like? Or are you an across-the-board voter in one way or the other? Any tea party types out there? If so, do you make an exception for social services for youngsters? Any socialist types out there who’ve sworn off baby-having? How do you vote? No name-calling in the comments, please – but do tell me your opinions!

Into moving pictures? Here are some amusing parent- or mom-themed videos you might like:

Happy Mother’s Day, pedophobes!
Pregnant women are smug
Hipster parents: The perfect target market

To have and to hold: The hidden meaning of last names

11 Apr
Cool surname map courtesy of National Geographic.

“Because I love him.”

This is the main reason most straight women give when they agree to take their husband’s or fiance’s last names. By that logic, the following must also be true:

  • Women who don’t take their husband’s last names don’t love their husbands; and
  • Since men don’t take their wives’ last names, men don’t love their wives.

Of course, some men DO love their wives (although one would never guess from The Lockhorns,) so clearly, that reason is a load of horsepoop. So what other possible reasons could there be for women trading in their names in exchange for a “Mrs.”?

“I want to have the same last name as my children.”

Image courtesy some lame stock image service. Please
note the wedding ring. If you spend any amount of time
working with stock art, you’ll soon notice the only
time women’s hands are pictured with wedding rings are
when the image clearly has something to do with weddings
or motherhood. Interesting, no?

This is quite easily solved by just giving your children your last name. Easy, peasy. Did you know that you can, in fact, give your children whatever last name you damn well please? There’s no law stating that one or both parents must share a last name with a child. You could name your kid “Steve Lil’Hokomoke” if you so chose, or “Belinda Cheesedoodleface,” even if your last name is Jones and your husband’s last name is Johnson. Not particularly kind, but completely legal. Say your or your husband’s last name was “Cheesedoodleface” — is a name so ripe for schoolyard-teasing really one you want to pass on?

So if last names have nothing to do with love or the law, then what gives? Power and patriarchy. Don’t believe me? Spend some time reading about family structure and patrilineality. The easiest way to explain patrilineage is that any society has to figure out a system for passing on property, how its children will be socialized, etc. Most societies have chosen patrilineality – this means that the property is passed from father to son, women and their children take on their husband’s last names, leave their families of origin to join their husband’s families and raise their kids according to the customs and traditions of the father’s family of origin.

In societies where patrilineality includes women (and often, young girls) leaving their family of origin to live with and care for their husband’s family of origin, this leads to yet-further devaluation of women and girl children – the most well-known example is probably female filicide in China and India.

Patrilineality is a big part of patriarchy – which basically means “a system run by males, not females,” wherein males are the heads of the household, have authority over women and children, and dominate the government and social and cultural systems. The United States and most countries/societies existing today are patriarchal systems, and this is the primary reason — not love, not money, not law — why women are born with their father’s last names,  trade them for their husbands’ names when they get married, and give their children the husband’s last name instead of theirs.

But before you get all panicky, readers: Just because you have your hubbie’s last name doesn’t mean you’re a Bad Person perpetrating an Evil Conspiracy. The last name gambit is just one of many manifestations of the patriarchal superstructure undergirding our everyday lives – from seemingly innocuous activities like wearing makeup and heels to more insidious things like eating disorders, rape, wage discrimination and domestic violence. We all participate in patriarchy, whether we know it, or like it, or not. The best we can do is become aware of, and make conscious choices about, our participation. We should be able to assert a modicum of control over how – and how much – we kowtow to convention, although in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to at all.

Those of you with your hubbie’s last names, how do you feel about it, and were you aware of the history of patrilineage before you got hitched? Lady readers without husbands – do you plan to change your name when you marry? What’s driving that decision? Those of you who aren’t planning to marry, or aren’t legally allowed to marry in your country, how do you approach the last name conundrum? Do you think society’s expectations are different for you, or the same? Boy readers – how do you feel about your wife, or future wife, taking your last name? Please post a comment and tell me your story!

    Having puppy = having baby

    22 Nov

    A little Monday levity for all y’all with twisted senses of humor out there:
    Baby HD from summer of tears on Vimeo.

    Can’t watch this ‘cuz you’re at work or you’re visually impaired or you just hate web video? It’s cool, here’s a synopsis for you:

    White middle class couple sits on couch smugly discussing how their lives changed post-baby. They gloat about how they were more prepared than your average couple to have a baby, since they already had a dog. “Raising a baby is just like raising a dog!”

    Cue scenes of baby eating food out of a dog bowl, mom yelling at baby not to poop on the floor and rubbing its nose in it, mom swatting baby off the furniture with a rolled-up newspaper, baby being packed off in a kennel carrier, dad making jokes about baby humping a guest’s leg: “He must smell your baby!”

    OK, so the ending is kinda weird, and they totally could’ve moved their lighting setup out of the last shot, but the whole thing is worth it for the shot of the baby in a kennel. For some reason that probably signals deep psychological issues, I laughed like a crazy hyena.

    Hipster parents: The perfect target market

    16 Jun

    The hipster trajectory has at last closed its own self-obsessed loop and birthed this monstrosity. Enjoy (or cringe, as the case may be):

    Happy Mother’s Day, pedophobes!

    10 May

    An amusing, kind of weird Mother’s Day-themed video sent to me by one of my favorite anonymous commenters:

    Enjoy! If for some reason the embed isn’t working you can go straight to YouTube by clicking here.

    Basketball fans: Man up and stop breeding

    25 Mar

    Men! Wondering how to prevent yet another batch of squalling brats from interrupting you while you shout unintelligible yet impassioned directives at large-screen televisions, guzzle malt beverages and pick beer nut detritus from your hipster beard? Well wonder no more, my friends: Take advantage of the latest in promotional outpatient surgeries: Get a March Madness vasectomy!

    In Oregon, you can take part in “Snip City” (a clever play on the Trail Blazers’ motto “Rip City,” which is only slightly misleading since March Madness is college ball and the TBs are a pro team). In Texas, you can pay a visit to the friendly urologists pictured at right.*

    It’s about time someone started marketing birth control to the menfolk. Shunting the birth control responsibility to women is unfair, selfish, and counterproductive. Besides, the side effects of a vasectomy are far fewer than near-lifelong hormonal birth control, which range from depression, bone density loss and high to cervical cancer, embolism and ectopic pregnancy.

    According to popular perception, these are acceptable risks for women. But the main “risks” of vasectomy are well-known, and it’s commonly understood that men won’t get them, no matter the health benefits to their female partners. It’s common to hear jokes on television shows about how “emasculating” vasectomies are. No matter that there is a direct causal link between depression and hormonal birth control, and the “negative psychological effects” on vas’d men are speculative.

    And to top it all off, vasectomy is the second only to abstinence when it comes to effectively preventing those squalling brats.

    The rub is that in our culture, women bear the burden of all sexual responsibilities, from preventing the spread of STDs to childbearing (or not childbearing). It’s women’s bodies that need to be modified and it’s women that drug companies are trying to cash in on. Commercials for hormonal birth control don’t even talk about preventing pregnancies anymore — they pitch themselves as “period control.” Since periods are disgusting and need to be controlled. Just like women! Sarah Haskins made a funny on the topic:

    While the marketing campaign for March Madness vasectomies may need a little finessing, it’s good to see that someone out there is trying. Even if it’s for selfish reasons (more vasectomies = more money for urologists), I hope that capitalism does the job it was meant to do, and levels the reproductive playing field a bit.

    Extra Credit: Send me a picture of yourself (or your man) in a pro-vasectomy pose (be creative — perhaps a strategically placed bag of frozen peas? But SFW, please) and I’ll send you a batch of reproductive-system-themed dessert items. Click here for my contact info.

    *Picture from a deeply amusing blog, via a deeply amusing ladyfriend.

    Related posts: Balls, balls, balls; Breedin’; Biology is Destiny; Pregnant Women are Smug; Science Proves Men are Unnecessary

    Pregnant women are smug

    7 Feb

    When you are a lady, and associate with other ladies, eventually you will either be forced to attend, or worse, forced to organize a baby shower for one of your many lady friends.

    These things are weirdly sex-segregated excuses for the knocked-up to extort presents from their friends, and are one of my least favorite kinds of parties. The stupid games do not make up for the lack of booze, and the dearth of men seems unfair. After all, most babies are still made with sperm delivered the old-fashioned way, are they not? If we can’t do away with the antiquated baby shower tradition, we might as well spread the pain around.

    So, in lieu of banishing baby showers and all they represent (a culture where motherhood is the be-all end-all of a woman’s life, where the drudgery of child-rearing is still primarily women’s work, where even “accidental” fetuses are greeted as if a glorious blessing), I give you this amusing video about how annoying pregnant women are:

    A caveat: This clip fails to make fun of a big ol’ demographic of annoying dads-to-be, not to mention a whole swath of annoying actual dads. My hunt for parodies of fatherhood shall continue.

    Biology is destiny

    1 Jun

    I went out to coffee with a beautiful lady friend of mine and her adorable bundle of squirming offspring, and the weirdest thing happened: I was ordering food and coffee and giving instructions as to bagel toppings, and handing over a credit card and doing all the stuff that you do when you’re at a coffeeshop counter. Everything was going according to plan, but… it seemed I was invisible.

    The barista was totally incapable of acknowledging my existence. She didn’t look at me or even hand me the receipt to sign. She kept talking to/about the baby, and even pushed my credit card and the receipt toward my friend, who was holding the baby. I pointedly pulled the receipt toward me, trying to catch her eye, but she obliviously continued to push the pen toward Hesid (lovely lady) and Ophelia (wondrous offspring). I did the same with the pen (pointedly pulling it toward me, its rightful owner), but the barista obliviously handed the card back in Hesid and Ophelia’s general direction.

    “WTF?” I thought to myself. “Perhaps this a case of that weird thing girls do to other girls to make them feel all small so they can somehow feel superior.” I would usually assume that, since the coffee girl was pretty, and it seems like that behavior comes primarily from pretty girls with self-esteem issues, but I think this time it had something to do with the baby.

    The baby cute-factor overpowered the barista’s ability to do her job correctly. What’s more, it made me dislike her intensely. I like babies and all, but I’m a person too! A person who is ordering things and signing receipts and providing tips! I briefly considered not tipping her, but remembered I was at my favorite coffeeshop and didn’t want to fall into the bad graces of an almighty barista. In retrospect, though, she likely wouldn’t have even noticed a shoddy or nonexistant tip.

    I discussed it later with Hesid, and she said that she could easily walk down the street covered in blood and holding a knife, and as long as she had her daughter with her, no one would notice her, because they’d be too busy cooing at her child. She also said as Ophelia gets older, people’s fascination with her seems to wane.

    Weird animalistic behavior here, man. People are so biology-driven it freaks me out sometimes. Actually, pretty much all of the time. Am I the only person who notices these weird things? I hope not.


    23 Mar

    Imported from MySpace Blog

    “You’ll understand once you have kids.”

    This is a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot lately. That, or “Oh, you’ll have children/change your mind/grow up/insert-hackneyed-cliche-here someday,” or, “Having kids really changes your life. You become so much less selfish!” or “Having children is such a process of maturation … your kids will force you to grow up.”

    I have nothing against kids. In fact, I like kids. Most kids, even. I know that may come as a surprise to some. Of course, my offspring will be miniature, well-behaved, self-contained units of genius, but that’s beside the point. My point is that normal people, having bred, somehow come out the other end of procreation as more arrogant, preachier versions of themselves. To the uninitiated, they can seem like parent pod-people. Suddenly it becomes okay to begin pressing those around them to follow suit, and using phrases like, “… when you’re ready,” as if a person without children is somehow not completely done, like raw cookie dough or unbaked bread — useless and not contributing to the greater good, but with the potential to do so.

    A typical statement in this vein:

    “Well, when you’re ready, (i.e., when you’re done being selfish/self-absorbed/self-serving/hedonistic/oblivious to the real pleasures of life) I’m sure you’ll make a wonderful parent.”

    I don’t dislike parents, nor am I saying that “parenting” isn’t hard. Of course it is. It’s demanding and brave and terrifying and heroic and life-changing and so much more, I’m sure. I really wouldn’t know, but from casual observation, I see that it’s a simultaneously challenging and deeply satisfying job with many pitfalls and rewards. I’m just opposed to the holier-than-thou attitude I’ve seen so many parents of this and other generations adopt.

    I see how parenting can be seen as an unselfish act. One gives up a great deal of independence, privacy, choice and personal identity to become a parent. The sacrifices are endless. However, most people who become parents choose to do so. Individual choices, by their nature, are selfish acts. So no matter how selfless an act parenting may seem to be, every single parent who wasn’t raped or forced to have a child somehow entered into the contract willingly, and for essentially selfish reasons. And that doesn’t make that choice a bad one. Far from it. The point I’m trying to make is that ALL choices, whether seemingly selfish or monumentally self-sacrificial, are at their core selfish choices. Therefore, a childless person is no more or less selfish than a person with children. The mere presence or lack of children cannot alone determine the worth of an individual.

    Another beef I’ve got with (some) breeders is their ability to be manipulated by fear so easily. The word “family” is abused by politicians to no end, and parroted in the media so much that it seems to have lost its original meaning. “Family,” nowadays, means “children.” The MT has a “Family” section every Saturday, which is primarily, nay, exclusively, populated by child-centric stories and art. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, using the word “family” when we mean “children” leaves entire groups out of our concept of family — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, close friends and even community members. Politicians constantly abuse the word “family” when they’re trying to pull one over on the populace, saying things like, “making America safe for families,” or “keeping America’s families safe from terrorism.” What about everyone else? Don’t they count? Shouldn’t they be safe, too?

    Many parents are also gifted with an inflated sense of self-worth, bestowed upon them by themselves, those who fawn over them, and, specifically, the media. One can find many news articles peppered with quotes from hand-wringing soccer moms, identified only as “Jane Doe, a 45-year-old mother from Central Point,” as if being a mother gave her some elevated level of expertise or compassion. What does this mother do for a living? Has she ever been charged with felonious assault? Does she manufacture methamphetamine in her spare time? Is she a good driver? Does she favor the color blue? We don’t know. We don’t know anything about her other than the fact that she, at one point in her life, decided to have a child and was lucky (or perhaps unlucky) enough to be properly up to the challenge as far as fertility and physical health was concerned.

    Parents themselves often engage in such self-congratulatory lead-ins as, “Well, since I am a mother/father/parent…” as if “parent” were a sufficient stand-in for some other noun that conveyed truly specialized expertise, like “engineer,” “rocket scientist,” or “astronaut.” Unless you have an advanced degree in child development or psychiatry, I stop listening to any and all advice that follows “since I am a parent,” statements.

    Most parents I know personally are the sort of people who I think should breed, and often, simply because of their superior genetics. But still, each comment made to me with the slightest whiff of “when you’re ready…”ness smacks of superiority and kind of hurts my feelings. So lay off, huh?

    Currently reading :
    Class: A Guide Through the American Status System
    By Paul Fussell
    Release date: 01 October, 1992


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