Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Makes a Family, Part Two

After my post a few days ago on my personal feelings on family and children, I found this article about motherhood and marriage on the population level: “Out-of-Wedlock Birthrates Are Soaring, U.S. Reports“. The data are interesting in that they reveals the changing composition of families but the measures feel a bit antiquated and leave me wanting a better survey of families.

First, the stats: The Center for Disease Control released analysis of data collected in 2007 shows that 40 percent of all births in 2007 were to women who were not married. (Original data is here.)

Furthermore, parsing out the data reveals interesting trends in pregnancies and family composition. Teen pregnancies do not make up the majority of

Before 1970, most unmarried mothers were teenagers. But in recent years the birthrate among unmarried women in their 20s and 30s has soared — rising 34 percent since 2002, for example, in women ages 30 to 34. In 2007, women in their 20s had 60 percent of all babies born out of wedlock, teenagers had 23 percent and women 30 and older had 17 percent.

Lots more stats on nonmarital births through the decades, by race, by mother’s age, and compared to other industrialized countries.

But these data are interesting in what they measure and what they leave out. It keeps track of “nonmarital births”, birth to a woman who has never been married, or is widowed or divorced. It’s a question asked when a birth is registered. But the terms “nonmarital birth”, “unwed mother” and children “born-out-of-wedlock” have gradually lost the same meanings they did when these studies were originally done. That is, it is becoming more mainstream and less … shameful that marriage is not a requirement for motherhood. I suppose being “born-out-of-wedlock” is one step up from being “illegitimate.”

My feelings on this were confirmed by a New York Times news commentary piece about these stats. I think one commentator sums it up very well:

The fact that 40 percent of American children are now born out of wedlock is yet another example of why policymakers and researchers need to discard one-size-fits-all generalizations about the causes, consequences, risks and benefits of different family forms. Average outcomes from married and single parenting hide huge variations.

There is great variation among mothers who are not married. It did used to be that teenagers made up the majority of nonmarital births, which means that we could have a whole host of assumptions about the kind of life the children of teenage moms would have: probably low-income, low-education, no father, etc. But unmarried moms are now in general older and their lives are far more complicated. They could be cohabiting, could have other children, etc.

I’m not exactly faulting the CDC for the results because they are, by themselves, interesting. Their data come from birth registrations, so it really shows that even our data collection is antiquated. It is less and less meaningful to only know whether or not a mother is married. It would be even more interesting to read about a comprehensive sociological study of the state of motherhood.

x-posted at Choice Words


I want to share with you something I learned a little while ago from a friend of mine. I can't believe I didn't put this together until now, seeing as I think of myself as being conscious of race issues, but that just goes to show that we're all still becoming aware of the pervasiveness of racism.

A few days ago I brought up to a friend of mine a column I read in the New York Times. Nick Kristof wrote about trafficking and prostitution of teenage girls in the U.S. with an emphasis on race and poverty. Many of these missing girls end up as prostitutes in the control of pimps. He writes,
If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.

It initially surprised me, the scope of this, but then I began to notice that this really was popping up everywhere.
A few days later, Bob Herbert wrote of a similar experience about the death black infant when he was working as a newspaper editor. He was at a meeting with editors at a newspaper who were discussing doing a story on this. He writes:

One of the stories being pitched was about a baby that had been killed on Long Island. The editor running the meeting was completely relaxed. He was sprawled in his chair and was holding a handful of papers. His legs were crossed.

“What color is that baby?” he asked.

A tremendous silence fell over the room. Everyone understood what he meant. If the baby was white, the chances were much better that the story was worth big play. It might be something to get excited about.

Little did I know, this is phenomenon had a name: Missing White Woman Syndrome. It even has its own wikipedia entry here. It is basically what Nick Kristof described, that a missing girl from a middle class family will get lots of press coverage and public support to try to find her. But a girl from a poor family, likely black or Latino, will not get as much media attention.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What Makes a Family?

I must be watching too many daytime TLC family shows. I've been thinking about the phrase "to start a family". As we all know, it means for a couple to try to get pregnant. But I have begun to feel increasingly uncomfortable with the phrase. It seems to say that children are necessary for a couple to be considered "a family". I know that "to start a family" is probably just a polite way to say "we're having sex a lot" without the visual imagery of picturing people you know having sex. Still, if I were married or in a committed relationship without children, I would consider my partner and I to be a family.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I want to like Amy Sedaris but ...

Now I don't think I like Amy Sedaris anymore. I've been reading Racialicious, a blog on race and pop culture. This entry talked about a book Amy Sedaris signed to a Chinese American reader at a book signing. I'll quote the original blog post:

A reader named Gloria sends in this juicy little scan… She informs me that actress/author/comedienne Amy Sedaris did a show last week at Haverford College. Gloria’s brother (who happens to be Chinese American) got a copy of Sedaris’ book I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence signed for her.

The above scan is what she apparently inscribed on the inside of the book. Yes, you’re reading that right. As if “Ching Chong” wasn’t enough, the rudimentary buck-toothed chink-eyed caricature is sort of icing on the racist cake.

What the hell, Amy Sedaris? Is that supposed to be clever? Are we supposed to write that off as “quirky”? I’ve never been a huge fan of hers… but I’ve never disliked her either. That has changed. I have to wonder what Gloria’s brother thought when she handed this back to him. Not cool. That’s racist! (Thanks, Gloria.)

UPDATE: Amy Sedaris apparently has a bit of history with the ching-chongery… Check out her opening remarks in this video posted on BlogHer back in 2007. Doesn’t take very long for her to bust out that “ching chong.” Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Like it ain’t no thing.

Also, check out this Believer interview from several years ago where she lists her turn-offs as: “The beach, having to pay for things, racist people, Orientals.” Is that supposed to be funny?

A little more Googling reveals that she actually has a habit of referring to people of Asian descent as “ching chong” at appearances and events. She also regularly signs her books with “ching chong” and a sketch of the buck-toothed ching chong thing. Oh, I get it. She’s supposed to funny and off-the-wall, and so we’re supposed to excuse her for playful, asinine racist mockery.

But I still love David.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Prioritizing Aid - More Questions Than Answers

There are many worthwhile causes to champion, injustices to fight, both financially and through other actions. Should I donate to an organization that, say, helps fund the education of girls, clean water, or HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment? Should I fund a domestic or international cause? Should I lobby for environmental issues? Universal healthcare in the U.S.?

I feel that I am prioritizing one condition over the other by devoting my efforts to a cause. Of course we should contribute toward solving all the world's problems, but I recognize that our resources -- money, time, political will -- are limited, so we can only give publicity to some diseases and not others.

Now expand this on the scale of national governments, multilateral aid organizations. We all have to make choices about how much to fund for what. Each foreign aid budget, domestic health budget, and NGO has to prioritize what it will spend the most money on.

I often read about how easy and cheap it is to cure a certain disease but there's no effort to do so. No global funds, no rock star benefit concerts, no massive whatever-color-ribbon campaigns. There is no publicity, funding, and political for very urgent needs with simple solution. I've heard that with just a little more push we can eradicate the last few pockets of polio, or with some cheap drug we can save lots of people from something terrible.

The latest example of this is Nick Kristof's column about pneumonia published on Mother's Day (The Killer No One Suspects). According to Kristof, a course of antibiotics to treat pneumonia costs only 27 cents, but pneumonia registers on few people's consciousness as a widespread, emergent disease.

This leads me to ask why some diseases or conditions get more attention than others. Is there some general fascination with the new and incurable disease that plagues all of us? Is it only greed and fame of politicians, drug companies, and scientists that set funding priorities?

I checked categories to which this entry belongs, I'm selecting many of them. This is because that at some level, these health, gender, environmental, and social issues are interrelated, cycles of poverty, environmental degradation leading to health effects, tuberculosis exacerbating AIDS, etc. But most organizations have one or several focuses, some of which leave other behind. Inevitably, aid organizations or lobbies will be fighting for the same funding, the same piece of the pie so to speak. Expansion of one program may see cuts in another. Am I second guessing myself too much? Is this the activists' curse of caring too much?

x-posted at Choice Words

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Lysistrata 400s BCE to Kenya 2009 CE

*X-posted on Choice Words

I know this is the THIRD blog post on essentially the same story, but I want to bring another angle to it.

When I first read this story, I actually thought about Aristophanes' play Lysistrata. It has made me think about the power of sex and the power of women when they use it.

A couple days ago I posted on my facebook status a link to this BBC article titled "Kenyan women hit men with sex ban". Basically, women's organizations in Kenya are calling on Kenyan women to deny sex to their husbands for seven days in hopes the men will resolve the disagreements between political rivals in the government. I guess this movement is really taking hold in Kenya. An update (Wife of Kenyan PM Backs Sex Ban) says that the wife of Kenya's Prime Minister supports the ban too.

After I posted the Kenya article as my status, I got several "like" comments. But I felt rather uneasy about the story. I thought it was rather sad because it showed that in some ways, women do not have any more power than they did 2400 years ago.

The play Lysistrata was set in the 5th century BCE. Lysistrata is about the role of women in bringing an end to the Peloponnesian War, a long and destructive war between Athens and Sparta and their allies from 431 to 411 BCE. The title character, an Athenian woman named Lysistrata organizes the women of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands until they end the war. The sex-strike works, the war is over, and in the end everyone has sex again.

The women of ancient Athens and contemporary Kenya have little political power. There is a saying that goes something like, "behind every powerful man is a strong woman." I suppose the sex-strike shows the power women have over their men. But I wish that the woman is the powerful one in front.

In response to Kia's question, I don't think sex should be used as political leverage because it can so easily be leveraged against women.

A xeroxed love letter just for you

I thought I found a love letter today. It was on the ground in that little hallway behind the Grand River Starbucks, where the bathrooms are and a door that leads to the back of the alley. I brought it home.

It was folded perfectly in thirds and the third facing up said, "For You."

Love letters usually give me goosebumps, like nasty-hyperbole-I-love-you-forever-and-ever goosebumps. I don't generally believe in falling head over heels mad in love, or at least, that kind of madly in love that last for more than, oh, two days.

But at that point, I have could used a little love letter pick me right then. Because there's a part of me that likes "Can You Fall in Love Tonight" from the Lion King. But more importantly, there's a part of me that believes people can care about one another. Not a love letter, but a encouraging note, that's what I was looking for.

So the irony that a love letter that is supposed to be personal turns out to be a photocopy generic letter. I know it's photocopied and not printed from a printer because you can see that the resolution isn't very good, like if you made a photocopy from a photocopy.

It's titled "Memorandum to My Love". (Love letters don't usually have titles, do they??) And it's addressed "To My Person," and signed "- Your Person."

But maybe it is a love letter. It's a love letter from one person who doesn't know the person who picked it up.