Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

25 October 2011

NBC Nightly News and Our Bodies, Ourselves

I was on the NBC Nightly News tonight! I was asked to contribute my thoughts about 'Our Bodies, Ourselves' in relation to being a contributor for the 40th anniversary edition, as a women's health & reproductive rights activist, as a Latina and as a mom. I was humbled to be asked to help with the latest edition and was floored when asked to speak about that experience on national TV. I'm are 2:34 in the video, but you should watch the whole segment. It is an honor to be in a piece with such trail blazing women. Thanks for visiting if you came via the segment! Especially my friends who arrived via Brian Williams. And to my coworkers who have now discovered this blog...hi!


Book Review: Mothers On Trial by Phyllis Chesler

Review by Trish Wilson 


Dr. Phyllis Chesler has updated her groundbreaking book Mothers On Trial for the twenty-first century. Revised with seven new chapters, a new introduction, and a new resources section, this book is required reading for any mother going through a child custody battle. Chesler lays out the groundwork proving it's a myth that mothers have always had custody of their children. That myth is one reason I wanted to review Dr. Phyllis Chesler's revised edition of "Mothers On Trial" since I heard she was writing it a few years back. In the nearly thirty years since she wrote her first edition, things have gotten much worse for mothers. Mothers retain custody of their children only when fathers do not make an issue of it. When a mother and father go to court to fight for custody of their children, the father usually gets it even if he had been absent, neglectful, never married to the mother, controlling, absent for many years, a felon, or simply not the children's primary caregiving parent. Chesler states this is the case not because the mothers ire unfit or were not the primary caregivers, but because mothers are held to much higher parenting standards than fathers.

For fifteen years, I worked as an activist and writer investigating the father's rights movement and I worked on family law and motherhood issues. When I started, the father's supremacist movement was beginning to take off on the internet, in private homes, and in church basements. It was not nearly as organized and as powerful as it is now. Chesler was one of the few experts aware of that backlash against women and mothers in particular that the father's supremacist movement represented, and she spoke out against it. I have since ceased my activist work and I've moved on, but I occasionally choose projects in the field that I feel are important. Reviewing this book is one of them.

Chesler includes information she covered in her first edition, including historic and contemporary overviews of mothering, family law, and custody issues. In the fifteen years I'd worked on these issues I've seen mothers lose a great deal of ground. It was both reaffirming and disheartening to see Chesler voice and expose so much of what I, "good enough" mothers, and motherhood activists had experienced and observed in this decade and a half. While this book covers many vital issues, I want to focus on Chesler's chapters describing what had happened over the past thirty odd years, and where "good enough" mothers stand now.

Chesler bases her findings on years of painstaking research, hundreds of interviews of both mothers and fathers, and international surveys about child custody arrangements. She argues for new guidelines to resolve custody issues that protect children as well as end the backlash against mothers in the midst of contested custody cases.

Suffice to say, things not only aren't going well today for "good enough" mothers. Mothers are in danger of losing custody of their children now more than ever.

Below are highlights that I believe are especially important to today's "good enough" mothers and those who support them.

THE FATHER'S SUPREMACIST MOVEMENT FROM THE 1980s TO 2010
This is my area of expertise since I started out my activist work following the father's supremacist movement since the mid 1990s, shortly before the father's supremacists became involved in welfare reform and the politically savvier groups quickly became endorsed by the U. S. government. Chesler nailed it when she described the reaction patriarchal men have to women having any advantages over them at all even in motherhood as feeling "persecuted". Father's supremacists love to describe themselves as victims, and there is nothing they hate more than to be told they whine. Family law was one area where many men experienced for the first time not getting their way, and Chesler describes the resentment these men felt over not getting their way for once in their lives. Groups such as the National Congress of Men formed as a backlash reaction against these entitled men feeling that courts, judges, lawyers, and ex-wives discriminated against them at that their ex-wives controlled and economically enslaved them through the children. These men started out suing their ex-wives and the courts both individually and as groups for discrimination against men.

Other groups covered in the book are Fathers 4 Justice, American Coalition For Fathers And Justice and RADAR. These groups encourage the passage of anti-woman legislation that reinforces patriarchy and abusive treatment of women and children.

Chesler also tells the truth about joint custody – now called "shared parenting" although parenting has little to do with it. She correctly identifies father's supremacist's support for joint custody – and that means joint physical custody, not joint legal custody – as being all about wanting to get out of paying child support and continuing to control their exes through the children, with permission and encouragement from the courts. With a joint custody award comes a lower or completely eliminated child support order. Money, not doing right by their children, is a primary motivation in the eyes of father supremacists, and Chesler points that out.

Some individual men want to do better by their children but father supremacist groups don't help them to do that. They encourage anger and resentment rather than healing. These groups harm fathers' relationships with their children.

Other truths voiced by Chesler are listed below:
* When a mother makes allegations of incest lawyers, judges, and mental health professionals are not only reluctant to believe her, they may give visitation or even full custody to fathers, although these same professionals say they are not in favor of raping children.
* Even when incest is documented by Child Protective Services, court personnel often refuse to believe the mother's allegations.
* When mothers make allegations of incest, other forms of child abuse, domestic violence, or simply dig in their heels on the father's demands they stand a good chance of losing custody and/or being accused of Parental Alienation Syndrome.
* She rightly identifies mediation and parenting coordination as divorce-related cottage industries.
* If a mother is seen as too emotional (tears, anxiety, anger), she risks losing custody for being overly-enmeshed or overly involved in her own case. She's accused of imagining serious problems, fabricating them, or over-reacting. Woe to the woman who is outspoken about the way the court system and her ex treat her and the children! She's too uppity to deserve custody. The stoic father is seen as more stable and therefore gains custody.
* Abusive and controlling men are able to use the court system as a weapon against the women they used to love. Chesler shows how these mothers were hounded, exhausted financially and emotionally, and crushed – all with perfectly legal uses of the courts. Nothing these men had done is illegal.
* Referring to joint custody as "post-divorce patriarchy", she demonstrates how joint custody has risen over the past 30 years to replace the primary caregiver presumption. Chesler accurately describes reasons why some fathers want joint custody, such as wanting to control their exes lives and wanting to avoid paying child support.
* Mothers stand a strong chance of losing custody of their children if they are deemed mentally ill.
* "Good enough" lesbian and bi-sexual mothers stand a good chance of losing custody of their children to the fathers because of their sexual orientation, even if the father had been absent, neglectful, abusive, controlling, or simply not the primary caregiving parent. One judge awarded custody of a child to his father because he wanted to save the boy "from the stigma of being raised by a lesbian mother." This same judge had harangued the mother for a solid hour about her lesbianism, saying he would not be "dictated to" by a bunch of "women's libbers".
* Regarding surrogacy, Chesler accurately describes the moral quandary of turning poor women into incubators for the rich who are perfectly capable of bearing children but for reasons such as not wanting to put their bodies through the stress and strain of pregnancy (and lose their youthful figures), they choose surrogacy instead. She describes how these cases turn the definitions of "mother" and "father" on their heads.
* Sadly, a fair proposal for a gender-neutral primary caregiver presumption has been rejected in favor of politically correct and male-supremacist joint physical custody (shared parenting).

IN CONCLUSION

I wish there was mention of the more generalized forms of parental alienation brought up by proponents such as Dr. Richard Warshak. This more generalized, less medicalized, and supposedly gender neutral version of alienation is yet another one of those cottage industries Chesler identified In the book. Also, alienation proponents have been fighting hard to get it listed in the upcoming DSM-V but so far have been unsuccessful.

I would have liked to have seen more mention of ridding the courts of those divorce-and-custody-related cottage industries, which would go a long way towards ridding the system of problems mothers experience such as alienation claims and petitions for joint custody. There's money to be made in divorce and custody cases and that monetary pipeline needs to be plugged.

I highly recommend this book for both divorcing and divorced mothers as well as single and lesbian mothers going through custody battles. The issues are the same for all. What these women have in common is that they are mothers and father's supremacists have been waging war on them for over thirty years.

Why has this legal torture been allowed for so long? Patriarchy is a reason. Money is another. There is a great deal of money to be made in divorce and custody cases. Custodially-embattled mothers and their supporters must stand up to these trends or things will only get worse for mothers and children. And yes, they can get worse. Much worse. Chesler has updated her ground-breaking book and it is vitally important court personnel and those who work on the behalf of "good enough" mothers read it, learn, and act. The abuses will stop only if people affected take a stand.

Trish Wilson is a writer/researcher who has written about feminism, divorce and custody, domestic violence, and the father's rights movement for over a decade. Her articles have appeared in Alternet, Feminista!, Sojourner, On The Issues, Domestic Violence Report, XY Online, Ms. Magazine's blog, and American Politics Journal. She has provided well-researched and in-depth testimony related to family law and domestic violence bills for legislators in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and other states. 

Thank you to Trish Wilson for this guest book review. Interested in reviewing books for Viva la Feminista? Email me at veronica*dot*arreola*at*gmail*dot*com

21 October 2011

Review: Broken Mirror Baby by Alejandra O'Leary

Do you remember the TV show, Rags to Riches [video]? Well that spurred an obsession with 1950s-60s music that held me in its grasp for a few years. I especially loved the girl groups and their super cute matching outfits. But it was their pop hooks that reeled me in. I never got fully into riot grrrl, as I was more of a hip hop gal. I also steered towards radio friendly grunge pop like The Sundays.

Which is why it shouldn't be a surprise that I really enjoyed Broken Mirror Baby by Alejandra O'Leary.

When I popped it into the CD player on the way to work, my husband said, "If only Q101 were still around."

At least the Q101 from my high school and college days, where they played grunge pop.

O'Leary's music is fun, especially @ the club, the opening track. It's not too safe, but it's hella fun. And fun music is exactly is called for during the blah days of fall/winter in Chicago. The music will make you think you found a lost CD from the 90s and you'll think, "THAT'S where it went!" And in the best way possible.

That is why I hope you will click on over & grab a copy of her CD or download the album to your digital music player.

So to sum up.... Broken Mirror Baby by Alejandra O'Leary reminded me of 1950s-60s girl bands with the edge of the 1990s. Poppy, fun and a new addition to your "I need cheering up" playlist.

15 October 2011

My favorite new Tumblr


And this is my favorite one because I correct people a lot on the girl-woman thing. I'm also always correcting myself! Love the genius behind this tumblr. Go you! Go you!

11 October 2011

Women, War and Peace

This year's Nobel Peace Prize was award to the three women above for their non-violent revolutionary ways. I could not contain my glee on Friday when I heard the news. I was clicking all over the internet for stories on them. The piece at Democracy Now! shouldn't be missed.

Tonight PBS starts a five-part series, Women, War and Peace, that will explore the issues these women deal with on a daily basis. I think only Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee are actually featured in the series, but the issues faced by women in the Arab world will be featured.

The series airs weekly, so set the DVR so you don't miss it!

And congrats again to these fabulous women! 

Happy Coming Out Day!

Here's a moving video from Basic Rights Oregon's Our Families series:



To all the college students marking their first Coming Out Day, have fun!

06 October 2011

I'm in the new Our Bodies, Ourselves!

My copy of OBOS has arrived!Yesterday was one of those days that everything seemed to have hit me at once. When I opened the envelope and saw that the latest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves was inside, I was giddy. I quickly found a shelf in the post office to flip to the back where contributors are listed. There I was. Fuck yeah!

It's a bit embarrassing at the same time as I know I didn't contribute a whole lot, but I did what I could.

Then it dawned on me that I've been at this women's health thing for over twenty years. I'm by far not an expert; I am a hobbyist. And it all started back when my mom use to tell me stories about working in the delivery room, from her nursing school classes and when she worked at a clinic. She would remark about the news as if talking to the TV (now I know where I get it!) or the newspaper. I would sometimes ask her to explain more. Sometimes she would just go on a rant and explain it whether I liked it or not.

By the time I got through college and working on women's health projects, I was sure in my love of the topic. One of the first websites I designed for work was for a women's health center. It was awesome to help be part of the amazing work the medical and research team was doing. Seeing as my coworkers carry on that work, I get to watch with pride.

And that is how I view my role in women's health advocacy, as a hobbyist who watches as others do the hard work, being their champion and amazed at what they accomplish. I love that I am so closely involved that I learn far more than others and consider it an honor to do so.

I showed the kid and my husband the copy at dinner. I let the kid know that just about any question she would have about her body would be in here. It will sit on the bookshelf in the living room where she has access to other books any growing girl should have access to from Beautiful, You, UnMarketable to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.

While I may have contributed just a few lines and thoughts to this edition, I am deeply blessed to have done so.

You can get yourself a copy at Powells or IndieBound. Look at out for the Our Bodies, Ourselves book tour too!  And a reminder that if you purchase a book through those links, this blog gets a tiny slice of that purchase price.


05 October 2011

New Conference CFP: Mothering and Reproduction

CALL FOR PAPERS
Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI)

MOTHERING AND REPRODUCTION
featuring an embedded conference on the topic of
MOTHERING, SCIENCE, AND TECHNOLOGY

October 18-20, 2012, Toronto, ON, Canada

We welcome submissions from scholars, students, artists, mothers and others who research in this area. Cross-cultural and comparative work is encouraged. We are open to a variety of submissions including academic papers from all disciplines and creative submissions including visual art, literature, and performance art.

This conference will examine the ethical, political, social/cultural, economic, historical, religious, spiritual, and psychological dimensions of reproduction and mothering. While the larger conference will be broad in its interpretation and engagement with the subject of 'Mothering and Reproduction', an embedded conference will be specific to exploring how mothers' decisions and experiences of reproduction and mothering have been/are influenced by science and technology. This Call For Papers is for both the larger conference, and the embedded one. Please feel free to submit to either, without necessarily specifying which you have in mind for your abstract/presentation.

Topics may include but are not restricted to:
Bioethics and fertility; abortion, birth control and assisted fertility in a cross cultural context; reproductive technologies and the interplay of religion; mothering in families of high order multiple births; mothering on the blogosphere; queer engagements with reproduction; motherhood and the technological womb; modern childbirth and maternity care; (mis)educative experiences teaching and learning about menstruation and reproduction; re/productive roles mothers play in de/constructing embodied understandings of reproduction; surviving tramautic birth experiences; mothers in academe/research; mothering and the workplace, how technology permeates the work/home barrier; attachment with adopted and biological children; birth plans; how science and technology inform social justice issues; assisted reproductive technologies, state policy, and federalism's impacts on women in the United States and around the world; reproductive decisions and a politics of location; impact of social media on opinions regarding reproduction; "mothering" from a distance; the experience of egg donation; mothers' changing relationship with "the experts" regarding birthing, infant care in the age of infectious diseases, baby books and birth control; reproductive rights and wrongs, including rise of contraceptive technology alongside state-coerced sterilization; mothering in the Information Age; maternalist political rhetoric in favor of labor rights; mothering bodies; pre and postnatal bodies and reconstructive surgery; eating disorders and reproduction; reproductive consciousness and politics of reproduction; outcomes associated with scientific/technological intervention; outsourcing of reproduction to developing nations; maternal and erotic/maternal eroticism; history of reproductive technologies; Indigenous mothers and mothering; cross-cultural perspectives on reproduction including reproductive technologies.

Keynote Speakers TBA

If you are interested in being considered as a presenter, please send a 250 word abstract and a 50-word bio by March 15th, 2011 to info@motherhoodinitiative.org

** TO SUBMIT AN ABSTRACT FOR THIS CONFERENCE, ONE MUST BE A MEMBER OF MIRCI : http://www.motherhoodinitiative.org/membership.html