Monthly Archives: January 2012

Indecent comic book art!

Comic book artist Dave Dorman evidently has a very perverted view of breastfeeding, as he complained this week about a comic book cover depicting a very understated act of nursing, saying “Rather than a family-friendly heroic saga, this promo art is telegraphing to the world that it’s a series I cannot share with my 7-year-old son. Is the comics industry really so dead that they have to stretch to these desperate, shock value measures to incur readers? Really?”  Evidently he’s gotten quite a bit of backlash, as he’s scampering to backpedal via Twitter, and has removed the original blog post.

For those like me who want to run out and buy this “shocking” comic immediately, sorry, but it hasn’t been released yet.  It’s called Saga, and it’s by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrator Fiona Staples.  It’s set to be released by Image Comics on March 14.

But just to make sure we understand his stance, let me go over it.  Dave is concerned with images being family-friendly, and appropriate for a 7yo, whether or not they’re actually for “mature readers.”

So, according to Dave, that image above is “offensive.”

But this is OK

And so is this

And this is fine

Is that all clear then? Presumably those images are OK, because they depict breasts serving their proper function of sexual stimulation of viewers, and aren’t supported by “The Breast Milk Mafia,” as Dave and his wife call La Leche League.

Memories of naked Alexander Skarsgard

Sadly, this isn’t a racy memoir – I wish I could regale you with tales from my wild youth of actual experiences with a naked Alexander Skarsgard, but no, this is going to be more of that skepticism talk instead.  Sorry.  (For those of you who are disappointed to have landed here from your search for scantily clad Alexander, may I direct you here.  You’re welcome.)

So, yes.  Skepticism.  Ahem.  I started reading Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels around the time that True Blood premiered on HBO.  Thus, I tend to picture the characters as the actors who portray them on the show.  The books are great guilty pleasure fodder – steeped in Mary Sue syndrome and sometimes hilariously badly written, but on the whole, they’re very entertaining and addictive.  Now, I’m about to give some spoilers for the beginning of book 4, Dead to the World.  This occurs right in the first chapter or so, but just in case,

This

is

your

chance

to

look

away

OK.  A friend and I were eagerly awaiting True Blood‘s coverage of book 4.  Among other things, we were wondering if the show would have Eric running down Sookie’s road, completely naked, just like we remembered from the book.  Given that Skarsgard shows a stereotypically Swedish casualness toward on-set nudity, and Alan Ball is hardly squeamish about showing man-flesh, we thought they probably would.

Then some teaser pictures came out, and we saw that Eric Northman was there by the side of the road, looking adorably confused, and he was . . . shirtless?  We were sorely disappointed that they abandoned canon and put a pair of jeans on the Viking vamp.  We periodically complained about it to each other, and wondered why they would make such a stupid change.

Here’s why – they didn’t change anything.  He’s not naked in the book.  Despite the fact that we both very specifically (you might say vividly) remember that Eric Northman was described as running down the road naked, he wasn’t.  When someone informed me of this, I went to look at that chapter, so I could prove that I was right, and I read this:

I had only a moment to notice that the man was tall, blond, and clad only in blue jeans, before I pulled up by him.

And that, my friends, is how human memory works.  Things get garbled.  Relevant details get forgotten, while inaccurate components get inserted.  Some of it is random, but a lot of it is due to bias, or I daresay, wishful thinking.  It’s not that people deliberately confabulate – it’s that things that we expect or would like to be true become true in our recollection.  Other people can even insert new memories in our minds, deliberately or accidentally.  This is one reason why anecdotes are poor quality evidence, why eye witness accounts are a dangerous basis for putting people to death, and why a bunch of people using faddish psychological therapy accused their parents and teachers of horrific crimes that never happened.  Perhaps the scariest thing is that our degree of certainty that a memory is accurate is no guide to how accurate it really is.

So the next time someone tells you that their baby fussed much less once they wore an amber teething necklace, or that their cousin’s child showed no signs of autism until he got the MMR, or that the psychic on TV knew so much about people it must be real, reflect that they’re just reporting their memories of these events.  Aside from all the issues of anecdata, the placebo effect, post hoc ergo propter hoc, and all the problems that make individual reports poor evidence, they’re probably remembering things wrong too – unconsciously skewing the recollection to dovetail with their beliefs and expectations.

My friend maintains that Eric was naked when we read the book, it’s just that somehow all currently available copies of the book have been altered.  Thankfully, she does this tongue-in-cheek, as conspiracy theories are a whole other subject for another day.

Becoming inured to nipples

Image via Library of Congress prints & photographsToday I was walking on the track at the YMCA, and I was saying in a none-too-quiet voice such things as, “If she gets cold, does her nipple pop out?  Because if so, then you could try putting a cold washcloth on it.”  It only occurred to me later that people might find that strange and possibly offensive.  While I was exercising and listening to tunes on my iPhone, a friend had called me to get help for a mutual friend who just had a baby and needed some breastfeeding support.  And nipples are not taboo to me anymore.

A few weeks back, some anonymous person posted a survey on The Straight Dope Message Board.  It asked female users to give lots of detailed information about their nipples – size, shape, and color of areolas, flat or inverted nipples, and so on.  My first reaction to this was to click through to the survey results to learn about the variety of nipple shapes and sizes, and wondering what the most common traits were.  Nipples are interesting – did you know that (very rarely) some moms have nipples that are too big for their newborn to latch onto?  Or that inverted nipples can often be everted through suction, but some have a tough band of connective tissue holding them in?  Or that the little bumps on the areola are actually glands that secrete an oily substance that keeps the nipples from drying out, while also providing a scent cue for newborns to find the nipple?  Do you realize how much of the nipple/areola is pulled into the baby’s mouth during nursing?  Nipples are amazing, and not just in the way our culture normally thinks of them.  So anyway, I was kind of fascinated at this cool project until I looked at some of the thread responses under the survey.  Responses such as, “What is wrong with you, you perv?” and “The level of detail you’re asking for, especially from complete strangers, is truly creepy.”  Finally I realized that this was some dude with a nipple paraphilia asking inappropriate sexual questions.  Oh right.  Nipples are just sexual, to most people.

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that nipples and breasts are a sexual thing too.  It’s just that for me, they’ve gotten to the same place as other female body parts that used to be considered too sexually inflammatory to expose, such as knees.  I can look at Sofia Vergara and I don’t think, “Hmm, she probably could use a rolled washcloth for support since she has heavy breasts,” but rather, “Wow, that woman is sex personified!”  It’s just that breasts aren’t necessarily sexual to me anymore.  They have different import depending on their context.

Another case in point: I recently illustrated my unassisted childbirth post with a picture of a woman giving birth without anyone hovering around her or catching the baby.  And oh yeah, I realized quite a bit after posting, she is totally naked, with her breasts right out there.  I briefly wondered if I should change it, because some people might be offended – something that truly had not occurred to me in the slightest while I was choosing the picture and putting up the post.

So I was thinking, if I’ve become totally inured to nipples, perhaps the Percy Pecksniffs and Prunella Prudes of the world could get over themselves, learn a little about breastfeeding, and get used to moms nursing in public.  Sure, it might feel uncomfortable at first.  You might feel afraid that you’ll accidentally see a flash of nipple when you encounter a mom nursing.  It’s OK – you can get through it.  It will become normal as more women nurse for longer periods, and refuse to be shut up in their homes, and you will get inured to it too.

If you absolutely cannot get over your offense at seeing women nurse in public, here are some tips for reducing the problem:

1. Plan ahead.  If you’re planning to visit someplace that might attract new mothers, such as a park or a discount store, try to time your visit so that you’re less likely to be there at the same time as a nursing mother.  Midnight is good.

2. Practice in front of a mirror.  At first, your shock may show plainly on your face, so try sitting in front of a mirror and picturing a nursing mother.  Keep trying until your expression stays neutral.  You can also try having a friend or your spouse watch you and provide helpful comments.

3. Dress appropriately.  Try wearing a scarf or a top that has a hood.  That way, if you encounter a nursing mother, it’s simple to pull the fabric up over your eyes, or to pull the hood forward to act as blinders so you can easily avert your eyes and not suffer any peripheral vision of a nursing baby.

4. Be discreet.  Avoid calling attention to yourself, and there will be no problem.  If you’re ostentatious about your disapproval, you’re just inviting a confrontation.

5. Find a private place.  If you absolutely can’t avoid voicing your discomfort with public nursing, there are plenty of appropriate places.  Go to the nearest changing room and let out your feelings.  Almost every establishment has convenient public bathrooms where you can have total seclusion while you vent.  If all else fails, go out to your car – it’s a little inconvenient, but well worth it to avoid making a scene.

By following these simple steps, you can make sure that public nursing never leads to ugly confrontations or public relations battles, and everyone will be much happier.

Bratz to Burqas – where’s the happy medium?

If you want to be really sexy, girls, don't have a nose!

Remember when Abercrombie & Fitch marketed a push-up bikini to eight year olds?  Or more recently when K-Mart Australia allegedly sold thongs that say “I ♥ rich boys” under their girls’ brand?  A lot of moms and dads are concerned about attire available for girls that sends the message, “I’m sexually available.”

For me, a simple bikini falls close enough to that category that I’m uncomfortable with my 8yo wearing one.  I realize it’s in the gray area and I don’t blame parents who buy them for their kids, but to me, part of the purpose of a bikini is to look sexy.  I understand why bathing suits need to be like this, rather than this, for actual performance reasons, but what does the bare midriff achieve other than “hey, look at this bare midriff?”  I would be totally comfortable with my girls being completely naked at a nude beach, by the way, because in that case the exposure isn’t framed as a sexual display. [Edit: you know, I was thinking about this as I fell asleep last night, and realized that it’s far easier to use the bathroom when you’re wearing a bikini.  And that’s not a trivial consideration when you have little kids at the pool. I might be reassessing my stance this year when we shop.]

You may think my hesitation about bikinis is insane, and I would understand.  But I think we can all recall seeing clothing manufactured for little girls that made us cringe.  Maybe “Juicy” emblazoned on a 9yo’s butt bothers you.  Maybe the tartification of toddlers in beauty pageants is your sticking point.  Whatever it is, I’m curious how people draw their lines, and what the implications are for girls.

Because at some point, wanting not to display prepubescent girls as sex objects can verge into demanding “modesty” because girls bear the moral burden for the irrational and creepy reactions other people have toward them.  “I don’t want my daughter to be seen as a sex object when she’s 5” is rational, and this is clearly batshit crazy misogyny (and misandry!):

If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it..whose fault is it – the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab (veil), no problem would have occurred.

But aren’t they at the opposite ends of the same spectrum?  And somewhere in between is the neighbor who chastises a 12 year old girl for wearing kind of short shorts with her t-shirt, the mom who puts back the Monster High Halloween costume her daughter picked, the Christian boys feeling lust when a girl wears a snug shirt, and the dad who won’t let his 11 year old wear makeup.  Where’s the right place to come down?

And let’s not forget that we never seem to worry that little boys might be sexualized.  Companies don’t make sexualizing or questionable products for boys, to my knowledge.  And if a boy wears a very small bathing suit, people might be put off or think his family is weird (possibly European?), but we won’t be worried that they’re presenting him as an object of sexual interest, will we?  I suspect that comes from the same place as our cultural tendency to evaluate a picture of a guy doing an activity based on what he’s doing, and a picture of a woman doing an activity at least in part on how (un)attractive she is.

I would like to make sure that “I find this item sexually provocative and don’t want my little kid wearing it” doesn’t become “Having a female body is provocative and you have to cover it up, because you bear all the responsibility for the lust you might unwittingly evoke.”

What do you think?

Ezzo and “Neoprimitivism”

Chapter 2 of Babywise is really dense.  Ezzo does a lot of work to confuse the issue, set up straw men, and create a fantasy scenario in which his method is a sane middle ground.  Unpacking all this may take some time.

First, he sets up two extremes of baby care philosophy – behaviorism and “the neoprimitivistic school of child care.”  Here’s how he helpfully “cites” the proponents of the latter: “That belief inspired the neoprimitivistic school of child care, supported by Ribble (1944); Aldrich (1945); Trainham, Pilafian, and Kraft (1945); and Frank (1945).”  Trying to unearth the actual writings he’s talking about is near impossible.  Google any permutation of “neoprimitivistic” and you get lots of interesting information about a school of painting that influenced Marc Chagall.  What you don’t get is anything about child care philosophy or psychology.  Search for “neoprimitivistic” and any of those names, and you get . . . Ezzo, and no other hits.

Now of course Wikipedia and Google are not the be-all and end-all of information.  I have little doubt that there’s at least one instance of at least one of those listed names being involved in a psychology movement labeled neoprimitivism.  But clearly this was not a highly influential group, at least under that name.  And given Ezzo’s previous disingenuousness, one wonders if he searched out and cherry-picked that term because it sounds pejorative.  Like he wanted to be able to say, “Do you want to follow a science-based, modern, enlightened philosophy, or a primitive way of life?”  To be fair, he says “The title “neoprimitivistic” is not name-calling, but a specific school of thought.” But he’s a tricksy one – I suspect by lampshading his word choice he’s really just trying to compound the impact of using an inflammatory word and thus leave a stronger impression with readers.  He’s all about constructing the appearance of sane moderation, while engineering all the information he delivers to paint any deviation from his edicts as a descent into laughable irrationality.

Anyway, believe it or not, I found some writings to which he might be referring.  And it’s interesting reading.  It’s true that these writings indicate an element of Freudian (or maybe Rankian) psychology.  The one paper I found by Frank et. al. includes some brief discussion of how an infant’s experience might influence the development of later problems such as thumb-sucking, elimination difficulties, and even “negativism and hostility.”  However, the main thrust of the discussion is refreshingly in tune with modern, mainstream medical understanding about the physiological needs of infants:

As a young mammal, the newborn has the same organic needs as other young mammals. He needs close tactual contact, cuddling, licking, nuzzling, mothering and needs the opportunity to suckle and use his lips and he needs frequent, if not almost continuous, nourishment. These needs arise from the lack of homeostatic capacity in the newborn so that he gets cold easily, and cannot keep warm; his skin is exquisitely sensitive and needs contact for relaxation. He gets hungry quickly since his blood sugar may go down rapidly and he is unable to endure prolonged hunger without discomfort and distress.

I was personally blown away that medical professionals were writing stuff like this 12 years before the founding of La Leche League, and decades before Sears coined the term “attachment parenting.”  I find it delightful to read about men and women in the 40s and 50s who were advocating for an understanding of infant needs that is only now becoming mainstream.  We tend to think of anything before the 60s or 70s as a wasteland of Victorian-inspired “detachment parenting,” but clearly the field of child-care philosophy was much more nuanced, and more advanced in some quarters, than I ever knew.

According to Ezzo, these proto-AP proponents claimed that

the separation at birth momentarily interrupts the mother-child in utero harmony. Therefore, the goal of early parenting is to reestablish that harmony. How is this supposed to be achieved? Only by the constant day-and-night presence and availability of the mother to the child. New mothers are instructed to do whatever it takes to neutralize the supposed trauma of birth and offset its effect. By 1949, the birth-trauma theory, lacking objective verifiable data, was dismissed as a nonsensical theory.

However, I’m not seeing any talk about birth trauma.  Rather, the hypothesis seems to be that when you deny the most basic physiological needs of newborn babies, starving them and failing to offer the touch that helps regulate their temperature and neurological processes, babies get pissed off.  And perhaps leaving babies to starve and shiver and fend largely for themselves might be bad for their psychological development, as well as their immediate bodily health.  They also thought maybe routinely withholding food from infants whose blood sugar was severely low might be a cause for later feeding problems.

The frequent pattern of newborn care, especially in hospitals, is that he is taken away from his mother, deprived of cuddling and soothing and of opportunity for sucking and the comfort of breast feeding. He is also prematurely subjected to prolonged fasting after having been continuously nourished during gestation and is subject to strong emotional provocation, allowed to cry uncomforted and to undergo prolonged fits of rage or of fear and anxiety. In consequence, eating, which should be a simple, pleasurable experience, may become an occasion for tension and emo-tional disturbances which may be the beginning of frequent feeding problems observed among pre-school children.

Given that the infants they’re talking about might be fed as few as 4 times a day, their concerns are hardly the whacky, discredited psychobabble Ezzo wants to paint them as.  In this article, we’re seeing the origins of modern pediatric understanding about the biological needs of infants, which is most definitely informed by the knowledge that we are mammals, and have needs closely tied to those of other mammal neonates.  Come to think of it, perhaps this is part of Ezzo’s problem with mainstream, evidence-based pediatric thinking: it’s based on acceptance of evolution.  I haven’t found any reference to Ezzo’s beliefs about evolution/creationism, but it would not surprise me to find that he rejects evolution, given that his whole parenting philosophy grows out of Biblical interpretation.

In any case, Ezzo is once again misrepresenting his opposition.  He of course does it in a convoluted way that makes it almost impossible for parents to check on his assertions.  First, he manufactures a semi-mythological school of thought, neoprimitivism, then he assigns silly-sounding, discredited beliefs to it that may or may not have influenced its members, then he assumes without proof that modern attachment parenting is really a resurgence of this school.  All this without proper citations of course.  Ezzo fervently wants to believe that anything but his approach is extreme, loopy, and contrary to evidence, and he’s very clever at creating that illusion, as long as the reader has little context to check his assertions against.