Thursday, June 26, 2008

Is the Pill organic?

On what evidence does Kay Hymowitz base her assertion that "girls tend to like babies"? Puppies, sure. Kittens, why not. But babies? I could point out that neither I nor my female friends ooh and ahh at every toddler, but that would be missing the point. Hymowitz would respond that it's just that in my milieu, girls are brought up to hold the 'unnatural' view that having a child in one's teens or early twenties is a nightmare scenario; our aversion is the result of our urban-liberal elitism, which cancels out the maternal instinct that would otherwise kick in around 10th grade--or given today's still-earlier onset of puberty, 5th or 6th.

Hymowitz explains, "In most cultures in human history, 15- or 16-year-olds were seen as viable mothers (only after being married off, of course), so biological urge coincided with social need. But in more complex societies like ours, in which a long period of education and wealth accumulation is necessary to prepare for an advanced labor market and marriage, adolescent baby lust poses a big problem."

Sadly, we've reached a point where both the right and the left lament all manner of human progress, embracing biological determinism and dreaming of a return not to a 1950s Golden Age, but to an 1150s one. Not only should 15-year-olds find husbands for their babies rather than restraint and/or birth control to keep from having one. We should also avoid eating anything our "great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food." (Guess anything that isn't gefilte fish is out; comments at Gawker make similar points.)

Michael Pollan and the real-food movement presumably do not share much of a fan base with social conservatives telling young girls that it's natural to want a baby of their own. But the notion's the same: the Pill is not something your great-great-grandmother would recognize as a contraceptive. To advocate use of birth control, or even prolonged abstinence, is to fight nature, and nature, many would have it, wins every time. For Pollan and Hymowitz, "complex societies like ours" are something to be ashamed of. To disagree with this view isn't to denounce environmentalism, or to say that to be civilized is to do the exact opposite of every biological impulse. It's just to say, a) when used in these sorts of pseudoscientific discussions, 'natural' is (pardon the academic language) a construct, and b) the capacity to go beyond our biological inclinations, and to eat foods that do not happen to be growing/crawling in front of us, these are what make us human, and so should not be condemned with such enthusiasm.


Miss Self-Important said...

I think you're completely misreading Hymowitz here. She doesn't say it's great that 15 year olds want babies, but exactly the opposite. Where it was acceptable for 15 year olds to have children in the past because they would be married and there were plenty of social structures in place to support their families, this is obviously no longer the case and having babies that young is largely disadvantageous to the mothers and their babies. Hymowitz suggests that, while these girls' desires to be mothers might be nice and perfectly natural in principle, the fact that they've disassociated these desires from marriage and fatherhood results in the disastrous reality of teenage single motherhood. The answer is not to return to 1150 or whatever, but to re-link marriage with childbearing in much the way that it is in fact still linked among college-educated women who tend to both want children and wait until marriage to have them. Merely talking up birth control clearly can't provide a satisfactory solution to this problem if girls refuse to take it because they want to get pregnant.

Also, it's fairly widely accepted that, among populations with higher teenage pregnancy rates (low-income minorities, for example), early pregnancy is sought out, or at the very least, accepted when it occurs. Girls do tend to like babies. Even Planned Parenthood acknowledges this.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

It's possible I misread the article, because I really didn't understand it. I'm still not understanding where either you or Hymowitz gets that "Girls do tend to like babies." Surely pregnant teens who, with the option of abortion, give birth anyway are girls who like babies. But girls generally? I'd imagine most 16-year-olds (again, across social class) fantasize far more about consequence-free sex with the boy they've got a crush on at the moment than they do about the baby the two could, in theory, produce.

Clearly this did not work in the one high school Hymowitz discusses, but "merely talking up birth control" does work in plenty of cases--it's certainly the reason the well-to-do straw-woman waits until 33 to marry and 36 to have a kid.

Withywindle said...

On a slightly different point: you are quite correct that the use of "natural" to slip in a norm is unpleasant; I blame Aquinas and Rousseau for the right-deviationist and left-deviationist formulations. The norm is and should be political, human-generated, in and from ourselves. Of course, tradition (Gadamer!) also expresses a concretion of political argument, and should not be taken lightly--including maxims expressing the existence, and preferability, of female delight in babies. And the political task includes recognition and best use of the particular texture of the world--which might include the biological particularity of male and female. The task of the political is not to make an idol of nature, nor to erase it, but to use it as a topic for invention.