Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Mother as Monster: The Demonisation of Nadya Suleman

The written material here in this blogpost is copyrighted 2009, by Julian Real. All Rights Reserved. [This is a revised version of a recently posted piece titled "Conceiving Misogyny: the Top Ten Steps Toward the Demonisation of Nadya Suleman".]

Social scorn hath no fury greater than that aimed by media at women for doing little to no harm relative to what men do in abject abundance with impunity.

THIS IS WHAT RACIST, CLASSIST MISOGYNY LOOKS & SOUNDS LIKE. [WARNING: The following three videos are of P.R.I.C.K.s, saying what P.R.I.C.K.s make sure they have plenty of time to say, ad nauseam]:

The media's overt and undisguised hatred for a woman seen as a thing, in this case a person named Nadya Suleman, has been upsetting and bewildering me for the last couple of weeks. I seek here to unravel or separate out some of the strategical strings that comprise the noose that dominant media have put around her neck. There is a vicious collective will at work that is manufactured and manipulated by and through the media. We are welcomed to hope she will fatally fall or, barring that, that she'll have [at least eight of] her children taken away from her because she's one or more of the following terms:] selfish, stupid, irresponsible, inhumane, psychotic, and/or a freak.

This post is not focused on the politics of over-population, an ecocidally serious topic indeed. To approach that issue, I'd start with a critique of people at the top by focusing in on privileged white heterosexual nuclear families and other politically non-threatened, socially unstigmatised kinship units who are determined to make sure they maintain dominion over the Earth, nonhuman animals, and people who are not so powerful. Nadya Suleman, viewed from the ladder of social hierarchy is--reality check--in the "not so powerful" category.

One secret wish buried inside the hope of Nadya having at least eight fewer children, a wish made considerably less secretive through death threats, is that she'll then take her own life and rid society--finally--of the Greatest Threat to Humanity by a Creature since Godzilla. According to many, she is an out-of-control beast, an entirely irrational human being. Her current media moniker, "Octo-mom", reflects this contemptuous dehumanisation and demonisation of her.

I have been considering her imagined crimes against humanity and their relative impact on the globe given events that have occurred over the last eight, sixteen, and thirty-two years, including fairly contemporary actions by only one human being, such as the case of the grand thief, Bernie Madoff. His actions and their consequences are considerably more harmful to humanity and the Earth than anything Nadya may hope to do in her lifetime. This example demonstrates how the least powerful, the poor, are systematically accused of doing what only the wealthy are capable of doing: stealing tax dollars, hiding millions of dollars that would otherwise be taxed, corruptly wasting our money, ripping off the middle and working class in ways the poor cannot even dream of doing. When news stories like the one about her hit analog airwaves and digital networks, it's enticingly easy to lose an international/global perspective regarding urgently important dangers and atrocities. Put simply, Nadya Suleman is not more dangerous and unstable than nuclear waste, or the U.S. government and its corporate-owned economy.

The media, let's not forget, is a group of human beings with political and technical power. They control a great deal, including the degrees to which some human beings can think of themselves as being unconditionally estimable, lovable, and wonderful. When a poor woman of color is systematically negatively targeted for contempt, such as in the ways Nadya Suleman has been grossly mistreated, it is never an attack on one person alone: it is an assaultive attack against a gendered class (women), a raced class ("non-whites"), and an economic class (the poor). It functions as a warning, a reminder from the elite social groups and the media that spreads their values. Such groups, which overwhelmingly comprise the populations that own media, have incessant institutional control over how we are perceived, treated, and live our lives. One of the messages in the media is that women are not really women unless they birth children.

There's irony here, given that Nadya, in the eyes of alleged pro-Lifers, has committed many egregious sins: she was born female and grew to be a woman (it would be a different kind of sin if she grew up to be a man), she is single, she is of color, she is poor, and she is reliant on relatively few tax dollars for child support (compared to people with Swiss bank accounts or corporations that take their mailing address and/or business off-shore). No woman in any of these category goes unscrutinised or unstigmatised, while super-rich individuals and corporate execs behave with little to no public awareness or any form of accountability to U.S. tax-payers.

Taking one of these categories of appropriate womanhood, being a mother, we can note an overtly discriminatory, oppressive, and misogynist double standard. The standards set by media for being 'a good mother' have all the flexibility and compassion of steel trap. To be a good father, on the other hand, one must simply be present some of the time, earn some income, not be a drug addict or alcoholic, and not be an active or caught incest perpetrator.

To be a good mother, one must approach sainthood, daily--I'm sorry, I mean hourly--with a dominant cultural clock with video capability, ticking and clicking away across the land, especially noting the actions of women who fall into one or more of the above mentioned categories of social contempt. Women struggling to balance childcare and pay-work are not only criticised, but their very existence is blamed on feminism. Systematically in the media, feminism, not our misogynist, racist economy, is "to blame" for women having to make these choices. Never mind that prior to the emergence of a Black middle class, African American women always did both. Hey, media-makers: this means before the appearance of the white middle-class feminisms of the 1960s and 1970s.

That rich white men and women often do not raise their own children is not considered a systematic form of child neglect and abuse by them as parents. Class-privileged children are sent to live out their young lives in physically and emotionally abusive boarding and prep schools; that's not deemed parental neglect: that's what the responsible wealthy parent does. Children have also been forced into boarding schools across racial lines, with no negative stigma attached at the time to those who did the forcing, even while those children were corporally punished and otherwise treated more like slaves than students.

There are bewildering paradoxical messages given to all women, though, as long as the women appear and behave the way rich media mogels tell women to be heterosexual. The media-acceptable woman must be sufficiently heterosexual. This includes being personally and legally attached to a man, perceived by media as striving to achieve white status, be at least middle class, and overvaluing a nuclear family model of kinship.

If the woman is culturally categorised as heterosexual, media messages vary from the compulsory and mandatory to the 'merely' routinely repeated and manipulative. Within the spectrum are the following proclamations: You must be chaste until such time that you are wedded to a man and then you must not be chaste; You must be sexual with only one man for to do otherwise is a sin against God and 'Man' (God being a man, and 'man' being a god); You also must be sexually attractive to men, whether married or not. Because if you can't do what women who have been trained by pimps can do, you might lose your man. Married, partnered, or single, women should present themselves as appreciative of all heterosexual men's adoration, seduction, exploitation, by being made unconscious, or, if conscious, through brute force; You must bring forth children from your own womb, and if the little ones are determined to be male, or have fleshy genital parts that sufficiently resemble or can be surgically constructed soon after birth to be a penis, all the better. If you do not succeed in these areas, be prepared for social rejection and scorn. Note: raising an intersex child who has no medical issues, without employing surgical intervention, marks you as a bad parent as constitutes child abuse.

Women who parent must also limit the number and moment-by-moment monitor the behavior of men who have access to their children. If a father, step-dad, grandfather, uncle or male neighbor turns out to have perpetrated child sexual abuse, the mother of the children is summarily blamed for this happening, not only by society but often by the incest or molestation survivors. There is absolutely no expectation that men will or even should report their own sexual interest in children, let alone their perpetration. Lorde knows the child molesters never report one another to the police, nor take responsibility for their inhumane crimes. The world of men behaving badly is taken for granted as an unshakable social given. Men have the entrenched entitlement to have sexual access to just about anyone of any age. The sphere of motherhood is expected to negotiate that patriarchally mined and perp-protecting terrain as if there is a map pointing out dangers here, here, and, don't you see?, two over there.

One spank of a toddler's butt, or yank of child's arm in a supermarket parking lot is enough to outrage the misogynous, misopedic public, a public that has been spanking and yanking children, and doing far worse, than we collectively care to admit. (I am opposed to all forms of physical and emotional abuse of children; the point is that those who point fingers hypocritically do what they are upset with "caught" mothers for doing. As in the case with Nadya, being caught in the spotlight makes you a target, and all rights to a private life may be revoked.)

That men secretly, privately rape their daughters and sons is less "controversial"--such stories come and go in the media, but there's no sustained effort by the media to prevent this from happening inside the home. And the difference here is not that the "problem behavior" isn't recorded on video; it's that because the video was made by the rapist and is often networked to other child rapists, it becomes "one of those awful things men do and can't be stopped from doing", not worthy of the kind of mass ridicule and murderous contempt reserved for, say, a poor women who has sixteen children. Social scorn hath no fury no greater than that aimed by media at women for doing very relatively little (or no) harm relative to what men do in abundance with impunity.

In the days, months, and years following mid-September of 2001, Amerikkkan masterminds and their media have been able to project what the U.S. does with impunity (except on Sept. 11, 2001) onto the existence, intentions, and purposes of what has been termed "Islamic Terrorism" or "Islamofascism". (Now please explain to me why 'white Christian Terrorist' and 'white Christofascist' and aren't commonly used terms?)

That Nadya Suleman is reportedly of Iraqi descent on her father's side, only makes this story more appropriate in garnering the around-the-clock attention of the massive U.S. media.

It is necessary to note a sequence of commercial manipulations that is now so repetitive as to be predictable. This is how misogynist media frenzy operates:

We begin by being misled as to who, really, is in charge. Morning and evening 'news' shows and channels, entertainment and talk shows are made by corporate officials to convince us that the wrong people are to blame for what ails us.

Meanwhile, the mass media--in harmonious concert with every other dominant social and cultural institution which comprises the political fire in the belly of the U.S.--remains controlled by rich white men. White male dominated politicians and press habitually get into bed with CEOs, COOs, and CFOs. They engage in "immoral and unnatural acts" while curiously opposing any loving interpersonal, non-commercial union that is not between one [allegedly] heterosexual man and one [allegedly] heterosexual woman.

These very unnaturally corrupt and oppressive acts, with the generous support of their apologists and less generous support of their lawyers, get short-term media attention. (I mean, really: is there anything more boring or repugnant than watching CEO-madmen "coupling" with mostly male Senators, or in threesomes with Press people?)

While their selective stories are breaking news, doused are the incendiary details and perspectives which might clarify why we keep catching blurry glimpses of this endless line of competitors. Part of the dousing procedure involves replacing statused public figures with another far less corrupt perpetrator, one who has little to no impact on the global human community, the Earth, or its many nonhuman inhabitants.

The replacement might, for example, involve a disappeared North American white girl, usually blond and always class-privileged; a succession of pornographic details are periodically strewn about so as to keep the depth of her humanity, and therefore the humanity of all girls, under wraps.

Better yet, a story about a woman, preferably of color, and even better for distraction: let's hope she's poor... oh, and without a male partner!! We also need an angle on the story, something that makes it "unusual".

Enter the story of Nadya Suleman. The facts, being only partially relevant here, are as follows: a woman who grew up lonely as an only child wanted to have children, and lots of them. She prepared for this by arranging to have many of her eggs fertilised and frozen. On occasion, some of these eggs would be surgically implanted in her womb. Usually most of the eggs wouldn't thrive, and one or two babies would eventually be born. Until recently she had six children. Nothing about this story warrants special media attention.

She then decided to have another child, maybe two more at most. An utterly corrupt unethical doctor implants her body with six of her eggs at one time. All take hold, draw on Nadya's body for nutrition, and grow. Two of those eggs split, and thirty weeks after implantation, something that has never happened before in recorded history occurred: she birthed eight living babies who have stayed alive to date.

Everything else the media has done with this story is misogynist, racist, and classist scapegoating of this woman as a Demon.

A misogynist media-fueled frenzy ensued.

The only newsworthy story, if there is one, is that someone birthed eight living octoplets. Given the odds against such a birth, the story of note isn't even how this fertility doctor could make this remotest of possibilities possible. Please note: many doctors implant many eggs into many women. He is not special. His ethics don't differ significantly from many other fertility doctors. His ethics don't differ in the least with countless plastic surgeons who will perform procedure after procedure on any woman who has the cash or insurance to pay him. Where is the media outrage at the doctors who perform hundreds of breast implants? Or at routine and medically unnecessary hysterectomies? Or at the history in this country of forced sterilisation? The medical establishment is a greedy, woman-hating community. Nadya's life was put at great risk by a doctor who could have refused to put six eggs into her body. That she didn't want to selectively abort speaks to her values about fertilised eggs, fetuses, and lack of self-regard.

Giving birth to multiple children is dangerous to any pregnant woman; carrying eight fetuses is likely to be fatal for her. The patriarchal Right-wing rule about banning abortions is they are to be banned only when the woman carrying them isn't killed along with them; killing hundreds of pregnant women in Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Korea, and Japan, to name but a few places--of color--White Rightists also systematically prevent the birth of otherwise viable fetuses, en masse, through barbaric woman-killing. White men have also been ruthlessly creating and enforcing laws and policies that force U.S. women of color to be sterilised.

Putting birthing over any pregnant woman's own well-being is the patriarchally correct thing to do. Making the possibility of women of color having healthy babies much less a probability than for white women is one of white male supremacy's agenda items. A poor woman of color who has values that preclude her from selectively reducing the number of viable fetuses in her womb is not praised for her integrity, because women aren't supposed to have integrity, including physically. Her body should have been reprobed, the media shouts, to take out some of those fetuses!

One might ask: if she only wanted one more child, why didn't she just adopt? Nadya didn't have the option to adopt just one more child because she's publicly if not also legally categorised as "unfit" to do so.

The period of scrutiny of corrupt rich white men by the public generally lasts as a central spectacle, as a phenomenon, for about four days. (If the U.S. Right is personally going after a man left of centrist, the spectacle may go on for years; sometimes the criminal characters have to be recast while the story continues. But for such a story to continue, there must be "bad women" involved in the primary or secondary plot lines. Our attention, in other words, even while supposedly on men's sexual behavior, is habitually fixed on the 'questionable' behavior of women. If we can focus only on a woman or on women, this works much better; we needn't notice the evil-doing men behind or around the curtains, beneath desks, and between sheets.

Keeping all this in mind, we can see how this story of a woman of color, a poor single woman, and a mother whose fitness for parenthood is called into question.
According to the 'universal law' of misogynist media frenzy, given each of her 'crimes' her story can be expected to stay in the headlines for weeks if not months to come.

Life in the U.S. prior to President Obama's inauguration on January 21st, 2009 is meant to be a fading neo-fascist nightmare. The media helps this process of forgetting along by focusing on what a fashion plate Michelle Obama ought to be each and every day of her life; what Paris Hilton is doing; which female celebrity is sporting a 'baby bump'; which heterosexual stars are getting married or divorced; where the Jonas Brothers are currently performing; who ought to be the next American Idol; and whether or not Jennifer Aniston has bumped into her ex, Brad Pitt. The media relies on us maintaining no historical perspective and having increasingly short attention spans.

If we mentally resuscitate the recent past and are willing to take in material that is longer than a sound-bite, text message, or typical YouTube video, we can remember that G.W., Dick, and Donald committed copious impeachment-worthy breaches of the U.S. Constitution, accomplished so many unfathomably cruel and horrific acts of genocide, and violated any measure of International Human Rights, all with a very well-rehearsed plan. This plan is designed to make wealthy mass murderers richer and strengthen their control of more landmasses and their natural 'resources'. They have been doing this while children, women, and men, predominantly of color, as well as Earth's many other nonhuman beings, have been poisoned and slaughtered. That such men are pro-Death should go without saying.

Unasked are a few questions which I think are pertinent.

Why do white men, one man at a time--a man named Bernie Madoff--not garner as much public vitriol as Nadya Suleman?

Why selectively call out Nadya on bearing children with an emotional agenda that saddles her newborns with a job--to fulfill unmet needs cultivated in her lonely, siblingless childhood--and not also call out men who impregnate woman after woman, or the same woman, so as to have an emotional claim to immortality, to have a son who will carry on his name? Is this not at least as common an emotional agenda that also saddles newborns with a job?

Given the proclivities of rich white men to procure women (and pubescent girls) for sexual use and abuse, women and girls on the streets, women and girls in brothels, women and girls in far-away "exotic" places, women and girls next door, women and girls at home, and given that one of the things wealthy men like to do is have unprotected intercourse with women and girls, and given that once the "rental period" of the woman or girl has ended, what are we to make of his routine impregnation of these women? Is this not an ethical issue for him? How can it be that this behavior doesn't demonise him?

Many men who have casual sexual intercourse with women, once, occasionally, or serially, engage in behavior that gets women pregnant. The men I know in this category do little to nothing to assist in the nurture and support of those babies from birth through adulthood. Are those men demonic for bringing countless children into this world in an irresponsible manner?

If father/daughter incest is the most common form of child sexual abuse, why is it not seen as "unfit" for men to father (here meaning "raise") one or many daughters? Is there nothing more demonic (if we're going to use such a term, and apparently with women we are) than a father or father-figure crawling into the bed of his daughter to violate her sexually and traumatise her physically and psychically?

For me, this is the moral conclusion I arrive at:
What men often do (by engaging in unprotected, coercive, and/or unwelcomed heterosexual intercourse), that frequently results in women becoming pregnant, and leaves women with the trauma of sexual assault, is a form of evil. So to is what the U.S. government and military does. So too is what globalisation, The World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund does.

Nadya is doing at least one of the three interrelated things Western patriarchies tell her she exists to do: be beautiful according to media standards, be sexually available to at least one man, and have babies. Seen this way, it appears her 'crime against patriarchy' was that she didn't have heterosexual intercourse in order to conceive. Get out the stones, and consider throwing them instead at the windows of media centers: Nadya Suleman did nothing criminal nor evil.