Misogynist?

The entry about the Fake Advertising Mom provoked a reaction I didn’t see coming. I said that pregnancy and nursing changes a woman’s body in plainly visible ways and that the fake moms in ads usually show no such signs, in addition to being too young to be realistic mothers of the children they’re photographed with. This, to my mind, was a feminist observation.

I picked up feminism from my first wife who had been a women’s-lib radical on the extreme left during the 70s. In that mode of thinking, feminists accept and celebrate the female body for what it is. Attempting to look like 20 when you’re 35 is seen as a symptom of patriarchal repression. Such a feminist doesn’t shave and wears her stretch marks with pride.

Instead I got this barrage of angry comments and blog responses from people who think that it is misogynistic to suggest that a woman cannot look like 20 at 35 and after becoming a mom. This reminds me of the Onion’s headline, “Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does“. My critics apparently buy into the skinny waif ideal, they assume that I do too, and so they automatically conclude that I’m hostile to women. Not true.

To me, it’s sad to see a woman touting her ability to get skinny again after childbirth as a virtue. Sweetheart, you don’t need to look like the models in the ads. And, frankly, once that first baby pops out, you will never look quite like a girl again. My point is that you really shouldn’t want to. (The men don’t mind. That’s why children get siblings.)

And to those who think that men have no right to voice an opinion on these matters, I’d just like to take this opportunity to thumb my nose.

For a characteristically wise and graceful (though slightly condescending) treatment of the issue, see this entry by the incomparable Dr. Isis.

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Comments

  1. #1 Sigmund
    October 16, 2009

    Martin, errrm, how should I put this…..something about not doing something while in a hole. Ooops, lost it again.
    Anyway, to put things on a more scientific basis I have indeed conducted an empirical test of the hypothesis that you don’t get women with kids who look like those models pictured in your scandalous post.
    I live in central Stockholm (well Kungsholmen is central isn’t it?) and have a six year old son who likes hanging out at the communal bathing pond. This necessitates me sitting beside the pond in the Summer to look out for him. Sitting alongside the pond, sunbathing and looking after their children in turn, are usually a selection of parents of children of similar age to those in your previous photos.
    Now while I would not put myself in the model category I have no doubt that several of the mothers sunning themselves in bikinis beside my local pond would easily fit into that description. I haven’t been able to work out the exact statistics of the ratio of ‘model-like’ to ‘permanently stretched’ (to devote enough time and dedication to doing it accurately would probably involve either a divorce or an arrest for voyeurism – probably both!) but I can assure you that in my part of town there are significant numbers of model figured mothers who look very striking in their tiny bikinis.
    Isn’t science great!

  2. #2 Isis the Scientist
    October 16, 2009

    Martin,

    I think it’s the idea that you’ve assumed that a woman’s body must change after child birth in a visible way that has set people off. Many people’s (including my own) don’t. Also, I am about the age of the women in your post and have a toddler. This, compounded with your statements about what you find attractive, were enough to make half the women on the internet lose their shit.

    Isis

  3. #3 Martin R
    October 16, 2009

    Wow, I must be pretty famous then. But it goes without saying that none of my statements can of course apply to the divine Dr. Isis.

  4. #4 Rev Matt
    October 16, 2009

    For the vast majority of women childbirth and subsequent parenthood does in fact change a woman’s body. The degree of course varies wildly. I would argue that it is the parenthood that visibly changes people (because let’s be honest, it happens to most dads as well. At least the ones who take an active role in parenting). Stress wrinkles, grey hairs, added weight from rushed meals/poor nutrition/lack of sleep, etc etc.

    I dispute Martin’s contention that it’s easy to identify who has and has not had children with greater than 60% accuracy, but I think it’s fairly easy in the context of the ads to see that these women most likely did not give birth to the children in the ads.

    But it’s an ad. All ads are lies, that’s just to be expected.

  5. #5 Isis the Scientist
    October 16, 2009

    Alright, Martin. I know that you’re trying here. So, ping

  6. #6 cicely
    October 16, 2009

    Sigmund, I don’t think Martin is trying to dig himself in deeper; he’s trying to explain how he comes to be standing in the hole, shovel in hand, blinking in amazement at the completely unexpected pit. Without an explanation, the perceived (but presumably unintended) misogyny starts to resemble deliberate, unabashed misogyny. Cut the man just a little slack.

    As for the Source of the Shitstorm, I see it as regretable over-generalisation on Martin’s part, combined with the fact that he’s (how to put this….) caught some of us on a raw spot. Some of us get back into shape easily, but many of us can only get back into shape with great difficulty. And, some of us never do manage it (I’m looking at you, mirror!)…but wish we could. Or wish it didn’t matter, whether in society’s eyes or our own. Or resent that it matters, again whether in society’s eyes or our own.

    My 2c.

  7. #7 Comrade PhysioProf
    October 16, 2009

    D00d, get a fucking grip. You’ve been down this road before, but you apparently didn’t learn from that experience.

  8. #8 Martin R
    October 16, 2009

    Well, PP, you’re kind of wearing a rut in the road to sanctimonius feminister-than-thou land. The only time you ever show up here is when you feel the need to tell me that.

  9. #9 Kevin
    October 16, 2009

    I find the level of attention this topic gets on a science blog to be far more eloquent than any of the opinions expressed thus far. You’re a man of rare courage, Martin, personally I’d rather face the entire army of Kuhnian huns.

    Anecdotally, my cousin Becky, 31 years old with 2 kids, can put either of those models in shadow.

  10. #10 Comrade PhysioProf
    October 16, 2009

    If you would take ownership of your clueless douchebaggery when it is pointed out to you–rather than reacting with whiny-ass titty-baby mewling–I wouldn’t need to come here at all.

  11. #11 InsultDog
    October 16, 2009

    PP knows how to win a feminist pissing contest – it’s all about who’s insult is most creatively profane.

    As for the hubub, you just broke a cardinal rule – never comment on women’s weight, anywhere, anytime. No matter how reasonable your comments, or supposedly affirming of “real” women, you’re fucked. “Real” women don’t want to have men tell them it’s okay to be a “real” woman.

  12. #12 passing stranger
    October 16, 2009

    Martin, I don’t believe for a moment you are a misogynist. But, as I recall, on this blog you have (a) shared with your readers your reactions to seeing some ‘shapely’ lesbians on a train, (b) commented on the difficulty of working in a particular library because there were too many ‘pretty girls’ there, and (c) referred to the (all-female) ScienceBlogs administrators as ‘ovarylords’ as if it was a funny and clever thing to do – you seemed to be quite surprised when offence was taken. So perhaps you do have issues in this area.

    On the other hand, you do say honestly what you think, and that’s rather refreshing in a world full of mealy-mouthed cant. And your archaeological posts are excellent.

  13. #13 Martin R
    October 16, 2009

    Dog, as Brian May once wrote, “they make the rockin’ world go round”.

    P. Stranger, the issues you allude to are so way, way over my head that I see all three things you mention as completely unproblematic. Still, it’s nice to see that you’ve been paying attention.

  14. #14 Leon B
    October 16, 2009

    12: Commenter makes implied judgement about Martin R’s attitudes.

    13: Martin R proves commenter right.

  15. #15 DianaGainer
    October 17, 2009

    As a momma whose bod did NOT return to its previous shape after pregnancy, I appreciate what you’re saying. But you should be warned, as a cartoon in a women’s magazine pointed out once, long, long, long ago, there IS no humor section in the Feminist Bookstore. Do NOT make jokes there. Or comments on weight. Or on sizes of bodies. Or on what age feminists appear to be. Or on their hair. Or their clothing styles. Etc. You WILL be in the wrong. Oh yes. And whether or not they should be working outside the home and how they should or should not raise their kids (and whether they should have kids and how many). I’m should there are more forbidden topics. My early Alzheimer’s is probably acting up. That or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from bringing up some of those Forbidden Topics somewhere with somebody after having gone without sleep for nine years.

  16. #16 Martin R
    October 17, 2009

    Feminists come with and without senses of humour like everybody else. I believe the reason that I got such a bad reaction to the Fake Mom post was that many people feel deeply that the changes caused by childbearing are a problem and wish they didn’t exist. They were shooting the messenger.

  17. #17 Pär
    October 17, 2009

    Misogynist goatfucking asshat: -Advertisers in general are reluctant to feature women who look like they’ve given birth in their campaigns, which is a shame.

    Feminist Voice of Reason: -What a moron. Just look at Heidi Klum!

    Geez.

  18. #18 Martin R
    October 17, 2009

    Haha, yeah, thanks man. (-;

  19. #19 Misogynist F. Asshat
    October 17, 2009

    Martin: Your idea that feminism should be about female empowerment is so Nineteen-Seventies. Remember, feminism took a nap in the Eigthies, and when it came back, its only position was that women should act at all times as though they can be, say and do whatever they want and that no-one, especially not someone with a penis, is allowed to confront them with even the tiniest glimpse of the real world.

    Pär: LOL, brother, LOL.

  20. #20 TTabetic
    October 18, 2009

    Which real world is that, Asshat? The one in which women are walking cunts for you to fuck? Do you think that women are ignorant of the fact that many men think as you do? You think they don’t know what this “real world” is?

  21. #21 owlfarmer
    October 18, 2009

    Martin, you are my new deity. Good on you for the post. I often regale my students in my first history of art & design I lecture of each quarter by telling them that the little Woman from Willendorf looks exactly like I do naked. I take pains to point out that even though we don’t know what she was actually for, she certainly had the figure of a woman who can have, and actually has had, children. Nursing and childbearing do take a toll on the female body–the more children, the higher the toll. After my son was born I lost the weight and most of the fat, but after nursing him for a couple of years, the boobs were decidedly different. After bearing my daughter, I didn’t lose all the weight (and my set point was higher, making it harder to do so; I tell people to this day that I’m still carrying my daughter around in my ass–and she’s 30 this year), and, well, the boobs were even more different.

    What I love best about your post, though, was the wise and honorable mention that we don’t have to look like models anyway. I didn’t before I had kids, but never wanted to (although I do remember once being referred to as “a babe”); I’m pretty sure that moms who do look like models are spending far too much time looking in the mirror. I’ve got better things to do with my time.

  22. #22 Martin R
    October 18, 2009

    Thank you, sweetie! That Willendorf woman is way hot.

  23. #23 Isabel
    October 18, 2009

    “If you would take ownership of your clueless douchebaggery when it is pointed out to you–rather than reacting with whiny-ass titty-baby mewling–I wouldn’t need to come here at all.”

    LOON alert! :)

    Hey CPP, you’ve got your own motherfucking blog!

  24. #24 Zan
    October 19, 2009

    Hey, I guess I just wanted to add my thoughts.

    I was really sad after reading the other post and this one. With my deflated, sagging breasts and substantial tummy you would likely think I had given birth. You’d also be wrong, despite the fact that I look a fair amount older I am 20 and have never given birth.

    I’d probably kill to look like other women my age given the opportunity. I guess I feel cheated by never having owned this body that is supposed to be part and parcel of being a young, childless female, throughout high school and now in college.

    I might as well have given birth and have kids hanging off of me with how males and other females my age treat me. If only exercise would do what it’s supposed to with my body.. I just want the chance to be pretty but it doesn’t seem to want to be associated with me.

  25. #25 Martin R
    October 20, 2009

    I can sympathise even though I have been fortunate enough to like the body I was given a lot. But maybe it can cheer you up at least a little bit to know that even though you don’t like your body much, you can be pretty sure that a lot of nice men do. And men are simple creatures: a friendly smile will get you pretty much anywhere with us.

  26. #26 Adela
    October 21, 2009

    Heidi Klum does indeed have a rocking bod but her post baby bod has observable differences to her pre baby bod. The truest clue of baby is in the pelvis. Once those hip bones shift position there is no going back regardless of weight. I like her post baby curves way better anyways.

    Zan, folks have treated me like a middle age matron since I was 14 thanks to pot belly and big droopy boobs, neither of which are the definitive markers of pregnancy, but I believe that it has more to do with people being clueless dolts to what humans look like thanks to media rather than something being wrong with my appearance. Turns out I match the historical art of legendary beauties instead of the very recent and narrow modern fashion expectations. I can live with that.
    Pretty is what you make of it. If you hate your body without even trying that is the message you will broadcast to the world and is all that they will see. Live well and make that be what everyone else sees instead.

  27. #27 Martin R
    October 21, 2009

    That’s a pretty interesting hand to be dealt, to have natural authority at an age when your contemporaries are still treated like ignorant children.

  28. #28 Mike Olson
    October 21, 2009

    I gotta be honest Martin. I really didn’t keep up with this thread…or the original. But, I can tell you this: I wasn’t trying to put you down or suggest you are attracted to waifs. I also think it is a good thing you are willing to state your opinion so freely. The only thing other than that I can say is this: I agree that most women, as men change with age. Some more so than others. The same is true of child-birth.

  29. #29 The Nerd
    October 29, 2009

    After having read comments 12 and 13, I have to agree that it’s cute that you’re trying. Your heart is in the right place. But unfortunately you substituted one “here’s what women should look like” for another “here’s what women should look like” in this post. You are still telling us what we ought to be instead of conceding that it’s our right to choose what we want to be.

    Also, There’s no telling what pregnancy will do to a woman! Example: I got a vast collection of stretch marks from my son. His cousin’s mother got absolutely none. I lost a lot of weight after my pregnancy (and not at all intentionally, either). She gained a lot of weight after hers.

    You are right to say that advertising is selling us a standard that we don’t need. But don’t replace their standard with your own.

  30. #30 Martin R
    October 29, 2009

    You are still telling us what we ought to be instead of conceding that it’s our right to choose what we want to be.

    Come on. It’s 2009 and I’m in fucking Sweden. That goes without saying.

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