I keep pandagon.net on my google reader. I don’t agree with everything I read there, which is a good thing, but I do respect Amanda Marcotte’s opinions (and they are always well-written).
I must take some exception with her recent analysis of the octuplet fiasco. It’s not just that I have a problem with blaming everything bad on Teh Patriarchy (which I do), but I think that sometimes dealing with patriarchy distracts from other real issues. Yes, sexism and patriarchy are important in society, but not everything is that simple. Let’s take a look (emphasis mine):
At this point in time, I had the stunning realization that the octuplets mom, who is being lambasted from every corner of the planet, might be on the sane side of over-fertile. She has certainly exposed how the pro-patriarchal arguments about the glories of unemployed, fertile femininity and the embracing of human life were all 100% empty—in the end, it’s all about having a man, and that was the difference between hero and villain.
I’ll admit I see through a different lens than Amanda. But while there are certainly a lot of people out there talking about how bat-shit insane the mom must be, much of the anger also seems to be directed appropriately at the fertility clinic, which violated the ethical and medical standards of its profession.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the reaction to Suleman is hostile for sexist and possibly racist reasons, because if you do think she’s off her gourd to have so many kids (especially at once), then the proper response is compassion and not anger. …if she was married, the question of sanity would never come up in polite company…
Yes, it would be better if we all felt only compassion for the mom rather than anger, but some anger is inevitable. Part of my anger, which is mostly directed at the fertility clinic, is reserved for the horrid state of mental health care in the U.S. Frankly (and when am I anything other than frank) most parents would recognize her as nuts, married or not. Raising one kid is hard enough—but fourteen? I’m not so sure I see this cult of fecundity Amanda’s talking about. There certainly is, in parts of our society, a cult of fetus-worship and a desire to control female fertility (meaning controlling access to birth control, abortion, etc.), but this movement seems ultimately about control rather than fertility. They don’t care how many babies you have, as long as you do it the way they think is right.
The danger of putting one probably troubled woman under a lens covered by a patriarchy filter is that we’ll fail to see other societal problems. I don’t believe this woman was pushed toward her choices by “the man”; I believe she is ill, and that no one stepped in to help her. Our society failed her, and she found succor in fecundity. It’s not the worst outcome, but it’s not a good one either.
Sometimes it’s OK to point out that someone is mentally ill. You don’t have to be bouncing-off-the-walls crazy to need help. The fertility clinic had an opportunity to intervene. When they had a patient in need walk in their door, they could have found a reasonably non-threatening way to get her some psychiatric help. Some might argue that this would be a horribly paternalistic attitude, but people with mental illness often lack insight, and need a little paternalism.