Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is a biological factor really a privilege?

I read Ta-Nehisi Coates off and on and while I usually agree with what's talking about I'm not sure about the last part of one of his posts on childbirth.

Don't get me wrong I agree with the vast majority of what he says in that post. It is certainly true that childbearing and birth is a VERY risky process for women and I'm not trying to argue that. It is also true (no need to agree with it the numbers say so) that maternity deaths among women are still a big problem even in modernized nations like here in The States. And I'm with him on this:
Its courageous work, which inspires in me a degree of admiration exceeded only by my horror at the notion of the state turning that courage, that hard labor, into a mandate.
However there is one thing I can't agree with:
But it can not obscure perhaps the most specific and nameable species of male privilege--of all the things that may one day kill me, pregnancy is not among them.
I'm sorry but (and maybe its my understanding of the concept of privilege and Coates is talking about something else) that doesn't sound like a privilege to me.

Let me explain what I'm thinking when it comes to privilege. To me (and I think this is the result of my time in blogging about various privileges and dis-privileges) privilege is something that someone has access to and someone else doesn't due to factors that are truly unrelated to the something in hand. Here's an example.

A woman and myself send in our resumes to get a job. The hiring manager pick one of us or the other based solely on our gender, thinking "Oh they're a _____ and the other one is a ______." Now with the exception of a very small list of things there is absolutely no justifying hiring a person of a certain gender just because they are that gender. If no matter what position is up for grabs there is no way to back up the claim that one of us would be the better candidate just because I'm a man and she's a woman or the other way around (despite the fact that there are folks out there that believe such sexist nonsense).

Back up to Coates post. To me a biological difference is not privilege. Its just a biological difference. My not having to face the difficulties of pregnancy is no more a privilege than a cis-woman not having to face the possibility of being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Again I'm by no means trying to say that pregnancy is easy (how am I supposed to know?). I'm by no means trying to say that women don't face real danger during pregnancy. I'm just saying that I'm not so sure you'd call a cis-man's not facing that danger a privilege when its based on a biological impossibility.

19 comments:

desipis said...

I agree that pregnancy not a privilege as the term is commonly used in feminist or progressive politics. The distinction I usually rely on is that privileges are something socially constructed, and pregnancy is clearly a biological and not social construction. It's possible there are social privileges constructed around pregnancy that might constitute a male privilege, but pregnancy itself is not a privilege.

That said, it is an advantage and possibly even a "blind" advantage. By that I mean as men do not have to consider the dangers of pregnancy, they may fail to take it into consideration when interacting with or judging the behaviour of women. If this happens en masse, it could effectively construct some form of pregnancy related privilege.

Danny said...

Hey there desipis.

That said, it is an advantage and possibly even a "blind" advantage. By that I mean as men do not have to consider the dangers of pregnancy, they may fail to take it into consideration when interacting with or judging the behaviour of women.
Now that I see. Some sort of privilege being built around and in relation to pregnancy makes sense. And that might even by what he was trying to get at. But to me he just came off as trying to build up the privilege heap up into as high of a one sided stack as possible.

Taking the dangers of pregnancy into consideration is something that can be corrected by being making the effort to become aware of them. Facing the danger is something that I or any cis-male (and a lot of cis-females as well) will be able to never experience because of biology, thus it cannot being corrected.

(Counter example. As a cis-male with testicles I know both the physical pain of being hit in the testicles and mental pain having people laugh and think its socially acceptable to hit someone like that. Now a cis-female will never be able to actually feel and know the pain (well the mental pain anyway, from what I understand getting hit in the clitoris is no picnic) of getting hit in the testicles and feel the social acceptability of it but said cis-female can make the effort to became more aware of it and try to take it into consideration.)

Claiming that not facing the dangers of pregnancy is a privilege when you are biological unable to get pregnant just doesn't fly with me. Would Coates also say this of women who are biologically unable to get pregnant?

Tim said...

Putting the biological aspect aside, I think Coates falsely assumes that the disprivilege of one group means a privilege for every group that does not suffer from it, nor is it necessarily something that belongs into the male/female dchotomy.

Pregnant women have the disprivilege of having a risk of death during their pregnancy. But this does not mean that every group that is biologically incapable of becoming pregnant or currently is not/does not plan to become pregnant has the privilege of not having to worry about dying during pregnancy.

Using that kind of logic we might as well say that we have the privilege of not having the risk of death to die in an accident in a formula 1 race, assuming we are not professional race car drivers, of course.

elementary_watson said...

Just to echo some other commenters here:

1. Privilege is, as by common definition, granted by society onto a group because of the way society reads their identity.

2. I doubt Coates would call involuntary infertile women privileged because they can't get pregnant, and for good reason.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Before getting my tubes tied, I never once had sex without thinking of pregnancy, unless in an altered state of consciousness. That DOES interfere with pleasure.

Please keep this fact in mind. This is why many feminist activists compare birth control pills to Viagra, and ask if one can be covered by insurance (guess which one?), then the other should be also.

Just adding this to the discussion.

Danny said...

Precisely.

Danny said...

1. Yes and as far I can tell society doesn't have the power to grant or take away a woman's ability to get pregnant. They may be jerks about it and try to control women with pregnancy but its not women are just gonna wake up one morning realizing that the elite have literally taken away their ability to bear children.

2. Exactly.

Danny said...

Thanks for dropping by Daisy.

Before getting my tubes tied, I never once had sex without thinking of pregnancy, unless in an altered state of consciousness. That DOES interfere with pleasure.
True. It is most certain that women who can bear children also bear the burden of thinking, "I might get pregnant." every time they have sex.

Please keep this fact in mind. This is why many feminist activists compare birth control pills to Viagra, and ask if one can be covered by insurance (guess which one?), then the other should be also.
Yes and I'd say that that is a pretty valid example of privilege that's related to pregnancy, but not pregnancy itself. Unlike pregnancy itself (which short of a major obstetrical breakthrough no matter how safe you make it will nearly always carry risks) something can be done about what you point out here.

However if they really want to talk about contraception options then let's compare the insurance options for birth control pills for women vs. birth control pills for men. (Could it be argued that the fact one exists and the other doesn't is a form of privilege? And could the argument against it be done without trying to pull some "there's no such thing as female over male privilege weak stuff"?)

DaisyDeadhead said...

I think its just easier (biologically, scientifically) to prevent ONE thing from happening, rather than LOTS of them, haha. (ONE thing = ovum, LOTS of things= sperm) I think it would be very hard to make a birth control pill for men for this reason.

The real inequality is illustrated by the fact that there is no widely available equivalent of Viagra for women. I see no logical reason why there isn't, as stated above for birth control pills. The circulatory system is basically the same for both sexes. Although I know women who have taken Viagra/Cialis/etc, but it is only prescribed (and covered by insurance) for men.

Danny said...

I think its just easier (biologically, scientifically) to prevent ONE thing from happening, rather than LOTS of them, haha. (ONE thing = ovum, LOTS of things= sperm) I think it would be very hard to make a birth control pill for men for this reason.
While that is scientifically true (although I think the fact that sperm are produced whereas eggs are released may have something to do with it as well) I there is more to it than that. I also think its just a matter of companies thinking its not feasible and people not wanting guys to have more birth control options. You would think that all the people that go on and on bitching about men being terrible dads would support such a drug along with those of use that just want more options. But no they'd rather piss and moan about us being terrible dads while telling us to shut up and be happy with just condoms. And besides there's already been several options for men that have been under work for the last several years. (I think there's even one in India that been in human testing stages, and usually human testing only comes after YEARS of non-human testing, for like 15 years.)

Politicalguineapig said...

I don't think that the pharm companies believe that men would actually want birth control pills. Why make a product that nobody would want? According to a Gallup poll, men want children more than women do.
Also, guys don't have to watch their reproductive health get kicked around every election year.

Danny said...

Hi Politicalguineapig and thanks for dropping by.

Why make a product that nobody would want? According to a Gallup poll, men want children more than women do.
But its been more than once that I've see people declare that men want nothing but no strings attach sex. "Hit it and quit it." I think it goes. According to that logic more options for male birth control would serve that exact purpose (not to 100% assurance but better nonetheless). No more "but she said she was on the pill!" but instead "but I'm on the pill".

Also, guys don't have to watch their reproductive health get kicked around every election year.
As I said not taking those things into account when talking about reproductive health in the halls of law making is not the same. Taking women's health into account when talking about and making reproductive health options is something that can be dealt with.

Not acknowledging the risks that women face associated with pregnancy is a privilege. One that can be dealt with by at the very least listening to those who. (Unless one wants to argue that only people who experience X are the only ones that should be making decisions and laws about X, but then why limit that to just this one topic?) Not being able to directly experience women's health when it comes to reproduction is a biological impossibility for a lot of people (even a lot of women) and therefore is not a privilege.

And besides I've heard plenty of people (women mostly) that men should just shut up and be happy with condoms as if we don't deserve more options.

Politicalguineapig said...

Well, for guys, having kids is either a way of proving their masculinity or it's the equivalent of adopting a puppy. They always have the option of walking away, so they're not likely to consider the full ramifications of pregnancy/ child rearing like women have to.
Personally, I wouldn't trust a guy who said he was on the pill. Men tend to be a little more lax with regard to taking pills or going to the doctor. And there's always the possibility that they're lying about being on the pill, forgot to renew the prescription, or skipped a dose or three.
(I'm guilty of skipping doses myself, but I'm not in a relationship or into one night stands so... not an issue. If I were in a relationship, I'd make sure to take it every day.)

Politicalguineapig said...

Well, for guys, having kids is either a way of proving their masculinity or it's the equivalent of adopting a puppy. They always have the option of walking away, so they're not likely to consider the full ramifications of pregnancy/ child rearing like women have to.
Personally, I wouldn't trust a guy who said he was on the pill. Men tend to be a little more lax with regard to taking pills or going to the doctor. And there's always the possibility that they're lying about being on the pill, forgot to renew the prescription, or skipped a dose or three.
(I'm guilty of skipping doses myself, but I'm not in a relationship or into one night stands so... not an issue. If I were in a relationship, I'd make sure to take it every day.)

Danny said...

Well, for guys, having kids is either a way of proving their masculinity or it's the equivalent of adopting a puppy
I have to say that that's a pretty sexist generalization. And if anything the men out there that really are trying to be in their kids lives challenges it. True there are a lot of men out there that do think that way and there are a lot of men who are socialized to believe that (funny how something like socialization is forgotten when discussion the negative behaviors men engage in, if we were talking about women I'll bet it would have come up much sooner).

They always have the option of walking away, so they're not likely to consider the full ramifications of pregnancy/ child rearing like women have to.
Full ramifications of pregnancy true. But don't for one minute try to play women out to be innocent martyrs when they have plenty of perfectly legal ways to forfeit all the responsibilities, rights, and joys of child rearing. On the other hand the dad has two choices, either go on the run or gracefully accept whatever level of participation the mom allows him to have.

Personally, I wouldn't trust a guy who said he was on the pill. Men tend to be a little more lax with regard to taking pills or going to the doctor.
I'm betting you you draw this conclusion by personal experience. And frankly since the consequences involve both of you (of course said consequences would be heavier to a woman, which I take it you are) I don't blame you for not trusting a guy that said he was on the pill. But that doesn't translate into not making it an option for those of us that would.

Danny said...

This appears to be a duplicate. If it is say so and I'll delete it.

Politicalguineapig said...

Yeah, it's a duplicate. I've been having computer troubles.

Politicalguineapig said...

Point 1: I was talking about guys in my own age group, mostly. The under 30 group is fairly frivolous. I'm sure some of that is socialization, but mostly it's just the way they are.
Older guys may actually decide to become parents, rather than waiting for an accident.Or encouraging an accident to happen.

Point 2: For now, abortion is legal. But not for long, I'm sure. And moms can't usually abandon their offspring, unless they go through the adoption process. There are also plenty of guys who initiate divorces specifically so they can abandon their families. Look up 'trophy wife.'

Point 3: I think a male pill is a good idea, but I think you're vastly overestimating its market value.

Danny said...

Point 1: This might be a matter of varying mileage but a lot of the guys I know (I myself being 30) aren't that frivolous. Hell I'm just getting my career started so the last thing I want right now is a child. And I think socialization counts for more than people think.

Point 2: While abortion rights are under attack I think its still more of "if" than "when". And even with that adoption process in many cases they are free to do so behind the father's back. If she doesn't want to be in the child's life fine that's her choice. But what right does she have to prioritize adoption over the dad's willingness to take the child in? Yes I know what a trophy wife is. I also know about women who shop around for husbands/dads.

Point 3: Perhaps but I think its a matter of giving it a real shot. Almost all the studies I've ever seen on interest on a male birth control pill has been in some "men's magazine". Frankly I don't take those very seriously.

Thanks for dropping by. Good to have some conversation going.

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