When All Else Fails, Blame the Women!

Yes, on the one hand, I’m very glad to see legislators on both sides of the aisle working to lower our abysmal infant mortality rates. But on the other hand, if it’s already come down to “Well, we’ve done all we can do; it’s just that Tennessee women are fucking up so bad!” we’re really still screwed.

Here’s the deal as I see it.

1.) There is always going to be some level of infant mortality. Especially as medical technology advances and we have more capability to deliver live very premature babies and keep them living. In some happy cases, we are able to keep them living long wonderful lives. In unhappy cases, pregnancies that would have ended in miscarriages or still births end in dead infants. This is terrible. But it’s a terribleness that comes as a result of us being able to save some babies who would have, in the past, not made it. I don’t think this is the largest factor, but it’s an important factor to keep in mind.

2.) The absolute biggest thing we can do to prevent infant mortality is to teach young girls and women how to keep from getting pregnant in the first place. Our infant mortality rates are high in Tennessee as a whole. But our infant mortality rates are very strongly linked to the age of the mother, the younger she is, the more likely her baby is to die.

News stories in which we talk about “women” and “mothers” give people the impression that we are talking about a problem that mostly happens to adults. I don’t think this is intentional but it helps to keep the problems we’re facing obscured. It is very difficult for teenagers to get proper prenatal care. They’re very often dependent on having a parent who can facilitate that and most of the girls in our state who get pregnant don’t have that, either because their parents can’t take them to the doctor or won’t.

And they have the same issues with follow-up visits after the babies are born.

But we, as a state, act like we need the fainting couch if ever anyone tries anything that is not construed as taking every possible opportunity to punish girls for having sex. So, have we talked about finding ways to put daycare in high schools, complete with opportunities to visit with pediatricians? Or does that instantly make us thing “But that will be encouraging girls to have children?!” Do we hear that the Planned Parenthood in Memphis is going to be within walking distance of a high school and think “Okay, good, cheap and easy access to gynecological services and birth control and pre-natal care?” or do we think “Oh my god! I have to fan myself in shock that Planned Parenthood hasn’t jumped into the river and drown since we all hate them?!” Are we still, officially or not, teaching abstinence-only in schools?

Because that’s the deal, people. If you want to keep babies from dying you have to provide cheap, easy, and accessible ways for their mothers, regardless of her age, to keep from getting pregnant if she doesn’t want to be, to get to a doctor if she does want to be, and to follow up with a doctor once the kid is born.

We have to provide enough knowledge to the girls and women in this state so that they know what’s happening with their own bodies and can act on it.

It means that you’re going to have to back off the demonization of Planned Parenthood, because that’s where poor young women go for a host of reproductive health concerns, not just abortion, and when you try to run them out of communities, YOU are contributing to the infant mortality rate.

But I know, it’s more fun to showboat and claim indignation about our infant mortality rate than it is to actually face up to what attitudes of yours you’d have to change.

3.) Stop fucking poisoning us. Seriously, we’re sitting here talking about how 40% of rural women smoke like that’s an actual statistic? Not all women are mothers. Not all women, even smokers, smoke during their pregnancies. That tells us nothing. But how many of our rural women are living near dumps like the dump on Eno road and don’t know it? How many women in this state sucked down coal ash after the disaster? How many women are working hazardous jobs for shitty pay because at least they have  a job? How many women eat fish out of streams your party has tried to reclassify out of “waterway” so that businesses can dump whatever they want into them without repercussions?

When those chemicals go into our bodies, they go into the bodies of our fetuses, if we are pregnant. If it can make a grown person sick, what do you think it does to a developing organism?

4.) Step up, Dad. If you have a baby with a woman, that baby is also your responsibility. Are you finding a way to take her to her prenatal appointments? Are you taking the baby to its pediatrician if she can’t or won’t go? Are you shelling out money for food and clothing and medicine for the baby? Or did you leave that whole burden on her and her family?

Listen, all over this great land, women are jackasses. We do stuff to put our fetuses at risk, we don’t take care of our health, and we do a piss poor job of following up with doctor visits. Not every woman, of course. Most of us have our acts together. But a sizeable minority of women all across this land are like a sizeable minority of women in the state of Tennessee.

And yet, other states do not have this problem. Their infants make it to their first birthdays at much higher rates than ours do.

So, clearly, the problem isn’t just that women are jackasses and passing the problem off like women are jackasses does nothing to solve it.

But the solutions that work are solutions that are very unpopular in our state–dealing with sex ed, stopping treating Planned Parenthood like it’s evil incarnate, dealing with environmental factors beyond individual women’s control, and getting fathers to do what mothers can’t or won’t do.

So, we’re going to have to decide whether it’s more important to grandstand or solve this.

Sadly, I think you know where I’m putting my money.

21 thoughts on “When All Else Fails, Blame the Women!

  1. If you really want to be horrified at the connection between infant mortality and point number 3, have a look at the infant mortality rates around the Superfund site in Memphis.

  2. *Applause*

    But the state makes it fairly easy for him to get out of #4, because remember, it’s NOT REALLY his baby, she’s just lying to get someone to pay child support.

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  4. I tend to get less angry about number 4 because I don’t want it to be necessary for the father to be involved for a woman to get what she needs; sometimes, it’s better if he’s not. And if he wants to be and can help, great, but otherwise, I don’t want to spend resources tracking down reluctant dads that could be spent helping moms.

    You have definitely put your finger on the victim-blaming that happens to mothers in general, in our society; we blame them for not being able to cure their kids of mental problems or control them every second or keep them from ever making bad choices, and when women say “I couldn’t do those things,” the typical response is “shouldn’t have had sex/gotten pregnant then!” We want to blame someone, and moms are our traditional scapegoats. Because then we can comfort ourselves that there’s not really any big scary problems out there, just dumb moms doing dumb things.

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  6. Betsy,

    On point 2, how do you know? Isn’t there plenty of evidence to suggest that women who get pregnant understand that what they are doing can cause pregnancy and that they know how to prevent it?

    Are you suggesting that these women don’t want to get pregnant? Why don’t they get an abortion when they do get pregnant?

    I don’t know the answers here but have some ideas. I challenge what you presume in point 2. Point 4 is laughable. Why should the father get involved, I mean beyond your thinking that that is somehow the right and decent thing to do?

    I don’t think you’ve thought about this very much. Why, for that matter, is infant mortality such a problem in your mind? Why not encourage young women to have abortions, raise some money and pay them to abort.

    Oh and step 4, where you talk about getting the father involved… too funny.

  7. Wow. Martin do you come in here that way on purpose because you want to fight, or are you always that condascending and ‘hush now while us grown-ups talk’?

    Number 4 has taken an interesting new turn for me lately. An acquantance of mine had a baby recently, and she’s raising the baby without telling the father. The really funny part is that she works with the father regularly and sees him often.

    It makes me sad for two very disparate reasons. 1) Every man should know when he’s a father and be given the opportunity to step up, a baby needs a father too. 2) He apparently counted backward nine months and has some pretty strong suspicions about who the baby daddy is, but she thinks he’s intentionally not asking because he doesn’t want to know for sure. So I suppose he’s decling the opportunity to step up.

    This person is pretty close to me, and I feel very strongly enough about point 1. So I was perfectly willing to risk making an ass of myself about it, but she swears no daddy is better than this daddy so I’m holding my tongue with her for now.

  8. Yes, Martin, we all get that you’re still pissed at me. But could you at least fake attempting to understand my point before you try to patronize me half to death?

    W., that’s a tough one. On the one hand, I think it’s beyond cruel for a woman to keep the existence of a child from its father (except for in cases of rape or abuse, obviously. You violate the social code in those ways and you lose your right to complain when people cut all ties with you).

    And it never goes well with the kid. “Oh, I denied you a chance to know your father, because I didn’t really like him.” never flies, at least in the cases I’ve seen. Even if the dad is a fucker and not that good a dad, it’s a lot for a kid to try to understand when he or she learns that you didn’t even give his or her dad a chance to step up.

    On the other hand, I get that there are really and truly cases where no involvement from the father is better than some.

    So, I hope she’s right to not tell him, because that’s a decision that’s hard to live with either way.

  9. Still angry with you? About what exactly?

    Why don’t you just speak to the question? Are you suggesting, for real, that women who get pregnant, most of them, don’t know why or how they get pregnant? That strikes me as implausible. Again, why don’t women who didn’t want to get pregnant have abortions? I am surprised too that you don’t take the position that we ought to encourage poor, young women to have abortions. That would reduce infant mortality (assuming you don’t believe the fetus has any right to life).

  10. Going out on a limb here, and based on my traditionally southern family, yes, yes I do believe that young woman who get pregnant don’t really understand how/why. Because they don’t teach comprehensive sex ed in schools and sex ed at home in the south isn’t “polite conversation.”

    And how can they even get abortions if they wanted one when Planned Parenthood is villified and most traditionally southern fathers when finding out their little girl is knocked up will make her carry to term – usually to teach her a lesson?

    Methinks you’re a little naive and deliberately obtuse here, martin kennedy.

  11. Martin, I didn’t answer your questions because, frankly, I’m embarrassed to learn that you needed an answer and weren’t just trying to be an asshole.

    Of course young women (and young men) are ignorant about the specifics about how one gets pregnant and how one might prevent herself or his partner from getting pregnant. Just last week, there was a survey released that said that 1/3 of teenage boys in Tennessee believe that a girl cannot get pregnant if you have sex standing up. Some people are also under the mistaken impression that you cannot get pregnant if you are a virgin or if the male partner pulls out before ejaculating.

    Studies have also shown repeatedly that girls feel that planning for sex and thus procuring birth control of any sort means that they are “slutty.” Not having access to birth control doesn’t seem to keep them from having sex, though. And abstinence-only education seems to have done little to help teens decide to wait have sex or to reduce the rates of teen pregnancy.

    So, no, I don’t believe that women know as much as we should about our bodies. I consider myself very knowledgeable and just this month I learned that everything I thought I knew about the vaginal corona was completely wrong.

    Also, the majority of pregnancies are unplanned. But there is a world of difference between unplanned and unwanted. As much as I support a woman’s right to end an unwanted pregnancy, I also support a woman’s right to keep a wanted pregnancy.

    I don’t believe all unplanned pregnancies should end in abortion. That’s your bogeyman, not the truth.

    I believe a woman should choose what’s right for her.

    I also believe that you will never take my word for any of this, so I’m not sure why we keep having these go-rounds.

  12. I say baloney. Women aren’t getting pregnant because they don’t know what is going on, how this whole think occurs. There are exceptions of course.

    Here’s the thing that everybody realizes on some level, but that people like Aunt B won’t address. It is largely cultural. There are throngs of women out there who, on some level, believe in marriage or would like to get married but don’t think it is, or will ever be, in the cards for them. Like most women they want to have a baby (it is an astonishingly strong drive across all socio-economic groups). They want to love and be loved. They are old enough, by historical standards, to have and raise a child. They work jobs that are pretty tedious, don’t get a lot of stimulation from work or what might happen next year if things go well on the job.

    GoldnI, I am surprised by your defense of Aunt B. She does this often, rattles on with knee-jerk feminist nonsense as if it is obvious to anyone with a brain. Teen pregnancy and infant mortality are pretty big issues. They should be discussed thoughtfully and openly. They involve issues that get right to the heart of big philosophical questions.

    On the “incentives to abort” proposal I am quite serious. If I believed that an unborn child had no right, no moral weight, I’d be a strong supporter of paying women to abort. You’d reduce infant mortality if you sought out young, single, and poor women and paid them something to terminate their pregnancies.

  13. Funny, just realized that you, Aunt B, answered me just before I pressed “submit comment.” I hadn’t realized that.

    What more do the studies show B? There is critical information that the data suggests that you’re leaving out.

    Peach makes a completely ridiculous assertion – southern fathers make their little girls carry the child to term? You know B that we are talking most often about girls who have no father in their life.

    Whether a pregnancy is wanted or not, paying women of a particular profile to abort would reduce infant mortality. I don’t see why you oppose that. If a woman is not able to support her child shouldn’t she be encouraged to terminate? Couldn’t the resources be allocated to those children who are alive?

    B, there are many kids, most, who refrain from having sex. Why don’t we study them and see what is motivating them? What do they have in common? Are they getting comprehensive sex education? Is that what is making a difference in their lives?

    Finally B, it would help if you expressed some understanding toward those who would object to paying for comprehensive sex education or having their kids taught by the state. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, those who favor an abstinence-only approach favor it as a second best option. Generally they’d prefer if the state stayed the heck out of this. Teach reproductive biology, fine, but the notion of sex education is intrinsically objectionable to many people.

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  15. Martin, you’re advocating eugenics.

    You think there’s some reasonable discussion to be had about some people getting to decide what other people shouldn’t have kids and who should be encouraged to not have those children?

    There is not. There is no reasonable or thoughtful discussion to be had about who should get to have kids and who should not.

    The fact that you want to remove this discussion from the realm of actual, lived women’s lives and remove it to some philosophical realm proves, to me, that you know what you’re advocating is disgusting and would be met with hostility by the actual women it would affect.

    You don’t have the right to decide what a woman does with her body. Not to demand that she doesn’t have abortions. Not to demand that she does.

    The fact that you cannot envision some alternative that doesn’t involve you getting to tell women what to do with our bodies is why you and I will never have enough common ground in this discussion to have it reasonably.

    I reject your whole premise that you have any right to decide what other people do with their bodies.

    And I don’t really give a shit about what you think would be “helpful.” You’re advocating eugenics.

    After that, you’ve pretty much lost all moral standing to be taken seriously by reasonable people.

  16. Not advocating eugenics B. Only asking why it is not pushed explicitly because it is being promoted implicitly.

    Look closely at many who want expanded or “comprehensive” sex education. For them it is about managing the herd. It is NOT about dealing with actual people.

  17. Funny again. Just ran across this little tidbit of info from Japan of all places (wasn’t looking for it but rather on an economist’s blog: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE4BP18P20081226

    Kids who skip breakfast have first sexual relations at a younger age. Kids who do not like their moms also tend to begin having sex at a younger age.

    Perhaps this makes my point better than I was able to. Having or skipping breakfast has NOTHING directly to do with sexual behavior in this sense. It is a signal. It signals something about the family life in a particular household. I would bet dollars to donuts that you can develop a pretty good model that would predict sexual behavior and the probability that someone would be the parent of a kid who dies before age one.

    Far too little attention is paid to how various policies change core behaviors. As a result you get very simplistic “solutions” to complex problems. Poor, young women who are unmarried are having kids and too many of them don’t live past age one? Solution: We must provide better access to sex education and birth control.

  18. Martin, I’d typed a long response to you yesterday, then decided based on the sheer ridiculousness of your comments that you were just trolling and weren’t worth taking the time to respond to. For whatever reason, I’m going to respond today.

    You’re assertions about the knowledge young people have about sex are flat out wrong. Young men and women who have grown up in the age of abstinence only sex education don’t know nearly as much as preventing pregnancy as you may think. As B mentioned, there’s quite a bit of research that backs that assertion.

    You’re also wrong that “most” kids don’t have sex (if you are using “kid” there to mean any person under the age of 18). The most recent study I’ve seen on the matter indicates that by their 18th birthday, over 60% of kids HAVE had sex. That refers to actual intercourse, add in oral sex and the number sky-rockets to over 80% (which is tangential to this particular discussion since oral sex doesn’t lead to pregnancy, though it does open the door to a plethora of sexually transmitted infections).

    As for your suggestion of encouraging poor women to terminate their pregnancies you’re just being ridiculous, and I’m pretty sure you know that. Ignoring the obvious that your suggestion is effectively a eugenics program (B. covered that already), it doesn’t even make sense as a means of reducing the infant mortality rate. We know the factors that decrease the risk of an infant death already, so the question becomes how do we encourage those circumstances to be the case for more pregnancies. Simply terminating the pregnancies of people in bad circumstances, doesn’t solve the problem; it avoids it. And it avoids it at the expense of people who want to be parents.

  19. Dophin,

    Survey data is notoriously unreliable. Ask a 17 year old guy whether he is, or has had, relations and he will mark “yes.” You may have seen studies but they are based on survey data.

    Is there a lack of knowledge about pregnancy? Sure. Teach reproductive biology. Then, if there remains a lack, it is not the fault of the state.

    I am not being ridiculous at all about termination and never said anything about forced terminations, only incentives. Not sure why you or B are opposed to eugenics. And, whether it avoids a problem or solves a problem is a distinction without a difference.

  20. Not sure why you or B are opposed to eugenics. And, whether it avoids a problem or solves a problem is a distinction without a difference.

    I’m really at a loss here. If you can’t understand why someone would oppose eugenics and don’t see the difference between solving a problem versus just making it so rich white folks don’t have to think about it, then frankly our core beliefs and systems of morality are so astonishingly divergent on such a fundamental level that I don’t even see how a discussion is possible.

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