Mixed Messages

A few days ago I was privy to an internet outbreak regarding a concerned “friend” calling out her 30-something friend for not having kids but totally secretly wanting them. I thought the article was a little douche-y, but I was pretty surprised and pleased when the thing sparked a whole slew of comments, response articles, and criticism. Apparently, people don’t like being told that their self-worth depends on reproducing!

It got me thinking a bit about this dialogue we’re having as a society. My generation is currently breeding and as such, there is a huge amount of pressure for my age group to be thinking about and having children. The older I get, and the closer I get to that magic cut off date wherein all birth attempts become medical emergencies, the less I feel I want children. It’s just never been something I’ve connected to.

And sure, there could be a lot of reasons for this. Maybe I’m scared. Maybe I don’t think I’d make a good mother. Maybe I’m happy with the life I have now and don’t see how children would fit into that. Maybe I have too many of my own mental and emotional issues to settle before I can think of raising a healthy child.

But I can think of a pretty compelling reason right here : people give a lot of mixed messages about parenting!

Childbirth was horrible! My pregnancy was awful, I was sick every day! Forget morning sickness, mine was all the time sickness! And the labor, don’t get me started on the labor! I bled and bled and bled and the pain was so bad I couldn’t stand it! I wanted to DIE! Seriously! I said to the doctor, I says, go ahead, just kill me now. But you know what? It was so worth it! Go ahead and do it! The pregnancy and childbirth will be T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E but that little bundle of joy is worth it!!

And

Kids are so much fun. They’re a blast. You look into their little angel eyes and the whole world just melts away. Pure innocence. Pure bliss. And you forget everything in the world but your little child’s face. Until they scream and wail and you know something’s really wrong. You pick them up and realize they’ve exploded their diaper all over the floor. Then they’ve got a rash, so you have to get all the red rashy poopy pus-covered butt cleaned up! Then they start pulling apart the couch, tearing down the curtains, ripping apart your IPad, pooping on everything, running around, tearing into everything, destroying everything. Sick all the time, so much cleaning, won’t eat or sleep when you tell them to! I never sleep anymore! Forget looking into the eyes of an angel; I’m too busy chasing the kid and cleaning/fixing/repairing/healing/damage controlling to feel any enjoyment or bliss of parenthood!

And

When we first got married, we knew something was missing! We wanted a little one to join us soon as possible. So when baby came, we couldn’t be happier. But then all the stresses added up, we got overwhelmed, we didn’t have time for us anymore. Everything just fell apart. I’m so glad I have kids! Because that’s all I’ve got now!

(*These aren’t real quotes; they’re paraphrased sentiments I’ve read from just about every corner of the internet where kids are discussed.)

I’m getting the message here that parenting is tough work, sure. No one said it’d be easy! And yet, amidst all those it’s so worth its and the joys of parenthoods and I wouldn’t give this up for the world, warts and alls is an awful lot of negativity. It’s an odd mixture of cautionary tales and verbal birth control coupled with a plead to join us, we promise you’ll like it! Except you’ll be stressed all the time. Except you won’t have any time for your own health or sanity. Except every moment and every dime goes to the kid. Except your children become not only the first priority, but the only priority, to the exclusion of everything else. Except you can forget about ever having an independent sense of self again.

It’s weird, because it’s like the biggest advocates for having children are the ones complaining so loudly. It’s still pretty socially risky to say “I regret having children” so the ones who do regret it can’t say anything, while the ones who don’t want to regret it proclaim as loudly as possible that being a parent is THE BEST THING EVER while simultaneously warning everyone else to keep away as long as we can with their diatribes about “the joys”! I’m not saying I expect parents to sugarcoat reality and only talk about the good parts. But are children really destroying their lives? And do they expect us to believe them when they describe every way in which this is happening but finish off with a wouldn’t change it for the world while gritting their teeth?

As a fence-sitter on the issue of having children, I always get the same response when I admit my hesitation and concerns with doing so. “Yes, it’s awful, but you’ll see, it’s so worth it!”

But the thing is, you can’t really tell someone what would be worth it to them. You can say getting a PhD in neuroscience was entirely rewarding and entirely worth it (and very hard!) but would you say it’s right for your friend who’s a writer and has no interest in science? Especially while selling it to your friend by telling her how you were so stressed you vomited blood, lost all your hair, and almost got hospitalized several times during the course of getting your degree? Of course not!

If all that pain and hardship is worth it to you, that really doesn’t give you the authority to tell someone that all that pain and hardship would be worth it to them. People don’t all want the same things! They don’t all do well at the same things! So going into grotesque detail about how horrible that thing that’s totally worth it is is not a good way to sell it to others who don’t have your point of reference to begin with!

It’s pretty obvious that those of us who should be having children are those to whom the struggles are worth it. Not simply those with functioning reproductive systems and a “duty” to society.

Addendum: I just had to share this, because I think it goes perfectly in line with what I was trying to say and proves my point exactly: Anxiety Has Turned Moms, Would-be Moms, and Non-Moms Into a Bunch of Self-Immolating Harpies

Addendum addendum: In the interest of fairness, and since this entire post was in part a response to a conversation started by Janine Kovac (linked in the beginning), I wanted to acknowledge her reaction and apology for the original article. I have to say, it is pretty cool when people publicly take responsibility for the effect their words have had, especially when they didn’t intend to come off the way they did. And to be fair, a lot of the negative reactions garnered by the article weren’t a response to that one author so much as a response to the prevailing attitude that we seem to encounter all over: having kids makes us better than you. So again, it’s really gratifying to hear someone say, Wow, I totally didn’t mean to come off that way, and I totally see how that is exactly the way I came off. I’m sorry. That is the way these conversations should be taking place!

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“Only in a Woman’s World”

So I was eating a bag of chips the other day (the “Baked” kind for health-conscious people, right?) when a small corner of the packaging caught my eye. It bragged about the virtues of the particular variety of chips I was eating and offered a website link to what seemed to be a gathering for like-minded folk: Only in a Woman’s World. What the hell do snacking products have to do with women? I thought. What the fuck is this shit?

So I went to the provided link. Embarrassing as it was to be on record searching for such an inane website (since how could such a thing be anything other than what it sounds like: one-dimensional advertising for a presumed one-dimensional target audience?), I checked it out because I had to know for sure. What I got was a redirect to the company’s main page. That seemed curious. I still wanted to know what the hell it was about!

Well, it turns out that it is not one-dimensional advertising at all. It’s an entire multi-media presentation! The second assumption, however, is entirely correct: it assumed the target audience was about as deep and varied as cardboard. To be fair, I only watched one 2-minute Youtube cartoon. That was all I could stand.

But why the hell was it still being advertised on the bag as some group for women to gather and discuss being a woman when the website now no longer existed? I dug a little deeper and pulled up some analysis on the matter, both from those who thought the advertising campaign was as inane as I did and from the company itself.

Women feel guilty about snacking, the Corporate file on the campaign said. We want to make them feel like we understand what it’s like to be a woman, with a woman’s many concerns about health and looking her best, and we want her to know there’s something in the snack aisle for her and her friends to enjoy!

When I saw the title of this project, Only in a Woman’s World, I knew there was no way it would apply to me. I am not at all the target demographic for these advertising campaigns intending to reign in image-conscious women. I like chips, I eat them, whatever. I’m not into purses or trying to fit into little bikinis. So of course the whole thing came off as a big insult to me. God, do they really think women are that narrow, stupid, and easily defined? Fuck you.

But you know what? According to their report, the advertising campaign worked! It seemed to speak to women and led them back to the snack section. Furthermore, they worked alongside a team of women to try to define what would speak to them best. Apparently “Ahmigod I am like, so fat!” and “Cute guys wah wah!!” are what speak to women? Yeah, I don’t want to know.

Now, I feel like I’ve spent most of my internet life bitching about what pop culture and marketers think it means to “be a woman” and even I am starting to lose a little steam in my level of ire over it. I’ve come to accept the fact that I fall outside the defined norm of what it means to be a woman in our society and how stereotypical, borderline sexist marketing isn’t intended to reach me anyway. But every once in a while something comes along to stimulate all those old feelings of supreme annoyance, and this is one of those things.

So what in the fuck, Frito-Lay? Women are air-headed idiots who spend all their time whining about cankles and hair dressers while stuffing their faces with your various snack foods? Women are in the kitchen baking and celebrating over your innovative woman-friendly products with “muffled applause from oven mitts”? Really? And what the fuck is with the link on the packaging sending people over to a now defunct website (that redirects to the main corporate site)? You guys aren’t even running the damn thing anymore!

This is the same limited line of thinking that motivates my area’s local grocery store chain to market exclusively for “mom-friendly” shopping, as if women and mothers in particular are the only ones who shop at grocery stores. Seriously. This isn’t the 1950s anymore, you guys. Let’s think outside the box a little!

Adventures in Content Mismanagement

Let me start off by saying that I hate TV. I don’t own one and haven’t owned one for years. The idea of ever buying a cable/dish package is laughable.

That said, I do like to watch shows and movies on occasion. Prior to now I’ve only watched them via free over-the-top content providers and on DVD. Well, recently I decided to spring for a standard online-only Netflix account. Imagine my starry-eyed enthusiasm when I realized they had the shows I like! Then imagine my crushing disappointment when I realized the two shows I like were pretty much the only thing they had. Everything else seemed to be mediocre television and obscure movies no one’s even heard of.

So I took to the internet to figure out why the hell Netflix had such a poor offering for their online-only service (keep in mind this is the same company that tried to slough off their DVD rental aspect in favor of pure online streaming). I was already aware of Hulu’s content limitations and had hoped Netflix would fill in the gaps, especially in the movie department. That was when I learned of the great battle every OTT content provider faces: licensing and legal rights to content.

Now, I think OTT services are great. I love using them; I love being able to watch an episode of what I want when I want. I love that there are options for free viewing and that even the paid viewing options are financially feasible. But I absolutely hate this stupid content war cable companies and media conglomerates are waging. The results are lack of selection, petty intellectual property battles, and a huge dump on innovative thinking. So much for “follow the market” and “supply and demand” that capitalism purports to stand by.

So then this is what ends up happening:

Cat Caddy | Content Distribution

I can’t fucking watch anything!

You’ve got the major content providers with most of their stuff out of reach, and then you’ve got little OTT companies with access to some limited and overlapping content. AND THEN there’s this whole bullshit about needing to prove you’re a cable customer in order to watch shows online.

Let’s start with something content creators can all agree with: THE GOAL OF CONTENT IS TO BE SHARED. We want our content to be seen and used by as many people as possible. Is there an aspect of profit in this? Sure. But it shouldn’t be the first goal. When it is the first goal, you have fuckery like the media industry (which owns but does not create the content) choking off any avenues for content distribution that they do not directly control the profits of. The creator gets screwed because while the industry handles distribution and promotions, the creator loses more control over their creation. The general populace gets screwed because the ways in which we can access content are being limited, thereby keeping content away from the very people it was created for.

I can’t stop the dominating model of intellectual property rights and corporate content ownership. But I’d like to make one small request:

Cable companies, instead of fighting online streaming of your content, why not fucking work with it? Why not jump in and get involved with this new distribution model? If the market wants to cut the cord and move to online viewing, don’t try to bully them into stopping. Follow the fuck along!