Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Kago Ai's pregnancy and gender studies: No, feminism isn't dead, actually.

Feminist rant time?  Oh yes please!  Don't agree?  Too bad, you're here. so deal with it.  Oh, and there's totally sex here.

Yesterday, Kago Ai shocked fucking EVERYONE when she announced that not only was she married, but she is pregnant as well.  This announcement comes three short months after her suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization, her former boyfriend's incarceration, in the middle of her ongoing legal struggles with her former agency, and god only knows what else.

As a member of Morning Musume, Kago was hugely popular.  And even with her fall from grace in 2006, she still has many supportive fans, even though the "innocent girl they fell in love with" is no more.  But for the horde of critical, moralistic jackasses out there, the loss of that innocence is STILL an issue.  This bullshit has caused people who once supported her as an idol to turn a complete 180 and say some of the most horrible things I've ever seen on the internet.  Boy oh boy is that saying something.

This is not going to be about whether I personally support Kago's pregnancy or marriage.  This is about supporting her as a woman, and as a person who is still working to change her life, no matter if we think it works or not.  And, since we all know how much I love ripping comments apart, that's exactly what I'm going to do. These comments are not critical of not just Kago's decisions, but also the decisions of women in general.  There are many ways to be critical of situations like this, and far too many of them do far more harm than good.  I have found that most, if not all negatively critical comments/commenters fall into four archetypal categories which say a lot about how not just Aibon, but how all women are still viewed.

1) The "Biologist"

The "biologist" must be kept in quotes because it is a sad, sad joke.  Those who fit the "biologist" archetype focus on two, and only two, things, both of which are equally short-sighted: 1) anatomical and hormonal differences between men and women (real or perceived), and 2) the reproductive capabilities of men and women (ya know, penises and vaginas and all that jazz).

In the hormones corner, we have:

"having children when you're severely depressed isn't a way to find happiness." (sic)

This is a very tragically common statement in any discussion of differences between men and women: "women are more emotional than men, therefore women are less capable of doing x or making decision x."  First of all, let's clear something up here: that "more emotional" thing is complete and utter bullshit.  For a really horrible and stereotypical example: after a breakup, a woman may make the emotional decision to eat ice cream and watch a crappy movie, while a man may go out to a bar, get trashed, get into a bar fight and spend a night in the hospital.  (Trust me, that crap happens all the time down here)  These scenarios are incredibly Hollywood-style stereotypes, but be that as it may,  tell me which response is more emotional.

If you answered with the woman's response, you really need to re-examine your thinking, because the correct answer was none of the above.  Neither person spent any time thinking rationally about how they were to cope with this life change.  One gains 5 pounds, one ends up in the hospital.  Lose-lose situation all around here.

The statement above, when broken down, actually says that if a woman is unhappy and seeking happiness, then they should not have a child because that will actually make them be miserable, and because they are miserable (read: having an emotion), they will be an unfit parent.

Happiness is not guaranteed in having a child, but it is also not impossible to achieve.  But this is where the "depressed" part of the comment comes in.  I give the commenter props for using the word correctly because Kago really does exhibit many key signs of dysthymia.  Dysthymia is an imbalance I know all too well.  I was diagnosed at 17, though I have most likely lived with it since I was about 8 years old.  Dysthymia is not major depression, which often has highs and lows--rather, it is constant, low-grade depression.  We don't hear about it much because it isn't an "exciting" condition.  It's just annoying.  But unlike most major depression, dysthymia does not need medication.  It is easily treated with diet, exercise, and good old friends and family.  Depression, thanks to medicine and common sense, does not in any way preclude most people from being good parents.

All of society has taught us for the past two-three hundred years (since marriage stopped being mostly for political gain) that children bring joy.  Period.  We are constantly bombarded with that message here in the States, and Japan's low birthrate has made this message much more prominent in the media over there.  So, despite the reality that having children means that one or two people must constantly put a helpless being's life before their own to the point of exhaustion, people have children anyway because we are taught that it brings happiness.  If that is what people are taught to want, they will seek it out. Women are not controlled by some emotional/hormonal puppetmaster which forces us to have children.  The desire to have or not to have children is completely social.

In the reproductive corner, we have this gem:

Contrary to what they may have told you in Women's Studies*, 23 is a perfectly good and normal age to have a child.
*We'll discuss this later.

At 23, Kago is a fully grown woman, and fully physically capable of having a child.  Women's skeletons are most ready to bear children around age 20, which is when the pelvis has expanded fully.  Children born to women under the age of 24 also have the lowest chance of being born with birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities, which makes Kago's age a very advantageous factor for her future little one.

However, the biological facts are not the point of waiting to have children, and have absolutely no place in this argument unless the young woman having the child is obscenely rich and has a supportive family.  Children born to young parents have a much higher chance of living in poverty, of not graduating from high school, and living in poverty as adults.  Young women are often also not financially stable, nor do they have stable partners to support their children.  At 23, most people have not found a decent-paying job (especially now), and have not finished their education. Kago is faced with another challenge beyond these, though: she is high-profile. All societies seem to have developed a bloodlust for high-profile people.  We love to tear them down, criticize them, praise them, whatever, without actually knowing the human being.  Kago is just a normal person like the rest of us, but the media couldn't care less.  They are after money, and nothing more. And why do they do this?

Because we allow them to do it, and we encourage them to do it for our entertainment.  It's our fault.

To end on a positive note, there is nothing that says being a young family is an absolute guarantee for failure.  I married my partner 5 and a half years ago when I was 19.  And last time I checked, we are still kicking ass.  We are still child-free, but we won't be forever.  (And dude, check out how well Tsuji Nozomi is doing!!)

2) The Essentialist

The essentialist is a lot like the "biologist," but far less logical, and generally far less educated in their argument.  Essentialism, in gender studies (or any social science) refers to the idea that there is an underlying, inborn and immutable "essence" in people that helps define not only individuals, but communities--communities being defined as any observable group of people, e.g. ethnic, gender, religious, weight, height, age, occupation, etc..  In other words, "women do x because they are women."

Essentialists are burdened with two huge problems: stereotyping and circular logic.  And we all know how the intertubes love circular logic.

"Of course it's the woman's responsibility, unless birth control didn't work (unlikely but possible). Who else could be responsible? God?
...The woman makes the final decision and has the final responsibility. So it's now misogynist to assert that women are responsible for themselves?"

Basically, what's going on here is that the essentialist is placing all of the "blame" of Kago's pregnancy on Kago.  The reason this falls into the essentialist archetype rather than the biologist is because this comment exhibits one major thing our societies have taught about women from time immemorial: "Women are the keepers of the home and the carriers of children, and this is to be their primary role."

No matter how progressive we are when it comes to ideas about gender, we cannot escape this statement.  Go into the toy aisles at Walmart and check out what we still believe to be "girl" and "boy" toys.  Girls get play kitchen stuff, baby dolls (complete with fake shit that don't stink!!), and little wedding dress costumes.  If boys play with that stuff, they get called fags and pussies because taking that role is seen as being somehow BELOW them.  Why?  Well, because girls are girls and boys are boys!  Like, duh!

Girls get bombarded with the narrow choices of wife/mother or caretaker from the second they are born.  Sure, if they expand their horizons and play with trucks and shit, it's "cute."  After all, it's just a dream that they will be anything more.  This is the idea we have been taught, and this needs to change.

It takes two to tango, it takes two to have a child, it takes two OR MORE to raise a family, it takes two to assume "final" responsibilities, it takes a whole world to teach.  Women are not the final decision makers when it comes to having a child and starting a family just because they are women.  Dear baby jeebus, it doesn't make a lick of fucking sense to think so.

Oh, actually, there is a word for what happens when only one person in a partnership decides to make a child:


3) The Misogynist

Pretty obvious: this is a person who just doesn't like women.  Maybe they have mommy issues.  Maybe they just had one too many shitty girlfriends.  Maybe they've been raised around too many essentialist/"biologist" men.  Or maybe they're just unfixable, borderline abusive fuckwads.  And yes, women can be misogynists too.  Hell, we're raised to be!

"Haha, what's with these celebrities that suddenly declare that they're getting married because they spread their legs at the wrong time?"

"23 year old mom? wow, what a bitch :/"

"I am shocked too, people like her shouldn't be allowed to have children"

"omg. that poor baby, to have such a talentless mother."

"Attention whooooore. -.-;;"

When young men become fathers, they're suddenly viewed as more responsible and dutiful.  But when young women become mothers, they just spread their legs too wide.

When stupid, spoiled people like Khloe Kardashian or Jamie Lynn Spears had children, everyone ooh'd and aah'd.  Yet when someone who is educated, well-spoken, intelligent, driven and talented, but has had a few well-known problems (like Kago), we call her a bitch and an idiot.

When stupid 12 year olds get on the internet and use their newly learned bad word, and we let them get away with is, they'll keep on keepin' on.

This is what she gets to put up with for sharing a huge piece of news in her life?  No woman deserves this unless she's Octomom or Kate Gosselin.

4) That person who thinks they know what "women's studies" and "feminism" are.

"Feminism is on its way out; it can only function in a wealthy and stable society, but since it decreases the wealth and stability of any society it infects, it inevitably destroys itself."
Look up maternal mortality, domestic violence, female infanticide, female foeticide, Saudi Arabia, infant mortality, and the constitutions we helped write for Germany and Japan and how they are more egalitarian than ours.  Then try looking me in the eye and with a straight face tell me that life is flourishing in places where women and girls are not equals.  And I'll tell you to go eat razor wire, pass it out the other end and floss yourself to death.

I love picking fights with these morons (oh god, oh god what have I done?!).  No, they almost never wise up, but it's still fun.  Thankfully, this archetype is the one which won't be around much longer because the rest of us keep proving them wrong.  Speaking of proving them wrong: as someone who happens to hold a B.A. (which will be a Ph.D in the future) in gender and women's studies, I would like to give out a few choice morsels for thought:

Gender: The socially constructed entities which guide people of certain sexes toward specific matrices of behavior.
Sex:   a) What's in your pants/behind your nipples
          b) Fun
          c) Rockin'
          d) Dirrrrty
          e) Fabooshka
Slut: A sexually adventurous, secure and awesomely fabulous lady. You, yes you, should try one today!
Slut-shaming: Making derisive comments toward, or harboring negative ideas about, women who happen to have sex because it's fun and PEOPLE HAVE SEX.
Social justice: the creation and existence of laws and social rules or ideas which uphold equality, opportunity and dignity for ALL PEOPLE (see? It's not just women...)
Glass ceiling: the sexist attitude many women run into at the workplace, which affects wages, promotion/mobility, creative control, and privileged, unmarked men's sense of superiority.
Unmarked group: A social group which, because of forces rooted in essentialist ideas, racism, sexism, ageism, and historical presence, carries no label. (e.g. your white, middle-aged male boss who wears bad ties and argyle sweaters is not "the white guy at work," he is just "the guy who wears bad ties and argyle sweaters;" whereas your boss who is of Arabic descent who wears bad ties and argyle sweaters is "that one Muslim guy who wears bad ties and argyle sweaters.")
Patriarchy: lit.: "the rule of fathers." Refers to the primarily male construction of all social entities and institutions, and the disadvantages that presents for any person who is not a male of the dominant culture. (Read: the subaltern persons CAN BE MALE).
Madonna/whore dichotomy: The idea that all women are either yet both evil and pure, and are useful only as wives or sex objects.
Family planning: The process by which partners discuss and decide when and by what means they will create a household and raise children.
Natural family planning: A form of birth non-control.  Much like pulling out, it doesn't work.
Feminism: a) An activist philosophy which teaches how to think about equality and how to demonstrate, lobby and work for social change.  Feminism seeks to exact social change and work for equality of all people, regardless of ethnicity, sex, gender, creed, occupation, marital status, disability...I could go on.
                   b) Not evil.
                   c) Not women-exclusive
                   d) Not bra-burning baby killers.
Feminists:  a) Anyone, anytime, anywhere.
                   b) Fabulous
Misogynists: Gauche.

No matter what decisions Aibon (or ANY woman) has made in the past, they have nothing to do with her family news, and nothing to do with the kind of person she truly is.  I'm sick to death of people passing down huge, sweeping judgments on women for their family choices, whether they're Michelle Duggar, Angelina Jolie or Jillian Michaels.  It doesn't matter, it has nothing to do with you.  It's HER choice, often with the help of a partner.

No one is perfect, not even your favorite idols.  So why the hell do we expect them to be?  This is a moment in my idol fandom when I have to sit back for a minute and question my entire reasoning for being an idol fan.  Not because of the fans, but because of how the idol industry itself reinforces the idea of women as second-class citizens and objects of lust and beauty over and over again from a young age.  Female idols are prohibited from love, sex and any other impropriety so they can be parked on their doll stands and put on display for men to fantasize about.

Let's see, will she be your wife?...

...your housekeeper?...

...your cute fantasy?...

...your sexy fantasy?...

...or, oh I don't know...YOUR FUCKING BABY MAMA?!?!

Any way you work it, most idols are on display to be these things and nothing more.  Yet I myself love watching them and feed money into an industry in which young women are constantly watched and molded into whatever most men want.  They aren't even free when they graduate, as Aibon quickly found out.

In this beautifully imperfect world, every person should have chances to thrive and flourish, to make mistakes and fix mistakes, to love, be loved, fall out of love whether they're male or female, young or old, pregnant or not.  And very few of us, Aibon included, would have these chances if it weren't for feminism and gender studies.  Aibon is barely hanging on as it is, and we need to support her instead of making derpy comments and passing huge judgments.  I shudder to think how people treat those in their own lives if they are saying such cruel, misogynistic things about a young woman in Japan whom they don't even know.


Raelyan said...

Thank you so so so much for this post. You've said alot of what I've been thinking and so much more (in ways I couldn't straighten out from white noise in my head). I'm so fed up with the hundreds isand hundreds of ill-educated haters that are just out to judge. My favourite of all the chides is "How stupid is she to have a baby when she's this depressed". As if she went "I'm depressed. A baby will fix this!". Anyway, I'm making no sense right now. Good for you for writing such an interesting blog post!! Good luck on the phd

Anonymous said...

FANTASTIC LADY you took the words right out of my mouth. And you have credibility to back up your argument! *applauds* Love it!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely great post.