September 2nd, 2008

of teenage mamas, their parents, and family values

Once Upon a Time, I was a Jehovah's Witness. *shudder* I'm very, very sorry and will try never to do anything that bad again. It'll take a lifetime to even begin to compensate for it. I hope, if anyone out there is keeping track, they take into consideration that it wasn't initially my decision (born to JW parents).

I think just about anyone with any set of beliefs, no matter how passionately asserted in public, has some kind of private thoughts of their own that may not entirely match up with their public presentation. I think it's not necessarily helpful to call this hypocrisy. I'll give you an example. JWs are way opposed to homosexuality. And sex outside of marriage in general. There was a mix of ideas about how this should play out comparatively in the membership at large and in missives from the world headquarters. But it is fair to say that while some agreed the texts indicate the two are equally bad, there was a lot of being-gay-is-worse going around. Very quietly, in the background, there were a number of people who just didn't agree that the being gay thing was all that much of a problem.

Similarly, JWs are way opposed to abortion. And, for that matter, masturbation. The scriptural support for these things (as is repeatedly hashed out in non-JW scriptural debate online and elsewhere) is for abortion, iffy, and for masturbation, non-existent. Again, there was a certain amount of quiet disagreement going on in the background. While I'm not sure what the current opinion on oral (and anal) sex is, for a while there, it was considered a kick-you-out-able offense -- even within a marriage. (This was due to questions about just what does porneia mean, which is the Greek in the scriptures also used to condemn homosexuality.) There was a _lot_ of disagreement on this one -- people wrote impassioned letters to the Governing Body on this topic. You can read some examples in _Crisis of Conscience_ by Franz. Which is an interesting book anyway.

JWs were not opposed to birth control (such as condoms, the pill, etc.) as long as it wasn't an abortion, and they weren't nearly as nutty on where to draw the line as some of the more impassioned right-wing pronatalists of today. Because JWs were (and remain) fairly anti-reproduction in general (they'd rather you expend your energies on volunteer efforts for the organization), this isn't particularly surprising.

JWs were (and I believe remain) opposed to college. They think it causes their youthful members to leave. Well, they're right, but so does breathing (check out the Pew study -- JWs don't stay JWs for very long, on average). Again, a certain number of people disagree with this stance and it is not now nor has it ever been a kick-out-able offense. You don't even have to be remorseful and stop it to remain "in good standing", the way you would if, in the heat of passion, you had gay sex with the rest of the football team. Or non-gay sex with the football team. Or whatever.

There's also a whole bunch of the usual crap about men being the head of their families and women being subservient and keeping their mouths shut and so forth.

Here's what happens on the ground. You've got a bunch of not-particularly-well-educated people who are not allowed to socialize outside of their teeny tiny little community. It is a bit of a hothouse, in fact, in which you tart, er, get dressed up three plus times a week for church. Not unsurprisingly, every once in a while, these nicely dress, well behaved young 'uns go off and have sex (sometimes in the Kingdom Hall, but generally elsewhere). And some number of those times, someone gets knocked up. Some number of those times, it becomes distressingly apparent and Something Must Be Done.

Sometimes, she just quits on her own -- stops coming to meetings. Sometimes, she's confronted by a group of men and in a pseudo court like setting, tried, found wanting, and booted out (which is announced at all the congregations where she was known). Sometimes, she is Remorseful in front of that pseudo court, and they go, well, you're preggers, we're going to have to Make an Example of You, and an announcement is made that she is Under Reproof and she is Not In Good Standing for some period of time, losing some privileges (like, say, going door to door and trying to convert others) until the end of her period of Reproof. But members in good standing can still talk to her without risking getting kicked out also.

Of course (this is a teeny tiny little community) this gets chewed over pretty thoroughly. And what I consistently heard, not just as a hypothetical, but in specific cases, is that a girl who has sex without any protection and gets pregnant is Less Bad (and more likely to be convincingly remorseful) than a girl who has sex _with_ protection and doesn't get pregnant (but who is otherwise found out, often by a guilt-stricken partner who rats on her).

In any of the possible cases (had sex, used protection, didn't get pregnant, did get "caught"; had sex, did get pregnant, under reproof; had sex, did get pregnant, booted out), if her father has any leadership privileges (women don't have leadership privileges as JWs. Period. You feel like arguing? Please do. Give _all_ the details: when, where, and what the circumstances of her no longer having them were. Pioneers per se aren't leaders. Give me a break), he will be required to "step down". It's not clear to me how coerced this particular "resignation" is, but I was certainly always led to believe it was not negotiable, unless the daughter was substantially older, living entirely on her own or with a divorced (and presumably ex-JW) spouse, etc. The rationale was, if you can't keep your own house in order, you should not be taking on additional responsibility until you've got the home front under control.

I always felt like this was ridiculous. The rationale is that if you use protection, the sex was premeditated. You did it on purpose. You can't claim to be remorseful (at least until a decent interval of being kicked out has passed). If you _did not_ use protection, the sex was "in the heat of passion", or maybe "you didn't know what you were doing". Etc. Given how well understood this was among the young women and girls in the congregations I attended, and given that the ones who _had_ at least had outercourse and in some cases considerably more all knew exactly how to navigate this particular discourse, I thought that was utter bullshit.

It should go without saying, but probably does not, that anyone who proposed abortion as a solution to this particular conundrum would be considered far More Evil than any of the other participants, no matter how cynical.

And so we arrive at our current excitement over the proposed veep. Obviously, none of these people are JWs, but there are a lot of shared ideas between JWs and conservative, pro-life Christians. A JW, it should be noted, would _never_ tolerate one of their members in that kind of leadership position, male or female. They'll boot you out for voting. They are, officially, apolitical, because they think that God is going to Destroy This System Real Soon Now and only those who separate themselves out from the goats will be spared to live for a thousand years in paradise on earth. A JW would _never_ advocate abortion for any aspect of the interesting twists and turns in the life of the veep's family. A JW would condemn the daughter for getting knocked up, might or might not praise the two for getting married. That's actually a really interesting sidelight -- they _really_ don't want their members marrying out, so it would largely depend on what the father's attitude towards the JWs was.

But if it weren't a governor/veep/mother but rather a elder/ministerial servant/father, they'd _absolutely_ expect the parent to step down until he could get her own family under control. Only then might he be considered for future leadership positions.

Me? I don't know what to think. Altho it certainly gives us all something to chew over for the next couple of months. It seems clear that the distraction provided by Gustav isn't going to be enough to paper over this one. Altho I suppose the Republicans could _hope_ that something really exciting happens with Hanna/Ike/Josephine (?) that is still within their capacity to manage heroically. That might save their chestnuts from the fire.

ETA: This is a slight tangent, but I just felt a need to share how Wacky Those Family Values Can Be. Divorce, obviously, also a non-starter for JWs. The exception is if one party commits adultery (it's that porneia word again). Reluctantly, the word from on high was eventually that if you feared for your life and safety, or the life and safety of your children, you could leave and get divorced, but you wouldn't be free to remarry unless someone committed adultery and if you jumped the gun, both you and whoever you married could be kicked out for committing adultery. And this is just the background for the good part.

Until they decided to interpret porneia in a very free-ranging, anything-other-than-missionary-between-married-hets way, porneia was defined in a very limited, only-potentially-reproductive-penetrative-sex-between-unmarried-hets way. So if, for example, you caught your spouse raping your ten year old, or sodomizing everyone they met at the local leather bar or whatever, you did _not_ have grounds for divorce. It's unclear to me whether the molestation distinguished between same vs. opposite sex between the adult and child -- I got this from my mother years ago; the policy had changed either while I was quite small or possibly before I was born.

(ETA3: My mother did not use the word sodomize, or the phrase leather bar. My memory is imperfect, but she probably used either the term "sexually abused" or "sexually molested" for the child, and "had sex with another man" for the other case. You know me, I like to add a little color.)

By the time I was a teenager, there was a whole gradation of sexual offenses. Masturbation, oral and anal sex were still right out, as was penetrative anything with someone of the same or opposite sex that you weren't married to (and, at the time, with no gay marriage, that was an unambiguously anti-gay sex policy as well). But a huge territory of necking/petting/mutual masturbation/outercourse came under the heading of "loose conduct" rather than porneia, and while you might get a stern talking to, there probably wouldn't be any announcement made or change in your status as long as you were suitably depressed about the whole thing after.

And if you can make all that make sense in your head, congratulations! You're a better candidate for surviving in a wack job religious group than I ever was.

ETA2: I actually do realize that a bunch of that it's only adultery if it could produce a child stuff is Way, Way, Way older and more widespread than JWs. I do. And I'm continually appalled by that.

ETA4: Because of the nature of this post, I will be screening anonymous comments. So if you _have_ an LJ account and want your response to show up immediately, you should log in.

child care

I have a question. Perhaps someone will find me an answer.

Once upon a time, back in 1994, a bunch of Clinton administration folk got into some serious hot water over failure to pay taxes on/for their child care. Zoe Baird was only the most conspicuous of these. While the NYT then (and, to a large degree, now) sucks, here is their coverage of some of it:

Here's my question. Let's say you have two parents. And 4 children who are Not Yet Adults, including one infant (with disability) who is a few months old. Let's further say that both parents work full time, one of them (at least) probably a lot more than 40 hours a week. And let's further assume that the 3 children who are _not_ infants are all attending school at least part of the time (otherwise, you might argue that the remaining kids are caring for the infant -- dodgy, but possible).

Who is taking care of the infant? Because surely, someone is.

Is that person being paid?

If so, are their taxes being paid?

In the wake of the mid '90s scandals, some efforts were made to make it easier to pay taxes on domestic help such as in home child care, and to clarify when you didn't have to. It's not too bad now, actually -- a matter of doing quarterlies, perhaps, and One More Form once a year. Certainly a lot less than what you have to do as a small business (no withholding, for example, altho there may additionally be responsibility to your state for unemployment taxes and thus Still More Forms).

I think these are reasonable questions to ask. There are several issues here, after all. One is the simple matter of complying with the law, which I think it is not unreasonable to expect of elected officials (altho I'm also quite okay with letting people who haven't been complying to catch up). Another is a matter of walking the walk -- if you belong to Feminists for Life, and you really and truly believe that women shouldn't have to choose between career and family, child care is an obvious issue that must crop up sooner or later. While it might be too much to ask a conservative Republican to subsidize child care for those in need, it is not too much to ask a conservative Republican who (presumably) is making some use of child care to explain what that is, and whether the law is being complied with. Among other things, I, for one, would like to know that if child care has been hired, that an I-9 form was filled out by that child care.

After all, illegal immigration is another hot button conservative Republican issue this election season.

FWIW, the Obamas have already had profiles in major news outlets about how they are handling child care.

ETA: And furthermore, I was pretty opposed to the whole Edwards thing because I figured if your spouse is dealing with breast cancer and/or its aftermath, Family Comes First. And I say that recognizing full well that the spouse dealing with the aftermath came out publicly saying it was a family decision to run.

ETA2: Really annoying coverage. This is NOT a mommy issue much less a mommy wars issue:

I'm trying to remember the last president who had really little littles in the White House. I'm coming up with Kennedy. And I'm no fan of him.

rubella, roe v wade and placenta impenetrability

What is up with Australians? Very shortly after antibiotics became widely available, there were some doctors in New York City who were convinced they were the Way to Cure Ulcers. Since the model for how to show that X causes Y is complex (first, isolate X. Then, give X to something else. Then isolate X from the something else. etc.) and the digestive system in humans presents tough problems to satisfying that model, some overly conservative senior docs pounded the heck out of people prescribing antibiotics for ulcers.

It would be decades before the truth would come out: antibiotics _are_ a way to cure ulcers caused by H. pylori. It was tough convincing the US medical system (heck, a lot of docs _still_ act like this isn't true). Guess who figured it out? Some people in Australia.

In reading _Having Faith_ (a problematic book, but a review will be forthcoming), I ran across the description of rubella causing birth defects and how a guy in Australia figured out what was going on (despite widespread, unconscionable belief that the placenta Stopped All Badness from reaching the fetus). That was interesting. Then, in 1964, a big rubella epidemic maimed "20,000 the United States alone. Desperate mothers sought legal abortions in Japan, petitioned courts to have them here, or turned to illegal abortionists."

Steingraber goes on to mention the first vaccine for rubella being marketed in 1969. Me, I'm going, that is _so_ not the interesting part of this story (altho of course I am thankful for the existence of this vaccine). I'm a little sensitive to these dates (R. was born in 1964; I was born in 1969) and I have a little history timeline in my head of interesting and important events and the next thing I thought of was, _that_ is why Roe v. Wade happened when it happened. Because let me tell you, I've been utterly and completely mystified for years it seemed so not-quite-the-right-time for it.

Want to know more about the details? This is an enlightening summary. But I'm still learning so I don't know how accurate it is:

ETA: FWIW, Massachusetts requires a blood test for seropositivity for rubella to get a marriage license (for women, regardless of age, IIRC). You don't have to _show_ seropositivity; I think the idea is just to make sure you know, one way or the other. I didn't show seropositivity. Given the time frame, and the then-current advice on how long to wait after being vaccinated before getting pregnant, I decided to rely upon herd immunity (and where we live) to protect us and that all turned out just fine. The test was redone at some point during my prenatal care, and the midwives in Seattle were quite, quite, quite adamant about making sure they got that vaccine to me very shortly after the birth. At some point after _that_, I was retested and showed immunity. As near as I can tell, from now on, we're never supposed to check again, and even if I don't show seropositivity, I'm still not supposed to get reimmunized.

I _was_ immunized for this as a child. I have my doubts, at times, about these tests and my body, because I also had chickenpox when I was a few months old, and don't show seropositivity for that, either.

ETA2: While the problems with thalidomide were discovered simultaneously by more than one person, it's worth noting that one of them was an Australian, one William McBride who wrote a letter that was published in The Lancet.

ETA3: R. adds that while lead is mined in Australia, it was banned from paint way sooner in Australia than elsewhere (the teens?) because they recognized it as a problem. It's not like these people are smarter in general; their sheep grazing and water rights policies have been fucked up for decades before they corrected them -- still working on the water rights issue.

blind spots

Steingraber has just spent several pages explaining how tragic it was that the medical community knew a bunch of stuff that should have told them there was a Problem (with DES, with thalidomide, with rubella, with mercury), but persisted in avoiding action and requiring further proof while babies were being damaged or killed, families destroyed, etc. You would _think_ she would have a little skepticism of medical technology.

You would think.

And yet, here she is, going in for amnio on page 66:

"Amniotic fluid is ... bacteriostatic, meaning that bacteria will not grow when cultured in it, so amniotic fluid undoubtedly helps keep the womb a sterile place."

She was pregnant in 1997/8 and this book was published in 2001. By this point, we'd known for quite a while that all kinds of stuff (bacterial, specifically) grew in amniotic fluid and were a prime cause of preterm delivery and sepsis of the new born and so forth. We knew it well enough that people were trying all kinds of antibiotic protocols to deal with the problem. And failing, because it turned out those germs were often quite exotic and sometimes fungal. _That_ particular revelation is quite recent.

On the next page, p 67:

"by measuring the size of the head and the length of the long bones, sonographers can calculate the age of a fetus to within seventy-two hours"

It's crap like this that just makes me wonder about how much I can trust the rest of the information. Altho the stuff about really good birders being able to identify birds at night by sound when they're migrating 1000 feet overhead is so charming I think I'll just believe it anyway.

(Quotes from _Having Faith_.)