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26 August 2010

Running List of Pet Peeves: #2 Mommy Spots

Why do expecting and new mothers need designated, reserved parking spots? Are they handicapped? Are they diseased?

There is a very fine line between the medicalization of a condition and its maladization. Far from doing women a favor, this practice furthers the stereotypes of women as weak, enfeebled, inferior, and ultimately less-than men. In the same way that men were once expected to open doors for women and lay their coats over puddles for women, lest their delicate feet should become damp, men--and even new fathers--are expected to park further from their destination, respecting these spots as off-limits. (In the way of full disclosure, I believe the signs at my local grocery store read, "Expecting mothers and new parents" [emphasis added].)

Many feminist scholar have pointed out the discrepancies between traditional birthing practices and those practiced in contemporary, industrialized societies. In parts of the developing world (and in virtually all of the pre-modern world), women give birth in their homes surrounded by family and friends while standing, not reclining. (And, yes, these parts of the world generally have higher fertility rates.) In the Western world, due in part to the effects of neo-chivalrous ideals of the late-Victorian period and in part to the profit motives of the new medical profession, doctors pushed midwives out of the bedroom and pregnant women into the hospital. Pregnancy, much like the flu, was a condition that required the constant supervision of a medical professional.

Indeed, there have been many advances in medical science that have reduced the mortality rates of both women in labor and their pre-/newly-born children; however, the wholesale redefining of an entire portion of the lifecourse of women as problematic expands to the entire definition of femininity and womanhood that does a complete disservice to all women.

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