I was pondering privilege at the playground today and wondering if there is such a thing as male privilege, and if so what it is. I concluded that it does exist and is overwhelmingly biological. If a man wants to have genetic children, he can do so without going through pregnancy or delivery. I realize that pregnancy affects people differently and that I struggled with it more than most, but still, what an incredible privilege. My female readers, imagine being able to have a child without facing a C-section or an excruciating vaginal delivery. Without facing the prospect of throwing up nearly daily for three months. Imagine being the proud parent of two children without 18 months of weight gain and discomfort or pain and heartburn and acid reflux and so on. Without having had to interrupt all your interests and hobbies and athletic activites. I could go on, but you get the point.
Sometimes I ponder what it means to be a woman and whether I’m happy being a woman. Usually I conclude that I’m not exactly sure what it means to be a woman, but whatever it is, I am very happy being female. I wouldn’t want to be a man. Except. Except for the pregnancy part. I can see trading genders merely to avoid that problem.
I was pondering today also the recommendation from the AAP that one breastfeed exclusively for six months. Six months! I did this with both my children, and I honestly can hardly believe it. In black and white it seems crazy – that one should be the sole source of nutrition for another human, around the clock, for six months. It is impossible to do such a thing without major disruption to one’s career and life. Of course, many women use formula partially or entirely, but the fact remains that our government recommends breastfeeding. Exclusively. For six months. When combined with the standard 12 weeks of maternity leave that is typical for professional women – and the even more meager benefits other women get – it’s crazy. But I’m not sure it would be better if the government were to say give 6 months paid leave so that women could fulfill the AAP’s recommendation. While I support more leave in the general sense, I’m not sure I support the government overtly forcing the issue of the six months of exclusive breastfeeding, especially since the evidence to support this (as opposed to some breastfeeding) is rather tenuous.
I realize that there is institutional sexism and various challenges women face, but for me personally, these pale in comparison to biology. Yes, it was tough being the first female engineer at my company. It was annoying being the only woman in my group for a decade and often feeling like I represent my entire gender when I open my mouth. But, this is insignificant compared to the trial of pregnancy, childbirth, and around-the-clock breastfeeding.