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Misogyny and Motherhood in America: Small Animals by Kim Brooks

If you only buy one parenting book, it should be “Small Animal, Parenthood in the Age of Fear,” by Kim Brooks.  If you’ve grown up anywhere near children, chances are you’ll parent just fine.  Sure, you could buy a copy of Dr. Spock.  I did.  I made it as far as Spock telling me that my daughter would envy me for my penis.  I snorted, set the book down, and promptly ‘misplaced’ the tome a few weeks later.  You could also buy a copy of Sears' Baby Book.  There are some good tidbits from place to place in this massive volume.  He’ll tell you that babies spike fevers—just like the rest of us—and that it’s the body's natural way of staving off infection; that made me feel better during pretty much every baby fever we endured.  He’ll suggest you babywear, co-sleep, and attachment parent in general.  So will I.  Where Sears lost me was when I realized that in all likelihood, his wife, did all these things with his children rather than him.  If you have friends or family who insist you should read parenting books, then get one of these for display just ameliorate their parenting judgement fury.

Buy Kim Brooks book for yourself though.  First of all, it talks at length about said parenting judgement, how easy it is to commit the faux pa yourself, as well as how frequently you’ll be the victim of said judgement… especially if you’re a woman.  And that, that last little clause about womanhood, is why everyone, expecting parent, existing parent, or not-a-parent needs to read this book.  Women are being arrested across our country for, get ready for it, being mothers.

Suppose, as a mom, you need to run an errand, as parents often do.  I don’t drive, but you might.  Suppose the errand will only take a bit.  Suppose you just have to pick up the dry cleaning, then hustle back out to the car.  Now, suppose some other person sees your children in the car.  The turned off car.  The car with the windows open.  The car in a moderate climate.  Turns out it just doesn't matter.  If that person decides that you’re a bad parent for leaving your kid in the car, or maybe just decides they’re in a bad mood that day—it doesn't really matter why—they can make a pone call, and you can spend the next two years in court.  If you’re lucky, you’re kids might not wind up in foster care for awhile.  If you’re not, well, that really sucks.

Ms. Brooks is particularly qualified to write on this subject because it happened to her.  Once she was clear of the law though, she did what no one has before, she wrote a book about her experience.  As she wrote, other mothers who shared her experience contacted her and the book grew.

In the book, Brooks quotes data-driven psychology studies that indicate the nation’s ‘fear’ for its children isn’t so much driven by a concern for their safety as it is by antagonism for women in general.  She also relates anecdotal tales of men running into similar circumstances while running errands, but being given a mere warning by the police.  One man was simply admonished to ‘be more careful.’  Not for the safety of his children of course, but because ‘these women are crazy and will call the police.’  While his view blames an issue faced largely by women on women, it’s incomplete.  In the study quoted in the book, UC-Irvine psychology professor Barbara Sarnecka, found that people's concern for the safety of children scaled not with the actual danger inherent in the situation, but with its context.  If someone merely forgot their wallet and had to run back in, the kids were in less danger than if the same person was running in for a mocha.  Oh, and in every case, if the person running in was a male?  In every single scenario, if a man did it, it placed the kids in less danger than if a woman did.  In other words, our epidemic of fear isn’t fear at all, but more of shallowly repressed, and overtly denied case of explicit sexism and misogyny.

If you’re about to parent, or parenting already, read this book so you’re aware of the issue.  If you’re not a parent, read it so you can make a difference, and avoid being a sexist tool.  Once you’ve read it, please, first of all, let’s all be decent to each other.  Then, think long and hard about supporting groups like LetsGrow.org in calling for programs that let kids be kids, and parents be parents again.

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