The Persecuted Majority vs. The Vocal Minority

We already talked about how our hobbies are not judging your choices.  I am constantly seeing blog posts wherein a member of the majority group complains about a small vocal minority’s choices as somehow being wrong or superior (but not superior as in better, superior as in smarmy).  The article will then go on to explain precisely why the minority is blowing something out of proportion or there’s no science yet or that they’re just superior jerkwads with their superior attitude.  (This last one irritates me because A.  I’m often in that minority, except as a silent member, and B.  Outside of Mothering.com, which one does not have to read, I don’t actually know minority member folks who are that kind of vocal on most of these issues.)

Like we said, we’ve already addressed this issue with TV.  The majority of folks watch TV.  A minority don’t own a TV.  It’s probably generally thought that people who don’t own a TV do so because they believe that decision to be superior.  The majority, of course, does not have to justify its decision.  They have a TV because the majority has a TV.

Exercise is generally thought to be healthy and there’s peer-reviewed articles and so on showing its benefits.  Most of us don’t exercise as much as we ought to.  That doesn’t mean that the people who run marathons are trying to show us up.  Folks who are vocal are probably trying to find partners to run with.

Epidurals… this is a really big one.  I cannot tell you the number of blogs owned by PhD women with science degrees that say super nasty things about women who try to have a natural childbirth.  Also the lady who runs the NYTimes motherlode blog.  Titles to the effect of, “Having a natural childbirth does not make you a better person.”  H’okay…  And my childless partnerless colleagues who think women who have natural childbirths are crazy (“Um… B?  I had a natural childbirth…I hope you don’t really believe what you just said”).  The majority of women in the US use epidurals.  By FAR the majority.  Women using epidurals are not some persecuted minority.  Are there some women who strongly believe that one should avoid the epidural if possible?  Certainly, there are.  And not because they believe women should always suffer either (having an epidural, contrary to what some of these blog posts would have you believe, is not a feminist statement).  There’s some good evidence that it leads to slower labor, among other things, and I know people who have had epidurals go wrong leading to bizarre or unpleasant side effects.  There actually are pros and cons that any woman should consider carefully before making a decision (disclaimer:  I could not care less what you decide, but I do think it’s important to have full information).  Some women who have made the choice to go natural are very vocal about these potential cons, possibly beyond the bounds of peer-reviewed science.  But without these women, who would let people know that there was even an option?  Who would organize the Bradley classes so that natural childbirth can include as little pain as possible?  The minority sometimes has to be vocal to let folks on the margin of the majority know that they have a choice.

Breast-feeding… whether this is the majority or minority culture depends on where you are in the country.  Right now the entire country has recently tipped towards doing some breastfeeding.  But it’s interesting that you can see the vocal minority of breast-feeders (I was one!) and the vocal minority of formula-feeders, depending on where in the country you are.  And the majority pressures you to do whichever you’re not.  I was vocal because I was coursing with hormones, felt like I was invincible, and wanted to make it easier for other women to breastfeed their babies as well.  When it’s common-place you’re less likely to get those disapproving looks.  When visiting cities where I was in the majority it was so much easier to nurse and I didn’t feel any need to advocate.  (I also figured it wasn’t culture keeping moms who weren’t nursing from nursing in the city, whereas culture and lack of support is definitely a main reason in the small town.  In the city women know they can nurse and where to find support and they may need information on alternatives… in Small Town there’s a big knowledge gap in addition to culture being against it.)

Potty training… I wish we’d met a vocal minority person on early potty training before DC decided at 12 months that ze didn’t want to poo in hir diaper anymore.  As we said in a previous post, I didn’t know it was possible to do something in between infant potty learning and Brazelton’s signs of readiness.  Now I’m quite vocal about it, putting on my professor hat and educating people who said nasty things to us when we started at 15 months.  It’s not that I care when you train your kid… there are pros and cons to all of the ages of training.  But I’d like people to know that if they start young they’re not scarring their kids for life.  There’s support.  They’re not the only ones.  The vocal majority trains their kids after age 3.  That’s fine.  But there are other ways.  I’m sure many people went away from my lecture thinking horrible things about me, but that’s their problem, not mine.  And vocalizing their concern for my precious toddler crossed a line anyway.  They needed to know there’s no reason to call CPS.

The majority doesn’t like to let go of its status.  I’m sure other social scientists have full-blown theories on this subject (and published papers and stuff).  But the majority likes to keep the status quo.  The majority likes to tell the minority to shut up and stop being so arrogant.

Maybe you have to be a vocal minority if you want to stay sane in a majority culture.  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a few outliers that share your own culture.  Or you’ll steal a few folks from the majority, and maybe, deep down, that’s what the majority are afraid of.

35 Responses to “The Persecuted Majority vs. The Vocal Minority”

  1. feMOMhist Says:

    “Maybe you have to be a vocal minority if you want to stay sane in a majority culture. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a few outliers that share your own culture. Or you’ll steal a few folks from the majority, and maybe, deep down, that’s what the majority are afraid of.”

    when it comes to motherhood NEVER underestimate the way majority pressure + fear of effing up a kids = mommy craziness and paranoia.

    seriously mommy prof pal and I were discussing this just yesterday. As a first time mom I oozed judgement. I needed to justify my every parenting decision and DAMNIT if your way was different, you were a walking indictment of my way. The second time around, I was just focused on surviving. I knew enough to know I didn’t know SH1t, let along enough to tell other people how to do it.

    If I could tell new mothers any one thing it would be to embrace the notion of intentionality and let it go. Most moms are doing the best they can and their intention is not to F*CK you up, only not f*ck up their offspring. How and why they reached their decision may be interesting, but if you can’t discuss it civilly, you should STFU.

  2. Jacq Says:

    Well, now I feel kind of guilty about being a non-vocal minority in 99% of things. I just always assume that people will figure their own way to do things if they’re motivated enough to do it. All I can be is a model for something, not a preacher. What if my way really wasn’t the right way for them? I don’t want that kind of guilt. With my friends, I’ll always present a ton of different options or ways to do things because they just need to find the right one for them. And what’s right for them may change over time too just like it has for me.
    Here’s where I find things confusing – for example, I’ve never liked the noise of TV, even as a child. So for me to say that someone else can (or should) easily give it up is ludicrous. Of course it was easy for me. Just like snorting oxytocin and still not getting any milk out of the girls was difficult. Yet I do still appreciate the one vocal nurse in the hospital 23 years ago that told me not to feel bad if I couldn’t breastfeed when everyone else made me feel like I was deliberately killing my kid.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You don’t have to be vocal. You’re not destroying the feminist sisterhood if you’re not! You can even hide what you’re doing, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to hide, which is what the minority is often pressured to do.

  3. Spanish Prof Says:

    That’s why I don’t have kids. I already spend too much time on blogs. Could you imagine if I had to add “mommy” blogs to a blogroll. And although I do not usually engage, when I do, I don’t back down.

  4. Grace Says:

    I like the idea that the minority may have to be strident just to let the rest of the world know there’s a choice. But like you, I dislike it when choices are turned into morality plays–they are just CHOICES, with good and bad consequences, with which we learn to deal. We pick those choices more likely to yield consequences we think we can handle. And then we live with them. And then we make the same or different choices the next time depending upon our experiences the first time around.

    Oh, and while we’re on this subject, my pet peeve is when those in the majority start whining about persecution as though they were really a minority–Christians being a prime example. Hello! You ARE the majority. We already mostly do things YOUR way, or at least with YOUR feelings in mind. So cut the crap already–you are IN NO WAY a persecuted minority just because not everyone agrees with you.

  5. becca Says:

    “The minority sometimes has to be vocal to let folks on the margin of the majority know that they have a choice.”
    There’s truth to this, and I tend to believe ‘movements’ (of all stripes) needs both people to nudge the overton window and people to shift it (i.e. people from the moderate middle working outward and people on the extreme side, who will never convince most people, reframing what is an acceptable position).

    That said, I mislike giving these folks a total ‘get out of logic free’ card on the scientific evidence front. Have you found tactful ways to say “X choice has pros (and I might even agree with you for my own personal choice), but it doesn’t have these particular pros you are putting forth (or at least they have been refuted in these scientific studies)”?
    I have this problem with breastfeeding in particular.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t have any scientific proof on this, but I truly believe that breastfed poop doesn’t smell bad. Not something I have explored on pubmed. It’s also less expensive (conditional on workplace things, WIC availability etc.) unless you’re one of the rare folks who isn’t getting that extra 300 calories anyhow, and if your baby ends up with a milk allergy, it is a lot less expensive to cut out milk than to get the expensive formula. In our area it is precisely the women who don’t need these advantages (other than the poop thing) who breastfeed and the women who could use the extra money (working class SAHM, for example) who are pressured to formula feed (on a schedule!) and not given the support needed to get over the initial breastfeeding difficulties.

  6. Perpetua Says:

    Yes, yes, yes. I think the reason why I find the “persecuted majority” stance so galling on issues relating to child birthing and rearing is precisely as Grace’s mentions above – because it is a tactic taken from the far right on cultural matters and their (in my opinion) pernicious fear mongering about whitemalestraight folks and their impending doom, even though of course they have all the wealth-power-prestige in the country. Thus, to be the persecuted majority mentality isn’t just annoying, it’s oppressive, it’s a way of silencing and further marginalizing various minority groups. So, when feminist bloggers choose this tactic, I am particularly incensed. I don’t happen to believe that individual choices are feminist or unfeminist. I believe the social structures and policies that deny or provide agency and autonomy are unfeminist or feminist. Therefore, I don’t give sh*t, like you guys, whether or not a woman has an epidural, or breastfeeds, or opts out. But I care deeply when childbirthing women are coerced, bullied, or shamed into epidurals through non-evidence-based medical practices. (I had an epidural, and it was great. I had a completely intervention-free birth and it was amazing. So much better! I tell people this, because it’s like when you find an amazing recipe and it is so good and you want everyone to try it because eating it was like the happiest thing in the universe, even though you know maybe not everyone will love it like you did. Some people hate *cilantro* [ mind boggles], so I find it easy to believe that some people might not find an unmedicated birth to be the Best Thing Ever.)

    It’s true that one often has to be strident when a minority. How else can you get your rights addressed? When your choices are to fight or give up, well if you fight then you have to be strident or you wouldn’t be fighting, you’d be giving up. I understand that sometimes, for example, BF advocates are strident in a way that mainstream women find judgmental or alienating. I wish that wouldn’t happen. I don’t agree with every bit of advocacy or approaches out there by BF advocates or AP or NCB. But I wish the majority could also see how difficult it is to combat majority-culture, not to force everyone into your model, just to have a space to exist. Being on the margins creates extreme positions, because one is so thoroughly rejected from the majority (just look at the whole vaccine debate for the perfect example). The hostility to homebirthing is intense, and it is so gendered in a way that I think all feminists, no matter what their exact personal views on homebirth might be, need to be really concerned about. Any discourse that denounces a group of women as stupid, ignorant, bad mothering baby killers needs to be troubling to all of us. And yet it’s an extreme example of the kind of discourse we often see leveled against non-mainstream mothers. (Non mainstream folks of a variety of stripes.) So those that hold those positions get more entrenched and further from the mainstream. Or alternatively the mainstream figures out a way of incorporating the minority and some of the harsher edges get smoothed off. It is possible for majority folks to engage critically while embracing open-mindness or willingness to listen.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Great comment and really good points! We totally agree with you, especially about how it’s polarizing when you can either be strident or silent. And you’ve really gotten to the crux of what bugs us about those home-birthing posts. Like Micro Dr. O said in her discussion of the issue, the problem is that women are forced into these polar choices, not that some women choose to home-birth. Many people would rather be in birthing centers with exactly the right amount of intervention for what they want, but we have constrained choice sets.

      I understand that cilantro tastes like soap to some people because they can taste a specific essence in it that I can’t.

      The funny thing with BF, is that the most judgmental and vocal people I’ve met on that issue are people in places where the majority breastfeeds! They’re just part of the majority silencing the minority. Same with formula feeding around here. (Though again, I’m a member of the class that breastfeeds, so I mainly get left alone. But women would come up to me and tell me stories as I nursed.)

  7. Cloud Says:

    The thing is, sometimes the vocal minority gets all judgmental, too, and then the whole thing degenerates into a screaming match between the two extremes, and people in the middle just end up confused.

    I have actually been on the receiving end of some judgment (in real life, even!) about the fact that my second baby was born via C-section. She was on the large side (turned out to be 8 lbs 9 oz), and breech. She was a surprise breech- i.e., we found out when I was already in full on labor. In fact, I had about five minutes to figure out what to do. My doctor explained the risks and benefits of both options, said that in my situation the risks were about a wash, but that labor would be harder with a breech baby, and since he knew I was already exhausted from a month of prodomal labor, he recommended a c-section. Which is what we did. But about 3 months post-partum I got a judgmental lecture about how bad c-sections are and how even with a breech baby I shouldn’t have “been forced” to have one. (I wasn’t forced. The doctor clearly said the choice was mine, and I freely chose, the only thing I would have liked was more time to make the choice, but that wasn’t in the cards due to how fast my labor was progressing.)

    Like Perpetua, I don’t care much about choices other people make freely, but I do care about structures and policies that prevent free choices, and I do care about lack of education that essentially negates the existence of a choice. But that was not what happened to me at all. Thank God this all happened the second time around, when I had a firmer feeling of being a competent mother and could just blow off the lecture.

    Having felt the judgment on all sorts of parenting issues (sleep, eating, working, the fact that we don’t take our kids to church, the c-section), I have come to think that you’re screwed no matter what you do as a mother. Someone will judge you, and chances are they will feel free to tell you about their judgment (bonus points if it is in front of your kids!) so all you can do is try to let it go and not add to the judgmental climate. I don’t always succeed with that, but I try. And I’ve borrowed from my “woman in a male-dominated field” playbook, and I fake confidence in my parenting until I feel it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That lecture may not have actually been a judgmental lecture. I too bemoan the fact that doctors no longer know how to deliver breech babies and how the safest choice with a breech baby today in the US is an operation (apparently in France, for example, it is safer to deliver breech vaginally because the providers are still trained and experienced in what to do). It didn’t used to be that way. You also got a LOT more option than most people in the US would get in that case– in our town, breech = c-section, period. Even if they know well in advance the baby is breech. There’s massage therapists and chiropractors around here that make a lot of money trying to turn babies, but no doctor in town will deliver a breech baby vaginally (nor will the home-birth midwives allow a breech baby to be a home birth). That is what your friend was probably reacting to. It isn’t a choice in most of the country, and it was going to take a couple of tries before she heard from you that you actually got a choice in the matter.

      C-section rates are rapidly rising and, although still a substantial minority, they may someday become a majority in the US, especially with the lack of providers willing to do VBACs (the one provider in our town who did them moved to Australia) because of liability reasons.

      • Cloud Says:

        See, it is completely different out here. My doctor must have told me 10 times that I could have a VBAC next time if I wanted to. He in fact tells me that every time he sees me. To which I always reply: “we’re not planning on there being a next time”. He’s delivered breech babies vaginally, and had no qualms about doing it again.

        I think it sucks that this is not the norm elsewhere in the country.

        So I understand your points, and basically agree… still I think unloading them on a 3 month post-partum mom who had a c-section she wasn’t really expecting isn’t the most tactful thing to do. What’s done is done. All she achieved was to make me feel bad about my c-section for a little while.

        I think even in Europe, they start recommending c-sections once the breech baby gets big. After the lecture, I went and did some research on the recommendations, etc., and really, what my doctor told me was pretty much spot on for all except the extreme natural birth fringes.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        In the US, I’m fairly sure you only have choices like that as the norm in California. Possibly NY City or DC (I don’t know), but definitely NOT in Boston, which you would think would have similar populations to CA in terms of demands and quality of medical care. It must be something different about the legal environment.

        My sister-in-law had an unnecessary c-section (textbook version of a c-section caused by inappropriate monitoring of normal occurrences), but I didn’t see much point in telling her that. Especially since she didn’t know she had choices rather than just doing what the doctor says. Still, it would be nice if more people were educated about these things prior to birth so they (or their advocates) can make educated decisions during birth.

      • icee Says:

        You’re doing it here.

  8. GMP Says:

    Very interesting post! I wanted to make one point — the relative nature of what constitutes the relevant majority/minority. In other words, the majority/minority relevant in people’s lives on any given issue may not be the absolute majority/minority on that issue. For instance, 2/3 or Americans are overweight and 1/3 obese. But, if I look at the colleagues in my department, of 40 people maybe 4 are overweight and none are obese. Also a vast majority of men in my department exercise quite regularly. So if you are an academic in my and similar departments, fit exercising people are a majority, and you can feel pretty bad about your own couch potato habits even though they are perfectly aligned with the majority of the US population.

    Regarding breastfeeding — in my opinion the only benefit that cannot be simulated well with formula are the antibodies it provides, but the baby gets these benefits as long as there is some breast milk in the diet (so doesn’t have to be straight from the breast and certainly does not have to be exclusive breastfeeding). I breastfed all my kids because I was fortunately able to, it’s cheap and easy once the supply is established. Formula costs an arm and a leg in the long run (my eldest was on formula mostly since 5 months because I was in grad school and had no place to pump and was pretty clueless about it all really; on grad student salaries, this expense really hurt). I agree with nicoleandmaggie’s point that in general there may be nonexistent or inadequate breastfeeding support for people who need it most (those for whom formula may be out of financial reach). When my supply dwindled with baby No 2 in the early days, there was a local lactation consultant who came to my house within an hour of calling her and brought me a rental pump at 8 pm on a Saturday night. If you don’t have support, you are more likely to drop breastfeeding altogether.

    Regarding early potty training — I cannot imagine why anyone would give you a hard time if you are potty training early. More power to you, I say, and more money saved on disposable diapers. I think the culture in the childcare settings may be the deciding factor for a lot of people. My kids were in daycare in two states, each time in childcare since infancy. All these places endorsed the attitude that “boys are hopeless with potty training before they reach the age of 3” and would not work with us sooner than that because that meant more mess for them to clean up. So each time (twice so far) we would not even start until the boy was old enough to start asking on his own to go potty because more than half of his class was trained already and wearing big-kid underwear. Kudos to all who potty train early. My middle son is 4 and we are finally done with the major hurdle that was getting him to do No 2 on the potty (I am talking major constipation because he would postpone it, then terrible smelly accidents with ruined clothes and carpet… No fun.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      And the poo– formula fed poo is NASTY. Breast-fed poo, mild vaguely cottage cheese smell (sorry for the TMI, well, not really).

      Yes, because I’m one of those “professors” breastfeeding was easier for me because the majority of professors breastfeed even if everybody else in town doesn’t. Just like not taking our husband’s last name.

      Early potty training is psychologically damaging (it isn’t really). “Aren’t you worried about psychological damage?” also “I hear early trainers relapse” and “At that age, isn’t it just the parents being trained?” (We answer these, and more questions in our earlier post. :) )

    • becca Says:

      “the baby gets these benefits as long as there is some breast milk in the diet (so doesn’t have to be straight from the breast and certainly does not have to be exclusive breastfeeding)”
      I wonder about this. I mean, when it comes to *commercial* antibodies, which are usually in sodium azide to preserve them, there are very strict guidelines about which can be stored at fridge temp and which need to be in the freezer, and never the two shall meet! Some are destroyed by a single day at the wrong temp.
      It seems to me logical to assume that not all antibodies are equally stable in the fridge and freezer, so I’m not sure straight-from-the-breast is identical to expressed breast milk. Given the structure of IgM, I’d anticipate it’s even less stable than the IgGs we use in labs.
      I never tell this to breastfeeding moms, particularly those that must do expressed breast milk, because some antibodies are way better than no antibodies. But really, it’s always bothered me scientifically.

      (see nicoleandmaggie- this is what I mean! even when I agree with people on the general principle, I can’t shut up about the science)

      • Cloud Says:

        I’ve always wondered about the natural killer cells in breastmilk, too. I wonder how long they last.

        My kids got a mix of pumped and straight from the breast, and since both did a lot of nursing at night, I never really worried about it for me. But I always wondered.

  9. PQA Says:

    Do I live in a crazy hippy bubble, because the only place I have encountered this mom “I am judging you” craziness is on the internet? No on in real life has said boo to me (except my mother but she doesn’t count as a normal person).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      People get it a LOT from relatives. I haven’t because my mom was really progressive and apparently I’m raising my kid like she raised us (minus the need for formula on the days I taught because pumps are so much better now) and my ILs know not to give any commentary unless specifically asked about a specific subject (living far away also helps on this front). Also in the midwest people don’t get in each other’s business as much as in say, the South, where everybody has an opinion that they want to share.

      But even my colleagues nationally will opine on all sorts of things when we get together, including parenting topics, even when they don’t have kids of their own. Everyone has an opinion on breastfeeding and natural childbirth, apparently, whether they plan to act on said opinion or not. I hear a lot of this now at conferences as everybody in my academic cohort starts having their first child (I was an early bloomer in that respect).

  10. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    What ever happened to the fundamental ethical principle that you keep your own motherf*cken opinion of other people’s personal choices to yourself, unless they f*cken ask you?

  11. Donna Freedman Says:

    Apologize for the OT-ness of what I’m about to say, but the mention of the Borg made me thinking of a bumper sticker my friend brought back from a genre convention:
    “I am Dyslexic of Borg.
    “Resistance is futile.
    “Prepare to have your ass laminated.”
    My other favorite bumper sticker she brought back:
    “National Non-Sequitur Society: We don’t make sense, but we do like pizza.”

  12. Dr. Virago Says:

    Oh, I’m *totally* trying to show the rest of you up when I run marathons. Otherwise, running 26.2 miles is just *crazy*!

    ;-)

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