Feminist Herstory Pt. 3 – Let’s Judge Ourselves as People

We’re back for the occasional history of feminist theory. Earlier posts are here:

Feminist Herstory Pt. 1 – It is discovered that Women are PEOPLE!!!

Feminist Herstory Pt. 2 – Here comes the FIRST WAVE

Burning bras and breaking free!

The Depression didn’t kill the feminist movement but with the right to vote and record unemployment, activist women diverted their energy to the right to work and unionize. World War II actually was a period of empowerment for women. As men shipped off to the Pacific and Europe to fight the enemy, women took over many of the social positions they vacated. Not only did women go to work in the jobs at factories and office buildings left open by men, they became a major part of the industrial workforce in the war effort. Women were building tanks and battleships and assembling munitions. The number of working women increased by 57% from 1940 to 1944. They were immortalized in the classic images of Rosie the Riveter. There would be no Allied victory without the formerly weak females building B-52 bombers.

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Susan Faludi points out in her 1991 book, Backlash, that these working women not only had their own money (and government funded childcare), with their men overseas they also had some space. This was reflected in the media of the time. Gone were the Betty Boops and damsels in distress. In their place were strong independent women who drove storylines in movies and radio programs. A perfect example is Woman of the Year (1942). In this classic film, Spencer Tracy has to negotiate the new gender dynamic with his talented wife, played perfectly by Katherine Hepburn.

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But like all good things, World War II came to an end and most of those men came home to reclaim their old jobs and women. Kathrine Hepburn was replaced by Marilyn Monroe and films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The resulting “baby boom” put women back in the kitchen, pregnant and getting dinner on the table at 6 pm.

But after that glimpse of economic freedom, feminism was far from dead. In 1953, Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 book, The Second Sex, was made available in English. De Beauvoir, the life partner of French existentialist Jean-Paul Satre, made waves with The Second Sex by separating the terms sex and gender. The famous quote from the book, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman,” opened the door for discussions of gender socialization. The Second Sex also outlined the many ways females are marginalized as aberrations and second-class people.

Unfortunately for 1950s feminists, The Second Sex wasn’t as popular as romantic novels, like James Jones’ From Here to Eternity (1951). The 50s were characterized as a time of consumerism and domesticity and women were expected to find happiness in housekeeping and mothering. That is until the 1960s happened. Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, identified the “problem with no name,” and that problem was sexism.

Friedan, who has written that she was pressured to leave her graduate work at Berkeley by her boyfriend, had been a union activist. She was fired from her job as a union writer when she became pregnant with her second child. The idea for The Feminine Mystique came after her 15th college reunion. When surveying female college graduates she found a similar theme. (White middle-class) women asked, “is that all?” Were their lives meant to be lived in the shadows of their men?  Didn’t they have the right to pursue their own dreams?

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The Feminine Mystique kicked of the “Second Wave” of feminism. Where the first wave was primarily concerned with political empowerment (suffrage), the second wavers addresses the broader marginalization of women in society. In 1966, Friedan co-founded the National Organization of Women (NOW). NOW took on not only the issues of first-wavers, like abortion rights, but also the expansion of the civil rights legislation to protect women from discrimination.

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The second wave went to the heart of the marginalization of women, the Miss America pageant. Since 1921, the Miss America pageant has promoted itself as the annual crowning of the most beautiful (young) woman in America. The beauty contest was (and is) the largest source of college scholarship money for females in America. You might be beautiful on the inside, but if you don’t look smashing in a bathing suit (now a bikini) you have no hope of getting that college money. In 1968, feminists protested outside the contest in Atlantic City. The protesters crowned a sheep as Miss America. They threw many of the symbols of female beauty, including (male designed) bras, into a trashcan. Although the trashcan was never lit, the feminists were forever labeled as “bra burners.”

Coming Soon: Part 4 – The Second Wave Arrives.

The following books mentioned above are available at Powell’s by clicking the covers below.

iBoobTube (or How I Tried to Stop My Baby from Eating My Android)

February 25, 2015

I was a latchkey kid. I know way too much TV trivia. My parents knew that if I was watching Gilligan Island reruns, I probably wasn’t roaming the streets, starting fires or chasing girls up trees. Weekday afternoons, prime-time line-ups, Saturday morning cartoons, Sunday golf tournaments with Dad. It’s a wonder I wasn’t plumper than Honey Boo-Boo. Fortunately, I also liked to ride my bike, run through the woods, and shoot hoops (imagining that I was Pistol Pete Maravich).

During the great radicalization that was college, I read a book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (1978) by Jerry Mander. It compared the process of watching TV to the process of hypnotization. It also discussed how visual media supplants our imagination. (What kid can read Harry Potter without imagining him looking like Daniel Radcliffe?) So I went straight off it.

In the 1960s there was a lot of concern about the “vast wasteland” of television. That people were staying home with the boob tube, instead of engaging in the world, turning their brains into green slime. It felt good to turn the box off for decades, occasionally popping in for a trend or a pop culture update only to find, like Springsteen sang in in 1992, there were 57 channels and nothing on.

Somewhere along the way, TV got better. Show’s like The Wire and Breaking Bad pulled me back in. Then we got pregnant, so instead of going out and “engaging in the world,” it was staying in and binge-watching episodes of The Good Wife (the feminist Perry Mason).

Now that I have a child, I’m worried about it all over again. I see how she reacts when the TV is on, like it’s some cosmic god speaking secret messages to her. And the TV is now the laptop and the phone as well. She’s drawn to all of them in a way that freaks me out. Am I a bad dad for flicking on Kelly Ripa to get a break from the intensive parenting duties?

The conventional wisdom is to turn the TV when the kid is younger than 2 (uh oh). That TV does two things to your kid. First, it takes time away from conversation and playtime that actually stimulates the brain more than the flickering images on the screen. The second thing is that it retards cognitive development, creating lasting effects on language development, reading skills, short-term memory, sleep patterns and attention issues. Great.

Why to Avoid TV Before Age 2

It’s a scary time to be a new parent. Research shows that the average 12-month old baby gets between 1 and 2 hours of screen time each day. Plus there’s all that Baby Einstein crap targeted at young parents that probably turns your child into a babbling imbecile who votes Republican and thinks Kenny G is “jazz.” Fisher-Price-Ipad-Apptivity-Seat-for-babies-537x402 On top of that, the massive push to give kids iPads as pacifiers is horrifying. The research here is even worse. The more screen time a kids gets the less they can emotionally connect with others. And that’s just one of the problems ahead for kids transfixed on their iToys. Have you seen Wall-E?

Kids And Screen Time: What Does The Research Say?

I see this at the university level. I banned laptops in my classes because students zone out on their Facebook pages or download compromising pictures of Nicki Minaj instead of taking notes. University administrators are pushing for more online education, replacing tenured faculty with websites run from Mumbai. The results are in. These students learn significantly less, but the university will tell you it’s the “future of education” (and administrator pay raises).

So I’m gonna turn off the TV and get out a box of blocks. Cozy can entertain herself just fine (Sorry, Ellen). Sure, we will occasionally do some screen time for fun. She loves  to laugh at videos of herself. (I’m worried she’s already headed for Hollywood, the little vixen.) But I have to think I would be a lot smarter with a few less episodes of The Brady Bunch in my brain. Why not give my kid’s brain a better start?

I know it’s easy to be lazy. “Baby’s crying. YouTube an episode of Teletubbies, stat!” But this kid’s brain development is too important. So I’m going to close this laptop and we’re gonna go read some books. I don’t want to turn her into a knuckle-dragging, mouth breathing fan of Jerry Springer who thinks global warming is a lie because it’s kinda cold today. If I can’t entertain an 6-month old, I should just quit now. (This the where I do my James Brown dance and she craps in her pants in approval.)

Here’s a great post on the subject by another blogging dad: Raising Baby in a Digital World

This book was mentioned in the above post and is available at Powell’s.

Why I love Black History Month. An Apology.

Feb. 19, 2015 Sometimes I got complaints from students at PSU who were unhappy with their grades or just wanted to see if they can take me down a few notches. One of my favorites was an annonymous complaint that I made fun of Black History Month, saying there was a sale on cottonballs at Walmart.

I know, it makes absolutely no sense. First of all, I have a better sense of humor than that. And second, I LOVE Black History Month! My joke about it is racists put it in the shortest and coldest month of the year. It should be in May. Give us 31 days, Honky!

But I got called into the “Office of Equity & Complaince” (Kafka reference here) and was interogated. It all blew over but I had to explain to the well-meaning bureaucrat in charge that my whole life has been dedicated to undoing biases like racism and sexism. It’s a feature of each of my classes. I went undercover in some of the most violent white supremacist groups in the world to learn how to do this.

Anyway, my trust in the institutions like that to be partners in that journey, instead of just “management,” died on that day. But it hasn’t taken anything away from my love of Black History Month. My favorite part of it is learning about cool things invented by African-Americans. It’s the nerd in me. One time there was this chubby skinhead chowing down on a bag of Lays Potato Chips. I told him he was a shitty Nazi because potato chips were invented by George Crum, a black guy. He looked sad.

But I wanted to tell another story today. It’s probably the best story the explains why a chose a path dedicated to anti-racism. When I was a freshman at Oxford College (a part of Emory University), winter quarter had a required thing called Oxford Studies. Everybody on campus reads the same book, goes to presentations and lectures and has a general conversation about it. Like an Ivy League Oprah’s Book Club.

DICKEYMe reading in front of Dickey Dorm.

The winter of 1982 it was Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s important 1964 book about the state of civil rights in America. Since it was a required book assigned to a bunch of young college kids (most from the South) who would rather be drinking hunch punch than reading another “important” book, there was a great celebration when the Oxford Studies term ended.

Someone in my dorm marked the occasion by ripping the book in half and throwing it into the urinal in the bathroom on our hall. I walked into the bathroom and saw our black janitor, who we all loved, standing in front of that urinal in tears. Here is a guy who cleaned the toilets of privileged white kids who go off to college at 18, not off to work. And here were the words of the man who wanted every child to have that chance in a dirty urinal. It was heartbreaking on a massive scale.

I tell this story because the 18-year-old kid who ripped up that book and dumped it in the john was me. It was just an impulse. Not meant to be racist. But I saw the impact that thoughtless act had on another human being and suddenly the whole thing became clear to me. I was a racist, the product of a racist culture that had the privilege of not thinking about the reality of race in America.

I became anti-racist activist in that moment, to make amends to that janitor who I never had the guts to apologize to. It’s 33 years later and I still cannot think about that moment without tears streaming down my face.

When I was a 16-year-old kid living in Stone Mountain, Georgia (the birthplace of the modern KKK), I was given an assignment in my journalism class to write an editorial. Here’s what I wrote. “If there’s a Black History Month, why can’t their be a White History Month?” If the teacher would have just said, “Randy, every month is ‘White History Month’,” I might have started on this path earlier and spared the knife I slowly pushed into our janitor’s back.

My daughter will know about race. She will know about the white privilege and the obstacles her Latino relatives and other people of color still face. Most of all she will know that these issues are very real and matter to people in the deepest ways.

Oxford83DOur janitor, on the left.

And to the janitor of Dickey Dorm at Oxford Collge in 1982, I want to say I am sorry. I will continue to make it up to you. I promise.

This book by Dr. King is available at Powell’s by clicking below. I plan on buying a new copy.

Dad Love, Pt. 2: A Star is Born

Feb. 16, 2015 My daughter Cozette turns 6 months tomorrow. In 30 weeks, I think I’ve gone through every emotion on earth. Part of it is about the things that Cozy has done. (She almost said “Dada” last night, kinda, “Dawah”). Part of it is the anticipation of the things she’s about to do. (She’s so close to being able to sit up on her own). And part of it is the recognition of the the things I am now capable of. (More than once I’ve put my hand in her diaper to see if she’s wet and then run my fingers through my hair. So what!).

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One of the most amazing things is to see her evolve as a person with her own personality. She is incredibly curious. I love when we go to the grocery store. I put her car seat in the grocery cart and see her face light up. She’s going to have lots to look at at our local Fred Meyer. The Valentines Day balloons blew her freaking mind. Watching her eyes focus on the items we pass by as we go down the isles makes me think about how a year ago those eyes were just forming inside mother’s womb.

She already has mad social skills. She loves being around new people. But you can see her size them up. Trust, but verify. She knows she’ll get a reaction with her smile. I think Cozy will know how much happiness she can bring the people around her.

Cozy is also really strong. She can stand up when she leans against something and even do a little dance, kind of a boot scootin’ boogie. And then she falls over like a drunkard. This week she started using my hands to pull herself up and it’s impressive. She’s got a seriously strong core. My bet is she will be sculling in the 2036 Olympics. (Google it, you layabout.)

I think her best quality is her empathy. It’s the one thing I want to give her but she’s already got it, when so many adults are devoid of any empathy whatsoever. Anyone who has read my first novel, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, can guess that I have struggled with intense depression at different points in my life. Anyone who understands this knows that it can get the better of you when you least expect it. In many ways, Cozy knows exactly what I need in those moments.

One of those moments was last week. I was just laying on the floor of the nursery wrapped up in the uncertainty of life right now. For the first time in decades, I have no idea what my future looks like. I’m scared shitless. Maybe I should’t have quit PSU. Maybe I should’ve gone one more round with the administration and perhaps (finally) won, winning the financial security my young family deserves. On one hand I’m excited by what I think is going to be a thrilling and successful new chapter. On the other hand I feel like we’re going to be living in a trailer down by the river, undone by people who could care less about the well-being of my child.

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Cozy was laying on the floor next to me. I just couldn’t move, stuck in a black cloud. Instead rolling around (like she usually does), she just stuck close to me. She put her little hand on my cheek and stared right into my eyes, like she was saying the thing I’ve told so many others who are sunk in the trench of depression, that at some point the bad stuff is in the rear view mirror and you’ll feel so good for getting through it. It was such emotional moment. I was having a deep conversation with a little baby who needed me to be there for her but also for me. I was about to cry and then she farted so loud her diaper fell off.

I’m super glad Andrea and I are Cozy’s parents. I think we’ve got a strong set of values rooted in love, justice and creativity.  But I think Cozy would turn out fine if she was raised by Kim Jong Un and Mama June. This baby has soul. And she saves me every day.

Dad Love, Pt. 1 (Here)

And you can get my book at Powell’s by clicking below:

50 Shades of F’ed Up

February 11, 2015

I’m so torn on this Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon (Not really, but for the sake of debate I’m going to pretend that I am). No, I haven’t read the book. I heard its poorly written and there are about 300,000 good books ahead of it on my “To Read” list. I still have to get to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. (I’m currently reading the fast-paced novel, The Residue Years by Portland’s Mitchell Jackson.) But God knows, I’ve read enough about 50 Shades to have an opinion.

On the “pop” hand, there’s a long tradition of women (including old-fashioned horny housewives) getting their rocks off with some randy literature, reading a few pages of D.H. Lawrence, and making a date with Hitachi’s Magic Wand. More power to ya. You deserve a break today.

But on the feminist hand, there is mounting concern that the book and film glamorize abuse of women. That Ana is not an “empowered woman,” but the archetype of a victim of abuse. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health asked abuse professionals to rank the interactions between Ana and Christian in the book series and (Surprise!) they found nearly every interaction abusive. Besides the intimidation, stalking, and isolation, Christian uses booze to undermine Ana’s consent.

 “Double Crap!” Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey

A 2014 study found women who read the book were more likely to have abusive partners (and eating disorders). Thankfully, all this has helped spark a backlash against the book and film, encouraging people to explore the normalization of sexual abuse and rape culture. #FiftyShadesIsAbuse has been trending on Twitter. Additionally, #50DollarsNot50Shades is encouraging people to give their money to women’s shelters (where women like Anastasia end up), instead of the filmmakers at Universal Pictures.

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Now, on the kinky hand, people have every right to have a “playroom,” and tie each other up and whip each other with wet noodles if they want. The whole BDSM thing can be hot among consenting adults, “consenting” being the operative word. When I was teaching in London in the 1990s, a story came out about powerful British politicians who enjoyed being spanked. It’s not really my thing. I’m more of a role-player (I like to play the an out-of-work writer and my wife plays a big publisher, repeatedly slamming the door in my face. So hot.) Out of curiosity, I once visited a dominatrix on 82nd and just couldn’t stop laughing through the whole experience. (Maybe it was the “dungeon” wallpaper.) But word is Christian disregards Ana’s safe-words, which is a violation of the prime directive in the BDSM community. Not cool.

In the world of fiction, we can enjoy the abuse of others. Look how many popular movies about serial killers there are. Why? I argue in my criminology class that most people have at least three people they’d like to knock off. (In my case, they all work in the same building.) So virgin Anastasia Steele is abused, so what? She doesn’t exist. No harm, no foul. Most people can separate fiction from reality.

The harm is the promotion of this fiction without the discussion about the reality of sexual abuse. Just listen to what abuse survivors have to say about 50 Shades. It’s soul crushing. Is this really what we want to spend our energy promoting? It’s been so sad to see Ellen DeGeneres, who puts out such positive energy into the universe, promote the shit out of this movie without any acknowledgement of the harm her endorsement may cause.

As the father of a young daughter, I don’t want to be a sexual prude. I know she’s going to grow up in a highly sexualized world and if she wants to embrace BDSM when she’s an adult, that’s her right. (Right now I’m looking at her wrapped in a pink blanket so I don’t have to think of her wrapped in ropes.) Feminists need to let women reclaim their sexual selves. Part of the appeal of 50 Shades must be an unflinching look at one woman’s sexual exploration, rare in pop culture. But what I don’t want is some bullshit romanticization of sexual abuse. I certainly understand the power of the rape fantasy. I read Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden, after all. But that book discussed where the fantasy originates. 50 Shades doesn’t and neither does Ellen DeGeneres or the rest of the massive hype machine.

If you want something hot but actually well-written, read Anaïs Nin instead of E. L. James (Erika Mitchell) or check out Bitch Magazine’s suggestions for feminist erotica:

50 Shades of “Meh.” Here’s Some Erotica to Read Instead!

And if you’re gonna get all “50 Shades” for Valentines, make your safe-word, 800-799-7233. That’s the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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The following books were mentioned in this post and are available at Powell’s by clicking below.

Gender Notes: A Short Note About China

February 8, 2015

It’s always hard to figure out what the hell is going on in China. It was clear at the 2008 Olympics there was a China the government wanted the world to see and then there was whatever existed behind the curtain. Even with the rush of western money (not only are Walmart products made in China there are over 100 Walmart stores in China), it’s still hard to get a clear picture here.

This is especially true of gender roles in China.

There’s been several stories about how great the new Chinese economy is for women, smashing the glass ceiling. A 2013 survey of over 6000 Chinese companies found that 51% of senior management was female. Stories about China having more female billionaires than anyplace on Earth. I doubt that was what communist leader Mao meant when he said, “Women hold up half of the sky.” But then again, China is a long way from Marx’s vision of a communist utopia.

When westerners visit big cities, they do report seeing large numbers of women in the workforce. (According to Chinese government data, about 74% of women work, the same as the United States). The problem is China is still mostly an agrarian society and women working on a farm are probably not as “empowered” as woman working at a Walmart. (That’s such a sad statement.)

Chinese culture is one of the oldest continuous cultures on earth (after India, if I remember my freshman World History class accurately), so you could say gender roles are heavily entrenched. There is is still favoritism of boys over girls and husbands over wives, but despite Conservative claims about Chinese-Americans aborting female babies there is evidence that Chinese female fetuses are not aborted at a higher rate here or in China. Chinese maternal health law prohibits ultrasounds being used to establish the sex of the fetus to prevent female infanticide. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

The emerging issue seems to be how those ancient gender roles are re-emerging in the growing cities. There is a new shaming of single women who have not gotten married. They are referred to as sheng nü, or “leftover women.” There is a new book out by a young researcher named Leta Hong Fincher called Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China that explores this trend.

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The themes remind me of the work of Susan Faludi in her works Backlash and The Terror Dream. We can can’t assume we are on a straight path to gender equality. It’s more like a pendulum, that women’s advancement brings with it a push back to the “good old days” of oppression. Just check out the latest propaganda from ISIS or the 700 Club.

I’ve told my students to keep an eye on China. The American Century is over. World Systems Theory predicts that China will be the next global top dog. The culture (including ideas about gender) that we’ve been exporting to the world for the last 100 years could be replaced by the Chinese culture we import.

This is the world my daughter will grow up in. Will concern over leftover women replace concern over thigh gaps here? And how are the women and girls of China advancing (or not) in this global economy? I think Fincher’s book will be a good place to start.

I’m interested on what people who know more than I about contemporary gender roles in China. Please feel free to comment.

The following books were mentioned in this post. You can buy them from Powell’s through this blog. Just click on the covers below to go to the site.

The Oral Phase Sucks (INSERT FREUD JOKE HERE)

February 3, 2015

My baby’s face is quickly becoming a vortex, something between a Dyson vacuum cleaner and super massive black hole. Suddenly everything that’s not nailed down is headed for her mouth. Where are my car keys? No, no, no, not the beer bottle! Your toes are safe, kid. That will come in handy when dad sends you off to Yoga Camp.

Toe

I’ve been lecturing about the good Doctor Freud for over 20 years. His phases of child development make a lot of sense. Birth to 2 years old is the Oral Phase. Cozy is coming up on 6 months and you can see her discover her mouth. It started with nursing and now it’s not just the boob she wants.

It think the turn was the moment she realized she could put the binky in her own damn cake hole. Since then everything has to be tried for tastiness. Last night she chewed on my belt for 20 minutes like a puppy. Hey, I was watching The Bachelor and wrapped up in Kelsey pimping her dead husband story. The kid’s fine.

But that’s the thing. Now you’ve gotta be Eagle Eye Cherry. At any moment some choking hazard could be going down your precious child’s gob and you better have had that baby choking class. The other day Cozy was napping in the crib. Or so I thought. She had quietly chewed the tag off of a stuffed animal and had it in bits in her mouth. Those two little teeth are like a super cute version of the wood chipper from Fargo.

So here is another thing to constantly worry about. I’ve finally stopped staring at her to make sure she was breathing. Now I worry she’s going to find a rubber band or an old Cheerio and it’s gonna be lodged in her larynx. It never ends. Do they make masks for little babies? Like ones for tiny Japanese people. Baby Gap must carry some kind of face filter.

The next stage should be even more fun. Freud believed the Anal Phase was from 2 to 4 years old. This is when toddlers get a rude awakening because “society” says there are rules to follow, the main one being pooping in a toilet. For Freud, potty training was the key act that shapes the personality. Oh, joy.

Third is the Phallic Phase, from 4 to 6, when kids discover their sex parts. Nobody wants to think of a 5-year-old masturbating, but it happens. Just keep your hands out of your pants, thank you. Feminists have had issues with Sigmund at this point because of his assertion that girls begin to develop “penis envy” here. (I saw a bumpersticker in a feminist bookstore that said, “War is Menstrual Envy.”) The “biology is destiny” bit is seriously problematic.

But Psychoanalytic Feminists (yes, they exist) think penis envy is just “patriarchy envy” and we shouldn’t write Freud’s theories of the unconscious off over a little dick. Freud argued that you need to make it through the three stages without becoming fixated. We all know people who are anally fixated. They are called “Virgos.”

But Cozy is a long way off from any phallic fixation, symbolic or otherwise, thank the psychological gods. I’m just trying to get her through this phase without choking on a pen cap or becoming orally fixated. Lord knows what that could lead to.

It’s always a balancing act with Freud. Not enough oral stimulation (mostly from nursing), the kid is neglected and will manipulate others to get something in her mouth. Too much stimulation and she stays in baby mode. So how we handle this phase could turn Cozy in to a manipulative nail biter or a sadistic homicidal maniac. Can a neurotic parent get a break?

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The good news is Freud’s theory from 1905 has lots of modern critics. There’s no evidence that extended breastfeeding turns a kid into Bette Davis, chain-smoking her way into the grave. But Sigmund still has his supporters. And do I really want to risk it? Just get me to the Anal Phase in one piece, OK?