Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Baby In The Box

While rehanging the windows this weekend (they've got new ropes now!) I thought about chores around the house and how much easier it would have been to make a phone call and have new windows delivered! When you people start paying me my proper worth (nope, it's not zero bucks) I will!

A natural step from that was to think about the way human beings acquire children. Set aside for a while all the good emotional stuff about children, all the urges and desires and such. Think of babies as durable consumption goods!

Like refrigerators or washing machines. Something you purchase in one largish lump but which offers you services for a long time. Children offer the enjoyment of their company, the promise of immortality through one's offspring and in some cultures old age security.

But the way children are acquired is very different for men and women in the traditional thinking: It's as if men can buy a baby in a box but women need to make it from scratch. This might be very expensive for men, depending on the culture and other circumstances (such as social class). Those expenses can be paid with money, however. Women, instead, are expected to knit the children out of their bodies and blood, not only in the obvious sense but in the sense of a twenty year commitment of permanent supervision, responsibility and caring. And note that the purchase price of the baby in the box is not set openly. It can be as little as he gets away with or as much as she manages to squeeze out of him.

No wonder if a person having these traditional views regards uppity career women with great anger and contempt. Who's knitting the children,hmh? And no wonder that many experts, though no longer willing to say aloud that women should be making the children by hand, still argue that having two parents working is like both of them trying to buy the baby in the box. Who's making it? Some inferior stranger, probably.

Guys can buy a baby in a box, however, though that is usually not said aloud. If the baby turns out not so great, it's not his fault. Even if he reneged on the price.

The story isn't this simple, of course. People like making babies from scratch ( the pun intended). But it might be one way to make the traditional societal assumptions clearer, to show how the Catch-22 works for women: If you don't knit all of your child yourself you are going to produce a lower-quality child. But if you do knit your child full time, you will be economically trapped if anything goes wrong.