Friday, March 4, 2016

In Defense of the Push Present: Why Getting Your Partner a Piece of Jewelry Might be a Feminist Act

I'm not sure where the idea of a push present originates. Probably Kim Kardashian or Beyonce or someone equally problematic. It's still a sufficiently new concept that most people have never heard of it. The concept is pretty simple: the man gives the woman a push present, often a piece of jewelry, as a thank-you gift in return for pushing out his child.

Seems pretty simple, right? Like most potential benefits of being female, though, the push present came under attack as soon as it made its way into the mainstream consciousness. Women who want push presents are greedy. A baby is present enough. Women are constantly placing unreasonable demands for jewelry on men. Blah fucking blah.

I think there's a feminist justification for the push present, and I think criticizing it as a form of greed is almost always anti-feminist.

The Disappointing Reality of Biological Gender Differences
I've railed against gender differences my entire life, and with good scientific backing. The way I see it, we cannot "prove" that innate differences between men and women exist until we stop treating them so differently. Tons of research points to the social origin of so-called gender differences. A few highlights:

  • People treat babies differently, based solely on gender, from the moment they are born. They're more likely to attribute a female infant's crying to fear, and a boy infant's tears to anger. 
  • Parents underestimate their male toddler's fear and overestimate their female toddler's fear. One study found that mothers stopped their daughters from taking risks because they thought the daughters were "too scared," when objective measures showed that boys were actually slightly more fearful. 
  • We encourage aggression in boys. We obsess over girls' appearance. Consider whether anyone has ever told your son he's pretty. Now think about the fact that your daughter probably hears it every day. To believe that has no effect, you have to believe that how we treat children does not matter. 
  • Boys and girls are given different toys. Boys' toys prioritize logic, spatial reasoning, and mathematical competence at the age when the brain is most attuned to developing these skills. Girls' toys do not. 
The list goes on and on. Ultimately, it boils down to this: there is nothing that being female or male necessarily prevents a person from doing. Except, of course, for one thing: giving birth. Men can't do it. And that means that if a couple wants to have a child who is biologically theirs and go through the process of pregnancy together, the woman is going to be stuck facing the difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth. 

One of the most sexist facts about this reality is that pregnancy websites often focus on the man's feelings! They tell women it's normal for men to be uninterested in pregnancy, or to refuse to help with creating a registry or designing a nursery. They remind women to not be too annoying, too emotional, too needy. They advise men that their partners will be "crazy." This means women have to go through the morning sickness, pain, anxiety, and near-constant medical interventions associated with pregnancy, then face the agony of childbirth and the stress of breastfeeding, in a society that tells them these sacrifices are, for some reason, theirs and theirs alone to make; no need to demand anything from the person who helped create that baby. 

A push present won't even the playing field, but it does acknowledge that biological and social realities force pregnancy and childbirth to be more work for women than for men. 

A Push Present Values Women's Work
Labor is widely regarded as the most painful, frightening experience normal humans face, yet the myth that men are stronger than women somehow lives on in the face of strong evidence to the contrary. Men love devaluing the work women do, because it enables them to continue to profit from that work without guilt.

Worldwide, women do anywhere from four to six hours per day of unpaid labor. For men, the figure is zero to two. In the workplace, women work harder and longer than men. A push present prevents pregnancy and childbirth from becoming yet another area where women's work goes unnoticed and unvalued. A piece of jewelry, or course, cannot compensate a woman for nine months spent without full bodily autonomy, hours spent in agony, and untold numbers of fights with doctors, family members, and strangers about the pregnancy. It at least acknowledges that work, and if you want an egalitarian marriage or relationship, you need to acknowledge the work your partner does--especially when it's work you can't do. 

No, Actually, a Baby is Not 'Present Enough' 
I've seen a lot of blogs claiming that men shouldn't have to get women push presents because a baby is "the real present." Sounds good, right? Until you unpack it and realize that, to accept this justification, you have to believe that the baby is a present only for the mother, and/or that the baby is a gift given to the mother by the father.

Um, what? Here, labor for nine months in various ways for your "gift?" No. That's not a present, especially when the partner who needs only to ejaculate gets the exact same present. If anything, the baby is a gift the woman gives to the man, since presumably they both want the child.

Gratitude and Male Privilege 
One of the most significant privileges associated with being a man is that men don't have to recognize their privilege. A man can live his entire life profiting off of the unpaid labor of women and nothing bad will happen to him. This is why simple gratitude--an acknowledgment that, at least until the baby is born, the woman does all the work--is such a powerful antidote to sexism.

Gratitude, guys. If you love your partner and your child, show it. It takes a special kind of asshole to watch a woman go through nine months of pregnancy and endless hours of labor and think there's no need to show any appreciation at all. You don't have to spend thousands. Just do something thoughtful.

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