Monday, November 9, 2009

“imagine yourself a dirt-poor (male) peasant 50 years ago…”

I first read Malthus in my 2nd year graduate class on population and development with the wonderful professor, Dr. Yang. Malthus and his poor-people blaming ways made such an impression that I even worked him into the lectures I gave when I taught Intro to International Politics the following year. So I was tickled to find not one but two Economist articles referencing Malthus this past week. The first, while interesting, didn’t move me but informed me (and unnerved me with baby photo and its creepy eyes). The second, though, not only moved me (quite literally, as I was answering nature’s call while I read it), it also inspired me to post this blog.

The article, titled “Go forth and multiply a lot less,” drolly discusses men’s incentives for having smaller families as their socioeconomic status increases from peasant-level to middle class. While the articles primary point, that falling fertility rates lead to a larger, more political active (and effective) middle class, misses an important implication for women everywhere: what does this mean in terms of women having a say in their own fertility? Eventually the article does indicate that a man’s wife might become unwilling to bear so many children. But that assumes that all pregnancies are intentional and wanted…and that his wife had a choice anyhow. Clearly, though, the article suggests indirectly that women’s lack of control of their fertility is a given, and thus explores the issue through the prism of men’s incentives for offspring. Indeed bipedal incubators might only get a reprieve if they have the good fortune to bring in a salary. By avoiding a direct acknowledgment of the general lack agency that women have in their fertility in developing countries, the article misses a great opportunity to discuss an interesting aspect of development—economic and otherwise. The example of Iran, with its superlative literacy and education levels, is deceptive, considering that women may not even choose how they dress in public. Thus assuming that Iranian women have access and agency in terms of family planning may not be the whole story. There may be unknown factors behind Iran’s decreasing fertility rate.

The Economist’s take is interesting but predictable. A more interesting question might be, how might control over their own fertility empower women to hasten all forms of development, instead of waiting on development to lead to her empowerment? Why in the media must women remain subjects of the (positive and negative) consequences of development, instead of active, empowered components in the greater process? The article’s mention of family planning and access to it completes the avoidance of the issue of whether access to birth control or even just information is useful in cases where male partners are uncooperative.

The article declares that slowing fertility makes it “easier for women to work,” because bearing, raising and tending children is not work, nor is maintaining a household or catering to spouses and other household members. Again, a predictable perspective that perpetuates the devaluation of women’s work that within households. She doesn’t get to choose how many children she has, AND she doesn’t get any prestige or value added to her efforts unless they draw a paycheck. Since when do writings on economy only include quantifiable movement in currency?

In closing, I suggest a re-write to the concluding sentences:

Original: The bad news is that the girls who will give birth to the coming, larger generations have already been born. The good news is that they will want far fewer children than their mothers or grandmothers did.

Better in the world according to Melodee: The bad news is that the girls who will give birth to the coming, larger generations have already been born. The good news is that they might be able to choose the number of children they have, unlike their mothers or grandmothers did.

Here comes the rain again…

Today was only the 2nd time in my life that it rained on me in Morocco. Certainly in the last 6 weeks it has rained while I was in Morocco, but today I got rained on. Naturally my umbrella was in my room and not in my bag, but that didn’t disturb me because I was too amused by the memory of the first time it rained on me in Morocco. It was late May 2007—my first time in Africa. I was studying a geography field course with Dr. Gander (an unnecessary pseudonym, but I’ll use it because it’s clever and amuses me). The geography course took me and a dozen other ODU students from Casablanca north to Rabat, onward to Meknes and all around the 3 massifs of the Atlas mountains (Middle, High and Anti), dipping into the stereotypically silky, golden folds of the Sahara near Erfoud, down to the less visited Tafraoute, back up the Atlantic coast to dreamy Essouaira and northward. We skipped Agadir because Dr. Gander INSISTED that it was too new, having been rebuilt after the 1976 earthquake. Anyhow, toward the end of our trip, in our last big city visit—Marrakesh—it rained. And despite the thorough packing list provided, umbrella wasn’t on it. That didn’t mean that Dr. Gander, at least, wasn’t prepared. Oh she was, and how! As we walked from the Koutoubia Mosque toward the Oliviers and reflecting pool (complete with palm tree-shaped cell phone towers), Dr. Gander donned the most epic, outdated and fabulous rain jacket the 21st century has ever seen (and might wish to forget). The chintzy, plastic debacle was trimmed in black at the neck and wrists, but the most wonderful part was the multicolor outdated map of the Eurasian continent on the back—complete with USSR, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and myriad other countries that do and don’t exist anymore.

That first trip to Morocco has had a tremendous impact on my research and ambitions in general. The memories are traumatic and pleasant—Dr. Gander, for example, worked harder trying to win my soul for Jesus than any credulous Muslim ever challenged my non-belief. She also tried to make me debark from the standing bus to gather orange slices I’d flung out the window, despite our guide insisting they’d feed the goats (he was the one who suggested I toss them anyhow). And finally, and most traumatically, she gave me my first graduate school B+. On the other hand, I am in Morocco now for the 3rd time. My interest has only increased since that initial trip, and I am happier here than almost any other place I’ve lived outside of my homeland (and perhaps including it.) So Dr. Gander, thank you. She came to Morocco just for me 2.5 years ago, and it has made my life.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fun with scribbly, part 1.


form IV

the root is ل--ق-ي


It literally means to discard or fling, but you can use it as in...

1. to pose a question أُلْقي سؤال

"إن كل ما تقدم بمجمله يلقي السؤال أمام النظام العربي وأمام الواقع الفلسطيني"
[All of this poses the question to the Arab system and to the Palestinian reality]

2. to lay eggs

فهناك دجاج يلقي بأشياء غير البيض

'for there is a chicken laying things that weren't eggs'
[this is a totally real sentence from]

3. lend your ear to someone

القى السمع اليه

4. strike fear into one's heart

الله يلقى الرعب فى قلوبهم
God strikes fear into their hearts.

And others depending on the preposition--Just ask Hans Wehr!