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The Problem with Limited Perspective

You may or may not have read Erica Jong’s article Is Sex Passe? It’s actually not a bad article, in that it’s a legitimate question based on her experiences editing a book about sexuality written by women. Okay, cool. I’m not such a big fan of being told that my generation “idealized monogamy” like it’s a bad thing that I don’t want to see my husband fuck other women, but hey — far be it from me to tell someone else how to handle their relationships and sexuality.

Except in the middle of it she tosses out:

Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him. Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion? The question lingers in the air, unanswered.

Um, okay? Way to make some assumptions — why not just ask?1

The resounding answer on Twitter by RaisingBoychick and every other mother on my feed was: “Yes, parents who do those things also fuck quite happily.” PhDinParenting mentioned she’d just talked about Jong, which lead to me asking, “Hey, who exactly is Erica Jong again?” when I realized I was mixing her up with someone else. PhDinParenting shared her previous post on Jong’s perspective, Let’s Throw the Assumptions Out with the Bathwater.

Now we’re done with Erica Jong, because it got me thinking about my experience and how it shapes my reaction to people who have had completely different experiences.

I have one child, and thus only have one perspective on what having a baby and toddler is like. I think it’s really interesting how with each child we have the chance to gain a totally different set of experiences.

One of the blogs I follow is about women who have had a polar-opposite experience in parenting that I’ve had, and lately I’ve found myself disenchanted with it. I skim the posts, and the ones I read make me feel like awkward, like I don’t belong. I realized while reading PhDinParenting’s post that this is because while I’ve made certain assumptions about those mothers via their parenting experience, they’re also making assumptions about me and mine.

I don’t think it’s always intentional, but when people write things based on their limited perspective and don’t leave room for anything else, they leave risk leaving readers feeling invalidated. I read Jong’s article on sexuality in my generation and felt like I was being told, “No, you’re doing it wrong,” even though my experience is perfectly valid, even though how I parent hasn’t effected my sex life nearly as simply being a parent has.

The whole thing has reminded me: when I write about experiences and when I read about the experiences of others I need to remove the lens of my personal experience and realize that a difference of opinion does not necessarily invalidate my own.

1. And furthermore, what the hell is the sentence “so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him” all about? It seems like a nasty thing to say, that implication being that if we weren’t breastfeeding those breasts would belong to our partner. How about no.