I've been writing back and forth for the last few days with a high school friend of mine who lives in Sao Paolo. After catching up, we were discussing his current job options: working for Greenpeace with climate issues, or teaching kids in Brazil about birth control. He has some really strong opinions about teenage pregnancy and having lots of kids, and even though I essentially think we agree we have somehow been having this really intense back-and-forth dialogue. I made a statement that went something like this: "I think that if a person knows about birth control and has a handle on the world situation and everything and still wants to have a lot of kids, they have that right." Okay, I do. I think it's a bad idea, but I feel like as a pro-choice person and also as a feminist I have to really acknowledge that having lots of kids is as much a personal individual choice as having an abortion.
I got his response when I checked my email at about 7 this morning. It was this extremely well-thought-out response to my statement, based on his personal experiences in Brazil. For instance, he has worked with kids there, around 13-17 I think, but he only gets to work with boys because ALL the girls have already left school because they've already had their first kids. There are states around where he lives that the average number of children per adult woman is 7. Sao Paolo itself grows by several hundred thousand people every year, mostly though immigration and births in poor areas. As he pointed out, it's no wonder people are forced to live in shanty towns, because what government could build enough new houses every year to hold such a large and mostly unemployed influx?
I hate it when I exhibit my own priviledge and cultural ignorance so blatently. As I wrote back to him, I do believe what I said, but I'm also speaking from the context of a middle-class american who is currently getting a second college degree from a really expensive university in something practically useless and extravagant. Although perhaps theoretically I know or could guess what he's telling me he experiences there, I guess I don't always remember to incorporate that into my views on things. I was remembering, during all of this, an article I read a few months ago in Northwestern's "radical" journal. It was about sweatshops, the usual list of statistics and a specific story about one specific worker, and then the writer said that the only true solution to sweatshops is the abolishment of the capitalist system. I thought at the time that while that's probably a valid theoretical viewpoint, it doesn't do jack shit for the people who are working in sweatshops right now. The practicality of this ideology is so far removed from where we are currently that, to me, it's rendered almost useless. I wondered at the time if thinking that meant I had politically grown or if I had abandoned ideology. Anyway, so here I am doing essentially the same thing! Yes, my statement perhaps holds at least a little ideological validity for a middle-class American (freedom of choice and all that, as I wrote to him), but my friend's statements seemed to me to be saying that having 3 children by the time you are my age is not really a choice for a poor woman in Sao Paolo. It sounds a lot more like that's just kind of what happens, for almost everybody that my friend meets anyway.
I don't really know where I'm going with this. Suffice to say, perhaps, that our dialogue has only told me once again that I am not yet able to think past my own surroundings without prompting.