||[Jul. 11th, 2009|09:45 am]
The first time I clearly recognized a double-bind, I was a skinny (too skinny, my family physician said) teenager. Over the long haul, the cause was impacted, infected wisdom teeth that gave me a near-constant low-grade fever, aching joints, and also destroyed my appetite (most things tasted bad) but that wasn't discovered for another few years. Right then, my doctor was urging me to eat more and suggested having a malted milk with an egg in it when I came home from school every day, recommended two peanut-butter sandwiches instead of one, and so on. Then I went to the dentist, who did not detect the subterranean dental infection but instead told me not to eat peanut butter, sweets, or drink things like malted milk.
I said he should talk to my doctor, because I was supposed to eat peanut butter and drink malted milk...at least I recognized the double-bind--no matter what I did, it was going to be wrong. That made me think about the other double-binds in a girl's life back then (and probably now, as well.)
We girls were supposed to dress and act "feminine" and want boys and men to think of us a pretty and dainty and so on...but if we attracted male attention that went beyond what was considered desirable, it was our fault for "showing ourselves off." Girls who didn't show themselves off were scolded, lectured, coached in how to be attractive and warned about the consequences of not caring, not trying....but also scolded if we guessed wrong about the results of our attempts. And where I grew up, with a mix of cultures who did not at all agree on what the right limits were for girls (which meant, what limits their boys were supposed to respect, boys having, all agreed, no self-control beyond that point) it was impossible to satisfy everyone. A dress that one group considered the right level of feminine would be, to another, too revealing or too dowdy. You couldn't win.
Another double-bind, familiar to mothers of sick children, is the one about when to see the doctor. Many illnesses--both serious and trivial--start the same way. The runny nose, the sore throat, the little cough, the bit of fever, the child who just doesn't feel good. It might be a cold. It might be something else. If you take the child in early, you're told to go home and wait it out....if the fever doesn't go away after x-many hours or days, then come back. If you don't take the child in early, and it turns out to be serious, some medical person (and if you're unlucky, CPS) will demand to know why you didn't bring the child in sooner. (Because the last three times, when I did, you told me to go home and see if it got worse or lasted too long...) On the one hand, you can be the silly, over-anxious mother over-using medical resources that the nurse or doctor can feel superior to, and on the other hand you can be the stupid, neglectful mother who should have brought your child in two days ago (when he had the runny nose, the slight fever, the sore throat just like all the previous ones...) You can't win. It is next to impossible to pick the exact right moment to bring in a four-year-old with sniffles, sore throat, and a fever, unless you have a doctor in the house.
I was reminded of this recently when looking at the hurricane season and flu season recommendations for preparedness and remembering the scorn heaped on some who, in emergencies, are found not to be as prepared as their critics think they should have been. Take for instance the matter of medicines. People are urged to have extra medicines on hand, in case they can't refill them when they usually would, or are being evacuated and won't be near the pharmacy that has their records. You find this recommendation on all the sites that talk about emergency preparedness.
But many people are not allowed (by law, by their doctor, by an insurance company) to stockpile even two weeks' worth of medication. This is not even talking about narcotics...this is true of many if not most prescription drugs--for heart conditions, hypertension, diabetes, for any chronic condition. They must finish up the bottle of pills they have, before they're allowed to have another...they must be completely out before they can get more...which means that they cannot be prepared, medically, for any interruption in service even though such interruptions are predictable in emergency situations. And now, with so many people in financial distress through job loss, bankruptcy, etc., they cannot afford to buy an emergency backup supply on their own, even if a pharmacist would sell it to them.
So they are subject to disapproval and denial of services for even wanting to follow preparedness recommendations, and then sneered at for not having followed them when they cannot comply. They can't win.
The people who give out the preparedness advice can feel smug and justified in dumping on those who don't do what they're told...the people who deny drug refills that would give the user a cushion between refills can feel smug about preventing drug abuse or waste or whatever reason they have...and neither one wants to look at the whole situation. Two smug people are unlikely to get together and realize they have no justification for feeling smugly superior to those whose lives they make harder. (Smug is a comfortable feeling.)
Several times now we've been involved in helping out families displaced by big hurricanes. It makes clear how close to the bone coastal families (we've dealt with ones from Louisiana and Texas) often live, and how little they may escape with. I've heard about the inability to refill prescriptions, the difficulty of getting them filled outside the home county (especially for those on Medicaid, whose benefits are set state by state.) How impossible it is for so many people to comply with the advice, and how conflicting advice is commoner than you might think.
We love to make rules for other people. It appears to be a common human trait, from the restrictions on women's dress set by various religions, to the restrictions on hair style for both genders (also often set by religions), to the rules set at all levels from homeowners' associations to Congress, from schools to insurance companies. Even the people who claim to be against laws and rules have rules of their own, which they happily impose on others if they get a chance. And since many such groups make rules, the rules do not agree, and many people--including some of us--are caught in these double-binds where it is impossible to follow all the rules.
At least we can learn to recognize the double-binds and reveal them to the rule-makers...and have some compassion on those who are caught in them.