Strange Indeed

First of all, thank you very much to y’all who’ve left comments here in the past day or two. It’s reassuring to know that I’m not writing into a great, echoing void.

What I want to talk about is a couple of weird fertility references in fiction I’ve read in the past couple of weeks.

A few other bloggers have written about the awful portrayals of infertility, and especially infertile women, from all kinds of sources. Wish I could give credit, but I don’t remember where I read what. This is a little different, anyway.

What I’m thinking of are two pieces of fiction: Middlesex, which I guess is currently the favorite gnawing bone of book clubs everywhere; and a short story called “The Fractious South” that was in last week’s New Yorker.

Both of these pieces show women taking their temperatures to track their ovulation, and using the thermometer to drag their husbands into sex at the right time. (I know, I know, the basal thermometer is such a sexy, sexy piece of hardware).

There is plenty of weirdness about this. Not least, it shows the women being demanding in a petty way, and completely devoid of any carnal desires other than to get pregnant (or, in the case of Middlesex, to get pregnant with a female baby). Each of these characters wields the thermometer like some kind of magic wand … she waves it, and lustless sex is hers, on demand.

Maybe none of that is surprising. The characters in question are not infertile, but the way the authors depict their fertility-related behavior is not too far from the infertile = selfish equation we see just about everywhere.

The other strange thing is that these characters have some whacked out ideas about how body temperature, ovulation, and conception are related. In both stories, the women take their temperatures at all times of day – afternoon, evening, whatever – and demand sex when they see a high temperature.

Now, call me a Taking Charge of Your Fertility nerd, but:

1. Temperatures taken during the day aren’t going to be accurate, and

2. If their temperature has already gone up, haven’t they already ovulated and missed their best chance?

Was there at one time the belief that daytime thermometer use and sex after a temperature rise were the way to go? Are these authors trying to show characters who are clueless about the workings of their reproductive tracts? Or are the authors themselves working under some kind of delusion about how this all works?

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9 thoughts on “Strange Indeed

  1. The first time I read this entry, I thought you were referring to Middlemarch, not Middlesex, and wondered how I could have possibly missed such an avant garde concept as basal temperature charting in Eliot’s work.
    Carry on.

  2. Hee hee! What? You missed the part where Dorothea Brooke wanders down the hedgerow to her neighborhood Wahlgreens to buy a nice mauve BD basal thermometer?

  3. Hee hee! What? You missed the part where Dorothea Brooke wanders down the hedgerow to her neighborhood Wahlgreens to buy a nice mauve BD basal thermometer?

  4. I don’t know the answer – but I’ve seen it in the movies too…when they take their temps at night…didn’t really think about it till you brought it up.

  5. I don’t know the answer – but I’ve seen it in the movies too…when they take their temps at night…didn’t really think about it till you brought it up.

  6. I just found your blog today.

    If I remember correctly, it was the father in Middlesex that dragged the wife in the room. It was all his ideas, not hers. Also, in Middlesex, the setting was in the late 50’s/early 60’s, when all of this was incrediably new. Sidenote: I really enjoyed this book, but it is not for everyone.

    That said, I think fertility is often created based on sterotypes. I think there was a Law and Order episode where an infertile woman, after IF treatments, killed her husband. I can’t remember, but I thought it was ridiculously sterotypical.

    Marla
    themiddleway.typepad.com

  7. Thanks, Marla. That’s what I get for posting from work and having a lousy memory. Huh. So maybe they aren’t all out to get us after all 🙂

    Also, it turns out fertilityfriend.com has a brief history of fertility charting (click on “Charting FAQ,” then look for the link under “General Charting.” It doesn’t say anything about time of day to take one’s temperature, but is pretty interesting anyway.

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