Feminist motherhood

We didn't celebrate Mother's day here. Mostly because we're crap at most commercial type celebrations and Grace isn't old enough yet to bring home sweet gifts from school. So as kind of an internal celebration of motherhood, I re-visited the bluemilk's feminist motherhood meme I had in draft form from the draft pile. Gosh, I was pretty up about being a working mother when I first wrote this (just before going crazy), so there's been some re-wording.

1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
The personal is political. Dates me doesn't it?

So I've been a feminist for more than half my life now. Women's lib was around when I was at highschool: I remember my mother and her friends being angry, demanding their husbands do housework and nude sunbathing. There were a rash of divorces and more women started working outside the home, after the children started school. But I didn't have my own lightbulb moment until halfway through my second year at uni when my best friend dragged me along to the women's room for a feminist collective meeting. 1983. It was an exciting time, the birth of a women's magazine at Uni, various protests (including Cockburn Sound Women's peace camp), my history major had a big women's study component. But by the end of it,  I was so over the the judgements women made about other women's politics, the divisions, the pettiness. The post-modernism and post-structuralism. I still believed in the sisterhood and that personal is political, but it all seemed to get lost under layers of other meanings.

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
My immediate and intense love for Grace as a baby and a young child, even when she is being bratmonster extraordinaire and I'm turning into a foulmouthed shrew on the inside while trying to be calm and reasonable on the outside. The new layers of love for my partner. How all those loves keep deepening and binding us together in evermore complex ways. Sometimes it feels like a trap, sometimes a liberation. Mostly it's just the way things are now. Oh, and the tiredness. And the responsibility.

I also remember being really surprised when Grace was a newborn that despite how important becoming a mother was supposed to be, I couldn't get a nurse to show me how to change her first nappy and there wasn't a comfortable chair by my bed to sit in while learning to breastfeed her. It became obvious even in my little bubble of baby bliss that the world around really made little space for mothers with young children.

3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?I've become quieter and stronger. Feminism's more an inward assumption now, a core belief. Motherhood has connected me to other mothers, there's always children to talk about. And I think that affects my work quite profoundly. I also like other women (including those without children) more again.  I'm drawn in closer with my own mother and sister, and feel connected to a line of women before us. A rebirth of the sisterhood, if you will.

4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?Awareness (and maybe hairy armpits?). I try to let Grace be herself. She's allowed to make messes, bang around outside and get her clothes dirty, even the pretty ones. If we read a book that has men and women doing traditional tasks, we talk and joke about who does these tasks here. She knows that daddy does dishes, vacuuming and looking after Grace. And that sometimes she stays home with daddy while mummy goes work, or vice versa. That intellect or compassion isn't gender based. And we're trying to protect her for as long as we can from the bratz dolls, barbie videos and clothes that say "I'm going to be a skanky ho when I grow up" (of course if that's what she decides, no doubt I'll still love her and have to respect her life choices, etc etc) . We won't be able to do the total prohibition thing forever, if only because at some point, she'll have to be able to come to grips with how different versions of femaleness are presented in this culture. Hopefully though, we can shelter her for long enough that these things don't take her over and she'll find things that are real and wholesome that interest her. I'd love it if there was a strong and doing-good-things female prime minster as she approaches high school. Just so she knows that women can do that. And I'd like for her to have wild places where she can run free. Basically I'm hoping that her world will be one of possibility. I'd want the same for a boy too. And I wouldn't mind being a grandmother before I'm eighty. So I'm trying not to send the message that having kids ruins your life. Even when I'm super tired and shrewish.

5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?Yes and no. Sometimes I think about whether Grace likes pink because most girl clothes are pink and that's what she thinks girls wear. I haven't fought hard against that because it's just a colour, but I worry the rot is starting early. Othertimes I worry that I'm just not there enough, but I can't be and go to work at the same time. And G is just as capable of looking after her as I am. I worry whether I'll be able to guide her through the maze that is female identity. Mostly, I worry I could fail her in the future.

6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?I tend not to talk about it often. It's now so ingrained in me that I assume people would know that I'm a feminist. Just like any rational woman would be. Nonetheless I enjoy meeting women, especially of about my age who "get" the sort of things I was involved with in the past. And when women say gorgeous things like,  you can't do it all, and you can't have it all, well, not all at the same time anyway.

7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?I wanted a baby for so long and went through so much before Grace was born, that I don't think of it as sacrifice. Indeed I count myself as supremely lucky. However I don't belive in mothers (or fathers) martyring themselves in the ordinary course of events. This means Grace goes to bed with lights out by eight so she has enough sleep and we have parent time. We also work pretty hard at both having some time to ourselves, some time to do things other than parent, work and keep house.

8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?I'm the main income earner at the moment and although I had a bit over a year off after Grace was born, there are times I would prefer to be a full time stay at home mother. But with equality comes responsibility. And why should he be the one that has to work fulltime all the time?  In my femotopia we would both work part-time in family friendly workplaces, doing interesting useful work that paid really well. As it is, we share housework and parenting, although I do less now because I work outside the home more. G's a bit of a lefty ratbag himself and has always loved strong women, I think he assumes that any sane woman would be a feminist. He's also a dab hand with the vacuum cleaner and lawnmower. While looking after a child. Although I still do the shopping.

But it's about more than who looks after the children and who does what at home. It's about not taking in all those beliefs that one gender or gender role has a lesser or greater intrinsic value. And acting and talking that way. Which is easier said than done. We grew up in the sixties and seventies, there's been a revolution since then, but there are parts of my brain (and his) that missed being re-programmed. Like I said before, sometimes I feel as though I just don't mother enough. As an at home dad, G comes up against a whole other set of challenges.

If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?I'm not, but I would have liked to have co-slept when Grace was little, but G was very uneasy about the idea. I remember talking to my GP about it, he was curious why we didn't as I was having issues moving Grace to her room across the hall. In the end, I thought that family harmony involved taking into account everybody's needs, so it just wasn't an option to push in this direction. In some ways, we're really scheduler or routine type parents anyway. Which seems to suit Grace. Athough we have made choices to have all Grace's care within our extended family for the first three or four years. She's been demanding lately too, especially of mummy cuddles, with blanket. These tend to come when there's stress about or when she's had a big language leap and the world is freaking her out. My inclination is to go with the mummy (and daddy) cuddles for as long as she needs them.

Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?No, but sometimes I feel very torn by the domestic world and all the other worlds in my life. That work life balance is a cackling joke I share with other mothers in the hallway between the tearoom and the photocopier. Sometimes I feel absent from my work life or that I am trying to run my home life by remote. It feels like women are expected to do more and more in less and less time. And look fabulous while doing it.

As a young feminist, I remember reading books exploring how to have children in other ways, test tubes, utopian childcare, equal parenting; because I knew I wanted kids but I really couldn't see how it would work. Not if I was going to do domething great. As it turned out, I did a lot of things that were fun, but less than great in a career, or any other sense. Not family friendly either. But in twenty years things have already changed. I remember when the idea of a stay at home dad was laughable (now I know of a few), when women had to wear stockings and skirts to work, in work places where sexual harrasssment was just part of the culture, when gay was barely tolerated at all, when it was expected and rarely challenged that women would leave work after having children, not to return until the kids went to school. When we never even had the conversation about a workplace being family friendly. I'm not saying that the revolution is over, far from it. Just that things have changed.


The pictures are of my mother and grandmother, probably taken about 16 years ago, my mother would have been in her late 40s, my nan in her 70s before she started to get really sick. These are the last nice photos I have of them together.

Mothers of the blogosphere, happy belated Mother's day,


Frogdancer said...

It's funny. I don't even think in terms of 'feminist' or not. I just am....

Bird Bath said...

I really enjoyed reading your response and can relate to many of your comments. Often I think how much has changed since my grandmother, mother and I became mothers.I also wonder about what the world will be like when our daughters become mothers. It's an interesting evolution...

Penni said...

I've become quieter and stronger.
That's one of the most beautiful and true descriptions of my own feminism I've read - so much so that it sent a chill down my spine when I read it. A chill of intense recognition I think.

saha said...

I love the photos, you inspired me to do it myself.

suse said...

Yep yep and yep.
Well put.

Alby Mangroves said...

Loved reading this, and I agree about having to do more in less time and looking fabulous - WTF?! To be honest, I never thought about these things until I had kids, but since I've become a mother, I feel I put in a lot of effort to make sure that the Ratbag and Peanut see both of us doing everything there is to do around the house. Their education in life starts right here so I want them both to have healthy ideas about who they are in the world... btw, I'm back on line after a couple of weeks away courtesy of a broken modem :)

blue milk said...

Beautiful response Janet. Thanks heaps for participating!