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Archive for the ‘10 feminist motherhood questions’ Category

This is a very interesting reply to my 10 Questions About Your Feminist Parenthood over at Meet Jesus At Uni. It touches on Tamie’s Christianity and her combination of faith with feminism as well as her experience of being a white woman living in Tanzania.

One of the things that stood out for me in reading her response is how culturally-bound some of our experiences of the patriarchy are while others are universal.

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?

My husband is also a feminist, a true partner and advocate for me, just as passionate as I am about feminist parenting! Our situation at the moment is more flexible than it would be if we lived in Australia. The lines between ‘work’, ‘home’ and ‘social’ are much more blurred in Tanzania, and particularly in our role, living on campus at the university where we work. That means we haven’t had to deal with issues surrounding maternity leave and housework in the same way we would in Australia; the structure of society has given us more room to job-share and to parent together.

 

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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This response from Eliza at tea plus oranges is such a considered response that it’s hard to imagine it was written with a sleeping baby on her chest… and reading it was a lovely opportunity to revisit those first early months of motherhood. All my love to new parents.

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 interested to see how this will pan out. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot at various stages of our relationship, mainly in relation to balancing two careers. We met at uni as two ambitious law student types, and he fully supports the idea that I should be able to go forth professionally and do interesting, meaningful things in paid work, as well as being an available and attentive parent. However, there is an inevitable tension in trying to carve out an equal relationship in a non-equal society. “Lean in” feminism emphasises the need for a supportive partner; but the limits of individual action in working around structural problems also apply to the concerted actions of a couple. He wants to support my career, but doesn’t want to sacrifice his. That’s fair enough. Why should either of us have to? Why can’t employment conditions accommodate family life for both partners? Yet, they don’t. So we intend to find some way of realigning the division of labour once we’re through the early years of parenthood (in which I want to be at home with my babies). Watch this space.

He took four weeks’ leave when bubs was born, which was really really fantastic. I’m now passionate about the feminist importance of paternity leave. There was a revelation in that month – he “gets” household management now. Five years of living together, I’ve done more than half the domestic load, but since bubs arrived that has changed. All it took was four weeks in which I completely abdicated responsibility for everything other than breastfeeding… He’s back at work now, and while our relationship may look very traditional at the moment, in many ways it’s more equal than ever (we’re both exhausted). I’m really grateful to be able to spend a full year at home with bubs. In an ideal world, we’d have better maternity leave provisions, so that women’s ability to do this doesn’t depend on the work status of the father. In the meantime, I’m pretty glad to have a breadwinner spouse just now.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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Kristen Hurst is a stay at home mother of three who enjoys blogging. She received her bachelor’s degree in fashion marketing, and writes often about nursing clothes. When she’s not trying to juggle the lives of Casey, Austin and Ben, she enjoys painting and catching up with a great Jane Austen novel.

How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

My feminism is based in activities and attitudes towards valuing that which is traditionally considered “feminine” as equal to that which is traditionally considered “masculine.” This was not the feminism I had initially adopted in college—I definitely believed that I could do whatever I wanted, and I took my inherited feminism for granted. I knew I was “equal” to men, so why not be a feminist? I would say that this was the dominant attitude of the women at my college, and for most of us, our serious feminist identifications faded once we left the classroom, and for me, when I initially went to work in the fashion industry. Nevertheless, both motherhood and my experiences freelancing on behalf of Seraphine Maternity have shaped my feminist motherhood.

What has surprised you most about motherhood?

How much I feel empowered by it! I guess I always knew I’d be a mother eventually—I didn’t question that—but I wasn’t a woman who longed to be a mother. I didn’t even know whether I’d enjoy it or not. Being a mother and staying home with my boys have allowed me to rethink how I assign value in my life. I feel very aware of how our culture measures value through money. Motherhood is not profitable, but it feels even more rewarding to play a part in nurturing young lives and teaching my sons to appreciate art, music, family walks, etc. as much as whatever their future careers will be.

How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

My feminism was forever altered by re-reading Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking. This book is more philosophy than parenting advice, but it made me realize why my attitudes towards politics and the dominant narratives of our society shifted once I started mothering. I would say that I started out as a plucky post-second wave not-so-riot girl. Once I started working in fashion, I felt that questioning what it meant to be a woman was taboo, unless we were talking about androgyny being in vogue. Motherhood caused me to pick up feminism again because I realized that what was right for one of my sons was not necessarily right for the next, and thus, this is likely the same when we’re talking about individuals in society or our relationships with other countries (both of which Ruddick touches on.) Being a stay-at-home mom caused me to experience how undervalued caretaking is, even as it is necessary. I became an advocate in my community for speaking out in favor of resources that mothers—and therefore everyone—would benefit from, like paid maternity leave and more reliable daycare options. I was initially hesitant to continue indulging my interest in fashion, but my work with Seraphine has placed me squarely back in the present—feminism is important, and feminism and feeling good and fashionable in our slightly-disempowered present reality are not mutually exclusive. Certainly some in the maternity fashion industry have no interest in feminism, but not all of them!

What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I want my boys to understand the privilege they’re set to inherit due to their gender. We talk about it.

Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

I don’t know if being a feminist mother is something one can fail or succeed at—it’s always in the process, or the attempt. But of course I feel like a failure sometimes, particularly when my sons imitate something that I do or say that doesn’t reflect my feminist ideals.

Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

Yes, but only because I know too many folks who still feel that feminism and staying at home with one’s children are at odds with each other.

Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

Feminism isn’t really about “having it all,” either, it’s about the opportunity to make informed choices about what to have and not feeling—or being—stigmatized as a result of that. Almost every sacrifice I’ve made on behalf of motherhood has been more than worth it in the end.

Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

This question makes me want to ask “which feminism?” I feel like acts done in the name of “feminism” or “progress” that ignore the fact that women will mother have failed mothers. Nevertheless, feminism has given us the language to have a conversation like this one about motherhood, and I think that will far overshadow any failings.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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I think a pro-feminist man can probably say nothing more honest about his feminism than this: “My feminism is awkward. My feminism is a bit abstract, but so is my life.” I love that – because if a man is not finding feminism a bit of a struggle then chances are he is not being all that self-examining about it. That line was a favourite from the wonderful response by Not Unimportant to my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood.

The blog, Not Unimportant is written by Cameron Mann and it is a lovely, introspective blog which also very often covers parenting from a feminist perspective. Incidentally, the last pro-feminist man to tackle my 10 Questions was Jeremy Adam Smith and if you would like to see more about pro-feminist dads then you can read about his response here.

Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist parent? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist parent?


Compromised feminist? Entirely. Frequently. This makes spotting and calling out sexist assumptions in me and in others a continual activity. As much as my ego can handle it, I invite others to point out and critique my failures.

There is no way to get all the sexism out of my head all the time. I learnt not to see sexism long before I learnt to see it. I strongly believe that what we learn first has a stronger hold than any subsequent correction (which is why I am concerned about feminism and gender and my preschooler son). A habit of carelessly using he/him in cases of unknown sex is probably the least of it.

Policing media (books, music and movies) is terribly hard work. I can’t find the energy to block Cinderella out, so basically hope that Abby Cadabby introduces variety. I am quietly confident that since my wife and I have made it to feminism through a less politically correct time, the attitudes to the content are more important than the content itself.

The arrival of gun play really forced me to accept that my son was going to be as gendered as anything. So, I don’t fight the gender nearly as much as I fight the universalising traps and the dichotomies. Just because he’s running around with a group of boys pretending to kill with finger guns that go ‘pew-pew-pew’ doesn’t mean that it will interest all boys, or interest only boys or interest him always.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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louise curtis

Louise Curtis is a reader of my blog and is also the author of a contemporary fantasy ebook. Recently she turned her attention to responding to my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood and her answers are both fascinating and honest. After writing this not so long ago on my own blog, I really appreciate the way Louise examines the relationship dynamics with her male partner as one of the more potentially difficult challenges faced in feminist parenting. I have included part of her response below and you will find links to the rest of her response and her book at the end of the post.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

Getting married turned gender roles into an obsession long before I had a baby. When little Louisette arrived, the spotlight on my marriage grew even more intense.

For me, the weakest point of my marriage is the risk of falling into a mother-child relationship with my husband. Anyone who can’t be trusted to do their share of household chores is not an adult.

I knew it was the weakest point of our relationship before we married, and have carefully (often tearfully) explained it to my husband over and over. He simply doesn’t understand what I’m saying. The more powerful members of society never do understand what it’s like to be the less powerful member. That’s one of the perks of power – everything seems fair from where you’re standing.

It’s not all his fault, however. Organising things and making household decisions (from groceries to what kind of house to buy) makes me feel powerful, so I have a tendency to jump in before he has a chance to do his part. It’s not like he’s the only one sending us in that fatal mother-child direction. (And yes, it’s definitely fatal. How can I be in love with someone I see as a child? How can he be in love with his mother?)

Having a daughter also gives me a highly convenient litmus test for feminism. All I have to do is think, “How would I want my daughter treated in this situation?” and I know when someone is treating me badly. I hope that by the time Louisette grows up she’ll have enough self-worth to figure out her rights without needing a prop.

What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I tread a compromised path, like all mothers. To survive in our society, I think a woman must be able to believe in her own attractiveness, and I choose not to fight that particular battle, because I know Louisette would suffer for it. My prettifying efforts started from her birth, when I dressed her in attractive and usually pink clothing. I believe a girl who is constantly told how pretty she is as a child will be better able to handle the sudden awareness of societal messages saying, “Shouldn’t you be thinner? Shouldn’t you have bigger breasts? Shouldn’t you have blonder hair?” as she grows up. I will teach her to use make-up, to shave her legs, to do her hair. She can stop doing any of those things if she wants to, but she’ll have the skills to fit in if she chooses the more comfortable path.

At the same time I already try to steer her away from the stories that equate goodness and worth with beauty, and that tell the reader the purpose of life is to get married – like Cinderella. Beauty is nice, and everyone has a little bit – but there must be more to you than that.

As a writer, I believe stories tell us who we are and what matters. When I write my own novels, my protagonists are almost always female. They have problems, and they solve them – actively. When they like a boy, they generally tell him, and if a boy treats them badly they don’t stick around. Why would they? But generally they’re too busy saving the day to care too much what boys think. Isn’t that true of all the world’s most interesting women?

Most of all I try to be aware of the contradictions in both society and myself, so that when my little one is old enough she can sort truth from lies, and choose what compromises to make in her own life.

Mental illness runs in my family, so I try to teach Louisette resilience as both a preventative and a cure. I watched a psychology video once that presented toddlers with a problem. Both started off by crying for help, but when no help arrived in a few moments the boys stopped crying and attempted to solve the problem themselves. The girls continued crying.

I try so hard to sit on my hands when my own baby has a frustrating problem to solve – so she learns that waiting to be rescued isn’t the solution to everything. You can’t learn resilience without frustration, and you can’t learn it without pain. Sometimes I have to let her fall down. I remind myself constantly that we all unconsciously let little girls fall down less often than little boys – and that’s not a good thing. (We also shush little girls more than little boys, but that’s another story.)

Louise Curtis blogs here and you can read her full answers to the questions here. Her first published book (young adult contemporary fantasy) is for sale here for $2.99 (the beginning is free).

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SEE THROUGH

Amy is a young empath stolen from her Normal parents by law on her fifth birthday – with deadly consequences. Her carefully constructed serenity is ripped away a second time when her empath community in Canberra is attacked from within.

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This is a thoughtful and very flattering response to my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood from Maple Leaf Mamma. The writer is Michelle, a Canadian woman married to an Italian and living in Italy raising their son together. (I do like reading blogs by people living in places I would like to visit).

Michelle’s feminism really began to emerge after becoming a mother and was kicked along by meeting Prof Andrea O’Reilly and discovering my blog – hooray! How much do I adore reading about Michelle’s journey into feminism? So much. I have long thought motherhood will be a radicalizing experience for many feminists.

3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

As mentioned above, my feminism has been bubbling below my surface for years. It has long informed how I live and the decisions I make, yet I’ve been a bit of a coward about actually calling myself a feminist. One of my greatest weaknesses, one of the things I like least about myself, is how much I care what others think of me. And let’s face it, it’s still not very cool or glamourous to call yourself a feminist. I credit motherhood as the catalyst for helping me finally make significant steps to get over that.

I still feel like a baby feminist. The most radical thing I’ve done is write this blog. I’ve never taken a women’s or gender studies class so I’m still learning how to use all the proper terms like cisgender, intersectionality, even patriarchy. I sometimes feel intimidated by the women’s studies majors and would like to see and interact with more Caitlin-Moran-style non-academic feminists. Professionally I’ve been most fulfilled acting as a kind of translator/interpreter, whether literally from one language to another or figuratively by using accessible language to explain difficult concepts to wider audiences (which, interestingly, is a very non-Italian thing to do). I know a lot of intellectual/academic purists accuse fence-straddlers like me of dumbing down their subjects, but the democratic idealist in me thinks everyone deserves some kind of access to beautiful and/or important ideas.

On her blog Michelle regularly turns a feminist lens towards life and current affairs in Italy, which makes for wonderfully interesting reading.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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This is a delightful response from The Travelling Circus to my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood. She shares some very interesting perspectives in her response, including being partnered to a professional athlete and living for some of their time in Japan and her conflicted relationship with breastfeeding. I love how she describes her interactions with her male partner around feminist parenting, too, but my very favourite part of her response was this:

  • What has surprised you most about motherhood? It surprises me all the time how it is both so intuitive and so very confusing. I have feelings of real, true confidence in my instincts followed by sheer doubt over my decisions or priorities, often within the same 10-minute period.
  • How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism? My realization that my feminism does not have to be complete or perfectly wrapped up like a mission statement was hands-down the most important change I’ve ever made. I had this idea that I couldn’t share my perspective or give my opinion until I was 100% sure that I knew my position would never change/was correct/would be accepted by other feminists. Motherhood provided me that reality check by putting me face-to-face with the constantly evolving nature of life and knowledge. I am totally winging it when it comes to parenting, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion or feel confident or discuss my experiences and feelings. I apply that same principle to my evolving feminism and try to go easy on myself when I realize my own inconsistencies or change my point-of-view.

The way she expresses such acceptance in herself as a mother and a feminist – I really appreciated that.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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This is a wonderful guest post from a reader, Eloise.

  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?  I became a feminist in high school when I looked around and saw how witty, smart and intelligent my female friends were and how nasty and juvenile the boys were.  I wanted justice.  I wanted my female friends and me to have happy, fulfilling lives where we weren’t held back by our confidence and society’s expectations.  Becoming a mother has thrown up different perspectives on feminism but my feminism is constant and in a sentence I want opportunities and a rewarding life without obstacles and guilt and the sea of issues that women have to wade through to get what they want.
  2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?  Everything has been more extreme than I imagined – extreme tiredness, extreme love for my baby, extreme difficulties breastfeeding but then exhilaration at overcoming the myriad of issues.
  3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?  Before I had my child I was very focused on achieving my goal to be a lawyer (I returned to study law aged 34 after working as a social worker for six years).  Since having my child I have really had to push myself to go back to work and it felt like I was going against all my motherly instincts.  It broke my heart to leave my baby (when he was 14 months old).  It has taken a while to get my work mojo back.  I am glad I didn’t just go with my motherly instincts though because I have got used to being back at work and returning to work gave my husband the opportunity to stay home for a year with our child which has enhanced all of our lives in so many ways.  His relationship with our child is stronger, the spread of housework is more equitable and there are countless other ways it has made our lives better.  If I had listened to my instincts and stayed home for five years I would have missed out on an amazing work opportunity and lost even more of my work mojo.
  4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?  I am not sure about this question yet and I think I will be able to see how feminism impacts upon my parenting when I reflect in years to come.  My biggest influences – feminism and attachment parenting – compliment each other.  My feminism makes me fiercely protective of my attachment parenting and right to parent how I choose.  Feminism also empowers me to continue working and achieve in that area of my life as well.
  5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?  In trying to balance work and mothering I feel like I fail all the time.  I feel compromised in that sometimes I feel like I do neither well.  I think it is my right to have both a fulfilling career and be fulfilled as a mother but I suffer guilt for having our child in childcare 4 days per week since age 2 and the constant colds he seems to get from that environment.
  6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?  I live in an all male household, my husband has two adolescent sons from a previous relationship and I recently read a book about bringing up boys that challenged my views as a feminist and made me look at things from a male perspective.  It made me very uncomfortable to read a book that was so sympathetic to men and their challenges and that excused and explained much or their puzzling behaviour.  It made me question whether I had been too harsh on the men in my household and I wondered whether having a boy myself would change my feminism.  But those thoughts were fleeting and I am glad I came to my feminist senses.
  7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?  Now I juggle work and a child I have had to sacrifice sport – I used to play hockey and I really miss it.  I of course sacrifice a lot of other leisure activities because I don’t have time but the one I miss particularly is hockey.  Yes it is difficult to reconcile with being a feminist because I put my son before me all the time.  I am still working this one out.  It is tied up with the guilt I feel about putting my child in childcare and my husband doesn’t seem to feel it.  That is a problem and I need to address it as a feminist and we need to address it as a family.
  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?  Hats off to my partner for being very supportive of me as a mother and a worker and a woman.  He can see the advantages for him if I work as well so I am sure that provides incentive to help out.  My husband does most of the childcare drop offs and cooks dinner every night because he gets home before me.  He does more around the house than me.  From what I read that is unusual and I wish it was the norm for all working women.
  9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?  My attachment parenting means that I am still breastfeeding my child at age 2 1/2 and plan on feeding him until he weans himself (within reason!).  It is a challenge to my feminism because it does restrict what I do (alcohol wise and in other ways) but the benefits outweigh the small challenges.  Mainly I think attachment parenting is innately feminist because it encourages you to care and love your child in a really instinctual way and not worry about what people think and it says to people, “No, I will not put my child to bed at a prescribed time because it suits you.” and “No, I will not do controlled crying and get him in a routine because you find it too frightening to have a more fluid style of parenting around you.”
  10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?  Feminism has given mothers many more choices and ways of doing things and balancing their lives.  It has not failed mothers, what has failed mothers is that they have expectations for better lives and more opportunities and people around them aren’t able to deliver because they are stuck in their patriarchal ways.  

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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This is a brilliant guest post from DV Diary, whom you can also follow on twitter @dvdiary.

  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?

I became a committed feminist while studying domestic violence as part of a social work degree I did at the University of Sydney as a “mature age” student. During this time I realised I was experiencing domestic violence, and had been for many years. My feminism is heavily influenced by the women’s domestic violence movement, and it led me to become a DV worker, once I had become safe myself. My feminism is informed by feminist theories of domestic violence as a gendered crime; a product of the patriarchy; a deliberate pattern of tactics used mostly by men against women to control them and keep them in fear. It is the belief that women and children have the right to equality, respect, freedom, safety and security. I came to feminism several years before becoming a mother. I have written a blog post about how I came to feminism.

  1. What has surprised you most about motherhood?

What has surprised me most about motherhood is the loss of feelings of self-worth derived from going to work and feeling like I am contributing, being productive and achieving something. I struggled with the reality of the intensity of mothering, and with getting very little else done, and with having nothing tangible to show for all my hard work. I struggled too with frightening postnatal depression and feelings of being a “fraud” as a mother. This is all with a respectful, non-abusive, non-controlling, non-violent partner. I often admire how my clients manage to mother through domestic violence and I am thankful that I escaped it prior to becoming a mother, as DV usually involves a systematic undermining by the perpetrator of a mother’s bond with her children and of her confidence as a parent.

  1. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

My feminism underwent its most fundamental change several years ago when I was studying domestic violence and escaping it myself. Before that it was lacking in conviction and undermined by trauma. The impact of motherhood on my feminism is not yet clear. I am only a few months into my mothering journey. However, if anything, motherhood has made clearer to me the wider impact of gender inequality beyond the particular effects of domestic violence.

  1. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I’m not sure I can yet answer the question of what makes my mothering feminist, but feminism impacts upon my mothering in that I am aware of the challenges I face in raising a child in a society that is so hostile and disrespectful of women, girls and mothers. I hope to raise a child who believes in social justice, gender equality, respectful relating and non-violence. Feminism impacts upon my mothering in that I treat my child with the respect he deserves as an individual; he is not my property, he is my responsibility to love and care for and then let go into the world. I hope he will reciprocate this respect. I don’t know how my approach differs from a non-feminist mother’s.

  1. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

I have not yet had time to feel that I have failed as a feminist mother, as I am still learning what it means to be a feminist mother. It has only been through my recent thinking and reading that I am realising that I am a feminist mother. In another blog post of mine I write briefly of the guilt and trauma I felt for some time at not being able to birth my baby the way I would have liked, and at not being able to breastfeed him the way I wanted. But I am over this now, and I am focusing on building a loving and respectful relationship with my son.

  1. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

This is the question I have struggled with most in this series. Any difficulties I have experienced in identifying as a feminist mother must be couched in terms of my white middle class privilege. But even with such privilege, identifying as a feminist mother so far is a tricky undertaking because most people are still suspicious of the idea.  My partner and a few select friends are really the only ones who are aware of my views, apart from my colleagues at the domestic violence service where I work. Being a feminist mother entails different things to different people. Here are some examples where I believe I am embodying my version of feminist motherhood, and where I have been challenged:

  • at work, being asked if becoming a mother will change the way I view my clients (the inference being that these women are failing to protect their children from their violent fathers). If anything, becoming a mother has given me even more empathy for my clients with children who are safety planning around an abusive partner.
  • whilst pregnant, navigating the dominant discourse of the patriarchal biomedical establishment in order to achieve the kind of pregnancy and birth for my child and myself I was hoping for, i.e. safe but also with as little medical intervention as possible
  • the trauma experienced when this did not eventuate
  • mothering through residual trauma from domestic violence experienced in a previous relationship
  • fielding comments from clueless friends (both male and female) who think that being on maternity leave and caring for a baby is one big holiday
  • struggling with debates about pornography, censorship and violence against women
  • feeling powerless and hopeless in the face of the worldwide prevalence of violence against women, and wondering how so many in society can be either indifferent to it or misunderstand it
  • Again, I feel I will have more to write on this question as time goes on and I have more experience of being a feminist mother.
  1. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

My feminism involves a belief that women and children have a right to respectful relationships, safety, equality, freedom and security. I feel this approach is congruent with the sacrifices of motherhood, especially because I am privileged to have become a mother through choice and in a safe and respectful environment. I do struggle with how to balance motherhood with my desire for learning, reading, writing and activism, and when I return to work I will probably struggle with how to balance mothering with a demanding, unpredictable and fulfilling job. For a time I was falling into that old socialisation of not looking after myself as much as I look after my family, resulting in feelings of scathing resentment against my bewildered partner. He had encouraged me from early on to take time out from him and our baby, but I had said “I’m not ready”. It took a moment of desperate exhaustion before I realised that I must take responsibility for my own wellbeing. As other feminist mothers have written before me, I am then modeling for my son that I am worthy.

  1. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

My partner is both bemused and respectful of my feminist motherhood and my interest in domestic violence. He worries that I am upsetting myself and working too hard. He is also proud of my views and my commitment; he often repeats views I have expressed, and we have conversations that challenge us both and bring us closer. He supports and facilitates my approach to mothering. The main thing that attracted me to him was that I could see he was respectful of women. I was confident that I would be safe with him, and that our children would be safe with him, even if we were ever to separate. The impact of my feminism on him is that he is challenged every day and he is required to step up. Sometimes he struggles with the reality of the oppression of women in our society. I think he would rather it weren’t the case but he realises it is. He is better than me at using humour to cope.

  1. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I did not realise that I am an attachment parenting mother until I started reading bluemilk. If I go by the guidelines of Attachment Parenting Australia, then yes, I am an attachment parenting mother.  But if I go by the standards of other more extreme attachment parents, such as “Uma” who made her views known on bluemilk last year, then I don’t come up to scratch.

I came to attachment parenting through gut instinct, through advice from public hospital midwives, and by reading different material, but I didn’t realise it was called this. When pregnant I read Sarah Buckley’s “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering”, which I loved. I don’t feel there is a huge divide between attachment parenting as promoted by APA and my feminism, but I do wonder how attachment parenting (especially the more fundamentalist approaches) addresses the issue of domestic violence. Also, in all the comments responding to bluemilk’s post, I was a little surprised that there didn’t appear to be any mention of how the current situation in the Family Court of Australia is in direct opposition to attachment parenting.

Domestic violence against women with children usually includes a sustained and systematic undermining by the perpetrator of a mother’s parenting and her bond with her children. Women’s ability to parent is seriously impeded in this situation, which could interfere with the practice of attachment parenting, or conversely, could find them forced into a situation of isolation in the guise of attachment parenting (also referred to by bluemilk). Should a woman with children leave an abusive partner and the issue of contact with the children proceed to legal action, the current situation in the Family Court of Australia is such that she could find herself bound by a court order to allow her abusive ex-partner to see the children. Besides posing a great risk to the children and allowing for further abuse and control of the mother by the perpetrator via the children, such an arrangement would not allow for attachment parenting in it’s purest form. This would pose a huge challenge for a mother attempting to practice attachment parenting, and it would be entirely beyond her control. Examples of this include cases where breastfeeding mothers were forced to wean their babies in order to comply with court orders.

This situation in the Family Court came about after powerful right-wing conservative “men’s rights” groups successfully lobbied the Howard government, which then brought in the 2006 amendments to the Family Law Act. These amendments resulted in the right of fathers to have contact with their children taking precedence over the right to safety of children and mothers. Thankfully, due to the tireless work of feminists in the domestic violence sector and others elsewhere, a Bill to make changes to the Act has passed the Senate and should be in place later in the year. This will go some way towards improving the situation but will not solve all the deeply entrenched problems of the patriarchal court system and domestic violence in general. In this respect attachment parenting definitely needs feminism.

10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

I do not think that feminism has failed mothers in that it is the very thing that led to the domestic violence movement over the past 30 to 40 years. This brought domestic violence out of the private and into the public sphere, with the result that society could no longer ignore it to such an extent. With this movement came legislative and policy reforms that have improved somewhat the responses to domestic violence and the options available to women experiencing it. Current best practice in mainstream domestic violence policy is based on feminist perspectives of DV being a product of patriarchy. There is of course still much to be done. Feminism is seen to have let mothers down where they don’t fit into the dominant discourse of white privilege, and responses for mothers who are culturally and linguistically diverse, living with a disability, older, trans, same-sex and experiencing domestic violence definitely need to improve.

Here are some readings that influence my feminism, my mothering, my work and my life…

Books

  • Trauma and Recovery – by feminist psychiatrist Judith Herman, offers a history of trauma and outlines how DV trauma is similar to the trauma experienced by political prisoners.
  • Mothering through domestic violence – by Marianne Hester and Lorraine Radford
  • Safety Planning With Battered Women: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices

By Jill M. Davies, Eleanor Lyon, Diane Monti-Catani

  • Challenging Silence: innovative responses to sexual and domestic violence – edited by Jan Breckenridge and Lesley Laing

Research/papers

Websites

  • Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse -http://www.adfvc.unsw.edu.au/
  • Put Safety First in Family Law – http://safetyinfamilylaw.com/

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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I just discovered a fascinating new blog - Becoming a Good Korean (Feminist) Wife – after she reflected upon my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood. She has a baby son with her partner and the three of them live in Seoul. Here is her ‘On Adventures in Feminist Parenting’ post. You should read it.

My definition of feminism is at its very core an action. It is the work of helping people to become the best people they can be with the gifts and talents they have been given so that they are not constrained by boxes or hierarchies or artificially constructed limitations. And I suppose that I also have a core belief that the way to achieve this goal is ever changing – ever shifting. The reason is that patriarchal privilege, burden, and oppression are all intricately and artfully woven into every aspect of society. And even if we manage to define or pin down or explore one aspect of what we think is this privilege, burden, and oppression, it is challenged in the next minute by a new perspective provided by a different culture, practice, or concept. In my opinion, feminism is the opposite of rigidity, hierarchy, set expectations, and limitations. Feminism should be about flexibility, movement, fluidity, and the ability to become the person you have the ability to become instead of being constrained by roles and categories which are constructed not innate. You may have a different definition, but this is mine.

In practice, feminism is not always like this. Sometimes feminism and those who identify with it seek to make rigid boxes and theories and try to fit people into them. In this way, I think feminism is in the process of becoming feminist. Sometimes my feminism needs to become feminist.

I like her emphasis on ‘becoming’ throughout the post. The idea of your feminism evolving through life really appeals to me. There is something very interesting about exploring your own identity as a feminist while simultaneously exploring a new role in life, parenthood. Kinda why I started a blog. This blogger has another dimension to all that because she is also examining her identity in a new culture. It makes for really thought-provoking reading.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

Read Full Post »

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