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Archive for the ‘ableism’ Category

.. this is a stunning essay in Al Jazeera America by Michael Bérubé. “For Hire: Dedicated young man with Down Syndrome”. You really must read it.

Thanks to political positioning for the federal budget, current discussions in Australia around the economy, its function and its interaction with community building have reached a peak level of disgrace. Dependency in its most visible forms – unemployment, disability, aging and parenting – are being maligned in terribly inaccurate ways.  For starters, the economy is not static, you cannot take a snapshot of transfers and decide on that basis who is most deserving and who is working hardest. FFS.

 

 

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This essay is written by Cristina Nehring. Do you remember the controversy around her essay about her love for her disabled child last year? Anyway, here she is writing about being a single parent and entering a new love affair – it’s not a brilliant essay, it’s just interesting. She specialises in big sweeping statements that can piss readers off but I do like the way Nehring explores her life with a bigger picture in mind. And I’m always interested in the topic of parents having sex lives, as you know.

Here’s Nehring in The New York Times with “Are parents better lovers?”.

But now I was there — even if I was on the other side. And all my fears were true: I did make Dice my priority. I’d find myself pushing her baby carriage through the park and thinking “I never spent near this much time with any man in a park.” Nor has anyone ever listened to me so rapt, nor smiled at me so winsomely, tenderly, heartbreakingly.

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Memoir writing asks for the same kind of intimacy between reader and writer that comes with friendship. Unless a memoir is genuinely trusting of its readers it ends up lacking sufficient openness and risk for connection. While I understand their motivations, I am well and truly done with memoirs written by authors who are so guarded about themselves or so protective of others around them that there is nothing much left to hang on to.

Boomer & Me: A Memoir of motherhood, and Asperger’s by Jo Case is a really lovely read because while Case is kind-hearted and considered, she is also willing to share some spiteful and irritable tales from the heart of motherhood. By far, Case’s most enjoyable and endearing complaints in the book are about an overly pious and judgmental school mother, Vanessa, who consistently demonises Case’s son, Leo while that mother’s boys try to both befriend and scapegoat him.

‘Leo said a bad word,’ says Angus.

‘Right.’

I give Vanessa a questioning look.

‘I think he might be upstairs. In Angus’s room?’

I nod crisply and climb the stairs. The door is locked. I knock. No answer. I call his name. Vanessa is close behind me. She pokes a wire into the lock and gives it a deft twist. It seems she’s done this before. Leo is glowering behind the door, arms crossed

‘I have had the worst day in my entire life.’

‘What’s wrong, Leo?’ asks Vanessa, bending so her eyes are level with his and putting a comforting hand on his arm. ‘Don’t exaggerate, now.’

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘We’ll talk on the way home,’ I decide, grabbing his hand and leading him downstairs. He grunts out a goodbye to Angus, under duress.

Angus waves cheerily as Vanessa gives Leo his lolly bag and follows us down the hallway and to the gate, waving us down the footpath. They had a fight over footy cards. Angus said his were lame. He said they weren’t. They bickered.

‘And you said a rude word?’

‘No.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said Angus was an idiot.’

‘And that was the rude word?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Did you get sent to time-out?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Vanessa shut you up in Angus’s room?’

‘Yeah.’

‘What did she say to you?’

‘She told me never to use that word again.’

***

Vanessa runs across the schoolyard to catch up with us, greeting us with white-hot charm. She launches into a monologue about a headache and her annoying mother and reading George Monbiot. I focus all my conscious attention on not being rude. Which translates into curt nods and lots of ‘yes’ and ‘really?’.

‘Have you recovered from yesterday, Leo?’ she asks.

‘Yes.’

As we near the end of the cul-de-sac, she turns her attention to our dogs. Doug lurches at her, barking. Leo looks her in the eye. ‘He doesn’t like you,’ he says.

I’ve read and loved rather a lot of motherhood memoirs over the years.  But this book, I’m surprised to admit, is the first one I’ve read that is written by a contemporary, urban mother of Australia.. and it was refreshing. I realise, once again, how important it is to include books in your shelves describing lives you recognise. It was both compelling and comforting for me to read about summer rain during Christmas Carols in the park, attempts to find an affordable house in an inner-city suburb, and making the time to write one’s personal blog. While we live in different cities, so close are our experiences that Case reads the same literary journal I read, spends similar evenings alone at the computer writing articles to deadline, and is even friends with some of the same writers as me.

But Case’s story is also a very different tale to mine. Hers is the path you take from finding your child sometimes very difficult, and the guilt and doubt that comes with that, to the ambivalance you experience in eventually getting a medical diagnosis for them. Learning her son has Asperger’s is a relief and a validation for Case, but it also means facing prejudice in herself she’d not known she had towards disability. This is further complicated when Case also finally accepts the same diagnosis of Asperger’s for herself.

Case and her son have the pattern of exclusive time together that single parents with only children have and the depth of connection that reflects this. (Although, during the book Case re-partners with a new man who becomes an unnaturally astute step-parent). Her son, Leo is an adorably quirky, intelligent boy with an earnest desire to oblige, so he is a child you easily warm to in the book. Some of Case’s most charming descriptions of them together are the many bicycle commutes they share around Melbourne.

Boomer & Me is not a dramatic story, there is no great tragedy nor quest for a cure, this is just life meandering through the years. Big shifts happen but they do so through small, deceptively ordinary moments – work, love, travel, ex-partners, family, friends. However, Case is a skilled writer – engaging and crisp while also being unpretentious and self-aware – so the book moves gently but with pace. And in many ways, Boomer & Me is simply the story of an intimate relationship, that between mother and child.

In accordance with disclosure guidelines, please note that I was sent a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

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Jane Caro has just written a rather charming article, “Over-mothered? No, over mothering” for the Sydney Morning Herald.

For birthdays, I bought two packs of 12 lamington fingers and stuck a candle in each one. They served a whole class.

I was very bad at any sort of preparation. I only once helped a daughter with a project – we couldn’t find a ruler, the glue had dried up, as had the textas, and the eventual product on creased blue cardboard looked like the cat threw up on it. The only photo we could dredge up of a marine creature was of brain coral. ”That’ll have to do!” I screeched at her. I think she’d had fantasies of whales, dolphins or seahorses. I went into the classroom a few days later only to see it displayed on the wall alongside other pristine, laminated dissertations on more glamorous sea creatures. Surprised to see it so honoured, I asked the teacher why it took pride of place. ”Ah,” she said, ”because she so obviously did it all by herself.” Once again, sheer incompetence came up trumps.

When it came time for the weekly swimming lessons, I invariably realised I hadn’t unpacked the cossie from last time. ”Oh well,” I reasoned as I forced them to don their damp, mouldy, smelly togs, ”they’re only going to get wet again anyway.”

There’s a lot I love about this piece but it reminds me that I am also a little skeptical of this stuff. I’m a big fan of slacker mums and relate to much of what the movement is expressing about unrealistic standards in mothering. But I want to raise a couple of cautions here given such confessions are becoming big in the media at the moment. Firstly, there’s a lot of in-built classism in slacker mothering, as I noted way back in 2008 when I first wrote about the ‘slacker mothers/mothers who drink’ phenomenon.

Almost certainly, a mother from a low socio-economic group wouldn’t get away with a book of this kind of humour, she’d risk being seen as neglectful rather than endearingly chaotic – imagine if the mothers in that New York Times article were drinking bourbon and cokes instead of Cavit pinot grigio, would this be seen as the emergence of a trend in sophisticated motherhood?

And as I also observed back then in 2008, the slacker mum movement often neglects to directly acknowledge the debt it owes feminism. It’s frequently liberation without the radicalism. This means the discussion can lack perspective and a sense of purpose. And that becomes particularly apparent when you read supposedly confessional pieces that are pulling their punches, something I refer to in this article of mine at Daily Life. If your ‘revealing truths’ reinforce how much you belong to the most powerful income/class groups of mothers then while you’re taking a risk in revealing them it’s not a particularly big one, and you’re probably not liberating a genuinely marginalised mother, such as a teenage mother, or a mother with a drug addiction, or a mother in poverty who wouldn’t get away with that same slackness without facing the threat of more serious repercussions.

Finally, the slacker mother movement seems to be taking a nasty turn lately towards judging mothers it sees as being too dedicated to the pursuit of motherhood. This begs the question what business is it of yours how another mother does her care work, because it’s inherently sexist that we routinely consider women’s lives our business and that we also have so many ways to criticise women? Also, are you sure she isn’t the oppressed minority, rather than you? In which case, step off her neck you big bully, she’s got enough on her plate. Lauren Rosewarne’s piece for The Drum was a classic example of this problem, in my opinion, as was Mia Freedman’s piece about birth activists, which I tackled in this article of mine at Essential Baby. Even Caro’s piece, which is notably about “over-mothering,” pictures ‘intervention-free birthers’ as some dominating group of mothers she is bravely breaking free of when, actually, having a medicalised birth is hardly taking the path of most resistance in Australia. (I should probably disclose here that I have a foot in both camps having chosen a birth centre ‘intervention-free’ birth for my first baby and a hospital birth with an epidural for my second baby).

If you actively engage with the feminist parenting community then you’ll find that breast-feeders, baby-wearers, home-birthers and even, the organic food types aren’t all the stereotypes you believe them to be. I’ve found many of these mothers have the more radical feminism of parents in the feminist community. And they are often political and quick to defend marginalised mothers, too. Maybe this is because I’ve found that quite a number of them are also, themselves, black or single or disabled or very young or a multitude of other identities that lead them to be marginalised. Mothers are rarely simple stereotypes. If slacker mothering is about liberating mothers then it’s important that it actually does.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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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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What is missing from all this analysis about discrimination against marginalised groups? (Or at least in my case, wasn’t being highlighted?) Race!

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This article in The Atlantic by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, “The ethical implications of parents writing about their children” is incredibly unforgiving of mother writers and bloggers. She sets the benchmark very low for the test of appropriateness with writing and it’s anything that may embarrass your children when they’re older. My god, I think the topic is way more nuanced than this writer is letting it be in her article.

Still, anyone looking to question the ethics of parental overshare faces a tough audience. The ubiquity of confessional writing has spilled over into confessions that implicate not so much the author as the author’s still-underage offspring. Readers are meant to celebrate confessional parenting-writing for its courage, perhaps also because it is a rare creative (sometimes lucrative) outlet for women who identify primarily as mothers. Yet these parents’ “courage” involves telling stories not theirs to tell. Confessional writing is about risk. An author telling of her own troubles risks her own reputation and relationships. But an author doing the same about her kid risks primarily his, not hers.

This is a particularly troublesome topic at the moment because of some high profile writing by mothers about their children with disabilities. People with disabilities already pay a high price for prejudice, can they afford to pay any more when their mothers write about their disabilities in very unflattering terms? However, mothers and carers also pay a high price for caring work that is grossly undervalued in society and poorly supported, can they not write about that penalty?

In reply to Maltz Bovy’s article I would say yes, this confessional writing about mothering is controversial for good reason (it’s a quagmire for all confessional writing), and yes, there are unequal lines of power in the relationship between parent and child, and yes, mistakes are sometimes made. But I have thoughts on both the blurriness of the line between what is my story, as a mother, and what is my children’s story and also some thoughts on the brutal hostility that is shown to mothers who dare to write about their experiences (and yes, I think in part that this is a gender issue)..

Here, in my own article, “Complaining about motherhood”:

When mothers do complain about their children, particularly in public, they often pull punches in a ‘cereal all over the floor, those loveable rascals’ kind of way. Motherhood is so tightly scripted that even when someone appears to ad-lib they are very often reading rehearsed lines. Complaining about my children feels a lot like complaining about my job. The tantrums, the squabbling, the whining and the interruptions – these are the monotonous meetings, the jammed printers and the difficult bosses I may complain about to colleagues over drinks. But that’s not necessarily how the complaints will be received. The line between your story, as a mother, and your children’s is thin. Who owns this tale of woe and its right to be told? Unloading is liberating but troubling for a parent, all at once. Mothering is a role that will dominate my life for at least twenty years and there is plenty to say about that preoccupation but it is almost impossible to write about without treading on the privacy and powerlessness of my children.

Here in my post, “Too sexy for breastfeeding”:

There is something else worth considering about Furry Girl’s criticisms of Young, and that is the way in which she can’t distinguish between mothers and mothering. Yes, Young’s daughter can’t give permission for being included in her mother’s artwork, neither can mine give permission for my writing. But who owns Young’s experience of motherhood? Who own’s mine? Where do Young’s and my experiences of early motherhood and our desire to explore these all-consuming aspects of our lives end, and our children’s ownership of them begin? Can Young, who describes her devotion to her baby daughter so lovingly, not be trusted to know? Does being sexual as women (or even sexually objectified unintentionally) spill dangerously over into our responsibilities as mothers? Does it prevent us from good mothering? Because incidentally, I also attract readers here from time to time looking for something apart from feminist discussion, who are instead seeking ‘sexy breastfeeding’ stories and images. (And what a crushing bore they must find it all, once here).

There are boundaries, of course, but they need not impose the complete separation of mother from self.

Here with my post, “Reluctant blog material”:

There is something to be suspicious about whenever people jump on a bandwagon against a practice almost entirely pursued by women, which parent blogging overwhelmingly is. Feminism has a rich history in the liberation of making the personal political – of destigmatising ordinary but shamed aspects of womens’ lives, and the solidarity which can come out of sharing one’s own story with other women only to find theirs are touchingly similar. Indeed, much of my interest in writing a feminist motherhood blog arose from this idea.  And yet, to be honest, like some others I’m still rather ambivalent about the decision to blog about my daughter.

When I started writing here it was with several purposes, among them was the desire to create something for my daughter to read when she was older. I’m imagining she’ll want to know more about who she was and how she came to be than I could otherwise recall without referring to this blog. Maybe she’ll also want to know who I was back then, too. But as my interests with the blog have developed, I find myself increasingly writing about other facets beyond the personal and I frequently wonder about their compatibility with the journal of a childhood. This is particularly the case when I write about contentious topics, posts which attract new readers from varying sources, readers I don’t have any kind of connection with, and readers who have an axe to grind. These posts, I know, can incite debate if not outright hostility, and they attract trolls too. And all the time, just above or below each contentious post is a cheerful little post about my daughter, with a photo or two of her. I feel like I am rolling over and showing the trolls my soft underbelly. See, right here, that would really hurt. I’ve tried to prepare myself for the inevitable attack when it comes, and I’m trying to be ready to see it for the stupidity that it will be.. but still, soft underbelly, very soft.

And here in my post, “Parenthood takes you to the edge”:

Mummy and Daddy blogs really get a hammering in the reputation stakes of writing, they’re all supposed to be sappy and mindless like parenting itself perhaps, but these two posts prove how much of parenthood is not sappy and mindless at all. Parenthood can feel like flirting with your own disintegration. These two posts tell me a lot about the experience of becoming a parent, about being pushed to the edge and holding it together, and about losing your very identity and forming a new one; stuff that I’ve never seen properly said in a parenting manual. Writing like this is so personal and yet universal all at once. There are many terrific reasons for blogging but the ability to liberate others through your own honesty is worthy indeed.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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