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Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

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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My latest column for Fairfax newspapers is here:

Go ahead and brainwash your baby. There are few enough privileges as a parent, you might as well seize this one. If you want to change the world and make it a less sexist place then this little human sponge of yours is the best chance you’ve got. Because truth is, the world is going to try to brainwash your baby right back. I’m wary of anyone being too prescriptive about either parenting or feminism these days, I’ve made my share of compromises with both, and I’m not much interested in perfectionism. But in case you’re after a starting point with anti-sexist parenting then here’s three general tips from my own experience.

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This is a very thought-provoking article from Elias Isquith in Salon on the return of the “view from nowhere” in political journalism.

Probably no one has devised a better definition of the phenomenon than Rosen, who describes it as “a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer.” According to Rosen, the view from nowhere “places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position ‘impartial.’” As Rosen himself will grant, this inclination to be “objective” is not always bad. Indeed, journalism is impossible if its practitioners don’t acknowledge the existence of at least some kind of baseline objective reality. But the view from nowhere is more often a self-flattering and ass-covering gimmick, one that is intended to protect the journalist from receiving criticism for partiality but often leaves the reader less informed as a result. Paul Krugman has a famous joke headline about the view from nowhere, one that’s only a slight exaggeration of the practice at its worst: “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.”

I see something similar happening in Australian political writing at the moment with some people on the left continually criticising actions and responses by others on the left while staking out the ground of reasonable.

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At first, it was easy. Tom and I supported each other in our work, shared the domestic drudgery equally, and always seemed to have time for each other and for fun. Life was not only good, it felt fair.

Then we had a son. And then a daughter. Like that frog in the science experiment who has the sense to jump out of a pot of boiling water but, plopped into tepid water, he doesn’t notice it gradually heating to boiling point until he is cooked, our division of labour through the years steadily grew laughably, ridiculously, irrationally, frustratingly unfair.

Forget about having it all, it felt like I was doing it all.

“You are not the Lion King!” I would occasionally yell, usually after finding myself scrubbing an oven hood so clogged with grease that the smoke alarms wouldn’t stop screeching while he watched TV. “You don’t get to laze around while I do all the work!”

He’d shoot back that my standards were too high. “You’re just like Marge Simpson. When her house was burning down, she found dirty dishes in the sink and stood there washing them,” he’d say.

When it came to the kids, I took them to all their medical appointments. Tom didn’t even know where the dentist’s office was. Without question, I was the one who stayed at home or rearranged my work schedule when they were sick. While Tom slept soundly or was off at work, I was the one still up at 2am baking cupcakes for the school or wrapping Christmas presents.

It had reached the point where I didn’t want to feel so hostile and resentful all the time, so I made a weird, lopsided bargain: I would do most of the child, house and garden work, taxes and drudge stuff. All I asked for in return, I told Tom, was this: “I just want you to notice – and say thank you.”

Our wildly out of whack division of labour is a big reason why my life felt as if it had splintered into unsatisfying, distracted and fragmented scraps that I called time confetti.

From “How my husband and I finally achieved equality at home” by Bridget Schulte in The Guardian. (Thanks to Sara for the link).

This article is a very good description of how inequality creeps into a relationship but in spite of the title, a less clear description of how you correct it. Yes, you take turns at all the domestic work and yes, you spend more time connecting, but how? How did you get there? How did you unpick such entrenched patterns of behaviour? How do you monitor it without that becoming someone’s task, too? How do you get everyone equally invested in the outcome when some were clearly benefiting from the old unfair way of doing things?

But anyway, I really just want to take note here of a couple of things in this article. One, I always find it amusing to hear the unique terms couples invent for describing one another’s annoying behaviours so, I enjoyed ‘Lion King’ immeasurably and two, how recognisable is that deal she made to swallow inequality if her sacrifice could at least be acknowledged by her partner and kids? And how devastating is it when you discover there is no appreciation?

 

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I’ve written a lot about maternal desire here and how poorly understood that motivation is.. but I’ve not considered paternal desire much before.

All through this research, Edin says, she’d never been interested in studying men. “It’s fun to write about people with a strong heroic element to the story,” she says. “Women have that. Men don’t have that. [They're] more complicated; they’re dogged with bad choices.” In addition, she admits, “I felt hostile after writing about the women. I really had their point of view in my head.”

It was Nelson who, after years of working on a book about religious experience in a black church, convinced her otherwise. Together, they spent several years canvassing Camden in search of dads to interview. They stopped men on the street and asked if they’d talk—sometimes right there on the spot. They put up flyers and worked with nonprofit groups and eventually knit together a sample of equal parts black and white men they interviewed at length over the better part of a decade.

Again, what they discovered surprised them. Rather than viewing unplanned fatherhood as a burden, the men almost uniformly saw it as a blessing. “It’s so antithetical to a middle-class perspective,” Edin says. “But it finally dawned on us that these guys thought that by bringing children in the world they were doing something good in the world.” Everything else around them—the violence, the poverty, their economic prospects—was so negative, she explains, a baby was “one little dot of color” on a black-and-white canvas.

Only a small percentage of the men, black or white, said the pregnancy was the result of an accident, and even fewer challenged the paternity. When the babies were born, most of the men reported a desire to be a big part of their lives. Among black men, 9 in 10 reported being deeply involved with their children under the age of two, meaning they had routine, in-person contact with their kids several times a month. But that involvement faded with time. Only a third of black fathers and a quarter of white fathers were still intensively involved with kids older than 10. Among the reasons, Edin identifies unstable relationships with the mothers—the average couple had been together only about six months before conceiving a child. The men also frequently struggled with substance abuse and stints in prison.

From “What if everything you know about poverty was wrong” by Stephanie Mencimer in Mother Jones.

 

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Love your tits, baby

Yesterday on my way to work a man called out to me on the street but I couldn’t hear him properly so I smiled hello thinking maybe we knew each other. He called out again louder, love your tits, baby until I finally glared at him. I wonder what on earth he wanted from this moment. And I can’t help but think , given how rare they are, what a terrible waste of an exchange with a stranger. Was there a moment where he considered changing his second call to a greeting instead?

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I was very flattered to be interviewed by The Wheeler Centre about writing and among other things I talked about the importance of Kiese Laymon’s essays and also, Rachel Cusk’s memoirs to me.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Rachel Cusk’s two memoirs, A Life’s Work and Aftermath, were breakthroughs for me with my writing. I was a new parent and she was the first writer I found interested in connecting her personal experiences of motherhood to the broader discussion of feminism and writing. Plus, Cusk has been prepared to go as dark as required with that pursuit. I didn’t find her books all that confronting, to be honest, but some readers did and it’s always very interesting when terribly human moments disturb people to that degree.

The other thing Cusk showed me is that you do not always have to start your conversation with readers at the beginning. Some pieces are written for beginner-level understanding – they’re extremely important − but it is perfectly acceptable to pitch other essays only to readers who are progressed on the issue. It is nice to see what your article provokes with them and to learn from their part in the conversation. (Although reading the comments on those articles where you didn’t start from the beginning and bring everyone with you might be a brutal experience).

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My column this week for Daily Life is out:

For weeks this year, before that night, I dreamed about snakes. On and off I’ve had these dreams since childhood and they always look like Pierre Roy’s Danger on the Stairs (1927). Recently people tried to tell me that the dreams were a sign of healing but Google that old surrealist painting and tell me if you see any good omens there.

Before I tell you what happened that night I want to tell you what happened a little further back, which is that I suddenly became a single parent. My partner and I, after more than a decade and a half together, decided to end our relationship. Doesn’t matter how a relationship ends — whether you leave, are left or it happens mutually — there’s still a moment where you take a breath and jump. It’s a moment of acceptance that this is your new reality.

 

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From Katha Pollitt in The Nation with “Why do so many leftists want sex work to be the new normal?”:

It’s one thing to say sex workers shouldn’t be stigmatized, let alone put in jail. But when feminists argue that sex work should be normalized, they accept male privilege they would attack in any other area. They accept that sex is something women have and men get (do I hear “rape culture,” anyone?), that men are entitled to sex without attracting a partner, even to the limited extent of a pickup in a bar, much less pleasing or satisfying her. As Grant says, they are buying a fantasy—the fantasy of the woman who wants whatever they want (how johns persuade themselves of this is beyond me). But maybe men would be better partners, in bed and out of it, if they couldn’t purchase that fantasy, if sex for them, as for women, meant finding someone who likes them enough to exchange pleasure for pleasure, intimacy for intimacy. The current way of seeing sex work is all about liberty—but what about equality?

From Melissa Gira Grant in The Nation with “Let’s call sex work what it is: work”:

When we say that sex work is service work, we don’t say that just to sanitize or elevate the status of sex workers, but also to make plain that the same workers who are performing sex work are also performing nonsexual service work. In her study of Rust Belt strippers published in Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy, and the State in Global Perspective, Susan Dewey observed that the vast majority of the dancers—all but one—at one club in upstate New York had worked outside the sex industry, and “many had left intermittently for low-wage, service-sector work elsewhere before returning with the recognition that they preferred the topless bar with its possibility of periodic windfalls from customers.” For the dancers who Dewey surveyed, it was the work outside of the sex industry that was “exploitative, exclusionary, and without hope for social mobility or financial stability.”

 

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My latest article for Daily Life.. it was also lead story on The Age today:

How to stop child abuse and sexual abuse is not as simple. But as an observer you have this frustration, this helplessness and this stomach-churning revulsion and so, I understand the temptation Joe Hildebrand feels in making the solution simple, though he is mistaken. Only those with incredible strength and patience work in the field of family violence and child abuse because the problem is just that nightmarish and crafting the solution is that protracted as a process. If you can’t handle the complexity, if you’re feeling yourself beginning to break, beginning to reach for big dumb hammers to crack this nut then you have to step away, you’ve become part of the problem.

 

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