Guest post: Shelli on her feminist motherhood, in reply to this post by blue milk. Shelli is re-partnered and the mother of two young boys.
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 about recognising and attempting to address structural barriers and forms of gendered violence be they symbolic or material.
There is no question that motherhood has returned me to more radical feminism after a brief undergrad spell of complacency and naive belief in ‘power feminism’. Motherhood has radicalised me I am ashamed to admit purely out of self-interest and the shock of inequities I had either not experienced or managed to avoid. In becoming mother, I encountered blatant discrimination and marginalisation. I faced family court where I fought like a mother bear (!) against an ill-considered and frivolous demand for 50/50 custody (something actively propagated by Howard and the bad mad men’s groups) . In doing so, I fought for my right to maintain my primary role and I fought for my child’s best interest. In becoming mother, I have had to think about my privilege in the world in ways I hadn’t previously really done, except for in the most abstract terms; I had to think and manage and push for change in the workforce in a way I never would have thought about in my pre-motherhood days. And I have to think about and and act in ’sisterhood’ – through understanding and relating to a whole range of women from whom I would have otherwise remained disconnected. This includes my own mother!
What has surprised you most about motherhood?
How bone-tired I am sometimes but also the infinite stores of patience I sometimes have! How good I am at animal charades and distracting children from the current source of their discontent. That I am not the perfect mother I always imagined I was going to be …
How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
My mothering is feminist in that I am trying to bring 2 boys up to question gender and gender roles and be politically engaged. I believe as a feminist mother of boys, you have to raise ‘momma’s boys’ so they can be complete emotionally intelligent men – not ‘real’ men (ie emotionally distant ) – who are able to articulate emotions and treat women and relationships including fatherhood with respect, care,understanding and equity.
Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult?
Not really but I am sometimes discrete about it.
Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I like to think of it as reprioritising rather than sacrifice, I suppose.
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 supported by my partner in my feminist motherhood and he’a a pretty good feminist father most of the time!
If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
I prefer to think of myself as an at-times attached mother (the detachable mother??) because how can anyone pursue a purely attachment mode of mothering? I don’t like to ascribe a label to ways of parenting because I dont’ think it is helpful to the cause of feminist motherhood. I guess my own thinking on the subject is that I don’t understand the rationale for exclusively committing to attachment mothering. In many respects, I see it is a very privileged form of parenting. If you can do it, then great, but I wonder about its sustainability (it’s exhausting and seems to be focused on the first year) and sometimes its over-privileging of particularly advantaged babies, and over-guilting of mothers who don’t or can’t always live up to it. Try attachment mothering with 2 babies for example. I suspect it is about the professionalisation of motherhood and some construct of natural and good mothering that for me is at odds with my feminist motherhood.
Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how?
No feminism has always been linked to advancing mothers, the private sphere, and legitimising mothers’ voices and experiences. Those who see it as a failure are selectively and/or inaccurately presenting the multiple agendas of feminism and feminisms.
Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
The framework for thinking about gender and its interplay with a range of social, cultural and economic constructs which have constrained and/or shaped motherhood.