How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
Feminism: seeking gender equality as a priority, and thinking respect toward others and critical engagement with the way things currently are, is the best way to get there.
I’ve been a feminist since I got involved in a group called Women and the Law, which was a student group at The University of Queensland in the early 90s, developed to critique and change the masculinist culture of the law school there. This was long before the idea of motherhood did anything but give me chills of horror
What has surprised you most about motherhood?
How hard it is, how guilt ridden, how tiring. Actually, what has surprised me most is that I’m not immune to all the stresses and difficulties and confusions people have talked about. I thought my education and feminism would allow me to transcend the impact of ideology and structure. Ha! Turns out, not so much.
How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
Changed over time: More about connection, less about conflict. More focused on vulnerability and less on power (an issue of emphasis, they are connected). More focused on structure and less on individual abilities, interests, and rights. More sad, less angry. I now think it’s okay to shave legs and wear make up (though am too lazy to actually do so). I wear fewer tight T-shirts with ‘sassy’ slogans. How has motherhood changed my feminism? It’s made all those theoretical issues and academic studies real. It’s made me less sympathetic to any instance where a mothers’ interests trump a child’s (I’m not comfortable with this, but it’s true). It’s broadened my focus out from gendered change to social change generally, and environmental change in particular. It’s made me more raw and less engaged with political issues.
What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
I aim to help my girls become individuals who value themselves as people and as women, who critique social structures and practices (particularly those that are gendered). Put like that, the first part doesn’t make me different from non-feminist mothers and this might be because: a) most mothers do want the same things for their kids, but feminism is a label people shy away from; or b) my definition of what it is to be valued in a girl and a woman is probably different from trad. mothers. But I suspect there’s more commonality than difference amongst mothers. Feminism creates my parenting. It’s the underlying structure upon which all else is built. Not always in a reflexive way though – feminism is my worldview, it’s my lens.
Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
I feel compromised and failed as a mother all the time. As a feminist mother? I guess, but only because feminism is such a core component of my mothering.
Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
No. I am both. I’m really proud to be a feminist and I’m proud to be a mother and I think that feminism offers the best set of principles to mother by.
Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I don’t think feminism means putting the self first in every circumstance. It’s about recognising the impacts of gender at a societal as well as a personal level. Some of my sacrifices are chosen in the context of a family where my male partner sacrifices everyday. Other sacrifices are enforced by social structures – this doesn’t require me to reconcile anything because it is further proof of gender inequality. I guess in the end I see feminism as an important way to ensure people are treated with care and respect, and sometimes that involves sacrifice for one’s children. But also, I’m seeking a way of talking about relationships beyond a discourse of competing rights, which seems to be implicit in the question (or at least how I read it
If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
Saying Al’s all for it suggests he’s in a position to judge. Feminism is fundamental to who I am and how I engage in the world – love me, love my feminism, right? I think if pressed he would say he’d prefer the mother of our children to be feminist than not. But it’s a taken for granted part of our lives and our relationship.
As for the impact, well, it’s given us the ideological space for me to work and him to stay home with the girls, which fits both our desires. It’s given him a lot of freedom (and admittedly a lot more washing up and laundry than he might otherwise have been lumbered with).
If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
As above, my feminism is about connection and respect and care, it’s not adversarial. I see attachment parenting as the perfect fit. Also, I think this approach builds strong, confident, loving and resilient kids, and strong girls in particular, and that’s what feminism, for me, is very much about.
Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
No it hasn’t at all. Society continues to fail mothers. The feminisms I work with (save perhaps, the 70s Shulamith Firestone-type Radical feminism, which isn’t really a theoretical player in its pure form anymore) are about freedom and choice and change. This is what mothers needs. The difficulties mothers face occur because society rejects feminist principles. I personally have never met a feminist who is down on mothers who breastfeed or stay at home, or any other supposedly contentious issue. I often feel as though this is just the political equivalent of jelly wrestling, a fantasy of the Piers Ackerman types (and, oddly, Albrechtson, Shanahan, and Arndt).
What has feminism given mothers?
Oh, I don’t know, some chance of maternity leave and of keeping a job once you’re married/pregnant; the choice of what surname you and your child will carry; the recognition that child care is a relevant political and social issue; protection from rape and battery in marriage; a better pay and career prospects and thus better opportunities for power in the relationship and supporting oneself and one’s children if the relationship ends; a language to talk about the relevant issues; the option for our daughters to do maths and be taken seriously; the recognition that lesbian mothers exist and have rights; freedom to become a mother through reproductive rights. Just little things like that.
These are not perfect gains and they benefit some women more than others, but feminism has given women more than any other ideology or political movement. Neo-liberalism or Christianity aren’t really getting behind mothers, now, are they? Oh – bitter! But yes, the feminists have gone too far/ are anti-woman/ are anti-mother rhetoric pisses the bejeezus out of me (and you can quote me on that!).