Guest post: kate on her feminist motherhood in response to this post by blue milk. She is partnered with one young son.
I’m starting with the later question first: I don’t identify as an attachment parent. Not because of my feminism, rather because I learned moderation from my Mum, aunties and Nanna and I don’t subscribe to any parenting ideology. I need to sleep, and my kid wont do that in our bed. Having tried everything else, and being absolutely crazy with the sleep deprivation, we let him cry. We go in, but then he ramps it up a few
notches and cries longer. So we left him to it. Now he’s had a good night’s sleep, and so have we, and we’re all happier. He’s over it now, and he slept again last night. I feel much better. I made it through the week of work without dropping anything expensive or crashing the database. My parenting philosophy, such as it is, is more ‘whatever gets you through the week without killing anyone’. There’s also ‘just deal with the kid you have instead of wondering why you didn’t get the other sort or how you can “make” him/her be like the other sort’. I learnt it from Nanna. I think for those of us with one or two kids it’s easy to think we have more power
over the behaviour and potential of our children than we actually do.
There are millions of things I’d rather not do as a parent, like losing my temper and yelling, but I’m human, and it’s not going to scar him for life to learn that. I know I didn’t turn out the way my parents expected, I’m
sure my son wont either.
I started calling myself a feminist in primary school when I first heard the word. My mother is also a feminist, although not in an organised or activist way. There was never a time when I thought my brother could do
something I couldn’t because of gender. To his credit, and my parent’s, he didn’t either. He has since married and has two kids and traditional gender-correctness is much more in play in their house than it ever was in
ours growing up. My sister-in-law gave me almost all of her son’s clothes for my son to wear. She has a baby daughter and intends to buy all new things. I wouldn’t have, I don’t have a problem with girls wearing blue. I
am waiting for the day when her daughter asserts her right to choose her own clothes. I’m not exactly filled with Christian charity on that score.
That said, my sister-in-law is no pawn of the patriarchy, and would be pretty cross at any suggestion that she was of lesser worth or intelligence than her husband or father. She’s just not very big on feminist literature or following her ideas of equal worth through with gender neutral toys and clothes. She likes true crime. Some might argue that Adrienne Rich scared more people than any true crime book. My sister-in-law might respond “Who’s he?”
My partner also grew up with a feminist mother. When he and his brother get frustrated with her it is invariably for her feminist failings – of being a Christmas Dinner Martyr, of insisting on knitting for my son even though she hates knitting (and lord knows he isn’t short on clothes) in the hope of being a traditional Good Mother and Good Grandma – the times she doesn’t live up to the principles she taught them. They don’t either, but they’re getting better. Feminism means he doesn’t have to be a breadwinner and he’s pretty happy about that. It also means he didn’t shack up with a woman who’ll plan his life and domestic duties for him. He’s happy about that too.
But he still doesn’t vacuum very often, and I’ve only seen him mop the kitchen floor once in two years. When stuff like that gets to me I tend to reflect on my previous relationships with women, and my old female housemates. The first revelation is that they were also hopeless with housework (clearly I’m not attracted to neat freaks), that I made fewer excuses for women who didn’t pull their weight, and that the Bloke is easier to talk to about it than all the others put together and more understanding of why I want him to lift his game. I want our son to grow up seeing that housework is the job of everyone who lives in the house according to their ability, not their gender.
My relationship, and motherhood, have made me think again more consciously about my feminism. For a long time I didn’t have to think, and my views weren’t challenged, I was in a little feminist and queer-friendly cocoon. I didn’t have to explain my feminism to anyone. Now I have to explain why that ad, that portrayal of a sitcom character, or that news story, is so frustrating. Because the Bloke, while sympathetic, didn’t get a tertiary education in humanities, and he’s never really had to think about it consciously. I also have to point out that all the sexist and homophobic jokes, the stuff he doesn’t seriously mean, is the stuff that our son will
remember and internalise. And so will other kids, kids who don’t have feminist mothers, or fathers with gay friends.
What surprised me about motherhood is that all of the problems I was aware of, and prepared myself for so that I could avoid, still became my problems. It turns out that all the breastfeeding preparation in the world
is next to useless if the kid doesn’t also read the book and watch the video. I’m glad I didn’t have very fixed ideas about the sort of parent I was going to be. I’m sure I would have been very disappointed.
I make all sorts of compromises as a mother (sadly I haven’t worked out how to be in two places at once, nor to extend the number of hours available to me in a day) but I do not feel compromised by those choices.
Life is full of compromises, so long as I get to decide where I draw the line, I can live with it. My compromises tend to be less about my feminism, and more environmental and capitalist. I want to tread gently, but I live in the west and I love my laptop. I cringe at the rampant capitalism in our society, but I need very much to earn my own independent income. Life is full of compromises, but I keep trying.
Feminism has done a lot for mothers, I think the others have done a pretty good job outlining it. I also agree that society generally fails mothers. Mothers, however, have done a lot for society, by volunteering, by
becoming local activists, and by getting political. The ones who identify as feminists and all of the others too. It was women, many of them mothers, who pushed for quality charitable and then public health care in
Australia. It was women who pushed for kindergarten/pre-school education, and it is women who established and continue to work in maternal and child health centres. It is women who have ‘manned’ cake stalls and volunteered their labour for our public schools. When I see election day sausage sizzles at my local school, I think of Joan Kirner, our former Premier, who began a life of activism and political engagement when she joined her local school council. And then I hope that she’s not the only one.