(Have you noticed how many of the feminist mothers guest posting here are mothers to sons? The next generation of men are going to be particularly good ones!)
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 in one sentence: Speaking out and acting against inequality around me; raising my hand and shouting bull! whenever women ormen are pigeonholed into gender roles. My thinking about feminism and sexism was organized during college at a very liberal school, and I became more intellectual about it when I edited a large women’s studies anthology for years during my 20s and read a wide variety of the greats on the subject. This was all pre-motherhood.
What has surprised you most about motherhood?
That what I read about the struggles women have historically made, and discrepancies (to say the least) in equality for mothers vs.childless women and men is truer and more heartbreaking, emotionally and physically than I ever understood just reading about it or watching other women.
How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
In my twenties, every little offense seemed important. Now I pick my battles and decide to spend energy when I think it will be most effective.
I am mother to a male toddler and I am surprised to see how stereotypically boyish he behaves when I see him around girls. This makes me realize that our inherent genetic makeup is quite strong and can’t be brushed aside when we want adults to change their behavior. I’m not as certain as I used to be that people act the way they want to – I think they sometimes act the way they’re programmed to. During pregnancy and the early post partem months I learned that we are very much prisoners of our bodies. The intellectual decision making sometimes must take a back seat, or we should always remember that there is a complicated dance between our minds and bodies. I don’t know if I’m connecting the dots here clearly…
What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
Thus far, I am raising my son in the same manner as I would a daughter: playing the same games, reading the same books, offering the same toys. I will not refuse him “boy” hobbies or toys, but I won’t push them on him either. If he wants to wear a skirt or play with a doll, I will let him, just as I’d let a daughter wear football gear and play with trucks. But here’s my feminist take on it: I won’t be disappointed if he chooses to “act like a boy” and never wants to “gender bend.” With my brand of feminism we should follow the beat of our own drummers and not be pressured into being with or against the status quo.
Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
All the time. I am disappointed that I don’t have the physical or mental energy to both care for a child and acquire a more intellectual and career-driven job than I currently hold part-time. I thought that if I had the opportunity to “have it all” then I would be able to have it all. But the energy required in taking care of a baby astonishes me. I sometimes feel resentful and like I was lied to by feminist literature. If I have the means (financially and with partner-support) I feel like I am letting the movement (and myself) down.
Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
I don’t know that I walk up to people and identify myself as such. In the US, the contemporary idea of feminism is so fragmented that if I did so, I don’t know what the reaction would be. It all takes a lot of explaining. I guess I expect my actions will speak for me.
Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I’m finding this reconciliation difficult at the moment. Intellectually, I knew that being a woman (with or without children) involves sacrifice, but I imagined from what I’ve read about the feminist movement over the last century that I would have it easiest in this generation. Now that I’m a mother, I feel like my choices are still pretty limited.
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 believe that part of what he loves about me are my strong opinions, but he is more right-leaning in his own ideas about gender roles. However, so far in our parenting, we have not squabbled much. Most likely this will change when there’s more at stake in his mind as our son ages.
If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
I like the idea that feminism allows women to nurture their children as they wish – that choice is the important concept. And so, as a quasi-attachment-nursing mother, I don’t feel at odds with being a feminist.
Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
Feminism over the last thirty years has failed mothers because it has suggested that we can do everything we want–“just” as men. I would argue that we cannot separate our genders from who we are as easily as feminism has taught. I like that laws exist to insist that all genders be treated the same, but these laws alone don’t make the obstacles to actually act the same any easier. The physical demands of motherhood are simply not the same for men as they are women, for instance.
Feminism has given mothers the promise of opportunity and more legal assistance towards the efforts to achieve anything they want. And that needs constant support and vigilance from us. But we shouldn’t try or be told that we should have it all at the same time – that is a recipe for failure and great guilt.