Guest post: Rose on her feminist motherhood in response to this post by blue milk. She is a sole parent with three children.
How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
In one sentence? Mm.. that might be a long term project.
I went to an all girls private school in the 70’s/80’s on a scholarship. The teachers there were mostly extremely bright women who had chosen teaching from the very limited range of options available to them – they were passionate and committed and very ambitious for most of their students but especially for scholarship girls. I think my feminism stems from what I learned at school… that passion to see women develop their talents and skills. They also taught me a lot about equality, and human rights.
I’ve always admired feminism for its commitment to creating opportunities for other women. The ‘mens’ rights crazies’ as you so succinctly put it in one of your pieces, could learn a lot here. I have a lot more respect for people who try to build things than those who tear them down.
What has surprised you most about motherhood?
The twenty four hour-ness. The reality of a baby – I had spent the whole of my first pregnancy dreaming I was going to give birth to a barbie doll. The sinking feeling that I had tied myself to someone I really wasn’t that sure I should have married. The sheer enormity of trying to function normally AND be totally responsible for the little bundle. How precarious my position was – I felt like I was at my partner’s mercy, and I hated the feeling. Perhaps I felt that way because he felt that way, too. Once I had a baby he turned dictator.
How much she cried….and how my heart broke every time I couldn’t make it stop.
In retrospect I think it’s a transition most mothers make. Because Baby two involved none of this. I just fell completely in love with him… and Baby Three has been even smoother, even sweeter… an unexpected and uncomplicated delight.
How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
Yes. I stopped being so angry at men when I had a son.
It ceased to be as personal and became more pragmatic. I want equality, I want real solutions that advance women, but not punish men.
Yes, again. I appreciate how far feminism has brought us, as much as I dwell on the problems that haven’t been solved yet. It makes me happy to see the opportunities that I have, and my girls will have, that my grandmother didn’t.
Yes –and uneasily this time. I’ve had to think about what my responsibilities are to myself. I need to provide financially for myself. I need to push myself forward, and embrace opportunities. I need to accept that the mistakes of my first marriage were partly caused my embracing the ‘good wife’ my father advocated, knowing that it meant I could hide away from the world – which left me in a very vulnerable position.
Motherhood has made me grateful that the changes brought about by feminism have given me opportunities to bounce back from those mistakes. (though to some extent these have been eroded under this Government.)
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 has changed dramatically with my third baby. In some ways I’m more relaxed – in others I’m far stricter. It would probably be fair to say that I have gone from running a kind of provisional democracy to running a benevolent dictatorship. My eldest two were encouraged to speak their minds, make their own decisions – to treat me as an equal. This – backfired somewhat.
For me, the egalitarian basis for feminism had dictated everything. I was proud that my kids were ethical, that they had conviction, that they were articulate. Both suffered for this in primary school… neither of them liked the pecking order- and would refuse to agree with something just because the other kids were saying it, and both saw nothing wrong with challenging a teacher about behaviour they saw as unfair.
These days I want them to respect me. I want to be treated as head of the household. I think that what I didn’t teach them was that as a woman, as their mother, as a person who had strived to do the best for them, I was worthy of their respect, even if they didn’t like what I had said. So far my 14 year old son is doing well with this. I’ve noticed a change in the way he treats girls, too.
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? Why?
Yes – there was a point in my life where I felt a failure as a feminist and a failure as a mother. A hugely confronting time. The year my daughter turned thirteen.
It was the beginning of a nightmare. Suddenly not only my daughter but her peers went from being bright, articulate, reasonable children to being angry, defiant, self-destructive teenagers. I think we had two years of pretty solid verbal abuse, but in many ways that was the least of it. The biggest shock of it was the self-destructive ways these kids chose to behave… we had drinking, drugs, self mutilation, eating disorder – and a whole new peer group that arrived at her ‘alternative’ school because they couldn’t cope (they were in trouble) at the local high school. My kid and a couple of others made it their mission to be as aggressive as possible to just about everyone.
Then what happens? – the predators start circling. Here is where I felt like a real failure…at the time the answer seemed like a shotgun!…Men in their twenties through to their fifties were buying these children (who were sneaking out of home at night, and hanging around outside the pub!) alcohol so long as they could help them drink it.
She has so far only been out once – and was caught and found by me. I warned her – in front of the group – that any man who messed with my underage daughter would be prosecuted with the full force of the law. Murmuring laughter. They didn’t care.
So I shipped her out of town (to her father).. of course he managed to make a mess of things too, but that’s another story. I genuinely think she avoided the worst of it.
Of her peer group? One of my friends’ daughter – at fourteen! was brought home by the police one night – she’d been found giving a whole group of teenage boys blowjobs for $15 a pop under the local shopping centre.
Two others left school. One of them was giving her mother sleeping pills and letting in all the kids to smoke dope in her house once the mother was knocked out…I still see her around town. She tells me she’s back at TAFE to get her school certificate. But she’s underweight, and dirty, and she always looks stoned. She’s 16.
Ok -now this is what really gets under my skin as a feminist.. Why can’t we protect these girls? Why do they want to throw away their education? Why do they want to be treated like this? (I’ve seen the girl who was giving the blow jobs standing in the street – a group of guys laughing at her – while one of them is sneering that of course he didn’t love her – a slut like her? I’ve seen another girl of the same age called ‘hey – genital warts!’ from across the street.) Why is being treated so badly ‘cool?’ Why don’t they get angry? Why don’t they demand respect?
There is no help from the department of community services. There is not much help from the police. School counsellors have been worse that useless – basically saying you have to accept it – it’s their right. It’s normal. Really? I thought underage drinking was illegal? One in particular was quite happy to validate appalling behaviour as long as she was ‘in on what was happening.’
I’m still in shock I think. My girl is 17 now and we are re-building a relationship. She has no idea why she behaved the way she did. (Shrugs, and says she must have been crazy.) She is at school, ambitious, working hard. I’m very proud of her.
But am still horrified at this ‘stage’ our daughters now apparently need to survive… a kind of cultural self-flagellation. If it’s just ‘rebellion’ – why do they go to such lengths to DAMAGE themselves???
I have no idea how to address it.
Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
In my thirties I was very angry at being a sole parent and having my ex walk away, be obstructionist, difficult about child support etc. I felt like I had made all the sacrifices and I was trapped.
Since having a third baby though I feel very different. I went ahead with a pregnancy knowing my partner was capable of being a jerk because I wanted to, and because I was confident if I had to I could manage alone. I don’t see that as sacrifice. I think of it as a job I chose – and I’m enjoying it a lot! I find I make decisions that factor my needs in as well – I didn’t do that before. I actually feel incredibly good about it all at the moment.
Historically speaking, reproductive choices are a very new thing and I don’t think as a society we’ve assimilated it yet. So much debate on equality falls down as soon as you get to parenting and everybody’s ‘rights’.
I’m very glad that I have these choices, – the choice to use contraception, and access to abortion – but I’m uneasy about what I feel are the corresponding reactions to these freedoms– all the finger pointing hysteria that blames my choice to have a child for everything from social dysfunction to global warning. I can’t help feeling like there is grumbling reproach that rumbles through the media – well, you WANTED the choice – now justify it!
The other reaction that alarms me is the reaction of men demanding a say in abortion –and the right to say, well if you won’t have an abortion, I have the right to walk away. First of all, our biology was used to justify removing our choices. Now because our biology means that we have the ultimate say on the fate of a pregnancy ‘it’s not fair.’ Talk about a situation that makes motherhood about sacrifice! And it sits alongside the calls for shared parenting……
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 don’t have a partner, but I have a very committed co-parent with number three child. It took him a while – but he has risen to the challenge.
He’s a man of the 1970’s and he ‘knows the jargon’. But he still has a tendency to dismiss women. Our current arrangement works because if he’s not respectful, he’s asked to leave. So he’s respectful.
I think having a daughter is teaching him more than he ever expected to know.
If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
This is where I’ve been less bothered.. and just gone with the flow. We fallen into attachment parenting because we both enjoy it and I’m older and grumpier and don’t give a rat’s arse what anyone else thinks.
She was in my bed, is now in her own bed but in my room, breast fed till she was 2 ½ – maybe this worked well for me because I didn’t have a relationship with her Dad, and my expectations of him were pretty minimal…. Though I’ve been pleasantly surprised. He’s been terrific. And as a result she’s as attached to him as she is to me.
When I did have a relationship with dad, (with older two) I was so resentful of the fact he refused to help. I was the attached parent because every time baby squeaked he said ‘she wants you.’ And strangely, the housework etc seemed to require me as well.
Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
I think feminism is evolving.
I think any kind of legislation that involves matters of the heart is going to be hugely painful and very difficult.
I think pitting women with and without children against each other is destructive. We were all children once. People forget that. Do I harass their parents for what my childless uncles paid into their education?
What specifically has feminism given mothers? – the right to support their children if their partner leaves instead of being dependent on family. Equal pay for equal work. Some rights under law to leave violent relationships. Free education for children. The sole parent pension. Acceptance of childcare.