1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
It’s always been tempting for me to resist trying to figure out a definition of feminism; I’d rather float way out there and insist that I can only define it with images or lines from a poem or examples of literary characters or stories about people I know…. But that’s not particularly practical. I suppose this is, though: Feminism is a movement for equal rights and opportunities for girls and women; socially, culturally, economically, legally, educationally, and politically. That sounds boring, but there it is.
I have always been a feminist; it was high school when the terms were put to the feelings and lifestyle and beliefs. I credit my family for a non-sexist upbringing, and a town and school system where gender issues were a priority, so much so that it was second nature to consider them.
2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
I am shocked and bewildered by how much I love my kids and love mothering them. I have a vague recollection of swearing I would never have children (and double- and triple-swearing that I would never have children), but I can’t remember why now…
I have also been surprised that I absolutely need my husband and family and friends to get through it all. I think I first said, “Me do it myself,” at two years of age and said it until the moment before Martin was born. I absolutely need them to help me. My respect for people who can do this without support has increased exponentially.
3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
I’ve never felt more a feminist. It used to be about the world and the nation and the issues impacting all women and girls; now it’s also about these men-in-training that we are raising. Considering gender issues relating to boys and men has been the major shock to my feminism since becoming a mother. How we’re raising both boys and girls affects how the world will be for them as adults. I was already schooled in womens’ and girls’ concerns (I’m learning all the time, of course, from a new perspective as mother and adult), but the pressures of gender expectations on males has been disconcerting, and even panic-inducing. I’m increasingly upset by the forces in our society and culture that are teaching my boys how to see girls and women–World! Stop trying to make my boys sexist!
4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
I think that my mothering is feminist because I’m trying very hard to see the influences affecting my kids’ gender–from the toys to the male and female role models. I also attempt to point out some gender-related issues in their lives, which means figuring out what would make sense to their toddler viewpoint.
5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother? 6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
I sometimes feel compromised and have trouble identifying as a feminist mother since I get so bogged down by the stay at home mother/housewife stereotype. I just don’t want my children to think that men-at-work, women-at-home is the way it is all the time because that’s so loaded. It helps that my husband really wanted to be at home with them, so it wasn’t automatic, and they always hear us talking about that. But most of all, they see that I’m no housewife – I did not leave my job to clean, and they see that I have other facets to who am I and what I do (I just don’t happen to rake in the dough doing them). I like to think that they get to witness me as a feminist mother all day long now, hopefully that will keep them from the ultra-irritating stereotyping of the stay at home mother.
The feminist part and the mother part and the person part are so intertwined that I can’t let myself believe in failure. I make horrible mistakes and feel crushing guilt sometimes, and feel like I’m an awful mother at times, but actual failure is not an option.
7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
Sacrifice brings to mind both my career and my self. I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed my career in a negative way because the alternative was sacrificing this time with my children, which, to me, would have been the worse option. I thought I was going back to work, but I didn’t even consider it once I had the baby. I do feel like I sacrifice myself often, but I did that for my job, too. Sacrificing myself is much more palatable for these children. But as they don’t need me twenty-four hours a day anymore in quite the same way, I’m finding my way back, and that’s been a more satisfying journey than if I had just maintained the status quo in my life from before I had kids.
8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
My partner is totally supportive of my mothering. He’s not particularly into labeling and -isms and movements – but has a strong sense of what is fair and what is not that transcends any particular philosophy. I, on the other hand, am into the -isms and the movements and the philosophies, yet chances are, we’re in agreement on the issues. Once this guy likes or loves you, he’s with you all the way. For instance, he would not have chosen co-sleeping (understatement), but because of the extremely positive effect it has on my nursing and my sleep, he’s all for it. (OK, fine – a little grumbling once in a while….)
9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
I don’t know how to be any other mother right now. Unfortunately, my mothering/parenting-reading was sorely lacking when the first baby came along, so I thought I must be a little weird for the constant nursing, co-sleeping, constant wearing of the baby because I didn’t see my friends doing it – lo and behold, I finally read up on it, realized it had a name, and that I was doing it: attachment parenting. It works for my style, and it makes me feel like I’m mothering like I should and strengthening my bond with my children, and that’s the key for me. All the communicating helps my feminist mothering, too, since a gender stereotype of boys is that they aren’t supposed to be talking about their feelings.
10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
I am always taken aback by the women I know who exemplify so many feminist qualities and who recoil at the term. Someone told me the other day that feminism needed better marketing. I got indignant – “Oh, yeah? What is it, a brand of peanut butter?” But something’s going on that so many women can’t identify with it – indeed, they make a grossed-out face when they hear the word. And mothers, who so often become more isolated than they were before, certainly should be able to create/maintain their place in feminism. I love how blogs by mothers are circumventing all the mommy-war (ew, I can barely type that term) crap out there in mainstream media to allow mothers to communicate and connect. I am so new to all of the blogging stuff, but I have seen these fantastic mothers and women get to the heart of mothering matters and feminist concerns better than anyone… (Like everyone’s answers to these questions.)