Recently I gave a presentation to this motherhood conference on the responses generated by my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood.The presentation was hugely successful (thank fucking gawd because I was a little bit nervous about this one) and there is interest in it being published in a book or journal paper sometime (yay!). I have to say, when I read through all your responses (over and over again, as I did), in the process of putting my presentation together that I couldn’t believe how wonderful all your observations were – I had brilliant material to work with. Thank you. I never intended to publish anything on the responses but as the material has got richer and richer I now think that your words, experiences and insights deserve a wider audience.
I haven’t written it all into a paper, yet, but fear not, when I do I will make sure that it is published somewhere in order for it to be a bit more accessible than, hey, it is all in my head. Over the next week or so I will post the points I spoke to in my conference presentation on blue milk and we can have a bit of a discussion here on what I’m seeing in all your responses and what you’re thinking about that.
So, the contents of my presentation were:
- The questionnaire
- The demographics of respondents
- Some key themes
- Becoming feminists
- The impact of motherhood on their feminism
- Being surprised by motherhood
- Defining their motherhood
- The difficulties with being a feminist parent
- Concluding remarks
Now for the points I spoke to….
About the questionnaire:
- The focus of the questions – exploration of whether their motherhood influenced their feminism and/or their feminism influenced their motherhood; the degree to which feminism has made them an outsider; partner support or opposition to feminism; intersection of attachment parenting and feminism.
- Limitations – non-academic; non-random sampling; over-representation of new mothers/mothers with young children; absence of specific demographic questions; over-reliance on the sole male respondent; insufficient examination of partner negotiations in the division of labour/roles; potential for more exploration of ‘maternal desire’.
Demographics of respondents:
- Gender (all female except for one response).
- Sexuality (mostly straight but some queer female respondents).
- Education level (mostly university level and probably middle-class, although several respondents identified as ‘working-class’).
- Age of respondents (mostly in their thirties, but ages ranging from early twenties through to late middle-age).
- Ages of children (mostly young children and babies, but some with older children including adult children).
- Relationship status (mostly partnered, some single parents, and one identified as a single parent by choice).
- Types of parenting relationships (included step-parents, adoptive parents, grandparents, co-parents and one set of expectant parents).
- Nationality/country of residence (Australia, USA, Italy, UK, Canada, NZ, France, Germany, Singapore, South America – and several respondents stated that they were not writing their response in their first language).
- Employment status (SAHM, student, working outside the home, working inside the home, frequently swapping between several).
Some key themes:
- Feminist motherhood as a practice in actively questioning the gender binary and sexism in children’s toys/clothes/games.
- For example: “The other day, I caught myself wondering whether the lad’s play interests reflected some failure in my feminist parenting: he is fascinated by dinosaurs, space, pirates, sea creatures (especially dangerous ones and the deepest depths), and so on. But then I realised these were the things I was fascinated by as a child, so there are really no surprises there!”.
- Heavy representation of attachment parents – because of the tribalism of modern parenting (and this blog being an attachment parenting-leaning blog) or is it somehow associated with being feminist?
- Strong reaction to notions of sacrifice as conflicting with feminism – either seen as ‘second wave’ or by SAHMs as something they were seriously struggling with.
- Much discussion of ‘maternal desire’.
- A significant shift in the way they see themselves, other women, motherhood and feminism coming about after parenthood.
- Generally saw feminism as helpful rather than problematic, but a deep recognition of the fundamental split in feminism and the ways in which the movement has viewed and responded to mothers.
- A profound change in their feelings towards and beliefs about men after becoming the mothers of sons.
Now for part 1 of some of the major themes I discussed in the presentation (with more to follow in future posts)…
- Some were raised by feminist parents, but these were in the minority.
- Most developed their feminism during their university days.
- Some had never known a time when they weren’t feminists.
- Very seldom was motherhood their path into feminism – “whilst I have always been a feminist (even one in denial) it was definitely after having children that was the main catalyst for me”.
- “In the beginning, I didn’t feel like I could call myself a feminist. I thought being a feminist meant competing with men. I thought it meant negating all that is ‘girly’. Now I feel more like it’s about mutual respect. Women just want respect. We want our rights honoured. I’m all about that! Since the birth of my daughter I’m more sensitive to women’s issues and public portrayals of women. I wish I could offer my daughter a better world.”
- Motherhood broke the spell of equality – “I drank with the boys, talked music with the boys, studied with the boys, worked with the boys, and hated every girl I saw. So, being female didn’t play a role in how I lived (except I got to sleep with some of my best friends). I first called myself a feminist after giving birth to a girl who I couldn’t help but like. It forced me to realise that I am female. When the party’s over and I can’t live like a bachelor anymore. It has forced me to identify with my sex”.
- Many respondents talked about their feminism evolving through motherhood, and their feminism being sharpened by motherhood – “motherhood has changed my feminism. Completely. Utterly.”
- New understanding of intersections came about through motherhood – “My initial reaction to this is to think that my feminism hasn’t changed, that it’s just an immutable part of my personality, bur this isn’t true. Working as a midwife has exposed me to just a selection of the myriad ways that women are abused, even educated, privileged, middle-class white women. And every day I think that if they are subject to abuse because they are women, what the hell must it be like for the non-English speaking, the homeless, the illiterate, the substance-addicted and the young women that also walk through our doors to have their babies?”