This is a brilliant guest post from DV Diary, whom you can also follow on twitter @dvdiary.
- How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
I became a committed feminist while studying domestic violence as part of a social work degree I did at the University of Sydney as a “mature age” student. During this time I realised I was experiencing domestic violence, and had been for many years. My feminism is heavily influenced by the women’s domestic violence movement, and it led me to become a DV worker, once I had become safe myself. My feminism is informed by feminist theories of domestic violence as a gendered crime; a product of the patriarchy; a deliberate pattern of tactics used mostly by men against women to control them and keep them in fear. It is the belief that women and children have the right to equality, respect, freedom, safety and security. I came to feminism several years before becoming a mother. I have written a blog post about how I came to feminism.
- What has surprised you most about motherhood?
What has surprised me most about motherhood is the loss of feelings of self-worth derived from going to work and feeling like I am contributing, being productive and achieving something. I struggled with the reality of the intensity of mothering, and with getting very little else done, and with having nothing tangible to show for all my hard work. I struggled too with frightening postnatal depression and feelings of being a “fraud” as a mother. This is all with a respectful, non-abusive, non-controlling, non-violent partner. I often admire how my clients manage to mother through domestic violence and I am thankful that I escaped it prior to becoming a mother, as DV usually involves a systematic undermining by the perpetrator of a mother’s bond with her children and of her confidence as a parent.
- How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
My feminism underwent its most fundamental change several years ago when I was studying domestic violence and escaping it myself. Before that it was lacking in conviction and undermined by trauma. The impact of motherhood on my feminism is not yet clear. I am only a few months into my mothering journey. However, if anything, motherhood has made clearer to me the wider impact of gender inequality beyond the particular effects of domestic violence.
- What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
I’m not sure I can yet answer the question of what makes my mothering feminist, but feminism impacts upon my mothering in that I am aware of the challenges I face in raising a child in a society that is so hostile and disrespectful of women, girls and mothers. I hope to raise a child who believes in social justice, gender equality, respectful relating and non-violence. Feminism impacts upon my mothering in that I treat my child with the respect he deserves as an individual; he is not my property, he is my responsibility to love and care for and then let go into the world. I hope he will reciprocate this respect. I don’t know how my approach differs from a non-feminist mother’s.
- Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
I have not yet had time to feel that I have failed as a feminist mother, as I am still learning what it means to be a feminist mother. It has only been through my recent thinking and reading that I am realising that I am a feminist mother. In another blog post of mine I write briefly of the guilt and trauma I felt for some time at not being able to birth my baby the way I would have liked, and at not being able to breastfeed him the way I wanted. But I am over this now, and I am focusing on building a loving and respectful relationship with my son.
- Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
This is the question I have struggled with most in this series. Any difficulties I have experienced in identifying as a feminist mother must be couched in terms of my white middle class privilege. But even with such privilege, identifying as a feminist mother so far is a tricky undertaking because most people are still suspicious of the idea. My partner and a few select friends are really the only ones who are aware of my views, apart from my colleagues at the domestic violence service where I work. Being a feminist mother entails different things to different people. Here are some examples where I believe I am embodying my version of feminist motherhood, and where I have been challenged:
- at work, being asked if becoming a mother will change the way I view my clients (the inference being that these women are failing to protect their children from their violent fathers). If anything, becoming a mother has given me even more empathy for my clients with children who are safety planning around an abusive partner.
- whilst pregnant, navigating the dominant discourse of the patriarchal biomedical establishment in order to achieve the kind of pregnancy and birth for my child and myself I was hoping for, i.e. safe but also with as little medical intervention as possible
- the trauma experienced when this did not eventuate
- mothering through residual trauma from domestic violence experienced in a previous relationship
- fielding comments from clueless friends (both male and female) who think that being on maternity leave and caring for a baby is one big holiday
- struggling with debates about pornography, censorship and violence against women
- feeling powerless and hopeless in the face of the worldwide prevalence of violence against women, and wondering how so many in society can be either indifferent to it or misunderstand it
- Again, I feel I will have more to write on this question as time goes on and I have more experience of being a feminist mother.
- Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
My feminism involves a belief that women and children have a right to respectful relationships, safety, equality, freedom and security. I feel this approach is congruent with the sacrifices of motherhood, especially because I am privileged to have become a mother through choice and in a safe and respectful environment. I do struggle with how to balance motherhood with my desire for learning, reading, writing and activism, and when I return to work I will probably struggle with how to balance mothering with a demanding, unpredictable and fulfilling job. For a time I was falling into that old socialisation of not looking after myself as much as I look after my family, resulting in feelings of scathing resentment against my bewildered partner. He had encouraged me from early on to take time out from him and our baby, but I had said “I’m not ready”. It took a moment of desperate exhaustion before I realised that I must take responsibility for my own wellbeing. As other feminist mothers have written before me, I am then modeling for my son that I am worthy.
- 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 both bemused and respectful of my feminist motherhood and my interest in domestic violence. He worries that I am upsetting myself and working too hard. He is also proud of my views and my commitment; he often repeats views I have expressed, and we have conversations that challenge us both and bring us closer. He supports and facilitates my approach to mothering. The main thing that attracted me to him was that I could see he was respectful of women. I was confident that I would be safe with him, and that our children would be safe with him, even if we were ever to separate. The impact of my feminism on him is that he is challenged every day and he is required to step up. Sometimes he struggles with the reality of the oppression of women in our society. I think he would rather it weren’t the case but he realises it is. He is better than me at using humour to cope.
- If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
I did not realise that I am an attachment parenting mother until I started reading bluemilk. If I go by the guidelines of Attachment Parenting Australia, then yes, I am an attachment parenting mother. But if I go by the standards of other more extreme attachment parents, such as “Uma” who made her views known on bluemilk last year, then I don’t come up to scratch.
I came to attachment parenting through gut instinct, through advice from public hospital midwives, and by reading different material, but I didn’t realise it was called this. When pregnant I read Sarah Buckley’s “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering”, which I loved. I don’t feel there is a huge divide between attachment parenting as promoted by APA and my feminism, but I do wonder how attachment parenting (especially the more fundamentalist approaches) addresses the issue of domestic violence. Also, in all the comments responding to bluemilk’s post, I was a little surprised that there didn’t appear to be any mention of how the current situation in the Family Court of Australia is in direct opposition to attachment parenting.
Domestic violence against women with children usually includes a sustained and systematic undermining by the perpetrator of a mother’s parenting and her bond with her children. Women’s ability to parent is seriously impeded in this situation, which could interfere with the practice of attachment parenting, or conversely, could find them forced into a situation of isolation in the guise of attachment parenting (also referred to by bluemilk). Should a woman with children leave an abusive partner and the issue of contact with the children proceed to legal action, the current situation in the Family Court of Australia is such that she could find herself bound by a court order to allow her abusive ex-partner to see the children. Besides posing a great risk to the children and allowing for further abuse and control of the mother by the perpetrator via the children, such an arrangement would not allow for attachment parenting in it’s purest form. This would pose a huge challenge for a mother attempting to practice attachment parenting, and it would be entirely beyond her control. Examples of this include cases where breastfeeding mothers were forced to wean their babies in order to comply with court orders.
This situation in the Family Court came about after powerful right-wing conservative “men’s rights” groups successfully lobbied the Howard government, which then brought in the 2006 amendments to the Family Law Act. These amendments resulted in the right of fathers to have contact with their children taking precedence over the right to safety of children and mothers. Thankfully, due to the tireless work of feminists in the domestic violence sector and others elsewhere, a Bill to make changes to the Act has passed the Senate and should be in place later in the year. This will go some way towards improving the situation but will not solve all the deeply entrenched problems of the patriarchal court system and domestic violence in general. In this respect attachment parenting definitely needs feminism.
10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
I do not think that feminism has failed mothers in that it is the very thing that led to the domestic violence movement over the past 30 to 40 years. This brought domestic violence out of the private and into the public sphere, with the result that society could no longer ignore it to such an extent. With this movement came legislative and policy reforms that have improved somewhat the responses to domestic violence and the options available to women experiencing it. Current best practice in mainstream domestic violence policy is based on feminist perspectives of DV being a product of patriarchy. There is of course still much to be done. Feminism is seen to have let mothers down where they don’t fit into the dominant discourse of white privilege, and responses for mothers who are culturally and linguistically diverse, living with a disability, older, trans, same-sex and experiencing domestic violence definitely need to improve.
Here are some readings that influence my feminism, my mothering, my work and my life…
- Trauma and Recovery – by feminist psychiatrist Judith Herman, offers a history of trauma and outlines how DV trauma is similar to the trauma experienced by political prisoners.
- Mothering through domestic violence – by Marianne Hester and Lorraine Radford
- Safety Planning With Battered Women: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices
By Jill M. Davies, Eleanor Lyon, Diane Monti-Catani
- Challenging Silence: innovative responses to sexual and domestic violence – edited by Jan Breckenridge and Lesley Laing
- No way to live: negotiating the family law system in the context of domestic violence – by Lesley Laing http://www.bensoc.org.au/uploads/documents/no-way-to-live-snapshot-june2010.pdf
- Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse -http://www.adfvc.unsw.edu.au/
- Put Safety First in Family Law – http://safetyinfamilylaw.com/
(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).