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Archive for the ‘10 feminist motherhood questions’ Category

This is a delightful response from The Travelling Circus to my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood. She shares some very interesting perspectives in her response, including being partnered to a professional athlete and living for some of their time in Japan and her conflicted relationship with breastfeeding. I love how she describes her interactions with her male partner around feminist parenting, too, but my very favourite part of her response was this:

  • What has surprised you most about motherhood? It surprises me all the time how it is both so intuitive and so very confusing. I have feelings of real, true confidence in my instincts followed by sheer doubt over my decisions or priorities, often within the same 10-minute period.
  • How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism? My realization that my feminism does not have to be complete or perfectly wrapped up like a mission statement was hands-down the most important change I’ve ever made. I had this idea that I couldn’t share my perspective or give my opinion until I was 100% sure that I knew my position would never change/was correct/would be accepted by other feminists. Motherhood provided me that reality check by putting me face-to-face with the constantly evolving nature of life and knowledge. I am totally winging it when it comes to parenting, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion or feel confident or discuss my experiences and feelings. I apply that same principle to my evolving feminism and try to go easy on myself when I realize my own inconsistencies or change my point-of-view.

The way she expresses such acceptance in herself as a mother and a feminist – I really appreciated that.

(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).

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This is a wonderful guest post from a reader, Eloise.

  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?  I became a feminist in high school when I looked around and saw how witty, smart and intelligent my female friends were and how nasty and juvenile the boys were.  I wanted justice.  I wanted my female friends and me to have happy, fulfilling lives where we weren’t held back by our confidence and society’s expectations.  Becoming a mother has thrown up different perspectives on feminism but my feminism is constant and in a sentence I want opportunities and a rewarding life without obstacles and guilt and the sea of issues that women have to wade through to get what they want.
  2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?  Everything has been more extreme than I imagined – extreme tiredness, extreme love for my baby, extreme difficulties breastfeeding but then exhilaration at overcoming the myriad of issues.
  3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?  Before I had my child I was very focused on achieving my goal to be a lawyer (I returned to study law aged 34 after working as a social worker for six years).  Since having my child I have really had to push myself to go back to work and it felt like I was going against all my motherly instincts.  It broke my heart to leave my baby (when he was 14 months old).  It has taken a while to get my work mojo back.  I am glad I didn’t just go with my motherly instincts though because I have got used to being back at work and returning to work gave my husband the opportunity to stay home for a year with our child which has enhanced all of our lives in so many ways.  His relationship with our child is stronger, the spread of housework is more equitable and there are countless other ways it has made our lives better.  If I had listened to my instincts and stayed home for five years I would have missed out on an amazing work opportunity and lost even more of my work mojo.
  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 am not sure about this question yet and I think I will be able to see how feminism impacts upon my parenting when I reflect in years to come.  My biggest influences – feminism and attachment parenting – compliment each other.  My feminism makes me fiercely protective of my attachment parenting and right to parent how I choose.  Feminism also empowers me to continue working and achieve in that area of my life as well.
  5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?  In trying to balance work and mothering I feel like I fail all the time.  I feel compromised in that sometimes I feel like I do neither well.  I think it is my right to have both a fulfilling career and be fulfilled as a mother but I suffer guilt for having our child in childcare 4 days per week since age 2 and the constant colds he seems to get from that environment.
  6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?  I live in an all male household, my husband has two adolescent sons from a previous relationship and I recently read a book about bringing up boys that challenged my views as a feminist and made me look at things from a male perspective.  It made me very uncomfortable to read a book that was so sympathetic to men and their challenges and that excused and explained much or their puzzling behaviour.  It made me question whether I had been too harsh on the men in my household and I wondered whether having a boy myself would change my feminism.  But those thoughts were fleeting and I am glad I came to my feminist senses.
  7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?  Now I juggle work and a child I have had to sacrifice sport – I used to play hockey and I really miss it.  I of course sacrifice a lot of other leisure activities because I don’t have time but the one I miss particularly is hockey.  Yes it is difficult to reconcile with being a feminist because I put my son before me all the time.  I am still working this one out.  It is tied up with the guilt I feel about putting my child in childcare and my husband doesn’t seem to feel it.  That is a problem and I need to address it as a feminist and we need to address it as a family.
  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?  Hats off to my partner for being very supportive of me as a mother and a worker and a woman.  He can see the advantages for him if I work as well so I am sure that provides incentive to help out.  My husband does most of the childcare drop offs and cooks dinner every night because he gets home before me.  He does more around the house than me.  From what I read that is unusual and I wish it was the norm for all working women.
  9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?  My attachment parenting means that I am still breastfeeding my child at age 2 1/2 and plan on feeding him until he weans himself (within reason!).  It is a challenge to my feminism because it does restrict what I do (alcohol wise and in other ways) but the benefits outweigh the small challenges.  Mainly I think attachment parenting is innately feminist because it encourages you to care and love your child in a really instinctual way and not worry about what people think and it says to people, “No, I will not put my child to bed at a prescribed time because it suits you.” and “No, I will not do controlled crying and get him in a routine because you find it too frightening to have a more fluid style of parenting around you.”
  10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?  Feminism has given mothers many more choices and ways of doing things and balancing their lives.  It has not failed mothers, what has failed mothers is that they have expectations for better lives and more opportunities and people around them aren’t able to deliver because they are stuck in their patriarchal ways.  

(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).

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This is a brilliant guest post from DV Diary, whom you can also follow on twitter @dvdiary.

  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?

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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…

Books

  • 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

Research/papers

Websites

  • 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).

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I just discovered a fascinating new blog – Becoming a Good Korean (Feminist) Wife – after she reflected upon my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood. She has a baby son with her partner and the three of them live in Seoul. Here is her ‘On Adventures in Feminist Parenting’ post. You should read it.

My definition of feminism is at its very core an action. It is the work of helping people to become the best people they can be with the gifts and talents they have been given so that they are not constrained by boxes or hierarchies or artificially constructed limitations. And I suppose that I also have a core belief that the way to achieve this goal is ever changing – ever shifting. The reason is that patriarchal privilege, burden, and oppression are all intricately and artfully woven into every aspect of society. And even if we manage to define or pin down or explore one aspect of what we think is this privilege, burden, and oppression, it is challenged in the next minute by a new perspective provided by a different culture, practice, or concept. In my opinion, feminism is the opposite of rigidity, hierarchy, set expectations, and limitations. Feminism should be about flexibility, movement, fluidity, and the ability to become the person you have the ability to become instead of being constrained by roles and categories which are constructed not innate. You may have a different definition, but this is mine.

In practice, feminism is not always like this. Sometimes feminism and those who identify with it seek to make rigid boxes and theories and try to fit people into them. In this way, I think feminism is in the process of becoming feminist. Sometimes my feminism needs to become feminist.

I like her emphasis on ‘becoming’ throughout the post. The idea of your feminism evolving through life really appeals to me. There is something very interesting about exploring your own identity as a feminist while simultaneously exploring a new role in life, parenthood. Kinda why I started a blog. This blogger has another dimension to all that because she is also examining her identity in a new culture. It makes for really thought-provoking reading.

(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).

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Kicks + Flutters, who blogs about single parenthood and attachment parenting has tackled my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood and it is really such an open-hearted response.

Isn’t this a lovely description of a mother catching herself and pulling herself back up?

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
My overactive sense of guilt for meeting my own needs–a trait I inherited from my own dear mother. I pep talk myself on an almost-daily basis that it’s not only okay, but totally normal and sane and necessary to meet my needs. Whether it’s the need for a little solitude, social interaction, sleep, or the occasional haircut, every time I empower myself to prioritize and meet my needs, I’m teaching Wolfie that I value myself, that I’m a whole person–not just his mama. And by extension, I teach him to value himself, too. I’m no less adequate a parent for meeting my own needs; in fact, I’m a better parent when I do. Whenever that guilt strikes, though, GAH, it strikes hard. That early modeling is pretty tough to overcome. But most days, psychologically speaking, I put the oxygen mask on myself first.

(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).

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It is always so lovely to see a new response to my 10 questions about your feminist parenthood… which started here right back in 2007. These responses have been going for so long now on the Internet that I have amassed enough to write a conference paper on them and this seems like a nice time to announce that the paper will soon be published in a book.

Here is the latest thought-provoking response, and this time it is from Apprentice Mumsy.

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 is part of my Fuck You to the bullshit. This is a culture that does not value children anymore than it does women, so everyday that I demonstrate to my daughter that I value her, I respect her as an individual, even if she is one not yet developmentally capable of making all her own choices, is a day of fighting back. This is a culture that makes no room for vulnerability, so everyday that I recognize the vulnerability inherent in childhood, honor it, and allow myself to be open about my own vulnerabilities (to an appropriate degree) is a day of fighting back.  This is a culture that says you should never be dependent, ever, on anyone, and if you are then you are weak and wrong, so everyday that I depend on a family member or friend to watch my kid, everyday that I use foodstamps to buy dinner or use medicaid to take one of us to a doctor, everyday that I ask for help,  is a day of fighting back. When I make it clear that right now I need time to myself (probably in the garage) I’m modeling  that it’s normal, ok, and necessary for women to care for themselves and set boundaries, and be happy with their own company. When I go out on a date, or with a friend, or spend a night or two away from her, I’m modeling that even mothers have lives of their own and are allowed some fun outside of their kids.  The greatest impact feminism has on my parenting is the attitude behind the actions. But it also impacts the way I talk to my daughter about the world and the people in it, not just what I say but how I say it. Because this is the next generation, here, that I’m talking to, and there are important things I want riding shotgun in her psyche to combat the nasty stuff I won’t be able to prevent seeping in.

I love that description. I don’t know if Apprentice Mumsy has ever read any Fineman but her response reminds me a lot of the feminist legal theorist, Martha Fineman, because here is Fineman on the same theme:

The ideal of family is essential to maintaining the myth autonomy and independence can be maintained. Our society mythologizes concepts such as “independence” and “autonomy” despite the concrete indications surrounding us that these ideals are, in fact, unrealizable and unrealistic. Those members of society who openly manifest the reality of dependency – either as dependents or caretakers in need of economic subsidy – are rendered deviants. Unable to mask dependency by retreating to contrived social institutions like the family, single mother caretakers in particular are stigmatized and subjected to epithets and scorn for embodying a dependency that society would rather deny.

This is one of the best things about seeing feminist parents respond to my questions, the opportunity for me to observe where the theoretical and the lived experience connect and I have learnt so much from reading these responses. 


(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).

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I really enjoyed seeing someone revisit their response to these questions; what has changed and what remains the same is a really interesting question for any parent to consider. Mothering experiences shift so enormously over the years, I sometimes forget to have that perspective. From charlotteotter here:

Things that have stayed the same since I wrote this piece: I am still outraged at injustice and I still fiercely love my children.

Things that have changed: I am enraged by glass ceilings and the buffer of (mostly) white and (mostly) middle-aged men who actually believe that they got where they are today through merit. It’s called the patriarchy, boys, and it’s a system of privilege that put you first. Call it quotas, if you will.

So my feminist motherhood now includes: fighting a system that is inherently unjust so that all my children enter the world of work with the same chances.

And from her original response to my 10 Questions About Your Feminist Motherhood:

Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

Occasionally, I’ve wondered how I, with my feminist principles, have ended up as a work-from-home mother but I believe that’s a choice I’ve made out of love and good fortune. I feel compromised and grumbly if my family have left the house in a mess and since I’m the one at home, I’ve got to make the choice of ignoring it or clearing it up. I certainly don’t feel that I’ve failed as a feminist mother.

(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).

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Part 1,  Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 are here. This is more of the presentation I gave at this motherhood conference. My presentation at that conference looked at some of the big themes I see coming out of all the responses I’ve received to my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood.

In this section I examine what people saw as the difficulties with being a feminist parent:

  • Common response – how to express their parenting decisions without coming across as confrontational:
  • “Being the type of mother I am and the type of person I am means that fitting in with other new mothers has been a challenge at times. My ‘wanting to be liked’ side conflicts with my ‘opinionated and judgemental’ side. Yes, I want to be tolerant and respect other people’s choices, but I also want to speak my mind without being pigeon-holed as the freaky-hippy-lesbian mum”.
  • Questioning themselves for taking on traditional roles:
  • “Right now, I’m home all the time andis always working. Somehow we’ve delved into a very traditional model of family. I once asked my neighbor, how did this happen? We’re here and our partners are out working. She was offended”.
  • “When I look at the roles in our household I definitely do the majority of the housework. I hate what this models for my son. I feel like I’m failing him in terms of his future relationships with women (and failing those women too)”.
  • “I suppose, in some ways I am defensive about it because from the outside it looks like we’ve taken on such traditional roles in our family, and I want to say, take me seriously, I really am a feminist”.
  • Under-cover feminism:
  • Singaporean mother: “My feminism is a silent one, sneaking behind a facade of conservatism and maneuvering itself around a watchful patriarchal society, waiting to pounce”.
  • American mother: “I live in a very Christian Conservative culture and the word feminist is frightening to most mothers here. (But they are lurkers and soaking up new ideas they are liking)”.
  • In conflict with family members over pornography: “Yes I did feel compromised when I realised that he (her son) was accessing pornography – that was tricky.. This is a tricky subject between mother and son. But I have hope – at the very least he has to think about it”.

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Part 1,  Part 2 and Part 3 are here. This is more of the presentation I gave at this motherhood conference. My presentation looked at some of the big themes I see coming out of all the responses I’ve received to my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood. This particular section of the presentation was really interesting.. exactly what is ‘feminist parenting’? What does it look like? How do you know you’re doing feminist parenting?

This post is on how parents defined their feminist parenting:

  • “I’m not so sure my mothering IS feminist.”
  • “As a mother I was and am straightforward about being marginalised by society for being a working class mother. So, I ‘outed’ every instance where this happened to my son (who is now 21), so he would be in no doubt about what my place was in society and, by associating, his place as a working class male. Also I was very fierce about violence against women, and to the best of my knowledge my son has never hit a woman”. (Several mothers who identified as working class talked about the importance of identifying intersection and training their children to cope with the multiple oppressions).
  • “I wish I could say that my objection to patriarchal authoritarianism has translated into an approach to child-rearing that is gentle, reciprocal, and respectful. Let me tell you, though, I yell way too much. I pull rank all the time. I’m always indirectly playing the Bigger Than You Are card. I hate it. I also would like to claim that my experience as a mother has made me more politically active, more involved in my community. No. My experience as a mother has made me tired and cranky and frustrated.”
  • And from another mother: “Other feelings of failure – the first time you balance wanting your son to be whoever he wants to be and wanting to protect him from teasing if he decides he wants to wear pink to kindergarten. The catching of myself disliking my belly in the mirror. The moment when my three year old son told my woman dermatologist that she didn’t look like a doctor”.
  • A lot of respondents defined their feminist parenting as questioning/re-inventing body image and relationships with food.
  • It was also defined as sex education, bodily autonomy or rejection of pornography.
  • It was also defined as avoiding/critiquing princesses – “I’m walking a fine line between actively countering the girlification of my daughter and denigrating her gender”.
  • Or it could be defined by some parents as allowing their daughters to get dirty/play rough and their sons to be soft/gentle.
  • Some saw their feminist parenting as opposing the commercial sexualisation of little girls.
  • Others saw it as being positive role models for their daughters.
  • Teaching their sons to communicate their feelings and how to negotiate with their (potentially) female partners one day was also defined as feminist parenting by some.
  • Educating their sons about the value of domestic work was also seen as feminist parenting.
  • Also, role-modelling feminist marriages.
  • Questioning gender binary – particularly with respect to language, was frequently included in the definition.
  • Some defined it by the way a family name was chosen for their children.
  • Some saw feminist parenting as equal parenting: “I much prefer parenthood. I don’t particularly think of myself as a “mother”, and “mothering” and “fathering” aren’t distinct activities in our family”.
  • Criticising advertising and corporate practices (eg. marketing of formula), and sometimes avoiding television altogether were part of feminist parenting.
  • Being aware of privilege was seen to be important.
  • As stepmothers – refusing to sacrifice too much in the home without getting a say in how those decisions are made. Questioning the “horrible dichotomy for stepmothers of being either.. evil.. or selfless.. type giving of her everything to her husband’s first life”.
  • From a single mother: “For me, the egalitarian basis for feminism had dictated everything. These days I want them (ie. her teenage children) 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”.
  • “… feminist thinking can liberate us from that awful myth of ‘the perfect mother’… “. And from someone else – “Feminism has not necessarily made me a better mother. It’s given me.. an alternative, perhaps kinder model for self-critique, instead of worrying about whether the house is clean enough, I’m thinking about whether or not I’ve met my own social or intellectual needs, in order to ensure I’m fulfilled and happy, which in turn makes me a better more resilient, more patient mother”.
  • Teaching their children that everyone has needs, including mothers. “I want to be a strong capable female figure for my daughter.. If I don’t have the tools to help myself, how can I possibly teach them to take care of themselves?”
  • “Feminism has given me hope that my daughter will have a better life than me”.
  • Some saw feminist parenting as connecting with other women, including those in their family.”Feminist mothering also means sharing this experience with other women, talking about it, thinking about it together, generating resources locally and internationally and creating networks through which to talk about how we feel and what we want”.

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The writer, Jeremy Adam Smith has adapted the piece he wrote in response to my 10 Questions About Your Feminist (Parent)Motherhood for the Good Men Project. His full response to my questions has been included in his new book, an anthology called “Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood.” Whenever I show a woman his response she ends up with her eyes widening and her jaw dropping, he really gets it doesn’t he? Yes, I think he does. When pro-feminist heterosexual men become fathers it isn’t all good news, inequality in the home still seems to happen, the patriarchy is a powerful framework, but they may at least see that this is what’s happening, which is more than half the battle mothers face…

Read his piece, “Five Questions for Profeminist Fathers” over there.

 

1. What has surprised you most about fatherhood?

In college, I was active with many feminist and profeminist organizations. After college, I was in a stable, monogamous relationship, and in my work with various progressive nonprofits, I usually had solid, respectful relationships with female coworkers. I watched guy coworkers get into trouble for sexist remarks or actions (inadvertent and otherwise), but that never happened to me, and my policy was to duck and cover if it turned into a major issue.

Every once in a while, a female coworker would even go out of her way to tell me how refreshingly nonsexist I was—“When Jeremy talks to me, he never looks at my breasts,” said one person, whose breasts I did, in fact, secretly glance at once or twice. These pats on the head were always reassuring and contributed to a decade-long mood of complacency about gender issues.

Then I became a dad. And I was shocked by the degree to which my now-habitual commitment to feminist values was put to the test. In fact, habits went out the window; everything took conscious effort, as if I’d had an intellectual and emotional stroke and needed to learn how to walk and talk all over again.

Most shocking of all, I think the power in our relationship started to inexorably tilt in my direction, as perhaps it always did, as we became parents. Even when I took time off of paid work to serve as my son’s primary caregiver, the tilt continued. It didn’t seem, and still doesn’t seem, to matter what I want or decide—I just kept growing more powerful in the relationship.

What do I mean by power? In this context, we might say it’s the ability to do and say what we want and need to do or say. From this perspective, we’ve both lost power: Parenthood constrains our choices in countless ways, which I don’t think I need to explain to other parents.

But there is no question, absolutely none, that my wife has lost more power than I have. This won’t surprise moms who are reading this, but it certainly surprised me.

 

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