Archive for the ‘ableism’ Category

My latest article is here.

Speaking of personal stories, Latham has an interesting story, too. He’s a stay-at-home father with a wife working outside the home. Having made the transition from political leadership to primary caring he might offer an insightful perspective, instead, he seems clouded by a kind of defensive masculinity. And his hostility towards feminist parenting is curious when you consider Latham’s own role reversal is exactly the kind of freedom feminists are seeking as an option to be available for more parents. But critiquing parenting has long been an underhand route for simply censuring women.

Women well know that when male commentators talk about women’s lives they are prone to holding unexamined views that run contrary to one another. So, being the primary parent has allowed Latham to see the hoax that fathers can’t be nurturing, but somehow mothering is still essentialist enough for inner-city feminists to be capable of running a secret campaign to “free themselves from nature’s way”. And further, mothers who take their experiences seriously enough to write about them are “self-absorbed”, but to not take them seriously is to be “breeding a generation of shirtless, tone-deaf, overweight, pizza-eating dummies”. Although Macdonald, apparently, manages to do both.


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From Hannah Black’s “Crazy in love” in The New Inquiry.

B was not my first encounter with paranoid thought. In my father’s house, intense young men pontificated at length about white devils and black ancestors. The symbolism and codes of this strand of black radicalism make up an elaborate structure of thought that is partly a mocking parody of academic “paranoid readings,” and partly a serious effort to interpret a world, this world, that appears from the perspective of blackness as formally insane. The everyday beliefs and activities of what we could call white supremacist capitalism, or perhaps less precisely life as we know it, are all, from this perspective, more deeply disturbing than the craziest fantasy you’ll find on a high-security ward. But how is a person supposed to live this knowledge? Unlike me, B was quiet, absorbing everything. Could a white-passing boy even picture the black world that animated his father’s dreams? By the time they all settled down to a quieter middle age, we had spent years steeped in this atmosphere of pain and conspiracy.

In psychosis, no event or thing is small enough to escape the tightly woven net of personal significance. A clock means a bomb, a sunset is a message, and so on. But how do you live in a world in which everything signifies? How do others who live in this shimmering, terrifying world treat you? One time B was found cowering in the restroom at a café, too afraid to leave, and was arrested. Just as much as they are implacably hostile to blackness, for reasons both mysterious and self-evident, the police are also structurally fated to hate the mad. Arrests, harassment, and lucky escapes punctuated the acute phases of B’s illness. Now, every so often, another story of police hurting or killing a mentally ill person surfaces, and I am momentarily gripped by the kind of intense, helpless pain that must be what people mean when they talk about being triggered. Still, it’s important to not overindulge in other people’s trouble, even where it affirms your own. The duty of a crazy person’s friends and family is far more practical: Our duty is to appear, as much as possible, not crazy, so that our loved one will be allowed to live.

We had to act a certain way in the hospitals, to show the doctors that B was not trash. I would put on the smooth neutral suit of sanity, which is smiling politely, listening carefully, and in all ways acting as bourgeois as possible. Those times when my mother forgot her armor, when she begged and cried, I saw how the doctors looked at her, as if she were the really crazy one. But B too knew how to put on the smooth and neutral suit; he knew how to answer the doctors’ questions with enough of an appearance of sanity to escape imprisonment, even when he was in desperate need of help. In an emergency ward, my mother cries and B shouts. We would be a spectacle if anyone cared. I adjust my dress and smooth down my hair, momentarily wishing myself whiter so as to be better able to resist the implications of the doctor’s sneer, which is on the verge of becoming impossible to ignore. I see we are all in danger of falling out of the hole in the skin of the world. Come on let’s go, let’s just leave. I remember my mother crying in the car but I don’t remember what we did next.

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I think this article, “‘Not Rescuing’ Our Kids Shouldn’t Mean Letting Them Flounder” by Catherine Newman in The New York Times is making such an important point. (Thanks to Lara for the link). In spite of my love of all things Montessori and independence, generally, I am still very skeptical of independence as an end goal. Independence, as a goal needs to be combined with compassion or it is nothing.

That is not an unreasonable approach to shepherding your children into the pasture of responsibility, and we’ve certainly practiced various forms of it over the years with our own children. No, you can’t spend our money on Cheez-Its from the school vending machine because you left your peanut-butter rice cake at home.

But if you’re cold on the hike that I begged you to take with me, yes, I will give you my jacket. Not because I’m the depressed and obscene giving tree. But because you’re my darling. Because you’re so lovely to take this walk with me. Because your father, just yesterday, put his sweatshirt around my chilly shoulders at a bar.

I understand why so many of the smartest women I know are proudly carrying the no-rescue flag. Mothers have been the coddlers, historically speaking: the bringers of forgotten things, the tenders of the beleaguered. “I am sick of doing everything for everybody,” we may be saying. “And I don’t want my kids to be hapless dependents.” Fair enough. Except, not to sound like a bad capitalist, independence may not be such a great goal either. Everyone taking good care of themselves, efficiently separated from the needs of others — is that the best possible world we can live in?

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.. this is a stunning essay in Al Jazeera America by Michael Bérubé. “For Hire: Dedicated young man with Down Syndrome”. You really must read it.

Thanks to political positioning for the federal budget, current discussions in Australia around the economy, its function and its interaction with community building have reached a peak level of disgrace. Dependency in its most visible forms – unemployment, disability, aging and parenting – are being maligned in terribly inaccurate ways.  For starters, the economy is not static, you cannot take a snapshot of transfers and decide on that basis who is most deserving and who is working hardest. FFS.



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This essay is written by Cristina Nehring. Do you remember the controversy around her essay about her love for her disabled child last year? Anyway, here she is writing about being a single parent and entering a new love affair – it’s not a brilliant essay, it’s just interesting. She specialises in big sweeping statements that can piss readers off but I do like the way Nehring explores her life with a bigger picture in mind. And I’m always interested in the topic of parents having sex lives, as you know.

Here’s Nehring in The New York Times with “Are parents better lovers?”.

But now I was there — even if I was on the other side. And all my fears were true: I did make Dice my priority. I’d find myself pushing her baby carriage through the park and thinking “I never spent near this much time with any man in a park.” Nor has anyone ever listened to me so rapt, nor smiled at me so winsomely, tenderly, heartbreakingly.

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Memoir writing asks for the same kind of intimacy between reader and writer that comes with friendship. Unless a memoir is genuinely trusting of its readers it ends up lacking sufficient openness and risk for connection. While I understand their motivations, I am well and truly done with memoirs written by authors who are so guarded about themselves or so protective of others around them that there is nothing much left to hang on to.

Boomer & Me: A Memoir of motherhood, and Asperger’s by Jo Case is a really lovely read because while Case is kind-hearted and considered, she is also willing to share some spiteful and irritable tales from the heart of motherhood. By far, Case’s most enjoyable and endearing complaints in the book are about an overly pious and judgmental school mother, Vanessa, who consistently demonises Case’s son, Leo while that mother’s boys try to both befriend and scapegoat him.

‘Leo said a bad word,’ says Angus.


I give Vanessa a questioning look.

‘I think he might be upstairs. In Angus’s room?’

I nod crisply and climb the stairs. The door is locked. I knock. No answer. I call his name. Vanessa is close behind me. She pokes a wire into the lock and gives it a deft twist. It seems she’s done this before. Leo is glowering behind the door, arms crossed

‘I have had the worst day in my entire life.’

‘What’s wrong, Leo?’ asks Vanessa, bending so her eyes are level with his and putting a comforting hand on his arm. ‘Don’t exaggerate, now.’

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘We’ll talk on the way home,’ I decide, grabbing his hand and leading him downstairs. He grunts out a goodbye to Angus, under duress.

Angus waves cheerily as Vanessa gives Leo his lolly bag and follows us down the hallway and to the gate, waving us down the footpath. They had a fight over footy cards. Angus said his were lame. He said they weren’t. They bickered.

‘And you said a rude word?’


‘What did you say?’

‘I said Angus was an idiot.’

‘And that was the rude word?’


‘Did you get sent to time-out?’


‘Vanessa shut you up in Angus’s room?’


‘What did she say to you?’

‘She told me never to use that word again.’


Vanessa runs across the schoolyard to catch up with us, greeting us with white-hot charm. She launches into a monologue about a headache and her annoying mother and reading George Monbiot. I focus all my conscious attention on not being rude. Which translates into curt nods and lots of ‘yes’ and ‘really?’.

‘Have you recovered from yesterday, Leo?’ she asks.


As we near the end of the cul-de-sac, she turns her attention to our dogs. Doug lurches at her, barking. Leo looks her in the eye. ‘He doesn’t like you,’ he says.

I’ve read and loved rather a lot of motherhood memoirs over the years.  But this book, I’m surprised to admit, is the first one I’ve read that is written by a contemporary, urban mother of Australia.. and it was refreshing. I realise, once again, how important it is to include books in your shelves describing lives you recognise. It was both compelling and comforting for me to read about summer rain during Christmas Carols in the park, attempts to find an affordable house in an inner-city suburb, and making the time to write one’s personal blog. While we live in different cities, so close are our experiences that Case reads the same literary journal I read, spends similar evenings alone at the computer writing articles to deadline, and is even friends with some of the same writers as me.

But Case’s story is also a very different tale to mine. Hers is the path you take from finding your child sometimes very difficult, and the guilt and doubt that comes with that, to the ambivalance you experience in eventually getting a medical diagnosis for them. Learning her son has Asperger’s is a relief and a validation for Case, but it also means facing prejudice in herself she’d not known she had towards disability. This is further complicated when Case also finally accepts the same diagnosis of Asperger’s for herself.

Case and her son have the pattern of exclusive time together that single parents with only children have and the depth of connection that reflects this. (Although, during the book Case re-partners with a new man who becomes an unnaturally astute step-parent). Her son, Leo is an adorably quirky, intelligent boy with an earnest desire to oblige, so he is a child you easily warm to in the book. Some of Case’s most charming descriptions of them together are the many bicycle commutes they share around Melbourne.

Boomer & Me is not a dramatic story, there is no great tragedy nor quest for a cure, this is just life meandering through the years. Big shifts happen but they do so through small, deceptively ordinary moments – work, love, travel, ex-partners, family, friends. However, Case is a skilled writer – engaging and crisp while also being unpretentious and self-aware – so the book moves gently but with pace. And in many ways, Boomer & Me is simply the story of an intimate relationship, that between mother and child.

In accordance with disclosure guidelines, please note that I was sent a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

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Jane Caro has just written a rather charming article, “Over-mothered? No, over mothering” for the Sydney Morning Herald.

For birthdays, I bought two packs of 12 lamington fingers and stuck a candle in each one. They served a whole class.

I was very bad at any sort of preparation. I only once helped a daughter with a project – we couldn’t find a ruler, the glue had dried up, as had the textas, and the eventual product on creased blue cardboard looked like the cat threw up on it. The only photo we could dredge up of a marine creature was of brain coral. ”That’ll have to do!” I screeched at her. I think she’d had fantasies of whales, dolphins or seahorses. I went into the classroom a few days later only to see it displayed on the wall alongside other pristine, laminated dissertations on more glamorous sea creatures. Surprised to see it so honoured, I asked the teacher why it took pride of place. ”Ah,” she said, ”because she so obviously did it all by herself.” Once again, sheer incompetence came up trumps.

When it came time for the weekly swimming lessons, I invariably realised I hadn’t unpacked the cossie from last time. ”Oh well,” I reasoned as I forced them to don their damp, mouldy, smelly togs, ”they’re only going to get wet again anyway.”

There’s a lot I love about this piece but it reminds me that I am also a little skeptical of this stuff. I’m a big fan of slacker mums and relate to much of what the movement is expressing about unrealistic standards in mothering. But I want to raise a couple of cautions here given such confessions are becoming big in the media at the moment. Firstly, there’s a lot of in-built classism in slacker mothering, as I noted way back in 2008 when I first wrote about the ‘slacker mothers/mothers who drink’ phenomenon.

Almost certainly, a mother from a low socio-economic group wouldn’t get away with a book of this kind of humour, she’d risk being seen as neglectful rather than endearingly chaotic – imagine if the mothers in that New York Times article were drinking bourbon and cokes instead of Cavit pinot grigio, would this be seen as the emergence of a trend in sophisticated motherhood?

And as I also observed back then in 2008, the slacker mum movement often neglects to directly acknowledge the debt it owes feminism. It’s frequently liberation without the radicalism. This means the discussion can lack perspective and a sense of purpose. And that becomes particularly apparent when you read supposedly confessional pieces that are pulling their punches, something I refer to in this article of mine at Daily Life. If your ‘revealing truths’ reinforce how much you belong to the most powerful income/class groups of mothers then while you’re taking a risk in revealing them it’s not a particularly big one, and you’re probably not liberating a genuinely marginalised mother, such as a teenage mother, or a mother with a drug addiction, or a mother in poverty who wouldn’t get away with that same slackness without facing the threat of more serious repercussions.

Finally, the slacker mother movement seems to be taking a nasty turn lately towards judging mothers it sees as being too dedicated to the pursuit of motherhood. This begs the question what business is it of yours how another mother does her care work, because it’s inherently sexist that we routinely consider women’s lives our business and that we also have so many ways to criticise women? Also, are you sure she isn’t the oppressed minority, rather than you? In which case, step off her neck you big bully, she’s got enough on her plate. Lauren Rosewarne’s piece for The Drum was a classic example of this problem, in my opinion, as was Mia Freedman’s piece about birth activists, which I tackled in this article of mine at Essential Baby. Even Caro’s piece, which is notably about “over-mothering,” pictures ‘intervention-free birthers’ as some dominating group of mothers she is bravely breaking free of when, actually, having a medicalised birth is hardly taking the path of most resistance in Australia. (I should probably disclose here that I have a foot in both camps having chosen a birth centre ‘intervention-free’ birth for my first baby and a hospital birth with an epidural for my second baby).

If you actively engage with the feminist parenting community then you’ll find that breast-feeders, baby-wearers, home-birthers and even, the organic food types aren’t all the stereotypes you believe them to be. I’ve found many of these mothers have the more radical feminism of parents in the feminist community. And they are often political and quick to defend marginalised mothers, too. Maybe this is because I’ve found that quite a number of them are also, themselves, black or single or disabled or very young or a multitude of other identities that lead them to be marginalised. Mothers are rarely simple stereotypes. If slacker mothering is about liberating mothers then it’s important that it actually does.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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