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Archive for the ‘child hatred bigotry’ Category

File this under: Maybe how you feel about mothering, and your feminism, says something about how your country feels about you as a mother.

Great article from Abigail Rasminsky in The Cut, “I had a baby in Europe; here’s what it did to me”.  

But unlike my husband and me, my expat friends didn’t struggle over the gendered turn their marriages had taken. These women had already given up their careers upon moving to Vienna, or had always expected a year or two of paid leave with a new baby. They felt little anxiety about keeping their careers going — or, like me, getting them out of the red. Why should they? By law, their jobs were protected.

A few months in, I started to understand the question my midwife had posed when I asked her about using a breast pump. “But where are you going?” she’d wanted to know, as if I were planning to abandon my child. The logic seemed to be: My husband had his job, and I had mine, which was culturally mandated and for which I was paid. What else could I possibly want?

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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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“It is notable — and worrying — that young people’s presence in public places, regardless of their behaviour, was considered to be an ASB by four in ten adults,” said Hulley. “The information that adults have about young people, for example from their negative portrayal in the media, often defines them in terms of the threat that they allegedly pose to adults.”

In making a direct comparison between younger teenagers’ perceptions about particular (so-called) anti-social behaviours with those of adults — as both groups completed the same questionnaire — the research was the first of its kind, and could offer valuable pointers to policy-makers looking to foster more cohesive communities during a time when the generation gap appears to be widening, says the study’s author.

“In the context of increasing distances between generations, between ‘them’ and ‘us’, efforts should be focused on improving social connectedness by bringing adults and young people together so that adults can get a better understanding of young people and their behaviour,” said Hulley.

From here.

Just maybe, something similar happens with babies and little kids in public space. I say this because whenever the topic of babies in public space comes up you see a lot of very angry personal stories from people about how terribly disruptive little ones are in public and how completely rude and indifferent to this disruption their mothers are. This surprises me because I hang out quite a bit with mothers and babies and I don’t see a whole lot of this stuff happening. You would think I would be seeing some of this epidemic of bad behaviour. But what I see is the occasional rude parent just as I see the occasional rude elderly person, or the occasional rude teenager, or the occasional rude twenty-something person. I don’t see an over-representation of mothers with babies and small children in my experiences of rudeness in public. Maybe there’s a bit of confirmation bias going on, just maybe. And maybe that bias has its roots in misogyny..

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This is what that looks like. Shameful.

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Two interesting articles on parenting in The Guardian. Thanks to Claire for the links.

“Since when did obedience become the epitome of good parenting?” by Annalisa Barbieri.

Most parenting books are about how to get children to do things well. By well, read obediently. When and how you – the adult – want them to do something: eat well, pee in the potty, sleep well (that’s the big one), behave well. The aim, it would seem, is to raise compliant children. Because, according to these books, obedient children = successful parents, disobedient = head hanging failures. But actually is an obedient child cause for concern or celebration? The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became by this question. Telling someone their child is obedient is (usually) meant as a compliment. But an obedient adult? Not quite so attractive is it? We have other words for that, doormat being one of them.

“Carlos Gonzales: the doctor who wants parents to break the rules” by Annalisa Barbieri.

In the book, Gonzalez explains the science or evolutionary theories (or exposes the lack of them) for various “fashions” for raising children: from feeding and sleeping through to discipline. It’s a book that makes you work, however – it doesn’t tell you what to do, but how to look at situations. There are lots of lightbulb moments as he turns round common ways of thinking and asks you to consider various scenarios in another way. Sometimes he looks at popular childcare literature and substitutes the word “wife” for “baby” and sees how that sounds (it makes for chilling reading).

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I just re-read this guest post I wrote for Feministe earlier this year because I was trying to find it for someone and I have to say, I still agree with me:

If feminism, in approaching the unresolved question of mothers, does not recognise that motherhood is messy and emotional and diverse and political then it has missed the mark. It is important not to try to over-simplify mothers, not to stereotype them and not to ignore that their tasks are real work. Again and again in my writing I try to emphasize that last point, because I suspect much of the hostility towards mothers, including between mothers, would fade if we just understood that mothers are people trying to do a job and it’s consuming and tiring. It is difficult to imagine we would be bothered with The Mummy Wars if we were mobilising around the exploitation of unpaid care in our economy instead.

Because how ludicrous, how shameful, how utterly trivial our judgements of a teenage mother suddenly become with this one acknowledgement – that she is working, that it is hard work and it is for no pay and no recognition. Or our judgements of a mother with a disabled child having an outburst in public; or a mother breastfeeding her toddler; or a mother trying to help her teenage child with their drug addictions; or even, a mother blogging. (Oh, you want to tell me how I should do my unpaid work more to your liking? Fabulous, do tell). It sometimes helps to remember that even the most privileged mother is occasionally woken in the middle of the night by her sick toddler and sits bolt upright in bed, bleary-eyed and shivering in the dark, to catch vomit or shit in her bare hands. It may take some of the sting out of her, apparently, selfish lifestyle.

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When feminist writer, Jessica Valenti had a baby it turned out to be a life-threatening experience for both her and her daughter. It was an immediate introduction to the ambivalence that is possible in motherhood. In fact, Valenti described her early months in motherhood as being – “(c)rippled by fear and post-traumatic stress.” It’s the kind of gut-wrenching description that stops a reader in her tracks. There’s a great potential to trivialise motherhood and in doing so we miss out on understanding both its bleakest moments and its soaringly romantic ones. I suspect ambivalence is a near universal experience for women but it’s so taboo we rarely fully identify it in parenting books. This book, more than anything else, is attempting to fully examine that ambivalence.

Why Have Kids?  is an interesting and brave approach to the conversation about parenthood because it frames the discussion in a political sphere. At one point the book quotes Katie Allison Granju and Jillian St. Charles as saying – “many women will tell you that becoming a mother was the most politically radicalizing experience of their lives”. Absolutely, and it is refreshing to see an author treat the subject with just this level of seriousness. Valenti covers a range of topics that deserve attention but which rarely get featured in books about parenthood like, the history of state control over women’s bodies and child-rearing practices; the infantalising pregnancy diet and the alcohol-abstinence messages; the incessant downplaying of the role of fathers; the success of non-nuclear families; the classism around how we view at-home mothers differently according to their wealth; the tensions in achieving work-and-family balance; and the predatory success behind the ‘parenting expert’ anxiety industry. Because this book is a commercial one about parenthood, rather than an academic book, these topics are probably ground-breaking for the genre.

The chapter, “Bad Mothers Go To Jail” is particularly thoughtful. Here, Valenti examines the phenomenon of child abandonment and neglect as the heartbreaking evidence it provides that motherhood is not nearly as serene and unconflicted as we are led to believe. It is a chapter like this that makes you appreciate a feminist like JessicaValenti taking on parenthood for her book. This chapter also highlights the sense of losing oneself that is common for women entering motherhood and one of the book’s strengths is the manner in which it normalises the desire in some women not to be parents. As Valenti goes on to argue, most women spend a great deal of their lives using contraception to avoid getting pregnant; so, it would seem strange that we stigmatise women for not wanting to ever be pregnant, given that it is a view we can all relate to ourselves for much of our lives. Why Have Kids? is not going to offend those readers who are ultimately deciding against parenthood, Valenti is clearly wanting to draw the non-parent and parent communities together and it’s an excellent ambition for a parenting book. This means the book doesn’t touch on any of the extreme individualism that is sometimes being directed towards mothers and children by elements of the childfree movement and which leads to a misogynistic judgementalism about mothers, but deciding that is beyond the scope of the book is reasonable.

Why Have Kids? is occasionally prone to some simplistic generalisations about attachment/natural parenting that can come across as divisive. For instance, elimination communication (EC) is labelled a “feminist’s worst nightmare”, staggered vaccination schedules are seen as helicopter parenting, and the backlash against French feminist, Elisabeth Badinter’s anti-breastfeeding book is described as “(h)ell hath no fury like La Lech League scorned”. Why Have Kids? is right to critically examine parenting trends, given their impact on women’s lives, but broad sweeping statements are likely to alienate some mothers. Valenti, a mother who breastfed initially but who chose formula-feeding when the breastfeeding became part of the trauma she was experiencing with her premature baby, is particularly concerned with the heavy-handedness of the breastfeeding message and it’s a very important story to be telling. But it is frustrating in a book like this one, that seeks to debunk myths, that scrutiny is not being applied with the same persistence to the misogynist barriers against breastfeeding. The ways in which public space, workplace practices and marital expectations are arranged is actively hostile to women trying to breastfeed and tend to their infants, and this is a serious feminist issue. I feel quite certain that Valenti gets all this; she selected quotes from an interview with me where I am making some of these arguments and she ultimately ends this particular chapter by acknowledging that “(p)arenting and caretaking are only as oppressive as our society makes them.” But still, the discussion around attachment parenting is uneven and could benefit from more nuance.

However, where Why Have Kids? gets it exactly right is where Valenti confronts the perfectionism and policing that happens in motherhood these days and some of this is coming from the attachment/natural parenting movement – “(i)t may be that American mothers are so desperate for power, recognition, and validation that we’d rather take on the burden of considering ourselves “expert moms” rather than change the circumstances that demand such an unreasonable role for us”. These will be uncomfortable truths for motherhood experts and websites that make their money by schooling us in exactly these pursuit, but, yes and yes to what Valenti is saying here.

As well as the attachment parenting chapter I also found myself somewhat conflicted when reading the chapter, “The Hardest Job in the World”, where Valenti justifiably questions what can be a patronising and exploitative message for women about the role of mothers. It is sexist that the boring, mundane tasks of mothering are sold to women as some kind of special task for which we are biologically designed and therefore not entitled to reward or status for doing them; but it is equally sexist to reduce all caring tasks to the trivial, the mindless and the twee. Mothering can be complicated and compelling and also, intellectually and emotionally satisfying. The fact that we describe it as involving problem-solving no more difficult than “kissing boo-boos” is telling. Given all this, what does it say when we characterise some women as falling “for the trap of believing that parenting is the most important job they’ll ever have”? This is a difficult balance to strike in feminism – between denigrating ‘women’s work’ and liberating women from domestic servitude, but it is one where white, middle-class feminist mothers, like myself and Valenti, risk universalising our experiences at the expense of disabled mothers, mothers of colour, trans parents, mothers in incarceration, poor mothers and other marginalised people who are still fighting for their mothering to be respected and for whom mothering can be a radical feat of activism and community building. The availability of high quality childcare is not the answer to every problem.

Why Have Kids? is probably at its strongest where it approaches tricky subjects but openly acknowledges its own bias. So, for instance, the chapter “Women Should Work” is buoyed by this rather lovely piece of self-reflection from Valenti after admitting that she thinks women should generally avoid being at-home parents (a view I share, in part): “I’m not sure how to reconcile these beliefs with my feeling that people’s life choices should be honored. I think there’s a way to discuss and think critically – and be critical – of parents’ choices without resorting to personal attacks and hyperbole. And I trust women and mothers to be able to have this conversation with the knowledge that we want to make parents’ lives better”. There is some great stuff in here on what the studies are really showing about long-term outcomes for mothers and children when mothers stay attached to the workforce and it refutes conservative propaganda. The chapter also includes the most interesting and humanising interview I’ve seen with Linda Hirshman in some time. In it, Hirshman notes the social impact of elite stay-at-home mothers on the rest of us in terms of raising unrealistic expectations  – “Setting aside for a moment the people who have to work, an important question is why do they do it? It’s like the really skinny models; it’s some bizarre norm of female accomplishment that no one can really achieve”. Hirshman has her blind spots (some of them large) but she makes solid points in support of women’s participation in the workforce – “If the rulers are male, they will make mistakes that benefit males” – and her interview reminded me that Hirshman is mostly motivated by a desire to improve the lot of mothers.

For all the doubts raised about the over-prioritising of parenthood in women’s lives in Why Have Kids?, Valenti arrives at a conclusion, not unlike a lot of us: “I, unfortunately, didn’t have a choice in deciding whether or not she would be the center of my life. She just was; her health and survival depended on it”. Making peace with this fact – that children are vulnerable little beings who will sometimes justify great sacrifices on our part and yet, somehow we must be allowed to remain intact as ourselves – is important feminist work. Personally, I would love to have seen more sharing of experiences from Valenti in Why Have Kids? because I eat that stuff up with a spoon, but I can see that a memoir is not the book Valenti set out to write here. You won’t agree with everything in this book no matter which direction of parenting you’re coming from, Valenti acknowledges that, but it is taking the mainstream conversation about parenting to a meatier level and it’s about time that happened. When the book ends with its wonderful conclusion about why we need to move away from individualism – because when one mother is punished, we are all punished – I am hoping all readers hear that.

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

(Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town).

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