Archive for the ‘feminist motherhood’ Category
My son Zain was born with the kind of reflux and colic that no doctor seemed able to cure. He screamed for up to eight or nine hours a day for the first twelve months of his life. There was nothing I could do but push him up and down the streets of my neighbourhood at all hours of the night and day. So much of those long hours of walking are in my next book, which doesn’t really focus on motherhood at all but rather, on a close and intimate portrayal of all those people and places I observed while walking. It wasn’t just that it was the first time in my life in which I had given myself permission to sit on a bench on the river or to hang out in a park all day and really look at those everyday things I had never taken the time to notice before, it was also that everything had so much more emotional intensity and significance than it had previously had. It doesn’t last forever but there is this crazed state you exist in, in those early months, that is something right out The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I remember, distinctly, standing on the Parramatta River, looking at Jamie Eastwood’s mural on the footpath which depicts the local Indigenous population trying to fight off the boats in that same place where the ferries were now coming in to dock at Parramatta Pier. The whole place seemed so heart-breakingly gorgeous and tragic in a way that I think I could never understand if I wasn’t in such a heightened emotional state. That space is now the central image that my next book revolves around. It was feeling that space in such a different way that made me realise I needed to write a book about it. I wrote a lot during that first year of being a mother. It wasn’t the kind of long concentrated writing I had done before but I came out of it with a lot of lines scrawled on bits of paper that turned into great things some time later.
From “Who gives a shit? On motherhood and the arts” by Felicity Castagna in the Southerly Journal.
One day I am chopping vegetables at the kitchen bench and negotiating something around time and care and children, with the boyfriend, whose name is Seth. It’s quite a friendly negotiation but none the less we’re not yet in agreement. I’m making a concluding point but I’ve skipped the argument that underpins it. The bits about men and women and how our time, particularly when it comes to parenting is identified and valued differently. And I think, what are you talking about Seth, I’ve already fought this fight and I won?
Then I remember, that argument was with my ex.
All of this.
G.G.: Can you give some specific examples of what you see as mainstream feminism aiding capitalist exploitation?
N.F.: Sure. In the 1970s, feminists developed a powerful critique of the postwar cultural ideal known as the “family wage.” That ideal held that women should be full-time homemakers and their husbands should be the family’s sole (or at least principal) breadwinners, earning enough to support an entire household. Certainly, only a minority of American families managed to achieve this ideal. But it had enormous currency in a phase of capitalism premised on mass-production manufacturing and relatively well-paid unionized work for (especially white) men. All that changed, however, with the eruption of second-wave feminism, which rejected the family wage as sexist, a pillar of male domination and women’s dependency. At this stage, the movement still shared the anticapitalist ethos of the New Left. Its critique was not aimed at valorizing wage labor, still less at denigrating unpaid carework. On the contrary, the feminists of this period were challenging the androcentrism of a society that prioritized “profits over people,” economic production over human and social reproduction. They sought to transform the system’s deep structures and animating values — in part by decentering wage work and valorizing unwaged activities, especially the socially necessary carework performed by women.
G.G.: So how has the critique of the family wage changed?
N.F.: Today, the feminist critique of the family wage has assumed an altogether different cast. Its overwhelming thrust is now to validate the new, more “modern” household ideal of the “two earner family,” which requires women’s employment and squeezes out time for unpaid carework. In endorsing this ideal, the mainstream feminism of the present aligns itself with the needs and values of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. This capitalism has conscripted women into the paid work force on a massive scale, while also exporting manufacturing to the global south, weakening trade unions, and proliferating low-paid, precarious McJobs. What this has meant, of course, is declining real wages, a sharp rise in the number of hours of paid work per household needed to support a family, and a desperate scramble to transfer carework to others in order to free up more time for paid work. How ironic, then, that it is given a feminist gloss! The feminist critique of the family wage, once directed against capitalism’s devaluation of caregiving, now serves to intensify capitalism’s valorization of waged labor.
G.G.: But not all feminist efforts focus on upper-class women. What about the project of providing small loans (“microcredit”) to poor women in underdeveloped countries to help them develop small businesses?
Feminist tropes are invoked to legitimate policies that are deeply harmful to the overwhelming majority of women, as well as to children and men.
N.F.: I’m really glad you asked about this because it’s another example of the way in which feminist ideas are being twisted to serve neoliberal, capitalist ends. Microcredit is touted as a way of “empowering” women in poor rural regions of the global south. But it is also supposed to represent a new, more participatory, bottom-up way of combating poverty, which releases grass-roots entrepreneurial energies, while avoiding the bureaucratic red tape of the large-scale, state-led development projects of the previous period. So microcredit is as much about the glorification of the market and the vilification of the state as it is about gender equality. In fact, it weaves those ideas together in a dubious amalgam, invoking feminism to dress up free-market ideology.
But the whole thing is a sleight of hand. Microcredit became the rage at exactly the moment when international financial institutions were pushing “structural adjustment” on the global south — setting conditions on loans that require postcolonial states to liberalize and privatize their economies, to slash social spending, and to abandon macro-level anti-poverty and employment policies. And there is no way whatsoever that microlending can replace those policies. It’s a cruel hoax to suggest otherwise.
So here again feminist tropes are invoked to legitimate policies that are deeply harmful to the overwhelming majority of women, as well as to children and men.
From “A feminism where ‘leaning in’ means leaning on others’ with Gary Gutting interviewing Nancy Fraser in The New York Times.
However, the interesting point here is the assumption that expressing (more and faster) is the answer. Buchholz’s comment is consistent with workplace norms under neo-liberalism that require mothers to minimise their breastfeeding relationship with their infants and to instead pump milk. As sociologist Kate Boyer recently observedin the US context, without longer maternity leave or proper provisions to breastfeed at work we are not so much accommodating mothering as squeezing it – quite literally – to fit into the ‘needs’ of industry. While centering the importance of ‘human milk’, expressing actually pushes mothering – the act of embodied nurture – to the periphery. This, she contends, is a new form of ‘neoliberal mothering’ that extracts both care work and labour from women without regard to the unique problems this creates.
The new norm is not to exclude women outright, but to exclude the particular embodied relationships women have with infants and young children (and, perhaps more fundamentally, that infants and young children have with their mothers). In the new model, liberalism has been surpassed by neo-liberalism: mothers are allowed in ‘the house’ (or out of the house as the case may be) but they and their babies are under pressure to minimise physical contact. As I have written recently, keeping up a ‘supply’ of milk and work is the new norm, which promotes ‘pumping’ over breastfeeding. These are, of course, not the same thing. The intimacy and bonding, the stroking and face-to-face contact, the intersubjective experience and embodied care are diminished in preference to disembodied ‘expressing’
From my friend, Dr Petra Bueskens’ “Keeping up supply: it isn’t only about milk” in On Line Opinion.
And the bad..
Despite the nice pictures with Kelly O’Dwyer, a former Costello adviser sporting the latest feminist political accessory, a baby, the five women who are ministers in cabinet, Michaelia Cash, Julie Bishop, Marise Payne, O’Dwyer and Sussan Ley, all supported Turnbull, although two were in Tony Abbott’s cabinet.
From Angela Shanahan’s “Politics divorced from the people” in The Australian.
And the good..
From the first stages of my pregnancy I was alarmed by feelings of dependency on my partner that I had never experienced before. As my pregnancy progressed, my sense of physical vulnerability increased and my capacity to maintain my equality through independence was repeatedly challenged. Finally, when my daughter was born, her utter vulnerability shook me to the core and I realised that I could no longer operate in the world as a wholly autonomous unit. I was encumbered by this incredibly dependent little person who needed me for her very survival. My understanding of myself and of what I needed from the world shifted completely, as did my understanding of the feminist project. I could no longer relate to the ambivalence of liberal feminism to the needs, indeed rights, of dependent women (and children).
This ambivalence of liberal feminism to the rights of dependent women is one of the reasons that it finds favour with some areas of right-wing politics. The individualism and market focus of the independence model of equality dovetails neatly with economic liberalism (or neoliberalism) and the belief that the market is the best arbiter and distributor of value. Single mothers, for example, are readily vilified as ‘welfare queens’ greedily bludging off the State.
Left-wing liberal feminists responds differently to the issue of single mothers and are more likely to support their right to government assistance. Nonetheless, this assistance is rarely framed in terms of payment for the unpaid work of caring for children. Instead, it is viewed as a safety net to assist women to survive until they can rejoin the path to equality through autonomy. This is because left-wing liberal feminism still envisages liberation through market participation and, thus, tends to focus more on the issues of affordable childcare and (occasionally) flexible work arrangements in order to support women to more easily become independent post-motherhood.
From Cristy Clark’s “Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children” in The Australian Sociological Association.
I’ve always been someone who lives very much in my head. The startling, terrifying (and sometimes exhilarating) thing about becoming a mother was that that vanished almost immediately. I couldn’t think in any sustained way anymore; my mind flitted from thing to thing, and the novel I’d been writing for years no longer made much sense to me. My purpose became quite simply to keep her alive. My body was either on high alert or utterly exhausted.
From Jenny Offill in an interview with Megan O’Grady in Vogue with “Scenes from a marriage: Jenny Offill on modern motherhood”.