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Archive for the ‘feminist motherhood’ Category

A writer friend comes round. She brings her son, who is the same age as my older daughter. Once we carried these children in our arms; at other times we pushed them in strollers, or led them by the hand. Now he follows his mother in like a pet lion on a leash, a proud, taciturn beast who has consented, temporarily, to be tamed. My daughter has this same aura of the wild about her, as though beneath a veneer of sophistication she is constantly hearing the summons of her native land, somewhere formless and free that still lies inside her and to which at any moment she might return. The manners of adulthood have been recently acquired. There’s no knowing how quickly they could be discarded. She and my friend’s son greet each other in territorial monosyllables. It is as though they are two people from the same distant country who have met here in my sitting room. They’ve met before, often, but you’d never know: Those were old– versions of themselves, like drafts of a novel the author no longer stands by. All the same, I expect them to take themselves off elsewhere, to another room; I expect them to flee the middle-aged climate of the sitting room, but they don’t. They arrange themselves close to us, two lions resting close to the shade of their respective trees, and they watch.

My friend and I have a few years of conversation behind us. We’ve talked about motherhood — we’ve both spent a large part of our time as a single parent — and its relationship to writing. We’ve talked about the problems and pleasures of honoring reality, in life and in art. She has never upheld the shadowless account of parenthood; and perhaps consequently, nor does she now allude to her teenage son as a kind of vandal who has ruined the lovely picture. We talk about our own teenage years, and the hostility of our parents’ generation to any form of disagreement with their children. Any system of authority based on control fears dissidence more than anything else, she says. You two don’t realize how lucky you are, and the lions roll their eyes. What is being controlled, she says, is the story. By disagreeing with it, you create the illusion of victimhood in those who have the capacity to be oppressors. From outside, the dissident is the victim, but the people inside the story can’t attain that distance, for they are defending something whose relationship to truth has somewhere along the line been compromised. I don’t doubt that my parents saw themselves as my hapless victims, as many parents of adolescents do (“You have this lovely child,” a friend of mine said, “and then one day God replaces it with a monster”), but to me at the time such an idea would have been unthinkable. In disagreeing with them, I was merely trying to re-establish a relationship with truth that I thought was lost. I may even have believed that my assertions were helpful, as though we were on a journey somewhere and I was trying to point out that we had taken a wrong turn. And this, I realize, is where the feelings of powerlessness came from: Disagreement only and ever drew reprisal, not for what was said but for the fact alone of saying it, as if I were telling the residents of a Carmelite convent that the building was on fire and was merely criticized for breaking the vow of silence.

From “Raising Teenagers: The mother of all problems” in The New York Times by Rachel Cusk.

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Some I’ve mentioned before but in case you missed them..
Minister for Women

minister for putting your knickers into soak

for washing your bra in a laundry bag

for the stains that never come out

for hanging those sheets out to dry anyway

because fuck you

Dear Amanda and Debbie

the cake tin I’m using is square

and it’s supposed to be round

I think I married the wrong man

I am trying to trace it back to

the first wrong decision I made

Letter for a friend

Did you ever stand

with your hands in the sink

up to your elbows in soapy water

staring out the window

listening to the voices?

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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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Quotes from Ariel Gore’s The End of Eve: A Memoir:

My mother stared ahead into the rain. I knew her well enough to know that she always had an agenda, but sometimes part of her agenda was pretending she didn’t have an agenda.

I thought of my Gammie, and the way she’d pour herself a nice, tall vodka tonic whenever she saw my mother enter a room and sip her drink and whisper under her breath, “If there isn’t chaos, there soon will be”.

I didn’t know if the cure for my life was to lie to everyone about everything or to become brutally honest.

And I didn’t want to say too much because, inexplicably, I still wanted people to like her.

This was supposed to be a book about a typical caregiver – a daughter with children of her own trying to help her terminal if eccentric widow-mother through a final year. But now here we were mid-narrative, more than a year gone by, and no one had died and I didn’t have a mother anymore and the semester was wrapping up.

Family and strangers sharing a meal; toothy smiles as if we weren’t all in it for the kill.

Maia lifted her Bloody Mary and shrugged. “Let’s not even list what we’re thankful for this year”.

I remembered when I was pregnant with Maia how terrified I felt that I would abuse her. That I would torment her. And I remembered the flood of relief when I realized unabusive motherhood wasn’t so very hard. That sure – it took a diligence, problably more diligence when emotional violence was my first language. But that in the end it isn’t so hard not to ruin everything we love. It meant deferring to my child when I felt that wit’s-end rage bubble up, meant stepping back to remind myself that she was the baby here, that I was the grown-up. It meant reminding myself to behave in a way I would be proud of. It meant not always needing to be right, apologizing when I was wrong. It meant a lot of pause-taking. But it wasn’t so very hard.

This book was such a great read.

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What’s the price of doing well in the workplace and keeping your home life so separate?

The compartmentalising is not without cost. Back at home with the people you love, it seems to take at least a full day to find the rhythm again of being with children. And until you find that oneness with them, you can experience their needs, even their affection, as somehow jarring and irritating. If you’re working long hours or shift work, I suspect it is possible to never recover enough from work to reach this rhythm.

Some of the fragmentation is about training yourself to be indifferent to the fate of others during your work day, but it is also about being indifferent to ourselves. Ignoring our feelings and denying their legitimacy. The outcome of this is a decline in overall empathy. If you do not know the inside of your own head, you cannot possibly understand anyone else’s. And with that is lost the capacity for intimacy, something that is fundamental to our survival and fulfillment.

My latest article here.

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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 terrific essay from Helen Addison-Smith in The Overland, “Yes, men are better writers”.

Recently, I received an email from a literary publication asking me to comment on why ‘women are underrepresented in major publications’. Since I’m a single mother, working six days a week, and I wasn’t going to be paid, I didn’t respond. But I thought I’d reply here, so Overland will give me cash.

It’s simple, really. Men are published more than women because men are better writers than women.

Do I need to say that there are great female writers? Maybe I do, because you don’t know me, and I might just be a misogynist arsehole. And do I need to say that there are boatloads of very bad male writers? No, you can just go to your local bookshop and peruse the new releases to prove that to yourself.

‘Good writing’ does not emanate from the penis but it does emanate from material conditions. Writing takes time – great swathes of clean, empty time, unsullied by children or housework or deep worry about money or skincare routines. To be a writer is to be selfish enough to grab time and spend it churning words around, even though you are not getting paid very much, hardly anybody cares about what you’re doing, and even fewer people think that it’s any good.

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