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Archive for the ‘feminist motherhood’ Category

I am so incredibly charmed by Overland‘s inaugural writer’s residency being offered this year to single mothers. 

If this is you, please please consider applying. It’s a wonderful opportunity including space, resources, money and an amazing mentor in Alison Croggon.

It’s based in Melbourne, so there is that to consider in applying but may many more writing centres in other places consider single mother writers as their pool for residencies in the future.  Because some of my very favourite writers have been single mothers. And I was a single mother and I know it is so hard to write on top of all that.

And basically, this is one of the most feminist gestures I’ve witnessed by a literary journal, go Overland.

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I pressed her again on the question I’d been turning over in my mind: Why is it that writing (or really any creative pursuit) seems to be in such conflict with parenting?

She answered calmly, hardly raising her voice. “Because the point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s goal as a parent.”

From Kim Books’ wonderful essay, “A portrait of the artist as a young mom: Is domestic life the enemy of creative work?” in The Cut.

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With the debate escalating again on attachment parenting and feminism  – I thought now might be a good time to re-post this old one from my archives. I seem to need to re-post it about every two years. 

When feelings run deep, as they do about mothers and motherhood, the temptation to make extreme statements is high… Motherhood is a raw, tender point of identity, and its relationship to other aspects of ourselves – our other aspirations, our need to work, our need for solitude – almost inevitably involves a tension. It is hard to sit with that tension, which is one reason discussions of motherhood tend toward a split view of the world.

Where we side depends on what we see as the most essential threat. For those working for gender equality over the past forty years, an enduring concern has been that women will be marched back home, restricting the exercise of their talents and their full participation in political and economic life. Efforts to mobilize public opinion against that regressive alternative have at times oversimplified women’s desire to mother and assigned it to a generally backward-looking, sentimental view of women’s place. When taken to the extreme, the argument suggests that women’s care for their children, the time spent as well as the emotions aroused, is foisted on them by purely external economic and ideological forces. Locating the sources of the desire to mother “out there” may temporarily banish the conflict, but ultimately it backfires, alienating women who feel it does not take into account, or help them to attain, their own valued maternal goals.

For those who identify most strongly with their role as mother, the greatest threat has been that caring for children and the honorable motivations behind it will be minimized and misunderstood, becoming one more source of women’s devaluation. Such women feel they suffer not at the hands of traditionalist ideology but rather from the general social devaluation of caregiving, a devaluation with economic and psychological effects. At times, proponents of this position insist on the essential differences between the sexes and the sanctity of conservative-defined “family values”. Such views end up alienating both women who question such prescriptive generalizations and those who feel their own sense of self or their aspirations are not reflected by them.

Most of us feel ill at ease at either pole of this debate, because though the poles represent opposing position, they both flatten the complexity of mothers’ own desires.

From Maternal Desire by Daphne de Marneffe. And I really enjoyed reading this book.

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There are lots of interesting questions being raised in this conversation highlighted by the New York Magazine in “Is attachment parenting a plot to force women back into the home?”

From my anecdotal experience, it seems like … all three popular myths you listed, and attachment parenting in particular, are propelled by the incredibly damaging sense that women should have everything they need to make their baby happy all the time. It seems that the most anxious mothers are those who don’t allow their children to deal with distress in small, controlled doses and thus constantly confirm their need to be overbearing with their children because of their inability to deal with distress.

Firstly, do you agree that these myths are attractive to women for that reason? If so, how do we fight against the guilt associated with not being able to fix all of your child’s problems instantly? Finally, for the anxious parent how do you short circuit that cycle of deskilling their child leading to greater anxiety?

And

Natural childbirth, lactivist and attachment parenting were started SPECIFICALLY to force women back into the home. It’s not a side effect; it’s the desired effect.

Now is as good a time as any to announce that I am speaking on a plenary panel on this topic in Melbourne in July. (Early bird registration closes on 18 April 2016). More details soon, but I would love to see you there if you are in town. And also the panel includes some wonderful thinkers on this topic such as Dr Petra Bueskens, Anne Manne and Dr Fiona Giles. 

I have written a LOT about this topic before. Ooh sixty-something posts and articles, but here’s some examples:

Why attachment parenting NEEDS feminism

Wootan is aware that his advice might be restrictive. Helpfully, as father of eleven and grandparent to twenty-one children, Wootan offers a suggestion from his own experience on meeting the specifications of the no-separation-until-3 rule.

In our family, we have found that many events that would require leaving our baby or toddler at home are the ones that we don’t particularly mind missing.

Sounds a little isolating. Well, for the mother anyway. Presumably  Wootan, as the father, still managed to attend plenty of events without the children, allowing him to pursue his career as a doctor, health writer and attachment parenting guru. Still, don’t bother talking injustice here, you’ve already been trumped, because everybody in this discussion on peaceful parenting is talking about the needs of the child.

Feminists, a little perspective, please

How did Feministe watch this debate being cooked up in mainstrea media and not get how anti-women it all was? Why doesn’t Amanda Marcotte want to question men’s roles or the incredible inflexibility of American workplace practices more? (I mean, you want to talk about privilege, how about how poor mothers are left behind on paid maternity leave?) Why does Hanna Roison deliberately bait mothers now, instead of just questioning one-size-fits-all parenting?

Feminism and attachment parenting and why they’ve more in common than in conflict 

Recently I was interviewed by a feminist writer about my thoughts on where the resurgence in attachment parenting fits with feminism. I raised a number ofchallenges but I also higlighted what I see as harmonies between feminism and this style of parenting. There are two significant areas of overlap in my opinion. The first is that attachment parenting, at least in theory, is a style of parenting allowingwomen to perform parenting within their everyday lives. When babies are breastfed, co-sleeping and carried they’re potentially very portable. You can be caring for your baby while also getting shit done. In practice this isn’t always the case. The workplace, and public space in general, can be pretty child unfriendly and not every mother decides this is how she wants to live her life. But in theory it should be possible – women should be able to be full participants in life without being marginalised by their gender. And that’s feminism.

On judging mothers

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.

In defence of the mothers you hate

There are two types of mother here: one is professionalising her role, and the other politicising hers. Both are displaying a passion we condemn as smug. But the space for public conversations about motherhood is limited. We can have this conversation in one of two ways: we can endlessly divide – between the stay-at-home and paid-work mothers, between the breastfeeders and the bottlefeeders, between the caesarean mums and the homebirthers – or we can talk together.

A couple of things to bear in mind with the slacker mum movement

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 atEssential 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.

How did the patriarchy influence parenting and what problems did it cause?

Every now and then I come across a piece of writing that connects up a series of thoughts I have been having and I never quite see the world the same way again. This is one of those articles; it isn’t talking about anything new for me, but it is making those links in a more concrete, more overarching way for me. This is where feminism meets economics meets parenting:

In turn, what Hrdy finds is that a supportive network of caregivers is an evolutionarily stable strategy, ensuring children have many attachment figures. Patriarchal society isolated mothers by creating an environment that immured them from the social support that has long been the hallmark of our species. The image of the mother as “an all-giving, totally dedicated creature who turns herself over to her children”, says Hrdy, is not one that “takes into account the woman’s perspective”.

 

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Endless blooming and wilting of new identities based on this circus of images constitutes the psychological-affective dimension of liberal feminism’s lack of organising power. The horizontal seepage of capitalist imperatives through feminism since the early 1990s explains why identity-based politics now responds and reshapes itself constantly as a series of trends and conflicts, all mediated by chains of response emanating from mass cultural images: as Tolentino intimates, it is a consumer marketplace in search of new target demographics, not a social justice movement.

The conversations sparked by these images frequently concern issues of diversity in media, business and entertainment. Profit-seeking products and enterprises such as movies, television and corporate boards are invested with crucial significance that they clearly do not possess; being able to recognise an image of oneself in these domains is reconstrued as liberation itself. Disadvantage functions as a cleansing ritual bath, with the power to wash away the sliminess of equating pleasure-seeking consumer practice with political action.

From Eleanor Robertson’s excellent “Get mad and get even” in the Meanjin.

As someone who also writes critically about liberal feminism I agree with pretty much everything in here.. but the only thing I would say in defence of liberal feminism is that its end goals of equal opportunity are not incompatible with those of more collectivist approaches to feminism. We have some middle ground here.
And, we are not born with multiple integrated perspectives. We develop this over time. Identifying one’s own experiences in psychological, physical and environmental interactions and how that all plays out on a backdrop of sexism is a crucial step on the way to developing a wider appreciation of systematic oppression and collective solutions. In other words, if you haven’t yet developed that perspective you won’t see the next perspective.

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Gayby Baby is freely available at the moment on SBS by Demand. I recommend it because it’s incredibly charming. It follows the lives of four kids whose parents are gay. As they each move into puberty, the outside world of Australia is debating the issue of marriage equality, and whether or not kids of same-sex families are at risk.

My children watched it with us and were completely transfixed. Then they laughed and rolled their eyes because “these mums are exactly like you”. So much feminist parenting, so much.

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