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Archive for the ‘motherhood sux’ Category

In the midst of everything I’ve been going through lately, thank you for reminding me why I started a blog…

This is a beautiful and timely response to receive to my long-running 10 Questions About Your Feminist Parenthood from Slow Growing.

(Can you believe that my 10 Questions have been going since 2007, have received a couple of hundred responses from all over the world from all kinds of feminist parents, and have by now, also been published by me in an academic book?)

5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

The moments when I feel like I have failed most are when I haven’t done my best to act in solidarity with another mother; whether that be by listening well to a friend who is tired in her parenting, or supporting another mother in a tough situation in public, or by finding an authentic response to the suffering of women in other places. I feel this failure daily but I know that for me, and the work of feminism in itself, there will always be work to do and mistakes to be made–it’s a big world out there to respond to. So there’s got to be grace as well. Ultimately the work of feminism is a uniting work, one that illuminates and works through–and for–our deep inter-connectedness and dependence on one another. When I lose sight of that, that is when I feel I have failed the most.

6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

In the circles that I move in it can be difficult identifying as a feminist–this is mostly because I am not sure that my definition of feminism necessarily fits with the definition in other people’s heads. I think many people still think that feminism equates to hating men, or thinking that you have to run a successful corporation… but as you can see, this is nothing like my feminism.

Through my partner’s workplace and through our church life, I meet a lot of women from more conservative backgrounds who are often at home with their kids too. I wonder if they feel marginalised enough by the celebrity/corporate type of feminism, so much so that they choose not to identify with feminism altogether. I don’t know. I just know that I often feel misunderstood by this group, and misunderstood by some successful working mothers who don’t see the value of the care work I do, or the complexities of professional, cultural, and financial systems that make it hard for many mothers to work outside the home. However, it is never so difficult that I don’t identify as a feminist.  

There’s a lot in this response that I relate to, but particularly, her thoughts on vulnerability and connectedness. I love this latest reply to my questions, and thank you for keeping the 10 questions alive.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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This has been such a disturbing experience.

Recently, I wrote an article critical of Centrelink’s debt collection processes based on my personal experiences. That article is here. It was written with the intention of drawing people’s attention to how impenetrable the debt collection process can be and also, to encourage women to consider fighting against ‘sexually transmitted debt’.

Paul Malone, writing for Canberra Times, has since obtained personal information from my Centrelink file (I’m still not sure how privacy legislation allows this) in order to write an article about my story from the government’s perspective. The article is optimistically titled, “Centrelink is an easy target for complaints but there are two sides to every story”.

It seems the story most neglected is not the helpless ‘client’ of Centrelink, so often powerless in the face of an enormous bureaucratic machine, but the Centrelink machine, itself.

I am incredibly reluctant to go further into my personal details but here we are.

Among the problems I have with Malone’s article:

The agency says Ms Fox’s debt is a Family Tax Benefit (FTB) debt for the 2011-12 financial year which arose after she received more FTB than she was entitled to because she under-estimated her family income for that year.

As I outlined in my article, when your ex does not lodge his tax return for a year in which you received the Family Tax Benefit it seems your family income will be classified ‘under-estimated’, and consequently, you, who filed a tax return may be required to pay the tax benefit back. My article drew attention to the ways in which this can penalise women.

The original debt was raised because she and her ex-partner did not lodge a tax return or confirm their income information for 2011-12.

My tax returns were up to date before I learned of a Centrelink debt and said tax returns noted my new status as a single parent.

However, it is true that I filed my own tax return late that particular year, the circumstances behind this were subsequently shared fully with Centrelink. Given the nature of those circumstances, I am under the impression that my late tax return was forgiven. I will not be sharing those details, but I will note that the extreme sensitivity of factors considered by Centrelink for pardoning late returns includes such things as serious domestic violence and so, I would urge journalists to tread very carefully in this space.

Centrelink says that after Ms Fox notified the department that she had separated from her partner, the debt due to her partner’s non-lodgement was cancelled.

This feels somewhat disingenuous to me. The fine was finally cancelled by Centrelink after acknowledging that their previous decision to impose the debt on me had been a mistake. My notes indicate the process I had to go through took more than 12 months. That seems long to me, and arduous (it included insisting upon a review of my case) – it seems worthy of an article, which is why I wrote it.

But Centrelink general manager Hank Jongen says Centrelink made numerous attempts to get in touch with Ms Fox via phone and letter but many of these attempts were left unanswered.

During the process the department and I discovered they had old contact details for me. This has been a common story across many Centrelink debt stories with false debts escalating to debt collectors before people even realise they have a Centrelinke debt.

You would think a combination of my taking a day off work to visit Centrelink and following that, spending hours  on the phone with Centrelink, would be evidence of a desire to both understand the debts and to resolve them. That I remain, to this day, confused about elements of both is a sign not of my disengagement but of a very complicated, demoralising and problem-ridden process.

However, I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of a couple of individual Centrelink staff members. Due to an editorial decision about word length their supportive comments were not included in my article. But I would note that they sounded almost as sad about the frustrations I was experiencing with Centrelink as I was, and in the end I couldn’t help but think we were all trapped in a kind of maddening maze.

Thank you, also, to the lawyers who came forward with suggestions after reading my article. All my love to those who work in this system and who wish for the system to work justly.

Something is going very, very wrong in government policy at the moment. But I am filled with hope because it has also brought out some very, very good people.

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Whenever I see controversy over any ‘extended breastfeeding’ photos I think about the time I was breastfeeding my three year old and he came home from kindergarten saying he wanted to have his best mate for a sleep over and how it was going to be great because they could both have a breastfeed and then sleep in the bed with me …and, of course, it didn’t happen (are you mad?) but I laugh thinking about how much this conversation would kill the breastfeeding-haters dead. Dead.

Here’s poor old Tamara Ecclestone breastfeeding her daughter, like mammals do, and just blowing a whole bunch of tiny little minds in the process. Keep on keepin’ on.

(I wrote an article about my extreme breastfeeding days here, and also I used to collect glamorous breastfeeding photos here, and breastfeeding while getting shit done all over here).

(Thanks to Jane for the link).

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This article by Catherine Deveny on the ABC called “Financial abortion: Should men be able to ‘opt out’ of parenthood?” is infuriatingly limited.

I have recently come to the conclusion that, as a feminist, I support men being able to opt out of fatherhood early in a pregnancy via what is known as a financial abortion.

I believe a woman should not be forced to become a mother any more than a man should be forced to become a father. If a man has not said, “I want to have a child with you now-ish”, it is fair to assume he doesn’t, and therefore should be able to legally withdraw from becoming a parent.

It would also be less traumatic for children, and more empowering for women.

A financial abortion (also known as a paper abortion or a statutory abort) would essentially enable men to cut all financial and emotional ties with a child in the early stages of pregnancy.

Men can ‘opt out’ already. Don’t have sex with women, get a vasectomy, take lots and lots of responsibility for contraception. Oh.. you mean not that kind of “control over reproductive choices”.

Men can have more control than they do currently over whether parenthood happens (see my paragraph above), but just like women they don’t have full control over conception. Pregnancy is not something you can ‘make happen’.. you can provide circumstances that will facilitate pregnancy or which won’t… but conception is a biological action that happens outside of women’s and men’s control. We all need to carry responsibility for that.

It is not something one can ‘opt out of’ if you, like me, happen to enjoy the act of putting sperm near eggs inside women’s bodies.

What certain men are seeking to ‘opt out of’ is not whether parenthood can occur, it is the responsibility of parenthood. How very user choice, what part of reality might possibly be missing from this?

The parent with the ability to decide to carry a pregnancy to term (or not) is the one whose body has a foetus inside it. If we lived in another reality where men could choose to carry a foetus in their body to term then they could opt out of doing so.. and I am sure many women would be content to concede that right to men.

 

And of course on the wider issue of opting out, as someone said on my Facebook page, is this…

“In practice men do have this choice: courts won’t demand men conform to care and contact agreements & DHSCS has a poor record of enforcing compliance with child support assessments/ agreements. Women’s access to abortion remains practically constrained and single mothers a group at high risk of poverty – these remain the bigger issues than further expanding masculine financial & paternal discretion.”

 

 

 

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It is another common assumption that a single mother is a woman who puts her sex life ahead of her social responsibility. Manipulative or sexual, she exhibits either too much self-control or not enough (what is never mentioned in relation to teenage pregnancies is the possibility of child abuse and rape). Behind the idea of maternal virtue, therefore, another demand and/or reproach. A mother is a woman whose sexual being must be invisible. She must save the world from her desire – a further projection that allows the world to conceal from itself the unmanageable nature of all human sexuality, and its own voraciousness. Even in the years leading up to the 1960s, when there was more sympathy for the predicament of single mothers, the basic assumption was there. ‘Innocent’ girls could get into trouble and deserved understanding ‘provided that they did not flaunt their transgressions’. Nor is the childless woman immune from sexual taint. ‘Surely,’ one journalist said recently, expressing a common attitude to the declining birth rate in 21st-century France, ‘a woman who refuses to be a mother enjoys lovemaking rather too much?’

In this context, ancient Greece and Rome are again refreshing. Cleopatra, deemed the most desirable of women, was the mother of four children, one, she claimed, by Julius Caesar and the three youngest by Mark Antony, something most representations of Cleopatra conspire not to remember or talk about (no one I have mentioned this to had the faintest idea she was a mother).

From this amazing essay, “Mothers” in the London Review of Books by Jacqueline Rose.

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Each blog has its own life cycle too. Those that came into being to chronicle a particular life arc –moving to a new place, divorce, illness – reached a natural end point as circumstances changed. Speaking to my former blogging friends about why they stopped, a number of crunch points emerge: children get older and their privacy becomes more important. Break-ups are often too raw to chronicle online. Family and neighbours discovering her blog had a radically stifling effect on what one friend felt able to write. Another, a schoolteacher, says, “I hated finding out colleagues were reading it and I hated the self-censorship it imposed. Many people simply reach the point where they aren’t comfortable with the level of exposure blogging brings – some miss it, some don’t.

I know these crunch points intimately. I have spent an excruciating afternoon cringing as the not-remotely-amused HR manager in my office read extracts of my blog back to me (pro tip: don’t describe your workplace as “the corridor of ennui”). My husband finds the blogging impulse baffling and unhealthy and we’ve clashed over it, often. Our teenage sons have no desire to serve as entertainment for my readers, so their lives are now off-limits. Neighbours sometimes comment on things they have read on my blog, which is a discomfiting experience even though rationally I know it’s inevitable when I put my personal life out in a public space. I have certainly felt queasily over-exposed at times. When I started writing, I was unhappy at work and at home, living abroad, missing family and friends. Blogging was a lifeline; a reminder that I could be funny and interesting.

From Emma Beddington of Belgian Waffling at The Pool with “Personal blogging has declined in popularity but it will never be obsolete”.

Oh yes, oh yes. The list I could write you of readers I’ve discovered over time that leave me exquisitely uncomfortable. Oh my lord.

Incidentally, I am reading Beddington’s memoir at the moment and it has sparked my interest in blogs again, so I am also re-visiting mimi smartypants. Her posts about her daughter and husband are my favourite and predictably, I recently read that she is beginning to shy away from writing about her daughter now because of her child’s privacy… just when it is getting complicated and interesting and relevant. But, of course, I understand given I have made the same decision.

I also hugely miss Yet Another Blooming Blog. Does anyone know if she still writes?

And while we are talking blogs…. lovely round of good feminist blogging here at No Award or the Down under Feminist Carnival 102..and thank you for including some of mine.

 

 

 

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And it was published in the Sydney Morning Herald

Have you ever run with a baby? You’re up, you scoop, you leap. Bone against bone, you and the baby in your arms knock against one another. But within two of your running strides, the baby knows to fold herself into you, she tucks under your chin and presses against your chest. Two strides, heart pounding, and you both find flight.

Babies must know, somewhere primitive in them, how to be held by someone running. Because two strides and the instinct awakens, they’re suddenly weightless in your arms, moulded against you.

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