Archive for the ‘motherhood sux’ Category

Here in Daily Life:

Chabon suggests, “I think it was training. We were practiced doing it together and we had our lines down. Also, people are not very observant, thank God”.

That’s the thing about sexual relationships, isn’t it? Part of it is real but part of it is always appearance, too. This facade is as much for yourselves as it is for others. Because a sense of self both feeds and is fed by intimate relationships. Ironically, the pressure to stay together is precisely what may be limiting passion in those women Waldman observed from in the mothers’ group. Children may have nothing to do with it. People stop having sex when they get bored with one another, too, but they are prevented from ending relationships by the pressure to ‘perform’ relationships.

Waldman wanted women to be more passionate, but there are limits to how comfortable any of us are with the pursuit of desire by women, and particularly, with mothers focusing on it. Having been a single parent for a couple of years I now find myself falling in love with another man and re-partnering. Sexual desire prioritises itself in a new relationship. Libido is all-consuming, it does not require conscious effort. In fact, it can be confrontingly disruptive to the calm necessary for parenting. I ask myself, is this how someone’s mother behaves?

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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.

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The good…

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.

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One can become unable, in certain emotional states, to read fiction, and for me there is a similar ‘fiction-averse’ component to human experience, where things can seem so intensely real that you don’t want, or aren’t capable of, any distance from them at all. Having a baby seemed like one of those periods; getting divorced was another.

From Rachel Cusk in “Rachel Cusk on her quietly radical new novel, Outline” in Vogue by Megan O’Grady.

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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”.

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“All your extended breastfeeding questions answered” in Essential Baby by me.

When my son began talking to my breasts (“breastfeedings” he called them, in case you were wondering), he was being so sincere and sad I did not know what to do. Should my breasts be answering him? It seems rude to remain indifferent to someone sharing the most tragic moment of their life with you. I mean, my breasts aren’t cold-hearted. And if my breasts answered him then should they have my voice, which may take you out of the moment? Or should they have a unique voice of their own – in which case, what does a breast’s voice sound like?

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Am told my piece for Meanjin has a broken link at the moment so I’m re-posting it here. From the end of last year when I wrote about reading and love affairs…

There’s a small child in the bed with us. I hold the sheet over me and reach down blindly to find clothes on the floor. Under the sheet I slip my underwear and t-shirt back on. So, this is dating now.

One evening I find myself sitting in bed reading Hairy Maclary dog stories to the small child. “Out of the gate and off for a walk, went Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy..”.

It’s not my small child, it’s the son of the man I am seeing. My children are with their father tonight and I’m missing them. The father of this small child is in the living room feeling down. I’m trying not to see that as a bit of an indulgence. And instead, I’m reading to his son and those smalls hands on my arm and a small head rested against my shoulder are bringing a rush of pain to me.

This maternal business, when I’m not with my children, is tearing at careful compartments. But decompartmentalising is this man’s specialty. Out of the gate and off for a walk.

I meet his mother, and then in a rush, his whole family. He wants to meet my children. At first, I believe he’s fearless. He might be wrong for me in several ways but at least he’s fearless.

Last year I read Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. This year I am re-reading it. I mostly re-read books this year because with everything happening in my life – the work, the grief, the rebuilding, the column writing, the conferences, the dating, the parenting, the budgeting, the anxiety and the calming – I can’t read anything new. I just can’t take anything else in. If I am going to consider anything in it has to be something I already know that I just want to understand better, and differently.

I read a lot to my children. They like re-reading books. The storybook I most enjoy re-reading to them is Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley. The rhythm in that book is something else. I marvel at it every time I read it. Every time.

I hardly read anything. Actually, I read constantly, all year, but hardly anything I think appropriate to highlight in a literary journal, like Meanjin. For instance, Twitter. For instance, Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness. I read that over and over again for part of the year, in a ‘dark night of the soul’ kind of way. I read papers and papers for work. I read a Coroner’s report with a fine-tooth comb. About the death of a child the same age as my daughter. Her mother kills her slowly, but quite thoroughly in the end.

She kills her slowly enough that people are wondering now how that happened. When you read the details, I mean really read them and re-read them, you see a lot of unraveling and the mother knows, she knows she’s unraveling. She asks her daughter to cover up the unraveling with her in more and more ludicrous ways. Most children killed by parents die before they develop the power of speech. But this daughter, who can speak and therefore reflect back what she sees in you, tries, reasons but also colludes. She is protecting her mother the way a mother is supposed to protect a child. Children do.

I distill the findings into something concise and lifeless for a report.

While driving home from the coast my own daughter starts reading aloud to her little brother and me from The Pinballs by Betsy Byars. It’s a young adult novel about children in foster care and I read it when I was about her age. Listening to her, I gasp. I forgot how sad this story is, I say. My daughter pauses thoughtfully and agrees before saying it is one of her favourite books.

When I arrive one night he is in a candlelit bath drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and wearing his dead father’s rosary beads around his neck. Even with tears in his eyes he can laugh. You look like something out of a film, I say. And I take some photographs.

Get in the bath, he tells me. And when I have pulled off my clothes and am stepping into the water he says to stop covering myself. We’re not young, don’t worry about it. He says it with such softness that for a moment I think I am falling in love. (You’re younger than me, too young, I think secretly). I hope you change me, he whispers in bed with a kiss. I can’t change you, I can only be with you while you change yourself, I reply. I guess, he says.

I read The Culture of the New Capitalism by Richard Sennett, the poem of Relational Self-Portrait by Dean Rader, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Long Division by Kiese Laymon, The End of Eve by Ariel Gore, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and Aftermath by Rachel Cusk again (and again). It goes without saying I recommend every one of these. In a way, I am reading about uncertainty, but then everything is about uncertainty. Eventually I am reading new things.

But I am also still re-reading The Autobiography of Red. It’s a novel written in verse. Everything is a metaphor. It is terribly beautiful and you need to read it slowly and if you have forgotten how to read slowly, as I have, then you simply read it repeatedly. The more you read it the more you realise stories about love affairs are really stories about trials are really stories about dreams and monsters are really stories about self.

We were supposed to be bringing one another stillness, I point out. He promises me he’s very calm. Yes, I say, because you’re the eye of the fucking storm, you might be calm but no-one else around you ever is. He likes that and we both laugh. But he has a shadow self. It’s appearance is even more alarming to him than it is to me. The kindness, the openness, the intuitiveness and most of all, the fearlessness are gone.

His sense of self crumbles. He tries to argue with me about things I don’t recognise. It’s his past, not mine, and so I lack the bitterness towards it that he is seeking. I return home in a panic. Safe inside my own house I suddenly feel like I am reassembling. Enough, I decide.

Out of the gate.

And off for a walk.

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