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Archive for the ‘single parenthood’ Category

This goes in some interesting and very unexpected directions… breastfeeding, single parenting and the gendered expectations of sacrifice and care work.

From “Selma Blair: I’ll lose everything, I’ll go to court, I’ll be on the right side of history” by Sophie Heawood in The Guardian. 

“I was about 34. And I thought, maybe that’s right, I’ve never loved somebody unconditionally – I’ve been in love, I’ve been in lust, I’ve been crazy about someone, but I’ve never really still… no. It rang true.” This was after her two-year marriage to Frank Zappa’s son Ahmet had ended. “And then my son had some health issues and he really needed the breast milk, so that really was my job. I thought: ‘Aaaah, I guess I can die now, I got him through that!’ But I depleted myself, too, and I’m still recovering. I still have to remind myself that my own body needs healthier fats than fried food.”

She recently bought the film rights to a novel she loved, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, which is about a woman who has been caring for her sick mother for years, but one day just gets in her car and drives, only to end up in a mysterious town where nothing grows and everything has been lost and discarded from elsewhere. “It was so simple, but also metaphysical and magic. It really lifted a veil in my mind. There are so many women to play, so much room for them.” So she wrote the proposal and is now pitching it, with her as producer and possibly as the lead. She has no other work lined up “and it feels like my only salvation. I had to do this.”

But then she started talking to men in meetings about it. “They just sit like lumps, going: ‘I don’t want to like this character because she left her mother.’ Well, one, she left her mother for a drive, and two, you can’t like a woman who’s broken her back to take care of other people her whole life? You’re not gonna follow this heroine?

“Once I had my child, I realised how unfair life has been for women. When you deal with potential custody issues, which we ended up not having, but you look into it and realise this is all geared towards men now, and the court systems usually loathe single mothers. I thought, I do not have this fight in me, I don’t know how to deal with this. We’re too powerful, so we dim our shine to get through stuff. I didn’t even realise until people started speaking up how really kind of… furious… we should be allowed to be.”

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Much of the darkness stems from the cultural and economic quicksand in which Bridgette Bird (Shaw) finds herself: As a would-be hookup says to her late in the first episode, “You’re living in a small room with a 2-year-old.” Working as a part-time nanny while going on acting auditions—all while trying to raise her young child, Larry—the show follows her efforts to simply keep her little family afloat, even as she makes bad decisions, acts impulsively, and tries to renew some semblance of a sex life.

While the episodes are distinctly carved up according to various misadventures (Bridgette is stuck at work while her child needs a clinic visit, Bridgette scrambles for cash to pay overdue rent), much of the ongoing narrative unfolds like an earnest indie film, inserting abrupt character backstories and plot complications at a sporadic pace. We gradually learn that Bridgette struggles with an eating disorder, that she has nannied for the same cluelessly bourgeois family (led by a reliably great Connie Britton) for years, that she has talent as an actor. But a big part of her identity is bound up with the feeling that she’s stuck, too. After being encouraged to start a vision board by a wealthier acquaintance who assures her it will help “actualize” her dreams into reality, she asks to borrow magazines, tape, scissors—then quietly adds, “I’m gonna need a dream, too.” By the end of the third episode, the strange admixture of lacerating humor and downbeat drama has gelled into something more potent and politically savvy than the sex-centric first episode might suggest.

From “SMILF is a good show with a horrible title” by Alex McLevy in AV Club. 

I really liked this series. It captured lots about the single motherhood experience – the suffocating combinations of financial and time poverty; the lack of adult space; the penalties for sexuality; the cost of childcare ‘help’ from family; the vulnerability to judgement for your parenting; the intense intimacy between mother and child.

It’s not perfect, and it’s quite dark, but I think it is probably the best series about mothering while poor since Roseanne

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More wonderful Ariel Gore from Rumpus:

I had my son at thirty-seven after having my daughter at nineteen, and I was partnered, although queer and not married so, again, not exactly getting invitations to the mom-party, but this time I was established as a writer. I’d been supporting my family as a writer and teacher and editor for years. I owned a little house. It was a hustle, but I had a level of stability I didn’t dream of when Maia was a baby.

And of course life is also a lot easier when people aren’t constantly making remarks about how your child should be taken away from you and put in an orphanage. No one has ever said that to me about my son. And I’m the same parent. I’m actually a worse parent now because I’m tired and my back hurts.

Rumpus: Ah, that gets to what I was probably asking with that previous question: when is very young motherhood a boon? What are the various factors that can stymie our creative growth and survival?

Gore: I’m all for young motherhood. The only problems were socially constructed. At nineteen, I was as ready to start my family as I’d ever be. I was as physically healthy as I’d ever be. I was getting gayer by the minute, so my biological clock had been ticking since age sixteen.

I wasn’t invited to the mom party or any other party, so I got to write. My first stories, like everyone’s, were just practice and experiment, so the baby wasn’t getting in the way of anything I didn’t have a sense of humor about.

Early motherhood didn’t ruin my life. I just did everything all at once—writer/mother/grown-up. I’m still clawing to dig myself out of the hole, but it’s good dirt and I have no regrets.

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Sometimes I think my whole life has been an embodiment of the conflict between art and motherhood, but by letting the two coexist entwined, I live in peace.

The conflict exists in me, just like it does in everyone, but I refuse to make a choice between art and motherhood. I reject the all-sacrificing martyr-mother archetype and I reject the selfish male artist archetype.

In Western culture, the social role of the mother is as the keeper of the family secrets. The social role of the writer is as the teller of the family secrets. So when you’re both, it goes against the whole social order. We have very little celebrated history for the combination of the two because if our grandmothers tried that shit in a lot of contexts they would have had their children taken away from them, and if their grandmothers tried that shit they were burned at the stake.

Part of the problem expressed in those essays you mention might be having a husband. I’ve never had one, so I don’t know anything about that firsthand, but it does seem that the women I’ve read and heard recently exploring the mother/writer conflict in these terms have not just partners, but specifically husbands. From where I’m standing I can see that straight, married women face an intense pressure to suddenly go super mainstream when they have kids. Like, Okay, mama, enough art for youIt’s going to be all carpool and Superman cakes all the time now. But if you read Maya Angelou or Diane DiPrima, their experience of this issue was very different. Not easier, but very different. So we do have that model—a tradition for at least a couple of generations—for the single mother as bohemian artist/writer. And I think even married moms can take a look at that model and find some inspiration and some tools there. You can keep the husband if you like, but maybe all the adults have to be willing to go against the social order.

In the Kim Brooks piece you mention, she quotes her friend saying, “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.” And I understand that sentiment—but that doesn’t resonate with me at this point in my life. My family has always been targeted for harassment because it’s a nontraditional family, and of course it’s my job to protect my kids from that harassment to the extent that I can, but it would be a fantasy to think that I could shield them from all the bigotry and injustice that a creative life becomes the counterpoint to.

It’s always a mistake to give up art for safety except in short-term, emergency situations where self-preservation has to take priority. We can’t give up art for safety longterm. And we’re not doing out kids any favors if we try.

It does make you wonder if part of progressives’ extreme resistance to early motherhood is that they do believe, deep down, that once a woman has children, she can’t do her own work anymore, shouldn’t have her own life anymore. It’s a place where feminism hasn’t won out over internalized notions that the Family Values people were right—that a mother being herself is a mother being selfish, that our children will suffer if we’re whole and complicated people. And of course I reject that.

For me, the answer is to reinvent motherhood, not just to delay enslavement to it. The answer is to reinvent art, too, so that we’re not just trying to squeeze our complicated experience into the oppressor’s format in hopes of the oppressor’s praise.

From Ariel Gore in an interview in The Rumpus with Zoe Zolbrod.

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Layered on top of Ariel’s narrative are the complex themes of violence and shame. Both are constantly experienced by Ariel, as they act externally on her body—by virtue of unfair welfare policies, a bitter mother, closing institutional doors and the occasional confrontation with the father of her child—and manifest as internalized beliefs on what is “normal.” Towards the novel’s opening, Ariel lists out her woman-shames of the physical body and connects them to what that body produces and experiences: art, sexuality, children, debt, success and failure. After witnessing a male doctor sharply slap the newly-born Maia to hear her first cry, Ariel becomes unrelenting in her commitment to breaking the cycle of shame and violence—to living in defiance of that list.

However, all this is complicated by Gore’s commitment to characters as complicated, fully-fleshed people—both inflicting judgement on Ariel while also offering flashes of support and understanding. The grandmother that is embarrassed for Ariel’s situation is also the family member that loves her best. The flighty ex-girlfriend that visits Ariel also leaves condescending poetry. Ariel is a dedicated mother who chain-smokes around her daughter.

From Sara Gregory’s review of Ariel Gore’s new book, We Were Witches in Ms.

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I was a life drawing model for Amelia Draws and she painted this beautiful watercolour.

One of the things I enjoy about Amelia’s work, apart form her eye, is also seeing her discuss her life as an artist alongside it –  the single parenting, blending families, feminist parenting and day jobs.  This is my favourite piece of hers.

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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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