Thursday, April 28, 2011

Am I a feminist mother?

This is my thoughtful face.

I've recently started reading the blue milk blog, and it has been interesting to me.  I find that I do not wholly agree with some of the feminist economics I've read from the author, or from some of the commenters - specifically, I'm not sure that paying stay-at-home mothers (in actual money) is a sustainable, realistic prospect.  Do I think care-giving is undervalued?  Oh gosh yes.  A thousand times yes.

In any case, she has an ongoing project of sorts, in the form of ten questions for feminist mothers.  I thought I'd answer them.  For whatever it might be worth (which is probably very little).  It seems a good exercise in teasing out my own thoughts and values in this realm.  This should be considered a starting point of sorts for me.  Incidentally, feminism - is it "crunchy?"  Is it in keeping with my supposed blog premise at all?  See, I really should never try and make myself color within the lines...

I feel like I should make a disclaimer here, before I start answering these questions:  I don't officially know anything about feminism.  I have never taken a women's studies class.  I have never read a text on the subject of feminism, except in the area of feminist art (which I guess counts, to at least a small extent).

So without further ado....

1.  How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

(In one sentence?!?)  I'll go with I think I might be a feminist mother because I see so many ways in which women and especially mothers are getting screwed, and I'm a little (or maybe a lot) angry about it.  

I might not be a feminist mother because, honestly, I'm not sure I could actually say out loud, "I'm a feminist mother" with a straight face.  It seems....loaded.  Loaded with stuff I don't identify with.

I suppose I've always been a feminist in that it never occurred to me I couldn't do anything that males could do except, perhaps, lift the heaviest of weights and other physiologic differences.  I think my first real foray into feminist thinking was when, in college, I started reading up on women and heart disease as I (rather accidentally) started a non-profit in memory of my mother.  I discovered that more women than men die each year of heart disease, yet it is still often missed by doctors who believe men to be at greater risk.  There are many issues in the medical arena where I see inequalities of sorts.  Granted, some of it is because of legitimate ethical issues (for example, testing on women who might be or become pregnant). On male/female medical stuff, this also seems applicable.  Not to mention the whole medical vs. not-medical argument over birth, which makes my head spin.

As I've moved into marriage and motherhood I see more and more where women (and specifically mothers) are the scapegoats of society.  There are a lot of ways in which our society (and government) say we're important, and then turn around and are not supportive of that important work, but sabotage it.  And we're often not trusted with our own bodies and our own children (which leads to more sabotage).

2.  What has surprised you most about motherhood?

Everything about motherhood is surprising! How difficult breastfeeding is.  Currently I'm pretty shocked over the difficulty of mothering my 3-year-old.  I'm surprised every day that my 7-month-old impresses me, even though he's meeting the same old milestones his brother met (but with his own timeline and flare).  I'm surprised at what I care about - my concerns have widened in that I to keep up with global happenings much more (is this motherhood, the internet, or the changing world?), but they've also become more focused and thoughtful on things like food and clothes and language.  I'm surprised by people's attitudes toward children, babies, and mothers in some public places.  I'm surprised by how often I feel I have to choose my words carefully - both with my older child and with other mothers.

3.  How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

Becoming the mother of two boys, I have given (am still giving) a lot of thought to my role (and, of course, their father's) in their worldview and particularly in how they will view and treat women.  They are future fathers, future partners, future bosses and voters;  I contemplate their future their perception of the differences and similarities between men and women, and the disparities in our treatment economically, socially, culturally, etc (and this includes the fact that fathers' roles in their children's lives are often not valued as highly as mothers' - women are not the only ones who suffer).  I suppose the greatest impact of motherhood on my feminism is that I see my mothering acts as an opportunity to change our culture (but boy does that sound like I view my children as some sort of political tool - definitely not the case!  In actuality, this sense of a larger responsibility than simply keeping them alive and teaching them basic things is another thing to add to my list of ingredients in Motherhood Surprise).

4.  What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I think I touched on this in my answer to question 3, but I guess the main difference is simply that I consider this stuff; I think about it a lot.  When I think of long-term choices/goals/impacts as their mother,  I currently have a sense that the way my sons treat girls and women is going to be a large part of my feelings of success or failure.  The fact that I am able to consider this stuff at all, though, makes me take a step back and appreciate where I - as a middle class, educated, white, American woman - am also quite lucky and privileged.  Again with that widened global perspective - I did not die in childbirth and I am not really too worried that my children are going to die of disease or starvation.  I don't, personally, have to confront a whole lot of issues that are detrimental to mothers (domestically or elsewhere).

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

The only example I can think of is one I've related to a few other mothers recently.  I took Bean shopping for sandals, and found myself very resistant to allowing "girl" sandals as an option.  I didn't really care if he wore pink sparkly sandals.  I just didn't want to have to explain them to anyone, or deal with any potential teasing of my child.  It seemed like it would have been a statement from me if my son wore such sandals, even though I wouldn't have pushed them on him. 

I guess I feel I compromise between not wanting my children to be ridiculed (I can take it now, but I was severely teased as a child and I hope my children will avoid that.  This is also why I will probably no longer talk on my blog about Bean's breastfeeding.) and fully expressing my opinions, values, and feelings on various topics.

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

Generally speaking, I don't actually identify as a feminist mother.  I also don't identify with a political party or religion, or even with attachment parenting for the same sorts of reasons.  

I don't really want to declare myself a feminist or feminist mother because I am not comfortable committing myself to a set of beliefs or values as a whole.  I will take up, hold dearly, and defend values individually....and I think I am at least "mostly" a feminist.  (Again, I haven't done a ton of academic reading on feminism, and I'm aware there are different varieties/waves/values...but I don't want to commit to something so amorphous).

7.  Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

Well there's a good question.  I haven't reconciled the sacrifice with much of anything except not losing my marbles.  And the way I accomplish that is being married to a guy who is an amazing father and partner, and who has been known to tell me to just go away and enjoy myself.  (Ok, a few of my marbles are missing.  Several of them are scattered throughout the house and begging to be tripped on.)

8.  If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

I think it just gives my husband more stuff to think about and discuss.  He is an academic to his core.  He loves to discuss.  And he is a pro at dissecting arguments and figuring out if they actually make sense or have value.

Feminist and motherhood issues are a new common ground for us and something we discuss with some frequency.  He may have given up on giving me a full explanation of his current philosophical research, but issues of politics, feminism, motherhood, fatherhood, marriage, and general parenting are something he will happily engage in discussion over.

9.  If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I think this is another conflict/challenge I avoid by not feeling like I have to check the "attachment parent" box.  I do end up fitting pretty much any definition of an attachment parent.  It's not because I follow a set of instructions, though.  It's just the way I end up parenting.  So I guess there is no conflict or challenge for me, except that one of not losing my marbles.

10.  Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

If ever I find the time to answer this completely, it's going to have to be in several blog entries.  I mean, this question could be the basis of an entire blog!

(Oh but hey!  Here's an update an hour later!)

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