Continuing (belatedly) the series in which I answer the ten questions posted at Blue Milk concerning what a feminist mother looks like. Today is Part 3. You can see Part 1here and Part 2here. Since Blue Milk's post went up in 2007 and I have answered the questions over two years, my answers may be a bit skewed. See something inconsistent or that make you go "huh??," ask me about it. This is always on my mind.
9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
This has forced me to do more difficult intellectual work concerning theories of difference. I hope I would have come to this place anyway but exclusive and extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing mean that my relationship with my children is different from their father's who can not breastfeed and with whom they wish to do less of all of these other things. The acts of attachment parenting have made me look at what equality means and redefine it in a more nuanced way. "Equal" does not mean "exactly the same." One can not measure the work of two parents as one might flour on a scale. If the other parent of my children were also female and were also breastfeeding, perhaps coming to equity would be a simpler task.
Also, Second Wave Feminism assumes my equality depends on my ability to earn the same wage as men. It does not value parenting as it does waged labor. I don't think this devaluing of unwaged work is feminist. It is capitalist and feminism does not need to be capitalist. True equality and true feminism values my unwaged parenting as it would my waged lawyering.
10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given
Feminism has given mothers more than I could possibly list. It has given mothers the legal right totheir children. Prior to feminism, under common law men owned children and had the right to dictate what happened to them. "Father's Rights Movement" rhetoric aside, they don't have a clue how good they had it. Feminism gave mothers the vote. Feminism gave mother legal recourse if they are raped by their husbands. Feminism gave mothers greater ability to force the fathers of their children to provide financial support even if the mother is not married to the father.
In the inspired introduction, editors Candace Walsh and Laura Andre talk about what makes the women in this collection different from those in the few previous works by women who found female partners later in life. Unlike the women in From Wedded Wife to Lesbian Life: Stories of Transformation, and many of my clients at the time I read that book, women who love women are now less likely to lose their children in custody battles, lose their jobs and lose the support of their communities. But sadly some of this loss still occurs and it is in this book. Amanda V. Mead in her essay "This Love is Messy" did lose her public school teaching job in one of the many states that offers no protection from sexual orientation discrimination. A few others lost friends and family. But, more often than not, as Erin Mantz wrote in "Undoing Everything":
And then it happened: nothing. At least, not to my face. Not yet.
Falling in love with a woman at thirty-nine may have turned my life upside down, but the friends and family all around me are still standing.
There is another difference between Dear John, I Love Jane and other "coming out" stories: many of the women were truly happy in their relationships with men. While there is certainly a good bit of reflection about early attraction to women that the authors suppressed or ignored, few of the authors lived actively closeted lives. They may have taken some time to find what they wanted in their lives, but by and large, when they found it, they pursued it. And some, like Veronica Masen in "Watershed," stay with their male mates – not as sexual partners but as parenting partners making a happy family though mom is a lesbian.
This is not a collection only to be read by women who are questioning their sexuality or who have been in relationships with both men and women. These stories are about the journeys of women you know. They are about finding out who you really are in the face of culture and family telling you who you are supposed to be. They are about searching for happiness. They are about being honest with yourself and the people you love. These stories are universal. And they are well-written, filled with experiences that are familiar and positive.
"The Right Fit" by Kami Day is haunting. Raised in a strict and insular Mormon family, Day believed what she was taught about the spiritual necessity of marrying the man who was her destiny. When sex was painful and unpleasant, she and her husband ultimately went to a psychiatrist who taught them about sexuality. While this helped Day find sexual pleasure, her relationship with her husband did not improve. Year after year, child after child, Day endured years of obligatory unpleasant sex in a loveless marriage. One would think this was a very sad story, and to me it is. But in Day's extraordinary essay one sees that in her own assessment of her life, finding your great love when you are forty-four is as wonderful as life can be. She had left a long marriage and the church in which she and her family had lived for generations. But her essay resonates with joy and contentment.
In "Running From the Paper Eye,"Susan White lyrically presents scenes from her life: her mother's rift with her own lesbian sister blamed on the death of an Easter chick; White's toddler self-perception she was a boy as her mother jammed her little body into dresses; the perceptive aunt who questions her decision to marry. In introducing the demise of her marriage, she is lovely and stark:
Wes blamed our divorce on the poison oak. Sure, let the plant take the fall. A natural disaster.
Dear John, I Love Jane is fascinating, enlightening and, finally, hopeful. Not every love affair lasts but, in the end, these women are happy with their lives.
There is a very good post over at Owning Pink – it had me at the title: Want a Raise? Wash Your Vagina. The post is about a full page ad in Women's Day magazine for Summer's Eve Feminine Cleansing Cloths. In that ad (a scan of which is on the blog post), there are 8 tips for asking your boss for a raise, the first of which is to use these cleansing cloths. Yes, the ad suggests you are more likely to get a raise if you "wash" your vagina.
Lissa Rankin of Owning Pink is pissed off and I agree with her. Be prepared, in her post she uses the word "pussy" a lot. With (great) respect to Eve Ensler, I don't use the word "pussy" to describe my vagina. I am not particularly offended by it. I just don't see the need to nickname or euphemise my body parts. I don't have a problem with using or hearing the word vagina and, used to accurately indicate a vagina, it seems entirely sufficient.
But back to the ad. Anyone here ever been sexually harassed at work? I have. A lot. Even after clawing my way through law school and getting hired at a major corporate law firm, I still faced a superior who ogled me, left me inappropriate notes and touched my body at every opportunity. Did he actually smell my vagina before giving me a raise? No. But he certainly made it clear that he wanted to. And the fact that I didn't let him smell my vagina didn't alter how my co-workers treated me since when a superior makes it clear he finds you sexually attractive, co-workers tend to assume you are giving in to his advances. So add social ostracism to fear, despair, humiliation and self-loathing. It was a sad, painful experience and one I don't wish on anyone.
There is a good deal to find offensive in the Summer' Eve ad. Rankin's Owning Pink post does a great job of addressing the whole notion that we need to change the way our vaginas smell. To suggest we do so is sexist AND unhealthy.
But this ad strikes a different nerve of mine. At 25, I graduated from law school at the top of my class, a law review editor, thrilled to be leaving a not-so-nice childhood behind. And I had barely passed the bar before I discovered the world up there with the rich folk wasn't much different from the world I came from. I grew up sleeping with one eye open, waiting to see if some stranger would reach under my sheets in the night. I was often homeless and hungry. My law degree, I was to discover, didn't change things all that much. I had a place to live and food to eat but I still had to endure sexual harassment. It was still all about my vagina. And Summer's Eve thinks it still should be.
Among the comments to Rankin's post is one by a person who says she is the Brand Manager for Summer' Eve. Her name is Angela Bryant and she says: "I want to know what you would like to hear and see from Summer’s Eve, so send me an email at email@example.com." So let her know what you think.
And let me know what you think. Tell me your sexual harassment stories. Do you think things have changed much since the 1980s when I was told nothing could be done and a lawsuit would destroy my career? Can you be valued for your work and not your sex?
Today is the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also known as Women's Equality Day. You probably (hopefully?) know that the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote (okay, theoretically…this was many years before the passage of the Voting Rights Act so in reality we are probably talking about white women who were married to white men who owned property who got the right to vote but let's celebrate anyway, okay?).
But how much to you really know about women's suffrage and the struggle to get the 19th Amendment passed? Here is a video that should help. Watch carefully. There will be a quiz. No really. There will be a quiz.
Okay, now for the quiz. Go to 9 Questions About 90 Years of Suffrage on the MS. magazine blog. Get ready because it is hard. I got a 4 our of 9 which was rated as "just passed" but I am pretty embarrassed.
How much do you know about women's suffrage in the U.S.? How did you do on the quiz? What do you teach your kids about the right to vote in the U.S. – particularly who got it when?
Continuing the series in which I answer the questions posted at Blue Milk (sadly interrupted by my technical difficulties). Today is Part 2. You can see Part 1here.
5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
I don't think so. I wish that my children had seen me out in the world earning more money and that "daddy goes out to work, mommy works at home" didn't seem to translate into "mommy has less power in the world." But I don't think that is me failing – I think that is the society failing me and I try to make sure my children know that.
I hope my kids see that part of being a feminist is engaging in the feminist struggle. They definitely see me struggling. The challenge often is showing my anger without letting my kids think that I am angry at them for being a force that holds me back. I often tell them that how society treats me because I am a mother holds me back and it isn't their fault- but I know there are times they blame themselves. How could they not? It may be in those moments when I can't hide my unhappiness from my children that I am failing as a feminist mother. Or maybe not. I visit this question a lot.
6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
No. I think there are people who don't understand what I mean when I identify as a feminist mother. It is difficult that my political positions as a feminist mother are often dismissed. I am infuriated by the Bill Mahers of the world who deny that motherhood is a political identity as important as any other.
And there are people who think I can't be a feminist if I [fill in the blank]. "You can't be a feminist if you breastfeed on demand." "You can't be a feminist if you let having kids change or limit your career choices." "You can't be a feminist if you homeschool your kids." Well, I can and I am. And … well … fuck you for thinking you can decide whether I am a good enough feminist.
7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
How are sacrifice and feminism difficult to reconcile? Sacrifice is part of life, part of living in society, part of being in human relationships. If my children thought motherhood involved sacrifice but fatherhood didn't, then I would have failed as a feminist mother.
Feminism is not just about women having more or women having as much as white men. It is about fairness and balance. It means that the oppressed have more and that the oppressors have less. There is nothing anti-feminist about sacrifice – feminism requires sacrifice. Feminism is not the right to become the oppressor – it is the elimination of oppression. Switching places with the oppressor, or replacing yourself in the social hierarchy with someone else, is not feminist.
It is anti-feminist if I am the only one sacrificing for my children. Our society needs to recognize that we all need to sacrifice for all children and redistribute obligation accordingly.
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 don't know how he feels. I have always been a feminist and, as far as I know, so has he.
As for impact on him, he works harder on maintaining the household than he would (I guess) were I not a feminist. I believe maintaining the household (cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry) is not part of mothering and that he must do as much of that as I do even if I am home with the kids. If I were not a feminist, I might think I had some biological imperative to do dishes and then he wouldn't have to.
There is more but it is private.
The last two questions in Blue Milk's meme are biggies so I am saving them for a post of their own. Check back for Part 3 in which I will give my take on:
9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
If you are interested in what you are reading, please comment and tell your friends about this blog. I'll try to keep my technological mishaps to a minimum and keep the posts coming.
Tooling around the world of feminist mother blogs, I came upon this post at Blue Milk asking feminist mothers to answer ten questions. I hope she will forgive my coming late to the response dance but I am a newbie playing catch-up. Some of the questions have several parts so there are actually way more than ten questions. I will give my answers to these questions in a series of blog entries. Today is Part 1.
1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence?
The belief that women are people (yeah, I stole that) and that I have a duty to protect everyone's right to be whoever they are as long as they aren't hurting anyone.
When did you become a feminist?
Was it before or after you became a mother?
See above. ;) I meant my birth.
2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
How all-consuming "24/7″ really is.
3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
Motherhood made me more acutely aware of the extent of sex discrimination against mothers. Motherhood pushed me to examine more closely, and finally reject, "equality" as a useful idea. Motherhood forced me to feel in my bones how much I had been able to "pass" as male, despite many many instances of sex discrimination in my schooling and employment.
"Equality" was, I thought, the right to be treated as if I were a white man. I didn't see that such a standard was not okay. As a student, I could envision being "equal" to a white man since I saw myself as behaving and performing like a white man. As a lawyer, I thought I could be "equal" to my male counterparts because my work was the same, if only people did not alter their behavior toward me because I was female. But there is no male pregnant person. There is no male breastfeeding person. Note I use "male" here to mean "a person who appears to be and is believed to be male" and am making no statement about what physical characteristics constitute gender.
What this made me understand, and forces me to constantly examine, is that feminism can not be about equality because there is no such thing as equality. It has to be about fairness, balance, real choices, and humanity. I don't want to be free to be "white man." I want to be free to be whoever I am.
4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
My children know that each of them are different and that nothing about their gender alters the way I treat them. I teach (and show) my children that treating people differently based on gender is wrong. I also, in age appropriate ways, point out sexism to them.
I have to say that this has been much easier than I thought it would be. I was shocked to become the mother of sons (for some reason it never occurred to me that I would have boys). But my boys have never needed any prompting from me to reject the notion that there are boy things and girl things, boy colors and girl colors, boy clothes and girl clothes. They have always been upset when other parents have set limits based on gender. Other parents have rejected them as appropriate playmates for girl children. Other kids have teased them for liking pink. I hate pink but my boys are who they are. All I needed to do was let that happen and support them when other people got in the way.
As they get older, the issues get a bit stickier. I try and find ways to let them know that, while I love them and love being their mother, I made sacrifices I should not have had to make. I am starting to let them know this as they start to form ideas about themselves as fathers. I want them to think about choosing a career and lifestyle that will allow them to spend more time fathering than their own father does. I want them to be sure that the other parent of their children should have more choices than I did.
I don't want to indulge much in stereotypes of non-feminist mothers. I suppose they tell their children that their lives should be defined by gender. I suppose they tolerate harmful and unfair behavior in their kids. I was in a playgroup some years back in which play was divided by the kids into boy play and girl play. It was uncomfortable for me and for my boys, who sometimes wanted to play in mixed groups or with the girls. One day the boys played a "game" that consisted of throwing rocks at the girls. I and my sons were horrified. Two other mothers said, "Oh, boys will be boys. All boys hate girls." When I said that my boys didn't hate girls, they insisted it was because they had no sisters. "If your boys had sisters, they would hate girls too." And I think they are wrong. I told them so. Those were mothers who were not feminists. To my boys, girls are just other people. And my boys would never throw a rock at anyone.