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.
West Virginia is one of only three U.S. states (along with Nebraska and Idaho) that has no law whatsoever protecting breastfeeding. So I was glad to read that this month not one but two bills were introduced in the West Virginia Senate concerning breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, one of the bills could result in a law that helps breastfeeding mothers and the other … well, not so much.
Senate Bill Number 82, a public breastfeeding bill, needs some work. The bill has a "note" attached to it that is not actually part of the law. It states:
The purpose of this bill is to declare a child's right to nurse and making a statement by the Legislature that nursing in a public place is socially acceptable.
I know this looks good (other than the awkward wording and visceral response I have to a statement that nursing in public is "socially acceptable" – just makes me want to scream "I don't give a damn if it is socially acceptable!"). Breastfeeding advocates love the idea of a child having a right to nurse. I love it too but it is problematic. Why? Because adults have protected civil rights in the U.S. and children, generally speaking, do not. So the U.S. legal system as it is renders the note empty.
But remember, this is not actually part of what the law would say if it passes. What the law would say is:
ARTICLE 1. STATE PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM.
§16-1-19. Child's right to nurse; location where permitted; right protected.
(a) The Legislature finds that breast feeding is an important, basic act of nurturing that is protected in the interests of maternal and child health.
(b) A mother may breast feed a child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be.
Again, looks good right? But if you have read my other writing on the practical impact of public breastfeeding law, you will know what is wrong with this bill. If a store owner tells a woman she must leave because he doesn't allow breastfeeding in his store or says only women who cover up can breastfeed, what can the mother legally do? Nothing. This bill contains no mechanism to enforce any "right," either of a child or of the mother. And, repeat after me, "a right without a remedy is no right at all."
So what can you do if you are in West Virginia? Have a look at this interview with state Senator Dan Foster, one of the sponsors of both of these bills. He gets it. He understands the importance of breastfeeding, both the health benefits and the economic benefits to the state.
According to this report, Foster anticipates having more difficulty getting the public breastfeeding bill passed than the bill disqualifying breastfeeding women from jury duty. The news report also erroneously states that women would be given a choice of pump accommodations on jury duty. That is actually not in the bill and should be.
So if you are in West Virginia, contact state Senator Dan Foster and tell him what you think of these bills. Let him know similar public breastfeeding laws in other states leave women unprotected because they have no enforcement mechanism. If he says he doesn't think he can get such a bill passed, pledge your support for a strong law protecting a civil right to breastfeed in public. Tell him you are willing to make phone calls to other state Senators and help him get a strong bill passed.
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.
We extend our sincere apologies to any passenger who may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience during the screening process.
So is this directed at Stacey Armato whose video is being discussed or just airline passengers generally? And if they are talking about Armato, are they saying she may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience? Are we really in doubt on this point?
Well, actually maybe not. The TSA Blog's "Blogger Bob" also writes:
We acknowledge this particular passenger experienced an out of the ordinary delay, and have worked with our officers to ensure we proceed with expediency in screening situations similar to this.
So the TSA acknowledges something happened that should not have happened. And what do they tell us about what happened to the agents involved?
After the investigation, the officers received refresher training for the visual inspection of breast milk (an infrequently requested procedure).
Really?? How about a refresher course on retaliation and false imprisonment?
There is something Blogger Bob writes that may raises some questions for those of you who have read my previous posts about Stacey Armato's visit to the TSA plastic detention booth in Arizona here and here. And that is:
TSA investigated the matter and sent a letter of apology to the passenger in March of this year. The passenger has flown since these events occurred and has provided TSA a written confirmation that she no longer experiences issues.
Armato has said she did not receive an apology, that she continued to see the same crew at the same gate as she made her weekly flight back from Phoenix to L.A., and she is in the process of filing a lawsuit against the TSA for the damages she suffered on February 1st when she was detained. So what does she have to say about the TSA response to her video? Hang in there. Armato's response will be posted here shortly.
Please feel free to leave a comment at The TSA Blog with your feelings about the TSA response to the video in which Armato is detained for asking her pumped breast milk go through "alternate" screening.
And leave a comment here with your thoughts. How do you feel about the TSA response posted on its blog?
Was a "refresher" enough? Should there have been a more severe sanction for the TSA staff? How do you feel about how the TSA is responding to the complaints of flyers?
Take note also that in The TSA Blog post about Armato, there is a link which we are encouraged to use to share our experiences with the TSA. I filed a formal complaint with the TSA on November 22nd after my teenage sons were separated from me without warning while going through a TSA security checkpoint at Logan Airport in Boston. Other than an acknowledgment that my complaint was received, I have received nothing from the TSA in response to my complaint.
So why is the TSA encouraging people to communicate with it if it does not respond meaningfully to complaints?
[UPDATE: Within seconds of publishing this post, I received an email from TSA customer service in Boston restating my complaint and apologizing for any "discomfort." I have replied asking again some more specific questions concerning TSA policy on screening families traveling together. Another post coming on that point.]
According to Armato's complaint filed with the TSA concerning what happened when she presented her pumped breast milk for screening at the Phoenix airport on February 1st:
All the same TSA parties were present from the week before surrounded [stet] me . I was demanding an explanation and wanted to speak with the manager but was refused. I was told to be quiet and do as I was told or I wasn’t going anywhere. I felt like a caged animal, stared at by multiple TSA agents and other travelers. After 15 or 20 minutes, my anger turned to tears. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt harassed, degraded, violated, falsely imprisoned, and retaliated against.
Finally, three Phoenix police department officers came. One … came in to tell me that I needed to calm down or TSA could have me arrested. He instructed me to go through alternate gates for security on my following trips because they seemed to have it out for me. He said these TSA agents saw me coming, remembered me from the week before, and wanted me to play along with their ‘horse and pony’ show or they would have me arrested.
Armato alleges as well:
The incident on February 1, 2010, was an obvious retaliation against me for lodging a complaint with the TSA the previous week. It is absolutely unforgiveable that these TSA agents would hold me like a caged animal in an apparent act to “teach me a lesson.” The TSA agents knowingly, and willfully, disregarded their own rules and regulations. I was placed in a glass enclosure, in full view of all the other passengers. I was continuously yelled at, talked down to, and threatened with arrest if I did not adhere to the TSA agents’ demands. The TSA agents, as well as the TSA itself as employers of these individuals, is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, battery, assault, trespass to chattel, false imprisonment, and civil harassment, among other causes of action
While news agencies have reported receiving a statement from the TSA claiming that Armato accepted its apology concerning the incident, Armato maintains she has received no apology.
Amato's story and the TSA video of her detention has gotten a great deal of press. Has the TSA's treatment of Armato changed your plans for travel? How do you think you might behave if you were in Armato's position?
Sustainable Mothering will continue to present the latest on this case, as well as other incidents involving the TSA that impact parents. Stay tuned.
My 16 year old son just sent me this YouTube video (it's long so I am placing it at the end of the post). It is a serious plea from Lady Gaga to call your Senator and ask him or her to ask for repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy. Specifically:
Working with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Lady Gaga has been bringing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and the hardship it causes, to the attention of young people a lot lately. She appeared at the Video Music Awards with a guard of servicemembers who have been discharged or resigned from the military because of DADT. One of them was a young woman who recently resigned from West Point and is interviewed here by Rachel Maddow.
I have never had to explain the injustice of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or any other anti-gay policy to my son. I have had to explain that such bigotry exists because he couldn't understand it. Gay and lesbian people have always been a part of his life. He knows his mother is bisexual, though that didn't come up until he asked me for help when a friend of his was coming out to his parents. That conversation started with: "Mom, X is coming out to his parents this weekend and I told him he could stay here if his parents throw him out." My son makes me very very proud.
When my son was 12, a much larger kid in the neighborhood was making remarks my son found offensive. When my son called the kid homophobic, the kid threatened to hit him. There were a few lessons that came out of that incident – lessons I learned myself as a kid. First, you can get beaten up for having a larger vocabulary than bigger kids. The homophobic kid didn't know what "homophobic" meant and thought he was being called "homosexual." Second, pick your battles because sometimes you can get your ass kicked for standing up for what you believe in. My son told me it was something he was willing to get his ass kicked over – fighting homophobia is that important to him.
But should your kids be learning political activism from Lady Gaga? Well, my hope is that my kids learn lessons about political activism from a wide variety of sources, though it starts with me. If Lady Gaga were taking a political position with which my son disagreed, I would be hearing about that – though critically. My son sent me this video because he supports Lady Gaga's efforts. And so do I.
Do you talk to your kids about LGBT issues? What do you think they are learning from their friends? How do you feel about pop figures teaching your kids about politics?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org." 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?
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.
Sustainable Mothering is a blog, an idea, a goal, a journey. We will discuss and examine how the many acts of mothering must be supported and embraced by culture and society. It is not about mothers condemning each other. It is about freedom and educated choice – true choice which only exists in an environment with options.
When I became a mother nearly fifteen years ago, I knew nothing about mothering. I knew stereotypes about motherhood. Some women stayed home with their children. They were women without imagination, without goals for themselves, without income or independence. Other women had children and returned to their productive lives in the real world. I didn't actually know mothers of either variety. I didn't know mothers at all really. None of my friends had children. Most of my clients had children – people in crisis whose lives I did not want. I didn't even particularly like children. At the age of 31, I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to have a child after a lifetime of certainty that I didn't want any.
In this blog I will write about my exploration of the difference between motherhood and mothering, what I left behind when I made the mommy morph, the bigotry and ignorance I encountered when I attempted to enter the world as a woman with a child, and I want to hear the thoughts of others on all of this and more. So far the mommy wars has led to more war – it sets women against each other who might be working together to fight the sexism underlying any statement that a decision about my mothering should be made by anyone other than me. Mothers must live in the public world so the acts of mothering must be done in full view of the world when the mother chooses and needs. Forcing women to be isolated in their homes, to give up the work they love, to leave their children behind, to live in fear, to starve, to be dependent on the whims of the more powerful – none of these allow mothers to be healthy or participate in society or raise daughters who want to be mothers or raise sons able to shape fathering. So – onward to blogging.