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What Does A Feminist Mother Look Like? Part 3

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 1 here and Part 2 here. 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.

Dear John, I Love Jane: A Book Review

Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women is a collection of love stories. Most beautiful, some sad, they are in many ways like any love stories – except before the authors found love with women, they had lived with (and often loved) men.

DearJohnCover 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.

Growing Up with Domestic Violence: Patrick Stewart and Me

I got a fundraising e-mail from Amnesty International the other day. It was from a celebrity, as so many non-profit fundraising e-mails are. But this one really made me stop and look. It was from actor Patrick Stewart and it was about supporting Amnesty International’s campaign concerning violence against women. He wrote:

I know too much about violence against women – as a child I watched in terror as my mother was abused by an angry and unhappy man who could not control his emotions, nor his hands.


Amnesty was instrumental in the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 – signed into law by President Obama in July. This law begins to reverse the alarming rate of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women. Survivors of sexual assault finally stand a real chance of getting a police response, a rape kit and the opportunity to see their case prosecuted.

Amnesty is also a driving force behind the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which aims to revolutionize the way U.S. foreign policy confronts abuses like domestic violence, rape, honor killings and human trafficking worldwide. If passed, IVAWA will support measures to prevent violence, protect survivors and bring perpetrators to justice.

I knew this about Amnesty International but I didn’t know this about Patrick Stewart. So I did some research and came across this powerful video.

As someone who grew up in a home much like Stewart’s, a good bit of this resonates with me. The first time I dialed 911, I was ten years old. I watched in fury as one police officer after another refused to arrest my step-father. He was walked around the block. He was believed when he said my mother open wounds were the result of a fall. Not only was my step-father never sanctioned in any way for beating my mother, no police officer ever called an ambulance or offered to help her get medical care. As a ten, eleven, twelve year old, it was my job to mop up the blood. And there was a lot of blood. Night after night.

The neighbors knew, of course, but no one helped. I was never even offered a safe place to stay for the night as we waiting in fear for my step-father to bang on the door.

As an adult, when I was Litigation Coordinator at the Women Against Abuse Legal Center in Philadelphia in the early 1990s, I found that not much had changed since I argued with New York City police officers in the 1970s. My clients were accused of provoking the men who broke their arms. My clients lost their children to protective services because there was violence in the home but I could not get protective orders enforced that would keep abusers out of the home. And one day I got a call from a priest who ran an in-patient drug rehab program. He wanted to talk to me about a man in his facility. The man was distraught to discover his wife had filed for a protective order against him. The priest told me he thought the man was a good man. That he wasn’t dangerous. That I should help him resolve this without going to court. He put the man on the phone weeping bitterly about losing his family and never having hit her. I told them when the next court date was and that he could make his arguments there. The priest thought me heartless.

Indeed I did make a huge mistake that day. A fatal mistake. I did not confirm whether the man was free to leave the facility if he wanted. If I had known, I would have called the client immediately to report the conversation. I would have, and should have, warned her. But I didn’t. And within a few hours of that phone call, the man left rehab, went home, and stabbed his wife twelve times in front of their two toddlers. I will live forever knowing that maybe, just maybe, I could have saved her life.

The violence I and Patrick Stewart saw as a child, and that I saw as a lawyer, continues today. The law has changed significantly in most places in the U.S. but enforcement is still woefully inadequate. Women who defend themselves end up going to prison while their abusers are still walked around the block.

Domestic violence often increases during the holiday season. Families are stressed. And during an economic depression, conditions are even worse and escape is even more difficult. This is also a time for giving. So I am giving to one of my favorite non-profits: The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women. This organization provides support for women imprisoned for defending themselves against abusive partners.

Please give. If not to the National Clearinghouse, find a local battered woman’s shelter and give generously.

Has domestic violence touched your life? Is ending violence against women something you are working on? How has your experience of violence against women changed your life?

NY State Senator Diane Savino Tells It Like It Is On Marriage – Gay or Straight

I was very sad but not all that surprised when the New York State Senate voted down a marriage equality bill on December 2nd. As I have written here before, I am not a romantic about marriage and view this issue as a straightforward equal protection question. Take a look at this clip of New York State Senator Diane Savino arguing in favor of the failed bill by speaking truthfully about what marriage really means today. I applaud it and her.

If you have never been to New York, belt yourself in before watching this video – you are about to see the mannerisms and hear the accent and passion I grew up with. It makes me wistful but also deeply ashamed that the core value I was taught – that everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law – was betrayed in that senate vote. How can gay marriage still have no protection in the land of Stonewall?

ADDENDUM: I did a bit of research on Savino, never having heard of her before this debate. Finding she represents Staten Island, I shook my head. I have always considered Staten Island a mystery borough never having known anyone who actually lived there. It has a zoo. The ferry goes there and then comes back. With some further research I found what I suspected: Savino is, like me, from Queens. As my mate tells anyone who will listen, be very afraid of women from Queens.

Marriage Equality In Ireland

With thanks to @thecurvature, I bring you an extraordinary video by an organization called Marriage Equality, an Irish organization working to support civil marriage for gay and lesbian people.

More Laughter About the Fear of Gay Marriage

While I am finishing up a blog post on the recent run on rants by middle class white women from New York about why breastfeeding is an anti-feminist plot to keep women down, I am taking a break for some more humor about the fear of gay marriage. An organization called the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is running television advertisements full of actors playing plain old folks who list the dire risks to their normal lives if gay people are allowed to marry. I saw a bit about it on The Rachel Maddow Show and then, in a very poor choice of ad buy, the NOM ad ran in a paid spot.

For some giggles, here is a satire of the NOM ads. Yes, it contains obscenity. And, yes, it is going to offend some people.

If you want to see the National Organization for Marriage ad I saw, it is here. I enjoyed the LEGO version much more.

Divorcing Gay Couples in California

I am not a huge fan of marriage.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am not romantic about it.  It could be my family history – a long line of divorces stretching back to my great-grandparents.  It could be my understanding as a lawyer and an educated feminist that the legal history of marriage has been fraught with sexism – marriage has been a legal mechanism to deny women rights to property, to their children, and even to their bodies.  I was already a lawyer when state criminal laws were changed to allow rape charges to be brought against husbands – it is that recently that a woman was deemed to have consented to sexual intercourse simply by virtue of being married to the man who forced her to have sex.

But then in the late ’80’s I began working with The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. The sudden death of so many gay men left many long time mates with no rights to the homes they lived in, to the bank accounts they had helped fill, to make critical medical decisions for the people they loved and with whom they had lived their lives.  I saw families that had long disowned their gay children step in and strip grieving survivors of property.  People were barred from the funerals of men who were their husbands in every way but under the law.

Marriage means different things to different people. It has religious significance to many.  It is a public statement of love, commitment, and an intention to be together forever.  Legally, it creates entitlement to property and the right to be “next of kin” with all the power that brings.  Why any two people get married is none of my business.  I get to decide whether I will marry and consider the implication of that decision on me, my property, and my children.  I can’t fathom why anyone would think he or she has the right to make that decision for anyone else.

But, on March 5, 2009, the California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on who gets to make this decision in California. In case you’ve been napping, at issue is the legality of same-sex marriage in that state and of Proposition 8, an attempt to amend the state constitution to define marriage as only possible between a man and a woman.  More precisely the legal questions are:

(1) Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?
(2) Does Proposition 8 violate the separation-of-powers doctrine under the California Constitution?
(3) If Proposition 8 is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?

In the worst case outcome, the effect of the California Supreme Court’s decision could be to “divorce” the 18,000 same-sex couples who married prior to the passage of Proposition 8 and prevent other same-sex couples from marrying.  The legal briefs and some official summaries of the cases can be found here.

Keeping in mind that I am not romantic about marriage, that I think who people love and have kids with and how people dispose of their property is just plain none of my business, take a look at this video made by the Courage Campaign. It moved me to want to fight even harder to ensure that everyone has the right to marry, and stay married, to the people they love.

“Fidelity”: Don’t Divorce… from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

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