Andie over at Blue Milk has a set of 10 questions about what it is like to be a feminist mother. I only just found this list today, along with a whole archive of other mothers' (and a few fathers') replies. It's some pretty interesting reading, and I'm gonna explore the questions myself and try to answer them. Beware: this is long and rambly and probably makes little sense, but I fear that if I wait and give myself more time to make my answers more polished I'll end up never posting this. So, here goes.
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?
I'm not sure how to describe my feminism in a single sentence... a big part of it is wanting to liberate women and men from the rigid gender norms and stereotypes dictated by the patriarchy. Also, to borrow Flavia Dzodan's infamous phrase, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.
I can't remember when I first heard of "feminism" or the word "feminist" but I have identified with the label for as long as I have been aware of it... certainly since my teens, long before becoming a mother. I never understood why I wouldn't want to call myself a feminist, because of course I believed in women being equal to men. It seemed like a no-brainer.
2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
How effing tired I am all the time? I felt like I knew what I was getting myself into when I had kids-- I babysat a ton in my teen years, I had loads of experience with kids. But nothing prepares you for what it's like to be responsible for the life of a tiny human being, to have them be so dependent on you. It is incredible and terrifying. Sometimes the weight of that responsibility can feel like it might just crush you. But it is also wonderful and amazing. My boys have taught me that I have a strength and resilience I never dreamed I had.
3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
Back in my teens and a large part of my 20s I called myself a feminist but I didn't spend much time thinking about it. I thought of feminist activism as being mainly about things like supporting pro-choice legislation.
Over the past few years I've learned much more about feminism and sexism (mostly thanks to twitter). I've become aware of how systemic sexism is in our culture and society, how it can hide behind seemingly innocuous practices. I have also become much more aware of the problematic history of the feminist movement, the way it has promoted the issues and concerns of white, middle/upper class, straight, cisgender women, and often excluded or even silenced anyone else. I have learned a lot about how sexism often intersects with racism, classism, and transsexism (and likely other -isms I am not yet aware of). I am constantly working on making my feminism more inclusive, on trying to rectify these injustices, on trying to amplify the voices of those who have been marginalized and help them be heard so we can all uplift each other together, without throwing anyone under the bus.
I've always been pro-choice but before being a mother I only really thought about that in terms of access to birth control, and someone who was accidentally pregnant and needed the freedom to make the choice not to be. Then thinking about my own pregnancy and birth I realized that there's a flip side to being pro-choice-- about pregnant people needing autonomy not just over things like birth control and the choice to carry a pregnancy to term, but also having autonomy over the decisions made in pregnancy and childbirth. I realized how important it is for people to have the right to refuse certain prenatal tests or treatment if they don't want them, or to make their own informed decisions on how to birth their babies (whether that be at home with a midwife or in a hospital with an OB, or whatever other options inbetween). That if our battle cry is going to be "Trust Women" then we need to trust women, even if their decisions are different from what we agree with.
Also, being a mother to two boys has opened my eyes to how rigid gender norms negatively affect boys as well as girls, to the messages they already receive about what it means to be a Boy and a Man.
4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
One of my biggest goals as a mother is to raise my boys as feminists. There are so many messages about men and women all around us, in our tv shows, our magazine covers, the way our toy aisles are divided, etc etc etc. These messages are so cleverly masked and so pervasive that we don't even notice them, they just seep into our subconscious. I have had so many "OH MY GOD" moments when I suddenly really started paying attention to something that I'd had completely taken for granted, and realized how sexist it really was. One of my goals is to make my kids aware of these things from the beginning. For example, we've had many discussions before about how many shows will have a cast of almost all male characters, with maybe one lone female. I'm also really big on consent. I want them to grow up always knowing how important consent is, for everything from tickle games to wrestling to, one day, dating.
I actively work against stereotypes, against the idea that there are certain things that are "for boys only" or "for girls only." As they grow up I want them to feel secure in knowing they don't have to fit any sort of a "macho" ideal. They can play with trucks in the mud and wear pink flowery boots while they do so. Etc.
Also, and I realize this may sound pompous or whatever, but I have two boys who will most likely grow up to have just about every privilege they could (white, middle-class or higher, good looking, presumably straight, presumably cisgender, etc). I want them to be aware of how they are and will be treated differently because of these things, to be aware of the systemic injustices still very much in practice today, and to use their status to break down the barriers that hold others down. Don't ask me how I plan to do all this because I don't feel like I have any clue what I am doing, but I'm working on it.
5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Oooooh boy yes. I've written about a few times when I've felt like an utter failure of a feminist parent. Mostly though I just feel like I don't know what I'm doing, or how to talk about certain things. Like how to talk to my 6 yr old about all the images he sees of sexy, skinny, scantily-clad women, just on things like magazine covers in the grocery store check-out aisle or painted on the side of a trash can while walking down a sidewalk. I hate those moments when I don't know how to address something in the moment, and so I don't, and that silence feels like complying with the standard norms. And, there's the fear that comes from knowing that ultimately I can't control what my kids think or what their values will be. But I have faith, and I'm just trying to do what I can to help guide them along.
6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
Yep. Sometimes you feel like a killjoy. Sometimes it feels like you're fighting a losing battle against a giant tide. Sometimes you just wanna enjoy the show your kids love so much, without that feminist critique running through your head.
7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I think that is only anti-feminist if the only one doing the sacrificing is the mother. I think parenting requires sacrifice. And yes, it's hard as hell, but it's also necessary and really damn important work. I think sometimes feminist discussions about mothering make the same mistake as the patriarchy, in devaluing caretaking simply because it has historically been "women's work." This view (devaluing caring of children) also feels kind of unfair and disrespectful to children as a whole.
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?
He's basically on the same page as me regarding gender norms and giving our boys the freedom to break from them. There are aspects of my feminism that are more radical than his own views... But although we fall into the traditional roles of breadwinner husband and SAHM wife, he has always viewed our partnership as one of equals. I think our division of household chores is probably about 50/50, although it has fluctuated wildly over the years depending on our situation-- Zach did almost all the household chores during the first year or so after each of the boys' births, and we've gone through other periods like his first year of business school when he was so busy and gone from the house so much that most of the housework fell to me. It's constantly evolving and changing.
That said, when I read this dad's response I did recognize what he describes as an involuntary tilting of power in the relationship towards the father. In our case, this is partially inevitable since we depend on Zach's income and thus his career takes precedence. I don't know what to say about that, other than being aware of it and pondering how to adjust it.
9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
My parenting is fairly AP-esque. I do feel it is important to try to meet my kids' needs as much as possible. But I also feel strongly that my own needs are important, too, and that they need to be balanced along with theirs. I can't effectively meet their needs if I am completely frazzled and at the end of my rope. Also, many of the "AP" things we did, we did because they made life easier for all of us (eg- breastfeeding, babywearing).
I want my kids to know they can count on me for unconditional love and affection, that I will do everything I can to be here for them when they need me. I also want them to see me respecting and loving myself enough to take time for myself, do fun things just for me, or even just sometimes telling them Mommy needs a few minutes of silence and solitude on a difficult afternoon and they will have to entertain themselves for a bit.
10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
Oof, this is hard to answer. Feminism has done so much to empower women and mothers. It has also often looked down on those of us who choose to be at home with our children over a paid career. Feminism has given us more opportunities than we have ever had, and in some ways has raised the expectations and pressure on women to even higher levels. Most importantly, though, we still have a long way to go, but I am confident that feminism can get us there...eventually.