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Bluemilk’s 10 questions about feminist motherhood

Posted on: January 30, 2011

I’ve mentioned this before, but I love bluemilk. She has something intelligent to say about almost everything.

I was looking through some of bluemilk’s archived posts, and I found this list of 10 questions she wrote back in 2007. The questions inspired me to think more deeply about how my feminism and my motherhood interrelate. So here are my responses:

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 have always strongly believed that everyone deserves to be treated fairly, regardless of their gender, race, religion, ability, and socio-economic status. My feminism has developed from this belief – I suppose gender is the one category where I fall into the ‘underdog’ role (which is lucky for me, because many don’t tick any of the supposed ‘right’ boxes in life).

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?

How utterly exhausting it is. How much love I have in me. How monotonous it can sometimes be. How it has isolated me from many of my friends, because I had children earlier than they did. How frustrating I am finding dealing with my toddler and preschooler – I seemed to have this never-ending fountain of patience for them when they were babies, but now it is gone and I really, really need it back. How proud I am of them, I want to show them off all the time.

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

I have only recently started to identify as a ‘feminist’, but my ideals have always been the same. I think motherhood has made me take this step because I realised that, possibly for the first time ever, I am expected to do much more than my share. The thanklessness and invisibility of motherhood really strikes me. I don’t know how many times I’ve encountered the “What do you know, you’re just a mother,” look, and I feel it is exaggerated by the fact that I’m a (relatively) young mother with three children under the age of four. It’s so frustrating – sometimes I feel like wearing my degree stapled to my forehead!

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 have a boy two girls, and in some ways this makes feminist parenting easier for me, but in other ways it makes it more difficult!

On the easier side:

–  We have a wide variety of toys for them to play with. My kids, when they are in a ‘cooperative play’ kind of mood, will go from playing cars and trains together, then to dolls, then to dress-ups, then back to trains, to shopping, to building towers, to reading books, then back to trains… When they play alone they tend to gravitate towards the more ‘typical’ activities for their gender, but the options are there. I hope they will always be able to play these games, because I know that things may change as they grow older and they begin to be more influenced by their peers.

–  Because I have children of both genders, I am more aware of what influences my expectations of them. Do I expect more/less of my son because he is a boy, because of his age, or because of his personality? I think this kind of thinking will become more and more important as they grow.

On the more difficult side:

–  The gifts that friends and family give us tend to be very gender-specific, and I feel this is exaggerated because we have children of both genders (although, perhaps parents of children who are all of the same gender also experience this?) I even find myself falling into this trap quite frequently.

–  Some people tend to speak differently to my son than they do to my daughters, using different words to describe their appearance/toys/artworks/whatever; “Wow, that’s cool”, for my son as opposed to “Oh, isn’t that pretty?” for my daughter. Again, I feel this is exaggerated because they are of different genders, and again, I do it myself sometimes, too, but I do try to use both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ adjectives for everyone.

I think what makes my parenting feminist is that I am always questioning the messages that we are sending our kids. I am striving to model balanced gender-roles to my children (where possible – we are, after all, a nuclear family in which my husband does most of the paid work and I do most of the domestic work), in order to give them opportunities to discover who they are, free from the constraints that society wants to impose.

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

I feel I’ve failed when: I look at all the pink things in my daughter’s bedroom, and in her wardrobe! How did I let this happen?; when I hear my son say, “I don’t want to wear that hat, it’s for girls.”; when I don’t pull people up for inappropriate comments, such as “Woo woo, sexy!” to describe a new outfit one of my kids are wearing (I hate this equally when applied to either my son or my daughters – children are not sexy).

I am going to rectify the pink problem, buy more gender-neutral clothes for all my children, and speak up next time someone says something really inappropriate.

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

I sometimes find it difficult to explain my parenting choices to close relatives who are not like-minded. They seem to think I am overreacting, or looking for problems where they don’t exist. I can’t change the way others act towards my children, but I can provide a balance.

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

The sacrifices I feel most keenly are ‘me’ time, time with my husband, close relationships with friends, and my career (for now). A lot of the time, my children’s needs come before mine, especially while they are all so young. I reconcile my sacrifices with my feminism by making sure I do put time aside for myself whenever I am able to, and by trying to remember that these sacrifices are temporary – my children won’t be this needy forever. It does help that my husband has also made sacrifices on his free time, social activities and opportunities for further study, too.

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?

While my partner is not a feminist (he has problems with the ‘feminist’ label), he believes, as I do, in equality for all. He is very supportive of my beliefs, and of my parenting style. He understands my need for personal space and time away from the kids on a regular basis. Our main points of contention seem to be about domestic duties and who should do what – each of us believes that we are more tired and deserving of a break than the other. We have discussed whether we could ever viably swap roles for a time (he stay home while I work), and the reality is that it just wouldn’t work – he gets paid way more than I, and he is at a breakthrough point in his career right now. However, if it were possible, I think he would be willing to try it out, which makes me feel that he sees value in what I do.

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 don’t actually identify as an attachment parenting mother, but I have incorporated some aspects of attachment parenting into my mothering. Each of my babies were breastfed for at least twelve months; spent many hours being worn (in slings or baby carriers), or being carried around in my arms; and spent many hours in my bed (when I fell asleep during night feeds and woke up hours later to find them still feeding away!). All of these practices came naturally to me, and didn’t challenge my feminism as they were simply the easiest way to settle / occupy a baby so that I could sleep / get things done.

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

I don’t feel that feminism has failed mothers. Personally, it has given me the courage to speak up about, and be proud of, the important job I am doing in raising my children. It has legitimised my feelings about the ridiculous expectations placed on mothers, and how parents are held solely responsible for the way our children ‘turn out’. It has given me a platform from which to try and raise my children to be themselves, regardless of the stereotypes, and to question the gender roles that are dictated to them.

7 Responses to "Bluemilk’s 10 questions about feminist motherhood"

Hi Anna,
I have read a bit of your blog. I really like it, and enjoy your thoughtfulness, honesty, and stories.

Unlike Tom I always used to call myself a feminist. But actually over time I’ve moved away from the term. I actually think so called ‘equality’ has been bad for men and women. I prefer to call myself ‘complementarian’. As in, we complement each other. This means that I actually acknowledge that there are gender differences- psychological, physical etc. I think that culture certainly defines gender (eg pink vs blue; cars vs dolls). Perhaps in a limiting way. But maybe we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Maybe this is not all bad. That acknowledging and celebrating difference could be a good thing.

I actually think the biggest problem in gender relations is men. But I don’t think the answer is for women to man-up! Or for men to become chickified! Or to treat boys and girls as if they were naturally the same. They are not. Equal- in worth- but certainly not the same.

I think the answer to many of the the social problems that feminism seeks to answer is for men to man-up! We’ve got a problem with men who don’t take responsibility, who live like big kids all their life in video game world, or at the pub, or indeed at work sacrificing their children and wives to their idols of success, prestige etc. Sometimes so called ‘equality’ has meant that women pick up the slack for bad, school-boy, lazy-ass men!What we need is courageous, self-sacrificing men, who don’t slump into the couch when they get home, but who take a few deep breaths and then get on with giving their all to their families. (On this, a very useful practical step towards achieving this is for the home to be a place where one feels rested- and also ‘couch time’- a 20 minute cuppa with the wife, to reconnect, re-energise, talk over the day- before getting into the next bout! Not to say there wont be days of exhaustion and falling flat on the couch for a nap. But a deliberate effort!)

I certainly believe in equal pay for equal work, in not limiting people to specific gender-defined roles. But at the same time, there is a reality that I find hard to resist- that we are actually different, created for different roles, designed to be complementary to each other.

Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to read some of my blog, and for writing such a well thought-out comment. I like your ‘take a few deep breaths’ analogy – I sometimes have to do this several times just to make it through the day. Nicely put.
I agree with most of your points, actually. My position on the differences between men/women and boys/girls is that there certainly are some major ones (I don’t think anyone can deny that), and that our biological differences surely account for some variations in how boys/girls, men/women learn, think and behave. However, I do also believe that the role society plays in nurturing these differences goes beyond the pink vs. blue / dolls vs. cars thing. For example, I don’t think there is really any biological reason why all women should be more suited to caring/nurturing types of roles, while all men should be more suited to physical/scientific types of roles, but these are typically the roles you will find each gender in, in the workforce. Even though much has been done to break down these gender barriers so that more women are becoming doctors and studying science, while more men are becoming teachers and nurses, there are still many areas that are dominated by one gender or other. I actually think this is more a problem for boys now than for girls, as girls have much more freedom to choose an area that interests them, while boys who choose floristry, dance, hairdressing, etc. will risk their ‘manhood’. The fact that the male-dominated professions also tend to be the better-paid ones goes to show how we ‘value’ those professions more. I think this is one of the ways that our society stifles individuality, based on these rigid gender roles, especially for boys.
In terms of child-rearing, obviously women have a bigger role to play initially, since they are the ones to carry the baby, give birth, and breastfeed (if they so choose). But I would argue that a man could do an equally good job of caring for a baby or young child, if he were so inclined. I think how nurturing/loving/affectionate one is comes down to personality rather than gender.
As you have already suggested, the answer is not in making women more ‘manly’, or men more ‘chicky’. Indeed, there is much that men, as individuals, can do to ‘man up’ and take responsibility for contributing in the home. However, I think society as a whole needs to place a higher value on caring roles in general, and child-rearing in particular, if men are ever really going to participate equally.

Great points Anna- and very true. Just for the record I agree, especially with regard to the ridiculous cultural nonsense in some circles that suggests men can’t be tender hearted and gentle while maintaining their ‘masculinity’. I’d say that the most secure men are those who are free to be kind and caring without wondering if someone will think they are less ‘manly’.

Well how boring, we agree! Although it’s very refreshing to agree with a man on these issues, thanks again for your comments 🙂

I am not one to general have a ‘point of view’ as often I simply can’t make up my mind…both arguments often seem completely valid, which lends me to agreeing with whoever I am speaking to at the time! Also, I have difficutly expressing myself correctly, but here we go…

This issue often catches my attention…I have always thought of myself as a feminist…or as I think of it, as an ‘equalist’. Why can’t I have what he’s having? Society is just not fair to women sometimes. This has always bugged me immensley (all the issues you and Richard have discussed above) but has lessened since I had a child, where I have started to see that sometimes its just the way the cookie crumbles (I dislike that expression but its effective).

I remember years ago when facebook first started and I posed a question along the lines of “will women ever be equal to men”? And a certain good old music teacher replied that it will probably never be equal so long as its women who have the babies. This really got me thinking at the time, and now since being inducted into the ‘family’ society I tend to agree. There are just some things that work easier/better in the supposed ‘sexist’ old ways. women have the babies and (in my case) breastfeed which obviously is impossible for men to do. Its hard to describe, but it just seems the natural thing for me to the main nuturer of our child for all the follows on from this ( all all the other typical ‘women’s’ business. My husband and I discussed housework issues and as I am home more it does make sense that I do more of the house work….yes there were (and still are) many occasions where caring for my son is all I can do and everything else falls aside. Thats when hubby steps in and does help (well most of the time). The same goes for the challenging time of childrearing…eg night time settling etc. It just tends to equal out with us…maybe I am just lucky but it seems to work for us most of the time.

Not sure i have really sorted my thoughts out on this one (come on fiona can’t you think of a better example to illustrate your point?!?) but what I am trying to say is….sometimes not living under the feminist ideal can be good (compared to my previous thinking that I MUST BE EQUAL TO MEN!!). I guess I used to always think anti-feminism must equal bad, but there have been some great things I just accept….eg I get to stay at home with my beautiful boy for the whole first year, breastfeeding was a unique experience completely between my son and I, I get to run the house/shopping MY way, I get to choose what to have for dinner, I get to meet with an awesome group of mothers each week and chat/gossip (stereotypical I know, but I like it!), and sometimes it just feels right that this is what I was meant to do.

On an aside, motherhood has made me think that we shouldn’t be doing this on our own…I think there is a lot to be said for the ‘tribal village’ lifestyle where childrearing is shared by the tribe – sometimes it is just to much for one person/couple!! But thats another discussion…

Thanks Fi – you subscribed! My first ever subscriber 🙂

You know, I think you are exactly where I was at about three years ago (with only 1 child). It didn’t really bother me so much back then that I was doing most of the parenting and most of the housework too. Maybe it’s a simple case of my workload being much less back then, compared to now (not trying to say that one child is easy, but certainly easi-er). I’m just finding that I have no time or energy for all of the other things that go with running the house (apart from kids), and am feeling resentful of the fact that I seem to be the only one expected to do that stuff.

Like you, I love that I got to be the one to stay at home and breastfeed each of my babies, and for me, it was the natural thing to do. I wouldn’t have relinquished that vital bonding time for anything or anyone! But, not all women see it that way, and those women are entitled to make whatever choice feels right to them.

I guess where my attitude has changed a little is what happens when they aren’t babies anymore… I thought I would want to be there full-time for at least the first five years, but I am starting to realise that what I really need is balance. I need time away from them, doing something productive (that pays), in order to get a sense of ‘myself’ back. What I really wish is that our society was more flexible so that Tom could have the opportunity to step in a couple of days per week while I worked. That way, the kids are still with a parent, and are getting more time with their Dad, while he gets to share in more of the ups and downs of parenting (and housework!). I think the workplace is geared all wrong – men should be able to spend more time with their kids!

And I totally, totally agree with you on the tribal village thing. This is just too big a job to do alone, or even as a pair. We are so lucky to have Tom’s parents so close by, but they have their own jobs and social lives, too, so can’t be available all of the time. Again, our society has it all wrong! We need to be able to take a breather every now and then, or have someone else step in and help with discipline, or baby-settling, or whatever, when it all gets too much.

Can we start our own village???

PS Anna, did you know that bluemilk posted your post on her blog?! You’re now a famous international writer!

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