Bluemilk’s 10 questions about feminist motherhood
Posted January 30, 2011on:
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.