Blue milk, a few weeks ago, asked all her readers to answer some questions about feminism and motherhood. It’s taken me a while, because some of these are questions I’ve never really thought deeply about before.
How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
My favourite description of feminism is Rebecca West’s, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” I became a feminist very young for fairly competitive reasons. I was always very good at maths, at school, and became aware, very early, that many people thought that girls were not good at maths. I chose to solve that cognitive dissonance by becoming a feminist rather than by hiding my mathematical ability from myself, and the world (helped by my mother and grandmothers all also being good at maths).
What has surprised you most about motherhood? How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
Before I became a mother, I was quite intolerant (in retrospect) of stay-at-home mothers, thinking that it was a bit of a waste to “just” stay at home (I’d like to think politely, and only to myself, but I’m sure it leaked out). I was also very in favour of equal parenting, and dads playing a totally equally role in their childrens’ lives. Now our household is one in which I am the breadwinner, working outside the home, and my husband has a supplementary part-time job, but mostly looks after the children. I have much more respect for the role of the stay-at-home parent, and I am even more convinced that apart from the early breastfeeding stages, dads can be just as good at any aspect of parenting as mothers.
What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
I’m transparently pleased whenever my boys do something that subverts the dominant gender paradigm (HungryBoy led a movement at his preschool for boys to be able to dress up as fairies when it was time to play with the dress-up box, a story I have proudly told to quite a few people), but I sometimes wonder if I would be a more overtly feminist mother to a girl. Feminist mainly impacts on my parenting in my attempts to avoid obvious gender stereotypes. It’s helped that in our circle of friends most household tasks are done by mothers or fathers in different families.
Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
I’ve sheltered my boys from the world of gender stereotypes, but when I read this powerful post from a mother imagining her conversation with her boys about rape, and privilege, I wondered whether I was doing enough to teach my boys about the nastiness of the real world, and how to become the boys I want to be proud of. Are we doing enough? How do we make respect for all women and men something that they feel to be the core of their being?
Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
No, I don’t think motherhood has changed my identification as a feminist.
Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
Parenting involves sacrifice. Mothers and fathers have somewhat different roles in that, particularly at the beginning, but it seems completely compatible with feminism, to me.
If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
My partner is at least as much of a feminist as me. Except he gently discourages too much pink or dressing up as fairies where he thinks the boys might get teased, while I’m inclined to encourage it.
If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
I’m not. I quite wanted to be, before Chatterboy was born, but he slept much better without someone close to him. I was quite disappointed at the time.
Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
I think at times feminists, (not feminism) have tried to wish away motherhood as a major factor in women’s lives, and rather treated motherhood as a problem to be solved. That’s particularly been the case when focusing on getting equality in the public sphere. Children have been an issue that involves fixing childcare, rather than necessarily working out how the world of work can change to acknowledge the whole lives of people. But compared with pretty much any other social movement I can think of feminism has done a much better job than most other social movements of considering the totality of people’s lives, rather than just the world of work. The personal is political, after all.