Being a feminist mother
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?
Feminism is about choice. I don’t remember becoming a feminist. I think it was a natural outgrowth of two things: my general outrage over things that aren’t fair (which I’ve had since childhood); and my luck in being surrounded by incredibly strong women that showed me first hand that women are strong and capable and in no way inferior to men. My grandparents raised me, and my grandfather especially believed in equal rights for all and lived his life accordingly.
2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
The physical attachment between my son and I – how our bodies fit together, how he loves (still, at 6) to almost nuzzle up against me and how being next to me is often his favorite place to be. I never experienced this as a child. I was never close emotionally or physically to my mother.
3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
I used to think that feminism meant women lived their lives exactly like men. Now I realize it’s about woman having the ability to choose what path their lives will take. In this way its harder for me to separate feminism from stance on socio-economic issues because woman can’t have choices without access to resources, just as women aren’t the only people without this access.
Another big change is my stance on abortion, which occurred in my 20s. I was raised Catholic, so this was a big moral shift for me.
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 don’t know if I can point to a set of characteristics that make my mothering feminist, but I think the fact that I push my son to look beyond traditional gender “assignments” (for a better word) is an example. I.e., I argue with him about the existence of boy and girl colors, likes, and dislikes. One example is for years he claimed that girls like things that are pretty, while boys like things that are cool. This came up a lot in day to day conversation and I always challenged him and I think eventually changed his mind. Another example is how boys and girls traditionally appear. For a long time he really thought that his aunt, who is a lesbian, was a boy. We’ve talked a lot about how people can choose their appearances and how one isn’t “locked in” because of gender.
5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Compromised? No, not really. Failed? Maybe – we should probably be talking about these issues more.
6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
Honestly, I think being a mother is difficult in so many ways, some of which may or may not go back to feminism. Many of our choices, instead of being personal, are scrutinized and judged. AND, I think we all on occasion do the same thing – which I guess could be seen as failing at feminism.
7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I think being a responsible human being can often involve sacrifice – I don’t see this or motherhood in opposition with being a feminist.
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?
I lost my job last year and in many ways, found it to be an opportunity to change how being a working mother impacts me and my family. I’ve gone from being the clear breadwinner with benefits to working part time and as a contractor. This has meant a huge change in how we think and live as a family and because he knows how the traditional 9-5 work schedule has made me miserable since my son was born, my husband is willing work through this. OF COURSE, we’re lucky that we’re allowed to be married and that my husband has benefits. Because of his profession (chef) this meant making a choice a long time ago to sacrifice stability for money.
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 am an attachment parenting mother (ish, probably, by some people’s standards) and I think this is where the real clarity came for me regarding the fact that feminism is about choices. I always assumed that I would be a working mother. This is due to a number of reasons: the “men and women are the SAME” attitude that I’ve outgrown; the fact that it’s what I observed growing up; and because of financial necessity. What I could not imagine is the anguish going back to work caused me. Leaving my son at 8 weeks old left me emotionally and physically bereft. I’d sit in my office at lunch, pumping and crying. Every day off that I spent with my son, I cried because I knew I would have to go back to work. Breastfeeding became a do or die situation for me because it was the one thing that I alone could provide for my son, regardless of whether I was with him all day or not. It was so awful, and not having any choices re: working part time, working from home, etc., being tied to my job in part because of benefits, it made me realize that mothering and how we choose to mother are FEMINIST choices. The choice to breastfeed, the choice to stay home or work – these are choices that are not valued by our society and therefore, the women making the choices are not valued. We’ve only just begun to address this issue as mothers and feminists.
Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
Yes, initially. Rather than freeing women from the bonds of motherhood, we need to accept that, for many people, motherhood is part and parcel of being a woman and that feminism’s charge is to ensure that women get to choose HOW they will mother. To me, in part, feminism is about pushing back – about stepping up and speaking up. I think my generation of mothers has been empowered by feminism to speak up and say, hey, this isn’t the way it needs to be.