10 Feminist motherhood questions revisited

I blogged my response to the bluemilk feminist motherhood questions last year in early April. 

I’m revisiting now. I haven’t changed my answer to the first question, all others are new.

Original post here.

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 to me means acknowledging that society is built around a male template for personhood, and insisting that this must change. I’ve always been a feminist – my main introduction to feminism was the centenary of women’s suffrage when I was 6 (I was obsessed with the suffragettes). My mother is a feminist and so were most of my female role models growing up.

What has surprised you most about motherhood?

The level of kinship I feel with other mothers I meet. Partly because if I meet a mother, I automatically assume that this right here is an awesome awesome person who has done and continues to do something amazing with her life. But also, y’know, people who can relate to experiences like “for lunch I had avocado on toast. It wasn’t guacamole, it was purée the baby rejected”

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

It’s gotten angrier and also more inclusive and intersectional. The angriness is largely a result of feeling, as a mother, like I’m part of a group that is taken advantage of in our world. The inclusivity is a matter of reading around more and educating myself on issues that I struggled to relate to when I first came across them. Possibly there is a connection: the way the experiences of motherhood are silence and sidelined may have prompted me to be more aware of other experience that are even more silenced. 

What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I stand by my previous statement that I think a lot of mothers do feminist work without really waving a feminist flag. But I also think that the flag waving is important. Feminist mothers need to really work towards addressing the structural issues like lack of extended paid parental leave and early childcare subsidies that make women financially vulnerable. And all the other stuff. There’s a lot of feminist stuff that affects mothers more than others.  

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

I think I went in to motherhood not sure what being a feminist mother would look like for me in 2014 and beyond, so I’m not sure whether I’ve compromised my ideal or not! At times I’ve felt held hostage to my love for the little dude, and I’ve felt a tension between wanting to share the parenting as equally as possible but also sorta wanting to feel like “I got this, me and baby, we’re a good team” – especially when my husband was working long hours and so wasn’t around as much. It’s a tricky one. 

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

Nope. But probably people presume lawyer+woman+baby=feminist mother. 

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

I think maybe I read this wrong last year. It’s not that motherhood requires sacrifices ( as in plural, discrete sacrifices), it’s that being a mother is itself an enormous sacrifice of your future autonomy and your sense of being the centre of your own life. I have found that being a mother means I automatically go to put the little dude first, and putting myself ahead requires conscious effort. I don’t think this is at odds with feminism per se, I do think it is at odds with a individualistic conception of feminism; but also that it is a phenomenon feminism needs to take into account in our conversations about motherhood and work and society and female advancement and our image of what the feminist utopia would look like. For example, what sort of sacrifice does motherhood actually require in the abstract vs in this particular place and time? A lot of the sacrifices I have made, I feel I should not be called to make. Mothers should not be in a position where 85% of our awake time is spent in either paid or unpaid work. But that’s pretty much my reality. 

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

It’s been an interesting year on this front. I think it’s enormously problematic that it is so hard to combine parenting and paid work. In terms of our relationship, and in terms of feminist relationships generally, I suppose I’m increasingly skeptical that you can have equality when there is long-term differentiation of caregiving and income earning roles. 

When I first went back to paid work, my husband took three week’s leave, and I think that was very helpful just as a little window into what life was like for me last year. I’ve also found that going back to the office has really helped me relate to how he experienced last year. I used to find it monstrous that he would get home late and say “I was in the swing of things at work and I had this thing I wanted to get done and just wasn’t thinking about home and didn’t think an extra half hour would be such a big deal!”. I would respond “How can you possibly forget?! Half an hour is an eternity when you are alone with a baby! Half and hour in his day is a huge chunk of his awake time!”, etc. Then there were some days when I first returned to the office and I had the exact same experience, and so I got to creche half an hour later… and on those days, I could see in my baby’s face that I had pushed him too far and I remembered “shit, half an hour, actually a long time for him!”. 

I also think we have to be careful to bear in mind that if we consider as feminists that the caring sphere has long been undervalued and is actually really important, then the exclusion of men from that sphere is a feminist issue and we need to work to enable their inclusion.  We need to acknowledge that it is really hard on them that they are expected to go out and earn the money and not feel sad if they don’t make it home in time for bedtime because they’re big manly men who don’t have feelings. This leads back though to the perennial issues of working conditions that accommodate family responsibilities…

We’re all up against a capitalist superstructure that makes it extremely difficult to have two people in a partnership equally combining work and childcare. This also means that I think those of us with husbands who, while imperfect, at least call themselves feminists, need to remember that this battle for equality has many fronts. Even if my husband doesn’t do the dishes as often as I do, I hope that the things he does in the office will help contribute to change – things like trying harder and harder to push back against the expectations of long working hours. 

A final point, I also realised being back at work, how much I was facilitating him having a good relationship with his son and enabling him to work longer hours last year. I would do things like bring the little dude in to work in lunchtime so that it didn’t matter so much if he missed bedtime, and on the weekend I’d do housework while my husband took the little dude to the park. Not great from the standpoint of equality. But you do what you have to.

If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I will answer this not in relation to attachment parenting generally, but just in relation to the one part of it that I fully adopted: breastfeeding. 

Breastfeeding meant that there were things that only I could do. It meant that I didn’t leave the little dude for long periods basically until I went back to work. It made it easier for me to slip into “no no it’s ok, I’ll deal with the baby” mode. This did pose a challenge for equal parenting, absolutely. I’m not sure yet how I feel about this. Perhaps the bigger challenge is how feminism should approach the prospect that some mothers, in that first year especially, feel like they don’t want to spend much time apart from their babies. 

How does this approach align with feminism?

To my mind, the key is that individualistic feminism doesn’t really work for mothers. Humans are not a solitary species. We evolved to live in groups, and if mothers and babies weren’t left alone together so much, many of these tensions wouldn’t arise. Ironically, whenever we were on holiday I didn’t feel pinned down by breastfeeding – I felt like it was really affirming that there was this special little pause in the day where I would connect with my baby. It was only a problem when I’d had a long week and then the weekend rolled round and I felt like the overload of baby time during the week made me want to just have some time away from him, ah shit please I need it I’m going loopy. And then that time apart was scheduled around feeding needs. Which felt like a limitation. But it sucked anyway that the weekend was the only time I could have time to myself, so I don’t want to blame breastfeeding. Especially because I never really bothered expressing because I figured there was no point as I had so little scope to have someone else look after him!  

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

Feminism hasn’t failed mothers; we’re just not there yet. There is so much work to do.