anything about the experience of being a feminist mum...(50 Posts)
....please, would be greatly appreciated right now. Any books, blogs, articles etc etc.
I'm not sure what it is I am looking for exactly - but i've had an odd couple of days where I feel like I've been caught awkardly in a few social situations and been expected to kind of join in with a strange kind of mum-bashing, for want of a better phrase.
That's probably too strong. It's just been a stream of off the cuff stuff about yummy mummies hogging cafes, mums with buggies getting in the way, mums being 'stupid bints' with screamy children - mums being entitled or 'sponging' because they get child benefit. And so on. It's hard because when challenged, I've gotten glib responses like 'oh no, there's nothing sexist about that, it's just the buggies I can't stand....' Which is all very well, but then why call them 'silly cows' or talk about them 'needing a slap' etc. I have heard nothing negative at all about dads in this, btw. Nothing about dads at all in fact.
I've realised I've become more sensitive to all this because I've been feeling quite isolated in some ways since ds was born (nearly 3 years ago). like i don't have a lot in common with people, or am missing a niche. I struggle to work out what my own feelings really are about much of motherhood and career stuff. I'm educated, usually articulate - but I just feel like i don't have the right words to voice it all.
I can't be the only mother like this! I have met irl some brilliant other mums, but only one of them calls themself a feminist, and she moved away last year so we aren't in touch nearly as much.
I found my feminism much easier to understand and express when I was a childless working woman. (I'm still working now, and in a career rather than just a job, iyswim). i also found I had more feminist 'allies' among my friends. i do feel with a couple of friends (who I barely see now anyway) that I somehow let the side down by having a baby at all. I had to sort of pretend it hadn't happened when i was around them. Which wasn't really sustainable.
i guess this is all a longwinded way of saying, I want to read some feminist mum experience because without sounding too self pitying, I would like to feel less alone. Any recommendations of anything welcome.
Don't really know what to say because I'm not sure what you want. We're most of us feminist mums here, so you'll get support and companionship.
FWIW you're not wrong about the mum-bashing just being good old-fashioned sexism. People who claim they've got nothing against mothers, it's just the buggies they can't stand - ask them if they think that would hold up if people said they had nothing against disabled people, it's just the wheelchairs that piss them off. Arseholes.
Oh I've just thought of a good feminist mum blog - Glosswitch. She sometimes writes about "mum" stuff from a fem perspective.
Will try and think of some more.
Have you had a look on Mumsnet bloggers?
Facts and logic are always a good place to start. Mums don't get child benefit. Literally in my house - it's paid to my DH. But it can be paid to either parent.
Mums are also not the only parents with screamy children. Who is making these remarks? Isn't it rude to be casually insulting about mums in front of a mum anyway? Never mind the feminist angle - just bloody poor manners.
No feminist lets the side down by having children. How else do we recruit from the next generation
I'm not sure exactly what I want either.
I think I just want to hear voices and experience more than facts and figures atm. I can get straightforwardly irate about about that (women's earning power dropping for life once they become a mum, etc). I am missing something more personal.
I don't think I am robust enough right now to share much on a forum, in all honesty. I struggle to say what I feel about this anyway, which is part of the problem. Not great reading. I also got burnt on here a few months back - I can't even remember what the thread was, but I posted about my experiences of working with a very small baby (self employed, I got virtually no time off when ds was born), and how hard I had found it. I really got shredded by a forum regular, who didn't want me to talk about my experiences like I did, because I would put other women off working. I tried to say that one of my problems was admitting I found things hard, as a 'strong person and high achiever and all that - but my experience was just written off as melodrama and kind of as my unique failure. I just don't want to do that again (some posters were kinder, to be fair) - I don't think I'm forum-ready. For the personal stuff, anyway.
Yes, all of the anti-mum stuff was rude - some of it was in a kind of 'oh, don't get huffy, we don't mean YOU' way. But it is me, really. FWIW, I did point. that wheelchairs caused the same sort of 'problems' as buggies - and got the 'yeah, but people in wheelchairs can't help being in wheelchairs - mums with buggies should stay out of cafes' etc.
It's all so slippery to deal with. More than once I've responded to some diatribe against mums doing x by saying, look, this is sounding very harsh on women - and got 'I'd say the same if it was a man' response. But they don't, do they! and of course mums are not the only parents... but if I point that out, I get the 'yes, but it WAS a mum with these children...' Because of course most childcare is still done by women.
I haven't checked out mn bloggers though, so will have a look. Also glosswitch.
Thanks for recommendations. More welcome.
I think you have hit the semi-permeable membrane where you can either get new friends, or challenge them on what they say, or let it lie.
I guess in RL most people end up doing a mixture, for a quiet life.
The suggestions on here for reading and networking are really good.
Actually the more you write about them, the more your friends sound really horrible tbh. I definitely think you need new ones, it is very very depressing to be surrounded by people who you feel are subtly (or not so subtly) putting you down and undermining you. It is horrible to talk this way about mothers and it's fucking passive-aggressive to do it in the company of one who herself is still at the stage where her child uses a buggy - so they are basically saying that you should keep out of cafes and not expect to have a social life if you have your child with you. What sort of friend says that? No wonder you're feeling a bit vulnerable, I think you need a bit more support online while you try and find more conducive friends in RL.
I think it's fair to say that a lot of my friends are anti-rascist, anti-homophobia (very) - and don't see feminism as sitting alongside these things at all. Proud liberals but not wanting to see sexism as a problem.
I've also fallen out of step with a couple of childless feminists and lesbian feminists, who previously were much more kindred spirits. I have tried to have conversations about being a working mum, for example, and been told that this just isn't a big deal because we all have stuff we have to fit into our lives, and anyway, mums have always worked so what are women getting worked up about now? (one of my answers was - yes, they might always have WORKED - but they haven't always had CAREERS, which is a whole other kettle of fish)
Yes, I would like to meet more feminist women who are also mums. I am worried (now) about being 'the wrong kind' of feminist, or not seeming strong or definite enough about my experiences and feelings.
I think what it boils down to is that I had quite a simplistic (but perfectly useful) version of feminism before I got pregnant - and now I am struggling to find one that fits. While being entirely convinced at a gut level that my experience IS a feminist issue.
Of course your experience is a feminist issue.
Have just thought of another one: Cherryblossomlife. She's good.
The fact that it is via our children that men have most effectively controlled us throughout the whole of recorded history and that it is that ground (among others) that they are now using to pursue the backlash (F4J et al) should give any of your friends who think of themselves as feminists pause for thought.
Must admit I can't stand women who think they're feminists, who don't have a fucking clue about how motherhood and feminism are inextricably related and pretend that it's no big deal. It's becoming a mother that first brings many women back to feminism, because it's then that they notice that structural sexism is still alive and kicking and not looking like it's going to die any time soon.
Melissa Benn's book on Motherhood is good btw.
Also have you read Kat Banyard's book, The Equality Illusion. It's useful in that it sets out very clearly, why we don't have equality yet - it might help you challenge those idiot liberals who are so emotionally invested in pretending that "we're all equal now".
Thank you for the recs. Yes, the structural sexism has become much more a 'lived' than a theoretical problem since becoming a mother, that's for sure.
I was looking at the Rebecca Asher book 'Shattered' which looks on the right territory.... any thoughts?
I am looking for something personal rather than primarily theoretical - I think that's what I most need right now - I read the Rachel Cusk book and didn't find much that chimed with me at all there, although it was a very personal account. I just think she was depressed, and so it was more a book about depression than motherhood, iyswim (although they may both have been the same thing for her).
Or I suppose you could just tell them to fuck off.
Quite, LineRunner. I think I'd save myself the reading and just tell these awful people to do one.
However, OP, although I think you will find the suggested reading helpful personally, I don't think it will help you articulate your position to these friends of yours. It will undoubtedly be rejected as uppity feminista bullshit. I think if you do want a strategy of dealing with them, zero tolerance is the way forward. Yes, parents with buggies have a choice about whether to go to the cafe. So do people in wheelchairs. If they dislike child-friendly places (and I'm not mad keen myself when I'm out without ds) they can go elsewhere. Keep substituting the word 'mother' for 'parent' - ultimately it sounds like what they object to is parents who stay at home instead of working - as if that has anything in the least to do with them!
I'm not looking for ammo to confront people with - oddly enough I can confront them, but it leaves me feeling so flat and drained afterwards - I want something to help me deal with my own thoughts and experiences. I think to some degree that I have wasted energy in engaging with them at all - and it is stopping me from working out what I truly feel.
I have got into more than a few disagreements with people over mum-related feminist stuff - and each time I have felt isolated and miserable afterwards. Here's a summary -
Lesbian feminist friends (who have tried to have children before and it hasn't happened for them) bitterly disagree that being a working mum is any different from being a working anything. As we all have different demands on our time, mums have always worked so why are women thinking it's any different now, and in any case, there's childcare so what's the problem?
Gay male friends who are very sensitive and politically active about homophobia don't see sexism as really existing - or only in a 'rape in India' way. 'I don't know what YOU'RE complaining about/you think YOU'VE got problems...' is their attitude. I think in some ways they see having children as a kind of aggressive heterosexuality.
Childless friends, male and female. Fine as long as I don't really mention I have a child or discuss any of the difficulties of being a working mum. 'Just get childcare!' again.
just some of the people I have argued with and alienated recently. It's all very well saying 'dump them' - I may not have to be that active, i seem to be shedding friends quite rapidly. the icing on the cake recently was off the back of an argument on facebook (oh, i know, facebook.... but it seemed to me someone was not just mum-bashing but actually mum-baiting about something). after I had posted about attitudes towards mums (we aren't all Jocastas from Hampstead, although even if we were, so what), about people making all sorts of assumptions about you once you were behind a buggy, and how mums got singled out for this but dads didn't, etc etc.... I was already in a very small minority, and then a woman I know very vaguely turned up to post 'Well, I've had 3 sons and never encountered any of this, I think some women are much too sensitive!'
And I gave up at that point.
Other mums I know - they come in lots of different flavours! and actually I really like that. One encouraging thing I cling on to is that there do seem to be different ways to skin a cat... I know one woman who is a sahm with 2 v young children who intends to go back to work at some point, quite a few who are working part time/compressed hours - a few freelancers like me who just sort of seem to busk it through various arrangements -
BUT that said, there are a few depressingly common themes. It is the mum who seems to make the most adjustments in her life, not the man. All the women who have remained very career focused are adamant that the only way to do it is full time childcare from a very young age (why can't the dad compromise here?) and basically, everyone is so defensive of their own choices that it is really, really hard to have a kind of general conversation about it all.
I'm overstating it a bit - there are a couple of mums who I can have fairly informed discussions with (though one has now moved to another town) - but I often feel afterwards like we have only talked about certainties where what I more often feel are doubts.
Maybe what I need is just a bloody counsellor, tbh. So I can fumble my way through all of this without being part of some combative debate that's wearing me out.
Is it attitudes to arrangements and workloads that hack you off? Or attitudes to the ingrained structures?
I too get very annoyed with the 'Just get childcare' brigade. (Single parent here, not by choice.) But I've found trying to tackle things at the core of the problem really therapeutic. The great thing about MN is you can come on here and tell it to government ministers on webchats, or take part in surveys, or have proper debates and discussions.
It's becoming a mother that first brings many women back to feminism, because it's then that they notice that structural sexism is still alive and kicking and not looking like it's going to die any time soon.
For what it's worth, and I realise that in context what it's worth is not a lot, I would say becoming a father has made me a feminist.
BUT that said, there are a few depressingly common themes. It is the mum who seems to make the most adjustments in her life, not the man. All the women who have remained very career focused are adamant that the only way to do it is full time childcare from a very young age (why can't the dad compromise here?)
According to the latest census, this is changing. Nearly 10% of stay at home parents are men now compared to around 2% last time.
and basically, everyone is so defensive of their own choices that it is really, really hard to have a kind of general conversation about it all. Agreed
Seeing as you asked for experiences - sometimes I think that doing anything in public with a child is a feminist act. Going to the doctor, for example - I have baby in tow. Either the medical system works round that or I as a woman get inferior medical care. If someone says the baby should be 'in childcare' then who should do the care and who is going to pay for it? Many childless people think parents should cover it all... Until they realise the costs, at which point maybe fewer people should have children... but then who will work to pay into their pensions...
Thoughtlessness can be countered; wilful 'ain't it awful' combined with 'you are no longer one of us' probably not, and sounds like you're getting more of the latter? Much sympathy.
It's taken me a few years but I've now got a good group of friends, mainly with children, varied sexualities, relationship structures and working patterns. One theme has been how unexpectedly hard it's been for men wanting to work part time, as it's never been on their boss's radar, and there is the real fear that they have become a breadwinner and are scared to jeopardize that with a family to support, whereas the women in mixed-sex couples tend to be lower earners pre-baby and the parents can see her income as a bonus rather than vital - leading to all the other bits of the woman changing her life while the man's life stays the same. Childcare has definitely convinced me that the personal is indeed political, as have the myriad ways boy and girl babies are treated from the start - I've ended up being really quite rude to a baby classe leader who every session comes out with 'boys are like this, girls are like that' that I just can't let lie, especially with my older child there listening. I'm heartened that most of the other mothers seem to support me. Though making mummy friends on mat leave is way harder with an older child in tow as the first timers find mobile strop verbal kids terrifying! Have had success meeting parents via local Twitter groups so that might help you?
Course there's plenty of feminists on MN who say I'm not one, but there you go. Not going to argue that at this time of night, esp as this baby might be asleep...
They used to be the association for research on mothering (ARM) until their funding was cut by that most patriarchal of institutions....
Run by Andrea o'reilly out of York University in Toronto (where slutwalk started in response to a university figure telling female students not to dress like sluts for their own safety)
They are linked to a publishing house - Demeter press. Anything out of there (books available on the website) is a good place to start.
(Oh, and if anyone is vaguely interested, they are looking for contributors to a slutwalk collection at the mo. Tis probably on their website)
The blogs I like are blue milk (an australian mummy), PhD in Parenting (Canadian) and The Feminist Breeder (American). They do all address mothering and feminism.
I get frustrated too, OP. I have had to adjust my own feelings a bit. I used to try terribly hard never ever to use a buggy if possible so as not to inconvenience anyone. But the problem becomes that you become so concerned with this that you inconvenience yourself. Lately, as I am 26 weeks pg with DC2, I have decided 'Feck 'em. If people can't live with the mild inconvenience of a mother's existence, then maybe they are the ones who should stay home.'
But I wonder if this in itself is a feminist issue. Women are taught (well, I was, I can't speak for ALL women; we are not the Borg) not to take up space and, well, frankly, a buggy does take up space so by using one a woman is in essence asserting her right to take up space. This gets labeled entitled because we are so conditioned to think that women should not take up any space at all.
Where are you OP?
Dear OP, reading your posts has been so refreshing. I feel a lot like you in so many ways. I love being a mum but I feel the whole motherhood experience has made me more vulnerable in some ways, stronger in others, but much more isolated on the whole.
I do think these issues you talk about are feminist issues and thats why since becoming a mum, I became much more passionate about them. The fact that parenthood affects women a lot more than men because theyre still the ones expected to do the primary childcare has opened my eyes to a reality I knew nothing about before. The fact that men generally seem to be perceived as a helping hand in the house when it comes to childcare and the domestic work that it entails.
Ive read Melissa Benn and Rachel Cusk too. Love these authors as they bring to sharp focus a reality that is usually very private, very personal, so its so hard to bring it up to a political and social agenda. The experience of being a mother, the day to day lives of these women who have to give up so much on a personal and professional level to raise their children, is usually ignored by the rest of society. And sometimes, if not ignored, attacked in subtle and not so subtle ways, as you rightly pointed out.
I find complaining about the challenges of being a mother is deemed as taboo among women. It feels like biting the hand that feeds you, sort to speak, so you have to be very careful when you moan. Even friends with kids are very reluctant to admit the more challenging or negative aspects of motherhood, marriage and the whole new world theyve now become a part of.
Motherhood is quite isolating in that sense. Friends who dont have or dont want children do not fully understand you or empathise with you. Friends with children are not ready to talk about certain issues you would like them to be more open about.
The feminist ideas of my youth were dramatically challenged when Ive found myself 80 per cent reliant on my husbands salary for a living. I still hang on in there though. Feminist readings have helped me keep my sanity and Im so grateful to have access to that. Although I have to say that I have no feminist friends I could walk this path with, and that also saddens me terribly.
"a buggy does take up space so by using one a woman is in essence asserting her right to take up space. This gets labeled entitled because we are so conditioned to think that women should not take up any space at all."
Yes yes yes
I've felt a lot of what you're feeling, OP. I've just posted on another thread:
I'd never experienced serious disadvantage as female until I became a mother. The mild denigration and sexual harassment I'd had before was nothing compared to this. In my workplace mothers had the lowest of all positions, regardless of job title. A mother = unreliable, not committed to her work, unpromotable, a liability. I was bullied and sidelined, by my male boss but also by other women. It ended with a 3 day discrimination case funded by my union.
Pregnancy and childbirth were pivotal experiences. There's so much I could say about its effects on my sense of self. Before I had a baby my body was whole and solid, like an apple. Afterwards I felt more like a crumpet or a stew. Everything leaked: blood, milk, tears. Due to my specific obstetric issues, my vagina was unaffected but my belly was seriously damaged, the muscles cut and sewn up badly, and a vertebrae mashed. My body was damaged and left open, or that's how it felt. The process was irrevocable, universal.
Beachcomber described the experience as "being radicalised by motherhood". I know I was more of a feminist as a mother, and more committed to my work too, as we needed the money far more than when it was just me to think about. My time management got better too. My husband gave up work as soon as I could afford to keep him. It's nice for all of you if one of you can stay home, or at least that's how we saw it.
Your gay and lesbian friends don't sound very supportive in this instance. But then I know I was a terrible friend to women who'd changed course and had babies while I was single and totally involved with my career. I know when I was in my 20s I found their baby talk boring, and just moved on, fairly heartlessly. You change friends a lot when you become a parent. Some of the old ones become irrelevant, or you become irrelevant to them. S'just how it goes, I guess.
Only just catching up with all of this, thank you so much for responses - I'll be back later when I've got more time. writehand, your description is brilliantly put (what other thread were you posting on?) - lara, the whole isolation thing chimes greatly with me - I feel strongly I have lost a lot of former feminist 'allies' by becoming a mother but (on a personal day to day level), while I have gained a lot of mum friends, and I don't for a minute want to underplay how valuable they are, and a big comfort, I am in a category of one as a feminist mum.
I have to run now but will be back later.
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