anything about the experience of being a feminist mum...

(50 Posts)
rainrainandmorerain Sat 26-Jan-13 17:44:23

....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.

LaraInTheSky Tue 29-Jan-13 12:55:20

OP, forgot to mention. Another book that I found extremely useful to understand the difficulties of motherhood and marriage (the two are very much linked) was:

Silencing the self by Dana Crowley Jack

It looks at the situation of women within a social and economic structure that leads to lots of depression in women. In one word, it explains that depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are not just a “personal” problem but in most cases, they arise from social and economic circumstances, of which women have very little control of.

Women often choose to silence themselves as a coping mechanism to adapt to a situation that is beyond their control, or that otherwise will cause conflict. I think this relates to your comments of not being understood, or having to bite your tongue not to offend or upset various people.

I truly enjoyed reading it. A big eye opener.

rainrainandmorerain Tue 29-Jan-13 22:19:56

ok, I'm back in the room....

there is much that is helpful here, thank you. I want to pick up on a few things, and guess what, it's the end of the day and I'm tired, so I hope it makes sense.

I think my own feminism pre-motherhood was very tied up with work, success at work and equality of opportunity, and just the basic feeling that if you work hard, you should get reward. Yes, other things like sexist attitudes in adverts, confronting gender bias in work roles (work again) - but mainly work, and what it represented. Financial independence, identity, visibility in the world, a feeling of achievement.

It's worth acknowledging that as an educated middle class woman, work had a lot to give me, btw (I don't think this is the case for everyone). I wasn't just working to live, I've worked mainly in creative/media roles, and felt very rewarded, overall.

I think I was, pre-dc, certainly unsympathetic to mothers - I resented it when they left early to do something child related, or wanted a lot of time off over the summer, as I tended to get left with their work. i don't recall that ever being issue with the dads, who of course didn't need to leave work early if their wives did... But I think I was also a bit dismissive of mothers because I saw children as a 'lessening' of their ambition, in work terms. A retreat into the domestic sphere.

All risible stuff, I know, but I'm being honest. And you'll be glad to know a lot of that has come back to bite me on the arse anyway.

Since having ds, a lot of my thoughts about work no longer make sense to me. Are my choices (a) return to full time work asap, using full time childcare from a very early age (b) return to work full time and get dp to be a sahd (c) try and negotiate some sort of deal where we both work a bit but not as much as before (tricky - we are both self employed in a precarious industry, there isn't really a part time version of what I do, and I earn more anyway - dp could not support us both) or (c) take longer off work, and either resign myself to the hit my career is taking and adjust my expectations, or just hope that somehow being off the work radar for a few years won't be so bad.

Why is any of this a problem? well - the structural sexism of work in general, sure. Someone upthread said that in a way, doing anything in public with a child is a feminist act, and I agree - I don't want to keep mentioning children in a work context, but then neither do I want to be asked to keep to insane deadlines, or be asked at midnight to do an 8 am meeting. The truth is, yes, I DO want concessions from work because I have a child (and another on the way). I don't want to put small children into fulltime childcare if I can possibly help it. This is an emotional and intellectual decision - I don't feel like I SHOULD be ever present as a mother because I am downtrodden and have internalised maternal ideals, it just goes against every feeling I have. I never did controlled crying either, what can I say....

Before I had children, I really tried to give myself leeway to be whatever kind of parent it turned out I was - I thought, you might hate it and want to be back at work asap, you might find yourself utterly given over to earthmotherhood - you don't know, can't know, so wait and see and deal with it then. I had no 'political' objections to full time childcare for small children - but once I had one, I knew I didn't want to do it. That's as clear as I can be.

I think I have felt a bit more despairing of late because I have a job I can do from home, and be flexible about my hours almost all of the time. I keep reading about how this is the answer for working parents. Clock off to do school pick up, bed and bath etc - then sit down and work til midnight and get up at 5 am to do more before the kids get up and you do the morning run.

I tried that. I was exhausted and miserable. I neither felt happy spending time with my son, nor connected to or proud of my work. I just felt KNACKERED and ill. So I feel like even though I had the dream work/life situation that so many mothers want, I couldn't make it work.

At heart, the clearest I can be is that I would like to be relatively happy! and that means being able to enjoy having children, and to feel proud of the work I do. Not be knackered and do both badly. I don't so much feel a need to 'prove' something workwise - I'm over 40 and can look back on some decent achievements - but I want to continue to grow and explore what I can professionally. So it's not just structural - it's me. I literally can't spend all day working without getting an ache in my bones about not being with my son enough - and if I don't get time to focus on work and give it my all, I get a restless, unhappy 'craving' feeling.

My plus points (that is all a big moan, isn't it) are that I have a dp who also works from home and who willingly takes on his share of parenting. Not so much domestic work or household planning, although after a lot of friction and rows, he has significantly changed his ways and improved a lot. I am already better off than most women I know in that respect.

Maybe all this boils down to is that I had 40 odd years of living one way, and now it's taking me a while to get used to the change. But I do feel like I am lacking a template - or just the words to describe it all. When I have tried to articulate this, I quickly feel like it all gets away from me - people respond by identifying one problem and trying to 'fix' it, or giving me words that are a bit like what I mean... but also not, and take me further away from what I want to say. I loved what writehand said about going physically from being an apple to a stew or a crumpet. It was a perfect articulation.

I definitely feel like I have moved from a very 'theoretical' feminism (where gender identity was almost entirely a social construct) to a more 'lived' but muddier and more 'primal' feminism. I also feel there is more at stake, somehow.

To add to a ridiculously long post - I've been thinking today about why other mums are sometimes so defensive about their choices. I wonder if it is because they have all made choices or found themselves in positions that they are not that happy with - but don't have a better way of doing things. So their task them becomes to reconcile themselves to a very imperfect life - accentuate the positives, play down the negatives - and not open up a can of worms with any discussion about other ways of doing things. In a way, it is painful to feel there might well be a better life to be lived, if one could just work out what it was! better perhaps to say ' this IS what it is...' and just make the most of it.

Anyway, it's late, I'm tired and this is rambling. Your posts have been helpful, I will try and come back with some shorter and better organised thoughts.

madwomanintheattic Wed 30-Jan-13 03:47:01

Well, whenever I get all like that ^ , I just reread the feminine mystique.

None of this shit is new.

rainrainandmorerain Wed 30-Jan-13 09:28:19

I'll add that to my list then. Read it about 20 years ago - obvs it wouldn't have had the same resonance for me then.

I'm sorry that none of this shit is new. It is is new to me. If it bores anyone else, then ok but given how isolated I feel anyway, maybe you don't need to tell me. I said upthread that I didn't feel robust enough for a forum in some ways. I kmow the rule is 'if you can't take it, don't post' - But I don't have many places to talk.

TerrariaMum Wed 30-Jan-13 11:58:44

I don't think that madwoman meant it in a nasty way. I think she meant that this is not an uncommon situation. Your feelings are totally understandable precisely because they aren't new. Women have been dealing with this for ages.

Keep talking. I can't speak for anyone else, but I am listening.

madwomanintheattic Thu 31-Jan-13 01:35:08

Quite, terrarium.

It was a comment on the age old and and everyday nature of your feelings, not a protestation of boredom.

If it is the first time you have felt like this, then it hits you like a truck.

But, sadly, you get used to the fact there really is no blindingly obvious solution. Hence, trying to hang out with like minded women (if only online and via feminist mothering research institutes) and reread the stuff that resonates.

It's both reassuring and tragic to reread the originals and realise that women have got pretty much nowhere from a mothering and domestic point of view, and in some cases (think 'having it all/ doing it all' rather than 'sharing it all') it's got a damned sight worse.

Tone is always an issue on tinternet though.

Post away. Noone's disagreeing with you. But you aren't a lone voice in the wilderness, you're the latest in a long line of generally dissatisfied women who have tried and failed to find a solution.

I'm all ears, but I suspect the real answer lies with men, not women.

Facelikeafriendlyapple Thu 31-Jan-13 11:11:13

Hi OP,

Just wanted to say thanks for posting this. I really relate to a lot of what you've written and appreciate your honesty. I'm just about to have my first child and have been thinking through a lot of the issues you've raised.

Thanks as well to the people who posted ideas about blogs to take a look at - I'm enjoying the Glosswitch blog a lot!

LaraInTheSky Sun 03-Feb-13 13:17:01

Thank you too OP for your comments. You're not alone in feeling alone. I don't know how much that helps, but it certainly helped me hear from another relatively new mother trying to articulate a whole range of feelings and thoughts that, as you said, usually lack a formal template.

I'm also reluctant to fall into the old dichotomy of SATH mum vs work outside the home mums. It only creates unnecessary conflict and antagonism among women. A middle ground is probably the best for all.

FrancescaRS Sun 21-Jul-13 21:29:07

Hi there, I'm a mum of two and thought you might be interested in my blog 21stcenturyfeministmum.blogspot.co.uk/ Please do comment and let me know what you think!

TheDoctrineOfAllan Sun 21-Jul-13 23:21:25

Bit of a promotional bump but at least a relevant one!

OP, how are you doing?

kickassangel Mon 22-Jul-13 13:43:14

Another one in agreement with you op.

I too apparently have a perfect set up. I teach and dd is in the same school. I get free after school childcare. How perfect is that?

But I still have that awful feeling of being torn both ways and constantly knackered etc.

In fact, I think how good my set up is is a bit of a problem. Cos it means that ALL childcare and interaction with dd is through me. Dh works the other side of the city and that means that it would be ridiculous for him to pick up dd when I'm in the same building as her. So by default everything goes through me. So I have to finish work in time to pick up dd, but dh can work as late as he needs. I just kind of want people not to assume that I will be home with dd if she's sick, or that I will be doing the parents eve for dd, or whatever it is.

And moaning about any of this makes me sound like an ungrateful cow. People turn round and say that I chose to have a kid. Well so what? Why can't I make that choice and still have a career and moan if I feel tired? Who took away my right to any of that?

I think that a lot of people lurk here but rarely post, so feel free to do the same.

kickassangel Mon 22-Jul-13 13:58:01

Oh, and right now I am getting a pasting on another thread about schools not making it possible for working parents to attend things. I haven't even mentioned the f word and that this affects mothers more than fathers. I've just said that schools should have some flexibility about times of day for having things on so that all parents can get to something. Apparently, though, if you work you should just put up with it, and your kids have to put up with it.

<Channels Peter Andre> but what about the children! Will no one think about the poor children?

TheDoctrineOfAllan Mon 22-Jul-13 23:05:41

Yes, when does deciding to do something mean you can't moan about it - except when it comes to kids.

I moan about my carpets being badly fitted - no one says "well, you chose to buy that house". I moan about being hot and pregnant - some wiseass says "well, you chose to have a baby"

I don't get it.

Getting on this for later.
I am always astonished at mothers who actively refuse being labelled as feminist. They are generally privileged in all ways apart from being female, and I think they are happy with their place in the structure, so don't want to do anything which may rock the boat.

kalidasa Tue 23-Jul-13 14:02:19

I see this is an old thread, but I'm very sorry I missed it the first time. I feel like a seething mass of these feelings (DS is 8 months, I went back to work full time quite early after an awful pregnancy) with few people to talk to about them. Are you still around OP? How are you feeling now? (You're not in North London are you?!)

NeedlesCuties Tue 23-Jul-13 16:17:44

Sorry, I haven't read anything apart from the OP yet (busy day!) but just wanted to say that I'm currently reading The Mommy Myth and it's a great book. Quite American, but apart from that it's ace.

I got it for 1p plus p+p used from Amazon, couldn't believe what a bargain that was for a book approx 200 pages long!

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 23-Jul-13 19:13:34

needles That book looks interesting.

kickassangel I too have an "ideal" set up - work part-time, all squeezed into school hours (but unfortunately no summer holiday!) etc etc, just like you. In fact I nearly thought you are me. grin People either assume I'm a SAHP because I'm always at drop-off and pick-up, or they think I'm a slacker and don't work as hard as them. hmm Not sure how that works... confused

Not very coherent atm. Must go and make myself a cup of tea and herd end-of-term children.

kickassangel Tue 23-Jul-13 20:30:48

I may well buy that Mommy Myth book.

I'm very wary of the whole 'aren't mums wonderful' thing. I do think that any parent who pulls their weight deserves respect, but somehow it's got twisted into being something that ONLY women can do, and that dads can't.

There are more SAHD now than there used to be, but it can still be a very isolating experience for them.

rainrainandmorerain Tue 23-Jul-13 20:34:11

I'm just coming back to this thread to say hello and thanks, and a quick update - I'm (unusually) mostly off internet for the next few days so will read and post more when I am back.

But fwiw - I am cheerier now than I was in January, you will be glad to know. since then I had my 2nd baby (another son, to be raised in a feminist household as a feminist like his brother!) - I dumped 1 male friend who was constantly fucking sniping about feminism under the guise of 'debate', which caused no end of a ruction at the time. I was very blunt and told him I was tired of his shit and it wasn't my job to endless tolerate stupidity and ignorance. He was VERY shocked. I felt a lot lighter, and haven't talked to him since. Result. I've also kelt my distance/been cooler with friends who just aren't with me on this journey (motherhood/work/feminism). I can't keep engaging with them, it is too draining.

I have worked out a few more views and so feel a bit more 'settled' in myself. It is a bit fragile and can be easily derailed - I have given myself permission not to engage in ALL feminist related or mum related issues that arise around me - only the ones I have the strength and energy for at the time. I can't win every battle, there are too many - but I do want to win the war.

Reading this thread back, I am struck by how little I talk about MEN. A big change for me has been thinking about motherhood and work as a feminist experience where men's behaviour is crucial. I look around me and see how feminised the world of parenting is, and how little fathers compromise their lives when they have children, whereas mothers reorganise so much.

One idea that just wasn't working for me was the 'we need to be more like men' phrase with reference to work and motherhood. Don't get me wrong - in many respects I think that's true, in terms of ambition, putting ourselves forward in a work context, being assertive etc etc. But when it is used to mean 'if you want a great career, put your kids in full time childcare from an early age, and don't feel guilty - men don't!' then I think - no. Fathers SHOULD be accepting they need to be more hands on parents, do MORE in terms of time and reponsibility. And take more responsibility for running a household and family life. And if necessary, compromising work - asking for part time, flexi time, taking a career break etc etc.

If men did it, it would be far less of a problem for women. Until they do, whatever choices we make in terms of work and children will always be unsatisfactory, because it's not much of a choice. Women have made great inroads into the world of careers but men have made so few changes to their own lives. Overall, I mean. I know there are individual exceptions. Most careers are still only doable if you fit the template created by a man who, if he has kids, does very little hands on parenting. It's the template that is wrong, not the mother trying hard to fit into that template, and finding it knackering.

I don't like the idea that the only way for me to have enough time and energy to be successful in my career is to hand over childcare to a professional who is most likely to be another woman, but less well educated/qualified and less well paid than me. That's not a victory for feminism, that's a victory for the class system. Someone else pointed that out to me - and I thought, YES! my feelings articulated, hallelujah!

So basically, until men and their roles/attitudes change, and I don't know how that happens, then what the fuck do we do? No wonder I struggle - it's not ME that's the problem, all of my imperfect efforts are actually pretty good going when the set up is so fucked.

I have also been honest with myself about not wanting this 'juggling' (hate that word) lifestyle that having children and working gives us. No, I don't enjoy being a 'busy' mum, always 'on the go'. I want time to do things well, and to feel as healthy and happy as I can. 'Hectic' lifestyles can fuck the fuck off, I'm afraid. I think as a classic high achiever, I bought into that idea for a very long time. If anyone actually enjoys it, good for them - I don't. I want time to be a parent to my children, in a hands on way - and I also want career fulfilment. I want to enjoy both, not feel I am simply 'coping'.

Bit garbled but I am typing in haste. I will try and post a link from a guardian from a father who says much of what I feel about work and parenthood. I thought it was interesting and unusual to hear it from a dad.

rainrainandmorerain Tue 23-Jul-13 20:39:33

"Childcare - why don't men pull their weight?" (he means 'hands on parenting' by 'childcare'). I thought this was fascinating.

www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/jul/05/childcare-men-pull-weight?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

KateCroydon Tue 23-Jul-13 20:40:37

I'd add 'What mothers do...' to the bookshelf.

TheDoctrineOfAllan Tue 23-Jul-13 22:53:27

Good art

TheDoctrineOfAllan Tue 23-Jul-13 22:53:47

Good article, rain.

kickassangel Wed 24-Jul-13 00:27:40

Haven't read the article, but this thread has really focused my thoughts on why I don't like those "women can make it to the top" books etc.

Not only is it ludicrous to think that everyone can be at the top, but I also find it morally wrong. We should respect and value individuals for their inherent worth and integrity, not how much they earn or getting a promotion at work. That's why the role of parenting should be non gender based and fully respected; because it is a valuable social role.

If we focus on women by high flyers at work, we lose sight of that. We should be discussing how to integrate family and work needs, so that both parents, the children, and the economy are able to function.

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 24-Jul-13 07:30:29

But the "woman can make it to the top" books (actually I'm only thinking about lean in which I haven't read but have read about) are about a specific thing that some women face. I've got a book about why women in academia don't progress. It's just a book about a specific area of life because women are everywhere. smile I read another article somewhere that said if a man wrote the book it would just be another motivational book, but if a woman wrote it it's got to apply to all women across all sector. That's not fair.

Some people want to make it to the top. Some don't. Those who do, lean in. Those who don't, still lean in, but in other ways. grin

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