A disconnect between "mother" and "feminist"

Posted by Saraline , Monday, April 4, 2011 10:04 PM

"What does a feminist mother look like?" This is a question that I'm sure many feminist mothers have asked themselves and it is a question that has been asked over at blue milk along with the following ten questions. I feel like maybe I've answered them before, but I can't find this anywhere in my blog so I'm answering them again or maybe for the first time.

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 for me is freedom of choice for women no matter what the choice may be. I don't really remember when I became a feminist, but I think that I was a feminist before I started calling myself one. I was fairly young. It was definitely long before I became a mother.

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?

It's really difficult to pick the surprise that has been the biggest because there has just been one surprise after another. The other morning I was surprised to be woken up at 6 am by my son shoving a tomato into my mouth. The tomato had been squished into an unrecognizable shape so for the first five minutes I had no idea what it was or what was happening. That was pretty surprising, I must say, but it's not one of the bigger ones. I guess I'll just go through the top five surprises in chronological order:

I. Breastfeeding is the most difficult thing ever for me at first. Everything else, knowing what to do, knowing what the baby wants, comes naturally. I thought it would be the other way around. Breastfeeding is supposed to be natural and beautiful. Where is this "bonding experience" that I keep hearing about? My baby and I seem to bond much more when he is asleep.

II. I no longer have the same personality. My sense of humour has completely disappeared. Nothing is funny. Everything is serious.

III. The physical and emotional exhaustion. This child is sapping all of my energy.

IV. Oh, hey! My personality is starting to come back.

V. The constant judgement from other people. How much effort it takes not to judge other parents. Oh my god, is that mother feeding her two month old baby apple juice in a bottle? What is she thinking? Wait, stop. It's none of your business. Apple juice is not a form of child abuse.

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

My feminism? I think it keeps getting a little angrier. The more I read and the more I learn, the more pissed off I get. Motherhood has had a huge impact because I'm focusing on new things. For example, now that I'm a mother, I'm seeing first hand how little domestic work is appreciated or valued. Since domestic work is often considered women's work, it is a feminist issue.

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

My son is only two, so right now my main purpose as a mother is take care of his basic needs, such as food. He has a lot of curiosity about the world around him and I have a lot of curiosity about how he's seeing the world. I think that I'm curious about things that non-feminist mothers wouldn't be curious about. My son loves anything with wheels: cars, trucks, trains, bicycles, etc. A non-feminist mother probably wouldn't think about this very much because these are things that boys are "supposed" to like, but I do wonder how this happened. Is it really a boy thing? If it's really a boy thing, then why are there pink cars being made? Isn't pink supposed to be a girl thing? What happens when I give my son a doll? He puts it down and picks up a truck. Why is that?

And, of course, I cannot accept that "boys will be boys."

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

My boy won't play with dolls.

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

When I was pregnant I felt a big disconnect between "feminist" and "mother." I felt guilty about becoming a mother because I felt like I was betraying my feminist ideals. Now I realize that the two are definitely connected but it was something that I had to work through.

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

Well, before I became a mother, I was sacrificing my free time doing work that I was okay with but for a company that I thought might be evil. There was little chance that I would ever make any advancements within this company or that the job would lead to a fulfilling career. I got laid off while I was on maternity leave and so did everybody else that I worked with, including the managers who I'm sure had sacrificed a lot of time to prove to the company that they were dedicated employees who should be managers.

What exactly was it that I was sacrificing when I had a baby? I didn't have a career. I wasn't on the up and up. I would have been laid off anyway. I wasn't even taking any classes or going out all that much. Looking back, I do not have any difficulty reconciling the decision to have a child and what I gave up to have him and stay at home with him.

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

I think that feminism has approached motherhood from the wrong angle. Yes, there is inequality between the sexes when it comes to parenting. There is kind of this idea floating around within feminism that the best way to deal with this problem is to not perpetuate it by having children. This is how I found myself pregnant and feeling guilty about taking a part in setting the movement back.

I have since realized that women becoming mothers are not the problem. Women choosing to be stay at home moms are not the problem. The problem is that mothers' work in the home is not valued. The subsidized home daycares in Quebec went on strike last year. Why? Because they wanted to have the same salaries as the people working in CPEs. The people in CPEs make anywhere from $13-22 an hour. $13 an hour is not a lot, especially when you consider that they need to have post-secondary education to get these jobs. A couple of blog posts ago I wrote about the documentary the Nanny Business, which explores the ways in which nannies are exploited in Canada. People question my sanity if I say that I'm going to pay a babysitter minimum wage; I've been told by more than one person that this is way too much for a babysitter. People are not willing to pay very much money for childcare because it is work that they do not value.

What needs to change here is the way that people look at parenting. It's a job with little reward. I'm not saying that having children isn't rewarding at all; it is. But is saving a life rewarding for a doctor? Is winning a court case rewarding for a lawyer? Feeling good about a job well done is not the only compensation that they get. They also have colleagues, such as nurses and assistants, who are working with them.

The biggest problem, in my opinion, with motherhood is the lack of respect that is paid to it as a profession. If a woman does not want to have children, that is her choice, but other choices that other women make need to be respected, such as the choice to have children and even the choice to stay at home and raise them.

10 Response to "A disconnect between "mother" and "feminist""

April Reign Says:

Great post!

this is a great line and brings reality to the judgement we are under and often give each other

Apple juice is not a form of child abuse.

lagatta à montréal Says:

Sorry, I can't agree.

I know parents can't always find a job and child care, and I'm not talking about children as young as your son, as I think extended parental leave should be available for mothers and for fathers, but I can't support the idea of women being housewives and stay-at-home mums in the 2000s.

That is a "choice" that means dependency on the spouse or poverty living on welfare, and I think children should be seeing their parents as adults with lives of their own. (My own mum worked, and that was a very long time ago).

Fortunately most Québécoise mums and most young families here agree, and our highly-subsidided daycare system can't keep up with the demand.

In the current economic context, a lot of us, older or younger, parents or not, find it hard to secure quality employment with decent working conditions, but that is not a problem limited to mothers alone.

parentwin Says:

Saraline, I love your blog and I love you.

I've given you the Versatile Blogger Award.


I am in disagreement with the commenter above me, but I'd like to thank her for telling me how much my life sucks and how bad my choices are. Way to generalize.

Saraline Says:

'That is a "choice" that means dependency on the spouse or poverty living on welfare'

See, that's something that I think needs to change too. Women should get paid for the work they do in the home. We pay other people outside of the family to watch our kids for us, so why can't a stay-at-home parent who takes care of her kids full-time get paid?

I was reading an article for French class about a month ago (it was called "Rester à la maison" and it was published in La Société) and it mentioned that the L'action démocratique du Québec at one point made a proposal to give an allowance to parents who care for their children in the home. I don't think that anything came of it, but THAT was a step in the right direction. The article also said that there's an idea that parents who stay home to raise their children are non-productive and that this is a capitalist idea. I think this idea is wrong. We need to look at stay-at-home parents in a different light. Yes, for the most part they're financially dependent on somebody else, but why is that? Why does somebody who is providing a valuable service to the community (raising the next generation, maybe even homeschooling) forced to be financially dependent on somebody else if the career that they want is to raise and/ or educate their children?

lagatta à montréal Says:

Sara, I think the fact that the rightwing Action démocratique advocates such a policy for women says enough about that plank.

parentwin, of course I'm generalising. I'm talking about overall trends. In analysing general social progress and regress, it is impossible to take every individual case into account.

I'm a socialist. My ideas are not capitalist at all, but they are opposed to taking us back to the world of the 1950s. Perhaps because I'm a bit older and have seen that hellish world, before our feminist struggles for daycare and access to the workplace.

Many capitalists (such as Harper) want us back at home where we are dependent and vulnerable.

What I do advocate is shorter work days for everyone and more socialisation of child rearing. This can take many forms; daycare is not the only means of lightening the parental workload.

Fine and Fair Says:

I love this! Would you consider doing some sort of blogshare or blog carnival inviting others to answer some or all of these questions? Seems like it might take off! :)

I think I'll answer these in my own blog, maybe a few at a time. <3

Saraline Says:

Lagatta, were homemakers in the 1950s being paid for their work? Was their work respected or valued? That's what I'm saying needs to happen here. I don't know much of anything about Action démocratique, but I don't think that the idea to pay stay at home parents for their work is a bad one. Maybe they were coming from a place where it's a "family values" thing for them and they want to give incentive for people to live up to their values, but that's not where I'm coming from. I think that there are already women staying at home and caring for their children and there have been for a long time and they should be valued and respected. Can we talk about early childhood educators respectfully without putting "choice" in quotation marks when discussing their career paths? Why is it a choice that can't be respected if a woman cares for and educates her own children instead of a stranger's children? And what about the people who are being paid to care for strangers' children? Most of them are underpaid. Are they not vulnerable? Should everyone just stop taking care of children altogether?

Saraline Says:

Fine and Fair, I think bluemilk is already doing something like that with her ten questions. :)

Montreal Mom Blog Says:

Awesome post. I can't imagine how a woman doesn't identify with feminism- the cause dedicated to our future and freedom.

I do believe women should be paid for work they do in the home. Why should taking care of your own children not be the norm if you don't desire to leave them? If daycare is subsidized, why isn't parenting? Sounds odd, but it is logical.

Femimommy Says:

I'm so glad to find this blog-)