Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of feminist blog blue milk*. She likes to read the responses of other feminist mums to the following ten questions, and since I’m currently promoting my ebook SEE THROUGH, she’ll be posting extracts of this on her blog.
How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
Duh. Of COURSE women are as good as men, as smart as men, and deserve to be paid as well as men – in money, in respect, and in equal shares of the annoying/gross/stressful/responsible household jobs. It took me many years to realise not everyone thought that way – and that very few people truly act that way, including myself.
What has surprised you most about motherhood?
My experience is, I think, unique – having a baby did something to my body chemistry (and my heart) and I recovered from seven years of mental illness. Early in my marriage I wasn’t sure if I should have children, because it looked quite likely I’d be unable to care for a child. But after talking to family members (mainly to check I could rely on a lot of emergency babysitting if I had to) I took the chance.
Before I was a mother, I could work a maximum of twelve hours a week. Now, in addition to looking after my own baby, I also babysit other young children for up to ten hours a day, thirty-five hours a week, on a regular basis. I think it’s possible there was some kind of chemical reboot during pregnancy (and all the pro-baby hormones helped), but it’s also because I desperately needed a grand, all-encompassing purpose in life – and for me, being a mother is that meaningful and satisfying. (Although doing paid work is also vital to me to feel like a human – a belief that is fundamentally flawed, but too close to my centre for me to cast aside.) I still have panic attacks and times when I can barely get dressed, but ultimately I’m pretty functional. Most women’s sanity goes in the opposite direction with motherhood.
How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
Getting married turned gender roles into an obsession long before I had a baby. When little Louisette arrived, the spotlight on my marriage grew even more intense.
For me, the weakest point of my marriage is the risk of falling into a mother-child relationship with my husband. Anyone who can’t be trusted to do their share of household chores is not an adult.
I knew it was the weakest point of our relationship before we married, and have carefully (often tearfully) explained it to my husband over and over. He simply doesn’t understand what I’m saying. The more powerful members of society never do understand what it’s like to be the less powerful member. That’s one of the perks of power – everything seems fair from where you’re standing.
It’s not all his fault, however. Organising things and making household decisions (from groceries to what kind of house to buy) makes me feel powerful, so I have a tendency to jump in before he has a chance to do his part. It’s not like he’s the only one sending us in that fatal mother-child direction. (And yes, it’s definitely fatal. How can I be in love with someone I see as a child? How can he be in love with his mother?)
Having a daughter also gives me a highly convenient litmus test for feminism. All I have to do is think, “How would I want my daughter treated in this situation?” and I know when someone is treating me badly. I hope that by the time Louisette grows up she’ll have enough self-worth to figure out her rights without needing a prop.
What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
I tread a compromised path, like all mothers. To survive in our society, I think a woman must be able to believe in her own attractiveness, and I choose not to fight that particular battle, because I know Louisette would suffer for it. My prettifying efforts started from her birth, when I dressed her in attractive and usually pink clothing. I believe a girl who is constantly told how pretty she is as a child will be better able to handle the sudden awareness of societal messages saying, “Shouldn’t you be thinner? Shouldn’t you have bigger breasts? Shouldn’t you have blonder hair?” as she grows up. I will teach her to use make-up, to shave her legs, to do her hair. She can stop doing any of those things if she wants to, but she’ll have the skills to fit in if she chooses the more comfortable path.
At the same time I already try to steer her away from the stories that equate goodness and worth with beauty, and that tell the reader the purpose of life is to get married – like Cinderella. Beauty is nice, and everyone has a little bit – but there must be more to you than that.
The correct response to this photo is, “Awwww!”
As a writer, I believe stories tell us who we are and what matters. When I write my own novels, my protagonists are almost always female. They have problems, and they solve them – actively. When they like a boy, they generally tell him, and if a boy treats them badly they don’t stick around. Why would they? But generally they’re too busy saving the day to care too much what boys think. Isn’t that true of all the world’s most interesting women?
Most of all I try to be aware of the contradictions in both society and myself, so that when my little one is old enough she can sort truth from lies, and choose what compromises to make in her own life.
Mental illness runs in my family, so I try to teach Louisette resilience as both a preventative and a cure. I watched a psychology video once that presented toddlers with a problem. Both started off by crying for help, but when no help arrived in a few moments the boys stopped crying and attempted to solve the problem themselves. The girls continued crying.
I try so hard to sit on my hands when my own baby has a frustrating problem to solve – so she learns that waiting to be rescued isn’t the solution to everything. You can’t learn resilience without frustration, and you can’t learn it without pain. Sometimes I have to let her fall down. I remind myself constantly that we all unconsciously let little girls fall down less often than little boys – and that’s not a good thing. (We also shush little girls more than little boys, but that’s another story.)
Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Of course, always! I could lie awake every night thinking about the mistakes I’ve made – or I could be transparent and let my daughter see the cogs working. “Mummy usually takes care of remembering birthdays, because Daddy doesn’t like to organise things. Daddy usually drives the car because Mummy likes looking out the window.” I have a lot of faith in thoughtfulness and questions.
Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
LOL! I literally got up from the desk before answering this question, and moved some large-but-light toys onto the couch. Why? Because my husband is vacuuming right now and I’m aware that he won’t move the toys himself – and our daughter has a habit of attempting to eat cat hair that she will most certainly find beneath her own toys. While our marriage is probably the envy of many readers (he vacuums? Every week?!) it has its weaknesses – and Louisette will echo our relationship patterns for the rest of her life.
Incidentally, I also pointed out to my husband a few moments ago that now was his last chance to vacuum this weekend (baby asleep; no guests; not late at night). He appears incapable of figuring this out himself – which makes all the household chores my responsibility, regardless of who physically does them. That’s not right.
My husband will be the image of “normal man” for my daughter – most potently, the way he treats me (the image of “normal woman”). If I don’t pursue equality in my marriage, how can I expect my daughter to pursue it in her life?
Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
From the age of twelve to twenty-four I planned to move to Indonesia to teach in slum schools for free. . . . so Australian motherhood seems easy in comparison. The important thing for me is the ratio of meaningfulness to sacrifice. Given that motherhood more or less cured me from mental illness, giving me my life back – I’m still gaining a lot more than I’m losing.
It’s interesting that it was only after having a baby that I finally published a novel for the first time. Parenthood is sufficiently daunting that, in comparison, almost nothing is scary.
This was the best picture of Louisette and I that was taken on my first Mothers’ Day – and yes, I’m wiping up her spew.
If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
My husband spends a lot of time observing other people’s female children from birth to young adulthood, and thinking about the kind of girl and woman he wants our daughter to be. If nothing else, his hopes for her make him a feminist. He wants her to know her strength, to be respected, to be herself.
When he’s at home, he doesn’t “help” me look after her – he just looks after her.
Feminism has given him a more interesting wife.
If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
Mother Nature is definitely sexist – just look at the female reproductive process as compared to the male contribution. On the other hand, while I’m furious that women are still often forced to abandon their career to be a mum, I think all of the horror show of pregnancy and birth is worth it for women to get first dibs on the opportunity to be the stay at home parent. Because I imagine it’s easier for a woman to choose this life than a man.
I love being around my daughter all day, every day (with certain much-needed breaks) and I have a unique solution to my own attachment to her, as opposed to my longing to work. My job is writing novels and babysitting – and in both jobs I have my daughter with me. The pressure is enormous sometimes, but I have everything I need.
Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
It has definitely failed mothers, because pretty much every woman I know feels she has to do paid work, whether that is her preferred choice or not. The cliché that motherhood is the most important job in the world? I actually believe it. That belief cured my mental illness and gave me my life back. Apart from anything else, it’s parents that teach the next generation how society should be – so if we want the world to change, motherhood is where it’s at. Being a mother doesn’t take away any of my ability to think, read, write novels, work for money, or be an interesting person. It is tragic that so few women have the choice to stay at home.
*This is not a child-safe blog, FYI.