so excited to find this that i’m dashing off an incomplete answer. danger danger.
How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
i suppose you could say i became a feminist when i was seven and went to my first women’s lib rally. or perhaps when i was eight when i decided to become a doctor in addition to becoming a mother (which had been my only professional goal up ’til then). i was undoubtedly a feminist by high school when i turned from being a cheerleader (my junior-high pursuit) to playing volleyball, tennis, and running track. i was an intentional feminist by college and enrolled in courses that studied feminist theory. i was a decided feminist by twenty-three when i threatened to sue my employer for firing me for not wearing make up. so i guess you could say i became a feminist long before i became a mother.
What has surprised you most about motherhood?
the ways it challenges my thinking about sex and gender, particularly for women. i do not have a good relationship with my mother, who is perhaps one of the most misogynist people i know. it took me a good long while to realize that it wasn’t just me she dislikes…it’s all women. and that many of the things that are strange about my upbringing, especially as related to gender, can be traced to that dislike. she taught me, explicitly, to distrust women and to prefer men as friends and companions. It really took me until I was in college to see through that, and until graduate school to come to terms with it. now, as the mother of a (living) daughter and a son, i find myself struggling to overcome some of those ingrained notions of gender identity that my mother instilled me….notions that, quite frankly, i didn’t really even know i had.
the other thing that has really surprised me about motherhood is my capacity for love. i didn’t doubt this capacity before I had children, but having kids…? wow. i had no idea that love like this was possible. and it’s amazing, and, well, i love it.
How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
one of the biggest changes is its intentionality. i spent a lot of time, as a child, with my grandmother, who belonged to a lot of what my grandfather called “women’s groups.” she taught me to assume that i would go to college, that i would have a professional career, that i was just as smart as the next person. now that i say that out loud, i think that’s not unlike what a lot of young women in the last 20 years have grown up with–i’ve certainly seen that with undergrads who, for example, benefit from title ix while claiming not to be feminists. it’s a bit of what i experienced — i made assumptions about what was and wasn’t acceptable but didn’t identify as a feminist per se. (at the same time, i didn’t deny it. it just didn’t occur to me one or the other. as a young woman, being feminist was normative for me.)
one of the ways being a feminist affects my mothering is this: i am very aware of, and try to be very careful with, my language and my assumptions around my kids. (i could argue this extends beyond my feminism, which i think is also true, but i believe its roots are my feminist roots.) i try not to tell bitsy, for example, that she looks “beautiful”: instead i opt for words like “fabulous” or “terrific” — words that i would apply to boo as well. i’m not afraid (nor is mac) to joke about sex/gender systems (and more), as when bitsy the other day pointed at me and said “mommy!” and then pointed at mac and said “my other mommy!” and laughed herself into hysterics on the floor. mac laughed right along with her and said “bitsy has two mommies!” (okay, that’s an example about mac, but i’m co-opting it. at least i was in the room when it happened.)
What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
perhaps the most important thing here to me is the issue of choice. and i don’t mean just abortion rights, although obviously i mean that. being a feminist mother means, to me, that i have a responsibility to help my children see choices: the choices they make, the choices that exist in the world, the history of different kinds of choices and the personal and political implications of those choices. perhaps — i hadn’t had this thought before, and i would want to think it through more carefully before going fully on the record with it — being a feminist is about understanding women’s rights and the choices, and kinds of choices, involved and at stake, and then extrapolating outward from there. i would hate for my children to grow up as feminists, for example, without having appropriate awareness of issues of class, economic status, ethnicity, nationalism, etc. obviously identifying as a feminist means — or might mean — putting women’s issues, or more generally, gender issues, first. but not, i hope, to the exclusion of other issues. women can’t afford to trade on oppressions, fighting against their own while ignoring those faced by others. none of us can.
Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
being a partner involves sacrifice. being a good human in the world involves sacrifice. i think it’s an old-fashioned notion — very 2nd wave, perhaps — to think that feminism and sacrifice are irreconcilable. but to the details of the question: one way for me to reconcile my choices is to think of them in terms of personal happiness. it makes me incredibly happy to be with my kids, and at this point, i would rather spend my evenings with them than out with girlfriends. so in a way it’s selfish of me to stay home. and since it’s also stupid of me to stay home all the time–thereby risking my networks not to mention my sanity–i try to maintain the friendships i have as best i can. the truth is, at least in my experience mothering, somebody somewhere is not getting all they want from me. one of my jobs is to try to balance those needs so that, oh, say, the suffering is spread out equally. or maybe at least communally: to each according to the amount of suffering she (or he) can manage. right now, boo’s needs really rule my world, and i’m ok with that. in fact, i really like it–snuggling up with him is not only important for him, it’s important for me. so letting boo’s needs rule my world is, in its own way, a bit selfish.
If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
i used to tell mac that one of the things i liked about him is that he’s part girl. he has some traditionally-girly behaviors, like an ability to talk about his emotions, and a need to reach out to others. i dont’ know that he would identify himself as feminist (i certainly couldn’t see him wearing a “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt), but he shares many values with feminism: belief in gender equality, an understanding of the historical oppressions of patriarchy, sympathy with women’s experiences, etc. it’s something we share, but also something we don’t talk about a lot, at least not any longer. (we probably talked a lot about it during graduate school, or during early days of our courtship, but all that is many states — geographic and psychological — away.) now there’s rarely a need for explicit discussion.
but it’s true, i guess, that having kids has brought this back into our daily conversation, at least a bit. as an example: mac is a sports fan in general, and in particular belongs to a local cycling team. his fandom means that he likes to watch sports not only on the weekends but also during “high” seasons like the world cup or the tour de france. his team membership means that he’s often out, himself, training or racing. he and i talk a great deal about making sure that bitsy is included in those worlds (the other day she asked to watch football on t.v.; during the summer months she regularly asks to watch cycling; she loves loves loves going to bike races to watch her dad). we also remind each other that boo’s sex is no guarantee that he will want to be part of either world. in fact, in one version of our fantasy future, bitsy and mac are on a cycling-racing team together, and boo and i are on the sidelines giving them hand-ups.
If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
i’m not sure this isn’t also a bit of a false dichotomy. i was reading, recently, the blog of a new mother who asked about cosleeping and side-lying for nursing. most commenters (and there were over 100) noted that cosleeping is a dirty secret: almost all mothers do it, and most mothers are afraid to confess to it. i feel the same way about attachment parenting at large. sure, there are explicit practices that constitute attachment parenting, but some of the general guides (i know these are only some) — hold your baby and keep him with you during your day; nurse your baby according to his needs; sleep with your baby — are things that many, many parents do without ever considering themselves to be “attachment parenting.” parents may even engage in these behaviors, or follow these principles, while intentionally not labelling themselves as attachment-style parents. and i may be jumping into the philosophical abyss here, but isn’t the idea of raising “secure” children who have healthy attachments to their parents something most parents want?
anyway. as for me (and mac), we practice some aspects of attachment parenting. we both — but mac especially — get nods of approval when we’re out in public with boo in a sling or carrier. i personally feel that holding boo as much as possible is one of the ways i can mother him best. it helps me to feel confident about my parenting and it helps him to be a happy kid. i don’t see much there that needs to be resolved.
Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
i’m wary of the generalization that there is “a” feminism to have failed anybody; perhaps the notion that feminism is monolithic is one way “it” has failed mothers. but: i think 2nd wave feminism brought a lot of necessary political, psychological, and material advantages to mothers that are good; it also had its own kind of backlash, which we saw in the ’80s with the talk about women believing they could be “supermommies” and hold down demanding professional jobs outside the home, come home and be fantastic, organized, together mamas, and then still have time and energy (not to mention the desire) to be loving sexual partners. when the 3rd wave came along it brought an aspect of hipness, youth, and energy to what was beginning to feel, to many young women, a set of stale politics. it became more possible to be pretty, to wear heels and lipstick, to be girly and smart, especially simultaneously.