Feminism and motherhood

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To some feminism and motherhood are only natural. To others the two are complete opposites. It is important to realize the real work that women put into mothering while at the same time not romanticizing motherhood the same way male supremacists have. Motherhood is hard work women have shouldered and needs to be both respected and valued.

Social theorist Patricia Hill Collins says in her essay ‘Shifting the Center: Race, Class, and Feminist Theorizing About Motherhood‘  that motherhood cannot be analyzed without considering the unique contexts of different people and family situations. This is how second wave feminists judged motherhood. The second wave was about white, middle-class women speaking for all women. Issues were understood from the point of view of women who had the privilege of certain choices. There was an assumption that financial security existed within all families, so something like affordable and accessible childcare was not an issue. Not everyone can afford the choices that supposedly empowered this very specific demographic who spoke of women as a monolith.

White, middle-class women saw motherhood as an obstacle. In her essay ‘Revolutionary Parenting‘ feminist bell hooks writes that motherhood was seen as the locus of women’s oppression. “Although early feminists demanded respect and acknowledgement for housework and childcare,” writes hooks, “they did not attribute enough significance and value to female parenting, to motherhood. It is a gesture that should have been made at the onset of the feminist movement.” Women being defined as mother, and consequently as a wife and housekeeper, is a white, middle-class, heteronormative issue. This way of thinking excludes race and/or class in feminist theory.

bell hooks says for black women, and white working-class women, the right to work was not as much an issue as it was for white, middle-class women because the former have always worked, “From slavery to the present day black women in the U.S. have worked outside the home, in the fields, in the factories, in the laundries, in the homes of others.” For a racialized, working-class, more time with family was the ideal. These women were forced to work in order to take care of their family, working was not a choice and could therefore not be the source of empowerment middle-class, white feminists made it out to be. These early feminist attacks on motherhood alienated women of colour and working class women.

Since the second wave, motherhood has been better accepted in feminist theory. hooks offers this is because bourgeoisie white women want to make up for their alienation of mothers in the past, as well as pay respect to their own mothers. Romanticizing motherhood is still, however, alienating. What bourgeoisie white women are now doing is promoting the same image of heteronormative, middle-class women that the patriarchy does. Male domination is still assumed and alternative family structures like single parenting, parenting in polyamorous relationships, families with queer parents, community parenting, are ignored. Romanticizing motherhood can be a male supremacist ideology the same way ignoring motherhood is.

In order to properly understand motherhood through a feminist lens, women need to stop being viewed as a monolith. The women telling the stories need to be more intersectional as opposed to white, middle-class women who have benefited in some ways under the patriarchy. These women cannot honestly tell the stories of those who have not benefited from the same privileges.

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What I’ve learned about IUDs

iud cookie
Photo from OB Cookie: Contraceptive Confections – this makes me happy.

Update: Read about the insertion here.

I went to Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital for a consultation regarding IUDs. IUD stands for Intra-Uterine Device. Acronyms sounds less scary though. Before the consultation I figured a fishhook would be shoved up my body, tearing up everything in its path. I have also read and heard the tales of those who are anti women’s reproductive rights, and despite my best efforts, I could not shake the image of this scary IUD puncturing the head of a fetus for I would inevitably become pregnant because that’s why women have sex and I’m a dirty bad girl that needs to close her legs. PHEW.

Luckily, I learned differently.

There are two different IUD types available: copper and hormonal. The hormonal device is called Mirena. Both are shaped like a T and placed inside the uterus. They are not nearly as big as I imagined. It is best to have an IUD inserted while on your period. You’re clearly not pregnant and you will probably experience cramping after insertion, so may as well get cramps while you are already cramping anyway. Neither types prevent from sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Both will not need replacing for five years.

Copper devices are 98-99% effective. The Women’s College website reads, “There are several theories of how they work, but we believe that they prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. To a lesser degree, they may also prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus.”

Mirena contains low doses of progestin. Progestin is used in birth control pills. Mirena is over 99% effective and will most likely lighten your period, as there will be less uterine lining to shed, if not eliminate it completely. If you do not get your period while using the copper option, that is a bad sign and you need to contact a doctor.

The copper device is around $50 while the hormonal option is about $400. So, unless you have the money to invest or a benefits package, there may not be that much of an option for you.

The nurse I saw was amazing. She answered not only my questions, but questions I was asking on behalf of my friends too. She was patient and not judgmental at all. I get scolded at a lot of doctor’s offices for not relaxing enough during ultrasounds and pap tests (I cannot be the only one whose vagina is like, nope! Am I?) I am near convinced such shaming and hostility will not be a part of the insertion process come February. Stay tuned!

Update: Read about the insertion here.

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Motherhood: what choice?

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Baby Bear is trying to figure out why women and motherhood is so regulated.

A woman’s ability to have children was once a power worshipped. Now, it is something to be regulated. Regulation is enforced through stigmas, stereotypes and commodification. In heteronormative, Western culture a woman’s worth is connected to her ability and willingness to have a child. And not just one child, there is a hierarchy to adhere to. In addition to my politics, class and marital status I am a bad mother for being one and done– go me! When I assess where I am in life and where I want to be, raising an only child seems to be the best choice. Best choice, not ultimate decision.

When I shared the news that I may have hypo thyroid stuff going on, someone I didn’t really know (or like) matter-of-factly told me that I would no longer be able to have babies. This bothered me more than I would have assumed. They attacked my femininity. Well, “my” femininity as defined before I even left the womb.What kind of woman was I if I could not have children? A barren woman, a childless woman, a broken woman. Of course, I know better. I know what femininity means to me. I have a tailored definition for how I identify.

But still, what if I couldn’t have children? Let’s say I never did in the first place. How fucked up is it that we live in a world where a woman is deemed lesser than others because she does not have children? Because she exercised a choice she has the right to have. And then, if we do have children, if we make that choice, we do not have affordable, accessible childcare; we do not get to work without being a bad mother; we do not get to stay at home without being a bad mother; we really don’t get to choose anything about how we mother without upsetting others and their relentless set of ever changing rules.

My choice to have a child was never the issue. It is institutionalized laws of motherhood that is. In other words, other people who think they can have a say in what I do, live and mother.

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Mother blame and obedience

In the course I am taking about mothering and motherhood, as students we are asked to write journal entries after our readings. This particular entry is based on readings in Maternal Theory Essential Readings edited by my professor Andrea O’Reilly.

Maternal Theory

Mother blaming is a patriarchal construct that regulates women. The power of mother blame has been ingrained in us since children; we grew up knowing that our mothers were there to serve us. She not only had to keep the home running, she was to make sure we all grew up to be happy, responsible people, who are a credit to our society. Everything considered socially unacceptable with a child is assumed to be a mother’s fault, a woman’s success is judged by her child’s success and social acceptance throughout life. Mothers know this, and this fear mongering is there to make sure mothers – women – play by the rules the patriarchy makes for them. “There are myths about mothers that allow us to take anything a mother might do and turn it into evidence of something ‘bad’ about her,” writes Paula J. Caplan. “Important work that a mother does goes largely unnoticed, except when she does not do it, as when she is sick and can not make dinner.”

And so, women in Western culture are expected to be obedient to their family’s whims: their husband, their children, everyone else’s needs and demands. The obedience expected of mothers disempowers them, “And therein lies the first of many strange paradoxes of human motherhood,” writes Susan Maushart. “That mothering is the most powerful of all biological capacities, and among the most disempowering of all social experiences.” One especially strange idea is that a mother is expected to create obedient children, while remaining obedient to said children. So of course a lot of us are matriphobic, we are taught not to be failures like our mothers. The only traits we women need to inherit from our mothers is passivity and pliability.

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Mothering with privilege

The last one on I Don’t Know How She Does It.

In the course I am taking about mothering and motherhood, as students we are asked to write journal entries after our readings. This particular reading was based on the Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It and readings in Maternal Theory Essential Readings edited by my professor Andrea O’Reilly.

IDKHSDI

Allison Pearson’s novel I Don’t Know How She Does It is by no means representation of everyone’s experience with motherhood. The main character, Kate Reddy, is a white, heterosexual, middle-class, cic-gender woman, with a husband, and hired help. She, a fund manager, and her husband, an architect, have two young children – a girl and a boy (which I know happens, but like, how idyllic in a romanticized 1950s way). The problem is not necessarily telling the story, a fictional one at that, about a woman with privilege. It is the underlying story that this version of motherhood is the only, or at best most common, version of motherhood. Reddy is granted a lot of choices with her privilege. She complains about these choices, and it is hard to feel sorry for her, especially when she depicts herself as a martyr, because not all of us have these choices. I realize that I – a white, cis woman, receiving a university education, and in a heteronormative relationship – have my own privileges others rightfully resent. But, whatever the reason, my heart or my shoes (see, I’m using my Christmas-privilege), I really do not like the story of Reddy and her crying over her privilege.

Reddy, like a lot of us, cares about what other people think. She cares when her roots show, that her daughter gets into the best school, that her home’s décor is a signifier of her middle-class status, that her kids of the best birthday party entertainment, and how other mothers see her as a mother. She sees material things as the best way to mother her children. In her own way, she means well. As Sara Ruddick writes, “I made my quilt to keep my family warm. I made it beautiful so my heart would not break.”  The problem is, she does not realize that not all of us have the luxury of worrying about scheduling spa days and high-ranked schools, we are too busy procuring food for the week and making rent.

Reddy’s character is especially frustrating because she comes from a working class background. However, this behaviour is linked to how Reddy’s history shapes how she views the working class. Throughout the book Reddy treats those from the working-class deplorably. When she gets lice, from her own daughter, she initially blames the cab driver. She yells at people on the phone, assuming they are uneducated and stupid, and hates on cashiers if the check out line is long, instead of acknowledging they are working as fast as humanly possible for people like Reddy who do not appreciate this work. She makes racist and homophobic jokes, uses the illness of drug addiction as an insult, and thinks her sister’s life is inadequate because she is still a member of the working-class. We do learn that Reddy’s childhood had very little material things. Her father was an alcoholic and people around Reddy said if only her mother has runaway money, she could have escaped. Reddy’s snobby attitude can be linked to the idea that she views her father and his behaviour, and her mother’s helplessness, as an illustration for an entire socio-economical class of people. Reddy says that at times she feels like she is travelling on a false passport, that as someone from the working-class, no one will accept her now that she is a member of the middle-class. I can relate to this, as someone who statistically should not be writing a journal entry for a university course at this moment. Her past may also explain why Reddy is so resentful to stay-at-home mothers: she does not want to be like her mother, because she does not want to be treated like her mother.

There are some aspects of her mothering experiences that I can relate with. Reddy gets upset when she gets a notice too late about needing to send her daughter to school with food for a school feast. When my daughter first started school, the piles of notices sent home would make me cry, I could not fathom any extra work being added to my plate. I also understand what it is like to try to integrate into society after a rough childhood. As Reddy says at times throughout the book, colourful characters are welcome in literature or movies, but not in real life.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com