Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

The Feminist Motherhood Meme

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This is so much more than a meme. I found this list of questions about motherhood and feminism (which originated with bluemilk) over at Penguin unearthed, and have enjoyed chewing over them. Warning: slight rants ahead.

How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

My feminism comes from outrage at injustice: I am outraged that fundamentalist religions of all kinds oppress women in the name of their beliefs, I am outraged that women die, are trafficked, raped, abused, have their genitals mutilated, are blamed for the HIV virus that their men pass to them, do not have a voice in their own homes, do not receive an education and must serve men.

My feminism came very young: probably at 11 when my father divorced my mother and left his family for another woman. That was a defining moment for me – I grew up overnight, and took on board the message that I should rely on no-one but myself because other people let you down. As I grew older that began to mean getting into a good university and following the career of my choice: journalism and writing. As I head into my forties, my feminism becomes less about me and more about women in general.

Feminism definitely preceeded motherhood for me. I only began to seriously think about motherhood when I was 28 and started meeting ridiculously cute infants. I thought, “I want one!” but never for one minute thought about how that would change me or my goals. I was after an adorable accessory of my own.

What has surprised you most about motherhood? How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

The intensity of emotions, both positive and negative, surprised and continues to surprise me about motherhood. I cried for days when all my children were born, sad tears, happy tears, confused and anxious ones. I remember thinking, “A baby won’t change MY life! It will have to fit in with whatever I want to do”, but then on Day Six of Life, Lily developed colic and cried for three months, so there was no going to restaurants and whisking her places because she would scream and scream. I was more her accessory than she was mine. I learnt fast to shape my life to hers, and nothing has changed since. My children have taught me flexibility.

My feminism has become far more general and less specific. I no longer rail at any personal glass ceiling I may have encountered (nor the idiot – no gender mentioned – boss who broke the news to me at the last minute that I couldn’t telecommute from London to his team in Germany, thus leaving me without any maternity benefits when I became pregnant working out his company’s insane six-month notice period. No. I won’t mention him.) or any ridiculously paternalistic boyfriends I might have allowed to patronise me as a teenager. I believe I am living out my potential. However, I am enraged that there are so many millions of women who are prevented from doing so. THAT makes me angry.

Motherhood has softened me in that I see my husband’s (different but equal) style of parenting as beneficial and lovely for our children. At first, I wanted him to parent My Way. Now I see that His Way is equally wonderful and that the children love it. Motherhood has been a kind of sacrifice for me, a putting-on-hold of putting-me-first, but has also allowed me to forge intensely close and satisfying relationships with three individuals who wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me. The joy of watching them grow and become themselves far outweighs any superficial strokes I might be receiving now in a work environment. Plus I manage to raise them AND work as a writer, so I feel lucky and honoured to be doing both.

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

I’m not sure what makes my mothering feminist. My expectations of my children are identical, regardless of their gender. I encourage my children to be true to themselves, regardless of their gender. I encourage them all to show kindness to others, to listen and be polite. I kiss them all equally. I support their choices and always will, though I might disencourage them from becoming lap-dancers or suicide bombers. I like that they see their father perform household tasks, and I like that they see me at my computer working.

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

Occasionally, I’ve wondered how I, with my feminist principles, have ended up as a work-from-home mother but I believe that’s a choice I’ve made out of love and good fortune. I feel compromised and grumbly if my family have left the house in a mess and since I’m the one at home, I’ve got to make the choice of ignoring it or clearing it up. I certainly don’t feel that I’ve failed as a feminist mother.

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

No, I think at times my feminism has been subdued by the all-consuming task of parenting. But I have no trouble saying I am both a feminist and a mother.

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

I try to accept the sacrifice gracefully. My time in the big, wide world – should I choose it – will come.

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

He accepts it as part of me. He doesn’t see it as some weird addendum to my personality. He is also one of the most fair-minded, kind and non-judgmental people I know.

If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I have used aspects of attachment parenting (sleeping with my babies, fairly long-term breast-feeding, some baby-wearing) but am not an attachment parenting proselytizer. However, there were times when all three of my children were small that I felt “in service” to them. At very tired, over-wrought moments I might have resented that, but I am grateful to the attachment parenting now – and my husband loved all the wearing, carrying and cuddling too – because we have such intensely close bonds. Our children are at home with us, wherever we are in the world.

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

I don’t think feminism has failed mothers, but I do think women fail each other. Women judge each other for ridiculous reasons, usually because someone has made a different choice. Feminism has given women freedom of choice, and we should embrace the fact that some of us can go out and be CEOs, others can be stay-at-home mothers, others can juggle work and kids, others may not want kids, others will breast-feed while some would never consider it. Women need to accept each other’s choices and support each other more. We are so damn lucky to HAVE choices – there are millions of women in the third world who don’t have that luxury. Whether we’re feminists or not, mothers or not, we should stop failing each other, and start loving each other a little more and judging each other a little less.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

8 thoughts on “The Feminist Motherhood Meme

  1. I agree, it is much more than a meme (and Bluemilk didn’t set it up as one) but I thought if I called it a meme it might spread a bit!

    Really interesting answers. I love reading all the different things that feminism means to people.

  2. I love your answer to the last question. I have found it very difficult at times to deal well with women who have made different choices than me (motherhood, for instance) because if I mention my lack of interest in having children, they feel judged (though I don’t intend it that way), and even if I don’t mention it, often they judge me for my choices. There is always a sort of tension, and I wish we could get past that.

  3. What a great post. I agree with Amanda. When Luke was born breastfeeding was all the rage and I chose to breastfeed and supplement with formula. It was incrediable the kind of questioning(by other mothers) I was subjected to. There is always a tension there.

    Being a stay-at-home mom has been a bit of a challenge for me at time. Just this morning I was thinking of blogging about it.

  4. Great post! I agree with everything you said, Charlotte.

  5. Thanks for giving me something to think about, Ms Penguin.

    Amanda, I just don’t understand why women feel threatened by the choices of others. Thank goodness we’re not all the same. Imagine how boring the world would be if we all chose the same path.

    Alida, odd isn’t it, how women can behave? Your baby, your choices, but still people thinking they have a right to opine.

    Thanks, Lizzy. Are you going to do it?

  6. Terrific answers. Some of the questions seemed a bit odd (and even sexist to me), and some of them I didn’t quite understand. I mean, why should being an attachment parenting mother affect one’s feminism in any way? I do think that in some ways, *strident* feminism HAS failed mothers as in those who will tell a woman who is suffering terribly from morning sickness that there is no basis in fact for her “sickness,” that it’s in her head, and that she’s feeding into the idea that women are weak. (I once read about a woman to whom something like this had happened.) Then again, I’m not in favor of strident anything, and I’m not a mother, so what do I know?

  7. This is great. I am definitely going to use it.

    And I also agree with your last answer and it is too darn bad.

  8. What a fantastic meme! I might have a go at it one fine day on What we Said. I also liked your final answer. I think women are hard on each other because they are hard on themselves, and because of residual guilt and uncertainty from their relationship with their mothers. But I do think if we could make an effort to change that, to forgive ourselves imperfections and release ourselves from the bonds of endless trying harder, we’d really find liberation. I say these things, struggling to do them myself, of course!

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