What Does a Feminist Mother Look Like? Part 1

Tooling around the world of feminist mother blogs, I came upon this post at Blue Milk asking feminist mothers to answer ten questions.  I hope she will forgive my coming late to the response dance but I am a newbie playing catch-up.  Some of the questions have several parts so there are actually way more than ten questions. I will give my answers to these questions in a series of blog entries.  Today is Part 1.

1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence?

The belief that women are people (yeah, I stole that) and that I have a duty to protect everyone’s right to be whoever they are as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.

When did you become a feminist?

Birth.

Was it before or after you became a mother?

See above. ;)   I meant my birth.

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?

How all-consuming “24/7″ really is.

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

Motherhood made me more acutely aware of the extent of sex discrimination against mothers.  Motherhood pushed me to examine more closely, and finally reject, “equality” as a useful idea.  Motherhood forced me to feel in my bones how much I had been able to “pass” as male, despite many many instances of sex discrimination in my schooling and employment.

“Equality” was, I thought, the right to be treated as if I were a white man. I didn’t see that such a standard was not okay.  As a student, I could envision being  “equal” to a white man since I saw myself as behaving and performing like a white man.  As a lawyer, I thought I could be “equal” to my male counterparts because my work was the same, if only people did not alter their behavior toward me because I was female.  But there is no male pregnant person.  There is no male breastfeeding person. Note I use “male” here to mean “a person who appears to be and is believed to be male” and am making no statement about what physical characteristics constitute gender.

What this made me understand, and forces me to constantly examine, is that feminism can not be about equality because there is no such thing as equality.  It has to be about fairness, balance, real choices, and humanity.  I don’t want to be free to be “white man.”  I want to be free to be whoever I am.

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 children know that each of them are different and that nothing about their gender alters the way I treat them. I teach (and show) my children that treating people differently based on gender is wrong.  I also, in age appropriate ways, point out sexism to them.

I have to say that this has been much easier than I thought it would be.  I was shocked to become the mother of sons (for some reason it never occurred to me that I would have boys). But my boys have never needed any prompting from me to reject the notion that there are boy things and girl things, boy colors and girl colors, boy clothes and girl clothes.  They have always been upset when other parents have set limits based on gender.  Other parents have rejected them as appropriate playmates for girl children.  Other kids have teased them for liking pink.  I hate pink but my boys are who they are. All I needed to do was let that happen and support them when other people got in the way.

As they get older, the issues get a bit stickier.  I try and find ways to let them know that, while I love them and love being their mother, I made sacrifices I should not have had to make.  I am starting to let them know this as they start to form ideas about themselves as fathers.  I want them to think about choosing a career and lifestyle that will allow them to spend more time fathering than their own father does.  I want them to be sure that the other parent of their children should have more choices than I did.

I don’t want to indulge much in stereotypes of non-feminist mothers.  I suppose they tell their children that their lives should be defined by gender.  I suppose they tolerate harmful and unfair behavior in their kids.  I was in a playgroup some years back in which play was divided by the kids into boy play and girl play.  It was uncomfortable for me and for my boys, who sometimes wanted to play in mixed groups or with the girls.  One day the boys played a “game” that consisted of throwing rocks at the girls.  I and my sons were horrified.  Two other mothers said, “Oh, boys will be boys.  All boys hate girls.”  When I said that my boys didn’t hate girls, they insisted it was because they had no sisters. “If your boys had sisters, they would hate girls too.”  And I think they are wrong.  I told them so. Those were mothers who were not feminists. To my boys, girls are just other people.  And my boys would never throw a rock at anyone.

Stay tuned for Part 2.