Friday, July 30, 2010

Feminism and motherhood

The organiser of the Cherchez La Femme IV: Feminism and Motherhood event on next week asked me to suggest some themes for the evening.

This is the little rant I sent her:

OK, feminism and motherhood. I will definitely be able to give the personal account, I suppose, as I am no academic, though I have certainly given the subject a lot of thought.

To me, motherhood seems to be the final frontier for western feminism. It's the point at which it all falls down! (Hence, the conflation of motherhood, perhaps.) Women can be going along very nicely, and then *bang* they become mothers, find themselves alone all day with babies, drowning in domestic chaos, and wonder when they agreed to all this. (That's not to say that we don't all have to deal with the realities of life, or that having babies isn't also lovely, but I do think it is the point at which men's and women's lives can cease to resemble each others' in all sorts of confronting ways.)

All that lip service paid to equality still doesn't seem to translate into the private sphere. Mothers are still the ones taking it all on, keeping their families afloat, emotionally, domestically etc., even though they are also (often equal) financial contributors.

Mothers are under an extraordinary amount of pressure from all sides. Society has not kept up with their expectations and then they are blamed for it--either punished for being a nag, or not a good enough mother, or not a dedicated enough worker... That's the guilty, vulnerable space backlashers step into and exploit--women (usually) who have decided that those old roles and divisions of labour made so much sense after all and wouldn't it be easier if we all just scuttled back to the kitchen. Which no doubt it would be... but at whose expense?

So yes, structural change is necessary. But also how do we go about changing men and women's own hard-wiring/patterns of behaviour? Will structural change send enough of a message to men that they will start putting on that load of washing without being asked?!

What do you reckon? If have other ideas of pressing issues that should should be covered, please let me know.

Thank the Lord it's being held in a pub. I think I'll need that drink!


katiecrackernuts said...

Am reading Margaret Atwood's "The Edible Woman" ... can't talk now. Digesting. And it was written before the whole 1970s bra-burning thing.

Karen said...

Your pub talk sounds great! Will try to go, but of course, first I need to check that there is someone available to look after the three kids! Which is the very reason I really need to go ...

Megan.K. said...

In agreement here re: motherhood the final frontier... One thing I would like to say is that we are both freed and trapped by the choices open to us as women now. I am choosing to stay at home with my 3rd baby for as long as the family need me to... and instead of pressure to return to my career and expensive childcare options to allow me to do that, I would prefer my highly-skilled home-based role to be acknowledged as meaningful, respected and highly valued by society (particularly by women).

Wish I was going to be at that event Rachel... again, 1000km too far for me :)

Liz said...

I really like that: the final frontier. It's true and unfortunate. It's the Second Shift. I wish you luck at your event.

I recently wrote a post on my blog about feminist motherhood. It was brought up by another blog. We're all essentially saying the same thing: how did we get here? For me, writing is how I move outside of that question.

Here's the link:

Ruth Quibell said...

Best wishes, Rachel. Structural change is hugely important, but it's not going to do everything. The good thing about habits though is that they can and do change. So much is about keeping the conversation going with partners, friends, employers, parents, children. 'Being the change you want' does sounds like a false empowerment cliche, yet there's something in it, if only getting over the fear of doing things differently.

Red Hen (dette) said...

All of what you say is true. But it got me thinking recently my son (18 years old) and I have been talking about what he will choose to study at uni. This led to discussions on having a family and having the means to support a family. He feels upset that there is an expectation that he will work to support his family and is truely commited to being a full time at home dad he really wants to have the opportunity to nurture his children, yet feels the social constraints and expectations of being a boy. (He really is his grandfather's grandson- my father was an artist who worked part time while he went to art school and spent the lion's share of the nurturing time, Mum was the main breadwinner- although she spent any spare time cleaning everything to within an inch of it's life.)
My son would die of embarrassment if he knew I shared this but when he was little he wanted to grow up to be a woman so he could breastfeed his babies! He cried about this for months- until I told him not to worry about it until he was 16 and we'd talk about it then he'd completely forgotten about it by then but he still has a strong desire to be a good present parent, who does much more than 'babysit his own children for his wife' and feels as constrained and angered by social steriotypes that expect women to fulfill these roles.
I guess I'm saying that these issues of equality in relation to parenting affect women and men.
I feel particularly saddened when I hear women attacking each other in judgemental ways for their decisions to either stay at home and become a full time mother or to pursue their careers. I really think that we need to stop having a go at each other as a need to justify our decissions as the right ones. What is right for one person may not be right for another. Some of us may feel we have no choice anf feel guilt anyway without other women giving us a hard time and making us feel worse in order to make themselves feel better about their own position. That is an area I would like to see the most change most quickly.

Elizabeth said...

I agree, feminism and motherhood is a VERY BIG TOPIC! But as a visual artist the first thing I noticed about your post was the image of the pregnant woman at the top of the page. I spent years exploring ways to represent maternal subjectivity and that image is really creeping me out. Where does it come from?

Rachel Power said...

I know! I know! It's the image used to advertise Cherchez La Femme, so I used it as a tie-in, but ever since have been thinking the same thing!! I will replace it with something more appropriate, I reckon...

Motherhugger said...

Hi Rachel

Do you know about The Association for Research on Mothering (recently renamed Motherhood Institute for Research and Community Involvement)? The Australian branch is having a conference at UQ in April which you may like to be involved in. It is all about feminism and mothering.