Hi there. JJ here. I'm no longer updating this blog, but you can visit me at jjkeith.net. I also update on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, including copious kid pics. You can buy my new book, Motherhood Smotherhood, by clicking here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Intersection of Feminism and Motherhood

Me and Bea

The Nation just did an intersting piece on why so few mommy bloggers are explicitly feminist. The author, 20-something feminist Nona Willis Aronowitz, highlights the chasm between moms and feminists, with a critical eye on the age, race, and class issues that underline the divisiveness. She raises a lot of good points, but I'd take it a step further: there's a disconnect between most women, moms or not, young and old, and feminism. I mean, I'm not breaking any news here by saying that feminism has a PR problem.

Last fall I was teaching a gender studies affiliated writing class at USC while I was visibly pregnant. We had a class discussion on the need for maternity leave and childcare and one of my students, a guy, said, "It's not that I don't think this is important, but why is it more important than say the economy or health care or any other issue?" On the spot, I said, "Easy for you to say. It gets pretty important when you're pregnant." Some day he'll probably have a wife and his family will have to deal with choosing between living precariously on one income (and her taking time out from her career) or putting his children in prohibitively expensive day care. But how do we get him and his female counterparts to care about mom issues before they are confronted with them? Furthermore, how do we get women and men who choose to not have children to care? And when people are confronted with these issues, how do we get them to connect it to feminism?

As a culture, we're obsessed with our own self-interest. Aronowitz is right on when she says of Americans that "your family is 'your business.'" Somehow liberty and independence trumped community and family in American culture and the result is hostile to mothers, fathers, children, families, seniors, or pretty much anyone other than well-off singles and childless couples. It's a tough sell to get an 18-year-old to care about family issues. It's a tough sell to get anybody other than moms and moms-to-be to care about family issues. Most adults even don't know that maternity leave is almost extinct in the United States. Over and over I've been asked how I'm enjoying my leave. I don't have leave. I simply wasn't asked to teach during the term that I was due to give birth. And I probably won't be asked back in the fall either, not that I could afford childcare anyway.

When I explained this to my students last fall most of them shrugged it off, chalked it up to my poor planning. And indeed, I did choose to start having kids at the relatively young (for a professional woman in the city) age of 29. I know, it's not really young at all in the grand scheme of things, but my husband and I are not “established.” We live in a rented cottage in an iffy neighborhood. We didn't wait to have kids because my the time we make enough money to own a home and live decently on one income, I'll probably be too old. Actually, it will probably never happen. So now my husband and I are dealing with all the ways our culture shortchanges parents and we're doing it while living 400 miles away from our nearest family members.

I share Aronowitz's concern that mommy bloggers aren't flying the feminist flag, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. We need young feminists, old feminists, non-feminists and everyone to see that our culture is making motherhood a private struggle that is being medicalized, commericalized, and innovated past the point of meaning. Americans have become accustomed to thinking of motherhood as a trial, but with some activism and support, it could be a joy again.


Becky said...

I don't know. Maybe I'm not looking closely enough or maybe I just see lots of "mother-feminists" ... I didn't realize there WAS a disconnect between feminists with children and without children. Hmm. Great post. Let's keep talking. ;)

Desiree Fawn said...

You're right -- we do need more feminists. I was fourtunate enough to go to a University where there were plenty and the fem word was broadcast loud and clear. I took feminist philosophy courses as part of my phil. major and I loved every moment.
I think the thing to do it keep talking, keep our voices loud and continue to do as we do!
You're on the right track ^_^

Julie Pippert said...

Well written and good points, but I think based on a faulty premise: plenty of moms DO fly the feminist flag, and even those who do not are frequently working on something that improves the situation of women.

All are not; that's impossible.

But instead of focusing on a (bogus) concern that mommies are disconnected from feminism, why don't we instead focus on expanding the idea and concept of feminism to include the many and varied ways different women are working to improve the state of women?

However, I agree that the state of parenthood is a struggle for both parents, which is detrimental to our society as a whole.

I also agree with NAW's point in the original article that we need to get more visibility, but that's two-sided: the national stage and media need to open up bigger discussion points more frequently, but the self-identified feminists need to look harder at a broader idea of feminism among all sorts of women, including mommies. We need to project AND look.

You shouldn't need a big fat flag to see how hard a woman is working.

To some feminists, it's just another stupid stay at home breeder schlepping to the PTA in her gas-guzzling minivan. That's too bad.

To others, it's a woman dedicating countless (COUNTLESS) hours UNPAID to help improve the education of children for a brighter future that benefits us all.

I also wrote about this in my article, "Double X Double Slam: Women, Mothers Marginalized More Than Ever?" http://momocrats.typepad.com/momocrats/2009/05/double-x-double-slam-women-marginalized-more-than-ever.html

Criss said...

Most mommy bloggers are stay-at-home moms, aren't they? I've often heard from feminists that SAHMs are hurting the feminist movement because they are not out there being fierce career women. I'm sure those sentiments don't make most mommy bloggers want to jump up and wave the feminist flag...

Excellent article, though. Thanks for sharing!

(PS: if I may toot my own horn, I actually wrote about maternity leave on Change.org's Women's Rights blog http://womensrights.change.org/blog/view/next_year_give_mom_the_gift_of_maternity_leave, if you want to check it out.)

sarah said...

To Ms. Pippert, I would ask; who are these "plenty of moms flying the feminist flag"? In my experience, even women with pro-women ideals shy away from calling themselves feminists. I think there are a lot of homophobic people out there who mistakenly conflate feminism with lesbianism, to the detriment of all women.

When will we realize that other women who make different choices than us are not the enemy, but a society that doesn't value us or our work is?

notSupermum said...

So glad I found your blog, as I'm a 'Mummy blogger' based in the UK. I also consider myself to be a feminist (always have done), and am raising my two daughters to be confident, independent people who can make good choices in life. I think feminism does have certain negative connotations for many people, and I'm currently writing a blogpost around that subject.
Thanks for the thought provoking article.

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