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Monday
Dec022013

#FeminismIsForMothersToo, Obviously 

At the BlogHer conference in 2010, I spoke on a panel of activist moms. In response to a question asked by one of the attendees, I mentioned that I never personally felt discriminated against as a woman until I became a mother. Speaking to a friend after the panel, she said she was surprised when I said that. I understand her surprise, because I do know that discrimination is out there and that is why I was a feminist long before I ever became a mother. But I'd never directly felt the impact of misogyny until I became a mother.

From the moment that a woman gets pregnant, our patriarchal society begins policing her choices, but refuses to provide her with any actual support. I'm reminded of this every day. From the attempts (and horrible successes) in restricting women's reproductive rights to lacking maternity and parental leave (yes, even in Canada it could be better). From the dearth of  affordable childcare spaces (even though subsidized child care pays for itself) to the assumptions that the woman will take on the bulk of the parenting and household chores. From the judging of women who breastfeed in public to the judging of women who don't breastfeed. Mothers are being watched, policed, judged and put under increased pressure by everyone around them, including other women.

I'm reminded of this all the time. I could probably write a dozen blog posts per day about mothers being discriminated against, if I wasn't busy being a working mother myself.

This week, for example, Jezebel wrote about a woman who was fired from her job as a waitress because she called the police about a woman who was drinking while breastfeeding. Despite the fact that moderate alcohol consumption while nursing is perfectly safe and nursing while drinking alcohol is certainly safer than nursing after drinking, Jezebel chose to throw breastfeeding moms under the bus in the name of supporting a woman they felt was wrongfully dismissed. By judging alcohol and breastfeeding as "dangerous", they may cause women to wean early if they want to be able to enjoy an occasional drink or they may make them feel so judged that they simply drink at home instead of going out and socializing.

So we judge, judge, judge (of course the alcohol and breastfeeding thing isn't all that is being judged)...because "who is thinking of the children?", but we don't provide support.

In October, Chanel Grenaway wrote an article for the Canadian Women's Foundation called "But Mom, Why Can't I?". She wrote:

Eighty percent of all lone-parent families are headed by women. This adds up to over 1 million families, and they are among the poorest in the country.

21% of all single mothers and their children live in poverty (Note: only 7% of single parent fathers and their children live in poverty)

Single moms have a net worth of only about $17,000, while single dads have about $80,000.

Everyone is happy to step in and judge moms, but who is going to step in and help? Grenaway points out many of the things that these low income single moms can't provide for their children that other families take for granted. Things like school supplies, school photos, school field trips, and milk. Winter just hit with a vengeance in Canada, and there are surely countless single mothers trying to figure out how they can possibly afford winter boots, a snowsuit and something small to put under the Christmas tree. 

The lack of understanding of the importance of feminism and mothering goes right to the top. Michelle Obama was recently criticized for being insufficiently feminist and too much of a "mom-in-chief". In response to the criticism, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, the CEO of MomsRising.org wrote The Real Feminist Nightmare. She explains:

The headline for Michelle Cottle’s recent article in Politico Magazine, “Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama Became A Feminist Nightmare,” got it wrong. First Lady Michelle Obama isn’t a feminist nightmare.

The real feminist nightmare is when women are undermined because they are mothers—particularly because more than 80 percent of women in our nation have children by the time they’re 44 years old.

If feminism isn’t for mothers too, then who is it for?

After all, demeaning moms demeans the vast majority of women. And at the societal level, this doesn’t just hurt feelings. It hurts pocketbooks. Motherhood is now a greater predictor of inequality than gender in the United States.

There it is. Motherhood is a greater predictor of inequality than gender. Yet mothers are also the key to improving the plight of children in general and girls in particular. This is why humanitarian organizations in their development work often focus on the importance of the mother. Every year, Save the Children writes a report called the State of the Worlds' Mothers. In the introduction of the 2013 report, Jasmine Whitbread, the CEO of Save the Children International wrote:

Every year, our State of the World’s Mothers report reminds us of the inextricable link between the well-being of mothers and their children. As any mother – myself included – will tell you, our children’s health is the most important thing in our lives. And we know that a strong and empowered mother is the best champion a child will ever have. More than 90 years of experience have shown us that when mothers have health care, education and economic opportunities, both they and their children have the best chance to survive and thrive. 

MomsRising.org is a U.S. based non-profit that seeks to raise the voices of mothers on issues of importance to mothers. The issues that they cover include maternity and paternity leave, fair wages, flexible work, paid sick days, health and nutrition, and more. In Canada, the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community supports academic and community initiatives on feminist mothering and they also publish books and journals about feminist mothering through Demeter Press. So yes, regardless of what mainstream feminist dialogue may tell you, feminism is for mothers too. Feminism from a mother's perspective, and feminism that supports mothers, has the potential to be a true driver for social change around the world.

Step up and use your voice to support mothers, to share a mother's feminist message, and to shut down anti-mother messages even when they are disguised as feminist messages. MomsRising.org started the #FeminismIsForMothersToo hash tag in response to the criticism of Michelle Obama and in support of the important work that they do. What is your #FeminismIsForMothersToo message?

 

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Reader Comments (12)

Yes - feminism for mothers, but we should be sure to include mothers and fathers who make all kinds of choices about caring for their children, including the choice to leave the paid workforce for a while (or cut back to part-time employment). Please see my guest post, "Equality and Justice for All Families," on the New America Foundation blog The Ladder:
http://tinyurl.com/MyersNAF

I'm the volunteer executive director of Family and Home Network, a national nonprofit organization advocating for inclusive family policies. All families--including those with an at-home mother or father--need better economic support and more respect as they raise children.

December 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Myers

Catherine:

I definitely agree that that all choices in terms of how to care for children should be supported. I believe that:
- fair, flexible and longer maternity, paternity and parental leave is needed
- subsidized child care should be available for those who want to go back to work
- income splitting or other measures should be available to families who choose to have one parent stay home, so that they aren't penalized by the tax system for that choice
That is just a start, but those are a few of the absolute basics that I think should be available.

December 3, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

Hi Ann - Yes, we tell girls they can do anything and support their educations, but then there's no support for pregnant women, families, caring for children in the corporate structures we live in.

December 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

Thanks for sharing this! It is so very true that criticism is easy to come by, and voluminous! But constructive ideas, nah, not so much. When the Globe & Mail ran a series of articles about the dearth of affordable daycare, their FB page was filled with armchair critics complaining "why have children if you cannot afford them?" and other useless rhetoric. I often wonder whether these armchair critics want to be taken care of by robots in their old age...

Your posts are an insightful and refreshing change from all the mommy war garbage out there. There are many of my friends in the sandwich generation now, and support and recognition for the struggles they facing in looking after children AND ill parents are hard to come by. Efforts to improve parenting conditions will also help boost those who may not have kids but have elderly parents to look after...

December 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Just seeing just the title of this article is very scary. This hateful political movement called "feminism" is doing so much damage to mothering, to children and women, but to boys and men especially, that I just struggle to understand why people won't wake up and realize that feminism is a hate group. I work in the human services fields and I see the results of the damage. We need humanitarians who love and respect ALL humans, not hateful ideologies that are destroying attachment parenting and causing more gender separation than ever before.

December 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie A. Couture

@ Laurie:

Feminism is not a hate group and is not destroying attachment parenting. In fact, feminism, attachment parenting, and humanism are all very compatible. I wrote about that here:

Why Humanism, Feminism and Attachment Parenting Are Compatible

I love and respect all humans, including my children and my partner. Feminism is about equality. How is it respectful or humanitarian to be against equality?

December 3, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

PATRIARCHY is what ruins feminism for mothers. As always. FEMINISM is why gives mothers freedom to choose how to mother in ways that works for their own unique family dynamics. STOP blaming feminism for patriarchy's faults!!

December 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFeminist

@Feminist:

I agree with you that patriarchy is the root of the problem and I'm not blaming feminism for patriarchy's faults.

I am, however, calling out certain feminists for having a view of feminism that is too narrow. More importantly, however, I'm trying to show fellow mothers how relevant feminism is to them.

December 4, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

@Feminist, If you never take off the lens, you will not be able to see the reality in front of you. By blaming some mythical force outside of yourself ("Patriarchy"), you negate that the feminism you are a part of contributes in any way to the suffering in the world. Therefore, it is always "other people (men)", "other forces (Patriarchy), and never women, yourself and the ideology you support.

December 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie A. Couture

(the question 'should feminism care about mothers' is rather trivial. a more interesting rephrasing might be: 'doesnt feminism include the suggestion that we should evolve out of motherhood(parenthood) altogether?'.)

December 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterabe.

I became a mother at 19, so I suppose it makes sense that my feelings of feminism have always been deeply tied to motherhood.

That being said, I wholeheartedly agree that I've felt my parenting decisions judged more harshly than any others. In fact, my parenting has been called into question when commenting on areas that have nothing to do with my role as a mom!

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBritt Reints

Great post. I did a women's studies degree in the early 1990's and had a baby my junior year - I became a pariah because I was "naturalizing" women's bodies. At the time I thought motherhood was a feminist issue for all of the reasons you state, but academic feminism at the time rejected it. Unless of course it was to encourage everyone to buy a copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves". Times sure have changed, and, in my opinion, for the better as far as feminist acceptance of motherhood. Not so good is the perception I have that mothering has become high stakes and an opportunity to get our "Mean Girl" on. Social media only makes it more intense - I entered motherhood both "back in the day" and twice more in the last 3 years, so I have seen it during both eras and it definitely feels more acute now. But I was probably questioned/told off/lectured to more as a 20 year old than a 40 year old. Either that, or folks are just too scared to say anything to may face any more - age apparently has its benefits ;-)

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie Spencer White

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