Saturday, May 5, 2012

NY TIMES: Motherhood vs. Feminism

One more voice in the debate... mine!
Here's the forum.

It is beyond distressing to me that the very definition of what a feminine being can do - create and sustain life - could possibly be considered anti-feminist a priori.  I derive a huge amount of my feminine identity from motherhood and the abilities of my body. Please don't blame your baby - hold accountable the laws of the land and your benefits package.  I choose attachment parenting because it is convenient, not because I believe in some major give-fest.  I breastfeed and co-sleep because it is easier to roll over than run to the other room in the middle of the night warming formula - I babywear because it is easier to have a calm baby than a fussy one, and because strollers are unwieldy. I place no judgement on the women who can't or choose not to do the same.  But in the category of women who can't, many would find breastfeeding easier if they weren't routinely separated from their babies shortly after birth.  If  no one teaches women how to wear their babies comfortably, and mass marketers push us to buy all kinds of equipment to make our babies need us less, of course we'll assume carrying them is a sacrifice.

It is curious to me that first year residents are encouraged to devote themselves completely to their hospitals, but women are considered martyrs for devoting themselves to their babies in the first year of life.  Just like residency, the early years of your child's life are fleeting and may merit extra time commitments.   To assert that it is motherhood against feminism means we have gotten used to a very low-bar version of feminism.  Our workforce is largely masculinely-designed without much intent to also incorporate the real needs of mothers.  A true feminism would campaign for access to proper maternity (and paternity) leave, flexible work hours, flexible site locations, on-site daycare, breastfeeding-normative environments, and empowering birth and early-motherhood experiences.  We devote a huge amount of time, money, and effort to our educations and our careers - yet we've rarely held an infant and almost never seen a birth before our own.  It makes sense that we are largely unprepared for motherhood, and if we were as feminist as we should be, it would be more common for women to support other women in all of their endeavors.    

Women are tough - they can do anything a man can do - they can give birth! - now let's see if we can put a feminine touch on feminism. Powerful, AND caring, nurturing, sensitive women affecting global change can be the goal of feminism as well as equal pay for equal work.  If you don't want to breastfeed - don't.  If you don't want to run around to little league games - don't.  If motherhood feels corny and unfulfilling to you, stop playing them canned children' music and ditch a few of those plastic beeping toys.  Pop on some cool music and create a motherhood that feels authentic to you.  Children are adaptable and will recover from warfare, let alone your departures from attachment parenting (and your emotional crises that attachment parenting zealots are making you feel guilty).  Let's stop the mother blaming, "you spend too much time with the kids," "you don't spend enough time with your kids!"  Embrace and support other women.  

I'm not completely gloriously happy with motherhood at all times, and I do recognize that sometimes our children's (and partners', friends', employers') needs come head to head with our own.  But we are really bad at seeing the ways that our children's needs match ours.  At your birth you probably heard- "oh, your baby is a stubborn one, she won't move down..." We are pit against our children right from the start.  If you are made to believe your child needs not just school, and not just pre-school, but also preschool prep, of course we don't trust that we're supposed to enjoy the time we're spending with our kids. We're very comfortable asserting what our machines need to run - and knowing what our companies need to run.  Why can't we be honest about what our kids need?  All people including children need touch, fresh air, nourishment, shelter among other things to thrive. Give women the proper skills to nurture their babies when they're babies - spend time with them when they're toddlers - maybe that investment will pay dividends to our future generation of leaders (not to mention when you wish your kids would want to hang out with you).  

As a birth and postpartum doula, I am privileged to witness firsthand that men and women are different - I know and remember this constantly attending births - so let's spend less time as feminists making women be like men, and more time normalizing the needs and cycles and strengths of women. Call a spade a spade - the modern workforce isn't flexible enough, and our peer learning isn't broad enough to support your parenting ideal.  Let's accept that there is a wide range of acceptable nurturing, and also try to set our mothering goals to a reasonable height.  Better yet, let's stop teaching the next generation that overachieving is appropriate in either the workforce or the home.  Let's idolize the leisure class more than the "I am busier than thou" class.  Don't go blaming your children. Don't go blaming motherhood and other moms. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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