A year ago today I published a post answering a series of questions about feminism and mothering from blue milk.
It was a great exercise, and it sparked a lot of thought that led to parenting practices and the still-developing philosophy that I frequently write about on this blog. At the time, I was still pregnant, and I couldn't answer all of the questions yet.
While I'm sure that my response to these questions will be ever-evolving, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit them and see how my early experiences with parenting an infant have shaped my views on feminist parenting.
1.How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
In the earlier post, I defined feminism as striving "for a world where women and men are viewed as equals and a person's individual talents, passions, and abilities determine his/her role(s) in life, not gender." I think that's still accurate.
I've believed in that all of my life. I always saw myself as having a career, even as a young child (as a kindergartner I declared that I would be a marine biologist).
I didn't use the label "feminist" until college, but that's just because I hadn't been exposed to it.
2.What has surprised you most about motherhood?
The love. I'm not a baby gusher. I like kids and I enjoy playing with and talking to other people's. But I've never been one of those people who can't wait to hold a new baby or who gushes over children. I worried that this meant I wouldn't be as affectionate or attached to my own child, but I was wrong.
I know it sounds sentimental and cheesy, but I am in awe of how much I love my daughter. I especially love watching her grow into personality traits that I think are forming the person she will become. It's amazing to watch each development. Seeing her discover the world is helping me discover it all over again.
3.How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
My feminism used to be much more timid. When I first learned of the feminist label, I used to equivocate about how I believed those things but didn't like to label myself. What I meant was I didn't want to argue with people who didn't see gender equality as an important goal. Now I don't mind a little confrontation. Part of that is because I've gotten more confident in my own ability to articulate ideas because of my education, research, and life experiences. But part of that is directly related to motherhood.
I know that the world is a better place for women now than it was for the women of my mother's generation. I feel that it is my responsibility to make sure the world is more equal for my daughter's (and any future children--son's or daughter's) generation as well.
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 goals of equally shared parenting are rooted heavily in feminism. My husband and I strive to divvy up the day-to-day tasks based on equitable grounds and skill sets, not gender or tradition. This is not always easy, and that's primarily because most of the models we have (from our own upbringings and from many contemporary sources) are not negotiated this way.
5.Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Every day, in ways little and big.
When strangers stop me in the store to tell me how beautiful my daughter is and then comment on her eyelashes and those dimples and say how "pretty" and "gorgeous" she is, I am torn. She is, in my perfectly biased opinion, beautiful and pretty and gorgeous. And of course I love her eyelashes and dimples and everything else. But would they say those same things about my child if I had a boy? Is that language doing something to harm her? In the back of my mind I'm thinking about things like Lisa Bloom's "How to Talk to Little Girls" and Kate Makkai's "Pretty."
And then I start a mini panic. Am I failing my daughter? Myself? Feminism? Women? Humanity? Do I have to take this stranger to task? What do I say?
And what do I say? After all, I tell my daughter she's pretty. I also tell her she's smart. I also tell her she's a whiny little cranky pants. This stranger isn't trying to damage her psyche. She (or more rarely, but not unheard of, he) is just trying to be nice, make conversation, pass the time in the grocery line. So what do I say? "Thank you!" Then smile. And wonder.
6.Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
Identifying as anything is difficult. It almost inevitably comes with a checklist of implicit requirements, and I'm never going to meet all of them.
When my daughter crawls through her pink, sparkly tunnel in her bright pink dress, I fear that someone is going to jump out of the shadows and demand that I hand over my feminist ID card for immediate incineration. "But she's carrying the plastic hammer that said 'For a Little Boy' on the package! That counts for something, doesn't it?!"
It's the same feeling I get when I label myself as health conscious and then eat some KFC. Or question how "green" I am every time I toss out a disposable diaper.
In the end, though, I am a feminist because those principles are key to my philosophical underpinnings--and most of the time I'm health conscious and environmentally concerned and a whole host of other things that I can't uphold all of the time.
7.Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I don't see the sacrifices I make as a mother as a threat to my individual feminism or femininity or feminism as a whole. I have been careful to make sure that my sacrifices enable me to continue functioning in multiple spheres. My career is still a priority for me, and I see my work as fulfilling and contributing to greater societal goals.
The biggest sacrifice is in time. I don't get to spend as much time with friends as I want, and I regret that. I also let a lot of housework and general chores slide, which can become overwhelming, but I rarely--if ever--make sacrifices out of my roles as mother, wife, or educator, and these are the facets of my identity I most readily identify with.
8.If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
I have an amazing husband who challenges me and builds me up. He is a fantastic father, and his support in our views of gender equality are key to our relationship and our parenting.
9.If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
Attachment parent is another one of those labels that I shy away from because it feels like I don't meet enough of the checkmarks to identify myself that way. Sometimes I'm a baby-wearer, but sometimes I'm not. It depends on what makes the most sense for whatever the situation is. We usually co-sleep. . .the second half of the night. I believe in a lot of the principles behind attachment parenting, but I guess I don't feel knowledgeable enough about the method to defend it when challenged (much like my early fear of labeling myself a "feminist"). I have been doing a lot of reading about attachment parenting, and maybe some day I will feel informed enough to discuss it with people who hear the term and picture someone like Maggie Gyllenhaal's character in Away We Go.
10.Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
Feminism and gender equality (which are nearly synonymous to me) have given mothers the opportunity to be successful in our complex modern world. Bending the rigid gender roles from both sides of the spectrum is a necessary component of creating flexible environments where men and women can be productive in all of the roles they fill. It gives people the social freedom to navigate the work of living in ways that make sense for them and their families.