Monday, September 22, 2014

"Feminist Mom" is Not an Oxymoron

I found this cool symbol on this website.

It's nothing new for feminists to be at odds among each other. After all, we are a vast group of people who, in essence, share only anatomy and a desire for equality. What that equality looks like and is composed of is often a matter of heated debate.

And one of the biggest rifts in the community I've witnessed is child-free feminists vs. feminist moms.

Yes. There is such a thing as a feminist mom, by the way. The fact that my body housed, birthed, and fed two small humans does not mean that I suddenly lost my intelligence, my drive, my politics, or my passion. In fact, and you might be shocked to hear this, having children strengthened and reignited my feminism.

My two children - one boy and one girl - will inherit whatever world we leave them. And while there are many problems that need fixing - chief among them climate change and our alarming lack of gun sense in America - I feel that the embedded patriarchy and even misogyny in our culture is often the root of what ails us. I want to leave my kids a better world, and in order to do that I need to raise them to be good people. People who feel neither entitled nor defeated by their gender. People who feel a responsibility to others, not competition to be better than others at all times. People who know how to process their emotions in a healthy way so as to avoid the depression and rage that plagues us all too often.

But just because my feminism was strengthened by breeding doesn't mean that every woman's feminism would do the same. It's true, becoming a mother does make it hard to relate to your child-free friends on some level, especially in the beginning. I'd be lying if I pretended that weren't true. When the days are relentlessly hard and you feel like simply a pair of hands to pick up a kid and a pair of boobs to feed said kid - like anything that use to be you is as distant a memory as your most recent shower - it's hard to sympathize with your friend whose coworker's music is getting on her last nerve or who accidentally locked herself out of her apartment. And when those days are really, really, really hard, you might even find yourself resenting your friend for not making the choices you made. And that's when your treading on feminist territory.

Because to be a feminist means that you support a woman's choice to have the life that fulfills her, as long as it doesn't infringe on others' rights. It means realizing we all have struggles, often ones nobody sees or discusses, and nobody's life is more valuable nor more difficult than another's. It means not expecting a woman to breed nor refrain from breeding, because when we tell a woman what to do with her body and her life, then we are eclipsing that woman's rights.

I'm in the majority. Most women have children. It is what is expected of us, and I fulfilled those expectations. Add to that the fact that my genetics make me want the romantic company of a man and that I have white skin, and you've got one entitled lady. I realize this. And I realize that my feminist sisters who live child-free lives (either by choice or circumstance) face an avalanche of criticism and judgment and annoying "concern" from friends, family, and strangers on a daily basis.

So keep all that in mind when I say how sick and tired I am of listening to women criticize other women for their parenting choices. I. Am. Over. It.

Women who denounce "slut-shaming" (when people say that a woman "asked for" assault or rape based on her choice of clothing) are sometimes the same women who roll their eyes in disgust when a mom breastfeeds her child in public or continues to breastfeed a child into the toddler years (or beyond).

Women who would defend a woman's right to birth control make fun of the women who are fighting for more respectful, evidence-based birthing practices and dismiss us as "natural birth freaks."

Women who stand up for equal pay for women judge another woman for choosing to stay at home with her children.

Women who fight against domestic violence - not just physical but also emotional - rant on Facebook about a mom who spoke gently to her misbehaving kid rather than chewing his head off like our parents did.

These women are unwittingly a part of the patriarchal machine against which they rage. When you say breasts are OK when a woman is dressing that way but not OK to feed a child, you're suggesting that breasts are sexual in nature, not biological. When you say that a woman can prevent herself from becoming pregnant in the way that suits her but shouldn't have more autonomy over her actual birth, that's a pretty lopsided view of our reproductive rights. When you say it's not OK for a woman to choose to work as a full-time parent, you're limiting her opportunities. When you get on a woman for not being "tough" with her kids, you're suggesting the patriarchal way we were parented is ideal (i.e. the parent figure tells you what to do, no discussion or learning, and that way is often enforced with anger or even violence).

You may not understand another woman's choices. You don't have to. (This simple fact is one that also eludes the community of mothers who still often nit-pick at each other and fuel those ridiculous Mommy Wars.) But if that woman is fulfilled, then as feminists we need to work our butts off to support her.

This is how we will change the world. If I hear fellow moms criticize a child-free woman, calling her selfish or unfulfilled or spoiled (and yes, I'm sad to admit I've heard all of these from other moms), I vow to you that I will stand up for her. I'll remind those women that we are privileged to live in a time when women aren't considered mere vessels for procreation, and that children no longer have to be raised by reluctant and/or resentful parents. That living child-free doesn't necessarily mean sleeping in on the weekends and going out for drinks every night. But if a woman does both of those things then that's her prerogative, too.

But I ask that if you are a child-free feminist,  you take a moment to reevaluate your stance on moms. Maybe, like most of my friends, you are supportive and fantastic. Or maybe you find yourself sighing in disgust when you see a stroller coming your way, assuming the mom behind it has no life other than her kids and thinks she's superior to you for pushing a baby out of her hoo ha.

I promise to try to raise wonderful kids who'll turn the tide of this current climate if you promise to keep defying societal expectations brazenly and confidently. Together, we might actually be able to gain the equality for our gender we so heartily desire.

PS - One of my favorite women to follow on Facebook is the Feminist Breeder. She says a lot of what I tried to say here, but much more eloquently. She also has a website.

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