The Two Brothers Who Will Make You Dance

How’s the self-isolation and quarantine going?

Going out of your mind trying to juggle work, bored children, your own existential impeding sense of doom and anxieties? Staring at the forbidden outside for so long your eyes have started to tear up? Missing hugging your friends and your loved ones, having a newfound respect for walks in the park, smells of the spring?

Or is it just me?

Regardless of how miserable this confinement is making you feel, remember that each minute you stay at home you’re helping not overburdening health systems, straining nurses and doctors and a medical workforce who was already strained to the point of breaking before the COVID19 crisis. You’re supporting the absolutely crucial workers who are making your confinement possible and comfortable by continuing to go to work (and who are not being supported by governments, or given any protections, or additional raise). And remember that some women are staying home, when home, to use Warsan Shire’s image, is the mouth of a shark, facing domestic violence and isolation. I’m not trying to make you feel bad for feeling bad about this mess, just sharing a reminder that we’re not all equal in this situation, and the reason why is because capitalist interests and neo-liberal policies have worked hard to dismantle social protections, marginalizing scores of individuals.

Most of all, remember all of that when this is over, and vote and support parties and candidates who will not slash health and public service budgets, who will give a fucking raise and meaningfully value workers and stop supporting bankers and their ridiculous bonuses and salaries. The communists do that quite well I’m told. Just something to be looking into.

Stares in Marxism.

But I digress. We were talking about confinement and your mental health.

If there is something that diasporas know how to do, is to alleviate the soul-crushing effects of exile by maintaining connections across oceans and time zones. We are good at social media, good at using every tool under the sun to keep in touch with friends and families, good at finding ways to make the sour taste of isolation and loneliness a little sweeter. Come to think of it, we are also quite good at anxiety, having been raised in often volatile contexts (again, maybe that’s just me?).

It’s therefore no wonder that we put these skills to good use when a massive mutant virus came knocking at our doors and forced us all back into our homes.

Enter the tale of the two brothers.

Like all good stories, this one starts in a kitchen.

Frustrated by Whatsapp’ limitations (‘we were more than four’, ‘we wanted music’, you know, just your usual men moaning about the world not being exactly crafted to suit their needs), Farès and Karim Damien decided to move their friends’ virtual hangouts to Zoom. It allowed for more people. It worked fine. They could play their music. All was well. As Farès puts it ‘if whatsapp had allowed for more people to participate in calls, we might not have had the parties at all’. Thank apps limitations I guess.

Then their friend Emile Sfeir, a DJ, started playing his set just for fun. Split between Switzerland, Germany, Lebanon and France, the group of friends just got into the habit of meeting up, sharing music (with the notable hindrance of Lebanon’s adorably quaint yet are we done with this shit yet power cuts around midnight), and started sharing the links to their calls with friends.

And friends of their friends.

And friends of their friends of their friends.

Until it kind of took a life of its own and The Quarantine Parties were born.

Now boasting sets from DJs like HEAR, and with significantly increased participation, the parties are open, kind of come as you are. Some dance their asses off, others listen to the music and read Gloria Steinem books (who, me? What can I say, I’ve always been useless in clubs) and others just enjoy everyone’s presence, cutting into the quietness and monotony of confined lives.

Great ideas often seem to originate with groups of friends just hanging out. This idea is one of them.

It can seem evident in its simplicity, yet at a moment where every piece of news seems to level up your anxiety, where uncertainty has never been more tangible, where we miss holding close the people we love, sharing music and laughter the only way we can, virtually, seems like a pretty fucking decent way of passing the time to me.

Expressions of solidarity come in multitudes: they can be a whole neighborhood singing Bella Ciao, an older Italian man in a wonderful velvet dressing gown singing opera, people cheering medical personnel on with clapping and pots and pans. They can also come by creating virtual spaces to come together. Music has this power: sharing generosity and humanity when everything else seems to be crumbling. Music truly is magic, it’ll break your heart open.

Join me there if you will, I’ll have a book in hand but I’ll wave and smile. Who knows, I might even dance.

 

 

Magic

My friend has lost her mother too.

Not that we’re particularly happy to both belong to a club we can’t ever remember applying for, but the shared pain creates a bond of understanding between us. She, too, understands how you can break down in public spaces over seemingly mundane things. When I tell her I like crying in the privacy of my car, music blaring and make-up running, she takes it in stride. ‘I broke down while filling out a form at the doctors’ she tells me evenly, and I understand and I let her be. We are emotional ticking time bombs, and we’ve stopped trying to apologize for it. She, too, sometimes needs to create silence within herself to quiet the raging grief within, needs to make space for feelings that are way bigger than our frames.

She gets the rage, and the longing.

When we meet at the beginning of the year we speak about what intentions we want to bring to the next months, as if the mother-shaped gaping hole in our lives can be filled with flowers we’re planting through the cracks, not quite filling it, yet blossoming despite the pain into something radiant. The triumph of life and love, if you will, or something to that effect.

We speak about food and cooking, and about the joy it brings. We both want to start documenting the recipes we got from our mothers, and laugh at the synchronicity. Cooking has always been a way to convey love, and in this platitude lies a lot of truth. ‘Here, let me feed you’ is pretty much ‘I love you and will take care of you’ in human language. Cooking is very similar to magic: spices, ingredients, flavors, none of it comes together without a small spoonful of magic, or nafs el akl as my mother called it. She was a fabulous cook and I have learnt from her how food can say more than words, how lovingly preparing a meal for people can bring them, and you, joy, comfort, feelings of love, warmth, affection and solidarity.

When a friend was going through the heartbreak of her life, I spoon fed her lemon rice, until the tangy comforting flavour warmed her insides and allowed her to let all the tears that needed to be shed flow. When I am struggling with anxiety my friend sits me down and forces a snack down my constricted throat. I resist out of principle, because she wants to care for me and I won’t let her, wrapped in my own distorted understanding of what it means to be a strong woman. She doesn’t give me a choice. Cooks can be very stubborn. Accepting what she gives me is accepting to be loved, to be vulnerable. I equally hate and love it (as much as I like to write about feelings, I actually can’t wait to be a robot).

My mother taught me that the kitchen is a sacred place, where people who cook together share more than recipes and suggestions for improving the taste. I find it easier to talk about feelings while cutting up vegetables, find it easier to listen, really listen to someone when we’re in the kitchen together. Cooking gives me focus, and a kinder, more patient heart. I have friends with whom I cook and we yell at each other over cooking space and pots ans pans and taste each other’s dish, and in the middle of this fragrant chaos our friendship comes alive, and some secrets are shared.

Cooking in the diaspora also goes beyond sharing love and flavours: it’s a way to recreate home even if you’re not sure where home is. Home becomes the smell of your teta’s kitchen when she expects you for lunch, home is your plate lovingly arranged by someone who loves you at the end of a long day. Cooking in the diaspora is also eminently political: it’s a way to resist appropriation (all the Karens of the world will never have me accept the defilement of hummus), and a way to assert our presence. Nothing gets racists riled up like the smells coming out of our kitchens. Add another clove of garlic please, watch them wither. Diaspora cooking is us trying to remember a feeling of ease and belonging, where abroad doesn’t necessarily mean foreign, easing the feeling of exile and otherness into familiar flavors, our complicated and hurtful relationships with families and the very concept of home tamed if only for a moment.

Since my mother died, cooking is not just that any more. It’s not just about sharing, or about making a political statement, it’s become a work of love in a different way, a work of love dedicated to her, where recipes bind me back to her, where her voice comes alive in my kitchen, even her strong opinions about my cooking, especially her strong opinions about my cooking, it’s become an exercise where I can remember her and be filled with joy, and laughter and love. Where grief needs to shift and move away for a bit and make space for a tiny bit of peace. Since she left, cooking is a way of honouring her legacy, and through her, of honouring the caring strong women that came before her. Keeping their recipes alive links me back to her, and to her mother, my teta, and feels like a never chain of witches brewing magic, one garlic clove at a time.

My friend who has lost her mother too gets it. She gets it so much that back in October when my country started revolting against oppression and she knew my emotions were all over the place, she baked something in her New York kitchen and dedicated it to me. I didn’t need to be there to taste it. I felt her love reach out across an ocean. That’s how magic works.

I didn’t have the right words to thank her properly at the time. I hope I made up for it.

 

Quarantine

It’s only day 1 kids.

  • Number of times I heard ‘maman’: possibly infinity
  • Number of fights between two daughters broken up: approximately one thousand two hundred ninety-two
  • Topics of aforementioned fights (non-exhaustive, just the ones I remember):
    • She took my scooter
    • She hugged me and I told her ‘this isn’t your body, leave me alone’
    • She played with me
    • She didn’t want to play with me
    • She won’t share her stuff with me
    • She shared her stuff with me
    • She called me a potato. I’m not a potato (I mean, no truer words have been spoken)
    • She said I was poopoo
    • She scratched my eye
    • She scratched my face
    • She pulled my hair

 

 

  • Fix Barbie’s outfits (multiple times, Barbie has a whole fucking lot of outfits and an apparent compulsive need to change them often)
  • Look for things (where’s my toy where’s my doll where’s my dress where’s my underwear mama mama mama mama where’s that tiny little piece of plastic that is vital to my existence and without which my life has no meaning?)

 

  • Look for things, including my own mind: all day

 

  • Answer and send whatsapp messages: what are you? The surveillance police? The Fascist State? Big Data? Get the fuck outta my phone

 

  • Drink home-made ‘lemonade’, made of water and shredded coconut, pressed on me by youngest child: mercifully, one

 

  • Number of Constantine Cavafy poems read and analyzed: about ten but the day is young

 

  • Number of poems written: two, actually quite happy about this one

 

  • Number of times I have lost my will to live while asking my children to please stop trying to kill each other for the umpteenth time: 347, give or take

 

  • Number of times I have lost my will to live while making my eldest child study: one, but the angst was so strong I don’t think I’ll ever get said will to live back

 

  • Number of times I have thought ‘Fuck, what if Ruth Baden Ginsberg gets the virus?’: unhealthy amount

 

  • Number of messages I have sent advocating for the closing of my child’s daycare: several. One to the direction of the daycare (to wit: close your fucking facility and protect your staff you greedy capitalist fucks), several messages of solidarity to the staff (UNIONIZE) and to other parents (are you sending that little brat of yours to daycare Carol? The fuck didn’t you understand? STAY HOME AND DO REMOTE YOGA. You’ll get insta likes I swear)

 

  • Number of times the Rev looked at me and told me ‘it’s only day 1’, ‘We will prevail’, in French, English and Arabic like some kind of broken revolutionary polyglot record: about 20 times, until I told him everything was his fault anyway and could he shut up

 

  • Number of times I have received messages and phone calls saying ‘I love you’, ‘Can we organize online aperos/coffees’, ‘how are you doing’: actually quite a lot, feeling quite grateful right now

 

  • Number of times I thought ‘people are actually pretty fucking amazing’: quite a lot actually, which hadn’t happened in a very long time.

Stay healthy my beloved ❤ and drink wine

How to Raise the Revolutionary’s Children (And Survive)

I don’t know why, Bassem Chiit, our Comrade from the Socialist Forum in Lebanon who passed away in 2014, has been on my mind a lot lately, and when The Rev told me that Bassem mentioned reading my Rev columns at the end of long days sometimes to unwind, it prompted me to write this one.

So this is for you Bassem, in the hope that you can enjoy it from wherever you are.

The Rev and I have kids. Naturally they take after me and are gorgeous, funny, cheeky and clever.

They also hold a healthy dose of skepticism for men as a social group. The fact that I regularly teach them to say ‘men are trash’ might have a little something to do with it.

Naturally, like Karl Marx loved the gazillion children he had with Jenny (that he left her to care for with no money while he was off trying to make the revolution happen (narrator’s voice: it did not happen)), the Rev dearly loves his children and tells them so repeatedly. He’s prone to outbursts of love and affection, ‘my daughters I love them I would die for them’, hereby demonstrating streaks of dramatic toxic masculinity, as if anyone had asked him to prove his love through war and death.

My daughters however are, at 4 and 2, hardened man-hating feminists who have no time for men and their declaration of undying love.

– ‘Nooooonn Papa’ they say, as he tries to cuddle them, and both proceed to swat his hands away in a gesture of such contempt it fills my heart with pure, man-hating joy. They seem to be convinced that their father, and through him boys and men in general, don’t understand a single thing in life and should be given up on as a bad job. Needless fo say, my pride in them knows no bounds.

Each of them have their own minds and have devised their own tactics to topple the patriarchy.

The eldest favours a subtle form of guerrilla warfare, waking up the patriarchal authority figure in her life very early in the morning simply to let him know that she has found her tiara. To manage to raise the patriarchy from its comfortable slumber just to inform it that you’re still Queen is a stroke of genius I wish I’d thought of. Here I was pitifully getting angry and worked up and demonstrating right left and center while my four year old just taught me that all you needed to do was disrupt sleep then sashay away in your pink glittery tutu, a look of triumph on your face and no pity for the enemy in your heart.

Our youngest has no time to waste and no fucks to give, her tactic is search and destroy. In a couple of years time she’ll be punching nazis in true black bloc fashion, but for now she just punches and scratches her father until he bleeds, and cries for me rather than for him, even in the middle of the night, thrashing on the ground if he tries to touch her, which come to think of it I wish she’d stop doing. After all, I am not the patriarchy and should be allowed to sleep.

The Rev, bless his heart, endures and bears all the abuse, even though he blames me for our kids’ lack of confidence in men. He is, however, mistaken. I have merely fed and watered the feminist seed they already had in them, much like Marx fed and watered the revolutionary seed in Engels (and much like Engels just plainly fed Marx and his family).

– But we’re communists! I am a feminist! I am one of you!

– WE ARE NOT COMMUNISTS, I AM A PRINCESS! Get out of my room, only girls allowed!

I won’t lie, while I am extremely happy that my child understands the need for women-only spaces and sees through comrades thinking they’re allies just because they’re communists, I still have the fear that she’ll turn into a royalist, what with all this talk of princesses.

But the Rev and I’s biggest fear remain that both of them become conservative, anti-choice, neo-liberal right wing militants. We observe. We monitor. So far, they share, they protect each other, they’re kind and feisty.

Not a right wing trait in sight.

But we’ll still monitor the situation, just in case.

The Magnitude Of The Problem

Me too.

Me too.

Me too.

This is what my timeline looks like. This hashtag, used by millions of women (by women, I mean all individuals who identify as such, girls, trans and cis women, femmes and queers) around the world, is meant to make people (men) understand the ‘magnitude of the problem’ of sexual harassment.

Yet it shouldn’t be on us to make men understand that women are people who should not be seen as sexual props designed to please the male gaze. It shouldn’t be on us to think of all the instances our bodies have been violated, our intimacy and privacy invaded, our bodies questioned and discussed as if our consent or absence of it didn’t matter, just to make you understand ‘the magnitude of the problem’.

But then again, the anger I’m feeling at reading all of these ‘me too’ is threatening to froth and boil, fizzle and explode, the raw anger I feel at seeing all of these women, my gorgeous, beautiful, strong army of friends and sisters sharing publicly that they, too, have been assaulted in one way or another.

As many wrote, I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t.

As many wrote, we don’t owe you our stories. You know our stories, you’ve been writing them for centuries, years of years of male domination over women and girls, exploitation of women’s bodies and minds (yes, EVEN YOU MY COMRADE so don’t fucking hide behind  Rosa Luxembourg, we fucking see you and each time you brush aside feminist concerns in your grandiloquent speeches you are part of the problem).

You want the magnitude of the problem? I’ll give you the magnitude of the problem.

It is thinking twice about the outfit you wear because if something happens to you, you don’t want to be accused of ‘having asked for it’. It’s being accused of having asked for it even if you were wearing a hair shirt and several layers of clothes and a poster that screamed ‘please don’t harass or rape me I’m only trying to get to work’. It’s carefully monitoring your behavior not to seem to flirty, it’s being perceived as a temptress whom men can’t resist, it’s not their fault it’s yours, all the fucking time. It’s being categorized as a ‘sexual beast’, or as ‘submissive’, depending on your race. It’s being called a whore, a slut, a frigid monster every time you turn down the unwanted attentions of a man. It’s being sexualized as a young girl, it’s being denied the sex education you need while people tell you to remain a virgin, it’s being told be beautiful, a certain idea of what beautiful is, you HAVE TO MAKE YOURSELF BEAUTIFUL so men will like you. It’s checking on your girlfriends to see if they have made it home safely, tell me Brian when was the last time you did this for Brad? It’s being exploited and trafficked because you are a woman and you are poor, it’s being denied a sexuality or being raped because you live with a disability. It’s not being able to do your job properly as men in power hold you back unless you sleep with them. It’s your body being a battlefield in itself in war time, enduring unspeakable torture.

It’s never being listened to.

It’s being always blamed for what happened to you.

It’s never getting justice. Real justice, not traumatic post-rape investigations that leave you wishing you had never pressed charges.

It’s never being granted any type of humanity unless men have sisters and mothers and daughters they can relate to.

It’s men’s uncomfortable silence over their own role in perpetuating rape culture.

It’s being so tired, so so tired of this shit all of the fucking time.

It’s this rant not being the quarter of the magnitude of the problem.

It’s the fact that our voices can grow hoarse trying to make you see and hear us, nothing will change unless patriarchy is overthrown, and you don’t want to lose all of these privileges now do you Brian?

But we will continue to fight. Even if we are super tired of this shit. We will go on strikes, we will yell at you, we will kick and scream our ways through our lives because we are not willing to accept defeat and if this sounds like a war cry then take it as such because it is one.

And we will be inclusive or we will be bullshit. Sorry Susan, but struggles against racism, classism, against transphobia and homophobia and islamophobia will be at the center of our actions and demands because all of these systems enable sexism and because none can be liberated when three quarter of us are downtrodden.

To all the survivors out there: your courage and grace are infinite, you matter, and most most most importantly: it is not your fault. Never has been, never will be.

Grief, revisited

Eat. Or at least try. Sleep properly. Or at least try. Get some rest, read a book, escape in words to forget those lodging themselves in your head, unwilling to move.

I had these very words been said to me, by the very people who love me, their love their unique consolation to my pain. I’ve seen their eyes, pleading with me, willing me to be ok, willing me back to life, firmly anchored by their love.
Stay here with us, we’re losing you.
I know how they felt, as I have myself said those words to people I love, my love trying to bind them to life, refusing to let them go too deep in the pits of depression, and grief and sadness. I’ve urged loved ones to rest, to quell the never ending stream of suffering going through them. I pleaded, my eyes were the ones willing them to be ok.
Eat. Sleep. Rest. Is that all there is left when all is said and done, when you’ve been knocked off your balance so hard you feel the emptiness and the heaviness of the world deep within you, the anxiety coiled deep within your heart? Take out what and who made us who we are, take out the people who’ve helped build you and all you have left is a wounded animal who needs to eat, sleep and rest.
But no matter how coated in love these words are, no matter how well intentioned, they remain utterly useless, for grief doesn’t work that way. Once you’ve been hit by grief, it never leaves you, it makes a permanent mark on your skin, etching its passage in wrinkles, tears and frowns, as if it were carving the rocks of a conquered land. You expand to live with it, to accommodate it in your swollen heart.
Most of the time it is dormant, lurking at the surface, waiting for a smell, a song, a place to rear its ugly head and send your precarious balance off the tracks. Grief nestles itself in your chest and never lets go. You never forget. You learn to walk around with a neverending, incommensurable hole at your core, the shape of the person you miss. All these cracks on your once whole façade let in a lot of light, probably the ones who’ve made the final jump letting you know from now on they’ll be your light, your inner strength.
Grief is one of the few experiences where words don’t help, where they can’t break the barrier loss creates. You withdraw within a place buried so deep within yourself you end up wondering if you’ll ever be able to find your way back out.
But some things help. Some things get through you and bring you back to life, like ugly crying nestled in the shoulder of a lover, the indestructible power of women friendships, all of them building a protective wall around you to shelter you until the rawness subsides, each of them going out of their way to see a smile upon your face. This isn’t squad dynamics, this is the very particular understanding and acknowledging experience of pain women have, for better or worse.
Love and time and the iron clad belief that the people who left are loved, and thus still there, safely kept in your heart.

Gone

Every time
I think about this fateful day

My heart gives a jolt

Disbelief is still here

Lodged in my brain

Like a permanent bullet

Are you really gone?

It’s been a year, 

But the feeling is the same

A punch in my gut

A sharp tug at my heart

A quick draw of my breath 

Grief

That monstrous beast

Remains here

Curled up in me

Awaiting

A moment of weakness

To rear its ugly head 

Are you really gone? 

On Feminist Parenting, Take 2

Featured

Parenthood is not easy, people.

Feminist parenthood seems even trickier, as you enter a struggle of Children vs Beliefs.

See, it’s easy to have core beliefs before you have children: you will breastfeed, you will bottle feed, you will or won’t co-sleep, you’ll use a certain form of discipline or none at all. Before you have children you’d be ready to swear on those beliefs hand on heart, thinking all will go as planned.

Nothing (ok, maybe not nothing, but not much anyway) will go as planned. And the worst thing is that you keep making the same assumptions of Universal Knowledge and Core Beliefs as your child grows up: when they’re newborns you think you’ll handle tantrums in their toddler years in a certain way, when they’re toddlers, well when they’re toddlers you don’t really get time to think at all anyway as they’re forever trying to set fire to themselves, to the house, or both, and so on and so forth.

To be honest, I never thought parenting using a feminist lens would be easy, because being a feminist in itself is not easy: beyond the usual mockery and slander we have to endure when using the very word ‘feminist’, it has been my experience that nothing reinforces more sexist stereotypes and traditional gender roles than motherhood. Parenthood becomes the hardest space to enforce feminist ideas and practices and to reverse the stereotypes of the nurturing, ever patient sacrosanct mother vs the breadwinner, only-has-to-be-there-part-time father. It’s a whole job in itself to try and craft equal roles as parents between partners, to disentangle oneself from the web of prejudice and stereotypes we have internalized, to create an environment where the mother is not the only emotional referent to the child (in this, I know for example that my position contradicts the essentialist feminism current that emphasizes certain traits they deem inherent to women and encourage the so-called special bond between mother and child). To me each bond a child creates is ‘special’, be it with their father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings or friends, and to sacralise the mother-child bond and to deem it superior to others is yet another way of reinforcing the idea that raising children is first and foremost the duty of the mother. The current maternity leave policies most countries of the world practice is a testament to this belief: of course mothers need time to heal and bond with their child, but partners also need this time, which is not recognized by current practices: as they stand, current laws reinforce the view that mothers need the time off to look after their children, are in no hurry to get back to work and that partners only need to make an appearance at the birth and hand out cigars. The solution is not a US style of absence of paid maternity leave policies that leave parents and families vulnerable to the whims of employers, but to realise a shift from paid maternity leave policies to paid parental leave where both parents can have time off to get to know their child.  The view that the mother-child bond is somehow superior and more important than any other is also exclusive and heteronormative: if we consider that children can only thrive when they form a close bond with their biological mother, we exclude families of adopted children, homoparental and single parent families. Children thrive in all kinds of families, which is apparently a truth too shocking for conservatives.

There is also not one universal way of being a feminist (despite what dominant white feminism would have us believe) so becoming a mother has pushed me even more to try and define what feminism meant to me and what tools I can use and perhaps create to implement it. Even as a feminist activist I’m full of contradictions I have to struggle with on a daily basis: on the one hand, I aim at giving my children an upbringing free from gender stereotypes and to encourage them to love as many people as possible, and on the other hand, I find myself sometimes perpetuating traditional gender roles in our household by for example assuming the majority of domestic chores.

Another area where my feminist beliefs are seriously put to the test is on the subject of discipline.  It seems the majority of child experts agree on one thing: children need boundaries and limits to be able to navigate the world. Not setting these boundaries would amount to neglect on the parents and caregivers’ side. Thing is, what do you do when you’re supposed to give children the means to navigate a racist, sexist, classist, homophobic and transphobic world? A world that is so ill equipped for people with physical disabilities that their wheels keep colliding with sidewalks, buses, stairs, everywhere and so unaccepting of mental differences that children with ASD get labelled as naughty and their parents judged? And how do you reconcile helping them navigate the world with helping them question and ultimately change that world?

Besides, how do you set these limits? What type of discipline should we use?

 

As a feminist parent, I would like to teach my children that their body is worthy of respect, so I aim for a no corporal punishment way of disciplining. I would also like to avoid using shaming language such as ‘bad girl’ and the likes. I’d like to validate their feelings, avoid yelling and keep the lines of communications as open as possible.

 

This is for how I envision it. I’m however unhappy to report that I have made every mistake in the book.Truth is, I hate the disciplining part of parenting (which is super convenient at the toddler stage when they’re testing you and all you do is discipline) because I’m yet to have found a disciplining technique I’m 100% comfortable with. I actually feel physically dirty when I yell or lose my temper at my toddler and agonize overnight over the shaming comment I gave her. I even spanked her on her diaper and felt the agony of guilt forever.

 

The only helpful method I’ve tried to deal with tantrums is ignoring them. I will let her scream and scream and thrash on the floor until she’s had enough. Now she stops quicker and quicker, comes to me for a hug and tt’s forgotten. This way she learns that yelling and crying doesn’t get her what she wants, but it doesn’t send her the message that she’s a bad child for being frustrated with the world (after all, don’t we all?).

 

For every victory I probably had a gazillion losses. I’m still figuring all of this parenting lark out, so please bear with me as I keep making every mistake there can ever be. The feminist way, naturally.

Ruisseaux et Rivières 

  
Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent.

Et les grandes rivières, celles faites de détritus amoncelés, aussi nauséabonds que leurs tas de mensonges, elles font quoi? 

Je vais vous le dire, moi ce qu’elles font.

Elles font des vagues, qui murmurent au début, et puis qui grondent, qui grondent, qui roulent sous le ciel de plomb pour venir s’échouer aux pieds des menteurs, des voleurs, des criminels, ceux en cols blancs bien amidonnés, ceux bien droits dans leurs bottes, ceux bien à l’abri dans leurs voitures blindées. Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ça n’a pas toujours la forme que l’on croit, il leur est très facile de se camoufler à coup de respectabilité, de mots creux, de repassage des consciences et d’endormissement des rumeurs. 

Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ce sont comme les poubelles qui s’amoncellent, ça pue et il faut s’en débarrasser. Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ça ne sert à rien, ça pollue, ça infecte. Allez hop, un grand coup de balai! 

Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent, et de ces grandes rivières naissent des vagues, de gros remous qui font tanguer la barque de la corruption, qui chavirent l’esquif de la cupidité et qui ne laissent rien derrière eux qu’une plage dévastée à nettoyer, un horizon lavé de ses maux, prêt à renaître dans sa pureté retrouvée. 
Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent.

Et les grandes rivières, maman, qu’est-ce qu’elles font? 

Les grandes rivières, ma chérie, elles font la révolution. 

On feminist parenting

I recently read an article about what feminist mothers do differently (I want to read the article about feminist fathers too by the way) and it got me thinking about how hard feminist parenting is. Basically there’s a lot of panicking involved (as with all parenting, or maybe that’s just me) and so I just kind of panic all the time. After all, the thought that you’re laying the ground for your child self-perception and self confidence is a pretty panicking one. One day a relative remarked that I rarely told my child she was beautiful and emphasized other qualities. I do tell her she’s beautiful, but when I do it’s also true that I automatically add: and clever and kind and resourceful, and a badass, because she’s all these things too and i dread that she will only define her worth by her appearance as society tells women to. I try and dress her in all kinds of outfits, not because there is something essentially and inherently wrong with pink or dresses, but because I would like to chip away at the sexist stereotype that girls have to wear pink and dresses in order to be allowed to be identified as girls and boys can only wear trousers and that the world will stop if a boy wants to wear a skirt. It’s also way more practical to create mayhem and explore the world while wearing pants, and I just want her to be comfortable to do so. 
It’s hard to be a feminist parent because you’re battling, as always, capitalism and sexism, not to mention racism that families of colour have to endure (I still remember all the snide remarks I used to get from children and parents alike because my hair and my clothes didn’t match everyone else’s: being the daughter of a Lebanese family in small town France was not always a breeze).

Industries and people sensitivities are extremely gendered when it comes to children: While it might be seen in certain circumstances as permissible, even fashionable, to play around with gender roles and codes as an adult, I have come to discover that it is nothing short of blasphemy when it comes to children, and being a feminist parent will require constant vigilance and a serious spine to defend your choices. And to be honest, my daughter is only two and pretty much doesn’t give a shit what she plays with as long as she can break it or the colour of what she’s wearing as long as she can smear paint, play doh and chocolate on it. I am however dreading the school years, where there seems to be an absolute obligation to be a princess ( If I see one more fucking Frozen item I will set myself on fire) and where being beautiful seems to be the only thing that matters, to the point where the ultimate insult used by school girls is ‘ugly’. How will I cope then? How will I teach her to fight and what would the alternatives be? See, panic. Being the feminist parent of a toddler seems way easier than being the feminist parent of a school aged child, and then of a teenager, where she will have to come to the painful realization that we live in a world where violence against women is the norm, where slut shaming and victim blaming is the very little challenged statu quo and where social inequalities and racism are rife. Hopefully by that time she’d be old enough to fight all of that. 
Constant vigilance, as Mad Eye Moody would say (do you think my child will be screwed by growing up with a Harry Potter nerd?).
When my daughter falls, and if I see that she’s ok, I tell her to get up and get moving, because that’s life and because I want to send her the message that she is perfectly capable of picking herself up and carry on. Building her self confidence also involves respecting the fact that she sometimes doesn’t want to hug or kiss anyone, and that’s her prerogative because that’s her body (consent 101), but I also try to teach her to respect others bodies and individualities. That of course means no hitting or biting, but also understanding that her parents and others, while always available for a hug and a cuddle, are their own persons with their own lives and are not at her constant service, which means I am not a martyr to the motherhood cause and she is not my tyrant. I still try and make my own choices and remain my own person: it’s not because I have children that automatically the whole focus of my life is them and only them. Sometimes I work sometimes I study and sometimes I just want a glass of wine with my friends. I’ve come to realise that as a mother everything I do will be picked and torn apart by so called parenting experts and society, so I might as well make the choices I’m comfortable with and hope I don’t screw my child up too much. Hopefully she won’t take away from that I was an unfit, selfish mother to her but that you can have children and still have your own life that is a Peppa Pig, finger paint-free zone.  

Constant vigilance: you soon realise that while what you do has an impact, the environment you raise your children has an even greater impact. You need to pay attention to what cartoon you let them watch on TV: is the mother’s character always stuck in the kitchen cooking? Is the father depicted as doing his share of the housework? Do cartoons showing all kinds of families, with two fathers, two mothers, one parent, or any other setting even exist? You have to fight the assault of capitalism: when they do watch TV, how do you fight the 2356 ads for (extremely gendered) toys they’re bombarded with? For now the solution has been very limited TV, lots of outside play and activities and an emphasis on creative activities like painting, drawing, coloring, play doh, reading books daily. If only she could stop using the couch as a canvas we’d be very, very happy. I also recognize that I am extremely privileged: I have a flexible job that allows for ‘family friendly’ hours, I have access to a nice daycare, I have a support system, I live somewhere where my child can play outside safely. This is far from being the case for everyone and families that are struggling to make ends meet, have little or no support, have it a million times harder to figure out, and this is why the other part of the solution to raise kids as a feminist is to fight for progressive change in collective and global policies. Because us parents (and particularly mothers) get blamed enough on just about everything that we do, parents are being guilt tripped and pushed into ‘the mommy wars’ (have you seriously heard a more belittling expression? As if we were running at each others with our aprons and knives to tear each others’ hair over parenting choices because of course women are mean to one another and that’s what we do). It’s high time we stop letting capitalism and patriarchy divide us and emphasize our individual roles in raising children: we are not raising them in a vacuum, most of us do what we can given the environment and circumstances we’re given. It starts with universal, comprehensive access to health, and it continues with progressive parental (parental and not exclusively maternal) leave policies, fair wages people can actually live on, creation and implementation of respectful maternal health care and breastfeeding policies, access to free education, availability of good quality, accessible, affordable and acceptable day care options and laws, policies and practices that respect all kinds of families. And one thing is for certain: we’re not going to get them by watching governments cut health and education budgets and spend billions on defense and security.
Critical thinking and teaching children to refuse and oppose unfair situations is also part of feminist parenting, and that’s actually something that might come back to bite you in the ass because one day, YOU will be the evil establishment imposing unfair rules on the masses. It is called The Teenage Years.

I hardly can wait.