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 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
That monstrous beast
Curled up in me
A moment of weakness
To rear its ugly head
Are you really gone?
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.
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.
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.
My ghosts wake me up at night
Waiting to be fed
Sitting by the edge of my bed
Patiently, as I toss and turn,
Stir and wake
They work their way into my head.
Happily, as I stare at the blackness,
Feeding on deepest fears and darkest grief
A lot is happening in popular culture my dear people.
A lot of things I wouldn’t usually comment on, except that they reflect every day struggles I have with white feminism.
First off, let us start with Lou Doillon’s comments on the supposed vulgarity of artists such as Nicky Minaj or Beyonce. Long story short, French ‘celebrity’ Lou Doillon, has spent a good half of an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais dissing Minaj and Beyoncé, dubbing them ‘vulgar’ and that feminism is not about parading in one’s underpants. After all, Doillon is the ‘first of her generation to be able to kick a man out of her house’ and ‘her grandmother didn’t fight for your right to parade in a G-string’.
First of all, I’m not exactly sure who appointed Ms Doillon Great Decider On All Things Feminist, but apparently when you’re white and over privileged you can self-appoint yourself to almost anything. I personally wouldn’t know, I’m an Arab woman, and thus spend half of my life apologizing about my hair and rebuffing exoticizing comments and looks.
Besides the grand authority with which these comments were delivered (that certain people might actually call arrogance), I’m left to ponder on why exactly did Doillon choose to mention Minaj and Beyoncé, two black women who, regardless of whether you agree or not with their vision of feminism, have done and are still doing quite a lot to question and reverse the usual stereotypes associated with the sexuality of women of colour. It’s interesting to note that Doillon’s comments were not made about Madonna or Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, artists who are also dancing in their underpants quite a lot, but chose to call out specifically these two women. It’s also very interesting that she herself chose to pose naked (something she is completely entitled to do, her body her choice) and most importantly enjoy the absence of slut-shaming, a courtesy she didn’t deem necessary to extend to Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.
It might be interesting here to remind Ms Doillon, who is probably totally unaware of that fact, having lived all her life in a privileged white dominant bubble, that women of color, and especially black women, not only have to live with the hypersexualization all women have to bear, but also have to endure pervasive stereotypes that specifically consider their physical traits ‘vulgar’, their bodies inferior and disposable, and their sexuality ‘Jezebel-like’ and depraved.
Had Doillon got off her high self-righteous horse, she would have realized she was doing nothing more that reinforcing these stereotypes with her comments and thus helping to put down women who are already oppressed by racism and sexism, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is not the best look for someone who deems herself feminist.
Besides, Doillon is also deeply wrong on another account: while her grandmother might not have fought for your right to dance in your underpants, other people’s grandmothers, mothers, sisters and their friends did and still are. To be a woman, to be able to enjoy one’s body and to be able to enjoy the sexuality you have chosen free of coercion, discrimination and violence is definitely not a vested right in any place of the world. We are indeed fighting for our right to free body expression, and we are indeed entitled to enjoy that right without any kind of slut shaming coming our way, be it from men, authorities, institutions or other women like Doillon. It would be good to remind Doillon that women’s liberation from the shackles of respectability start with her mother Jane Birkin’s mini skirt and continues with Nicki Minaj’s G-string, dancing and enjoying her life and body. If there is one thing to take from all of this controversy, is that maybe patriarchal beliefs and attitudes, regardless of their source, should stop policing women’s bodies and leave us to enjoy them in peace.
Another pop culture event that happened this week is the so-called feud between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj (who’s apparently had an extremely busy week on the feminist front) on Twitter. Here, Minaj might have been sore about not being nominated for a VMA, who knows, but she raises an interesting point nevertheless regarding the lack of acknowledgment of the work of black artists, especially black women. It is indeed true that white thin bodies are glorified and erected as the norm all women should aspire to. When confronted by this tweet, Swift’s answer was to automatically make it about herself: ‘Oh but I love you, why are you doing this to me?’ Instead of acknowledging a dominant system she benefits from on a daily basis and position herself as a firm ally by calling this system out and choosing to opt out of these privileges, she chooses to bring the debate to an emotional, personal field where political debate get annihilated.
The take out from this week? Dear white ‘feminist sisters’: you don’t get to decide how women of color enjoy their lives and bodies. You don’t get to police us, you don’t get to shut our demands up by getting sugary and cuddly and telling us you love us.
We don’t want you to love us and carry on benefiting from systems that oppress us on a daily basis.
We want equality, equity and justice, and for this, we have to fight. And we are. And we will.
I’ll take you with me. To all the places you wanted to see, to all the streets you wanted to walk, sunsets you wanted to catch and salty air you wanted to breathe.
I’ll take you with me.
No matter how short your life was cut, no matter how little time we had together, I’ll tuck you safely in the folds of my heart and carry you with me wherever I go.
From the rocky shores of Sardinia to the throbbing bazaar of Istanbul, from the dusty corners of Jerusalem to the pristine beaches of remote islands, I’ll go and kiss each of these places for you, I’ll bow my head to their mighty suns. I’ll take you with me.
When the enormity of all that has been lost hits me with the deadening weight of finality, when my lungs fill with the lead of grief, when I feel myself falling in a never ending pit of pure sadness, I’ll dust myself up and summon your light, the unextinguishible flicker you’ve left in me.
For you see, to me you’ve never really left, you only shed a painful shroud that was binding you to this place, and are free as can be, free to come with me, to be with me in every drop of salty water and every corner of dusty buildings, free to kiss away that salty water running down my face, your radiant love warming me from inside.
Bind me with that love. Just once more.
And I’ll take you with me.
There s a cliché that will never stop being true: those who leave us never really leave. It’s not because you can’t see them that they’re not there, safely tucked away in a fold in your heart, the love you had for each other, the warmth they gave you inextinguishible, forever burning like a mark within you.
I have already spoken (I feel like adding ‘at great length’) about the most common gender stereotypes associated to parenthood and motherhood. In a patriarchal society (that is to say, pretty much anywhere in the world), these stereotypes classify women as natural-born nurturers, beings who by essence are designed to take care of children and others at large, while men are positioned as providers, who need to fend off the outside world in order to materially and financially support their family. These sets of representations firmly place women and the roles they endorse within the domestic sphere whereas men are essentially defined as public creatures, leaving both sexes pigeon-holed in a rigid web of rules that prevent them from fully realising themselves. However, while patriarchy harms both men and women, it is paramount to highlight that the patriarchal system benefits men by putting resources, power and privileges in their hands, leaving women oppressed and dominated.
Such prejudices pertaining to women help glorify the myth of the sacralised mother, that is to say, the mother who sacrifices everything including herself to raise her children. Such behaviours of self-effacement and sacrifice are valued by society and presented as the ideal model of motherhood, one women the world throughout should uphold and apply. These stereotypes also help divide women and pit them against one another by creating a competition to become the perfect mother: just like patriarchy creates competition amongst women for men’s attention, the ‘motherhood race’ helps distract women from fulfilling their productive and community social roles.
While all mothers have to face these stereotypes and discrimination, women are not a unified bloc, and we’re certainly not all equal in the realms of motherhood.
Intersectionality posits that some people endure several simultaneous forms of discrimination and oppression in a given society. Women who belong to upper social classes certainly do not have the same experience of motherhood that women living in precarious socio-economic conditions, as white women do not have the same experiences as women of colour. The same goes for straight mothers who do not face the same hurdles as trans, queer or lesbian mothers. Class, race, sexual orientation, being valid or not: all of these factors impact women’s experiences of motherhood and the societal pressures they have to face, something we tend to forget when we talk about stereotypes associated with motherhood.
Indeed, the situation of mothers vary greatly depending on the material means they possess: being at the intersection of womanhood, motherhood and poverty means that not only will you have to face sexism and stereotypes associated to motherhood, but that you might not have the same quality access to reproductive health services, putting you at a heightened risk of maternal mortality and morbidity. Mothers with fewer means at their disposal will also have to face difficulties in accessing child care, thus making it all the more difficult to progress in their job, or to even keep a job. Childcare might not even be a viable option for some, as the cost of daycare might consist of the most part of the salary they receive, thus leading some women to stop working altogether, leaving them dependent on their partner, reducing their opportunities to fully realise themselves, to access better jobs and further their education. The situation becomes all the more dire for single mothers who can not afford to leave their jobs and who might have to resort undeclared child minders for example.
At the other end of the scale, women belonging to upper social classes not only have access to private childcare institutions if the public ones are already at full capacity, but they can also ‘delocalise’ child care to hired nannies, who are, most of the times, migrant women, who in turn leave their own children in the care of relatives back home in order to be able to provide for them. These migrant workers are often at the mercy of their employers, especially if they live in a country that enforces the kafala (sponsorship) system, and thus become victims of human trafficking. It is interesting here to note that, while mentalities are slowly shifting with regards to the role of involvement of fathers in child rearing, the majority of tasks pertaining to child care fall on women, either on the mothers themselves or on women’s workers.
Mothers of colour have not only to bear sexism, but are also faced with racism and xenophobia, which translates into discriminatory practices that often affect their ability to fulfil their community roles. One striking example of islamophobia is the Circulaire Chatel in France, a circular from 2011 derived from the law banning religious signs in public schools promulgated in 2004, which advises school principals to prevent Muslim mothers wearing the hijab to accompany children on school outings. Such practices publicly shame and stigmatise mothers for the simple reason of being who they are and of practicing freely their freedom of religion, a fundamental human right consecrated in many binding international conventions. This discrimination however led to the creation of the Mamans Toutes Egales collective, a diverse group of militants who stand in solidarity with Muslim mothers.
Trans, queer and lesbian mothers have to face many legal hurdles to become parents, when they’re not out-rightly vilified and persecuted: the latest debate around the adoption for same-sex couples and assisted reproduction in France is a clear illustration of the discrimination women living outside of heteronormativity have to face. Sexism and homophobia and transphobia team up to oppress this group of women.
It is noteworthy to underline that discriminations often comes in pack: it is not a rare occurrence that class and race and sexual orientation add up to lead to severe layers of discrimination. This is not to say that each struggle needs to be led on its own. On the contrary, this is to highlight the need to understand that no mother can be free while others are being shackled, be it by the ropes of sexism, capitalism, racism, islamophobia, homophobia or transphobia.
All women who choose to be mothers should be able to make their reproductive choices on an equal footing: these choices should not be constrained by the constructed archetypal model of what a mother should be, or by how much money a woman has, or by structural racism and persecution or by legislative frameworks oppressing a specific group. While we struggle for affordable, good quality, accessible and acceptable child care and access to health services and for paid maternity leave, we also need to struggle for the abrogation of discriminatory laws, for the end of harmful practices and dismantlement of racist, xenophobic, homophobic and transphobic belief systems and institutions.
It might sound like a lot of work, but think of the alternative.