On Feminist Parenting, Take 2

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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.

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. 

When white feminism, slut-shaming and racism intersect: The curious cases of Lou Doillon and Taylor Swift

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.

Motherhood Series 2: Intersectionality

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.

 

 

Blame The Mother

Scrolling down your Facebook feed should begin with a trigger warning: cringe worthy comments ahead, enter at your own risk.

Or at least this is what I’ve been feeling lately. Indeed, it seems that not a day can pass without criminal sociopaths deciding that they simply cannot stand to live another single day sharing the same planet as other people and proceeding to kill them.

Which is in itself, I’m sure you’ll agree, kind of an issue. However, I’ve been seeing puzzling captions and comments on social media with regards to  these news: captions wondering what kind of mothers produced offspring like the perpetrators of killings, how can mothers stand to see their sons parading with guns, how mothers should publicly condemn their children’s behaviour, how mothers’ hearts around the world are bleeding for the victims.

Which prompts me to beg the following questions: why is it always the mother’s fault? Why do mothers have to justify and support or reject everything that their children do? Why is it a knee jerk reaction to turn to the mothers and their assumed faults whenever someone turns out to be a maniac? And why would a mother’s heart bleed more strongly over loss and despair? Aren’t we all able to mourn losses, regardless of our maternal status?

Since becoming a mother myself, I’ve been reflecting a lot on a woman’s sense of individuality once she decides to have children: it seems that as soon as that bump is showing, society deems it its business to put you back into your rightful place of child incubator and Sacralised Mother, Keeper of the Home. You’re expected to reign over a realm of domesticity under the motto: I Shall Sacrifice Myself for My Family. Welcome to the motherhood, it’s definitely anther hood, where you’re apparently not your own person any more. Don’t believe me? Then have a little detour in that great place called the internet, where you’ll be pretty sure to stumble upon articles blaming mothers for their children’s behaviour, with so called scientific studies to back them up.

Any desire for yourself, any show of will to accomplish and fulfil yourself is perceived as selfishness, dismissing you as a ‘bad mother’, the kind of parent that makes criminals. Because surely, if these people would have had good mothers, they’d be crocheting scarves for the poor and not going around on killing sprees.

The sheer amount of such reactions I’ve seen on my timeline, posted by mostly youngish people (is 30 still young? Am I still a young person?) reveals that patriarchal beliefs and attitudes are alive and well, feeding into the news to extend further blame on women (are you surprised?).

Newsflash alert: no, it is not their mothers’ behaviour that leads criminals to act the way they do. There, isn’t it simple? You can stop wondering now.

Now that we have liberated space to have some serious discussions, perhaps we could focus on environmental causes, on socio-economic causes, on psychological causes if you must, on actual material causes that explain behaviours. We are all a product of our societal environment. Of course our education and family (a social unit) matter, but it doesn’t follow that everything terrible that happens in this world derives from the time your mom was late to pick you up from school.

So why this constant blame of the mother? Well, the myth of the ‘perfect mother’, as in, the Mother with a capital M, the woman whose identity is only defined through her children, the woman who sacrifices herself for her children (the notion of sacrifice in the patriarchal ideal of the mother is very important), the woman who is willing to suffer sometimes unnecessary suffering for her children is still ever present and pervasive, with constant pressure over women to fulfil that ideal. So alive and well that it teams up with capitalism to create new so-called ‘parenting trends’ that sell millions of books to tell mothers whatever they’re doing they’re doing it wrong, and that there is always a better way to be mothers. Of course, if you don’t follow all these ever changing rules, your child will become a sociopath and people will share articles about them on Facebook, blaming you for everything you’ve done wrong. Needless to say, the father is very rarely mentioned, as of course he did his part inseminating you and showing up from time to time, and of course everyone knows the essence of a woman is to be a mother while the very essence of a man is to go hunting and retreat to his man cave.

It seems women in general can’t win, and so can’t mothers.

You know what I’d love to see next time someone goes bat shit crazy and starts killing everything and everyone in sight? I’d like to see meaningful conversations about gun control policies, about systemic social inequalities disenfranchising people and making them vulnerable to becoming criminals, about unchecked privilege teaming up with rampant impunity and corruption, leading certain people to believe that life doesn’t matter except theirs, about growing militarism, the banalization of violence and lack of accountability from governments. I’d like to see more conversations about the root causes leading to such actions, and less about it all being the mother’s fault. Us women have been carrying the stigma of the original sin for long enough, and are made to feel guilty about everything enough without the whole world blaming us for the actions of our adult children.

Story of a woman in 2014

She’s my friend.

She looks at me and she tells me that she’s looking into separating from her husband. In her words, she has bore the burden of his aggressive behaviour and his violence for too long.

To get a divorce, she’ll need to go back home. For now, she can only physically separate from him.

‘When it came to beating me and hitting me and my kids, it became too much. Everyone has a limit’.

She met him at work. Now he doesn’t want her to keep working.

She tells me all of this as we’re chatting outside, seemingly having a pleasant conversation.

She’s so beautiful and graceful, always smiling, you’d never think, not in a million years, that so much pain is hidden behind all that grace.

Yet when she tells me she needs to be strong for herself and for her kids, she breaks out crying.

She’s looked for an apartment, she’s planning her escape.

I ask about her husband’s reaction.

He doesn’t know yet.

She’s scared of what he will do to her when she tells him.

‘I don’t sleep at night, I keep thinking about it’.

Fear is etched on her face, in the quiver of her voice. Fear is contagious, it gets to me, as I scramble to try and find ways of protecting her.

‘Did you ask a lawyer? Can you tell the police?’

Can’t anyone protect her?

She has a lawyer, she ‘s thinking about alerting the police.

She’s planning her escape.

She has to go back to work, and I leave, wondering how we’re all supposed to plan our escape from a patriarchal society that sends the message to men that women are their propriety, that they can dispose of us the way they see fit.

I leave, and I ring another friend, a female lawyer, someone who can help, someone, anyone, who could provide a sliver of protection.

I leave, and my blood boils at the mere thought that no man has ever been kept awake by pure, unadulterated fear of what the woman in his life might do to him if he decides to leave.

I leave, and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that my friend, the well-educated, poised, strong woman that I know, doesn’t get sleep at night because she’s afraid for her life, for her safety, and the life and safety of her children.

I leave, and I find myself thinking that in a way, she’s better off where she is than at home, where some religious leaders and society at large would tell her to just stick it out, that it’s her duty to stick it out, that men will be men and all that. I shamefully think that at least where she is, there are laws, and rules, and more men in suits and robes forced by law to put a distance between her abuser and her.

I leave, and I’m helpless, and useless, fully aware that being a feminist, in our day and age, is not a mere luxury, a brand we can use to look cool.

It’s a necessity for survival.

If you’re a woman facing abuse living in Geneva and looking for help, you can find it here or you can call this number 0840 110 110

Motherhood and Women’s Liberation: Part 1

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Reading different books, listening to health practitioners and generally going out and about in public, it seems that everyone and their mother have assumptions and expectations on how women who decide to have kids should live their motherhood and how they should parent their kid.

It seems that nothing excites society more than discussing a woman’s right to decide if she wants to have children, how many, the spacing of said children, how she would prefer to give birth, how she would decide to rear said children, feed them and generally participate in their well-being.

Men who choose not to have kids are not seen as denatured, heartless monsters while fathers, for some reason, get a lot less judgement and a lot less heat about their parenting choices. Patriarchy for the win, my friend. So good to be a man in this day and age.

Being a feminist, I was afraid that becoming a mother would make me something of a traitor to the sisterhood. After all, don’t kids suck your freedom dry? The fear is real my friends. However, being a feminist can coexist with being a mother, so we’re saved and out of the woods. The thirst to explore the relationships between women’s liberation and motherhood did not leave me, so embark with me on some ramblings.

What interests me is the intersection between feminism and women’s liberation and social expectations of what motherhood should be. I will therefore start a series on feminism and motherhood and try to unpack all the conflicting thoughts that I struggle with on a daily basis. This should include the choice to stay at home, the case of working mothers, ‘parenting trends’. Dynamics within homoparental households should also be part of these series, although not written by me.

Patriarchal expectations of mothers are well -known and quite straightforward in their claims: women who bear children (and make no mistake, under patriarchal rule, all women SHOULD bear children) should stay home and tend to them, becoming homemakers while men provide financially for their family. These strictly defined gender roles seem to accommodate many women, who clearly state that they prefer being a stay at home mother to being gainfully employed, arguing that there is no greater job that rearing a family. Others decide to stay home for financial reasons: these are often women whose potential earnings would not or would barely cover childcare costs, and who thus decide to stay home to save money. Others have no choice but to stay home as they are unable to access quality childcare in their living area. A new emerging trend is the work at home mother, when a woman decides to start her own business or to work freelance, as a means to both earn money and manage to stay home to rear children. Truth is, there is not one size fits all reason to decide to stay home and raise children, and each woman probably has a wealth of reasons behind her choice (is it really a choice if you’re coerced into it by inequalities created by capitalism and patriarchal beliefs imposed to you?).

While involved dads and stay at home dads are becoming more and more socially accepted in certain circles, we are aiming at discussing here the burden of social expectations on women pertaining to motherhood, so we will not discuss further fathers in this post, except perhaps to say that whenever a dad decides to stay home, he is celebrated as the height of progressiveness, but when women decide to do so they are either judged or barely noticed as this is the bare minimum that is socially expected of them.

But back to mothers who face the choice to stay home. Different feminist currents hold different opinions when it comes to women choosing to stay at home: for some, stay at home mothers only replicate the age old gender stereotype that women are either biologically programmed to rear children or that they are, by essence, better skilled to do so than men, as evidenced by this article on ‘The retro wife’, published in 2013 in New York magazine. In this article, some women claimed that they were feminists who managed to be fulfilled by staying at home. The problem here is the justification they were providing: indeed, upon reading it, one could debate endlessly about their definition of feminism. Case in point, this quote by one of said woman, Kelly Makino:

She (Kelly) believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young children—­were not being looked after the right way. The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.”

Someone please inform this woman that feminism doesn’t mean replicating and reciting stale gender stereotypes and marketing them as radical ideas. The very idea that ‘girls play with dolls’ needs to be challenged and turned around, not celebrated and used as a justification for women to remain home and take care of children. As for the maternal instinct, Elisabeth Badinter (French feminist who is wrong on many other things, such as on her position on wearing the veil in France) is right when she states in her book (Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mère) that it’s a construct patriarchy invented to further essentialize women and reinforce the idea that women are natural born mothers. The idea that every woman possesses some sort of natural instinct that will magically lead her to be a good mother makes me roll my eyes: when a your child is born, you may or may not fall head over heels for them. It might be love at first sight, it might be a process, what is true is that you don’t know what in the name of FUCK you’re doing. And that’s ok, children teach you, the parents (as in, both people involved in this, not only the mother) to become parents.

Others currents make feminism about choice, and letting women decide what is best for themselves. My concern and question is: to which extent are we really free in our choices? When does internalized sexism begins and choices end? I honestly don’t have a definite answer on that. As feminists, our job is to keep questioning gender stereotypes first and foremost in our daily, private lives, and to keep questioning why we do things the way we do them. In all truth, I find myself fulfilling traditional gender roles more than I care to mention, so to some degree I am definitely not immune to internalized sexism. I’m working on it though, by keeping my eyes open and reflecting on my actions, every day (yes, feminism means that you can stop enjoying anything lightly, it’s awesome, you should try it).

At the same time, if we’re ranting about the difference of treatment between mothers and fathers by society and about the absence of judgement enjoyed by men, we should not add on to the already consequent pile of judgement faced by mothers, staying at home or not. The main difference, to me, is how we frame things. If a stay at home mother comes forward saying her true happiness is to stay with her kids and that she is most fulfilled in her role as a mother, without pretending that it’s a god given role or something nature and society expect of her, or that she would be the best at it because she’s a woman, I’d be first in line cheering her on and struggling at her side for her work to be valued, for make no mistake, it is WORK, and for her economic contribution to be recognized at public policy level as well as in the private sphere. This however should not mean that all household chores should be devolved to the woman ‘because she stays at home’. If we really are set on staying at home while challenging accepted gender norms, our actions need to reflect this need for change: that means equal involvement in everything household and child related by the partner. This decision also needs to be reversible, it needs to come from a point of understanding between partners that a woman doesn’t do so because she is programmed, because she is better skilled at it because she’s a woman, or because this is how things need to be done. A stay at home mother should have the possibility to go back to work should she wish to do so, which means several things: access to jobs, access to education, access to quality, affordable, childcare, and the absence of discrimination based on her motherhood status while looking for work. The responsibility to be the primary caretaker of children should also be shared, and flexible: today the mother can stay home, but tomorrow the dad can too. In such a flexible, evolutive framework, choice can be made possible.

This shift in accepted gender roles needs to be coupled with a struggle for social justice. Women are more likely to occupy precarious jobs, to be unemployed, to be hardest hit by economic crises, to be paid less than their male counterparts for the same job and the same qualifications and to face significantly more discrimination in the workplace that men. This gender specific situation is to link to the very nature of capitalism to create inequalities, therefore one can not tackle gender inequality without actively fighting the system allowing them to stay in place, capitalism.

Next post will be on working mothers

How To Live With a Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (Or Parenting His)

I, The Rev, have become a father.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to appear as if I were in any way supporting the horrid patriarchal system that would ultimately oppress my daughter, but for now there are no other word for it: I am a father.

I keep turning the word around my mouth like a piece of candy. I think I like it almost as much as the word ‘revolution’. If I have to be honest, Karl and Leo and Rosa forgive me, I think I like it even more.

The whole birthing thing was a bit of an ordeal. I mean, Significant Comrade did shout at me a fair bit, especially when I told her that I had to go to another city to pick up Comrade Professor, to bring him to the airport after a conference he gave. In hindsight, perhaps telling her this after her water broke might not have been my best move. Kind of like Che Guevara telling Castro he did not want to be part of the Cuban government and would rather go and ignite revolution focos around the world. This kind of news are best delivered behind a shield.  I believe she might have thrown something at me, yelling that if I went ‘I’d have to bear the consequences’, which I think meant that I probably would not have gotten to be a father after all. So I had to explain things to Comrade Professor, who took it like the Marxist Leninist he is and shared my angst at Significant Comrade’s wrath. And took a taxi to the airport.

To soothe and entertain Significant Comrade, I even made a little joke about being like George Clooney in ER when I donned the full surgeon’s outfit. Significant Comrade was not pleased, and kept shouting abuse at how unfair and sexist nature was, asking everyone why it was women who had to go through all that pain and misery. I was so proud of her: in the middle of giving birth, yet challenging patriarchy and delivering passionate feminist statements right there in the middle of the ward. Keen to help, I looked into the Russian Revolution by Comrade Trotsky, as well as into Das Kapital by our Heavenly Father Marx, and even in La Femme Rompue By Comrade de Beauvoir, and yet I could not find an answer to this question. Significant Comrade seemed rather short tempered with me as I tried to discuss her points with her.

I believe it was the first time that Comrade Trotsky ever failed me. But no matter, Significant Comrade finally gave birth to an out-of-this-world child without killing me so all in all I can’t complain.

As soon as she was born, I knew that Mini Comrade was a Comrade. Her cries in the middle of the night were clearly an articulate critique of the obsolete capitalist system we’re forced to live under. Crying until purple in the face was only her way of rebelling until she could lead demos and write insightful articles and statements.

Mini Comrade’s best friend is a teddy bear wearing a Trotsky t-shirt, a gift from other comrades who felt her innate desire to stare at something beautiful all day long, i.e. the face of our deceased leader. I wanted to explain to her why he died, in the name of the Permanent Revolution, and how that low life Stalin had him executed but Significant Other doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate story for a three months old.

Lack of sleep and added responsibilities make Significant Comrade rather edgy, I find. Just the other day, when I was dancing with my child to the sound of l’Internationale, I showed my baby’s smiley face to her mother, who just said: ‘That child has already learnt to make fun of you and most importantly, of your voice. Good girl’

I think Significant Comrade is just sore that my child has such a deep connection with the permanent revolution. She is laughing because she feels ineffable joy at listening to revolutionary hymns.

Mini Comrade had her first demo on the 8th of March for International Women’s Day, and while everyone thought she was just sleeping through it, I know she was in fact closing her eyes to take in all the oppression women have to bear on a daily basis and muster all her strength to join forces and voices with the cortege of militants contesting it. You should have seen her raise her little fist, it lasted three seconds but you could see that fist could carry a revolution ila el Nasr! To the victory!

Sometimes I  look at her and I feel that the love might choke me.

Also, imagine if she turns out to be the reincarnation of Clara Zetkin.

‘Get over yourself. She will punish you for shoving all these things down her throat by becoming a neo-liberalism advocate and going to work for the World Economic Forum’, says Significant Comrade in passing.

I would still love her is my answer, feeling like a good parent.

‘Even of she turns into a Stalinist?`

I have not slept in three days at the mere thought. Significant Comrade is just plain mean.

 

Childbearing, Breastfeeding and the Battle of Motherhood

I wear my stretch marks like battle scars.

I had heard this phrase before, vaguely realising that childbearing and birth were something akin to a war, not fully understanding how radically true this was.
Childbirth is like a particularly intense hazing Nature puts us through. To me, it was this unimaginably violent, painful, radical test my body and mind had to bear, and here I sit, writing about it, trying to put words on the impossible, looking at my child yet not realising I have done it and lived to tell the tale.
Another part of me is laughing, pointing at the very pretentious act of writing about something experienced by millions of women every day, these millions not feeling the particular need to be writing about it all. This is the part of myself that laughs and points: Look at that little privileged girl, acting as if she were the only one that ever gave birth, making a big deal out of it. But bear with me and allow me to ponder on it all for a while.

In hindsight, I think it’s safe to say that child birth really Is a big fucking deal. If men were doing it, there would be memorials in every city to every fallen comrade who died or sustained injuries giving life, and I can guarantee you that budget cuts would not be made on maternal/paternal health.
Childbirth is intense on a personal level, no matter what the experience: for me it was more that 30 hours of stalled labor and sheer anxiety spending every minute of these 30 hours monitoring my baby’s heart rate, making me beg for a Caesarian which I got in the end, comforting me in my personal belief that natural childbirth is barbaric, that epidurals are the best thing in the world (you can add capital letters to that, Let me rephrase: epidurals are The Best Thing In The World. Trademarking for good measure) and that I don’t see the point of that much pain if i can avoid it. Also, c-sections rule. Like Beyonce rule. That’s how much they do rule. The world. Period.

Not everyone has the same experience and you will certainly find many women strongly disagreeing with me and swearing that natural childbirth was the most beautiful thing they have ever experienced. The key here is to support women in their experiences and choices without making mothers feel that they failed somehow. Phrases like ‘your body was designed to give birth’, while coming from a good intention, can leave mothers who can’t give birth vaginally with a feeling of failure, as if their body and themselves had failed their child. Let me state something clearly: it is true that c-sections are major surgeries and as such carry significant risks for mothers and babies. However, sometimes they’re needed, as simple as that, and women who undergo them should not be made to feel as if they failed their childbirth experience or only got the second best option. It is this hierarchy of experiences made by so called experts and crunchy parenting trends that only reinforce feelings of guilt in new mothers.

There are as many stories as there are people and mine is just a straw in the haystack, just my version of an event. I’m putting in the disclaimer because having a child is one of the experiences that put me the most under scrutiny in my life. See how privileged I am? So privileged that I had not realised it before. So far I had not felt judged for my choices, or at least I was able to let things slide, until motherhood and its explosive molotov of emotions and reactions came knocking.
Let’s break things down: you’ve just evicted a human being from your body, no matter how, and you’re exhausted and overjoyed and overwhelmed and things have not settled in yet, but the Guilt and Judgment parts inherent to the way our societies treat motherhood are just looming outside the corner. Will you be breastfeeding? Yes? No? Exclusively? Yes? No? If so, why not? Will you be Abandoning your child to get back to work? Do you know, this and that would be the best for your child but that’s your decision. It’s funny how so many people can inject that much contempt in those little words: it’s your decision, as if your choices were radioactive concepts that seriously needed to be questioned. As a first time mother, the last thing you need is a self-righteous fucking ‘lactation consultant’ (seriously, that’s a thing) or midwife or well-meaning random person telling you to hold your two seconds baby in the rugby position to help her latch on a breast that still has no milk. How fun for everyone. Breastfeeding is such a sensitive issue, I could go on and on about the impact of WHO breastfeeding regulations on women.Indeed, research has shown that recommendations instated by WHO To exclusively breastfeed for at least six months tend to make women feel guilty, as researchers have dubbed this recommendation ‘unrealistic’. Yes, this would technically be the best option for babies. However, studies have shown that while the majority of women initiate breastfeeding at the hospital, in France and in the States, a month later the figure drops drastically. Why? Because breastfeeding is hard in and of itself, and is made even harder by midwives and professionals telling women who are having difficulties that they’re not managing because they’re not trying hard enough, which is of course something every new exhausted mother with a crying baby dangling down her breast needs to hear. Embarrassment, milk supply issues, pain, lack of access to information and appropriate health services, lack of support and maternity leave, major changes in lifestyle required by breastfeeding are other several reasons often cited by women to stop breastfeeding.
Another thing that turned the WHO guidance into added pressure for mothers is the way it is presented, in a very black and white fashion: it’s either breastfeed exclusively or don’t even bother. This is exactly how it was for me: my initial desire to alternate between breastfeeding and formula feeding (p was met very coldly by the midwife at the ‘baby friendly’ hospital i gave birth in, while the pain and latching issues we were having were just not taken into account in the conversations I had with the midwives, piling on the pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the more a child breastfeeds, the more it stimulates milk production and offering formula might confuse your child as well, increasing latching issues. But I also know that many women would like to be able to discuss all their options in a guilt-free and safe environment, and would appreciate the flexibility of combining breast and formula feeding. Meeting their concerns with contempt isn’t likely to increase breastfeeding rates. As for me, in the end I just dropped the whole breastfeeding hoopla: I was in tremendous pain, my baby was crying bloody murder she was so hungry, she was only latching on one breast, she was starting to be jaundiced and I had to beg for supplements. I therefore figured I was simply not having this wonderful bonding experience some women wax lyrical about, that my child needed a sane mother and not a crying mess and that formula with a relaxed mother was better for her than breast with a wailing banshee.

The pressure on women is so bad it prompted me to read Elisabeth Badinter and-gasp- AGREE with certain points she made.
And we all know me no likey essentialist so-called feminists that try and keep veiled women out of public institutions.
Badinter wrote about the whole Mother Nature/crunchy movement that is emerging and questioned the pressure applied on women to breastfeed, stay at home and make crafts, take care of children etc, stating that the ultimate aim of this trend is, as it always has, to keep women in private spheres and keep them from investing themselves too much in their community role.

Truth is, like for everything else, society apply an incredible amount of pressure on women to be super-mothers. The sacralised version of the Mother with a capital M is re-emerging after having been seriously put into question by women’s movements in the seventies, encouraged by the economic crisis and how much more vulnerable it has made women. In this model, a True/Good/Perfect Mother suffers to bring a child to the world, breastfeeds exclusively for a long time, bakes cookies while eating none herself because she needs to lose weight to be a good role model to her child but also to remain sexual as women are sexual objects and should remain so under the current patriarchal paradigm we’re forced to live under.

After several months of talking to other women, the conclusion I’ve reached is quite radical in its simplicity: choices are not the same to everyone, and each woman should be able to freely opt for what she feels more comfortable in without the Midwife/WHO/Religion/your mother police having a ball tearing these choices apart. It’s hard enough making these choices and owning them, and no one needs the extra guilt. The important thing is to ensure women have all the information they need to make informed decision, and all the support they need to feel comfortable with their choices and situations. Needless to say, it is rather pointless to make women feel guilty for their choices on the one hand and support and make budget health cuts on the other, taking away from mothers the structural, public support they need. Governments should stop issuing recommendations they do not give themselves the means to achieve, making women bear the brunt of achieving said recommendations on their own.

However, even the question of choice is a false debate: how much choice does a woman with poor access to healthcare have? Not every country has free universal coverage and even in those who do, access to medical follow up during pregnancy and good healthcare for delivery is constrained by a woman’s socio-economic circumstances. Even breastfeeding for example might not be a choice but the only possibility given the cost of formula, or on the opposite, maybe breastfeeding can’t be an option because of lack of maternity leave.

Public health structures, class, personal choices, and structural factors all weigh in to shape a woman’s experience of childbirth and child raising: what is at stake is to make sure women do not pay the price of judgmental trends and inappropriate public policies.

Where I Try to Speak to My Unborn Child. In a Letter.

Dearest unborn child,

You and I are in the final home stretch of our journey together as an entity of one. Or one and a half, if you look at my profile.

In about six weeks (or less, if you decide to show up before, which i don’t advise you to do, please keep baking, Mama is not equipped to see you in an incubator), you will hopefully, inshallah, please God (Mama is also superstitious and overly anxious, just so you know where you’re landing), show your little face to the world.

I hardly can believe it, yet can’t wait to meet you. In advance of your great debut as part of humanity, I’d like to apologize for all the throwing up and shaking you I did over these nine months, and while I’m at it, for all the anxiety and stress I put you through. I’m sure that can’t have been too enjoyable for you. Rest assured it wasn’t for me either, but what can you do? we are quite literally in the same boat.

I can’t wait to see what you’ll be like, can’t wait to get to know your character and your quirks and what annoys you and what will make you laugh. It really is as simple as that: somehow I am making a person and I’d really like to meet and greet that person. Your father is as impatient as me, he has a lot to teach you, apparently producing Trotsky Explained to Children books is high up next on his to do list, and I am under the impression that you’ll be the first (last? only?) child benefiting from that collection.

Darling child, Bringing you into this world doesn’t come without a dose of guilt, especially when I look at the current state of the world. We’re bringing you to a place that’s rife with conflict and heartbreak and displacement and violence and inequalities and hatred. Put this way, it seems rather unfair to bring yet another human being in such a mess. Perhaps We were being selfish when we decided to try and have you, but we rationalized it, thinking we might bring another Frida Kahlo or De Beauvoir to this world, or at the very least make the world a little nicer for your mere presence in it. And I truly believe this, although my opinion doesn’t really matter, after all I am your mother, of course my world is going to be brighter because you are in it. We also hoped that we would be able to show you all the glorious and gorgeous beauty in this world, all the solidarity, and courage, and love and friendship and music, smiles and laughters that world can hold.

Will you like me? I mean, you kind of have to like me at first, and your father as well, because we will be the ones caring for you so you won’t really have a choice, it’s either that or no milk, but as you grow up, will you like me, like us? Will you like the people we turned out to be?

There are so many things that I’d like to fight within me to make your life sweeter. I’d like to fight my continuous anxiety to enable you to explore the world with your own antennas, to form your own opinions, to be your own person,to give you enough confidence to know that no matter what, wherever i will be, the only true spot I’ll forever be rooted in is your heart, and that I’ll be safely tucked there as you’re tucked into mine. I’d like to participate in building your confidence in yourself and in others, to be open, and curious, and to questions situations, ideas, things, people. I’d love to help you get a sense of justice, and to teach you to fight for it, with the conscience of your own privileges, without smothering you, without shoving my ideas down your throat, without you feeling that I’m pushing ideas onto you that do not agree with your own conclusions.

Seriously, this parenting thing is a motherfucker. How does one do that?

I’d love for you to be proud of me. We always talk about parents being proud of their children, but honestly, think of how excruciating it would be to have your child look at you with disappointment. I could not hold that gaze. I’ll try my best to remain my own person, to contradict the messages you’ll no doubt hear and maybe pick up from the patriarchal society we live in. I vow to try and show you that a woman doesn’t need to be dependent on anyone, that she can hold her own, that she can dress as she pleases without anyone being entitled to say anything to her or aggravate her, that she is the mistress of her own mind and body, and that courage and strength are not masculine values. Don’t ever let anyone limit you because you’re a girl, or you’re young or whatever. Don’t let anyone limit you and your potential, period. And that includes me.

I hope I’ll be able to wrap you in a blanket of infinite and endless love, so that you’ll always have a place where you’ll feel safe.
I hope you never doubt that I’ve got your back, no matter what.
I hope to meet and greet you in six weeks and start off our journey together, your tiny fist already raised in protest.

Also, if you could be kind and not excruciatingly hurt me during labor, that’d be greatly appreciated.

With love,
Mama