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. 

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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.

 

 

On Going on A Micro General Strike

When speaking about feminism and women’s rights, I think I have found myself guilty of going on about laws, international conventions, treaties and regulations, which, while being necessary, somewhat puts the whole issue of sexism at an abstract level made of negotiations, politics, and international and national high level meetings.
While we all have to be aware of what decisions our governments take, it is equally important to talk about daily sexism, the fact that women have to fight sexism and patriarchy every day, the fact that these values and attitudes impact their every days lives.
Whereas hidden in a sarcastic comment or acted upon in a very loud and clear fashion, sexism and patriarchy are still everywhere and have a strong impact on women’s lives.
Still talking in obscure words? Let me just give you a few examples. I
About two weeks ago, I was discussing the awful (at least for me) subject of giving birth with some friends who had already gone through the ordeal ( and please, I don’t want to hear anything about how it was the most beautiful day of anyone’s life. All that blood and pain can’t be good. Giving birth is a necessary step, full stop, don’t try and romanticize it just because your brain wants to forget just how awful it was. There are other women who need the truth here) (ok, it might be the terror talking). Ok, moving on, there we were, sharing horror stories of birth giving and what not, when my friend told me the most awful thing that happened to her on the day of her delivering. Contrary to what I was expecting, it was not the twelve meter long epidural needle, it was not the pain, or the blood, or the fear. It was her husband, actually asking her to iron his white shirt while she was on the phone telling him her water just broke. Let me get this straight, I told her, there you were, paddling in your own water, utterly scared and freaking out, calling your husband so he can help you and drive you to the hospital so you could deliver his child, and he asked you to iron his shirt before going? Yes, she said.
We then looked at each other with eyes like saucers, and I could tell she still couldn’t get her head around it.
What kind of society creates that kind of sense of entitlement so that one of its member can lose all sense of priorities and ask about a FUCKING SHIRT before the health of a woman?
A society riddled with patriarchal values, that’s what.
Social roles women are allocated are very rigid and hard to shake, it takes not only advocacy from social movements for laws to change, but also daily conscious efforts to expose gender discrimination in art, the media, and mainstream discourse.
But let me get back to testimonies: once I knew what I was looking for, stories of women being asked to do things just because they were “the wife” or women kept jumping at me.
Another close friend of mine works full time ( a Lebanese full time, meaning she has two demanding jobs), is always there to support her family and take care of her son. Her husband, even though he works much less, still eats then gets up without even lifting his little finger. When my friend asked him to mind their son so she get in the shower, he told her, brace yourselves again, that he did not have the patience to do it, that he was tired.
Here my brain starts screaming “I’ll give you tired, you useless piece of humanity”. Naturally, this is the all-public, sweetened, version of the much less polite epithets I mentally gave him. The list could honestly go on, as I seem to be a magnet for stories of incapable husbands and boyfriends who always seem too tired to do anything that resembles a house chore.
Challenging these deeply seated beliefs is a fight, there’s no other word for it, but it’s a necessary one. Power is negotiated both in the public and private spheres: deciding who will do the washing up is indeed a power struggle, the one ending up doing nothing actually becoming the winner, not because it’s some kind of game, but because the one cleaning the toilets can’t read Marx and write articles or relax at the same time. Yesterday I was explaining to a friend why I didn’t like the interpretations that put the blame on the women: some people will say it’s the women’s fault for not asserting themselves, something that is in my opinion partly true. To me, women should lead the struggle against patriarchy, but society as a whole should feel concerned, because being asked to do certain things because you’re a woman, or being seen in a certain way because you’re a woman creates a growing sense of resentment from said women, resentment that destroys the love in relationship and creates very unhappy human beings. Truth is, cleaning toilets is no one’s favourite hobby and certainly no woman’s favorite thing to do. There shouldn’t therefore be an expectation on us to do it all the time. Besides, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge other women who might not appear to yell at their partner with blood shot eyes that if said partners didn’t make the bed, he’d die a slow, painful death. Being quiet about it doesn’t mean they don’t realize they’re being expected to do things just because they’re women. I think they’re just uncomplaining because they don’t see how this whole system can be changed because no one challenges it around them. So they resign, and carry on because it’s easier than risking social disapproval and constant fights at home, when it’s not worse like violence. When I arrived to Lebanon and had my first lunch with my aunt and new husband, said husband ate, then got up and cleared the dishes off the table. My aunt seemed to have an aneurysm and screeched at me :”keef 3am betkhalli y9oum! How do you let him get up and clean up???” as if it was my fault he was a perverted soul who helped a bit at home. The fact that she was expecting me to fling myself at my husband, begging him to let me do it so he wouldn’t have to get up was utter madness. Was she out of her mind?
Then I calmly explain to her that he was not a saint really, that he only cleared a table and that was the minimum he could do, that it was completely normal that we would both do stuff at home, and why should I be the one getting up and clearing up? Did I have something in my female DNA that programmed me to do so?
To which my aunt looked at me, then at her husband and said: nyyellik, your uncle eats, then spreads his considerable self on the couch and calls for his tea.
Fighting sexism in our daily lives is the first of all fights, one that, when is won, is won forever.
I’ll leave you with a most inspirational story that my Kenyan supervisor in my previous job shared with me. In order to teach her husband that he should learn how to cook and clean as she was a most busy woman, she just stopped doing anything. “I’m telling you, she would chuckle, I would leave those pans in the sink forever, I would pick up my dinner and eat in my bed while he d be waiting for his, I kept my nerve, and eventually, he started really sharing chores with me”. I called it the micro general strike, and I loved the idea.
Could I do that? If I m honest, No, I’ m way too anal retentive to leave anything in the sink for more than 2 minutes.
No, I can’t do that, but I m still working on becoming the change I want to see, so I keep fighting gender discrimination in my everyday life, starting from home, even if that means the bed won’t be made exactly how I want it to be. At least it ll be made, and by someone who isn’t me.