Friday, December 4, 2009

What is feminist parenting?

In order to develop a working definition of feminist parenting, I have combined the findings of three studies on feminist parenting with definitions of feminist parenting found in edited volumes and other scholarly works on the subject. Much of the research I used to form my definition of feminist parenting was found in sources on feminist mothering and needed to be appropriated by applying to them the gender neutral term parenting. What I eventually developed was a list of characteristics, values, and behaviors found in families that practice feminist parenting.***

Characteristics, Values & Behaviors
Several studies indicate that neither sex nor biological relationship determine what makes a good or appropriate parent. Likewise, the number or marital status of parents, or sexual orientation of parents are equally inadequate in determining the capability of a parent. What does matter is the quality and type of parenting performed by whatever parents are available.*

The first characteristic of feminist parenting is that it can be done by any person who takes responsibility for a child and that it will promote the acceptance of a diverse definition of what constitutes a family. Therefore, for the purposes of defining feminist parenting, the word parent should not imply gender or genetic relation. Similarly, when used in the plural it should not imply a specific relationship (i.e. married, divorced…), romantic or otherwise, between the parents.

When more than one parent is present, all parents in a feminist family will share equally in the physical and emotional work of caring for children regardless of sex or gender identity. Children also share in household responsibilities at an age appropriate level so as to teach them responsibility, fairness, and practical skills for self-reliance. Both children and parents perform domestic duties that are atypical for their sex in a conscious effort to challenge traditional gender roles.

Feminist parents encourage open communication between all family members. Decisions are made as inclusively and democratically as appropriate to the child’s age and level of understanding. “It is inevitable that parents have more power than children” because they “have more knowledge and skill, control more resources, and ultimately have the physical power (at least when the children are young) to pick up…or physically restrain” their children. In instances when a parent must make a decision based on their parental authority (i.e. physically restraining a child to prevent them from harm or refusing to buy a coveted item), feminist parents communicate their reasoning for these decisions to their children. Despite the inevitable necessity for a parent to make some decisions despite their child’s wishes, parental authority is not taken for granted and children are not discouraged from questioning excessive or unfair use of adult authority. This open and inclusive communication and decision making allows for a warm and intimate parent-child relationship.

Children of feminist parents learn to challenge not only patriarchy and sexism but the idea of hierarchy itself. Parents encourage and model acceptance of diversity. Parents engage children in discussions about imbalances of power between groups of people based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other discriminating characteristics and teach them to recognize discrimination. Children are taught to view the world through a feminist lens and to think critically about the dominant culture.

Because children are taught to think critically and parents include them in decision making processes, children learn to be self-reliant, have self-governance and mutual respect. These skills allow parents give them appropriate levels of autonomy. Having children participate in household chores, allowing them autonomy and an open communication process is empowering to all members of the family. This also helps prepare children for interaction with the world outside of the family which may not hold the same values as they or their parents or where they may encounter discrimination.
Styles of Parental Control

The field of developmental psychology has developed four styles of parental control. These parenting styles have been researched extensively and produce differing outcomes. Because feminism is based on an understanding of power and control, it is useful in understanding and defining feminist parenting to understand the power and control dynamics associated with it. It is additionally beneficial that there is research on the outcomes of the parenting styles put forth by the field of developmental psychology because this research will be useful in deriving outcomes of feminist parenting later.

… Each of these four styles of parental control (authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent & neglectful) has an associated level of parental involvement, acceptance and warmth. …

The authoritative parent accepts that they have some authority over their children but encourages negotiation of rules and standards, prefers open communication and reasoning with children rather than punishment, is judgmental, allows appropriate levels of autonomy, and encourage free thinking and expression of feelings. These parents are described as very involved, displaying high levels of warmth toward and acceptance of children. Although the parent has slightly more power than the child, there is more of a balance of power between them. [This slight power imbalance is due to the parents’ inevitable control of access to resources and societal responsibility. It is important to note that authoritative parents intentionally do not use this inevitability to control the child].

...[This] authoritative style of parenting control is most similar to the feminist parenting style. Feminist parents use as little authority as necessary to parent and encourage their children to actively engage in decision making processes similar to that of the authoritarian parents described by the developmental psychologists. This is an interesting correlation since feminists refute the idea of hierarchy and fight for equality of power.
Joint parenting

Another type of parenting developed by the field of family studies, although inspired by the feminist movement, is joint or shared parenting. Joint parenting involves the sharing of household and childrearing responsibilities. This form of parenting does help to level the amount of work that each parent performs and encourages equal participation in work outside of the home. The main goal of sharing the work of parenting is to empower both parents, particularly the mother, which is also an aspect of feminist parenting.

Conclusions

Simply combining shared-parenting with authoritative parenting does not equal feminist parenting, however. In order to practice feminist parenting the parents must identify as feminists. They must consciously instill in their children an awareness of intersectionality and other feminist values as well as the ability to view the world critically through a feminist lens.

Feminist parenting provides significantly positive outcomes for children and studies show clear evidence of transmission of feminist values down the generational line. Children of feminist parents are more accepting of diversity, recognize discrimination, “have a willingness to challenge oppression” and a desire to change society. Children are also more self-reliant, autonomous and have the ability to think critically.

Parents also benefit from feminist parenting in that all parents regardless of sex are empowered and respected by their co-parents and children. Relationships between feminist parents in romantic partnerships are more equitable and satisfying to both sexes. Parents also benefit from their children’s heightened political awareness and feminist consciousness. Because children are allowed to openly communicate and debate with their parents the transmission of feminist values becomes reciprocal.

If we take a moment to extrapolate from the proven outcomes of feminist parenting the possibilities for social change and the feminist movement it becomes clear that this is a significant step toward the goal of equality. Patriarchy and other oppressive structures have gained their power in having been naturalized through patriarchal ideas and practices of family. Just as patriarchy and power imbalances have been naturalized by the patriarchal family, so to must we naturalize equality through feminist parenting.
In order to accomplish this, we need more literature on feminist parenting methods with inclusive language and better readability that is readily available for consumption by anyone looking for parenting information. It is important to develop practical methodologies of feminist parenting that enable us to move from theory to praxis.

*** This is an excerpt from a research paper I wrote. Citations have been removed for increased readability. If you are interested in the full paper with reference list, please contact me and I will gladly send you a copy to review in exchange for comments. I plan to continue my research in graduate school and welcome as much "constructive criticism" and feedback as I can get.***

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Feminist Review of Parenting Literature

Introduction

With hundreds of parenting books on the market to guide us through our children’s development and give us an idea of “What to Expect” (Murkoff, 1984-2008) one would think that among them all there would be at least a few on how to parent from a feminist perspective. My search at the beginning of my pregnancy found this to sadly be untrue. Almost all of the books on feminist parenting focus exclusively on the mother and overcoming the trappings of being a mother in the patriarchal family. I was lucky to find one or two with a chapter that briefly discussed the act of feminist parenting. In addition, all of these books were written with the mother as the intended audience and addressing her as the primary caretaker (which is disconcerting considering the books’ focus on the necessity of joint-parenting).

I was even more disappointed with the lack of useful feminist parenting books when I found in the mass of mainstream parenting books (which are, for the most part, similarly directed toward women as the primary caretakers of children) entire books specifically for fathers who are either the primary caretakers of their children or who are actively participating in joint parenting. No such book exists for feminist fathers. These “fathering” books are readily available in well-known bookstores and bookseller websites. It is disappointing to see such availability of fathering books when there is no equivalent amongst feminist parenting literature. With no alternative to these mainstream parenting guides, fathers are lead to believe there is only one ideal definition of an adequate father.

After exhausting my resources to find a book that would offer guidance and insight into the practice of feminist parenting through the mainstream market, I turned to academia and began searching for articles, studies and books that might give me some direction. The feminist literature mostly focused on the plight of the mother with little attention to the practices, challenges or outcomes of feminist parenting. There are some narratives by women who are feminist parents or who were parented by a feminist, but these lack analysis or guidance. With the exception of one compilation (Taylor 1994), these narratives are found in various feminist compilations but not as a part of a specific compilation on feminist parenting for ready access by anyone looking to learn about the subject. Other narratives and compilations focus solely on mothering and women in the role of mother.

I have found a few books on the practice of shared parenting (Ehrensaft, 1987; Deutsch, 1999) but these do not necessarily incorporate feminist ideologies. Although shared parenting does challenge traditional patriarchal family roles and will have some non-sexist ideology influences and outcomes, simply sharing parenting responsibilities alone will not instill feminist values in our children. There needs to be a deeper understanding of feminist ideologies such as intersectionality and why we challenge traditional gender roles.

With so little information on the methodology of feminist parenting, I began to wonder if such a theory of methodology exists in feminist studies. It seemed to me that the idea is latent in feminist writing about motherhood and parenting but the issue has never been addressed directly. There exists no “how-to” on feminist parenting and there is a serious need for research and literature on the methodology and praxis of feminist parenting.

After mining through journals and anthologies on every subject from child development and family studies to women’s studies, I found a few useful studies specifically on the practice and outcomes of feminist parenting (ironically none of which originated in feminist publications) and a collection of narratives and poetry about feminist parenting

Literature Review

In this [blog] I will discuss the existing literature on both feminist and non feminist parenting. I will discuss the gendered language used in each and give an overview of their perspectives and the audience each address. I will also discuss the availability and readability of the different types of parenting literature discussed.

Non-Feminist Literature

General Parenting Guides

The What to Expect (Murkoff, 1984-2008) series has been the parenting and pregnancy guide for more than twenty years. It is currently the best selling childcare series (The New York Times, 2009). Although there are hundreds of other books on childcare and parenting, the What to Expect (Murkoff, 1984-2008) books are the childcare books we hear about the most from friends, family and media. The majority of parenting guides are modeled, to some extent, after these books and the language and audience are all very similar. For this reason, and because it would be nearly impossible to review the hundreds of parenting guides on the market, I will use this as my example of non-feminist general parenting guide.

There is no doubt that the What to Expect (Murkoff, 1984-2008) series is the most readily available parenting guide on the market. It is widely available in stores and online. The series is written in plain English which makes it easily readable by anyone who picks it up. Although predominantly directed at the mother, I was pleased to find that the sections on bathing, changing and other care were gender neutral and even included pictures of men performing these tasks. Sections on breastfeeding were understandably directed at the mother and there are even tips on how to include the father if you chose to breastfeed exclusively. However, when it comes to questions of bonding, nurturing, or soothing these sections are almost exclusively directed toward the mother. There is less than one fifth of one page in the section on bonding (Murkoff, 2003, p. 115) about fathers bonding with their newborns and it directed the father to the one chapter on new fathers.

Although the book often uses the term ‘partner’ when referring to the parent other than the mother, there is no mention in any of the What to Expect books (Murkoff, 1984-2008) about alternative parents or lifestyles. The books are exclusively directed at heterosexual couples with children. The only exceptions to this are a few very small segments on adoption. There is no mention of race or class and the buying guides seemed to assume the parents reading it had little concern regarding costs as emphasis was on product features rather than affordability.

Joint Parenting Guides

Most books about shared parenting are written for divorced heterosexual couples attempting to play nice with joint custody. There are a few books that are about two parents in the same household sharing the responsibility and workload of caring for their children. The two that I found that dealt with this type of parenting were Parenting Together (Ehrensaft, 1987) and Halving It All (Deutsch, 1999) are also directed at heterosexual couples. These joint parenting “guides” are really studies done on shared parenting. They are not written in highly academic language which makes them reader friendly and although not specifically written as advice books, offer insight into how to go about sharing parenting responsibilities.

Although Ehrensaft (1987) describes herself in the introduction of Parenting Together as “an active participant in the feminist movement” (p. 1), the book is not about feminist parenting. The book does focus on the transmissions of gender attitudes to children but no other feminist principles. She also primarily refers to the nurturing and caring aspect of parenting as mothering. In two of her chapters “The New Mothering Duet” and “The Child with Two Mothers,” Ehrensaft points out on several occasions that both parents are biologically capability of “mothering” but does little to move away from the gendering of these aspects of parenting in her use of language. For example, “The Child with Two Mothers” deals with the issue of attachment of a child to two parents acting as “mother.” This contradiction between ideology and language sends the message that parenting is a still a female/feminine task but it is okay for men to do instead of relaying the message that parenting is neither a gendered nor a sex-specific task that both parents should undertake equally.

In Halving It All (Deutsch, 1999), the language is less focused on the sharing of “mothering” and more on the sharing of parenting responsibilities and equality between the parenting partners. Despite the lack of other feminist principles there is a strong effort by Deutsch (1999) to “de-gender” parenthood in a section entitled “From Motherhood and Fatherhood to Parenthood” (pp. 233-235).

Feminist Literature

Mothering & Motherhood

Although there are many books amongst feminist literature on motherhood and mothering, one of the best known is Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering (1978). Although this book is an important and valuable contribution to the literature on feminist parenting, it offers little guidance or insight into practicing feminist parent. This book was essential in defining the problem of patriarchal motherhood but did little to de-gender parenting. She refers to the nurturing aspect of childrearing as mothering and assumes a family in which there is a female and a male parent; a family form that is not universal although it is assumed to be by both Chodorow and society. Chodorow’s solution to breaking the cycle of reproducing traditional motherhood is to teach boys to be nurturing and caring so that these traits will carry into their adulthood and parenting. She does little beyond this to outline a solution or to include men in the definition of parenting but instead demands that men take part in ‘mothering’ their children. Additionally, this psychoanalytical feminist work is very dense and not an easy read, making it less accessible to the average parent.

Chodorow is not alone is focusing on the plight of mothers under a patriarchal ideal of family. In Recreating Motherhood, Rothman (1989) discusses the lack of value placed on women’s genetic material, the capitalistic view of mothers and children as laborers and products, respectively, and the problems mothers face with the increase in technology and medicalization of motherhood and birth. Similarly, Nanko-Glenn, Chang & Forcey’s (1994) compilation includes sections on how traditional motherhood is constructed and how to deconstruct it, but there is no focus on how to parent as a feminist. The latter two books do offer some intersectional insight into the dilemma of traditional motherhood, which is a welcome step forward from Chodorow’s work.

A more recent publication, Feminist Mothering (O’Reilly, 2008) is a collection of articles and studies on feminist mothering. A reprint of the only study on feminist parenting (Mack-Canty & Wright, 2004) that does not focus on the mother is found in this compilation but the remaining chapters are focused on mothers exclusively. The book does provide information on transmitting feminist values to future generations and various pieces on intersectionality. As with the other books on mothering and motherhood the language is very academic, the content is dense and almost exclusively addresses women.

Parenting

Books on feminist parenting as a practice were the hardest to find. Only two books surfaced in my search: Non-Sexist Childrearing (Carmichael, 1977) and Integrating Gender and Culture in Parenting (Zimmerman, 2002). Carmichael’s book is a useful and readable combination of research and narratives that provide examples of how to raise a child with a feminist consciousness and without stereotypical gender roles. It addresses both feminist fathers and mothers and even challenges feminist women with the idea of “female chauvinism.” Her book is definitely an asset to the literature on feminist parenting but it is dated at more than thirty years old and lacks the intersectionality of today’s feminism.

Zimmerman’s edited volume Integrating Gender and Culture in Parenting also gives some straight forward examples of strategies and activities to challenge gender, race and class stereotypes in childrearing. Unfortunately, the accessibility and readability ends with the introduction to the book. Although it includes the needed intersectionality and some practical advice on feminist parenting, beyond the introduction the reader is bombarded with scholarly writing and data rendering the remainder of the book much less useful.
Narratives

Onc collection of narratives and poetry on feminist parenting surfaced in my research. In Taylor’s (1994) collection she explicit states in the introduction that the book “is not a how-to” but a collection of stories in which parents attempt to bring “a feminist consciousness into their childrearing” (p. 2). This book does include narrative of both men and women as feminist parents, as well as narratives about parents gaining feminist insight from their children. It is a readable and inspiring collection but it lacks the practical advice on feminist parenting needed in feminist literature.

Narratives about feminist parenting and growing up in feminist families are found throughout feminist literature. Unfortunately most these pieces are scattered amongst many different compilations and are rarely grouped together for the purpose of communicating information about feminist parenting and a significant number of them only describe situations involving feminist mothers. Also the “how-to” information on feminist parenting must be deduced from the literature.
Studies
Few exist on feminist parenting and only three could be found that explicitly researched the outcomes and practices of feminist families and each study had a slightly different focus. Green (2009) focuses on feminist mothers, White (2006) focuses on African American feminist fathers, and Mack-Canty and Wright (2004) focus on feminist families of various forms. These studies proved invaluable to defining feminist parenting and provide a significant benefit to the feminist scholarship on parenting. However, they are scholarly research found in peer reviewed journals that are not readily accessible by most parents. Additionally, two of the studies were not found in feminist publications. Mack-Canty and Wright’s (2004) study is found in The Journal of Family Issues and White’s (2006) study is found in The Journal of Black Psychology. While it is refreshing to find feminism seeping into other fields of study, it is disconcerting that these studies are not readily available amongst the feminist literature and that they were not carried out with the intention of publication in feminist journals.

*** This is an excerpt from a research paper I wrote. Citations have been removed for increased readability. If you are interested in the full paper with reference list, please contact me and I will gladly send you a copy to review in exchange for comments. I plan to continue my research in graduate school and welcome as much "constructive criticism" and feedback as I can get.***

Friday, November 27, 2009

Classist Oblivion

There are many reasons that I am anti-capitalism but the effects of classism inherent in capitalist societies are my biggest gripes. Lately, the effects of classism have been painfully apparent in my own life. The most significant situations have come out of my hasty return to work 6 weeks after my daughter's birth.
I didn't really have a choice. We weren't (and still aren't) able to make our rent every month. It is by God's grace that we have kept food in our stomachs. Many of our bills are going unpaid and with child support and taxes being garnished from O'Neil's check (the result of choosing food and shelter over other bills) there was little left for us to work with. Even our oil company has held all oil shipments due to a residual bill from last season.

So, on October 6th when Kenisha was 6 weeks and 1 day old, I put on my uniform and cried as I kissed my baby goodbye for the next 7 hours. That was the first time I'd been separated from her for more than a half hour since her birth. She wasn't even fully adjusted to taking breast milk from the bottle. I had no choice. She would not like the abrupt change anymore than I did but the alternative was for us to face an eventual eviction. We may still be evicted but at least we are doing all that we possibly can to prevent that from happening.

As I cut through the mall on my way to work the morning of my return, I saw mothers and their young children in strollers exercising in a circle near the escalator. I physically felt a stab in my heart as I watch these mom's playing with their babies as they worked on returning their abs to their pre-pregnancy state (or possibly better). Why do their babies deserve to have their mother's with them? Why does my baby deserve to be at home sucking from an unfamiliar plastic nipple and wondering why her mother isn't there to nurse and comfort her?

If you remove class and money from the equation, what have those mother's done to make them more worthy of spending this time with their children than me?

My return to work has been hard and little gains have been made financially since my return to work. I am not making enough to cover the difference the garnishes made in my partner's pay. I am not making enough to pay a babysitter to watch Kenisha while I work. I'm struggling with the fact that once my mother-in-law leaves I may quite possibly have to quite work to stay with the baby since childcare is out of our financial reach.

The two pictures below are of the place at work where I express breast milk before I start taking tables. I can't begin to state the number of problems with this arrangement. The most poignant of all being that I am preparing my baby's food in a public restroom. What makes my child deserve to have her meals prepared in a bathroom, while other's have their meals prepared in shiny clean kitchens? There are no logical ways to answer these questions. The only answer is that I'm working class in a society in which only the upper class is entitled to the protections and privileges that all humans deserve.



As I walked through the mall, I watched the stroller strides moms assemble once again as I was on my way to orientation for yet another retail job. I had to leave my daughter without feeding her fully in order to catch the bus on time. I'd be hard pressed to say I wasn't depressed this morning. I am quite close to tears. These women with their children work to keep themselves fit while spending time with their children. I have to leave my baby girl at home for a second service oriented job that pays very little. I'm still trying to figure out why I am here. It's going to cost me more in childcare than I actually make once my mother-in-law goes home.
The stroller strides moms are now singing "the wheels on the bus" as they exercise with their resistance bands. They are completely oblivious of my existence; comfortable in their happy bubble where no one worries about how to buy groceries or if the rent will be paid this month.

Classist oblivion is certainly a luxury available only to the upper class. I believe that this that the choice to employ such a luxury is just that: a choice. With every other news story reporting on something recession related, these women must be aware of the toll this financial crisis is taking on those less fortunate than themselves. So what does it mean that despite the fact that many are being forced to make choices between shelter and food, the upper class spends the equivalent of a week's worth of groceries to exercising in a group in the mall (where many people walk for exercise for free). They are certainly supporting and flaunting their own superiority.

How do we, as feminists and as parents, work to end this oblivion? How do we get people of the upper classes to see us? And when they really do see us how do we get them to understand our trails? More importantly, (and certainly the most difficult task) how do we get them to care once they see and understand?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Feminist Mother Struggles - Part 1

It has been quite a long while since I posted anything on this blog. I've had things building up but I just never have the energy or time to get things down. I will be posting a piece about my birth experience and how I felt about it from a feminist perspective. However, today's blog is more about the struggles of the past few weeks. I am thankful that I have such a good understanding of intersectionality and the various types of oppression that exist because had I not had this understanding I could be buried under an anvil of depression and self-doubt.


The biggest of my struggles of the past few months is financial. The recession has really taken it's toll on my family and the effects of capitalism and this classist society we live in has never been more real.


In an earlier post, I talked about my short term disability not paying for my full leave. I was only paid for 60% of the 6 weeks after birth. I had to leave work 3 weeks before my August 22 due date and my daughter was born 6 hours late on the morning of August 23. So, I had to attempt to stretch $1315 over 9 weeks. On average, over 9 weeks I'd make approximately $3287.50. That's a difference of $1972.50.


In addition to my serious income loss my partner, O'Neil, had his hours cut at his main job and his second job sometimes didn't schedule him at all. Needless to say there were quite a few bills that would go unpaid or paid significantly late. This lack of funds and inability to pay everything that needed paying led to a domino effect. We weren't able to finish paying off the oil bill from last winter, so we cannot get oil until it's paid off, which means that we cannot turn on the heat because our hot water is also fueled by oil. His ex-wife also took him to court about their divorce agreement to split certain debts and most recently had his income withheld for child support (this is a whole new topic I'll explore in more detail at another time because I'd like to address women who contribute to sexism). The newest of this debt spiral is CT DRS garnishment for 2008 taxes despite our paying every month (this apparently wasn't good enough).


There is also the pile of medical bills related to my pregnancy and delivery. I was covered by two insurances. Both of which said the other was primary and continuously denied every claim sent to them until the other paid first. Fun! I have to spend hours and hours of phone calls with each explanation of benefits statement I receive. Even with the insurance issue beginning to be straightened out, the high deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums have left me with a significant stack of bills to pay.


Basically our income is a third of what it is normally and our bills have doubled (mainly because any open line of credit had to be used for essentials like food, utilities, and baby supplies). I was lucky enough to be granted a forbearance until January on my $35,000 student loan debt.


Since O'Neil's second job laid just about everyone off except the part-timers and a select few full-timers, he's been getting a steady 2-3 day schedule. Business at his first job has increased and he is finally on a 40 hour schedule most weeks. He should be on salary and in a management position for all the work he does as a "supervisor." Supervisor in his case is basically someone with all the responsibility and accountability of a Manager but without the salary. Of course with the economy and job market in such array who can afford to make demands for anything they deserve at work.


(How ironic: I just received a phone call from a debt collector telling me my auto payment was declined. They tried to take the payment out 2 days early. Had they waited until the actual date, it might have cleared.)

The job market is another struggle. During the first months of my pregnancy I was working 1 full-time job as a server and another part-time job as a tutor, interning at DVCC, taking 4 classes to finish my degree, organizing our school production of 'The Vagina Monologues" and puking regularly due some pretty terrible morning sickness. My idea of lightening my load was to drop one of my classes and take it in the summer. I did finish my degree in my 7th month of pregnancy. After I had the baby, I immediately began looking for a job. I have sent out more than 60 resumes and filled out even more applications in the 10 weeks since her birth. I stopped looking exclusively for jobs in my field and education level in around my second week of searching. I even started looking for food service jobs (which is where most of my work experience is) that at least had better schedule and pay than the one I currently have. I've tried secretarial, receptionist, personal assistant, human resource, and tons of other entry level or 'high school only' required positions.

Of them all, I've only receive about 5 phone calls. One required a car which I don't have. Another hired someone before I even got to my interview and called to cancel. Another decided that despite the minimal requirements posted on the web site that they needed someone with significant experience in a particular area of which I had little. You get the point. Nothing has come through.

I'm back to serving full-time (or at least what they call full-time 23 hours/week) and I have to pump breast milk in the family bathroom. Every time I say 'breast milk' my GM cringes. Everyone seems to get a yuck look on their face when I mention that I'm going to go pump. The sexist remarks fly in all directions. The latest attack on my breastfeeding was the comment that I shouldn't leave my (clearly labeled and dated) breast milk in the walk-in because the Health Department would "close us down." Not to mention how many times I've been looked over for promotions because I was either pregnant or nursing.

So, why am I going on and on? Complaining? A bit, yes. But actually my purpose to give (my 2 or 3) readers a context for the next series of blogs I am going to put write.

Here's a bit of what I hope to cover:
- Classism - how it is apparent in my life
- Forced division of household labor by sex due to economics
- why I'm anti-capitalism
- "Good" mother's have "Bad" thoughts
- My Birth Story - The Empowerment of Childbirth
- Necessity of intergenerational living amongst the lower classes
- Co-parenting (when you have different views, histories and cultures)
- The "Second-Shift" is often the third (or fourth)
- Emergency Assistance & the 'poverty' level

I hope that I will gain some readers and get some discussion and comments going. Towards the end of each of these pieces I hope to write something of about how this relates to Feminist Parenting. So here's today bit about Feminsit Parenting:

Through all of this I think to myself, "At least my little girl is healthy." My partner is health and my little girl is health. It is the one thing that we have right now. I haven't thought much about myself except to try my best to eat healthy (which is not easy when you can afford groceries). I woke up at 2:30am in excruciation pain and rushed to the ER to find out I have kidney stones. O'Neil was terrified it was something worse and relieved that it was nothing life threatening. He and my mother-in-law have taken over feeding my 2 month old, a responsibility that was almost exclusively mine except when I was at work. It hasn't been easy because she can smell my breasts and doesn't want the bottle. This has meant not being able to comfort her at all until the pain medicine is out of my system.

I thought this would be a welcome break since I haven't slept through the night since a few months before she was born. Instead it's been a bit relief and a bit more torture. It hurts not to be able to comfort your child. It feels selfish to be happy that I'm well rested for once! Doesn't this seems odd? Even with all my feminist knowledge, I still feel like the bad mom! Realistically, I know I'm not a bad mother. I had no control over the kidney stones but the feeling is still there. It's not easy deprogramming yourself from these sexist societal beliefs.

I talk to my daughter as if she were an adult (except she responds in coos and giggles). I talk to her about what's going on. I am greatly thankful that she is so young and will have no memory of these hard times. I also hope that there is some (mild) suffering in her future so that she can genuinely understand the importance of feminism. I know that until now, I hadn't had such a profound understanding and intersectionality and I want this for her too.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Working Class Woes - Part 2

I am a firm believer that pregnancy is not a disability. I want to work during my pregnancy and I want to be treated fairly not just by my job but also by my healthcare provider.



I called my the midwife on call for my practice today because I had pain and contractions last night while at work. I've been trying all morning to decide if I should go to work. Truthfully, I can't afford to miss work. Missing work tonight is literally the difference between being able to afford groceries or not this month. With this being the case, I didn't want to make this decision lightly. I expected when I called that they would say I wasn't in labor and I should probably keep a close eye on the situation but that there was no reason to stay home tonight.



Instead this is more how it went.



"Six contraction in 2 hours isn't labor. Your probably just tired and dehydrated. Lots of women work while their pregnant and I can't put you out of work. (I never asked her to). Midwives and other women work they just sit down more often and stay hydrated (she never asked how much water I was drinking)."



I explained to her that sitting down wasn't an option for me as a waitress on a busy Friday or Saturday night.



Her response: "Well then that's just a decision you have to make because pregnancy isn't a medical condition. You need to drink a few big glasses of water and then you'll know how you'll feel later. If you have regular contraction call back."



I understand that I just wanted to be sure before I went to work that I wasn't doing anything wrong or that would cause a problem.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pregnancy is NOT a disability - written 6/5/09

I'm sorry but it's not. I realize that this analogy has given us leave rights under FMLA, financial benefits through Short-Term Disability, and job protections through the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (which relies on this comparison/categorization) and the Americans with Disabilities Act. But that doesn't mean that this is a true or fair analogy.

I realize that as feminist we are advocating for the equality of women. Women can do anything men can do and just as well (and sometimes better). Yes, we can. I have no doubt about that. But, I do not think that comparing a pregnant person to a disabled person is a fair analogy. I realize we may be afraid as feminists to indicate any difference between men and women because it may imply some difference in ability or right to equality. This is a pitfall of my argument and I understand our (feminists') hesitance to defend such an argument because of this.

The reality of the situation is there is no comparison. There is NO male nor non-pregnant equivalent to a pregnant woman and therefore their situation is unique and deserving of laws and protections individual to this temporary condition (and it is temporary). Let's face it: Women can do anything men can do BUT men can't do everything women can. Women have the unique "superpower" to gestate children & lactate to nourish them.

This is not something that makes a woman weaker. We (pregnant women, as I am one at the moment) are no more fragile than any non-pregnant person. If anything we are certainly stronger. Our bodies go through rapid changes during this time (particularly drastic if it is a first pregnancy) and we may be uncomfortable in many instances but still able to continue our usual activities. I am not saying that there aren't physical limitations. There are, but these limitations do not equate to a medical condition or disability. Pregnancy is not a medical condition contrary to popular belief. Pregnancy is a naturally occurring part of a woman's sexual life (if she so chooses to become pregnant).

Cesarean rates and all the medical interventions in prenatal care and a hospital childbirth would have us believe this misconception that birth equates to a medical condition. In fact, these types of mass unnecessary interventions are what cause pregnancy & birth to become a medical condition. This is not to say that there aren't instances when medical intervention and treatment aren't necessary. There are 10-15% of women that do need some type medical treatment/intervention during pregnancy. Even this percentage relates to the state of the mother's health prior to conception (and we must also realize that financial status is directly related to health in many instances). Actually, considering that 20% of Americans are disabled1, this number is relatively low. (I suspect this would be lower in many cases IF we were healthier society at large AND if we had less ART facilitated pregnancies.)

This analogy has been created to convince us that we are weak because of our biology. It has also been created to capitalize on pregnancy. One of the most expensive undertakings one will encounter in their life (if they so choose, that is) is having a child. There are frequent visits to the doctor for check ups, unnecessary medical interventions, a hospital stay... the medical field makes a LOT of money off of pregnant women each year. Health insurance companies play a large role in enabling this to be so. Because most of us must rely on health insurance (if we have it) to cover these expenses, we are also limited in our choices. You more than likely cannot chose a MUCH less expensive home birth with a skilled midwife because the insurance companies will not pay for it. It is an endless cycle.

At work, we are looked at as a liability. It is as if we cannot perform as well as the others. Despite our normal productive abilities, during pregnancy and physical limitation permanently scars your career. It is because we are a "every-man-for-himself" society. And they do mean MAN. Women, of course, are supposed to be at home tending to the men and children, especially with such a debilitating condition as pregnancy. Of course, this patriarchal and capitalist ideology doesn't take into consideration women like myself who cannot afford to stop working and just be pregnant. I have been waiting tables this entire pregnancy and I have refused to be forced out despite my aches, pains and exhaustion. I cannot afford to loose my employers group health benefits nor can I loose my pay. The disability insurance that I pay for every week will not even kick in until the 38th week of pregnancy because I am health and able to work according to the medical field! Quite interesting, isn't it?

Even more puzzling is how this country can offer us 12 weeks of UNPAID leave that ensures us a job when we return but that requires we PAY to keep our health benefits. In what universe is this logical? Certainly not this one.

There are a few people at work who have pitched in to help me. Carrying the heavy things and offering to help get me out after a long day. They do not do so out of belief that pregnancy and birth should be a community experience but out of the belief that I am weak now. They have pity for me because I am poor and can't stop working. If i bought into the ideas and beliefs of my co-workers, managers, doctors, neighbors, and just passers-by, I'd be perpetually depressed and feel trapped in this female biology.

So why are we, as feminists, buying into this patriarchal capitalist idea of pregnancy as a disability? I believe that at the time we were to some extent just trying to get any advancement we could and also somewhat still uneducated about the reality of the circumstances of pregnancy. We feel like we cannot endorse this fundamental difference because it will reinforce ideas of sexual inequality. In many ways, it would but only because of the other ideas society has about economics and worth. It is critical to change not only ideas about pregnancy and women but to change societal beliefs about community and responsibility.

You may think that you shouldn't have to carry the weight when your pregnant co-worker can no longer lift heavy loads because you didn't choose to get pregnant or to be involved but are you really considering that the child she is carrying could be our future president, a congressman, a doctor, or social worker that in 30 years or so might have the power to control your access to health insurance, pension benefits, and even control at what age you are allowed to retire?

Pregnancy is not a disability. It is the single act that keeps humans alive through generations. It is what enables us to progress as a species. It connects us to both the past and the future. Without pregnancy there would be very little future. We would stand as individuals with expiration dates and no concern for what was to come. So why are we trying to trap women by calling this a disability and making them seem weaker because they have taken on this great and unique responsibility to bear children and therefore our future? It's puzzling in the least. But as I sit here, pregnant and trying to navigate in the mess "man" has created, I can only be infuriated, frustrated, and feel the need to do something about it.

1. http://www.census.gov/prod/3/97pubs/cenbr975.pdf

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Working Class Woes -written 5/30/09

As my due date gets closer, I start to realize exactly how well this capitalist system is designed to keep the bottom on the bottom. My partner and I are far from well off but we had reached a point where we had our heads well above water. Lately, it feels like we are starting to drown again. With the end of the semester, a lot happened. My tutoring job ended and my doctor advised against double shifts at the restaurant. O'Neil has also suffered a cut in his hours at both of his jobs. This put a big dent in our income. Not exactly an ideal situation when there is a child on the way. After much calculation, we realized that there is about $1300 a month going out that isn't coming in anymore. To put this in better perspective, I am probably one of the most frugal people you will ever meet so there is no wasted money in our house. We have stopped eating out (which is somewhat blasphemy when you work in the industry), use coupons for everything, buy in bulk, pack lunches, buy store brands, hunt for freebies, adjusted our phones and cable to reduce cost, use as little hot water as possible, ration electricity... I mean really the ways in which we have tried to reduce costs are just about endless.

Two nights ago, I spent 3 or 4 hours online looking into cost effective (and eco-friendly) ways to raise a child. I already knew breastfeeding was a sure bet at reducing costs and after an intial investment so would cloth diapers. The problem is I can't stay home to breastfeed so I'm going to have be a cow and milk myself a few times a day while I'm working. Why is this a problem? I work in a restaurant right now, until I find a new job utilizing my degree (which, in this economy, is not going to be easy). There really is no where other than the nasty staff bathroom for me to pump and I can't exactly say "I'm sorry I need 30 minutes to pump so someone else will have to take my tables." Quite the catch 22 don't you think?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Motherhood = Feminism = Activism

As a feminist, I struggled with my disappointment when I had to consider my child could be a girl. I didn't necessarily want a boy, but I had some indiscernible reluctance toward raising a girl. It wasn't apparent to me why I felt that way and I felt extremely guilty. How can I, a feminist, an advocate for the equality of women, not want a girl child?

In reality, it wasn't that I didn't want a girl. I just felt some reluctance to raising a girl; not the child herself. This became clear immediately when I saw her on the screen during my sonogram. It was love at first sight. I was in awe of her and even more in awe that in a few short months I'd be able to hold and cuddle and talk to her. I immediately realized that my reluctance wasn't to her, it was to my own ability to raise her.

On the surface, I knew that raising any child (but even more so a female child) was going to be more difficult as a feminist parent because of the societal pressures and reactions. It is the societal opposition that was indeed the problem and NOT my style of parenting or that she is a girl. So, why still the reluctance to raising a girl?

I had started to formulate an answer to that question as I read an article for my domestic violence class, but the devastating answer came when I opened the door at the domestic violence center for a walk-in at about quarter to five one evening. The woman was of East Asian decent and well dressed as if she had just come from an office job. Other than this crude purely observatory description, I know nothing about her; not even her name. I asked her how I could help her and she opened her mouth a couple of times in an attempt to speak and then took a deep breathe in. As she exhaled, she began to cry as if something inside of her broke. Her tears released in a flood of mixed emotions that she had been working so hard to contain. I asked her if she wanted to talk to someone and she shook her head yes. After helping her to a chair and trying to assure her that we would help, I went and found a counselor to help her.

The whole encounter was less than 3 minutes long but it has stayed with me since. My heart was heavy and something inside me was sad and furious. It made me think about how every week on Tuesday (when I intern at the DV center), I see at least one walk-in (usually at the crisis stage) and numerous women coming for appointments or support groups (usually in the escape or rebuilding stages). I don't know the stories of any of the women but I do know that every one of them is a woman who has been subjected to violence in her own home by someone she loves and is supposed to love her. (Home, how easily we associate home with safety and comfort and relief. How easily someone took that away)

I fought back tears that day as I got on the train. The reality hit that I had no way to be sure my daughter would be safe. My mother couldn't (or wouldn't) keep me safe. At times, I haven't been able to keep myself safe. How can I keep her safe? And then, the answer was clear. This is it. This is the source of my reluctance.

I'm sure that many will say that this is just paranoia. I'm a victim, so, of course, I only think this can happen because of my experiences with domestic and sexual violence. I study violence against women, advocate for victims of violence, and belong to anti-violence organizations. I must be obsessed with violence, consumed with an abnormal, exaggerated, and unnecessary fear that bad things happen to women and girls.

Sure, that's it. I'm just paranoid! Why didn't I think of that? This fear is unrealistic, I don't really have anything to worry about. I should just feel better now that I know the problem is just me. Thank you society for letting me know it's me, not the violent offenders or societal reinforcements, that is the problem. WHAT A CROCK!

The facts: women are nearly 10 times more likely than men to be harmed by someone they know. They are more likely than men to be harmed in their own home. The types of violence that are more prevalent against women are horrific, life altering and intimate; domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence (rape, assault, harassment and trafficking), women's bodies used as battlefields of war (DR of Congo, comfort women), violent traditional practices (genital mutilation, body alterations, infanticide). There is no arena in which women can feel that the odds of being safe are in their favor.

Then their are the institutional/societal/structural practices and ideologies that provide the environment that is conductive to violence: discrimination, xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, deviance, hierarchy. This is the big picture. This is where it all stems from. This is the source of the problem and the direction of my advocacy, activism and feminism.
Without going into the long explanation of how society factors not only cause but encourage violence, and without providing the research and statistical basis of this theory (we'll save that for future posts & more detailed writings) I'd like to address how this relates to parenting, particularly mothering, and feminism. It is not only important for us to prepare our children to navigate and survive in this world but to parent them in such a was as to evolve humanity as a species.

Feminism, in its simplest definition, is the belief in the equality of men and women. But, Feminism is not just a belief. It is an ideology, a practice, a study, a movement, a revolution, a culture and a lifestyle. True feminism requires more than idle discourse. It requires an aspect of activism to radically change these societal factors to encourage an environment that is not hostile to our daughters, our children of color, our poor, our gay sons, our transgendered, our elders, our marginalized, our "others."

It is necessary as a parent to lead by example. To show our children what their efforts can do to change this world and not simply tell them that they have this potential. We must become their inspiration, their mentors by modeling the behavior we want them to learn. We must use our feminism and our activism as vital tools of parenting to raise children that can think critically about the world and are not afraid to challenge the dominant power structures in the name of justice and equality. We must parent in such a way as to produce adults that are open minded and see all people as deserving of respect and a peaceful living. We must parent to raise children that do not feel that the needs and desires of one person, not even their own, are more important than meeting the needs and desires of another.

So, if I am to be a mother, I must also be a feminist. The former is reliant on the latter. One cannot successfully be a mother without also being a feminist. And, one cannot successfully be a feminist without being an activist. Feminism must be my ideology, my practice, my study, my movement, my revolution, my culture and my lifestyle.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

No Y chromosomes in this womb

It's a girl.

Since I was 3 months pregnant, people have been asking me:

-- "What are you having?"
-- "Um a BABY. I didn't get knocked up by a poodle."

Of course, after that exchange, I get some disgusted response where I'm called a smart ass.

There are also those that assume I want a girl and try to convince me so. Truthfully, I don't want a girl. I don't want a boy either. I want a baby and that's exactly what I've got.

Eventually, as people realized I was getting closer to the time I would actually be able to know if indeed I was having either/or, the question became: "Are you going to find out the gender?" or "Do you know the gender yet?" Most of the time, I'd just gently correct them and say "No, we don't know the SEX yet, but yes we will find out." Other times, I was my usual smart ass self. "Babies don't have a gender, but we will be finding out the sex." If I was in a particularly bad mood, I'd say, "What difference does it make?"

After asserting several times to people that indeed it didn't matter to us what the sex of the child is, I would often get questioned about why I chose to find out in the first place. "If it doesn't matter then why find out?" Of course, they think they have me at this point. I have 3 reasons for wanting to find out the sex of my baby:

1. My partner wanted to know. He has a little girl and was hoping to have a boy this go 'round. His daughter also really wanted a little brother. I could have let him find out but that would have drove me crazy. Especially since he's the type that likes to joke around and he'd certainly taunt me with his knowledge.

2. I'm curious (read: nosy). Hence the reason him knowing and me not knowing would have drove me up a wall.

3. I wanted to be able to prepare myself to some small degree for how to approach parenting this child.

Granted, I believe that boys and girls can do the same things and should be allowed the same privileges, opportunities, and support. That's not the aspect of parenting I'm talking about. I'm talking about preparing my child for the pressures of society. Society treats children differently based on their sex and I need to prepare my child for that. I need to prepare myself for it. How would handle it if my little boy says he was called a sissy? How would I handle my little girl coming home and telling me someone called her fat or ugly? How about when they want to do something not usually associated with their gender and face resistance? These are all concerns of mine and having this pre-birth opportunity to prepare myself is critical to me.

I don't care about what color to paint the nursery or what color clothes to buy. Those things are irrelevant. I'm concerned about the challenges my child will face as a result of this social construct we call gender. I'm concerned about my own emotional reaction to those challenges and my ability to response intellectually and NOT emotionally.

Why do we feel the need to gender children? Why do so many confuse gender with sex?

There is this idea that the dominant culture is the yard stick against which we must all be measured. We have made strides toward (although have not by far conquered) the acceptance of ethnic, racial and religious differences. But, gender/sex stereotype seem to cross all boundaries. It is easy for us to believe that it is OK for one to be of a religion that differs from the dominant Christian culture we live in. It is much more difficult to believe that little girls aren't fragile and dainty or that women are not emotional because of our hormones, but because of the way we were socialized.

Socialization is such an unconscious process that most people cannot accept that its results are not natural/biological/innate. It baffles people that I intend to intentionally socialize my child in such a way that she will be aware of and capable of taking advantage of all options available to her. She will be conscious of society's idea of "appropriate" gender and sex roles, aware that she is not bound by these so called "appropriate" roles, and equipped to handle the backlash she will undoubtedly recieve when she goes against them.

So, this battle with people about buying my child pink or blue gifts isn't really about pink or blue; it's about realizing that the rainbow is not a dichotomy, nor is my child's gender. I have no doubt that she will have some pink in her wordrobe, but she will also have an array of other choices. I don't feel the need to bombard her with society's idea of what's appropriate for a girl child. I don't think she should only have dolls and kitchen sets to play with. She'll have Tonka trucks and a chemistry set, and a basketball too.

As much as she's been kicking lately, I think we should give her room a soccer theme. Maybe she'll play professional soccer someday. It would justify all these kicks to the bladder (and the resulting trips to the bathroom). I could say it was just practice.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Thou shalt not feel guilty (about hating your pregnancy)

Since I found out I was pregnant, there has a been a constant battle between my feminism and my pending motherhood. I have wanted to be a parent for some time now but infertility had stood in our way. I had resolved to the fact that I may never have a child and decided that my activism, education and love of my partner were enough for me. This is not to say that I didn't still long for a child, but that I didn't feel incomplete without one. I felt my life had purpose and meaning already and I was quite content.

Just before my final semester of college, I found out I was pregnant. I was thrilled and so was my partner, O'Neil. We were both taken by surprise but this was only the beginning of the surprises for me. O'Neil already has a daughter from his previous marriage. This is my first pregnancy. I was terribly sick in the first trimester and felt I had lost control of my body. This was the first test of my feminist beliefs and it would eventually change my outlook on both feminism and motherhood. I am an extremely independent person. Morning sickness forced me to have to rely on others. I couldn't cook for myself and often I just couldn't get my body to do what I wanted it to. I had indeed lost control. I felt guilty at the twinges of resentment I was starting to feel toward my child. I battled with feeling like a bad mother because I hated what this pregnancy was doing to me. I had to examine my feelings and try to make sense of them.

It took a lot of reflection to come to the conclusion that I wasn't wrong for hating the effects pregnancy had on my body. I also took to affectionately calling my growing embryo a leech or parasite and described the early months of pregnancy as having a stomach bug that lasted 10 weeks. I stopped feeling guilty for being miserable. I realized that being a parent, but particularly being a mother, meant that there were sacrifices and struggles that came with it. The biggest and most important realization that came after that was that I didn't have to like it and that I wasn't wrong to complain about it.

Every part of my life has been a struggle and although I hated parts of that struggle, it has made me who I am and I don't regret having to struggle. Struggling has made me appreciate everything more. So, while pregnancy is a great struggle, a struggle I do not particularly like, it does not reflect on how I feel about the child resulting from it.

This realization came in part by my examination of the societal influences on women's views of motherhood. We are taught that if we do not love and enjoy all parts of motherhood that we are in turn "bad" mothers. I had to confront these feelings within myself, and very often with those around me, that made me feel as if my disgust with the ill effects of pregnancy made me a "bad" mother. I decided that my ability to be a good mother was not incumbent upon my being a masochist. I don't have to enjoy and love the pangs pregnancy to enjoy and love my child, nor do I have to grin and bear it just because society makes us believe that to complain about the negatives of motherhood means that we are less than adequate parents.

While I have resolved this issue within myself, it is still a challenge with those I encounter outside my exclusive circle of feminist friends. My partner, although light years ahead of many men, still responds to my pregnancy complaints with "well, you're pregnant" as if that is supposed to erase the aching back, random vomiting, stretching and pulling, hemorrhoids and the many other discomforts of pregnancy. Or, now that I'm further along, when I'm waiting on a table and the baby kicks me in the bladder and a woman at the table looks at me as if my briefly contorted face was a direct insult to my child.

Oh, and let's not forget those that have questioned my desire to finish my last semester at college and to continue working as long as I possibly can. People actually tell me I won't make it. The best is when I tell people that I want a drug-free birth and they insist I'll be screaming for drugs by the time I'm in labor. Ah and there is my insistence on none of my shower gifts coming from Walmart or that nothing be pink. "Well then what do you want me to get her blue?" Yes, because pink and blue are the only two colors in the spectrum. Oh but these last for are topics for future posts. With all this outrage, can't you see the need for a blog?