I missed the @womeninworld Twitter chat (#wiwchat) that presented these questions, but lucky for us The Mamafesto did not! She posted the questions from Thursday, January 26th’s chat and answered them herself on her blog. I think the questions are good questions, and as I was attempting to respond to her post, I just decided it would be easier to answer them here. I’d love it if you did the same, or tumble all your thoughts into my comments – that’s what comment boxes are for, right?
Q1 How has pop culture, media, politics (or policies?) shaped our idealized notions of motherhood?
Well, the Cold War brought an aggressive “Motherhood is great! Take care of your family!” campaign from the U.S. government. If we could out procreate the Communists, we could save the world from their ways. June Cleaver was born of this push. And I don’t think we’ve really gotten out from under her. She’s been reincarnated in any number of sitcoms and movies over the last 50 years.
And I think the news teaches us how mothers are supposed to act by creating scandal from the behaviors of mothers. In fact, by reporting that they are mothers at all creates the image of a ‘bad mother’ thereby offering the ‘good mother’ a sigh of relief.
Q2 Can working mothers really ‘have it all,’ and how do you balance work and family life?
This question bugs the crap out of me for
two several reasons. 1.) What is ‘having it all’? And 2.) Why don’t I ever see people asking if working fathers (in fact, how many times have you even seen that phrase?) can have it all? It feels to me like it’s assumed that men either already ‘have it all’ or don’t want it all. 3.) PLUS, since I see this question everywhere, and I see it framed in this manner, we’re set up to believe that working mothers CAN’T have it all. Because if we (society/culture) believed that they could (and DO), we wouldn’t even be asking the damn question. It’s like the question, “Is it okay for women to breastfeed in public?” Well, yes. In fact, in many places (not all) it is legally protected. But that’s not fun. And if we keep hearing the question, we’ll start to internalize the idea that while it’s legal, maybe it’s not okay. This ‘having it all’ question works the same way. It isn’t really a question, it’s a brainwashing mechanism busy instilling doubt in the minds of all women pretending to be a question. And still, I don’t know what ‘it all’ is. I just know that I probably can’t have it.
Q3 Caitlin Flanagan has argued that something is lost when a woman works outside the home? Do you agree?
I’ve written and deleted my answer to this 3 times. I can’t seem to write what I want to say without sounding like an asshole. My other answers were sort of ragey, about the implication in the statement that ‘something’ was previously ‘had.’ (Having something is a prerequisite for losing it.) And about the seemingly heteronormative male wage-earner family context this question is born from. So, my short, non-asshole answer is, no, I don’t think something is lost when a woman works outside the home.
Q4 What’s the one ‘reality’ of motherhood you’d share with a new mom–and would most mothers be surprised by it or not?
Motherhood changes everything. It changes how your body works. It changes how you view the world. It changes how you think about your time, and the intention for your actions. It changes how you define yourself. And how others define you. Everything. I wasn’t prepared for that.
Q5 Should child care be a private decision (U.S. style) or should we treat it like a public good (Norway style)?
I think it absolutely needs to be treated as a public good. The current system in the U.S. which demands that child care be procured through private means, necessarily disadvantages the populations which have the greatest need for publicly funded care. Whew, that sounded academic. Basically, when two wage earning people have a kid, and the cost of daycare eats up the entire wage (or most of it) of one parent, then that parent (usually the female in a hetero partnered relationship) quits a wage-earning job to take care of the child. Which has the continued impact of damaging later paid workforce re-entry prospects. Plus, during the time that one parent is not earning a paid wage, that parent is also not earning Social Security credits, which will have a further negative financial consequence during retirement.
If there is only one parent, then that parent MUST work. And if that parent has a job that just covers housing and food, and there is little or no money left to pay for child care, how will the child be cared for? This is not an unusual circumstance.
Q6 Has motherhood changed your view of feminism?
Yes. More than becoming a mother though, birthing a son changed my view of feminism. My pre-son feminism was much centered around the core principle that patriarchy is damaging to women. While this is true, I’ve become much more aware of the ways that patriarchy (really kyriarchy – intersectionality and all…) is damaging to everyone. It is limiting, judgmental, and downright dangerous to people who don’t play by the rules. Having a boy was a big BAM moment for me. All of a sudden I realized (and was kind of embarrassed to do so) that my feminism had focused on women. And even more so, on cis-gender women. It wasn’t intentional, it was just…what I had been exposed to. Having a son forced me to seek new resources on feminism, and to see that WOAH, there’s a LOT of bad shit happening to a lot of people in the name of ‘the way it should be.’ (See also: current assholery coming out of the lot of GOP mouths.)
What do you all think?