Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Feminist Parenting: Theory and Practice

When she was pregnant with her first child, our favorite activist professor had a 'what if' question of her own: What if feminism and motherhood should prove to be incompatible?
Would my feminism wither into a past identity as I assumed the mantel of mother? Would I lose my love of reading obtuse theoretical treatises and instead dog-ear Dr. Spock and What to Expect When You Are Expecting? As my own mothers and others predicted, would I decide that a career paled in comparison to “a woman’s true vocation” of being a mother?
Most of us hear various versions of this 'motherhood is a woman's ultimate destiny' argument frequently repeated as we enter adulthood. We are told that we have misunderstood what it means to be female, that we will never truly find fulfillment until we become mothers, and that we will consider all our previous notions of equality and empowerment to be quaintly naive abstractions once we've given birth. There is both a promise and a threat implicit in this caricature of motherhood: We are led to believe that, should we choose to have children, both a previously unimaginable sense of fulfillment and the total obliteration of all other aspects of our personality await.

If you read Professor, What If... with any frequency (and you should), you already know that motherhood did not erase the good Professor's interests in feminism, activism, or anything else. Her deep love of her children has not turned her into a generic Mother, nor has it made her loathe the idea that women and men should be freed from limiting gender stereotypes. Instead, motherhood has both made feminism feel more important in everyday life and given the battle for gender equality some new fronts - like parent-teacher conferences and roller rinks:
From refusing ‘gender appropriate’ toys to my deliberate attempts to use the same tone of voice, the same type of compliments, and the same frequency of touch for both my daughter and son, I tried to treat them both as equally human - rather than as ‘girl’ and ‘boy.’ As they aged, I encouraged them to have friends across gender, race, class, and ability (a feat our segregation happy society certainly doesn’t make too easy). Once they entered educational institutions, I quickly became the mother every teacher dreaded - the one who brought in studies on linguistic theory showing the detrimental effects of always using male pronouns, male examples, and putting males first (as in the ubiquitous “boys and girls”). The one who was at the principles door the minute she heard the term ‘faggot’ and ‘lesbo’ were being used by the 3rd graders to insult one another...

Maternal feminist politics, I now happily realize, infuses the day to day mothering of my kids, as well as my voting choices, my teaching practices, my scholarly work, my buying practices, my language choices, and so on.
Although the Professor concludes that motherhood is a great way to practice feminism, she admits that there have been struggles. The description of her horror at her son's seemingly innate devotion to all things boy is both funny and thought-provoking, and should not be missed. So go read the whole post. Then come back here and answer these questions:

How has being a parent intersected with your feminism? Or, if you don't have children, how has feminism impacted your views on parenting and your ideas about the upbringing you had?

What parts of parenting have challenged your feminist world-views, and to what outcome?


Anonymous said...

Wow. Thanks and thanks. You made my otherwise mundane Tuesday of syllabus editing for the impending all semester a much better day!

Anonymous said...

As a feminist mother, I look exactly like I did when a feminist childless wife, and a feminist single woman. My lifestyle hasn't changed, because I didn't change. I'm the same woman. The man I married is not the working type, and I go crazy when I stay home - we fit each other nicely. As for the experts - they're too smarmy for my taste. I prefer to just fake my way through motherhood. I figure that if I provide enough support and discipline, and enough freedoms, he'll turn out alright.

Habladora said...

Hey, Andrea the Nerd, I'm sure he will turn out great. You are right, the idea that these things change who you are is a myth. I've been enjoying your site, btw, where I'm lurking purely because I'm not a Xanga user.

Anonymous said...

Internet Stalker! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention: I do have anonymous commenting enabled, so feel free to leave a smart-ass remark when you feel the urge. It will help balance out the dumb-ass remarks other anonymous commenters leave.