The term radical motherhood seems like such a laughable dichotomy. What could be less radical than the act of bearing and raising children? It’s fundamental, necessary, so commonplace that it’s completely taken for granted that most women will do it. Just typing the two words together brings to mind the time I gave a little workshop in radical homemaking for Ladyfest Bellingham, when a very earnest-looking young woman asked skeptically, after I’d given directions for making your own cleaning products and growing your own food and using some home remedies, “…but what makes this radical?” It was a good question, and I didn’t take offense. We’ve all grown up with the idea that homemaking — the choice to (at least temporarily) forego a paid career — is to squander the advances we’ve made, allowing the small part of the glass ceiling over your own head to grow closed. To say that you are most valuable in the most traditionally female role is equatable with failure, so it seems, to many (if not most) young Feminists. My answer, which I know was rambly, amounted to: I’m not taking part in the traditional consumerism, the laissez-faire approach to childbirth and rearing or the stereotypical household realpolitik. She didn’t seem convinced.
I don’t usually let this kind of skepticism or even the occasional blatant dismissal bother me. I hesitate to put this sort of spin on it, but I’ve been their age and I’ve also been (and remain) a zealot and absolutist about a few things. One mindset I can decreasingly abide, though: the having-babies-is-gross-and-stupid one. It is reaching totally epic plague-like proportions. And it is pissing me off.
In my experience, it started with comments like, “your baby is really cute. But procreating is environmentally irresponsible.” Or “I would never have kids but I plan to adopt older ones, like teenagers.” And “don’t you worry about bringing another person into the world?” All of those, and more, have been said to or asked of me by people I consider friends. Those are (kind of naïve) lead-ins to conversations I’m not interested in having, though I can appreciate that others want or need to have them; the merit of my child’s presence in the world is one thing I don’t care to debate. If you want to hook me, though, you can bring my devotion to Feminism into question. You can snark on other women for wanting to have or having children. Those are the conversations I just can’t pass up.
A self-imposed rule I routinely break is don’t read the comments. Truly, it’s advice to be heeded, but curiosity or morbidity or optimism maybe gets the best of me and I can’t help it. A blog post pops up on my RSS feed about the “controversy” of public breastfeeding and I want all of the comments to be supportive. To agree with me. And more often than not, if the blog isn’t a straightforward crunchy mom-blog, I’m sorely disappointed. Case in point: I won’t even link to it because I don’t want them to reap a single page view from my mention, but a popular Feminist blog recently ran a story on Lily Allen’s second miscarriage which is technically, I believe, late enough in the game to officially be a stillbirth. Any woman — forget that, any decent person — ‘s heart should positively ache for her. Instead, I read comments that blamed her for publicly discussing her personal life, for “putting all her eggs in one basket” when she had stated that she planned to take some time off from music, for even wanting to have children in the first place when she “should” be using her celebrity to advocate for adoption. I was astounded by the sheer heartlessness of these women whose fake names I’ve seen in many, many other comment threads on this particular website. They’re not trolls, they’re just…jerks. Jerks with an apparently common distaste for biological motherhood who see fit to spout nastiness on a website supposedly devoted to Feminist causes, and who do so unchecked.
In my own personal life, I’ve been treated as quaint or lazy, but the most frustrating is when I’m treated as an unwitting tool of the patriarchy. A few brave souls have taken it upon themselves to explain that I’m not living up to my potential or claim that I’m serving as a bad example for my son who will undoubtedly grow up to exploit and demean women at worst, or at best assume they’ll cater to his every whim. These people clearly know nothing of my housekeeping habits or cooking skills. These are women in their early twenties. Childless. Some go to school. Some are even unemployed. But all of them have considered themselves sage enough to dispense advice that boiled down to: DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE.
To those women, and to the women I’ll never meet who anonymously comment that they don’t want to see me feed my child in public because it’s base, that by not “contributing” I’m reversing the work my foremothers did, that I’m wrecking the environment, that I’m insipid and cliché:
You were once a child. Had someone taken the time to teach you manners, history, reverence, gardening, happy songs and good books, nurtured you into a tolerant and understanding person who is able to relate intellectually and socially to people who make choices that you, yourselves, may someday make (or may not; tolerance shouldn’t rely on commonality), we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I can tell you this: my son won’t need a degree in gender studies. He won’t need to buy zines about slow foods and herbal remedies. He won’t turn to an insular clique to find community because he will have been raised by radical people with a radical community of their own. My time IS spent wisely, doing valuable work that benefits my world, and, for that matter, yours. It’s unfortunate that you can’t see the value of a good mother (as, equally unfortunately, the results of good mothering are, by nature, less in-your-face and remarkable than the results of bad mothering). I wish my current chosen occupation came with the same hipster quotient as, say… the person that fixes your bicycle. But we’ll just keep on keepin’ on, being radically, uncoolly domestic. And, in the future, you can even reap the benefits; I won’t be stingy.