Tag Archives: feminism

radical motherhood

4 Nov

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.


controlling birth

18 Jul

There are so many easy ways to fuck over women. I rewrote that line about fifteen times before deciding that is precisely what I mean to say, so I should just say it. It starts during adolescence with — well, a million things, but not all pertinent to this discussion — hormonal birth control. At a time when our bodies are coursing with hormones already, new ones that make us do crazy, crazy shit, make us un-live-with-able and prone to falling in and out of love with just about anything at the drop of a hat. When I was fifteen, a different song changed my life every 45 minutes. You want to argue about how this right here is the best film ever made? TRY ME. The hem of my pants seems to be 1/4 inch shorter than it was last week which means I am the fattest, ugliest, most worthless person in all of humanity’s long history — and WHAT’S THAT? You aren’t contradicting me heartily enough SO YOU MUST AGREE. So, when someone suggested that I try hormonal birth control to ease my hellacious cramps, considering that someone was a physician, I assumed he wouldn’t lead me astray. I didn’t smoke and I wasn’t over 35, so the only two risks explained to me didn’t seem to apply. Oh, but funny thing: there were these other risks he forgot to mention. The risk of totally going off the deep end when the naturally-occuring hormones already in your body take offense to the introduction of these johnny come-latelies and the ensuing hormone war leaves you suicidal and obsessive-compulsive. I was told repeatedly to “ride it out” while my body tried to normalize, but eventually I weighed the positives and negatives and darned if debilitating uterine pain wasn’t the better option. Enter “natural family planning.” A terrible, stupid, why-did-they-do-it name that makes you sound like an Evangelical Christian. Are you an Evangelical Christian? Sorry; I am not. Neither am I anti-hormonal birth control. I just think it’s something that adversely affects lots of women who can’t figure out what’s wrong with them. I also advocate for women knowing as much as they can about their own bodies because this makes us healthier (most importantly) and smarter consumers (secondarily), meaning we can’t be railroaded into sub-optimal care by our doctors/midwives (god forbid!)/ARNPs.
Natural family planning began my interest in women’s health and my own reproductive system. I come from a staunchly feminist, pro-choice family so this was no real revelation. Women’s issues were always discussed and reproductive rights are something for which my mom and I have both fought, basically, forever. Being able to identify where I am in my cycle is something that has saved me money, headache and heartache. It also quite literally saved my sanity and I know I’m not alone in that. For a pretty comprehensive guide to NFP, maybe try this book out (the publisher of which is not paying me but is welcome to, wink wink, nudge nudge).

Now we’ve come to way #2 to give women the screw job.

First, though, let’s have an interlude to discuss our president. I voted for him. Grudgingly. I told myself that no viable candidate would ever align with my beliefs. And this guy would at least maintain the status quo. HA! Good one, Obama! You got me.

People are such wackadoos when it comes to reproduction, especially reproduction that does not include them. You’ve got the president willy-nilly mandating that impoverished, sick women have to carry a pregnancy to term despite a still very legal medical procedure meant to protect them from exactly this situation. You’ve got crazy nutsos who are free to adopt 500 children if they’re so worried about babies, but prefer to birth twenty of their own and take them all to picket outside of Planned Parenthood. And then, there’s #3:

Forcing women into birthing situations without their consent, by preying on their love for their unborn child. Just as it’s not okay to get someone drunk and sleep with them, it is not okay to ply someone with threats and horror stories and expect them to make an informed, well-thought-out decision. The spectrum of loving motherhood is broad, and includes not only the excited, doting, round and glowing mama-to-be but also the mother who is staring down the barrel of birthing a brainless mass of cells that will somehow make it to full term. Both of these women deserve to have their wishes respected, their health considered, and their lives valued above convenience, prior engagements, fear of lawsuit or personal politics. Wait. I need to say that again. The spectrum of loving motherhood is broad, and includes not only the excited, doting, round and glowing mama-to-be but also the mother who is staring down the barrel of birthing a brainless mass of cells that will somehow make it to full term. Both of these women deserve to have their wishes respected, their health considered, and their lives valued above convenience, prior engagements, fear of lawsuit or personal politics. Women’s choices need to be heard and respected. Women’s birth plans need to be adhered to. People need to stop doing unnecessary surgeries and giving drugs unnecessarily just to make it home in time for 30 Rock.

In case you couldn’t tell, the recent threats to women’s health and rights are really bothering me. If they are bothering you, too, please take action here. If they are not bothering you, please try putting yourself in the very realistic situation of having little money, a debilitating disease and an unexpected pregnancy that could result in a special needs child and a serious and potentially irreversible deterioration of your own health. If I’ve alienated you with this post…well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

o pioneers

23 Jun

This is potentially going to be a really passive-aggressive post. Just thought you should be fore-warned. How passive aggressive it actually turns out to be remains to be seen, as the post-Ladyfest hashing-shit-out meeting is tonight.
Without further ado, here is my favorite moment from Ladyfest Bellingham 2010:

In case you can’t make out what is happening, a mama deer and her two babies appeared and trotted across Holly Street. I ran across the parking lot to take thier photo. That’s right; my favorite moment had nothing to do with Ladyfest. Kimya’s performance was a close second; as I described, it was awesome. But that was because of Kimya, not Ladyfest.
I had really high hopes for this festival. I LOVE Ladyfest — the Olympia one — and I love feminism. I love groups of women doing things together. I love influencing change, or trying my damnedest. But this was not any of those things unless you use the most liberal definitions. Yes, women were together in various spaces. They may have been individually feminist. But what I so hoped would happen: the enfranchisement of DIFFERENT women, discussion of the dire, dire, omg life-and-death issues that affect women (especially in our community, which is seeing the highest and most terrifying domestic violence statistics of all time), help for those of us who need it, celebration of the EXPERT, not the casual hobbyist or recent convert…none, or very little, of it happened.
I did my best to bring other types of women to this festival. I’m proud that I was able to work in a frank discussion of childbirth with birth professionals, though so few people came. I’m also disappointed in myself, despite my own baby-related time and schedule limitations, that I didn’t push for more involvement and change. So, Ladyfest ladies, if you read this: I blame myself as much, if not more, than I blame you.
My hope for next year (because I am hereby swearing to do next year what I didn’t this year) is that we will focus more on real, live ladies. The ones that need our help. The ones that don’t feel cool enough to come to punk shows, the ones who don’t have babysitters. The ones that are REALLY REALLY good at something, who have tried to make themselves a living, however meager or plentiful (because wealth is not a disqualifier), and could use our free support. My hope is that next year, we won’t shoot ourselves in the feet so many times with (yes) bad jokes and frivolity. That we won’t lob the local, strangely anti-Ladyfest press so. Many. Softballs.
I don’t want to despair at the state of young feminism in this country. I don’t think I need to, rather I should probably just despair at the state of youth in general. But these ladies have so much spark and smarts and potential that I’d hate to see waste away in Bellingham’s myriad dive bars. May they stay long enough to grow into their intelligence and help this town out of its rut. I’ll be here to do my part.


19 Jun

Ladyfest is this weekend. I’ve been involved in the planning. To say that it differs from my expectations when I first got involved would be an understatement. But I’m helping, I’m meeting some new people, making friends with some girls that make me feel really, really old sometimes and still young, others. I’m trying to let go of my view of what an ideal Ladyfest might be and just be grateful that we’ve created a space wherein some women and girls can feel that their contributions are valuable.
So far, the biggest payoff has been sitting in a park, on the first sunny evening in what seems like years, singing along with Kimya Dawson and feeling a sense of community, not just with the women around me who were a hodgepodge of new friends, former roommates, old friends and strangers, but with everyone, kind of. There were people — notably, dudes — pedaling the bike that powered the show. There was an amazing lady floating seamlessly between potty jokes and riveting, crushing honesty.

There was a leveled audience sitting cross-legged in front of her. And, of course, there was my baby, charming the pants off of everyone.

I’m lucky to have a feminist family. Happy Summer, you guys.