Category Archives: Child Rearing

The Motherhood Penalty

Via Sociological Images.

[In the labour market] one thing we know is that, if you compare mothers to child-less women who are otherwise equal, mothers are on lower wages than child-less women. And this has become an increasingly important component of gender inequality.

‘The pay gap between mothers and child-less women is now larger than the…gender gap, the gap between men and women.’

And this:

Women make about 69% of what men make (not controlling for type of occupation), but most of this disadvantage is related to parental status, not sex.

‘Women without children make 90% of what men make, while mothers make 66%.’

Now. You tell me again that feminism doesn’t need to fight for mothers?

Front and fucking centre.

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Mummy Wars

The mummy wars – or mommy wars – are, yawn, big news again lately I notice.  This shit is running all over my internet like a naked toddler with diarrhoea. And, like the aforementioned offensively leaky child, I regard it with a look of disgust and irritation in equal measure.

There’s this piece in Salon which is particularly interesting.  Sub-headed, ‘Behind sound bites and media hype, there’s the real conflict real mothers face every day‘ the article details the author’s journey from believing the mummy wars to be media hype to the sad realisation that they are – in fact – real.

Take this:

We as women spend our whole lives being judged, and never more so than for our roles as mothers. We suffer for it, and frankly, we dish it out in spades. We park ourselves in separate camps, casting suspicious glances across the schoolyard. And it sucks because the judgment is there and it’s real and it stems so often from our own deepest fears and insecurities. We pay lip service to each other’s “choices” – and talk smack behind each other’s backs.’

Who in god’s name is this woman hanging out with? And, seriously, why doesn’t she hang out with someone else?

Now, I’ve been a SAHM and a working mum so, like the author, I’ve had a foot in both ‘camps’ and I have never, not once, heard a mother ‘talk smack’ about the other group.  Oh, sure, I’ve heard mothers time aplenty diss other mothers’ style of child-rearing – that mother never disciplines her child, that mother feeds her child crap, that mother pushes her child too much – and that sucks as it is because of the emphasis on mothers being the sole ones responsible for that kind of crap despite everything; even if the mother works full-time and the dad stays at home, somehow deficiencies in a child fall to the mother. Yes, sucky.

But I have never, not once, heard that followed through to a conclusion of: that’s because she works so much, or that’s because she stays at home.

Now I’m willing to accept that, nowadays at least, the kind of mothers I interact with are privileged ones. They are, to a large extent, women whose family income allows them an actual choice as to whether to work or not. If they don’t work, their partner brings in more than enough to cover costs and if they do work, the kind of work they do will more than cover the (exorbitant) costs of childcare.  [Let’s ignore for now the very real effects on that ‘choice’ by things such as societal expectations that if either parent quits work, it will be the mother, that expectation in itself being reinforced by the fact that, being generally paid less than their male equivalents, it will make ‘sense’ for it to be her because she’s not earning as much as a male partner by the time they have children.]

I have to acknowledge this privilege because it makes a huge difference in terms of ‘mummy wars’.

Firstly, it makes a difference because this ‘working v. SAHM’ thing is, by and large, a dilemma of privileged women. You can bet your life, for example, that the debate isn’t taking rural India by storm. You can equally bet that it isn’t much of a hot topic even among working class mothers in the UK.  For the vast majority of mothers worldwide, their ‘choices’ are by and large so manifestly not choices at all that the whole issue doesn’t merit attention. It’s fair to say, therefore, that as well as straddling both camps, I am surrounded by the actual ‘mummy warriors’.

Secondly, it makes a difference because I have heard, on many occasions, mothers express their own personal preferences. I have heard mothers say, ‘I need to work, otherwise I’d go crazy being at home with the kids all day’, and I have heard mothers say, ‘I want to stay at home with my kids, I think it’s important in their early years.’  As far as I can gather, these sorts of statements are largely held to be evidence of THE MUMMY WARS! which strikes me as a bit odd.  I hear mothers express opinions all the frickin’ time that I think are completely loopy juice, but I don’t put on a breastplate and start running them through with a sword.  I take them for what they are – personal opinions that I don’t happen to share, but ho hum, tomayto, tomahto and all that.

Because statements such as those above will only be considered to be affronts to the listener if the listener has some issue with their own personal choices in that area.

If I work and a mother says ‘I think it’s important to stay at home’ that opinion per se isn’t offensive to me. If I simply happen to believe that a happy mother is more important than constant physical presence and working makes me happy, then I just chalk her opinion down to the fact that we all have, well, different opinions and go about my (working) day. If I’m a happy SAHM and another mother wonders how I can be with the kids all day and manage not to foam at the mouth, I can only reply, ‘Well, we’re all different, aren’t we?’  Simples, as that annoying rat says.

However.

If I’m not happy with my choice – if my choice, whilst appearing more ‘choice-like’ than most mothers’, isn’t really a choice at all, if in other words, my privilege isn’t quite enough to fully insulate me from those limited choices (and what mother’s is, really?) – then my response will be a loud Fuck you! followed by the breastplate donning and a healthy dose of righteous indignation and a bit of Braveheart yodelling.

If I work because financially I have to but do in fact believe that by doing so I am actually damaging my children, or if I stay at home and am in fact starting to foam at the mouth on a daily basis but can’t find a job which covers the cost of childcare, then I will find that mother offensive in the extreme. And she will become my enemy and I will hate her frickin’ guts.

And this, of course, is the real key to the mummy wars. The fact that real choice is so very limited for mothers and the societal trope that, whichever choice we make, it will be wrong. The author of the Salon article gets to this conclusion, too, but then, for me, falls down by exhorting mothers to be the ones to reset the rules of engagement:

…damn near all of us are fiercely, ferociously devoted to our families. When we can get past being scared somebody’s going to call us out as whopping female failures, we can see that, though our days are structured differently, most of us are working our guts out. That we love our children. That we are not enemies. When we remember that, when we talk to each other instead of merely about each other, we can reach across the playground to raise a generation of future men and women who respect each other as workers and parents. More than that — we can, finally, be comrades.’

As if we don’t have enough to do already what with the carping and the suspicious glances, now we’re supposed to solve problems rooted in the gross inequality inherent in a patriarchal capitalist system.  I could maybe pencil that in for Friday afternoon, if L’il Boo naps that day.

It is not mothers who limit their own choices. And it is not mothers who can expand those choices by just being a bit nicer to each other.

The real battle lies not between working or SAH mothers. It lies between mothers of all stripes and a patriarchal system that stabs us in the back as it raises us up for admiration. Motherhood, they tell us, is the most important job in the world, but you lot, being women and all, are invariably fucking it up NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO! HA HA! Which presumably is why, in a society that judges unpaid labour to be economically worthless, we don’t get paid for this most important job.  Because we’re shit at it, remember?

[And if you want a deeper and way more amusing exploration of the unavoidable insanity that this shit causes, take a look at this sublime article from Katha Pollitt, via blue milk]

Real actual mothers may not fully appreciate the real forces at work against them and they may indeed look with envy at a mother sitting on the opposite side of the no-choice fence. But real, actual mothers don’t, in my experience at least, have the energy to judge other mothers’ choices; they are too busy trying not to judge their own. They are – even the privileged ones, especially the privileged ones – too busy trying to navigate a path between their children’s care and happiness, their own personal needs and society’s expectations to have time to judge others.

So if you want ammunition to wage this particular war, you won’t find it here. Here in Boogieville, we respect and support all kinds of mothers, from the SAHM to the part-timer to the full-blown careerist. We respect all mothers, from those who are truly happy to define their motherhood as merely a small part of who they are to those who define themselves entirely as mothers.

Because here in Boogieville we understand, a la Andrea Dworkin, that until we are all free, none of us are free.


I Hate Eavesdropping

Overheard after Boogie’s Football club session:

‘Coach’:  Yeah, it’s really good, we’ve got a few girls in the junior team now and four or five younger girls coming through who have a real chance of making the team.  They’re really holding their own against the boys.

My girl can outpace virtually every boy in her class, her ball work can be exquisite at times, her tackles are full on and her strategic knowledge of the game is becoming awesome.

My girl is not ‘holding her own’ against anyone.  She is excelling.

Full stop.


Evil Toddlers

Seriously?

This from the Government ‘discipline expert’, Charlie Taylor:

Nurseries should identify toddlers showing early signs of aggression so they can be given intensive help from expert staff.’

This apparently on the basis that it’s easier to tackle bad behaviour among young children because habits are ‘less ingrained‘.

‘[Taylor] recommends that from the age of 5, the most disruptive kids could be placed in specialist behaviour centres, in order to stop their behaviour escalating.

“Any child can go off the rails for a bit and what we need is a system that is responsive to them and helps them to get back on the straight and narrow,” said [Taylor], speaking to the Telegraph.’

So there you have it.  Some kids are just evil.  And if we catch that evil early enough, we might save a few quid on prison later on.

Let’s ignore the suspicious correlation between those toddlers who show signs of demonic possession and, oh I don’t know, parental abuse, neglect, poverty, lack of adequate housing, lack of decent, affordable childcare, lack of support for marginalised parents.

Some kids are just born bad, right?

That these kids will, in general, be ones suffering from at least one if not several of the above, is neither here nor there, I guess.

I give up.


Feminist Parenting: A Definition

Well, my definition at any rate.

Contrary to popular, mainstream opinion, feminist parenting does not mean ‘raising children to be feminists’.  At its most basic level, feminist parenting means nothing more or less than allowing your children to be who they are.  Allowing them to be as ‘girly’ or ‘boyish’ or ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ as their nature dictates and giving them a bedrock of understanding that these terms are meaningless in so far as they are applied to them.

This of course gives us what ‘feminist parenting’ is not.  It is not about denigrating boys or their stereotyped traits, it is not about denigrating girls or their stereotyped traits.

It is about teaching your children both to be, and to relate to other people as, individuals.  It is about teaching your children to respect themselves and their individuality and, in turn, respecting others and their individuality.

At its core, feminist parenting is about celebration.  Celebrating our own uniqueness and that of others, celebrating both the things that we share as people and the ways in which we differ.

When I put it like that, I’m quite disappointed; it doesn’t sound very radical, does it?

And if, by some minor miracle, you manage to raise your children to understand all of the above, all else will follow.  Trust me, it will.

I was prompted to write this post by this one over at Pigtail Pals about this very idea of celebrating our children for who they are.  It’s the lovely long post I would write if I wasn’t so lazy and Melissa hadn’t already handily written it for me to link to.


An Addendum

genderless partywear

I meant to add something else on the bottom of that last post which is that I also trust my children.  I trust them to come to their own conclusions and I trust them to have the humanity to make those conclusions good ones.

Mainly, I was thinking about this point because of this I read in the Guardian on Saturday in the ‘Gay Dad’ column:

On the way home [my son] chats animatedly about the afternoon while digging out the contents of his party bag. He mentions, en passant, that one of their friends turned up to the party wearing a tunic dress. Apparently he often turns up wearing one.

‘Why, I ask. “He just likes them,” Ed replies. Do the other boys tease him? I ask. “Nah, he’s a really good guy… Yay! I got a Transformer!” Ed can’t believe I’m asking so many questions about a subject he obviously considers relatively humdrum.

‘I ponder how much has changed between my generation and his. The other fathers and I don’t quite know what to say to each other because they work in finance and I work in fashion, while our eight-year-old sons will happily run around playing games together barely batting an eyelid that one of their number is wearing a dress.’

Because sometimes, children’s conclusions aren’t just good, they’re way better than what adults come up with.


The Trouble with Feminist Parenting

 

Mothering: about more than just baby poo

This is the trouble with feminist parenting.

I am torn between celebrating [my daughter’s] innocence and apparent immunity to the more suffocating features of ‘girl culture’, and worrying about her being rejected soon by school friends for not being sufficiently aware of ‘girl culture’.

‘Mostly I’m all up in the celebration stuff but I won’t lie, there is a bit of me disturbed by all that ‘couldn’t give a fuck-ness’, too.’

I’ve written before about my own feelings on the subject:

…how do you raise a girl to be outside the girly-girl, appearance and consumerist-driven culture they’re being spoon-fed from every angle without making her an outsider to her own sex?…how can you teach a girl to not relate to the hyper ‘girly-girl’ model and yet still enable her to relate to, and fit in with, girls who do?

‘Because whilst I fervently want Boogie to step outside the increasingly limited model of femininity she’s presented with, I don’t want her to be, well, weird. Are you feeling me here? I’m trying to teach her to denigrate a model that the vast majority of her peers will believe in whole-heartedly, but I don’t want her to be the sad, lonely kid in the corner, amusing herself by putting her bogies on a passing ant.

‘And, sure, I can explain why her peers (and my peers) fall for all the gender shit that comes their way, but the fact remains that, on some level, the message must contain some implication that her peers are a bit stoopid. I mean, essentially, it boils down to: they may fall for it, Boogie, but we won’t because we know better.

‘And then she has to go to school and relate to these stupid people that mummy has told her about.

And I can’t lie, it does worry me.  But, you know, this essential problem isn’t limited to feminist parenting.  This is the problem with any style of parenting which falls outside the scope of ‘normal’, ‘normal’ of course being an ever-changing concept decided upon by the prevailing culture.  Any kind of parenting which falls outside these norms for whatever reason is derided and attacked.  Any kind of parenting which, in essence, teaches your children to be committed to something which isn’t the status quo carries this essential problem right along with it.

And with the status quo being what it is, what kind of parent wants that for their child?  Frankly, that’s just weird.

And there’s the salvation for my worries.  Because whilst I worry about my children being ‘different’, what’s the alternative?  Because I don’t want them to be ‘normal’, that’s for damn sure.  Feminism is my truth.  It’s a way of viewing the world which, having viewed the world in many different ways, is the view that makes the most sense to me, both to explain what has gone before and to change what will come.  I could no more not give this view to my children than I could go get a boob job and do the Cinderella gig at DisneyLand.

And my feminism is about more than a commitment to gender equality, it is about a commitment to equality of all kinds, and as such it goes against all kinds of ‘norms’, like racism and homophobia and able-bodied privilege and, oh, yes, capitalism.  And I will give all those views to my children because it is beyond my ability not to.  I am helpless in the face of what I know to be true.

Ha!  My kids have as much chance of being normal as I have of doing the Cinderella gig naked with ‘passive slave’ tattooed on my liposuctioned arse!

But you know what?  They’ll be fine.  Because there is one thing, one truth, which underpins everything, which is that everybody must find their own truth.  And if I am guilty of teaching my children anything it is of teaching them to look critically at the world around them and to make their own sense of what they see.  And if, at the end, they see it differently to me, then so be it.

Unless of course, they turn into Tories in which case I’m grounding them till they’re pensioners.