what I write about
she has fallen and now she is awake
Maybe this is a feminist thing, or maybe it’s because I’m not a mother, but even if I was a stay-at-home mom with no job (and therefore no reason to already have business cards) I wouldn’t extoll my ability to wipe snotty noses and read bedtime stories as a core part of my persona. As if your main accomplishment is childbirth, and you would like to commemorate your skills with a card detailing your contact info after the names of your offspring. To provide to other moms when you need to carpool, or if they want your ants on a log recipe.
Jezebel chimes in with:
My own mother was a stay-at-home mom (although she abhorred the expression) and I think she would have seen being a mother as a key part of her persona, and something she was proud of. (She also had other people call her much more often for her analysis of Schopenhauer or her opinion on politics than for recipes or carpool questions, for that matter.) But when I asked her, she too found these cards odd. “It’s always problematic to base your identity on someone else,” she said definitively. “And that’s a lot of pressure on the kids. But I’ll tell you who it would be good for: the mother of the bully. So you know who to call when he beats your kid up or steals her bike. You’d know exactly who was responsible.”
Here’s the thing – motherhood is more than just snotty noses, bedtime stories*, childbirth, carpooling and ants on a log. It’s also more than Schopenhauer or politics. I’ll tell you a secret; it can be both. You can wipe snotty noses AND expound on Schopenhauer. You can carpool and talk politics. You can bounce a baby and write.
You can have more than one identity. And since when is acknowledging one’s parental status ‘basing your identity on someone else’? Why is a card with salient details for the environment so bad if it’s motherhood, but AWESOME if it’s a corporation? Why is it okay to base your entire identity on a subculture, on a hobby, or a job, but not motherhood?
Don’t get me wrong – there are a LOT of ways the patriarchy and mainstream culture like to jam mothers into boxes. But a BIG part of doing that is denying the importance of that identity even as they strip it back to nothing. So instead of ‘mother’ encompassing the rollerderby and the retro, the Martha-mothers and the mainstream, it simply strips away everything that makes you important and stuffs you into a box labelled ‘unimportant’ because mothers do it. The causality is the wrong way around – motherhood doesn’t cause you to drop out of society, society makes mothers drop out.
Bunbun was two weeks old when I first started getting flack for not getting out with friends, or taking time for myself. I have had to explain on so many occasions that I don’t actually relish time away from her. That my birthday celebration shouldn’t be apart from her because I want to celebrate it with her. That’s not because my identity is based on her; it is far more than that. I birthed her, I still nourish her from my body. We are linked with something a lot stronger than time or money or external factors. That allegiance cannot be altered or moved. It is not a commodity. So society tries to make it one, creates nonsensical consumerist mother-identities that we must buy into or face being alone forevermore. Combine that with the way many mothers must work**, and other choose to work, and you’ve got this godawful push-pull bullshit where I am NEVER EVER supposed to take time away from my child because I already ‘deprive’ her of her mother by working yet I am also in danger of losing myself and should go and undertake whatever ridiculous thing being sold to me as the cure for it because otherwise I deprive her of a good mother.
Good mother being one who is still as fuckable, likeable, entertaining, amusing, active and personable as before the child’s arrival.
God forbid we acknowledge the changes motherhood makes and not apologise for them.
The other nice little bit of misgynist bullshit? Mothers being the primary cause of bullying. Since y’know, we’re ‘just’ mothers and obviously totally and completely responsible for every single action our child takes. It’s a good little bit of double binding there – you’ve got the card, you are obviously totally identified with your child and therefore responsible and if you don’t, you weren’t there, you don’t care and are therefore responsible. It’s a nice way to assume that the mother is the primary carer and nurturer as well as blame her for it. ***
But hey, it’s totally feminist and totally woman-loving to say “It’s like she was lobotomized during the c-section.” and it certainly shouldn’t be called out for it’s expectation that new mother’s continue being entertaining. We should all have friends this worried about us, this caring and this kind. Certainly one’s that are this understanding about the early months of parenting.
*And guess what? My personal and professional identities BOTH include storytimes!
**If one more fucking arsehole starts with the ‘plasma screens/designer handbags/holidays’ bullshit about needing work I will lose the fucking plot. Having food, electricity and a roof over one’s head are not luxuries. That sort of nonsense comes from people for whom poverty is a theoretical conundrum, not a lived experience, and who will ALWAYS see a woman’s career as lesser than and adjunct to a man’s. So they get to keep us down in dual style – shit pay and shit respect no matter what we ‘choose’.
***Obligatory disclaimer – yeah, I’d be fucking horrified if Bunbun were bullying someone. God knows I feel enough shame when she’s hitting her cousins. And I am responsible for her, but once she’s at school and reasonably autonomous, I am no longer responsible. Unless you want me to still be identifying myself with her completely. Oh wait, that was the problem wasn’t it? That I was too involved with my life as a parent?
I am very very sick of getting concern trolled about my identity.
Don’t I know I need interests/hobbies/purchases outside my maternal identity??
Here’s the deal. I spend an inordinate amount of time outside the home for work. Even though my workplace is reasonably child friendly and certainly welcomes parents, I spend 40 hours or more of my week travelling to work, working, or doing something other than spending time with my child. Do not presume to tell me that child-centred updates on facebook (!!) prove that I am one of those parents.
Beyond the socially structured nature of facebook (i.e. you are not the centre of everyone’s universe but they are the centre of theirs and what they do on facebook is informed by who they see as their ‘audience’). Beyond the artificially constructed ‘mothers who drink wine are SO NAUGHTY and FUN and NOT LIKE THE OTHERS. Beyond the tag ‘mother’ denoting it less. Beyond the ridiculous level of expectation behind all of these things.
Beyond all of that, how the fuck would you know? If you are so busy bemoaning the lack of substantial updates (seeming to mean “sauced with my friends” updates) (since we’re all boozehounds here) and snarking about those mothers, how the hell would you even know the state of my identity. Have I talked to you about it? Am I worried about it? Have I expressed a need to change my life? No? Then let me identify myself however I wish. Motherhood changed my life completely and I am not going to apologise for that, or pretend differently, because you want the old me back.
My facebook is full of baby pictures, this whole blog is full of mothering. It’s totally okay to ignore the changing style and skill of my photography, the feminism and politics and philosophies of motherhood inherent in what I write. And please assume you are the centre of the universe and know everything there is to know about me. I’m totally one of those parents and therefore inconsequential. Please privilege other socially constructed ‘identities’ over motherhood because you couldn’t possibly find another way to judge women. Please tell me I need to spend more time, more money, more energy, fulfilling an external goal of ‘identity’ before you will accept my viewpoint.
Distilling ‘identity’ into a series of purchases, fashion choices, hobbies and leisure activities is demeaning to everyone. Be as rockabilly-goth-metalhead-femme-cheerleader-geek-gamer-fitfreak as you want to be. Own it. Live it. Don’t pretend you need to have a brand to have an identity. And don’t pretend any of them are more or less meaningful than parent. Identity is what you make it, and mine includes a shit ton of mothering, something I am not going to apologise for.
Y’know, those CURLS and that COLOUR and the FEEL and blahblahblah. I mean, it’s cute as fuck, but I get so icked when people start on about it.
Add in Bunbun’s love of water, love of physical activity, tendency to sweat profusely, aversion to hairwashing and total screaming condemnation of hair drying, and you’ve got some fearsome hair styles. Which we don’t care about. But you also get some fearsome stank, which we do. We cosleep* so hair funk is an uncool way to wake up.
I first cut her hair to get rid of the baby mullet when she was about 8 months old. Just a few snips in the bath – I save the hair though. Second haircut was post-flu because weeks of her hair getting stuck in eye goop, snot or spit was just too tragic. I saved some of that hair too.
Now I’m thinking of cutting it again – not a bob, not a trim, not a fringe. A real short hair cut. Pixie even. And damned if I can’t find a single blood photo, or story, or HINT that anyone else has done this. Not ‘repaired after a self-done job’ and not ‘making do with toddler fine hair’ or anything like that. And certainly not ‘dad-hair’ (fuck that gender essentialist bullshit).
Someone else, somewhere, must have deliberately and wilfully cut their daughter’s hair shorter than their chin. I’m talking Audrey/Amelie pixie here. Proper short. Dry in minutes, wash in seconds, short short short. But still not a crewcut or clipper job.
I don’t have an emotional attachment to her hair. I’ve never wept over it, for all I have kept the snippets (and lovely little things they are, perfect for doting grandparent presents). I don’t identify with it, or long for it, or dislike it. I do emotionally react to the way people perceive her hair and my relationship with it – I mightily dislike the assumption that Wolfman is behind the haircuts, that I must ADORE her hair and that I must want it to be longer.
Yet I haven’t cut it yet. I fear that my reaction to others is behind my desire to cut her hair. That I’m making feminine an uncomfortable place to be. Which is very much not my intention but I still fear it. Mostly because I’m growing my hair and I don’t feel the same way about that as I do about her hair. Wolfman pointed out that I’m not nearly as sweaty (usually), don’t put up a fight for washing and don’t need to be chased around to dry it. I don’t think my choice is entirely practical though – for all the lack of emotion I have about her hair, I have an excess when it comes to femininity. I have a horror at how constrained she is by her gender, how much judgement she already wades through when it comes to the existence of being a girl.
So I cut her hair again, just her fringe, and try to work out what my deal is. What I’m going to do about it.
but there’s a catch.
I’m ‘lucky’ that Wolfman is such a good guy. Except that I went throught how many failed relationships and false starts and never starts because there was no fucking way I was going to partner with a misogynist douchewad.
I’m ‘lucky’ he helps around the house and stays home. Except that absolves him of any impetus to get better – why should he? He gets claps for simply being home, no matter what he actually does there.
I’m ‘lucky’ I have a good job.I worked hard to get where I am. I uprooted my family TWICE for this, I have thousands and thousands in debt to be educated and qualified enough to be working a job where I have some semblance of security and things like leave.
I’m ‘lucky’ breastfeeding worked out. Again, I worked fucking hard at it. I really did. I look back and think of the five + months of hour long feeds, the constant denial of anything existing outside us and our relationship and not leaving the house for days to build my supply and wonder how the fuck I did it.
I’m ‘lucky’ I didn’t get PND. Yet again, I worked hard because I knew it was on the cards. So any signs, any little tremors and I was back into lockdown mode. I didn’t wait for the tears and the harm and the rocking and the alogia because I’ve been there before and I know what it is.
But I am lucky. I’m lucky that I was born into privilege so I could go and get that education, find a partner who had a good enough job that I could stay home, save money, save time, budget. I’m lucky that I knew what PND was going to do before it happened so I could do something at the slightest of warning signs. I’m lucky that I got a maternal and child health nurse who didn’t live and die by the scales, a paediatrician who was pro-breastfeeding and an obstetrician who wasn’t trigger happy. I’m lucky that even if I had, I not only had the resources to change the situation, but the education to know better and the time to do something about it and the privilege to think I am smart and correct and knowledgeable and worthy.
Luck can obscure the work that we all do to be where we are and who we are. I’m not just lucky.
So today I was out and about and wandered past a chemist. They had bags out the front (the ‘enrivo’ bags made of unrecycleable plastic monstrosities) with the slogan ‘It’s all WHITE to say NO’.
I was…taken aback. To say the least. I stopped, I looked. I walked on. I went back.
How the HELL is this a good slogan against Child Sexual Abuse? How? What part of this makes sense?
The pitch with it is “Bravehearts encourages all Australians to purchase an official white balloon, or white balloon day enviro-bag from any Terry White Chemist and to wear white, the colour symbolising a child’s innocence – to show support for victims, help shift attitudes and break down the stigma and silence associated with child sexual assault.”
If it’s all ‘white’ to say no, that presumes it’s all ‘white’ to say yes. And places the fucking burden of not only dealing with the assault but also dealing with the presumed consent square on a child. Propositioning a child is not okay, they shouldn’t fucking HAVE to say no! How is this something that has become a slogan for a charity working against child sexual assault and abuse?
It’s bad enough that rape ‘awareness’ campaigns for adult women centre on ‘YOU make it stop’ but now kids are responsible for stopping it too?
I know, I know, it’s not meant that way. Pity about it coming across like that then…
Some douchey goddamn neanderthal was in the same carriage as me, Wolfman and Bunbun today. We were heading to the Ekka and this guy was doing fuck knows what apart from harassing women on the train. We got on and all we could hear was his fucking monotonous whining bullshit with occasional “no seriously, stop talking to me” and “no, I’m not going to cry” from a woman near him. Eventually she got up and walked down to where we were standing – well, I was sitting because I had Bunbun strapped to me. She was shaking and pissed off and neanderthal raised his voice and went on and on about bitches.
I wanted to say something to her, I just couldn’t think of anything appropriate.
A few stops later she moves to another carriage and another woman gets on and sits near him. His monologue on bitches gets interrupted to start in on this new woman. Does she know how fucking stupid this other bitch was? All he did was say hello and she was totally going to try. In the beginning the new woman smiles and says how stupid some women are. He launches into another monologue, more and more explicit.
I try to catch her eye. She’s looking down now, picking at her fingers.
He launches into how he’ll wank tonight about her and how that’s better but hey, why isn’t her boyfriend here if he’s so awesome?
I try catch her eye again.
I am not going to put myself in the firing line. My adrenaline is already up and I’m shaking and I just fucking can’t, not with Bunbun nesting against my chest. Not even with Wolfman behind me.
We get off the train and get onto the connecting one. I launch into a diatribe on just how much it fucking sucks to be a woman in public. To be on public transport. I tell him about the time I pretended this was my stop but only got off and ran to a carriage a few down because the thought of even letting this guy know my real stop was terrifying. I didn’t explain that I only did that because it was a well populated stop and I knew that I could have lost him in the crowd.
He asked me why it took the first woman so long to move and why the second one hadn’t. I explained how there’s that initial need to be polite. Refusal to believe they’re actually saying what they’re saying and doing what they’re doing. Then there’s the risk assessment – are they going to be violent or merely vile. Are they going to threaten you or assault you? It’ll be one or the other.
All this with our baby daughter resting on my heaving chest.
I’m sorry I didn’t do anything. The risk assessment just wasn’t worth it. But I’m sick to my stomach nonetheless and I am sorry.
Now, for a slight change of pace, I’m going to talk work.
Well, ONE book.
A ‘realistic’ account of teen pregnancy. A book that seems to review quite well, if you take “made me think twice about possibly getting pregnant” and “good for teenagers to read to know about having a baby”.
Before I start though, I’ve got a shitload of privilege knocking around about this. I wasn’t a teen mother. I wasn’t even close for the most part. I would have had familial support. I’m white, I’m ‘normal’ and I don’t have obvious class-markers (easier with the flat nature of the Australian accent I think). So that’s informed a lot of my discomfort with this particular book.
It opens with a fight between mother and daughter. It includes a fair few monologues about how lovely it would be to have a baby. It includes a 20 year old impregnating a 15 year old who lied about her age. It includes a rich fantasy life. It includes a lot of “abortion or adoption” when she gets pregnant. It includes a terribly, obviously and grotesquely gratuitous ‘low class’ name for the baby. It includes no mention at all of breastfeeding. It includes endless scenes of crying babies, pooping babies, puking babies, upset babies, arsehole friends and douchebag men.
It also includes a scene where she tries to kill her baby who screams all the time.
In other words, nothing at all like my experience with teen mothers. The two I know best are absolutely and totally dedicated mothers. Both breastfed (or are breastfeeding). Both make informed choices. Their stories aren’t mine to tell but at the same time, they are the ones who were in my head while I was flicking through this book. On one side is this media fallacy (that I did actually believe for the longest time) that tries to minimise teen pregnancy by inducing a ridiculous level of fear supported by constant refrains of ‘ruined your life’ and ‘destroyed your future’. On the other are my friends, are people I know who had their children before they were 20, in various situations and relationships and levels of society and they aren’t ruined. They aren’t destroyed.
It seems a little like the drug media – you emphasise the negative to horrifying proportions then wonder why no-one believes you or listens to you. Because they couldn’t possibly have experiences that contradict the party line at all, could they…
Teen pregnancy isn’t evil. Teen mothers aren’t awful. Teen mothers are mothers. They’re women. They’re people. They’re friends. They’re sisters.
They aren’t deserving of books written that end with them attempting to murder their child because they miss their party-life.
That said, it’s got good reviews from teenagers and I’m not in the business of censorship. I am trying to find a counterpoint though. I really wish the new cover weren’t so fucking peppy looking since it was a goddamn dismal book to flick through at 1630 on a friday afternoon.
The idea that the judgement rained upon childfree women is not only the fault of mothers, but also has no ill effect on mothers themselves. Like it isn’t part of a wider social fuckup that not only assumes you want children (and that something is wrong if you don’t) but also that because you want children, there’s nothing at all you can complain about because “you chose this”. So there’s no recourse for fair or equitable treatment because you chose to have a baby. You chose that so you also chose the bad treatment. No backsies. If you didn’t want substandard care, social isolation, intellectual ostracism and society bent on telling you you’re wrong, you should be childfree. Then you can get judged for that too.
(Also, remember that there’s a chance that the mother you’re talking to was childfree at some point.)
Anything that assumes all women are the same is bad for women as a whole. Anything that makes women jump through hoops to prove that they’re worthy, that they’re okay, they’re not like those other women, isn’t okay. If your argument against women is based upon a pretty unlikely to the point of nearly mythical happenstance, you need to step back a little. If you’re judging someone based on one tiny interaction for one tiny fragment of time, you need to really examine what is happening.
And if you think for one moment heaping that judgement on a struggling parent is helping them, you have got to be fucking kidding me.
to stay home and care for our 10 month old daughter*
“so…what’s he actually going to do?”
“is he going to start doing housework?”
“ha, is he going to keep going with cloth nappies?”
“I’d love to take time off”
“aw, that’s so cute, how long do you think it’ll last?”
“but seriously, what’s he going to do at home?”
“he’ll work part time won’t he?”
“will he start helping overnight?”
“that’s so weird, why are you making him do that?”
“are you sure he wants to?”
“no, honestly, what’s he going to do when he’s at home?”
*$100, a giant bottle of decongestant + antihistamine and 2 hours later it turns out that not only is she teething. Not only does she have a cold. She also had an allergic reaction this morning and probably last night too. Which explains why Wolfman called me a shambling zombie the other morning.
This concept that my standards are just too high. I expect too much. I’m just fussy.
You know, if I think bed linen should be washed more often than monthly, vacuuming the same, that washing up should actually remove the food and grease from dishes, that laundering should not leave my clothes in worse shape than before they went in the washing machine or that hanging up clothing should be done in such a way as to let them dry.
That is not fuss. It is not unreasonable. It’s having fucking standards and it’s having to think about them because apparently being in possession of a penis renders one incapable of cleanliness, hygiene or the ability to learn how to do a job.
The really fucking galling bit? Others can have such high expectations of me, but I’m not supposed to have them myself? Oh that’s right, I’m supposed to ignore them, or be graceful and witty in the face of their pitying disgust at my lack of housekeeping skills. Like the time my mother-in-law persistently queried me about the washing up in spite of being told repeatedly that I did not do the washing up. Ever. Wolfman did it, it was his job, talk to him about it piling up. But no, it’s my responsibility even when I don’t do it. Like everything within the household sphere apparently.