What Does A Feminist Mother Look Like

These questions come from one of my favorite blogs, blue milk.

  • How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother? In one sentence I’d say my feminism is: constantly evolving and ever more encompassing. I don’t know if I ever consciously ‘became’ a feminist, I always felt sensitive to injustice, inequality and the special importance of powerful female figures. When I was a teenager I finally applied the term ‘feminist’ to myself. By the time I had my child ‘feminist’ would be the second adjective I would use to describe myself besides ‘human.’
  • What has surprised you most about motherhood? It surprises me all the time how it is both so intuitive and so very confusing. I have feelings of real, true confidence in my instincts followed by sheer doubt over my decisions or priorities, often within the same 10-minute period.
  • How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism? My realization that my feminism does not have to be complete or perfectly wrapped up like a mission statement was hands-down the most important change I’ve ever made. I had this idea that I couldn’t share my perspective or give my opinion until I was 100% sure that I knew my position would never change/was correct/would be accepted by other feminists. Motherhood provided me that reality check by putting me face-to-face with the constantly evolving nature of life and knowledge. I am totally winging it when it comes to parenting, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion or feel confident or discuss my experiences and feelings. I apply that same principle to my evolving feminism and try to go easy on myself when I realize my own inconsistencies or change my point-of-view.
  • What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting? In my opinion my mothering is feminist and differs from the mothering of a non-feminist because I am not only recognizing the inequity between genders but actively fighting against it with the choices I make for my child. My parenting is affected by this approach by sometimes being an inconvenience, to me, my partner, my kid, or those around me when I refuse to participate or accept certain norms as a part of our lives. Disney Princess: no thanks. Complimenting my daughter on how beautiful/pretty/cute she is while complimenting her male playmate on how funny/tough/strong he is?: not ok. I’ve had friends say “I hope I have a child of the same gender so I don’t have to buy new things” or “I get so upset when someone things my boy is a girl/girl is a boy” or “Why would a mother do x/y/z” and I can’t help but challenge them a little.
  • Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother? Sometimes I feel compromised when people in our lives undermine my attempts to avoid exposing my daughter to certain language/images/influences…I have the feeling they are doing it to make a point while looking at me and thinking ‘silly woman.’
  • Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why? We spent 8 months of my daughters first 16 months living in Japan (and will be returning there soon), and identifying as a feminist mother was a challenge for me there. I was surrounded by other mothers who were incredibly supportive but also very much comfortable in gender roles more ‘traditional’ than what I consider modern or equal. They marveled at the egalitarian dynamic between my husband and I, and my husband was lightly teased by his Japanese teammates/friends when he occasionally declined invitations to their frequent boys-only I’ll-come-home-when-I-want-to outings. I felt a bit isolated in my philosophy towards motherhood/parenting and the language barrier made a meaningful conversation about the differences practically impossible.
  • Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist? There are times when I find this idea particularly challenging to my feminism, especially when I find myself focusing on the sacrifices that I have made that my husband has not (specifically breastfeeding and what that meant for the physical proximity I kept to my child). However, I try to focus on the big picture and realize while there are some particular sacrifices I’ve made for motherhood (because of my status as ‘the mother), many of the sacrifices we make are for family, for love, for comfort. Making sacrifices is a part of life, and I have chosen to make motherhood part of my life. Does this mean that I think the choices mothers make aren’t often more forced, loaded with meaning, or influenced by policy/societal norms? No. But I also like to put things into perspective and remind myself that the sacrifices I make for motherhood pale in comparison to those many women are making, feminist or not.
  • If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner? I don’t know how he feels, because I don’t let him speak. Just kidding. He feels proud of my beliefs as a feminist mother, he feels challenged…in a good way. I know my influence plus raising a female child in a world not always friendly to women has opened his eyes to some of his past behavior and to the behavior of men around us. I know, however, at times he feels that I don’t know how to ‘pick my battles’ and feels that sometimes I am dissecting every.little.thing. making a conversation a bit difficult. I believe my feminism impacts him more than some other male partners of feminists because he is a professional athlete and spends his days in an environment that is often steeped in sexism, involves a fair bit of accepted homophobia and is fueled by male stereotypes.
  • If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them? I’m not an attachment parent by title, we don’t follow any one method in our parenting. I did, however, breastfeed for 20 months 9 days, still practice babywearing at 21 months and can completely understand the logic of families who want to co-sleep, wait until children are older until they leave them for longer periods, etc. My complicated but deeply loving relationship with breastfeeding as an experience has led me to have some really conflicting thoughts about this kind of attachment/committment to my child that I could not make (in the same exact way) if I were a man. At times it felt both extremely empowering/powerful and painfully limiting. Have I resolved those feelings? No. Do I live with them as they are and consider ways to resolve them for myself or others in the future during moments when I’m not totally consumed by the rest of life? Usually.
  • Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? I wouldn’t say ‘feminism’ has failed mothers, feminism is merely a philosophy that people adopt to help them navigate through. It’s not static, it’s not complete, it’s not enough to prop up women or mothers. Society is failing women. Politicians are failing women. Women are a part of that bigger picture, feminism is part of the solution. Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers? Feminism has given me the impetus to ask questions. About my perspective. About my role. About what I expect from my partner, from my community and from myself. About what is right for my daughter. About what I will and will not accept. To sometimes have those questions answered in a way that makes me angry. Or sad. Feminism via the internet has also given me the sense of community and connectedness to other mothers with a similar viewpoint who I may not find in my immediate physical proximity.


4 thoughts on “What Does A Feminist Mother Look Like

  1. Love this, thanks for sharing.
    I too struggle to “pick my battles”. On one hand not budging sometimes tires ME out, especially after a night with little sleep. And it may even push Mark in the other direction, to keep the conversation “balanced” and light-hearted enough, especially if he is the host (SA politeness!). On the other hand, not having reacted on certain issues can eat me alive for days! And it has definitely gotten worse with me becoming a mother, I MUST speak for the sake of my children, right :)?

  2. Also -women are failing women. At times. Off that point -yesterday I was at the beach, specifically at the cove for which my son is named and while I sat playing on the sand with Mick a adult male was taunting the young boy he was with because the boy would not ‘go under’ the water. “I’m going to tell your mom and everyone back home you acted like a little girl! Come on you wimpy, you’re name isn’t Tim, it’s Tina!”. I looked to my side as two actual little girls played in the water and another on the sand and thought -you BASTARD!!! You’re the one with the problem. There is nothing wrong with him acting like a little girl -I can only hope we all do at points -and vice verse. For that matter if he doesn’t want to swim he doesn’t. Period and no problem. For you to tease him and make him feel bad because of his insecurities and THEN tell him he’s acting like a girl implies that girls are inferior. Sadly I thought all of this and said none of this -for fear not of embarrassing myself, but not wanting to embarrass Tim. I vowed inwardly and deeply that I will encourage my son to be just like the little girls and actually better then that. To be himself. Like a boy, girl and otherwise. (Sigh)

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