Monday, 6 September 2010

Am I a Feminist Mum?

So having concluded that I am not a feminist with a big F, I pondered the question how could you combine my watered-down feminism with motherhood? What perception of women am I giving to my son, who is now at the age where, albeit awkwardly girls are coming into his peripheral vision and to my daughter? I am used to being a powerful woman, a woman who takes charge of her life, of her surroundings and the people in it (just ask Oh Daddy) but I've always either been a working mother or a studying mother. However, for the last 9 months, I've been a stay-at-home-mother so how do I reconcile this with my strong female persona? I’ve been the one who has looked after our kids and most of the housework since they were born.  I cook the dinner, it tends to be more or less ready when Oh Daddy walks in from work, I do the washing and I plan our holidays. I never thought I’d be the kind of woman who thought there was any pride to be had in looking after a family, and yet here I am, loud and proud. (I should add here in case Oh Daddy thinks I am doing him a dis-service, that he more than pulls his weight in the home in the evenings and at weekends).

An article from the Guardian (*sigh) suggests that feminism is under threat from the pursuit of being a good mother. According to one leading feminist, the French model of motherhood is facing an unprecedented threat from a "dangerous" new brand of thought which seeks to keep women at home and make them the slaves of their children. Elisabeth Badinter, 65, a prominent author and philosopher, declared this week that France was at a turning point in its attitude towards female emancipation.

Thanks to a new coalition of ecologists, breastfeeding advocates and behavioural specialists, she argued, young women are facing increasing pressure to be perfect mothers who adhere to strict guidelines for how to care for their babies. If this "regressive" movement takes hold, French feminism could be set back decades, she argued. "The majority of French women [now] reconcile maternity with professional life. Many of them work full-time when they have a child. They are resisting the model of the perfect mother, but for how long?" Badinter said in an interview with Libération newspaper. "I get the impression that we may now be at a turning point."

Such views – in her new book, Conflict, Women and Mothers – have seen Badinter plunged into the boiling cauldron that is contemporary French feminist thought. Attacked by her critics as out of touch with the new generation she is ­attempting to salvage, Badinter has stuck to her guns. She says that the new image of the "ideal mother" – one who breastfeeds for six months, does not rush to return to full-time work, avoids painkillers in childbirth, rejects disposable nappies and occasionally lets her baby sleep in her bed – makes impossible demands on any woman who has a life outside of her child. "'Good motherhood' imposes new duties that weigh heavily on those who do not keep to them. It contravenes the model we have worked for until now [and] which makes equality of the sexes impossible and women's freedom irrelevant. It is a step backwards," she said. If this is so, then what now?

I have been looking to the other examples of stay-at-home mothers I have in an attempt to identify my views on this. Asking the question what aspiration do we give our daughters if we stay at home to raise our families? The choices we make affect our kids and how they see us and we must never lose sight of that. I come from a working class village where the occupation of choice is children and when it looks likely that a child might begin it's independence, they pop out another...and another...and another until they realise aged 45 that all of their adult lives has been spent having kids. They work to supplement the benefits that they receive instead of receiving benefits  to supplement their income. They're teaching their kids that as an adult when you're at a loose end, don't take up a hobby, don't work harder to improve their quality of life, or the open the way for more opportunity...pop out a baby. When I'm overcome by dolls and all the life like accoutrements that these dolls come with now (real nappies, nappy bags etc etc) in the toy shops, I worry that, this lack of ambition is a bit more sinister than just down to poor education, that it's marketed, prepackaged and distributed wholesale.We appear to be in a hurry for our daughters to grow up and to become women that we would never want to be.

On the other end of the scale is where we live now. We moved to one of the more affluent areas of Edinburgh where your typical stay-at-home mum is one who, through the grace of her husband, can afford not to work. This post from Used to be Somebody... explores the middle class phenomenon choosing to stay at home to raise your children from a better perspective than I can. So there seems to be the one type who because they're already at home with kids from possibly a young age, churn out baby after baby and this is the root of their stay-at-home status or on the other, the middle class choice of staying-at-home. Neither of these generalised stereotypes seem suitable to me but society deals in shorthand. It is easier to categorise a person into a neat little box, to judge them by this shorthand. In today's' hectic pace of life, it's quicker, it weeds out the psychopaths and helps define ourselves by the company we keep.

The way I see it, being a mum is a bit like any other job really.   You can make as much of it as you want.  Some will leave their kids with a bag of crisps for breakfast while they watch Jeremy Kyle and sit on Bebo.  Others will read all the latest research papers, plan their days with military precision to make sure they are fun-packed, educational and that their kids have nutritionally balanced meals every three hours, with lots of interaction and play in big groups as well as lots of one on one time with mummy.  Most of us are somewhere in the middle.  The vast majority of parents, whether we work full time, part time or not at all, are engaged with our children, we want to give them the best start in life and most of us want our children to be well rounded, compassionate individuals with good self esteem who will go on to contribute to wider society.


  1. I am in the middle, and in Edinburgh. My sons used to attend a school where I was a real oddity as a parent: one who "had" to work (SHOCK HORROR). I struggled with that, and with the artificial divide between the Moms who Work and the Moms who Work At Home. We are all trying to do something difficult and delicate and scary and sometimes not so hard at all: parent. And we do so in as many ways as there are Moms/Mums.

  2. Well said! I am on the hunt for other middle mothers like myself. We should band together and make our presence felt.


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