Feminism and Motherhood – On Choice, Criticism and Self-Confidence
The organisers of Mumsnet Blogfest set the question, ‘Can Feminists be Mummybloggers’ at a rather volatile panel discussion yesterday. I won’t say much about the events of yesterday, as I didn’t attend, but did want to look at the feminism and motherhood issue. If you want to read a bit of the background, you can find a list of blogs on Louise’s post on this matter.
This post is going to be a game of two halves, and if you like football, do follow the shameless plug to find out about Jump! Mag‘s search for an aspiring journalist to cover the UEFA U17 Women’s Championship Finals.
An event such as the Blogfest is an amazing opportunity for women to get together and discuss topics that interest them. This might be how to take better photos for your blog, or how to attract more readers, it might even be a discussion about staying safe online, and dealing with trolls. Widening this discourse to talk about feminism and how it relates to the blogging community was a great idea, and despite the upset, I am glad that Mumsnet opened this particular can of worms.
Something that occurred to me when reading Louise’s post, and in particular the comments on her blog, was the way in which women were engaging with this issue. While the feminist bloggers were discussing this in relation to feminist theory, the mummybloggers were relating it to their personal lives, and taking offence.
When the feminist theory of ‘lack of choice’, as described by Louise is dismissed because an individual actually quite likes wearing high heels and making jam, then the actual point is being missed. We are not talking of the choice of an individual, but the society in which we live, which limits our options. I am not a radfem, and don’t always agree with Louise. I confess that I am not quite convinced of the idea that we have to overthrow the patriarchy, but I do believe it exists, and that it limits women.
Take this as an example
‘I took the decision to leave work and stay home with my children. It made this decision with my partner because it was the best option for our family. No one forced me to do this’
I would ask this hypothetical woman, ‘If you were earning the same as your partner, would you have made the same decision? If you had the option of leaving work for a year, then returning to the same position with no loss of earnings and no loss of status in the company, would you have made the same decision? If you were able to rearrange your work life, perhaps working from home, or on flexitime, or job share – would you have made the same decision?’
The decisions we make are influenced by the society in which we live. If we lived in a society that valued women more, and saw them as equal to men, then we would have better maternity leave provisions, and more options for women who would like to continue to work.
To deny this, and state that you like to make jam, or love to knit, but are still a feminist is missing the point by a mile. It is not about the jam, it is not about the high heels, it is not about YOU. It is about the way our society is, and how we can change this.
The second part of this discussion, is the reasons that women feel that their choices are being attacked. When Sarah Ditum talked about discovering she was pregnant, and deciding to continue with her degree, she said it made her a better person and a better mother. She did not say that anyone who didn’t have a degree is a bad mother, so why was this they way it was understood and subsequently reported? Compare Sarah’s version of events, with this blogger’s version of events
Sarah: [said] that motherhood should not be a full stop on a woman’s life, and that I am glad that I went back to university and finished my degree after having my first child, partly because I think having interests and ambitions that were not my child has made me a better parent
CrazyWithTwins: Outrage fully tore up the auditorium when one speaker proclaimed that if she hadn’t finished her degree, she’d have been a bad mother. That was the cue for all mothers without degrees to object fiercely and the debate heated up a few hundred degrees.
I didn’t include the quote from CrazyWithTwins to ridicule or slate her take on the events, but to point out that there is a huge discrepancy between what was said and what was heard. It has been said that the acoustics in the auditorium were not great, and that there was a lot of shouting, hissing and talking going on, so perhaps that was part of the issue. Booing or hissing at someone because you disagree with them is not a mature way of discussing an issue, and the women who did this should apologise to Sarah Ditum.
How did we get from ‘the decision I made, made me a better mother’
to ‘if you didn’t do as I did, then you are a bad mother?’
Women are used to being criticised. You might even say that we are conditioned to being criticised. Pick up a newspaper or a women’s magazine to find out what we are doing wrong. We are too fat, too thin, too rich, too poor. We are helicopter mums, or neglectful mums. Barbara Ellen asked this week, ‘What part of a woman’s body will we be taught to hate next?’
When I was researching this post, I found this article. Check out the ads at the side of the page – even as we are told that we should be more positive about our bodies, the advice is to exercise and diet!
This week Great British Bakeoff finalist Ruby Tandoh talked about her lack of confidence, and how she wishes that girls today receive a different message than she did when she was a teen.
“I really struggled as a teenager, but every magazine or website I turned to for reassurance suggested that the way to improve my confidence was by changing my outfit or my hairstyle… It was all terrible advice, and it really set me back”.
Women are trained from a young age to look at themselves critically, and to look at each other critically. I am not sure if this is worse in UK, but I also find the constant putting down of one’s achievements wearying at best, and enraging at worst. I have lost count of the times that I have read tweets like this, or heard friends make these comments
‘Here is a little thing I wrote, it’s a bit rambling but have a look’
‘Sorry that this post is a bit rushed, but here it is’
‘Thanks, glad you like my blog. It is a good outlet for my ramblings, lol’
‘Thanks. I don’t normally look like this, its all just make up!’ (on receiving a compliment)
It is ok to be proud of your work, and the correct answer to a compliment is a simple, ‘Thanks’. Bite your tongue and don’t add a self-deprecating remark. I know it is hard, I have had to train myself to do this, but it is so important.
Women are also held to a higher standard than men. Look at the photo above. Do we tell men they should have a designer penis jab? Do we berate them for allowing the kids to sit around all day? Mums are too busy to cook, but Dads are off the hook.
Until we hold fathers to the same standards as we do mothers, we will always be on the defensive, as the blogger HeadinBook so rightly states.
Thinking about it, what it boils down to is this:
I am tired of having to justify and explain “my” lifestyle to every man and his dog, when so far as I am aware, no-one has ever asked my husband to do the same.
I searched the Daily Express website for examples to use in the above image. It may not surprise you to know that the search for ‘dad’ came up with far fewer articles of a berating or blaming nature, than those with the word ‘mum’.
No wonder we take offence when none is actually intended, as we are so used to defending ourselves against the constant barrage of insults, demeaning comments and accusations.
So where do we go from here? I would suggest that opening a discussion is the way forward. Not with recriminations, but with the aim of understanding the position of the others.
I confess that I don’t understand how someone can say ‘being a mum is everything. It is the be all and end all of my life’. I have written about the Cult of Motherhood before, and will revisit these thoughts in the coming weeks. I don’t understand how anyone can put a full stop into the middle of their life, no matter what they are talking about. We don’t stand still in life, we move on, we learn, we adapt to new situations.
I imagine that the coming weeks will see a flurry of blog posts about feminism vs mummyblogging, and I would hope that it remains civil and honest.
I will leave you today with the words of Jo Brand, celebrating the voices of women
I can’t BELIEVE the CEO that called her a cunt while taking his award. Terrible! Thank you for sharing this amazing piece. Love it! Sharing it on facebook and twitter.
Lynn C Schreiber
I know! I gasped at that. Must google and find out if she has ever said who it was.
I think I’m really glad I missed BlogFest…
You have inspired me today! Someone complimented me on my speaking Greek, and I thought of you andthis article, and being self-deprecating and all of that. So I said “Yes, I do speak excellent Greek, thankyou.” And the woman I was talking to, one of the mothers at my son’s school, said “How refreshing, what a great way to respond to a compliment. I think I will do it too from now on!” Let’s hope it spreads!
Hehe, I’ve spoken Greek from birth and I find it hard enough! Good for you.
I too really struggle not to put a disclaimer after every statement of pride, and this post has served as a good reminder to keep fighting that. Thanks Lynn. 🙂
Lynn C Schreiber
Yay! Good for you.
There’s a much more comprehensive list of blogs about this in the pingback article above.
I’m still pondering whether I want to release my second reaction to the world. Might ping you and ask you to take a look tomorrow.
I love this post for it’s balance. You are right that there was so much misunderstanding and misconception in that room, which lead to defensiveness on both sides when it wasn’t necessary. I don’t think there was hissing though. Sarah said that, but what I heard was a sharp intake of breath, because people knew that her statement would not go down well.
Lynn C Schreiber
Thanks, am glad you liked it. I do think it is interesting to see how many different views and opinions there are on this.