Do you think it is possible to be a feminist and a mother? Is this a paradox?
Before I had children, I associated being a feminist with being a strong woman who stood up not just for her rights but for others too. Who wasn’t afraid to say what she thought. Who was not going to be put down by bullies or society.
Somehow, in the depths of my mind, I did not associate being a feminist with being a mother. In fact I’ll go one further, I thought you couldn’t be a mother if you were a feminist. Yet I was not conscious of these thoughts. When I started to write The Confident Mother, I kept being pulled by this conflict. What’s going on? How can I reconcile these two distinct people: mother and feminist.
I am a strong feminist and I am a good (enough) mother. Why can’t I allow the two people to appear in the same room? I am strident at times (my husband will attest to that); I am vocal; I am passionate. I get angry at injustice and inequality and I allow my anger to show. In my emotions, in my expressions, in my feelings, and most importantly in my actions. (One of the reasons that prompted me to train as a breastfeeding counsellor). By that, I don’t mean I throw bricks at the TV when some grey-suited male tells me all about why it’s so important to protect the family unit, and why we need to invest more funding in breastfeeding support (all the while, NHS England has withdrawn its funding to support my local breastfeeding drop-in). No I mean, I stand up and do something positive.
Before I explored the feminist mother concept for my book, I talked to my coach, Fi. I wanted to explore this disassociation and therefore conflict in my head about feminism and motherhood. Fi had studied sociology and she pointed out that nowhere in her readings and studies, even among the most lesbian writings, does it say anywhere at all that you can’t be both a mother and a feminist.
Where has this thought come from? It’s not even a conscious thought. But I know it is lurking there because from time to time, it ambushes me..
I recall my own mother – I guess probably a typical working mother in the 60s/70s. Doing some part-time jobs here and there, below her intellectual ‘status’ – my mum left school after GCEs. She had various jobs – she didn’t really have a career as such for many years. Later, in my late teenage years, she trained as a driving school instructor, and very good she was too. I don’t really think of her as a feminist.
Then I think of my maternal grandmother. My mum was the youngest of five daughters, though one of her sisters died very young. My Mum’s dad (my maternal grandfather) died when my mum was very young and so she never really knew her Dad. My Gran brought up her children all by herself – tough times because the welfare state was not what it is now. I remember my Mum telling me tales of my Gran working in a biscuit factory, not exactly well-paid work.
On my father’s side, my grandmother was one of life’s eccentrics. An artist who would happily live in a garret … she had worked in the hotel trade for much of her working life. She married my grandfather when she was quite young but the marriage didn’t work out. She left the family and left her children with their Dad. Even today that would be a shocking story, and it was even more so in the 1950s. My Nan remarried a few years later; her new husband was 20 years her junior. Another shocking story even by the standards of today’s newspapers.
In many ways, my Nan was the feminist who did what was right for her. But she ‘abandoned’ her family … I wonder if it is simply the language in my head that is confusing me so much? Is my vision of the “perfect” mother wrapped up in a romantic idea of a warm, round woman, who doesn’t have a strident, aggressive bone in her body? Is my messed up definition of a feminist tripping over my vision of the perfect mother?
What about you? What do you think? Can a woman be a strong feminist and a good (enough) mother? Do we switch off our feminist beliefs just because we have children? No, of course we don’t.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
Thought I should let you know … this post is adapted from a chapter in my book, The Confident Mother.