Following Lucila’s post on the immense sadness of weaning we had an interesting conversation on the phone. My experience of breastfeeding differs from hers as I have rarely received any sort of criticism about my continuing to breastfeed E., who is now 17 months. The reason is that E. has been dropping the breast progressively and breastfeeding times happen to be mostly when we’re at home. For that reason, I haven’t had done much breastfeeding in public.
However, once, back home in the Basque Country I was enraged by a male homeopath who suggested to me that by continuing to breastfeed I wasn’t teaching E. to deal with frustration. His assumption was that after a year (why one year and not two?) you must stop breastfeeding otherwise you will make your toddler psychologically weak and vulnerable to all sorts of addictions (can you believe this?). I was really furious, but I didn’t want to be rude so I just said that the WHO recommends breastfeeding for up to three years ( I know, it was very stupid to use expert criteria to protect myself instead of walking away from his office which in this case would have been the right thing to do).
My experience with this homeopath led Lucila and myself to discuss how one can resist and revolt against stupidity and lack of respect. There are many things written from a feminist point of view about how the media, society, experts and social and cultural constructions of motherhood oppress women and reproduce the same discourses and practices that have subjugated women all over the world. However, I still believe that mothering is one of the most powerful political roles a feminist can take on.
A feminist mother can navigate between the public and the private, negotiating these spheres and defying the practices that separate them as worlds that do not belong to one each other (i.e. that of the mother at home and the woman at work), confronting assumptions about who does what at home and resisting the categorizations of good mother and good academic (good mothers stay at home, good academics publish and attend conferences rather than blogging about feminist mothering:-) ) .
Going to school meetings with a baby or a toddler, breastfeeding a toddler in public, sharing and negotiating housework with your partner on an equal basis, buying dolls for your toddler boy and encouraging him to wear pink if he likes, inquiring about toddler facilities on campus and even better campaigning for them, taking your toddler to the university with you during his/her school holidays (even better if you are a male academic) , confronting the idea that the careers of successful academics require consistent and linear progression without long maternity or paternity gaps, or including articles and views in your teaching from feminist scholars who research mothering and parenting (even when by doing so you’re risking your legal credentials in front of a bunch of future lawyers): all of these acts visually, actively, and politically challenge the idea that we live in separate spheres, that the public belongs to one type of women and the private to another. Either you stay at home or you work, because if you want to do both you will be permanently scrutinized and criticized as a bad mother or as a failed academic.
By acting and rebelling against these premises we redraw and reveal the intersections of these spheres, contributing to changing many of the patriarchal structures in which we live. In this sense, mothering is a site of struggle in which all the contradictions, desires, stereotypes, emotions, limitations, oppressions and hopes come together to challenge the idea that mothering is just a private business. The sense that women’s lives need to be segregated, torn between home and work is part of a materialistic and individualist Western illusion in which life must be lived in closed compartments. Mothering shows that this is not possible, and from its very sense of fluidity, mothering can renegotiate many of these assumptions too, or at least it can try to.