Category Archives: Feminist mothering

Still around

Yes, still around and trying to find some time to get back to blogging . In the meantime, these are the things I would like to write about:

-Why me? Different levels of tiredness when baby and toddler refuse to sleep and you need to find the courage to keep on going the whole day.

-An article from Anne-Marie Slaughter on why women still can’t have it all

Many women of my generation have found themselves, in the prime of their careers, saying no to opportunities they once would have jumped at and hoping those chances come around again later. Many others who have decided to step back for a while, taking on consultant positions or part-time work that lets them spend more time with their children (or aging parents), are worrying about how long they can “stay out” before they lose the competitive edge they worked so hard to acquire.

Given the way our work culture is oriented today, I recommend establishing yourself in your career first but still trying to have kids before you are 35—or else freeze your eggs, whether you are married or not. You may well be a more mature and less frustrated parent in your 30s or 40s; you are also more likely to have found a lasting life partner. But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.

You should be able to have a family if you want one—however and whenever your life circumstances allow—and still have the career you desire. If more women could strike this balance, more women would reach leadership positions. And if more women were in leadership positions, they could make it easier for more women to stay in the workforce. The rest of this essay details how.

– Commenting on two fantastic blogs I´ve found: Mama Nervosa  and First the egg

– I like Mothering as meditation practice from First the Egg and also this  from Zanna Yardas

I was a serious meditation practitioner before kids and I wasn’t going to let the having of kids get in the way of this precious link to self awareness and sanity. But how? Where? When? Like most mothers, it was quite natural for me to just sit with my baby while we gazed into each other’s eyes.  But I yearned for more connection and less mentation. Then I remembered the famous Zen saying: before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.   So nursing could be become a time, a place and a way to meditate. Infusing this natural expression of mother-infant bonding with the practice of watching the breath, would ultimately serve to heighten my awareness and tune me into to my baby rather than to zone off or complete a bunch of mental lists that could wait.

As you can guess, I spend a lot of time thinking on how to find the time to meditate instead of just being present in the moment.

Currently in Bilbao, enjoying the sun,the company of my family, and adapting to the fact that people don’t respect a queue, don’t drink coffee while walking and never arrive on time.

 

Natalia

 

things I have been reading online…

I am trying to write a short review on new materialistic approaches in Geography and the politics of feeding, and as such, have been reading a few articles on this, which as it happens, seems to be a hot debate at the moment…

blue milk, on the ways the message of breastfeeding is conveyed. I love that it particularly pins down the difficulties I find in the notion of ‘choice’, individualism and patricarchy…

A guest post in PhD in parenting on the debate generated recently on breastfeeding in public.  

And then, something that relates to one of my daily struggles at the moment: to-do list vs being present with your child. Since I am mostly a full-time mom, I have to do things with r. around. I have always cooked and done some cleaning and ordering with her, but now it is also phonecall, fixing stuff in the house, clothes shopping (mainly for her!) and so on. We have recently moved houses and the house needs work, and I am in full nesting mode, so I want to do loads of things before the baby comes. So I find that I am itching to do things, to feel I have done ‘productive things’, and sometimes this means I see parenting as a chore more than something enjoyable, and on times like that, there is inevitably trouble, fights, and bad feelings. This post by Sew liberated on chucking the to-do list, really hit the spot for me.

Hope you enjoy these!

Lucila

links

As I haven’t finished my review of Orenstein next chapter – I promise to finish it first thing tomorrow morning, it is just that jet lag means that r. is going to bed at 10.30 at night, and I don’t have the energy to work after that! – I will point out some great blog posts on these matters:

one is blue milk’s on bratz and the sexualisation of children. there are many on this theme on her blog, but this one is a classic.

The other one is one by adventures in boogieville, where she talks about race and gender, and ends up with princesses. She points to the crucial thing here. That no matter what we add to princesses: introduce different races, activities, strenghts, the bottom line is that princesses are about being pretty. And this is problematic.

Lucila

What do feminist mothers fight with their partners about?

This post by blue milk came so at the right time – or wrong time -that it made me want to contribute my bit – or more honestly, rant.

First, I will say that we don’t fight much, and that we get along pretty nicely, mainly because my partner is very very patient and he is the kind that diffuses fights rather than escalates (like I do). But we do have our moments, obviously, especially when we are both tired and overwhelmed.

One of the most frequent fights is about sleep, which inevitably leads to discussions about how much we each do and contribute – both of us probably feeling and proclaiming we do more or that our work is not valued. And for me it ends up being about feminism too.

Here is why.

Let’s put it in context first. R. has always woken up several times a night until very recently – that is almost 2 1/2 years without proper sleep. The nights are my domain, mainly because I breastfed her, and because she would yell like she was being killed if my partner went, and even if I know that if we kept it up she would get used to it, I could never reach the point of letting the process happen. So it was and is mainly me. He wakes up, true, because he is a light sleeper, but stays in bed and can roll over and go to sleep again -unless it is the screaming type of wake up. My partner usually takes r. in the mornings, and I sleep in an hour or sometimes –pleasure of pleasures- two, which are very precious to me.

However, he expects loads of brownie points and brings it up at times when we discuss what we each do ‘you sleep in every morning’ type of thing. As I am a slacker for that. And I am grateful, and it is true in many ways. But so why is he then not grateful about my all night work? So my reply is as true (or truer– it’s my blog, ha!) ‘I let you sleep every night and that is much much harder’. put up the volume for the reply… and a rich description of what waking up every nigth implies. But it does not seem to get through, the message – for either of us- since we always come back to that. Of course then we go onto other niceties. Who needs to sleep more – he works, brings the money home. I work too, but not on well paid things –like my PhD, a few classes, consultancies, or even worse I spend time doing this blog, which does not bring any ‘profit’. So he needs more sleep, while my sleeping in is a luxury, a treat. He never actually says that, but for me, it is implied. so my reaction is not that afable, as you can expect. 

Another typical tipping point, which is related to the above, is the one described already in blue milk post and links, and in a much better  way too: the day the nanny gets ill. Not so much the day r. gets ill, because as in the nights, I seem to be the requested one, and it is ok, I also want to be there. But the day the nanny gets ill. And the discussions begin…because it seems obvious that I am the default person. But why is it me who is the default person to take care of r.? Why isn’t it what should we do, how should we split it –unless it is an emergency like the day before my viva? And the fight about what is valuable, what is not, what counts, what not, ensues.

Let me get this clear – I don’t want to get into too much trouble here – my partner does not stop doing tasks all day, just like me. But since r. is little, and since I work mostly from home, loads of things are on my domain, and most of them are those of the invisible kind. And it seems also that my work is more expendable, I am the one to tweak, to work evenings to catch up or weekends. I worry that despite everything, R., as others, see my work as ‘play work’ and her dad’s as ‘real’, and I am not sure how to make that clear, when the reality is that it certainly looks that way many times. Because this is wider than us, it is about how value is given to things that bring in money rather to those such as homemaking and mothering which are enablers of that, rather than bringing money in itself. And old but prevalent feminist fight. And the issue is my partner would not be able to work like he does, and have a daughter with the level of care that we both want for her, without having someone staying at home and doing all the things that I cover, or at least it would be quite expensive – or at least I hope so!

So the resurgence of fights are, I think, even though shit at the moment, quite good to keep tweaking, going over things, and reminding ourselves of not falling into patterns and defaults. And this is mainly brought up through these explosions – though they mostly comes out in one of my rages. But if I react so strongly, it is because these battles reach my core, it feels necessary for me. And I think they are very much part of my feminist work.  And I know it will go on and on, because we haven’t got round that one, nor I think has the world. But if you have, I accept tips!

Lucila

Starting point

Each week I will examine one chapter of Orenstein’s book. The first one basically states her starting point, and I put it out here so we can all start in the same page. For those of you who are new to here and wonder what I am talking about, the general review of her book is here.

So, how important is that girls play as princesses? Does it really matter if their clothes and toys are pink and if they have mainly flowers and butterflies? Orenstein thinks about this, and acknowledges the temptation to give this a pass, to think that ‘it is just a phase’, but ends up arguing that it matters, a lot.

In the first chapter of Orenstein’s book, she sets out her aim. She wants to understand the impact of images and ideas that girls absorb as to what they should be, and what roles should they play, and what made them girls, in this mainstream girlie-girl culture. And she asks, what is the first thing she learnt in her ventures into mainstream culture?

‘Not that she is competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girl wants  – or should want- to be the Fairest of them All’

She shows how studies done by the American Psychological Association show how

‘the emphasis on beauty and play sexiness can increase girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behaviour’

Well, those are things I do fear.

She points out to some confusing signals: while there are more and more examples of girls’ successes, the push to make their appearance the centre of their identities , did not seem to have diminished, on the contrary, it seems to have intensified, and extended (to younger, and also older ages). And I have read many studies how teenage girls seem under so much pressure these days, much more than boys. Duties have piled up, and intensified.

(Does it not ring a bell with how the role of parents -and the invention of the verb to parent-, and especially mothers, has seemed to intensify in the last decades, just when women have more and more taken other roles?)

And this triggered in her questions about how to help our daughters navigate the contradictions they will inevitably face as girls. Her question is one I worry a lot about:

‘How do you instil pride and resilience in her?’

She gives examples of myriad moments in which we have to navigate the land of toys, clothes, of things. And she argues that answering this question, and navigating this world, is harder now, since the mid-1990s, than it was before. She explains that this is the moment where the Girl Power movement which celebrated ability over body, has its message turned around. Somehow, the body, the pursuit of physical perfection, became the source of empowerment.

This is her starting point. And in one way, much of mine too.

Lucila

Pink and pretty – how ‘innocent’ can harm

Orenstein, Peggy, 2011, Cinderella ate my daughter. Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture, New York:  HarperCollins Publishers

I explained before what moved me to grab this book. As the title of the book suggests, it studies and analyses the new incarnation of the girlie-girl culture.

I liked this book for several reasons.

First, because I could identify with the authors concerns for her daughter and the reasons she set out to study more in detail this phenomenon. She describes how she wants to encourage her daughter to be a healthy, happy, strong girl. The girlie-girl culture freaks her out, but at the same time she does not want to give her daughter the impression that feminine, or girly stuff is not good, that ‘boys’ things are better. She wants her daughter to find a way of exploring her sexuality in her own terms, and being able to understand her body, her desire, her needs. And thus, objects strongly to the early sexualisation of children, and to the models of coming of age that seem to follow the princes stage – that of modern human ‘princesses’ such as Hannah Montana or Britney, which ends up being about objectifying.  She wants her daughter to be strong and independent, to have a healthy body image and at the same time to fit in. She is worried about media, but also about social media. And more. 

And she is brave to tackle head on these difficult issues. To do so, she immerses in the girlie-girl culture, by talking and interviewing different people, such as the mind behind the Disney Princess phenomenon, by analysing different products and toys – from Barbie, American Girl to Bratz, and all the z phenomenon-, by talking to mothers and children –including toddler pageants’ mothers- , by reviewing studies, and also weaving in personal stories. This book is mainly targeted at the general public, more than an academic audience. It is journalistic. And it is well-done in this sense as I found it not only informative, but also funny, and very engaging. I read it very quickly.

A thing I really appreciated about this book is that it is not written from a smug ‘know-it-all’ perspective. She questions herself, backtracks, starts again, moves in different directions around the issues and shows her personal struggles. It is like reading a funny, honest, on-going conversation of the author with herself, and with others, around the tricky issues parents and children face in contemporary girlhood. It is the type of conversation I would have myself. So in a way, I am glad she has done so much work that I can use, and also work with. Beware, if you are looking for a more ‘parental advice’ book, this book shows her journey, not a clear cut ‘solution’.

For me, this made the book meaty and engaging, but also particularly difficult to review properly, to summarise. And for this reason, I have decided that it would be more interesting to describe here briefly the issues the book touches on, and to, in the following weeks follow up with the different themes this book raises.

So here it goes:

Orenstein starts this book by arguing the importance of thinking about the girlie-girl culture, even though we might be tempted – with so many other issues to worry about- to give it a pass. She states that the emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase a girl’s vulnerability to the issues that most worry parents: depression, eating disorders, disordered body image, risky sexual behaviour, to name a few.

She argues that these issues don’t just magically appear during teenage years, but are slowly built throughout the years. And that these little decisions parents make all along, such as which toys, movies, clothes, children wear/use matter. Her aim is to understand ways in which we can help our daughters navigate the contradictions they will face as girls, and to show us how and what this culture has become and what has changed in the last years.

She deals with the question of why princesses appeal, not only to children and businesses, but to parents. And shows how these are appealing to parents many times for their ‘safety’, but that this is done through a consumer culture that encourages the opposite. In addition, she scrutinises the boom of ‘pink and pretty’ for girls, and for this explores the business sense in this strategy, and how limiting this turns out to be for creating a female identity. This leads her to tackle the issue of nature vs. nurture, and to show how even though there is phase where gender for children needs to be validated through exterior signs, which makes them more prone to seek reassurance from toys, clothes, colours, this is also a stage in which they are more malleable to long-term influences on abilities and roles that go with sex. Next, she looks at how exploration of femininity can lead to exploitation and how difficult to manoeuvre the land of sexually charged toys, dolls, clothes.

Furthermore, she discusses the need for violent play, and critiques how this has been thwarted by TV. She shows how, even if children use the same toys –such as guns – as older generations used, the marketing culture in which they are immersed means that the relationship that girls (and boys) have with this toys and the impact they have, is different. The author also explains how tame Disney fairytales can be detrimental to a child’s emotional development, and describes her successful experiments with more gory versions, which at least, she argues, give better models for coming on age than the real life princesses she goes on to examine.

Orenstein described how the passage, the coming of age, of real-life princesses, such as the Hannah Montana actress or Britney Spears, for instance, seems to invariably involve the shedding of clothes. Her struggle here is that these modern day princesses seem to express the struggle of girls more widely, but encourage girls to view self-objectification as a female rite of passage.

Next comes a related, and major, issue in all this girlie-girl culture:  the importance of body image. She describes here the history of fat, and how it became not only a health issue, but the moral issue it is today. Her advice, before having a daughter, to avoid eating disroders and a disordered body image was the usual: praise the actions not the body, involve her in group sports, in volunteerism, and make her media literate. But she shows how hard it is to counteract a message that is given by everything and everyone, and also one that you find hard modelling yourself. And how hard she finds it to give her daughter a sense of self-worth that was not contingent on her looks and clothes, but at the same time make her also stay allies with other girls.

Finally, she studies how the internet and social media is experienced and used by older children. She shows how social media has changed the ways children conceptualise their selves and their relationships, and that these are build in a similar way as ‘branding’. In addition, she shows how bad judgement was much less memorable before, and how forms of harassment and bullying have found new and wider forms of expression. The author points out how different ages bring different challenges, different abilities and development, and thus, different parental strategies need to follow. The author, however, reminds us that our role is that of preparing them, more than shielding them, from the world.  

As you can see, even with this brief summary of issues, there is plenty of stuff to dissect. I do recommend this book, and would love if you want to join me in reading and discussing it together…like a geeky book club, you know you want to 🙂

And if you don’t keep up, I will send you some pink toys and a princess DVD your way…

Lucila

Note: I have not been sent or asked to review this book.

The princess phase

I just finished reading Cinderella ate my daughter, by Peggy Orenstein, as I am already thinking about how to handle the looming challenge: the princess stage, which I can already see brewing. R. is only 2 and a half, but she received her first pink glittery fairy outfit for Easter, and she put it on and her face lit up and she said ‘princess’. And she puts towels and any fabric really, around herself and says ‘princess’. She wants to wear dresses, and wants me to wear dresses too, especially flowery ones. She grabs them from the wardrobe, and tells me to put them on.

It is weird, because I never talked about princesses, we did not care about the royal wedding, and she does not have books about them, or anything. Her first encounters with the notion of princesses were with her cousins here in Argentina, where things are much more divided in terms of gender in things such as clothing, colours, activities.  But that wasn’t very intense either. Maybe the nanny too, or other children she plays with. In any case, it is happening.

But, as a mother of a girl, I really want to think ahead, rather than let the steam roller of the marketing machines at work and the flow of mainstream culture pass smoothly (though if I had a boy, I would do the same, but probably my concerns would be different). As Natalia commented before, I get fed up of the limited range of things that boys and girls are meant to do, be, use, or wear. It is limiting, in a bad way, and it does not nurture the amazing range of qualities that these little individuals might have. For instance, I find the importance that body image has in this culture, especially for women, is oppressive. And that is why I am thinking about this, because play is crucial way in which children understand things.

Furthermore, these first years are very important in terms of how nurture then becomes nature. As books such as Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain and Blue Brain shows (or what Cordelia Fine seems to be saying though I haven’t read it yet), babies and children’s’ brain are still in formation, and even though there are no significant differences, these are turned into big gaps, and also into ‘nature’, into adult brain differences.  So what we do now, matters in more than one way.

So when I read in Blue Milk about this book, I ordered it and these last few days had a bit of time to read it. And this book kind of reassured me, but also scared me too. The scale and diversity of shit is much worse than what I imagined….

So I want to arm myself with a way to handle this many faceted issue. Because, as other mothers, I want her to grow up to be a happy, confident, strong woman that does mainly get not her self-worth, as Orenstein says, from the outside in, but from the inside out. And what I don’t like about the whole pinkness and princessy thing – as reinterpreted by Disney for instance -is that it is mainly about looks, about being beautiful, about not doing much, and being rescued by a prince. I am already aware of how she mainly gets compliments a lot on her looks, while boys don’t as much.

However, I struggle with thinking in terms of big powerful machineries at work vs little us. Though I know it is true in a general sense, and it pushes my politics in many ways, I also know that the details, the how things work are also important, and that this is often more full of cracks than what grand narratives allow. So though I know Disney and Mattel are totally retrograde in terms of women, I also think there is a lot of leave in terms of how things are used. And in what you can do about it. However, and this is a big however, we don’t live in a vacuum. R. has already started venturing in the big wide world, and will continue to do so.  And in this, Disney, Mattel and others have quite a lot of money invested so that they presence seems almost unavoidable.

So how to deal with this? Here are my first thoughts…throwing the TV out of the window, keep them enclosed forever, moving to the middle of nowhere, talking about these things with them (or brainwashing – if Disney can, so can you!)… but really, as Orenstein says in her book, we are immersed in it in many ways, and there is a lot of money involved, much much more than even fifteen years ago. So an important question she asks is: how do we deal with this girly-girl culture? Where do we draw the line/s? How?

I will do a review tomorrow, but in the meantime, one thing that really matters and makes a difference is awareness. And as the author declares, to remember that our role is not to keep the world at bay, but to prepare them so that they can flourish in it.  

I will leave you with this nice thought, and scare you tomorrow ; )

Lucila