Selfishly, I’m really excited for my new Ms. series, The Femisphere, mostly because it gives me the chance to talk to folks I’ve long admired, as well as meet some amazing new ones. And when I say talk…I mean talk. The first post that’s going up only shows a glimpse into the meaty, well-thought out conversation between a handful of feminist mama bloggers. It almost pained me as I had to cut out parts to fit my Ms. word max. The reflections from these women went in all directions, but was equally provocative and engaging, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t share more with you all. Below are bits that I cut out of the final Femisphere post, but they are just as fabulous and just as juicy as the ones over at Ms. (Which you should totally read to get the full experience of this amazing mama blogger roundtable!)
*And by “bits,” I mean this is kind of long and amazing. So go grab something to drink and settle in…
The Femisphere: How did you find yourself blogging about motherhood & feminism?
Andie: I was at home with my first baby and I was feeling very lost. I didn’t know myself or my new life and I was falling so completely in love with my baby and therefore feeling that kind of vulnerability that you do when you love someone so much and that person is so fragile and you’ve no idea what you’re doing so you’re fragile, too – and I was also feeling intense anxiety, like I’d never known before in my life. An anxiety that I could not switch off, could not remove myself from. My first-born was quite a challenging baby and she cried an awful lot and frankly, nobody keeps their head together while being with someone who is crying virtually non-stop, day in and day out, for five months.
I was talking to the husband of a new mother friend I had made and he wrote a blog and we talked about the whole blogging experience, which got me thinking about blogs. And at roughly the same time I had come across the Dooce blog and this was back when her blog was just so raw and exposed because she wasn’t yet quite so famous, and she documented that transition into motherhood very well, and it was such a relief to read that hopelessly-in-love stuff combined with that freaking-the-hell-out stuff. I suddenly realised that one way to find my way through this sense of being lost was to write about it.
Whatever I was going to blog about was always going to be somehow about feminism – it’s just a huge part of who I am. Making my blogging theme ‘feminist motherhood’ has been very helpful to me in my writing; it has given me much-needed parameters. Over time I came to realise that much of what was challenging me about motherhood was in some way related to my feminism (eg. the sexism of children’s toys and clothing and behaviour, the ‘female competition’ inherent to ‘the mummy wars’ etc), and also that many of my break-through moments as a parent have also come through feminism and being around other feminists. I mean, just a few months ago I re-read some Adrienne Rich and I saw that she just nailed some aspects of my mothering experience that had been bubbling around in my head and she it was work she had written around the time I was born, about her own experiences of mothering back in the 1950s.
Deep down I have this evangelist fantasy where I think many mothers can find their way to feminism through motherhood, so my blog is also a bit about that, opening the doors for people.
Liz: I came to feminism because I had to. If I didn’t I would be an addict. I had to find women of strength and conviction — role models — because I had so few. I had to find a path out of circumstance. It never occurred to me to not write about feminism. It’s part of my being: this deep rooted belief that women, when given the tools, empower themselves and their daughters. That idea propelled me to do things no one in my family had done. For starters, I have a degree despite many, many roadblocks. How could I not share that? My goal, through my blog, is always to empower and educate. I do it many ways: sometimes it’s irreverent, sometimes it’s angry, and more times than not it’s riddled with obscenities, but I need to write about feminism so I don’t forget how I got here.
Wood Turtle: Ten years ago the mosques and Internet seemed to be flooded with conservative interpretations of the religion — or at least, that’s what I gravitated to. I wouldn’t speak to men. Wouldn’t shake their hands. Bought into religiously-mandated gender roles. Covered myself more completely than I do today in an attempt to hide my body from being objectified by others and to safeguard the chastity of men — without recognising that my covering was also a form of objectification.
It took a long time, higher education in Islamic Law and History and many discussions with other Muslim women who were dissatisfied with our “traditional” and unseen roles in the mosque, for me to recognise that patriarchy was also alive and well in my new faith and needed to be addressed. But it wasn’t until I became a mother that I decided to do something about it and start writing about how Muslim women in North America can negotiate these spaces by adding their voices to religious interpretation.
That moment came when I attended a movie screening promoting the face of Islam in America. The room was filled with fellow Muslim social justice activists, writers, academics, professionals, and me with a 4 month old baby in a sling. Everyone cooed over the baby and asked me about motherhood — but excluded me from any further discussion on Islamophobia, politics, feminism or the religion. As if the baby was a symbol that I wouldn’t be able to participate or have anything of value to add. That motherhood had somehow invaded my brain and purged me of all intellectual discussion.
So I was fed up. Excluded at the mosque because of my gender and excluded by my peers because of my motherhood — I started the blog as a response to both. I don’t see any contradiction in being a religious Muslim and a feminist, just like I don’t see any contradictions between motherhood and feminism. In fact, becoming both a Muslim and a mother has made me a stronger feminist.
And so I joined the growing community of Muslim feminists and write frequently and advocate on how women can reclaim spaces in the mosque and in the religion — in the hopes that one day my daughter won’t have a similar struggle.
Veronica: I like to talk honestly about the trials of raising a human being, especially a girl, in today’s world. If that means I’m a feminist mom blogger, so be it. I also was quite honest with wanting to go back to work. That my maternity leave was lovely, that my daughter was fun to be with, but I still wanted to go back to the office 8 hours a day. I admire all the mom bloggers who share their stories of depression and questioning their place in the world, but I wanted to share that some of us are happy with motherhood, but still don’t want to stay home all day.
Added to my mothering story is the fact that my own mom died when I was 6 months pregnant. If I was depressed about anything it was that. I wrote some about that. About the conflicting feeling of being someone’s mother when I just lost mine. Many Mother’s Day posts are about me not wanting to celebrate because I didn’t have anyone to send a card to. It wasn’t until my daughter was old enough to make Mother’s Day my own that I truly embraced the holiday.
Now that my daughter is eight, I’m long past the fawning posts of her infancy and when I write about mothering her, it’s about all those screwed up decisions we have to make about raising girls, especially latina girls in our world.
So happy to be in this roundtable.
Lyla: Undercoverinthesuburbs.com is my place both to process my experience of motherhood, and express an identity that is more than just about being a mother. It is a Queer-friendly, Feminist, sex-positive space to explore women’s identities and question cultural ideals and assumptions.
Now, when I feel like I’m losing my mind, or myself, or both, I actually go to my blog and tell myself, this is who I am… it’s all here! I am a Feminist, activist, and Psychologist (specializing in couples, sex therapy, and sexual minorities). I am also a creative, sexual, ambitious, passionate person. However, after becoming a mother, I felt a lot of these parts of me becoming invisible.
As far as coming to blogging, I felt like I needed some role models for how to be a good mother and a whole, authentic person (looks like I have gained some more through this roundtable, so thank you!). I started to look at feminist mommy blogs, including Mamafesto, and felt this might be a good outlet for me.
The Femisphere: Where do you see yourselves fitting in within the feminist blogosphere? I know for myself, I at times feel a bit dismissed/ignored by others, and at times heartily embraced, depending on the subject I’m writing about. However, I wonder if much of that is also related to the nature of blogging in general…?
Veronica: Since I began my blogging life pre-mamahood, I think of myself as a feminist blogger who had a kid. I also think that since I didn’t fall into a stereotypical mom blogger mold (complaining about diapers and a lazy husband, while detailing every magical thing my baby did that day.), I didn’t step outside of the box I had already drawn for myself. And when I say stereotype, I seriously mean that. I can’t think of one mom blogger who is like that. But I didn’t change my blogging other than adding in a baby and tackling the cult of motherhood through a feminist lens.
Not to dig up old bones, but I do want to remind us that a few years ago there was a bit of a heated debate online about how feminism welcomes or ignores mothering issues AND how not very feminist moms can be. It was crystallized in a piece at The Nation, and a response at The Guardian.
Avital…I wonder. Do you think that beind dismissed is because you identify as a mom in your online identity? Taking the handle “Mamafesto” could be seen by some as the equivalent as asking people to call you “Susan’s mom.” I only ask because I know that being called “The kid’s mom” by her friend’s is a big no-no for me. I have them call me by my first name or if they want to be formal, Ms. Arreola. I love being a mom, but I have a name. Totally just a question, not accusation! I love your handle.
At the same time, I don’t hide the fact that I’m a mom. Being a mom is an important part of my life, but it doesn’t define me. A fine line to walk.
Andie: I think these are actually very complicated questions and it is difficult to be concise in answering them. Sorry.
I will start with the easy bit… I see my blog as a hybrid blog – it is both a feminist blog, with many of the associated characteristics (eg. covering topics purely feminist or political in nature and without motherhood aspects), and a ‘mommy blog’ with many of those features (eg. photographs of my children, journal-style entries to record milestones and significant moments for my family).
I think there is a whole range of issues buried here in the question of whether Internet feminism is adequately embracing feminist motherhood: women who aren’t becoming parents (for whatever reason) feel crowded out and understandably protective of their space; women who write feminist sites are often people with energy and resources so they’re not always the people with small children, women who aren’t parents kinda lead exciting lives that others want to read about (or anyway, I do!); Internet feminism can be pretty daunting for those without professional/academic backgrounds in feminism to participate in; Internet feminism doesn’t cover motherhood issues all that well so mothers aren’t drawn to stick around in the scene (add to this the fact that even when they try to cover the topics they still often miss the mark due to a lack of mothers writing and a lack of diversity among the mothers writing – eg. single parenthood, teen parents, non-custodial parents, infertility etc); not just feminism, but the whole world is dismissive of mothers so there is a tendency to treat mothering as mundane and unworthy of serious thought and that’s a fairly unexamined position even among parents; and Internet feminism attracts a lot of trolling and aggression and I think a lot of parents can feel too vulnerable already to be around that.
Because mothering already involves a lot of sturm und drang: you’re worrying about your kid, you’re worrying about how you’re being left out by the other mothers at the playgroup, you’re worrying about the filthy looks you’re getting at the supermarket when your kid has a tantrum, you’re worried about losing your job because you’re late to work because you’ve got childcare problems, you’re worried about whether your partner still finds you interesting – you don’t always have a lot left in reserve to handle a bunch of people who think you’re rubbing self-entitlement in their faces by turning up to their favourite coffee shop with a baby stroller.
But it’s not impossible, I have found the Australian/New Zealander feminist scene incredibly friendly, for instance. I write for one of the big group feminist blogs here, Hoyden About Town, and that was a big part of finding broader Internet feminism acceptance.
I also want to acknowledge the pleasure I get in hanging out in Internet spaces with people who are not parents. I sometimes find them to be more playful, more obsessive about side-passions and those are qualities I really enjoy. Parenthood can be very earnest, I mean it doesn’t have to be, but it can get that way. A significant number of my readers have identified themselves as non-parents so I take that as a very promising sign that everybody is prepared to read about motherhood issues (would I have been before becoming a mother, myself, I hope so?) and I think it helps if you’re thinking about and blogging about broader aspects than just your own family life. Not that there is anything wrong with blogging about your own family life, because ultimately, your blog is for you and you should write about whatever the hell you want to write about but if you want a wider audience then you might need to write about things that more of us have in common.
This brings me to something important… I don’t think I do this nearly enough on my blog because it has become less and less anonymous – but I am now convinced that feminists want very much to read about how other feminists are living their lives. There is a huge curiosity among us about the in’s and out’s of feminist lives. We don’t have a lot of role models, we don’t have a lot of traditions to follow. We want to know how you arrange your life, what decisions you’re making, what are the challenges, where do you feel compromised, what do you fight about with your partner and how does it get resolved, what are you lying in bed at night stewing over at 3am as a feminist? And in that, a good feminist blogger has a lot to offer all feminist readers regardless of whether they are parents or not. Because we share many similar questions – whose career is getting prioritised, will you get married, will you take your partner’s name, will your relationship be ‘open’ one day, how are you working on your relationship, what do you like about being single, how do you feel about getting older and losing conventional definitions of sexual desirability, whose job is it to clean the toilet, how do you manage your body image issues when you see your family for the holiday season, are you free to grow, who are you becoming? We want to know this stuff about other feminists so my advice would also be not to diminish your blog if you’re blogging about ‘the personal’, it’s important.
Wood Turtle: When I think of my audience, I’m primarily writing for the interests of other Muslim women, as well as non-Muslims who may be genuinely interested in learning more about what some Muslim women actually think (because I am certainly NOT the voice of all Muslim women). My blog is not totally accepted within Muslim circles – and is completely shunned by others for being too “progressive.” Just identifying myself as a feminist is a sure-fire way to get myself excluded.
My challenge about being heard in the feminist sphere is trying to balance my own ideals without offending my family’s culture. But with so few Muslim feminists blogging, it’s important to start these dialogues and to share our stories.
But I’ve been very happy and honoured to join a growing list of Muslim feminists in the blogosphere. Interestingly, I’ve yet to be identified by them as a “mommy blogger.” It sometimes makes me wonder if one of the reasons my fellow Muslim feminists haven’t labeled me as a “mommy blogger” is simply because there are so few of us — or perhaps it’s just pointing to the more complex issue of feminist acceptance that Andie mentioned. Perhaps it just doesn’t matter as much within Internet feminism where you can pick and choose the opinions and posts you want to interact with.
Labels are a funny thing. There’s an Arab/Muslim tradition of “renaming yourself” after your first born that I’ve totally rejected. I refuse to be “Umm Eryn” (mom of Eryn) because I’m “K” and having a child suddenly does not automatically turn me into a be-all-end-all-mother. So when family or the community call me “Umm Eryn” I ignore them. Add to this complexity the problem of calling fathers “Father of…” I recently had a family member tell me to choose a strong boy name in case the upcoming baby turns out to be male – so my husband could be finally known as “Abu so-and-so” instead of “Abu Eryn.”
It seems renaming yourself after your first born only works if that first born is male.
Lyla: I am still getting used to the idea that I’m even in the feminist blogosphere! However, I definitely see my blog as not just appealing to mothers, because it is not only about preserving a full, authentic identity as a mother, but in general. It’s hard for me to imagine any blog as just a mommy blog, because none of us are just mommies, right? I see my audience as pretty broad, but in general, people who are interested in rethinking labels and cultural roles and creating new ways of being that expand what’s possible in terms of gender, relationships, sex, motherhood, womanhood, and beyond. I see my blog first and foremost as about the ways in which identity/identity labels and categories can be confining, and seeking to expand not only how I view my own identity, but expanding notions of identity in general.
Wood Turtle, your description of the custom of “renaming” is fascinating, I was not aware of that practice, but I feel like I see that played out symbolically for many mothers who may not have this cultural expectation, but in many ways narrow/ change their identity when they become mothers, rather than adding to it. I see this most strongly when I hear women talk about how their relationships were egalitarian until children. I see this as a way in which women are caught and feel feminism must be/is inevitably compromised when one becomes a mother. I actually wrote a piece about this, and about how I have felt “closeted” because this didn’t happen in my relationship and I have found myself struggling with feelings that if I’ve held onto my feminism and my egalitarian relationship I must be doing motherhood wrong. The piece is called My Husband Does do That – My Journey out of the Equal Parenting Closet. It’s actually going to be published on Rolereboot.org at the end of the week, but it is about this very thing.
I guess I’m using my blog as a way to carve out an identity that is feminist and mother at the same time. I don’t want to have to choose me versus motherhood. I think the fact that we are even discussing this question says something about the discomfort out there, and perhaps within us, about holding these two identities at once. (Not that it’s not a great question! I think we should be discussing it!) I guess ideally I’m hoping my blog will appeal to anyone who seeks to expand notions of identity, whether they be parents, feminist, etc. But it will be interesting to see who my blog will appeal to, if anyone. I’m really just starting out.
In terms of my life, I have to agree with Veronica about the critical importance of friends without kids who have energy for my kids, and also have energy for me and get help me hold onto the parts of me that existed before becoming a mother. I feel like there is plenty out there culturally and plenty of models of women who have lost a lot of who they were before kids, but not great models of those who haven’t. Sometimes I feel like my childless friends are my refuse. I know, I need better mommy friends :) Working on that.