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This might be your mother's feminism

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At each other's throats [Apr. 17th, 2008|11:26 pm]
This might be your mother's feminism


I really hate the mothers-against-mothers stuff. I have particular aspects of it I particularly hate, chief among them the idea that mothers who have other jobs / do not have other jobs are not proper mothers / not proper workers. I use the phrases "part-time mother" and "doesn't work" when I'm talking about this.

And today I hurt a mother who wasn't familiar with my heavily sarcastic use of the phrases. She knows me well enough to be able to work out that I don't actually think mothers who have other jobs are bad mothers, or part-time mothers, but the issue is so nasty that the phrase made her wince.

How can mothers express their own opinions to each other without it being an automatic attack? So much of the language is so loaded. I quite see that sarcasm doesn't help, but I get so ANGRY.


[User Picture]From: thereyougothen
2008-04-18 09:03 am (UTC)
there's not much worse than accidentally hurting or being seen to insult someone you actually like.

why is it all so damn hard?
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[User Picture]From: hartleyhare
2008-04-18 09:10 am (UTC)
I hate it too. It was one of the things I was least prepared for when we adopted Small Hare. IME the thing that makes it so difficult to express opinions is that so many aspects of parenting touch on insecurities and private hurts – meaning that things that aren’t meant as an attack at all might risk sounding like one, especially if you’re feeling fragile.

For me, the issue of having another job is a particularly difficult one, because I found my time as a SAHM so hard. Part of it was the sheer physical shock of going from no children to an instant two-year old – part of it was the fact that a lot of the support we’d been promised from friends and family melted away once people realised just how demanding Small Hare was in those first few months (he’s a lot easier now). But a big part of it was getting used to the whole culture of motherhood, and to the feeling that whatever I did, there would always be someone who thought I was doing it wrong. I beat myself up a lot, back then, with the imagined judgements of other mothers, and it was a thoroughly miserable time – I was lonely and exhausted and desperately needed the headspace and stimulus of my other job.
I went back to full-time teaching after ten months, and it was the best thing I could have done – Small Hare is at nursery three days a week, which he loves, and at home the other two days with my husband, who’s taking a career break. We are all much happier than we were this time last year, but discussions about working outside the home still trigger off all kinds of feelings. I think the most difficult thing is that I had waited for so long to be a mother, and gone through so much, yet being at home full-time with my son was something that I just couldn’t do. No matter how much I rationalise it, there is still this lurking feeling that I failed - and that feeling of failure is still something I find it hard to talk about.

Sorry, long comment. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s an issue where it’s so difficult to know what lies behind other people’s choices, and how they feel about those choices. There are analogies wiht other issues too, but this is my particular sore spot (I need a thicker skin).
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[User Picture]From: ailbhe
2008-04-18 09:43 am (UTC)
I do believe very strongly that people who want to stay home and look after their kids 24/7 should be able to, and that people who want to work and have some of the childcare done by professionals with facilities or equipment or training (or just more patience!) should be able to do that. And "able" covers economics as well as social acceptability.

I get the general impression that mothers in paid employment are seen as more "normal" in the UK and Ireland than in the US and Canada, in that they come up against less overt flak for not staying at home, and that stay at home mothers come up against more flak for not working (depriving their children of money and its products, or of formal preschool and its facilities, etc, not to mention sponging off their partners like leeches).
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[User Picture]From: hfnuala
2008-04-19 02:07 pm (UTC)
Personally I disagree that 'doesn't work' and 'part time mother' are equivalently nasty. The second attacks the particularly woman's motherhood in a way the first doesn't.

Now for the caveats - I work for pay outside of the home so that will bias me and certainly means I've never been attacked for being economically inactive. Also, I personally believe that women who don't work outside the home do put in more hours of the work that makes up parenthood than I do (how could I deny it?)

However, I still think you are underestimating how nasty suggesting this makes one a part time mother is. Because being part time in our culture has tones of not being committed, of just doing the minimum, of not being as driven as someone who does something full time. And I don't believe this to be true of me and doubt it is true of pretty much any mother I know.
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[User Picture]From: ailbhe
2008-04-19 10:38 pm (UTC)
I think that "doesn't work" is extremely damaging mainly because so many people think it's not that bad a thing to say. I'm also not convinced that stay-at-home parents are economically inactive; that's not the same thing as "unpaid" at all.

Implying that what a mother does is *nothing* is, to me, at least as offensive as saying that she isn't always a mother. But far, far more people will agree that I do nothing of value, particularly nothing of economic value, than that you are sometimes not a mother.

Of course, in the four years since Linnea was born, I have met three other SAHMs who did not intend to return to paid employment as soon as possible (one by choice, one because of a disabled child, and one because she couldn't afford childcare for twins on her salary). I've also met one mother who went from employed to SAHM (by choice). Perhaps if I was in a social circle which included more SAHMs I'd encounter fewer instances of people who genuinely believe that the work of all-day-every-day childcare is not really work.
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[User Picture]From: merryhouse
2008-04-23 08:18 pm (UTC)
My three mothering sisters all chose to stay away from their paid jobs (all considerably better than mine, too) so I've felt a fairly solid base of support there even if I don't see them very often.

I think we need to shift the emphasis to the money: "unwaged mother" (how I usually describe myself, since I realised "full-time mother" might offend) and - hm, "wage-earning mother" might allow snarky people to suggest that she's getting paid for the mothering. Anyone got any ideas?
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[User Picture]From: merryhouse
2008-04-23 08:25 pm (UTC)
"outworking" sounds a bit cumbersome.
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[User Picture]From: ailbhe
2008-04-23 08:53 pm (UTC)
I do say "unpaid" sometimes, and there's "employed."

"Full-time mother" is only what I call myself when people say "Oh, you don't work, then?
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[User Picture]From: merryhouse
2008-04-26 09:06 pm (UTC)
"employed" sounds ok till you combine it to give "employed mother" which has the same problem as "salaried mother". And neither includes all those people who work freelance or for themselves.
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[User Picture]From: ailbhe
2008-04-20 09:05 pm (UTC)
I find this hard to articulate without more spare time and sleep than I currently get but I'll try.

Saying that the work a mother does when she's at home caring for her children rather than being paid for something else is "not work" is harmful because the society we live in values people directly based on the value of their work, usually the cash value of their work, and this means the mother-as-job woman has little to no value as a person, quite apart from her merit as a mother. It also trickles down to devalue the work of mothers who also have paid jobs, but who do mother-work (as distinct from mother-being) the rest of the time. And it devalues the paid work of the people being paid to care for other people's children while they engage in paid work themselves.

That's all fine, but then there's the fact that the use of the phrase is completely normal and that it's generally accepted as a matter of *fact* and not of opinion, because it supports and is supported by so many of the other assumptions (unpaid == economically inactive, economically inactive == less valuable person, traditionally feminine roles == teh suck, etc).

I find it a lot less offensive when it's used in normal bitchy context, as the insult "part-time mother" is, when it's just being used as a conscious put-down and not casually as part of a greater structure of, um. O hai, patriarchy. Hao R U?
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[User Picture]From: radegund
2008-04-20 08:56 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Part of it, I think, is that any choice a woman makes, whether or not she's a mother, is somehow up for discussion and judgement.
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From: lcwasser
2008-05-01 08:56 am (UTC)
YES!!! (And yes, I meant to shout.)

My husband works full time. In fact, he runs his own business and works constantly. Why is no one judging him? Is he a "working father" or a "part time dad"? No one thinks to talk about what he does.

Mothers who work as mothers and also work for pay do so for a lot of reasons and none of those reasons is anyone else's business. Mothers who mother and decide not to also work for pay do so for a lot of reasons and none of those reasons are anyone else's business.

Every mother is a working mother. Some mothers also work for pay.

I worked as a mother for 27 years. Now I work as a mother and also as an English tutor. I don't apologize or rationalize my life choices. Men don't. Why should I?

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