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For Mothers With Children

August 25, 2010 2 comments
Reserved for Mothers w/Children

This is the spot next to the handicapped spot at my daughter's pediatricians office.

Today was Keni’s 1 year checkup and my loving partner who hates to park more than a stones throw from anyplace was stalking a space close to the door of Keni’s doctor office. There was an empty space next to the handicapped spaces and we thought: SCORE! As we pulled in, O’Neil reads this sign: RESERVED PARKING FOR MOTHERS WITH CHILDREN. He responded with something to the effect of “Father’s have children too. They can’t do anything about that!” As he was pulled closer, I notice a little black scribble (thank’s to my contacts that I was very happily wearing for a change!) above the words “for mothers.”

Reserved for Mother's w/Children close up
Someone scratched in “and fathers!” to the sign in what I’d like to call a protest of the feminization of parenthood. Father’s bring their children to the doctor too!

This is just another example of the feminization of parenthood. Is it implying that father’s with children cannot park in this space? Probably not, no one would fault a man with a child for parking there. What it is implying is that a father would not be taking his child to the doctor. It’s implying that only mother’s take their children to the doctor AND that they do so alone. I would reach and say it is also implies that they do so while the father is at work or doing some other “more important” business than parenting.

 
Not all parents are mothers, nor are they all fathers. Some parents are grandparents, aunts, uncles, guardians of no blood relation.. So how come it doesn’t just say “For Parents with Children” or “For Patients with Children” or “For Adult’s Accompanying Children”?
 
Why am I all worked up over one little sign at the pediatrician’s office? Because it is the collective impact of millions of small messages like this that perpetuate stereotypes that are poisonous and constricting. We have to stop feminizing parenthood. Women are not the only one’s who parent nor should they be. It is restricting to men or masculine persons who parent that parenting be considered an exclusively feminine or female responsibility. And I’m not talking about the EASY stuff: playing ball in the yard, showing up at their soccer games and handing out punishments. I’m talking about the hard stuff: dealing with a sick kid when you’re sick too, helping with homework while your cooking dinner AND doing laundry, teaching the alphabet, kissing boo-boos. You know the HARD stuff. Classifying parenting as feminine restricts someone who identifies as masculine from participating in parenting. Why shouldn’t a man rock a child to sleep or kiss a boo-boo or give reassurance and emotion support? Why are these considered feminine behaviors? Why is it assumed that only Mother’s take their children to the doctor? What are we gaining by accepting these seemingly small suggestions about the gender of parenting? What are we loosing by not challenging them? These are all questions that need to be asked. Feel free to discuss in the comments.
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Feminist Parenting Collective

I must apologize for the long delay in posting. I had a very exahsting experience preparing for and taking the LSAT in combination with some trying financial issues that have kept me from having the mental capacity or time to write a blog post. However, I’m back. I’m going to try to post more regularly again. Please. please forgive my absence. You forgive me don’t you?

I have however taken this time to jot down ideas that I have finally compiled into something that is (somewhat) coherent. After reading it please don’t hesitate to comment or ask for clarity about things. I’m all for revision and it is currently after midnight so I’m sure there is need.

Anywho, since I found out I was preggers I thought of creating a collective. At first it was a childcare collective that I was thinking of but the more research I did on feminist parenting the more I though of creating this collective statement about what 4th wave feminist parenting is. I just started to realize all of the changes necessary both in society and within the feminist movement in order to support feminist parenting and change from this idea of mothering dominating all discussions of parenting. The more I read about feminism and childrearing the more I realized that feminist literature did nothing but talk about mothers and mothering. It rarely, if ever, spoke of fathers except to critique traditional roles of the male parent. Literature was almost exclusive to parents that were heterosexual and married. There just isn’t any practical information on parenting at all. You can find a ton of “What to Expect” type parenting books (that are almost exclusively geared toward women as parents) that guide you through the various stages of your child’s life but NONE that provide similar practical knowledge from a feminist perspective.

This bothers me. How on earth is one supposed to learn how to parent as a feminist if we are only reading non-feminist how-to books? How do you perform the acts of feminist parenting? And what the heck is feminist parenting?

Well those thoughts (coupled with some experiences) led to bigger thoughts. Why can’t O’Neil get more than 2 weeks off from work to stay home with the baby? Why am I only getting paid 60% of 5 weeks pay when I was out for 9 weeks? What the hell cost $12,000 when I didn’t even have an IV!? Why is every-damn-thing in the girls department PINK?! Why do I have to pay to ask a question about proper latching (breastfeeding)? And most recently, can someone else watch this child and not charge me more than I make in a day so I can remember who the heck I am? Or, at least, so I can gain at least a bit of my sanity back?

So, it’s late and I’m tired but you can read more about my brilliant idea here. Please comment and discuss. I’m really interesting in what everyone thinks. Good night all!

Polite = I’m interested in you?

I am a polite person. I’m friendly and outgoing (most of the time), and I like to talk to people. I believe strongly in human interaction. I believe that our tendency to separate ourselves from others lends to inequality and social injustice. If you can separate yourself from others and not humanize the consequences of your actions, you allow yourself to feel free from liability or responsibility. Separation from the “others” is where marginalization begins.

So, I smile at people. You might not agree that smiling is an act of feminist activism and you have the freedom to disagree. I don’t just smile though. I say hello, make small talk, get to know people on my bus route and occasionally I stick a quarter in a meter that’s almost empty when the owner is no where in sight. I can help it! I’m a nice person.

It is inevitable though that at least once or twice a week someone will misconstrue a simply smile and “good morning” or “have a great day” to mean that I am somehow interested in that person in a sexual way.

I’ve gotten the up and down look like I’m a piece of meat for sale, kisses blown and/or lips licked at me, “hey mami” or some variation thereof, the occasional stalker that decided to got completely our of their way to make sure they see me EVERYWHERE, and of course my absolute favorite the ones that blatantly ask me if I “have a man” (and a little lower on the evolutionary chain the ones who say “what’s he go to do with me & you being friends?”).

Seriously, I’m getting afraid to smile a people, men in particular. I don’t want to make assumptions are stereotype anyone but, in general, I haven’t had this problem with women although there have been exceptions. Mostly however, members of the opposite sex tend to take my politeness as a free pass to bad behavior or as some sort of confession that I want them sexually.

I just don’t get it! It inevitably happens when I’m dressed up or have my hair down. I think as a result the norms of our sexist society most women typically expect to be looked at as a sexual object when they look nice so, although it’s still disconcerting, we aren’t really shocked. But I think what gets me the most is when it’s a day when I’m in sweats or I’m commuting home from work exhausted with my daughter and accompanying baggage in tow.

Seriously, stop subscribing to hegemonic masculinity and realize that women are not here for you personal entertainment, pleasure, or servitude. Moreover, you don’t have “conquer” every woman who smiles at you to prove you are a “man.” Politeness does NOT equal a gesture of sexual desire. Just get over your  “manhood” and leave the sexual connections out the first 30 seconds you know someone (and I’m specifically leaving this gender/sex neutral because I can’t count the times I’ve heard a man get called  “gay” for smiling at another man). Not everyone wants you and you seriously need to reevaluate yourself if you want them to?

TV for feminist kids

April 30, 2010 4 comments

Well this is a topic that definitely has many aspects to consider and it’s also been one that has been close to the top of my list of feminist concerns in parenting. There are 3 things that concern me about television: advertisements, content, and quantity.

My daughter has been watching TV since she was 6 weeks old. I really felt like she was too young for television at that age and I did attempt to limit her exposure but that is nearly impossible when we all watch TV at different times and I went back to work when she was 6 weeks old. My mother-in-law put on cartoons when I was away and Keni loved the colors and sounds. I didn’t think it was possible that she was actually aware of the television BUT turn it off while she was “watching” and she’d wale for an hour.

At that age, my biggest concern was whether I should I even let her watch television. It did give me a chance to take a break for the 10-15 minutes she’d be occupied by the TV. That little bit of pleasure I took in her being occupied while I took a baby break lead to some major confusion. I was happy to have a break but guilty for letting the electronic babysitter take over so soon. At 8 months old, Keni has regular programs that she watches and can recognize the Wonder Pets theme song if you hum it. I don’t let her watch TV all the time. I do try to read to her although she hasn’t quite obtained the ability to sit through an entire story yet and we do have TV-less play time. So as for quantity, I think I’ve settled on balance being the answer. And, if I’m having a bad day or feeling sick and I let her watch an hour more than usual, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’ll just read her 2 stories the next day or spend some extra time talking and playing with her when I’m feeling better.

Advertisements are a really big problem for me. They are bad enough in adult programming but with children I find it’s even worse. Children lack the knowledge and ability to filter this information appropriately and this is where the problem lies. I’m anti-consumerism and anti-materialism. I don’t want my kid to believe that her worth comes from what she owns. At her age, I can’t exactly explain to her that those commercials are designed to make her believe she needs that product just to turn a profit and they don’t care if their product causes your fingers to fall off or if buying it will mean you can’t eat next week. If you are interest in learning more about advertising to children a really great book is Born to Buy. This is only one of many good books on the subject out there but it’s one I’ve actually read.

One of my solutions to this had been DVRing things and fast-forwarding through the commercials. But, we can no longer afford that added expense and now just have basic cable service. Luckily NickJr and PBSKids are commercial “free.” The characters themselves are a brand and when you walk into any children’s clothing or toy store the characters are plastered all over, but at this age her clothes are coming from Goodwill and Once Upon a Child anyway so it shouldn’t make much of a difference just yet (she’s also not talking yet, BONUS!). We’ll have to revisit this when she’s a bit older.

Ah and of course the content! We can’t forget the content. As a feminist I have the added bonus of not only making sure that the program is educational and age appropriate BUT also making sure their aren’t any (or at least as few as possible) hidden (or blatant) messages about gender roles, sexism, or other social constructions that I don’t agree with. This is where things get difficult because she’s still small and I can’t really explain to her that just because Ruby says all girls can’t have a pajama party without fashion magazines & lipstick that’s not necessarily true (an where exactly are her guardians anyway?). When mother’s are always depicted with dresses and a pearl necklace like Olivia’s mom. Even the mom on Dinosaur Train has long eyelashes to prove she’s woman (because being called mom just wasn’t enough).

There is just so much to consider when deciding what is and isn’t OK for her to watch. I think what is most important is staying on top of things. I make sure I’m watching with her as much as possible and when she’s starts to understand things I’ll be right there to explain things and challenge things with her so that she can learn to do it on her own. I want her to learn not to accept everything that television (or the media in general) present to her. I want her to learn to think critically about what she’s watching. But for now, I’ll just have to settle for those that aren’t blatantly telling girls they should be be sugar and spice and everything nice.

If you are interested, here is my list of programs that I’ve OK’d for Keni to watch:

  • Wonder Pets – NickJr – Lenny, Tuck & Ming Ming are the best and I love that Lenny is female! Besides it’s Keni’s favorite show!
  • Dinosaur Train – PBSKids – Seriously, who doesn’t like dinosaurs?
  • Word World – PBSKids – great for learning letters. some gendering of the animals but not too bad
  • Olivia – NickJr – yeah her mom’s all prettied up but she also owns her own catering business. Olivia also dreams of doing things like becoming a vet or a spacewoman and likes to get dirty from time to time.
  • Wow Wow Wubzy – NickJr – the main character, Wubzy, is kind of gender neutral and Widget is a female handyperson/inventor.
  • SuperWhy – I’m up and down about this one. It really encourages reading but the fairy tales are sometimes hard to deal with as a feminist.

Yes she does watch the occasional episode of Ni Hoa, Kia Lan or Dora. But I really try to change the channel when Max & Ruby or Miffy come on. That cartoon is the bane of my feminist existence.

Please comment away. I’d love to know what your kids watch or what your thoughts are about kids, TV and feminism.

Pincer Grasp – Dealing with Anger as a Feminist

It’s high time for a practical everyday parenting post. So, I’ve had this brewing in my head for a while and I haven’t been very sure how to approach it until last night.

Kenisha is now almost 6 months old. She is still breastfeeding and, as a matter of fact, she outright refuses to drink expressed milk from a bottle. I even tried formula just to see what she would do and the result was no different. If it’s milk, it must come from the breast. Direct from the tap, no substitutions. This is fine except that occasionally, I need a break! She does eat baby food now so if I absolutely have to be away from her she doesn’t starve herself anymore. That has at least made things easier on me when I go to work on Saturday nights. As a result of my being home with her more now that I’ve had to cut my hours back, Kenisha is way more attached to me and my breasts (although the former may be a result of the latter).

Lately, Kenisha has taken to doing two things during our breastfeeding session that drive me insane. The first is biting. She doesn’t actually have any teeth yet but those gums can bring tears to my eyes. Every time she does it I howl with pain. And what does she do? She laughs! This makes me want to toss her out the window (not literally of course, if she’d bounce maybe). I’ve tried not to show any reaction so that she won’t get the satisfaction and want to do it again, but alas, it is impossible not to respond to a clamp down on your nipple. This has led to two things: 1) as you may have inferred from the window reference above, I get angry, and 2) I’m very reluctant to (and afraid of) feeding her, especially when I know she’s not real happy with me.

The second thing she’s been doing lately while breastfeeding is pinching my nipples! She has realized that if she wants to suck and she puts her lips on my breast or starts grabbing at my shirt that I’ll feed her. It’s good for me because I don’t have to guess if she’s hungry anymore since she let’s me know. But here’s the catch: she doesn’t always want to eat! Sometimes she just wants the comfort and drifts off to sleep but other times it’s a ploy to get at my nipples! She will latch on and suck as if she’s sooo innocent and then pull off and look around a bit, then at me, then at the nipple she was just sucking on. And then she does it! she takes her little thumb and forefinger and pinches my nipple. Luckily, her pincer grasp isn’t fully developed so this doesn’t hurt but sometimes she’s try to rake it and grab it in the palm of her hand. Still not as painful and the biting but it is rather annoying. I’ve obligated myself to the task of breastfeeding. It’s demanding; it’s tiring and, as illustrated above, sometimes painful. I did not agree to let this little girl fondle my nipples! I get enough of that from her father (and that’s a whole other dimension to this story).

I have demands on my body now from both my partner and my daughter. They both drive me insane and I love then about equally as much as they make me crazy (which is a whole lot).

Am I mad about all this because I’m a feminist? I struggled with that question for a while but I’ve come to realize I’m actually not as mad as I would have been had I not understood the dynamics involved in my situation. Feminism has taught me well to examine each situation and take it apart at it’s root. And while initial reactions tend to be heated and angry, I can step back and take appropriate action as a result of this knowledge. Anger is normal, our actions as a result of anger are what need to be examined. Do we perpetuate or to we imped this cycle of inappropriate and hurtful reactions?

Stay At Home Feminist – Forced Division of Labor Along Gender/Sex Line

February 1, 2010 2 comments

In an effort to get my January post out actually in January (I only have 8 minutes left) here’s a bit about what I’ve been struggling with recently. It really gives some perspective to the struggle taken on by feminist activists. I had mentioned in my October 31, 2009 post Feminist Mother Struggles – Part 1 that I would be discussing the forced division of household labor due to economics and how the Second Shift is often more like the third or fourth shift. Well, now is a prime time for that post. This will also touch a bit on the “working mother” versus “stay at home mother” debate. Although I won’t really argue for or against, I will give my personal perspective to do with what you will.

My partner works 2 jobs. His part-time job is from 4:30am-1:30pm and his full-time job is from 3pm-11pm. He only works his part-time about 2 or 3 days a week (sometimes not at all depending on what the capitalist management decides is in the best interest of the owners money) and his full-time is usually 5 days a week (with the occasional 4 day work week for the same reasons as his part-time). He also does some catering with a friend of his. The catering is not steady but they do get some work a few times a year and they are usually pretty big jobs that require quite a bit of time. He schedules this in between the other two jobs. So, in short, he’s a very hardworking person and understandably tired. I might also add that cooking is his career, not, just a job that pays the bills (trust me it barely does even that).

I graduated in August and have not been able to find gainful employment in my field and have continued to wait tables. I had a second job tutoring until May but I no longer tutor because it was student work. I attempted a new second job in retail (see this post) but the pay was less than what I would have to pay someone to watch my daughter on the off hours that I would be scheduled. I normally work mostly lunch shifts on the mornings he doesn’t work his part-time so that my partner is home and we trade off watching the baby when he goes to his full-time job at three. Usually, we need someone to watch her for the hour of overlap time between me leaving work and him leaving home or he will ask for a later schedule and work 4-11pm.

Recently, he has been getting his schedule for his first job later and later in the week and getting scheduled more heavily (3 shifts). My schedule is released on Thursdays; his has been Friday or later. See the conflict? I can’t schedule off or find shift coverage if I don’t know when he’s working before my schedule is released. Normally, if he is working in the morning, I’d be off so that I can be home with the baby. Also, my occasional sitter can’t sit for me anymore and we had a nice barter system going: childcare in exchange for cooking dinner. As a result of this recent childcare fiasco, I am know about 95% “stay-at-home mom.” I cut my schedule back to 1 scheduled shift a week and I will occasionally pick up a shift when schedules allow. It was either this or get fired for calling out 2-3 times a week.

This decision was not made lightly. We discussed and discussed any other viable option. The problem was there really weren’t any. I would have had to pay most (more some weeks) than I was making for childcare. I cannot (and truthfully don’t want to) put her in daycare not just because of financial but because the restaurant business is not 9-5 as the centers cater to.

Now, I am, for the most part, in the traditional gender role for my sex. I cook, clean and take care of the baby. Yes, I’m still prepping for law school but only at stolen moments while the baby is sleeping (like this one). I haven’t been able to really study for the LSAT in weeks and I’m mostly just preparing application material and contacting potential recommenders. I thank God for email working at all hours of the night and day or this wouldn’t be possible. This is driving me insane.

Let me begin by saying this: This situation was completely forced by finances. My partner didn’t ask me to stay at home. His paycheck is the biggest and therefore the most important. I am thankful that I am just waiting tables and it is possible for me to hang on to one shift for my sanity’s sake. I hate my job so I really don’t miss it, just the sense of self-reliance it gave me. Had this break not been about finances and been about me preparing for law school, it would have been welcome but without the money to occasionally have someone else watch my daughter while I study this is just not the case.

Now, I am beginning to feel suffocated. I know in my heart that my partner does not believe that a woman’s place in the home but lately it is hard to remember. Past experiences with men who to feel this way and demand that “their woman” take care of home has cause many a knee jerk reaction to a completely benign question. For example:

Him: I thought you were going to wash clothes today?
Me: I was, but I didn’t. I did something else today. I worked on some law school stuff while the baby napped.  What’s the problem?
Him: Nothing! I was just asking!?

Let me explain. I did say I was going to wash clothes. He needed something that was in the hamper to wear to work. I didn’t realize this or, maybe I did and I forgot because I got wrapped up in what I was doing. He was smack in the middle of a 3 day stint of working both jobs. He doesn’t have time nor energy to do laundry while he’s home. He really didn’t mean it the way I took it initially but nonetheless my reaction was based on prior experiences. I won’t say that he doesn’t occasionally just wait around for me to do laundry. He does. Quite frankly he sucks at doing laundry and I prefer to do it myself. I could use a little help with the ironing but I don’t generally do any mopping, vacuuming or scrubbing so I think we’re even. We share the cooking. Unless, he is just working too much to have time or is just too tired from constantly cooking at work.

So, he can’t really share in Hoschild’s “Second Shift.” He’s really just too busy with trying to support us not because he wants to but because he has to. Coming home after work to take care of the baby is more like a 3rd shift to him. As a kidney transplant recipient, he’s really not supposed to be killing himself working this way but with no other options we don’t have any other choice. I worry about him and I respect and appreciate all that he does. He sacrifices a lot to do what he’s doing, even time with his kids which is something I know he values and wishes he had more of.

The feminist analysis:

What caused this?

A few things: a broken capitalist economy, an invisible working class, men’s labor being valued more than womens, the job market. I could probably name more.

We fall into a category that is in the crack between poverty and middle class. We are working class. Our income is just above the poverty line used to determine eligibility for government assistance and therefore are left to fin for ourselves. I do take responsibility for some of this though. We bought into the capitalist idea of credit as a legitimate option for purchases. We have a car loan, credit cards, medical bills, student loans… way more than we can afford to pay in our current situation. We have depleted our savings trying to stay afloat. But really, how are we supposed to know any other way of living in a society and economy that is so heavily reliant on consumer debt and is so classist that we are taught to want more, more, more than we can actually pay for. It’s not just the wants that get you into debt. Gaps in medical coverage have left us with a stack of bills as well as the incredible cost of higher education.

And, why the hell is the poverty line so damn low! Seriously, I think we should have the people who decide these things try to live off of the money they set the limits at.

How do we change this?

Well, activism is a big one. We feminists know that much. Most of us live and breath it. I also think that we need to teach our children to avoid consumer debt and the capitalist trap (you knew I had to tie this into feminist parenting practices, right?). We should teach our children the art of simple living and to avoid materialism, particularly when excess is going to cause unnecessary financial burdens. Of course, that means we must also follow the same principles. We must also advocate on a larger level for society to look in the cracks. To acknowledge we exists is at least a start. Dare I say we do something as a society to prevent people/families from falling in the cracks. Or worse! How about we stop everything below the crack from falling off completely. How radical and idea! Uh oh, someone might call me a socialist… if I’m lucky 😀

FYI: Technically it is not January anymore. It is 7:53am on 2/1/10 but I started the post before midnight and the baby woke up so I finished this morning while she slept. She’s awake now so I better be off. Comment away!