Archive for January, 2012

A feminist dilemma

January 31, 2012

I suppose I should preempt this by acknowledging that I am a) white; b) relatively middle class; and c) living in a wealthy western democracy. These things combined afford me a degree of privilege which make it difficult in many ways to tolerate my grievances, let alone attend to them. On a macro scale my gripes are feeble. On a micro scale, however, they emerge and are dealt with daily and can be all-consuming.

A profound dilemma which many people face in the course of their lives is how to reconcile a philosophy on life with the practice of living: the art of practicing what one preaches. As someone whose feminism – underpinned by humanist leanings – seemed inherent, I had never critically examined my life choices and behaviour. I marched in Reclaim the Night marches, I supported girlfriends through abortions, I studied and argued passionately about media representations of women, I lived and worked independently, and I could change a car tyre. It all just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Nothing up until that point had challenged my philosophical motivations and actions.

And then I got married and had kids.

Becoming a wife and mother challenged my hitherto taken for granted feminism. The most profound threat came when I made the decision to quit work shortly after the birth of my third son. For me, working and raising three young boys at the same time just wasn’t compatible. It was an enormous step for me to leave my job, not because it meant a lot to me, but because I had assumed up until that point that, as a feminist, my “job” was to do it all – to prove to the world that women can have babies and careers at the same time. This was the feminist message I had somehow absorbed and interpreted along the way and to go against it seemed traitorous. My feelings of failure at having struggled with – and ultimately succumbed to – the pressures of working and having children were the product of my catastrophic (mis)interpretation of the feminist message.

A complete re-examination and fundamental overhaul of my concept of feminism has followed. I have adjusted to life as an “SAHM*” living and raising children in what today could be described as a 1950s paradigm, wherein I do 99% of the child-rearing and household labour whilst my husband is the primary financial contributor. This system works for us. We are genuinely happier and less stressed and the boys have responded positively to having me as their full-time primary care-giver. But my new dilemma is one which again strikes at the core of my understanding of what it means to be feminist and live according to this ethos: has my decision to revert to this 1950s inspired model of family life been consciously and deliberately chosen, therefore celebrating and embodying the notion of “choice” advocated by a feminist ideal, OR, in this revision, am I enabling and perpetuating patriarchal norms thereby living contrary to a truly feminist imperative?

Can you be a feminist AND be an “SAHM” or are the two mutually exclusive?

* Seriously, I hate this acronym and the phrase it represents but am using it for the sake of simplicity and because I don’t know a better alternative.


There’s something happening here

January 10, 2012

The last six months of 2011 saw something interesting, and for me a bit disturbing, start to emerge amongst my son’s peers at school. My son would come home complaining that some of his mates had stopped playing sport at lunch time and had instead become obsessed with a girl, with several of the boys bragging that they had kissed her and were “married” to her. This seemed to be behaviour on a level considerably above the “mothers and fathers” games I was familiar with. My son is in grade 1 and for me it was a shock to hear that boys of 6 and 7 were boasting about having kissed a girl and having a girlfriend. What I was most concerned about though was whether this girl wanted this attention, and I discussed this with my son. Did she say it was ok for the boys to talk about her in this way? Did she really encourage this attention or did the boys misinterpret her playful playground actions as flirtation? Can 6 and 7 year old boys make this distinction anyway? Do they actually know what flirtation is? I spoke to a couple of the mums of the boys involved to gauge what their thoughts were – did they think it appropriate that their sons were bragging about their immature affections to their grade 1 peers? The mums admitted to being surprised that this sort of thing was happening at such a young age, but conceded that this was “how it is these days”. Apparently everything is happening earlier. It seems boys in the playground are interpreting playful messages from girls as flirtatious and responding with behaviour modelled on whatever influences they have encountered. This usually means kissing, talking about marriage and even, at 6 and 7, discussing sex. Perhaps I’m naive. Most parents are. But something about this really bothers me. Why are boys this young seeing girls through this lens? Has it got something to do with this? As parents shouldn’t we try and discourage this sort of interaction for a few years until our kids are mature enough to know what messages they are sending/receiving? My son still wants to play sport at lunch time so it was easy for me to encourage him to continue doing this, with the knowledge that relationships and “all that stuff” can happen later. In the mean time, I want him to know that it is never ok to give someone unwanted attention, especially when this involves kissing, touching and so on. I only hope that the mothers of the aforementioned boys have had the same conversation, lest they grow up assuming that a girl wanting to sit next to them is “asking for” much more. We are raising the men of tomorrow. Education on the appropriate way to relate to women needs to happen in the playground, and yes, even for boys as young as 6.

We all feel the same way sometimes

January 7, 2012

It is such a boring drag being self absorbed, so in an attempt to snap out of it, when feeling panicky and paranoid or pissed off and petulant, remind yourself that someone else, possibly lots of people, feel and do exactly the same. Several occasions where this is an important mantra spring to mind:

  • At any sort of function where you have no idea where you are supposed to go or what you are supposed to be doing. Even if everyone else there appears to be calm and controlled, at least one of them is freaking out in exactly the same way as you. Try and spot them. It makes for a fun game.
  • While waiting for someone. What’s the big deal? So you are standing by yourself awkwardly near the toilets. Obviously you are waiting for someone. Stop fidgeting with your hands and get over it.
  • You let your child get sunburn. You are not negligent. Don’t hate yourself. It happens. In the meantime, hopefully some genius will find a vaccine for skin cancer.
  • You lose it with your kids at bedtime. Yes, it’s irrational. Does it really matter if your kids aren’t in bed by 6/7/8/9pm exactly every single night and you miss the final episode of Survivor? After you have shouted “We are not going swimming tomorrow!” for the third time and you finally collapse on the sofa defeated and ashamed, it helps to know that thousands of parents have felt and continue to feel exactly the same way. Tomorrow is a new day.
  • Being hopelessly insensitive and not knowing what to say. Ok, some people seem to never experience this and handle awkward emotional situations skillfully and with immeasurable tact. Then there are the rest of us who can only offer a weak hand on the knee or cliched “I’m so sorry” remark. You either have it or don’t. Lots of people don’t, so take comfort in this.
  • When fuming at how badly organised a children’s function or activity is. Yes, join the chorus of “We could do this so much better”. Really? Why aren’t you then?
  • When the wave of guilt washes over you as you catch yourself whinging about something trivial when actually everything in your life is pretty great and you should be grateful. You know you should be grateful, and 99% of the time you are. A little whinge isn’t going to undermine that. We all do it and you are forgiven.
  • You have forgotten the birthdays of all of your best friends’ children. Do they know your child’s birthday? If they do, it might help to keep a diary.
  • Picking your nose in the car. Look around you the next time you are driving and count how many people are openly and actively at it. Dozens. Relax. Join the club.

We’re all humans. Variations of the same species. Chances are there is someone, somewhere, who has thought, felt and done exactly the same as you. There is no shame in being unoriginal, in fact it’s comforting. It is possible to be unique and ordinary at the same time – it is the differentiating between the two that is important. Celebrate the unique and don’t sweat over the ordinary.