Launch Dates! Plus I Made a Video: Hello and Thanks

2016-08-31

I did a video.

A little “hello” and a big “thanks” for your support and solidarity.

#MothersOfTheWorldUnite #Purplestockings

Some launch events: More dates to follow, but here are some for your diary.

Friday 23 September: Daytime and evening events in Sevenoaks – venues to be confirmed. Daytime: kids and play; Evening: WINE!

Saturday 24 September: Workshop at Labour Conference Fringe

Monday 26 September: Speaking at ‘The Future of Work’ panel at the Fringe

Saturday 1 October: Stall at Women’s Voices Conference

Saturday 22 October: Evening signing and reading at Calder Bookshop at Waterloo

Thursday 17 November: Speaking at Mothers at Home Matter Conference

If you don’t think you can make an event to get a signed copy direct from me, then do feel free to pre-order from Womancraft.

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Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement – Due Date, 23 September 2016.

So here’s the video. Enjoy!

Calling Londonish Friends and Supporters – Fancy Coming to a Launch?

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Friends and supporters in or around London show your hands! And please share this post to get your friends/family on board and along too!

I’m thinking of holding a book signing at a fab bookshop in Waterloo with wine and a little reading from the book. Looking at a Friday or Saturday evening in October.

You will be getting a signed copy of the book, some wine and some nibbles and the chance to basically rock the purplestockings look if you like – I will be! If you would like to show your hand by commenting or PM I can get a good idea of numbers! Who’s in?

If you live elsewhere in the country and would like an event – eg South Coast, North of Watford, etc, please do let me know and I will try my best to get there too!

I will be creating the London event once I get over the fear of being all alone in a basement in Southwark with just 10 bottles of wine to keep me company…! *Page Fright Strikes Again*

Sevenoaks friends, family and supporters, ‘save the date’ of the official launch date of 23 September for a daytime event for little ones and an evening event with wine….. and let me know if you will be there so I can make sure I have enough copies to go round! I’ll set up a separate event for 23 September x

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Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, Due Date 23 September from http://www.womancraftpublishing.com/liberating-motherhood.html

#NotAllWomen #NotAllMothers

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The due date for the book is 23 September – it is available for pre-order here!

Here is your third extract from Liberating Motherhood.

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THIRD EXTRACT FROM INTRODUCTION: A MOTHER’S STOCKINGS

#NOTALLWOMEN #NOTALLMOTHERS

         It’s important we get a few things clear, before we continue.

        First off: not all women need be mothers. Not all mothers need care for their children either full or part-time. Not all mothers should be forced out to work in the labour force. No two mothers are the same. Some will relate to what I write, others will not. While I speak of mothers as a class, I do not suggest that mothers are some kind of homogenous mass with identical needs, values, ambitions, personality or talents. That is, actually, my very point: a feminism and a politics which assume we are all itching to delegate care of our children fails us. Nor do I mean any offence or insult to women who, for whatever reason, cannot have children. We know that many women feel a loss for not being able to have children. We can and must support, empathise with, and respect them in their own journey. Consideration and respect must go, too, to those women who choose not to have children: they are not lesser women — although they may be rebels against patriarchy and as such have received some almighty flack over the years. They are entitled to respect and understanding for their decision. Although only women bear children, it does not follow that only real women bear children. #WomenOfTheWorldUnite

          Such subversive ideas! My goodness, it’s almost as though I have just said that women should be respected in their diversity! A woman’s place must be wherever she wants to be, and where it suits her and her family. Not just the capitalist state. And not just patriarchal heteronormative* standards (you know, that world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation). After all, many women become mothers before or within same-sex partnerships, or become a lone parent out of choice or compulsion. A fundamental part of a humane feminism and society is that women’s choices, loves, lives and personal relationships are a matter for her, and her alone. She should be entitled to respect and support, no matter the set-up, her sexuality, her marriage status, her class, her colour and more besides. We have to shed ideas about ‘deviant mothers’ and recognise that a woman must be empowered to mother without a man, if that is her wish and her choice, or not to be a mother at all. A ‘conservative family values’ approach to children and mothers is not what this is about. It is about a motherhood in which we are free from stereotype and discrimination. It is about valuing care and valuing mothers: we needn’t have chains to a man to be deserving of this fundamental right.

          Second: yes, yes, being a mother does not define us. But it’s the elephant in the birthing suite. We cannot ignore it any longer. The treatment of mothers politically is predicated on continuous workplace participation to the detriment of many women, children and their families. A mother who wants to stay home with her babies and toddlers might well want to share the care down the line, to reflect the differing needs of the children at different stages of their development. Yet there is no recognition of this in public policy and economics or in society at large. Many would wish to have a chance of exercising choice about how to set up family life. If family life and the work of care and nurture were to be valued, elevated and respected (as well as funded, for the job is an important one which somebody’s got to do) then we would be on our way to a fairer society, a more feminist society and one which stops worshipping the dollar as though we can take it with us.

         Third: mother does not equal victim. There are many, many, families that, during a particular stage of life, would like the mother to take time out of the workforce to care for her children. This is not the same as saying she is, or should be, destined to ‘domesticity’ or ‘housewifery’ for the rest. of.her.life. Women tend not to have a baby every two years for fifteen years, nowadays. Thanks to feminism, we have moved beyond the bogus love affair with the twin tub and twin sets. It is simply recognising that, at a particular time in her life’s journey, she is on a different track (not the mommy track), doing caring family work instead of employed or professional work.

         At heart, the reproductive effect on the division of labour and discrimination against women in the workplace has little, in reality, to do with the few years a mother might want to take out of the labour force. It is about misogyny and sexism against women; it is about the refusal of the economic system to reform the workplace to recognise that women and men have lives and family outside of the workplace; and it is as much to do with our refusal to value the work a mother has done and the skills she can bring back with her when she does. It is centrally about our workplaces failing to honour the family responsibilities of mothers and fathers. It is about “the maternal wall”: the penalties mothers who want to do market-work face by reason of the care which it is presumed falls to them.

          Fourth: who do I mean by mothers? There are extensive nuances in feminist debate when it comes to motherhood, birth and reproductive creation. I nod to the intense emotions which can arise in this field (and if we think they are intense in this introduction, wait till we start talking lactation). Some women do not give birth at all, out of choice, frustration or inability. My focus, for example, on biological mothers in some chapters does not suggest that an adoptive mother is not a mother, or is less of a mother. Whilst I speak of birth, I do not neglect the fact that one can become a mother by adoption. By choosing to love a child, to mother that person, and to raise that being as their own flesh and blood. To become a mother is such a precious thing that the very fact that women desperately seek to become one (whether biologically or adoptively) is testament to its importance. Its status. Its worth. To choose to become a mother to a child already born takes commitment. Nothing I say in this book takes away from the bond an adoptive mother has with her children.

         Fifth: just as not all mothers are primary carers of their children, not all carers are women and not all carers are mothers. I recognise this at the outset because it is important for our culture and socio-economic systems to start to value care and carers. This is so whether the carers are men or women, whether parents or paid professionals, or other relatives, such as grandparents or even children. Indeed, in the UK, there is a significant number of children who care for their parents or siblings. It is important. When I argue for valuing care it is with all carers — of the young, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, and the dying — in mind. That said, I write from a mother’s perspective and as a mother, to add to the wider debate about care and the need for feminism to recognise that many mothers want to care for their children for the time and balance of their choosing.

          During the writing of this book I corresponded with academic and economist Nancy Folbre, whom I much admire. She told me that she focuses on care, not on mothering, “because I think care is a bigger, broader, more inclusive issue. Also, my experience in the US (which is a very different political and cultural environment than the UK) is that many men who are active fathers or elder caregivers feel like a ‘mother mother mother’ emphasis reinforces traditional gender roles. Adding an occasional sentence or phrase acknowledging men doesn’t necessarily solve this problem”. I understand and respect Folbre’s perspective. I would like to see the work of more men in this area, to champion the need for care, such as the Payday Men’s Network in the US, with a view to collaboration and partnership for the need to value care. I agree, as a feminist, that we have to challenge gender stereotypes and expectations, including embracing the fact that many fathers do and want to provide loving, responsive care. However, as Folbre knows, I personally focus on mothers. I do so because it is increasingly rare for mothers to feel able or entitled to speak our name. With that comes increasing difficulty in advocating for our rights and needs. That is a feminist issue: the naming of women; the naming of mothers.

         Sixth: Women are often policed in our views or our language. It is a traditional and effective way to silence women. So I say at the outset that I make no apology for framing the book and terminology in the way I do, from the issues of love and care, to feminism and patriarchy, and from capitalism to social justice. To the issue of mothers and children, many people bring their own insecurities. Yet you will neither find judgement of other mothers nor suggestions that to be a ‘good mother’ requires being a primary carer. You will find no suggestion that mothers who do not care for their children full-time, doing the care-work, do not care about them. There is physical care-work; and then there is emotional labour and caring about our families. The sensitivities of those who might take umbrage at the cheek of a woman daring to talk about maternal care do rather demonstrate my point that mothers face significant barriers before them in seeking to discuss or promote their rights and needs.

         And, finally, I speak about mothers and our reproductive bodies because the majority of the female population will become mothers at some point in their lives. It is not insignificant. I am speaking for and to women who want to care for their children or who cannot do so because their role as mother and the work of care are insufficiently valued. They may even fear to speak about their female bodies, given that talking about biology can be surprisingly contentious in the era of identity politics. What I see is that many women who are mothers are not being heard or respected. And so I focus on them. In sisterhood. In motherhood.

         So on every count: #NotAllWomen #NotAllMothers. Let’s march onwards, shall we? #Purplestockings

* If this term is new to you, you will find a short definition in the glossary. Just think: Me Tarzan, You Jane, as the law of the jungle.

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Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement: Due Date 23 September 2016.

Available for pre-order here: http://www.womancraftpublishing.com/liberating-motherhood.html.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anna-stina/5775598006/in/photolist-acdErt-agBGq8-agEtVy-agBF3T-agBG18-cj65nL-B1xAoJ-5NEFJF-bjtk9t-aU2YoR-bFf7ne-c21Rv3-bC2YC1-9hGoKs-nGiTRf-5Mbtqz-5K6tuk-aemZci-aemZTe-aepNef-etxa8g-etAkrG-JeVEtB-f8Zyqa-bjtk4H-JKqXSu-a2maiC-7DNX3j-abZSZ8-cDsm5s-HJU4Rz-ddy7HS-6YusEc-agEuLW-jU1EJx-9Nns4Y-sWKRJ4-cY51fs-dY5UB6-d7ppqy-vnEJib-5NnQpH-co2FLG-8hMYAK-5DwbxU-eTnkuY-4c1qFM-AfsHy9-vnuAJ-HGr7mG

It’s Not the ‘Gender Pay Gap’ – It’s the Maternal Income Gap

14552370271_35951d5f37_oIn the news this week: discrimination in pay hits women when they have children and continues for years. Newsflash: most of us knew this already, whether through bitter personal experience or whatever.

However, the focus on the ‘pay gap’ (it features highly in feminist politics) can often feel like a misdirection. If we are talking about the imbalance in the way in which women are treated in, and the value placed on, the work we do, we could look no further than the crucial work of care. When we take that in, an even more skewed picture emerges – one that shows that women are economically penalised for having babies whether we remain in or leave the paid economy. This is a fundamentally feminist issue.

With this in mind, something I discuss in Liberating Motherhood is the need for a rethink of this issue to include not just ‘the pay gap’ but the ‘income gap’ for women. After all, there are many women who continue to work after having children – we have simply become unwaged, unvalued carers in the second, core economy or we work jobs with the second shift on top. Many of us desperately want to care for our children but this ‘income gap’ prevents us from doing so – forcing us out into the workplace; many others are caring for our children happily but struggling by financially in order to do it.

I also agree with Marie Peacock of Mothers at Home Matter who points out the fact that care-work is not only necessary but is important for the future well being of our societies: “It’s time to end all discrimination against caregivers who simply can’t be available for long hours when there are plenty of vital jobs waiting at home. These jobs, albeit invisible and unpaid, are absolutely vital to a well -functioning, healthy society.”

See here for a letter I wrote to The Guardian on the issue:

“…. We have to find ways to ensure that mothers are not penalised in their job, pay and conditions. A restructured economy and workplace, which does not expect “ideal worker” performance, is long overdue – men have to show up at home, not just at work. But the counterpoint to this has to be that we ensure that mothers are not also marginalised when they take time out of the paid workforce. Basic income and the abolition of the family tax penalty in single-earner families would go some way to reduce the income gap for carers. The truth is that it is not a gender pay gap but a maternal income gap. It is not discrimination against women but against mothers.”

P.S. I like this picture attached to this post – the message it speaks to me is ‘what value to place on Care with a capital C’.

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Liberating Motherhood out 23 September 2016 from Womancraft Publishing. Available for pre-order now at http://www.womancraftpublishing.com/liberating-motherhood.html.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/richardstep/14552370271/in/photolist-oaWGFH-oaWF6Z-3kPFoD-FYQFwc-nTLy5X-B7ut1R-5VJSG1-C89e7i-5tvKmR-22zA2-AyUJMh-97ouDC-75vTqH-8Ffpg9-2z5GC3-6d63ox-atkEf8-cwHaMW-8YcKUs-qZXy55-7gKG7i-bxDiow-cts98w-8x3yQM-2xWuqP-tV5Shu-cqp5LN-rpQWxU-ozkvcc-cts7HA-Bd1f7e-d983XA-e8npxV-KodUxZ-4xZf1a-dnQsVk-rd5BY-cts9uh-e2B8AQ-e8niFz-e8t4py-BLwgQt-KPc4j-476f23-JXpn5r-C38wX-DrnRik-5X9KC8-BDeaSt-Dxhkih

A Mother’s-Eye View

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The due date for the book is 23 September – it is available for pre-order here!

Here is your second extract from Liberating Motherhood.

 

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SECOND EXTRACT FROM INTRODUCTION: A MOTHER’S STOCKINGS

WHERE ARE WE NOW? A MOTHER’S-EYE VIEW

          Women have been freed of the expectation of domestic subservience by dint of their sex. Hurray! Put that feather duster down with pride! Yes, things have changed. A bit. Feminism has achievements to be found here and there: we can now talk about sexism as well as experience it; we can demand access to careers or jobs yet are also practically obliged to check in; we can talk about pay gaps in the over-forties without creatively finding ways of rebalancing the books or reframing the debate to talk ‘income’ rather than ‘pay’; and we can still argue amongst ourselves about what to do to improve the lives of girls and women around the world. We now know we can be educated alongside men. At least, in Western culture we can. In some regions it can earn a girl a bullet to the head. We know we can enter the professions, but have to fend off sleaze in professional social networks. We have the vote, just no party that represents us. We know we can secure a safe abortion, sometimes, if we are not shot outside Planned Parenthood or living in a Catholic country. We can demand equal pay, and perhaps get it so long as we behave as an unencumbered economic male with no care responsibilities and with limitless enthusiasm for overtime. But when you become a mother it becomes clear how little freedom you really have.

          Where once I was a feminist, I am now a Feminist with a capital F, since becoming a mother. It became vivid and real to me just how women are devalued when they dare to connect to their female body and power. If feminism is for the rights of women but does not reflect or fully support the rights of a woman as a mother, then it’s letting women down. It is failing to see a huge part of the picture. We are buying tickets for the main show but leaving after the compère. It is not enough to talk work/life balance, childcare, sharing care, flexible working or the pay gap. Everyday Sexism is the tip of the iceberg. If our culture remains misogynistic and premised on patriarchal economics, mothers will have to play by the rules they didn’t write and which fail and exploit them. Sisters, our right to care for our children without sacrificing full citizenship or financial safety is a right yet to be won.

          One could argue that childhood is a recent invention, that parents today invest more time and emotional energy in their children than previous generations, and that our parents and their parents and beyond turned out alright. But we could open our eyes and ears and see a history littered with war, with domestic violence, rape and murder, with neglect and abuse of children, with poverty, with adults with the emotional range of a gnat, with misery and with conflict. We could open our eyes and see patriarchal history, replete with domination and Empire and the oppression of women. We could hope for better for our children. Surely that comes with a greater need for humanity, love and care. Without it, our human futures are going to be pretty miserable.

          So, sisters, feminism must embrace mothers if it is to embrace women. After all, the old feminist phrase got it only half right: the personal is indeed political. But so is the maternal. It sometimes seems that [as Anne Roiphe wrote in Fruitful] “at the place where feminism and motherhood intersect the fires still burn”. Yet, the rights and needs of mothers are a necessary and central force in feminism, if feminism is going to serve women and our humanity and lead to necessary and fundamental social and economic change. It is time for a progressive new movement of women: an energised, humanist, maternal feminism. One which puts humanity at the heart, and remembers to call mum — because, for years, feminists have fought to free women from motherhood … but we are still having to fight to free motherhood itself. For the benefit of mothers and society as a whole. Because [recalling Adrienne Rich in Of Woman Born] we are all born to a mother: every human being was grown inside a mother’s body. It is a universal shared experience within our humanity. As Patrice DiQuinzio writes, “being a mother and being mothered are both imbued with tremendous social, cultural, political, economic, psychological, and personal significance”.

         The problem in the twenty-first century is that our perspective as a class — women — has fundamentally changed. We are unaffected by maternity for longer than our ancestors ever were. So by the time the mother problem becomes our problem, we’re so mired in it that any action we can agitate for is too little, too late. For us. The average age for first-time mothers in the West is increasing. It is now into our thirties. What does that mean, in reality? It means feminism is becoming remote from mothering. Becoming a mother later in life brings with it a greater sense of shell shock: we have lived a large proportion of our lives as autonomous, relatively carefree, adults of a ‘post-domestic’ age. We taste economic autonomy, we live equality. Then a baby comes and screws it all up.

          We have had, what, thirty-plus years of child-free feminism to live and preach. No room for nappies. No room for thinking about ‘non-economic’ contributions to society. No room for remembering that while a woman can do anything a man can do, there are three big things a woman can do that a man can’t: create life, give birth, and breastfeed. We need to proclaim that power rather than be ashamed. We have internalised the message that we do not matter and that these things are inconsequential, or make us weaker, or are things to be ‘offed’. We live identity not bodily reality; our experiences may well be ethereally gender-neutral until a human being makes his way down our vagina and attaches to our breast, covering us in amniotic fluid and connecting us with the life-creating and birthing process of generations of women before us. We have sneered at work (breastfeeding) when it is something only a woman can do, disqualifying it from the very definition of ‘work’ (tell that to those of us who are doing it 24/7 for months on end), seeing formula milk as liberation. We devalue work (child-rearing) when it is work traditionally done by women. We have failed to protect and support mothers or value women’s life-creating power and life-sustaining work. Sisters, we must demand greater support and flexibility for that — not simply the liberation from it.

          As Daphne de Marneffe observes, “every woman’s feminism is a love letter to her mother.” Indeed, in modern feminism, ‘mothers’ feature (especially for the younger and child-free variety) often only in relation to our own mother, to be dreaded, hated, adored or feared. Those who are not mothers, or not yet mothers, do not need to address their minds to what it means, and what the variety of needs might be for those women who have children. There is a lack of solidarity, of common ground and respect, within feminism in the twenty-first century. So, the sister lives the dream, albeit within a sexist society which pretends the feminist fight is won. She fights the battle on the feminist front but leaves mothers in the trenches. Because the thing is, she is not, contrary to her noble ideals, Everywoman. She is not her sister, her cousin, her mother. Women are diverse: the concerns of women vary according to our experience, our class, our race, and more. Her concerns and activism can never speak for all women. Add race, sex, sexuality, disability and education and other factors to the mix and you have an intersectional soup of needs, desires and struggles. And the most infuriating part of it is that it is usually only the Feminist the Younger, or Dissatisfied-with-Mothering-Woman or Capitalist-Woman or Journalist-cum-Politician who is heard, lauded, respected, published, elected and heeded.

          The reality is that many women dream of a life where they could be free from the chains of bondage to the workplace, even for a short time, and retain standing and economic security. Many women who are well-educated and working in the professions might well, at one point, sit down and think, “That’s it, I’ve had it, there is more to life than this”. Traditional feminist thought implies that women are put down and kept down by reason of patriarchy and their sex. As much as I agree with that one, its brother, capitalism, has its fingers in mum’s apple pie and is the Iago in the ear of feminist politics. And it whispers “work till you drop”.

          Yes, it is an uncomfortable fact for many, inconvenient but nevertheless true, that women can, and do, bear and breastfeed children. As many families will know, sometimes — if not often — only mummy will do. Like I said, inconvenient. But ask a hundred mothers who their baby cries for, who their toddler cries for, who their preschooler cries for. Even a grown man dying on the battle field whispers, in his last breath, for “mother”. We lived in her. She is not insignificant. This is not to say that sex is destiny. Feminism has been there, and done that. But somewhere along the line, the rightful protest that we are more than mothers and more than our wombs has led to a failure to remember that we are, still, mothers. We can dissect ‘sociological this’, and rebut ‘anthropological that’, but as human beings we have evolved, and I want to believe that we have evolved for decency, responsibility, joy and love. Mothers remain an important part of that outlook, and it has to have a feminist lens. Maternal feminism in purple stockings, reminding the world to remember the need for love and humanity, and which places mothers at the heart, rather than in the margins.

          The political and economic system must start to reflect this reality and the reality of what many, many women want: to have their work as mothers respected, valued and supported. For their return to employment to be of a time of their genuine choosing, rather than compulsion. We have a long lifespan. With that in mind, we can do better than forced workforce participation for our entire adult lives. For the set-up of a mother’s employment to be based on her wishes and her family’s needs, including flexible or home-working and greater opportunities for fathers to work flexibly and take dependency leave. For a mother’s choice (if that is what she decides) to shun employment but to run the home and care for the children instead, to be supported and for socio-economic policies finally to cut mother-women some slack. We talk about choice. We look at careers. We look at education. We look at employment rights. We look at maternity and paternity rights. We encourage the separation of mothers from their babies, toddler and preschool children. We deride women who stay at home when their children are at school. The only choice we are supposed to make is: combine motherhood with employment outside of the home. There is no other way. No other framework within which to protect mothers’ interests (for example, state stipends, a carer’s income, universal basic income, readjusted pay on return to the workforce to allow for the time out, funding for retraining, investment in community projects and services for the family at home) is tolerated or explored. Choice? What choice?

MY JOURNEY

          I was a woman: a professional. Then I became a mother. And things changed. I found myself needing to communicate with other mothers about what is going on in our culture. I couldn’t be the only one, surely, who winced every time mothers at home mentioned that they ‘didn’t work’. The implication being that we are doing nothing. We know this is unfair and untrue: I know it now and I knew it when I hadn’t slept for more than a two-hour stretch, had kept a baby alive and growing on my milk alone, whilst managing to keep a toddler happy, fed and safe, preparing three meals a day, and two loads of laundry before every.other.thing.I.had.done. I knew I couldn’t be alone in wondering why the work of mothers is seen as a lifestyle choice equivalent to keeping poodles. [A concept explored by Nancy Folbre – children are not pets].

          I started my activist and writing career in the snatched moments between a toddler at the breast, tantrum calming, sibling negotiations, moment-to-moment care, reading, phonics, baking, loving, with a particular agenda: to discuss, in a professional manner, The Politics of Mothering. That was the name of the 2015 political pamphlet I wrote, taken from a chapter of a first draft of this book. It was well-researched yet careful. In it I was to remain cautious, fearful of appearing judgemental, worried about offending anyone, and astute to use acceptable English prose at all times. After all, I had been schooled in the law, tutored in decorum and raised as a female — to know my place.

          However, humble and polite requests only get you so far. I researched the issues, talked to varied groups of activists, campaigners, feminists, academics, psychotherapists, volunteers, writers and mothers and realised that I needed my book to speak to mothers first and foremost. Because, at times, we can feel like we are on the sidelines, listening to political discussion about our lives and shaking our heads because it simply doesn’t speak for us. I had to lay it on the line: I couldn’t face this becoming a book gingerly tiptoeing around the issue, apologising for the message out of fear of causing offence. Women do enough of that, already.

          As I wrote this book, I found myself blogging, writing, speaking at the Feminism in London Conference and the “Caring, Survival and Justice v The Tyranny of the Market”, International Women’s Conference in 2015. In between, I became involved with the Women’s Equality Party UK (WEP) as a founding member. I contributed to a policy working group in which I headed a sub-team of myself, Global Women’s Strike and Mothers at Home Matter. We advocated on behalf of the many women who would like to see greater recognition and support for their desire to look after their children. We needn’t have bothered. Instead it demonstrated through its policy launch that it was the Women Employee’s Equality Party (and did I WEEP). “Some women are more equal than mothers” might have been an accurate strapline.

          So when I talk of mothers at home (or mothers who want to be) being personae non grata, I can tell you that I experienced that feeling first-hand in my subsequent dealings with the party: I had had the cheek to talk about the economic vulnerability of mothers who want to care for their children and about the injustice facing women who were deprived of the opportunity to. I had spoken heresy in the house of capitalist equality.

          This demonstrated to me just how urgent the need is for a radical shift in the way in which motherhood, child-rearing and family life are viewed in Western culture and how, as a result, they are treated socially and economically. It requires fundamental change. Because what will the world be like without motherhood? We are starting to see already … Our culture is separating the reproductive function of mother from the caring, nurturing aspect of mothering, which the state insists can be performed more efficiently and expertly by paid carers thus adding to GDP by paid services to childcare-workers. It frees up the ‘wasted labour’ of well-educated mothers as well as the ‘cheap labour’ of less educated women. Call me cynical. Turns out rebellion now resides where my placentas had once been.

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Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, out 23 September 2016 from Womancraft Publishing. Available for pre-order now.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/margaruiztemprano/7009439289/in/photolist-bFpd6x-HfUQgK-b1hnna-obRKwx-fJJT37-dJqLMc-a41hz8-8QgWDT-9T4FjU-9T4HLG-hNu3mX-nUHfM7-wPe3L8-aarCDT-7KuZN4-7Pa8ZZ-5xoSbR-ATUXUf-ASMNUL-AW8oqc-AW8g3X-ACv9ZY-rnV8aE-7H9sHW-6st1oC-cU3oK-9T4JGE-2XEuw1-8cawik-fd41q5-c8WrjW-6a9EsX-ACuiKf-ASNyLd-zY4CXq-zYeeoR-6fmSsz-4ZsbFC-34KaHY-7n51hx-diDQHo-nMcUpv-9T1SbP-9T4Ecf-4LcpH1-d87wkj-no5AGK-BmN7LZ-6TCu44-zY5pou

 

We Are a Beating Heart

beating heart

It has been wonderful to engage this week with so many mothers who have related to my pieces and images that have been shared. Thanks to the many who are sharing and discussing these issues in solidarity. Sisterhood is powerful but so is motherhood, after all.

Sometimes it feels like we are reaching a turning point.

Those of us who share a common ground – rooted in our love and care of our children, bolstered by a conviction that we should have a true choice about how to set up our family life – could truly come together and be heard:

“We are a beating heart. We are strong arms”.

#MothersOfTheWorldUnite #Purplestockings

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Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, due date – 23 September 2016 from Womancraft Publishing. Available for pre-order now.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sfslim/9631979663/in/photolist-fF9pYT-egTdA8-7kFzGA-HivQNW-H2JbH5-BMV7kc-f9r4uv-f9qJcv-7B6cvN-9h33XC-H6TpcT-FKcbQj-ahmKrQ-f9DoqS-egYY73-AsGWiq-AJfFHi-f9Khkw-f9vcci-f9CjU5-7yi4eY-ARFD18-AsEA7s-GhywHX-Cie7t5-7ek3eY-uwCvRd-664YnY-ajsvYt-czKUB-eHeDLQ-K6kHjb-rsd4t5-aS8yCP-5SC5jt-5FfeRc-tnFHFu-arKQz6-fLeJCZ-5SCnNp-f9FZ3Y-f9Firu-vy5t1j-7j5B7D-f9JZUf-HivLPJ-f9ovk4-f9ChEW-K8nm1V-fJZnh4

Women’s Voices: How We Must Listen to Women About Birth

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I’m something of a ‘birth junkie’.

Like many others, I admire the photos being shared on social media by the Positive Birth Movement and Birth Without Fear and by doula photographers such as Tree of Life’s Hannah Palamara. I admire the images for their beauty. Their rawness. Their honesty. And the swishy babies, of course. After all, there is something about the moment a new human being joins us. There is something about the power of women’s bodies and the physical and emotional strength of women in bringing life.

Yet, when I admire the photographs and the narratives, stories and pride behind them, it is not simply the visual element of the images that ‘gets me’. It is the woman at the centre: She who delivers. She who roars. She who breathes. She who wails in joy at the moment she holds her child in her arms.

It is the voice.

As a feminist, I used to talk about the abilities and powers of women, our right to education, access to the professions and about equal pay. Of course, all these things still matter to me. But something I had neglected before I became a mother was the birthing room. I was too busy talking about the boardroom.

Although I write about motherhood – our lives, our work, our children – one of the first chapters I wrote in Liberating Motherhood was about birth. On reflection, I would say that chapter was written in my mind soon after the birth of my son. It changed me. I’d come to a realisation about women. And about myself. I felt that:

“… we must see birth as coming from the same place as love, rather than fear. We need to hear positive stories. We need to hear the positive experiences of our sisters and mothers. Birth is a legacy. We owe it to our daughters to instil (from a young age, and in reproductive education) faith in their bodies. We owe it to women to respect the birthing space, the birthing journey and to respect their wishes. Birth can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have to start respecting the prophecy.”

Why? With the birth of my son came the conviction that birth is a feminist issue. We must feel able to speak up for our wishes and our needs. With this, comes the absolute requirement that others – from midwives to doctors to those who support us on wards or at home – respect us in our maternity care. We are entitled to nothing less. We should settle for nothing less.

Yet, the reality is that women can often feel silenced in our everyday lives. We may not speak up for fear of ridicule, shame or criticism. We might defer to others instead of pushing for our view or our rights to be heard and respected. To speak is to open ourselves up to vulnerability. And let’s face it, we are never more vulnerable, yet strong, than in birth.

So I was overjoyed to see the announcement of an important conference about birth focusing on women’s voices: Women’s Voices Conference.

To quote the event:

“The day will focus on women’s maternity experiences, told in their own words, ensuring that women are kept at the heart of maternity care. We shall be sharing stories in an environment of collaboration, working together to shape maternity services for the better. We will be exploring why it is so vital that women are in the driving seat of their birth, that they are in control and that their choices are respected and how their experience impacts on their identity as a mother, family life and society as a whole.

We will be celebrating the achievements of women and health care professionals working together.

We will hear from those who continually strive to improve women’s maternity experience.

Standing with women and speaking on the day: Sheena Byrom (OBE & Honorary Fellow of RCM), Milli Hill (founder of the Positive Birth Movement), Rebecca Schiller (Birthrights), Beverley Beech (chair of AIMS) and @JennyTheM (NHS midwife), Florence Wilcock ( Consultant Obstetrician & Co-founder of #MatExp), Kati Edwards (Birth you Love) and most importantly, service users!

Chairing the day: Catherine Williams (NICE fellow)”

I asked Michelle Quashie, organiser of the conference and writer of Strong Since Birth – a moving account of her experience of a vaginal birth after two c-sections – about the event and she told me that:

“We hear lots of talk about the importance of providing women-centred care, but to provide this type of care we need to hear from women exactly what this means to them. It’s not just about bringing a baby into the world safely, because women matter too. 
It is vital that women are in the driving seat of their birth, that they are in control and that their choices are respected. Women need good balanced information to make truly informed decisions. All women should receive kind and compassionate care. 
A women’s birth experience will stay with her for life and impacts on her identity as a mother, family life and society as a whole.
Whilst we are lucky to have a maternity service that meets the physical needs of women and their babies we need to ensure that a women’s maternity care meets both her mental and emotional needs too,  as both equally as important.” 

 

What a refreshing change from a de-sexed, gender-neutral politics which, in places, masquerades as feminism and erases maternal experience.

I’m excited about this event because it is time.

Because ultimately, if we ignore or diminish women’s needs in the birthing room in policy, politics, education and funding, we are losing sight of the women at the centre of birth. Feminism and policy must start to see her there and hear her voice.

Congratulations to Women’s Voices Conference for hosting this important event. If you can’t make it there – it’s on 1 October in London – you could drop into the Community and raise your voice there – we are entitled to speak and we are entitled to be heard.

I’ll be going. See you there.

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Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, out 23 September 2016 with womancraftpublishing.com. Available for pre-order here.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ibantorras/14451477727/in/photolist-8Hv65L-nqMTjm-bDZYk4-8xJK6d-nFeB8J-nHfvPb-nFeD4C-kuHtBX-bpXsjR-7JabTi-oN5ezy-co2BhQ-gAKN8-9Sz7r3-bRL3K8-7Je8TQ-8S48yv-9rcQ67-9r9S4e-5momoE-nFCaFA-o22AR6-8d3qKK-kuJ1Xa-cvV9wo-nqMTEw-nHhevg-nHhice-nqMQXs-nHfvzo-HCxLXy-nGZkpa-3omvia-dy93HN-8d3q6x-auqnSQ-8GDWT8-28n7Jv-fZk4ne-EHFm4U-cLJ82q-ABZtY-6RUFMW-aEmYJ5-pbLJe6-nzaii-fav2FY-73hviP-7BfhUX-Y3jjn