The due date for the book is 23 September – it is available for pre-order here!
Here is your third extract from Liberating Motherhood.
THIRD EXTRACT FROM INTRODUCTION: A MOTHER’S STOCKINGS
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.
Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement: Due Date 23 September 2016.
Available for pre-order here: http://www.womancraftpublishing.com/liberating-motherhood.html.
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