One of my favourite blogs, and one I’ve linked to often in discussions about feminism here, is Andie Fox’s Blue Milk. She has a running series of 10 questions for feminist mothers. I’ve loved reading others’ responses so I thought I’d participate! Here goes:
1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
I think I was raised to be a feminist, though my mother didn’t call it that. She called it being a ‘strong woman’ and led my sisters and I around the house singing ‘Sister Suffragettes’ from Mary Poppins. My father had a fairly conservative position on gender but encouraged me to form my own views. My earliest memory of discussing feminism with him is from when I was 8 years old, and he took me seriously. For me, feminism is about recognizing that (western) society’s default is maleness, and that that is profoundly damaging to both men and women. That intersects with a Christian conviction of the dignity of humanity. I’m an Aussie living in Tanzania and so it’s worth acknowledging that my feminism is largely western. I have a long way to go in learning about Tanzanian feminism and don’t presume to speak from that perspective.
2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
That I like it! I had so many people tell me that I was too intellectual or too academic to be in touch with that side of myself. I don’t think I believed them but it did make me a bit nervous. While there’s some tension between all my different roles, I’ve been surprised by and enjoyed the extent to which I’ve been able to integrate them.
3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
As a teenager I saw feminism as ‘equal rights’ but at uni I worked out that equal rights meant nothing if women were faced a constant barrage not to exercise those rights. While I was at theological college, I worked at putting my feminism together with my faith, asking how the Bible can be an ally of feminism. I’m sure motherhood is making an impact on my feminism but I’m not sure I have enough perspective to see what it is yet! Maybe something about embodiment? Definitely something about seeing my own privilege in terms of having the space and resources to make choices about how I parent.
4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
We don’t face some of the surface issues we would if we were in Australia such as colour choice of clothing, because men and boys happily wear pink and sparkly clothes in Tanzania! However, I think the big difference from non-feminist parenting is in how we teach our son to see the world. I see a big part of mothering as alerting my son to the privilege he experiences simply from being male (as well as white, western, having highly educated parents, etc.) At the same time, I want him to see a range of women (and men) as ‘normal’ and so I’m conscious of exposing him to female protagonists and complex female characters. One thing I’m discovering is the role women have played in Tanzanian cultural stories so I’m hoping these will provide him with yet another perspective.
5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Yes, absolutely! I feel most compromised by my own shortcomings. A quick example: one thing I love about living in Tanzania is that the ‘big woman’ is considered the beautiful woman, but there’s also less scrutiny of the female body. That gives me greater freedom than most western women to love my (5’9″ healthy-but-not-skinny) body, and yet I still find myself saying negative things about my body out loud and in front of my son! For all my desire to give him positive female role models who are more than just their appearance, I fail to be one! Maybe this is what I mean by ‘complex’ females??
6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
I think identifying as a feminist generally has been difficult at times. There are lots of misconceptions about feminists so I often find myself tarred with a particular reputation and having to try to undo people’s expectations. However, I find that people are more willing to listen when they discover I’m a mother as well. However unfairly, it softens the feminist image and gives me an opportunity. Actually, I find explaining my idea of feminist mothering as something of a back door to invite people to a healthy discussion of feminism more broadly.
7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I don’t think that feminism and sacrifice are antithetical. I think the best feminism is the kind that is collective and others-centered, the kind that isn’t just concerned about my rights but about working for the good of all women, perhaps at considerable cost to myself.
There are messy and mundane things about feminist advocacy or any advocacy – for me, admin and logistics are the height of boredom, but there can be other losses as well, because investing in one thing often necessarily means turning down another. I think of many of the messy and mundane things about motherhood in the same way. They are not things to be despised but to be embraced, or at least endured, as part of the complications of life. I guess thinking of them as being in service of the project helps – not that parenting is a ‘project’! I just mean that there’s a bigger picture. Of course, that bigger picture is harder to see at some times than others.
8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
My husband is also a feminist, a true partner and advocate for me, just as passionate as I am about feminist parenting! Our situation at the moment is more flexible than it would be if we lived in Australia. The lines between ‘work’, ‘home’ and ‘social’ are much more blurred in Tanzania, and particularly in our role, living on campus at the university where we work. That means we haven’t had to deal with issues surrounding maternity leave and housework in the same way we would in Australia; the structure of society has given us more room to job-share and to parent together.
9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
I’ll pass on this one because I don’t really identify as an attachment parenting mother. However, I will quickly mention that the choice to do attachment parenting is a privilege unknown to most mothers in the world. What looks like attachment parenting in Tanzania is often lack of choice. I’d like to see feminism wrestle with this more.
10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
I think feminism has given mothers a great deal, most recently, the chance to consider how feminism and motherhood cohere and to discuss this. I think feminism would have failed if it had not made space for the discussion of the emotional, social and economic context and ramifications of motherhood, but that has not been the case! Personally, I’m grateful that for the language and resources that feminism has given me to consider how I will raise my son to be a compassionate man.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.