Childbirth and women’s reality – A Xmas post

Since the birth of my child, 2 and something years ago, one thing I have never managed to think about, let alone talk or write about, is the reality and trauma of childbirth. I am not planning to get into details now, I am still absolutely NOT ready to go there and frankly I don’t know if I ever will be. But I did find this quote today in an amazing book by Betty McLellan, “Overcoming Anxiety”. McLellan talks about how being silenced and being made to feel invisible is causing powerlessness and is a major cause of anxiety for women.

She explains how childbirth is another instance in which official (patriarchal) meaning can overshadow the reality of women’s experience. She talks about how childbirth for most women represents “excruciating pain and agony, loneliness and alienation”; feelings and sensations which are in total contradiction with the official patriarchal meaning, as we are told time and time again that childbirth is the most beautiful day of a woman’s life.

I can’t resist sharing this timely and perfect quote today.

 “The church’s role in covering up and denying women’s experience of childbirth is made evident with the telling of the story of the birth of Christ. Every year, the Christmas story is used as an opportunity to glorify motherhood and paint a picture of childbirth as a wonderful, almost ethereal experience. After a problem-free delivery in a fairy-tale setting, we are led to believe that Mary is thrilled by the singing of the angels and overjoyed at the visits by shepherd and wise men.

Told from the perspective of Mary herself, however, the story would probably be very different. She would talk about the pain, the discomfort, the smell of the stable, the lack of privacy, her concern about hygiene. She would express her annoyance at all those strangers visiting her when all she wanted was simply to be with her husband and baby. She would express her concerns about all that loud angelic singing when what she really wanted, in her exhausted state was to be left to sleep in peace while she could.”

As a woman in patriarchy, I have been living with depression, chronic anxiety and very low self esteem for many years. All of these symptoms became much worse since my experience of childbirth and since becoming a mother as I witnessed my life spin out of my control and I became for the first time totally powerlessness, both in the hospital labour ward and in my life ever since my baby was born.

I am having a sisterly thought today for Mary and for all the women who have been silenced and made invisible through motherhood. All those mothers who have lost the meaning of their lives and their sense of self while struggling in the nightmare of living in this patriarchal oppressive society and caring for another human being. All those mothers who have lost their lives in the hands of male dominated health system which puts profit above women’s lives.

Piero della Francesca's The Nativity  (This is what men think childbirth looks like)

Piero della Francesca’s The Nativity (This is what men think childbirth looks like)

The Breeders

By @planetcath 

 I’m a lesbian. I’m also a mother, and my child is male. I had sex with a man (married him, no less!) and we had a child together. There. Cards on the table, does this make me a traitor to the cause?

Well, possibly. Lesbian Separatism dictates that women should withdraw their labour from men, that this is the only way to dismantle patriarchy and thus liberate women from male oppression. Withdrawing your labour applies to every area in which you might ‘serve’ a man. So, for those women in relationships with men it means stopping your unpaid, undervalued labour in the home, and withdrawing all sexual services.

Those women who have sexual relationships with men and have children as a result of those encounters are sometimes known as Breeders. It’s possibly one of the less attractive aspects of radical feminism. To apply such a term to fellow sisters, a term that reduces them down to their reproductive capabilities is, without argument, pretty offensive and dehumanising. Not only that, but it flies in the face of what I perceive to be feminism. A love for your sisters shouldn’t manifest itself in offensive terms such as that. A commitment to make the world safer and more supportive for women does not include a sneering disparagement of their choices or circumstances. And, I guess, this is where me and radical feminism part company briefly. There are no ‘choices.’ There are only decisions made under the influence of patriarchy, which is true. But we make our ‘choices’ based on what we know at the time, what is expected, what has been expected since we were born. I had a fairly unsettled childhood and a chaotic adolescence. I met my husband when I was 18 and involved in the Militant movement. We married when I was 21, I was pregnant by 22.

I can see why I made the choices I made but I don’t regret them. My son is almost 24 and is an adult who has faced numerous challenges and health problems with acceptance and patience. He is his own person but I would like to think that, as a feminist, I’ve helped to nurture him into the loving, kind, respectful man he is.

Lesbian Separatism dictates that we don’t focus on men. That whatever problems men face is generally of their own doing – a result of patriarchy – and therefore they can sort themselves out. Women should not be derailed from the cause to pick up the pieces or fulfil any specified gender role of caring. I get it. I really do.

And not only do I get it, I believe it. For men as a class I genuinely couldn’t care less really. But I resent being considered a traitor or a breeder. I am neither. I am a woman who made choices based on my experiences and beliefs at the time. That makes me just like every other woman. I will never apologise for being a mother because it has shaped my life and taught me some valuable lessons. If you expect apologies for ‘breeding’ then you will be sadly disappointed. I am so much more than my reproductive system, and I am so much more than a mother. But I am also both of these things and it feels ok to me. I don’t think any woman should have children if she doesn’t want them. That’s a fundamental part of radical feminism. We are not here to ‘breed’ for ‘breeding’ does little more than reinforce women’s role as the caregiver, nurturer. By having children we harm our careers, make ourselves vulnerable to attack and abuse, and become reduced to unpaid labour. But there has to be another way. A way in which we can acknowledge the political implications of having children, and understand and accept the circumstances of those women that do.

No woman was born a radical feminist. It’s is a journey that we undertake when we’re ready and not all of us follow the same path.  So remember that when you dismiss women as breeders you are dismissing your sisters who are standing right next to you.

 

“I am not a fucking breeder”

A powerful piece that includes graphic descriptions of male violence 

By SLC

The word “breeder” means more to me than any word should mean to a person, but I guess that’s the modus operandi of slurs. I want to start off by saying that I am not a mother. I am not a mother and I will never be a mother, by choice, in large part due to the word “breeder.” I wanted to write this post for *my* mother, and for the mother I’ll never be but could have been, had that pesky little word not informed my worldview so early.

Before I get into my personal relationship to the word, I’d like to offer up a real-time example of the damage that word has done to society, to the legal system, and to the media.

Enter, exhibit 1:

http://www.post-gazette.com/local/2014/09/25/New-charges-filed-against-Wilkinsburg-mother-in-child-endangerment-case/stories/201409250308

The title of this article is “WILKINSBURG MOTHER FACES NEW CHARGES.” Okay, I’ve clicked this article to read of the mother’s purported crimes, right Mr. Headline?

Now, here’s the first paragraph:

A Wilkinsburg woman accused this month of endangering the welfare of her 11-month-old son was charged Thursday with five more crimes, and hours later, the boy’s father surrendered on charges that he abused her and also put the child in danger.

Well, shucks… seems to me this story is less about the *alert!!* *alert!!!* CRIMES OF A MOTHER and more about the abuse the mother and child suffered at the hands of the father. Let’s see if I’m right.

Ms. Salter’s attorney, Blaine Jones, described her as “the victim in all of this.”

“She did everything that evening not only to protect herself from being assaulted, but also to protect her child,” he said.

Ah, so I was on to something there, huh? I had my suspicions. What is the father’s role in all this, pray tell?

In a criminal complaint charging Mr. Bryant, borough Officer Michael Bender wrote that police went to Ms. Salter’s home about 1 a.m. Sept. 13 for a report of a domestic dispute and a possible child abuse incident.

According to the complaint, Ms. Salter told police she was asleep in bed with her son, Daviere, when Mr. Bryant forced his way in, walked up to her room and pushed the TV off the dresser and onto the bed, striking the boy in the head.

Ms. Salter told police he left, and she put the boy in a car seat and placed him on the back porch while she packed some items to leave, the complaint continues. Mr. Bryant arrived minutes later saying, “Why did you hit my son?” and hit Ms. Salter, police wrote.

Sweet child, what happened to you?

Officer Bender wrote in another criminal complaint for Ms. Salter that he arrived to find “a small child lying on the bed with large bruising and bleeding wounds to his head and face.”

The child was taken to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, where staff found “a tear inside his mouth from an object being shoved with great force into his mouth,” the officer wrote in the complaint.

Hospital staff members “also confirmed what we had originally thought, that the child had suffered from multiple injuries over a period of time, because you could see various forms of healing on the child’s face and head,” the officer wrote.

The injuries, the officer continued, “were not consistent with just falling or bumping into things, which was the story given to me by the mother.”

Ah-ha! So, the “story given…by the mother” was a LIE! Surely THIS is the part of the article where we hear about the mother’s role in all this, right? I mean, “WILKINSBURG MOTHER FACES NEW CHARGES” certainly leads us to believe that this woman must be guilty of *something.*

In May 2013, Ms. Salter filed for a protection-from-abuse order against Mr. Bryant, claiming that he’d been “harassing and stalking” and threatening her, had broken into her home and grabbed her.

In April, after Mr. Bryant did not appear at a hearing, a judge ordered that he have no contact with Ms. Salter for three years.

In addition to the warrant in this case, Mr. Bryant had an outstanding warrant from March on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges and another from April on charges including sexual assault and burglary.

Oh. I see now. In fact, I see these all the fucking time, so I will share what’s obviously actually occurred here: the father abuses both mother and child, mother files a PFA which should have lasted until 2016, but the father shows up, becomes violent, leaves for a minute, and in this time mom tries to hurriedly pack necessities after securing the child in the car. The woman has an escape plan. This has happened before. She knows what to do. And wouldn’t ya know it, when the cops arrive, dad points the finger squarely at mom. “SHE did all this. I, sexual batterer and serial abuser, absolve myself of any wrongdoing. See that she is hanged for her crimes.”

The media runs this article with the title “WILKINSBURG MOM FACES NEW CHARGES.”

The word “breeder” is silent in this woman’s story, in this article, but nevertheless inextricable from it in ways I’ll get to after offering up some background.

I am a second year law student with plans to practice in family law in Pittsburgh. (Plug: if you haven’t heard of the agency KidsVoice, please get acquainted and share.) This Wilkinsburg mom, now being maligned by our city’s biggest newspaper via a misinformed, sexist, garbage headline, is someone I will call Woman X.

Interning for a judge this summer in criminal and mental health court, I saw many Woman Xs. A pattern emerged: man is violent toward Woman X, (other women, too), Woman X is too frightened to leave and fears not only for her life, but the life of her friends and family members. Woman X then bears children with Man Y and the once private hell in which Woman X bravely suffered, alone and abandoned, has become an entirely new nightmare, but one populated with a tiny new life that shows her a love she has most likely never knew was possible. This tiny new life is the seed that grows alongside her new thoughts, thoughts like tangled branches which, before the seed, only had purpose when providing shade, blocking the sun. For the first time, with the possibility of this new life, those branches sprout flowers and bear leaves, and Woman X whispers to herself, wistfully, “She leaves.”

Most Woman Xers say the same thing when we see them in court filing PFAs: “It was one thing when he hit me, I could take it, but when I realized the children were in danger…” then quietly trail off, knowingly, humiliated. Woman X bears the sad, hardened countenance of a shell shocked soldier, but one who put make up on that morning, curled her hair, put on jewelry, shaved her legs, and tried to pick out an outfit that could communicate to the judge what she was too ashamed to have to ask for, something that says, “Please believe me, find me credible.” Does this blouse make me look like I’m telling the truth? It is almost invariably due to the birth of her children that Woman X begins to think: “Maybe I don’t have to live like this anymore… how far would he go with Baby X? I can’t afford to pay for a disabled child by myself…”

And so Woman X summons the courage to file a PFA, knowing all the while that an act so brazen, so unlike her submissive, battered nature, is sure to douse gasoline all over the fires raging around her. Man Y will see this as an attack and will want revenge. Woman X knows this. For the millionth time in her life, Woman X is between Scylla and Charybdis: don’t file, suffer the continuous abuse of you and your child with no end in sight; file, risk enraging him further — to the point of mortal danger — but at the very least maybe, just MAYBE, she can gain some type of recourse against him if he violates the order…assuming she and her child walk away with their lives after such a choice.

The sad truth is, PFAs and restraining orders do nothing to stop a man intent on harming you from doing so. As the bodies of women and children continue to pile up, this should outrage someone other than me. Even more enraging is the tale-as-old-as-time tactic abusers always use and frequently get away with: pointing the finger at a Bad Mommy. People come out with their pitchforks and torches for Bad Mommies, and Man Y uses this to his advantage with a smugness that would revolt you. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve heard justify their abuse by twisting everything around to make it seem as if his “stopping” her was really just a valiant act to protect the child from his/her bad, bad mommy. This is why so many women get arrested with their abusers. This is how so many children end up temporarily orphaned and left to agencies or to the state.

The child is in the care of the Office of Children, Youth and Families, she said. Mr. Bryant told his attorney that Ms. Salter is four months’ pregnant with his child, Ms. Williams said.

The cycle continues, and with it, a new life I wish I could rescue before it became another target for dad. I have to remind myself constantly that in two years I will be passing the bar. To calm down, I have to repeat with quiet fury, “One day, I will come for you. I’m on my way.”

The treatment of women, in particular mothers, by the media, by the “justice” system, and by society at large should be viewed through the lens of that insidious, nefarious, vile word “breeder.” When used to refer to a mother, the word does three very powerful things: 1.) it reduces a woman to little more than a means to an end, a vehicle, a mere function, but one barred from ever serving itself lest it fail to constantly serve men; 2.) because it’s pejorative in nature, it connotes not the act of giving birth, bringing new life, displaying power, but instead antonymous associations of emptiness and worthlessness; 3.), and perhaps most troubling, the sum of 1.) and 2.) creates a culture that separates a woman from her body via an erasure of the authority and symbolism of the body-specific organs that define her very existence in a patriarchal society. In effect, it is words like “breeder” that embolden headlines like “WILKINSBURG MOM FACES NEW CHARGES,” validate men’s abusive treatment, and justify the hostile actions toward female litigants whose peril and struggle is wholly ignored or misconstrued for the benefit of men everywhere.

My mother and I suffered abuse at the hands of my father, but she was able to divorce him when I was three. My childhood was messy and far too complicated to try to flesh out here, but know this: my mother never actually escaped my father. He stole me away and destroyed her entire life for years and years and years long after the divorce. It is because of him she spent years homeless, lost decent jobs, lost good men who wanted to be with her, lost me. And I am 24 years old and my father continues to berate, harass, and emotionally abuse me, though thankfully, the physical abuse hasn’t occurred in some time.

One of my father’s favorite ways of hurting me psychologically was to repeat the phrase, “YOU’RE GONNA END UP JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER.” This cut to my core because of the disturbed things such a statement communicated. My mother is a very broken woman, struggles with PTSD and anxiety, depression, drug abuse. She’s also the smartest, kindest, most fascinating woman I’ve ever known. The irony is, my mother “ended up” that way because of the torture my father committed against her, the torture that, in the very moment he was saying it, he was committing against me. Without realizing it, he was saying, “I am hurting you right now and so you will end up just like her,” all the while believing he was saying, “You are just as worthless as your mother was.” He is, and was, too dense to see the darkness in that.

All my life, my father tried to brainwash me into making “mother” and “worthless” synonymous. Bad mommy. It had a tremendous and distressing effect on my child-mind. To my father, my mother was a means to end, and that end was me. To him, my mother was just a vessel for his rage, a vehicle upon which he could project the insecurities that consumed him. In essence, to him, my mother was a “breeder.” Nothing more and, on a particularly bad day, maybe even far less, though I don’t know what exists beneath that which has been erased.

My mother eventually came back into my life at 16 when she showed up on our doorstep, homeless, living out of her car. That day was the greatest of my life so far. I believed my mother was there to save me, take me away from my abusive father, my abusive grandmother, and the madhouse I so desperately needed respite from. After many terrible things I would rather not relay, we did manage to escape when I was 17 by moving (halfway through my senior year) to West Virginia. For the first time in my life, the two of us, mother and daughter, were truly free. We had autonomy and we had each other. Life was finally starting. We no longer had to live in fear. I basked in the newfound control I had over my body and my mind. So this is what it’s like, I’d muse. If you’ve never had control over your body and then one day, suddenly, you actually do, the most overwhelming, awe-inspiring sense of peace consumes you, and even as I write I can think of no analogue for the type of soul-restoration it facilitates.

But that all ended fairly shortly, as within my first month of moving, still 17 years old, the age at which my mother married my then-28 year old father, I discovered I was pregnant. To make matters worse, we were broke, and I was still on my father’s insurance, which meant that I would have to raise the funds for the procedure by myself so he wouldn’t find out. I had just regained control over my body, only to have that control stripped away in an instant. I was devastated, panicked, but most of all, I was furious. All that fear and indignation manifested itself in the irate mantra I screamed internally: I AM NOT A FUCKING BREEDER. I AM NOT A FUCKING BREEDER. I said this to myself. I said this to others. Though I did not know it then, I was using the abusive language of my father and flogging myself with it. (I still suffer from this. My mother does, too.)

My father has never used the word breeder, to my knowledge, but he never had to. He implanted the connections for me and forced me to listen to it over and over again as if professionally brainwashing me: your mother à worthless à breeder. Womanhood à worthless à breeder. He sealed his cruel words with strikes against my body, as if to demonstrate the physical manifestation of just what he meant… ya know… in case I didn’t get it. And now, here I was, pregnant. Shaking, terrified, saying this to myself and anyone who would help me or hear me: I am not a fucking breeder. Seven years later I can tell you what I was really saying was, I am not worthless. The conflation of “breeder” and “worthless” had become so ingrained in me.

Because I live in a country where I had access to an abortion clinic, because my mother is wonderful and took off work to drive me and sign off for me, and because I had some very generous friends to help me pay for it, I was able to have my abortion. I would not become, as I had feared, a breeder. I would not become my mother. I would not become worthless. This was my mindset at 17 years old.

But the trauma of this event, having taken place at such a precarious, crucial moment in my race for bodily autonomy, has never left me. The act of being pregnant was such a violation at that time in my life that I am incapable of desiring such a thing ever again. Because of my childhood, pregnancy, for me, is just another act of violence that I cannot control.

In summation, the word “breeder” is used by men to oil the wheels of domestic violence. It advocates for turning reality upside down and inside out so that Man Y can abuse his girlfriend and child while the headline about it will deceitfully disgrace the abused woman instead of calling foul on the real agent of chaos in that family. “Breeder” poisons the precious mind of the victim who, maybe like me as a little girl, used to keep herself sane by reassuring herself, “I’ll get out of here some day and I’ll have people who love me. I’ll be such a good mommy and everyone will be safe and happy.” If some of those victims really are like me, that dream will be violently squashed. I am not a fucking breeder. I am not a fucking breeder.

I am, however, my mother’s daughter. I turned out just like her. Radical feminism has shown me that, precisely for those reasons, I am one of the lucky ones.

 

What if everything negative you’ve been told about mothering was wrong?

By @thrupennybit – first published on All Mothers Work 

I want to look at the common complaint of ‘feeling invisible’ that many, if not most, mothers will describe at some time or another, and offer a new way of looking at why this might be, and at reframing that feeling.

In our society, our androcentric, misogynist, and capitalist society, I believe that women are shaped and posited as commodities for men. I have long been influenced by the French feminist, Luce Irigaray, who first put forward this theory in her seminal work, This Sex Which Is Not One (1977).

In a nutshell, in such a society, all exchange is conducted between men. Therefore, the only place for women, and their only contribution, is as a commodity for exchange between men. This commodification usually takes the form of sexual objectification. Females are defined by their exchange status; as a commodity available for exchange and for what they offer in terms of exchange value.

This exchange system, which underpins our society, unconsciously teaches males and female their part in it. It becomes the identity and worth of women without them realising it, even if they would find the concept highly offensive when described to them. Even though it is a flawed and imbalanced form of identity, it is a normalised and approved-of identity nevertheless.

So what happens to women when they become mothers and their exchange value drops or even ceases? As mothers, we are de-commodified, and we are de-sexualised and de-objectified (to a lesser extent), especially so if the mother breastfeeds her child(ren). This holds true regardless of a mother having an active sex life (hey, stranger things have happened, right?!). What then, can patriarchy ‘do’ with us? What worth do we have, what point is there to women if they are not defined by what they can be for men, give to men? In Irigaray’s theory of exchange value, women do have value as mothers, but I think this is no longer true in a system where the capital that women can produce is now valued above the work they do as mothers. The importance of mothering cannot be denied on a basic level, however, for men need women to bear their children and to raise them for them, especially as their system defined mothering as demeaning. How then, can they re-objectify us?

The answer, for some men (but certainly not all) is to recreate/maintain a hierarchical interplay between the two by the money they earn from working. Instead of money earnt being for all the family, in some cases the woman has to ask for, sometimes beg, and be grateful for money given to her. Paternalism is introduced and enforced, and thus the woman is redefined in terms of her relationship with and dependence on a man. Of course, the obvious solution would appear to be for the mother to re-enter paid employment. But that is just to re-commodify herself, re-enter a system that defines her in terms of her availability to men in some way, even if that feels more familiar and falsely powerful.

When mothers talk of losing their identity upon entering motherhood, this is always framed as negative. But I would like to offer the argument that part of the confusion and sense of feeling lost is because the mother has ‘unplugged’ from the matrix, as it were. She no longer has that identity as object and commodity, and, even though those are negative and unequal, they are, nevertheless, the ways in which she knows herself, or knows how to define herself, more importantly. What now, asks the mother. For some, the answer is to reclaim her former commodification and objectification. For others, new objectification is either accidentally or deliberately created – ‘better the devil you know’. Many more struggle and continue to feel lost, and find unhealthy outlets for their confusion and pain, often in negative parenting. Others find something new. Others realise the opportunities that motherhood gives them to be self-defined, free, autonomous and powerful. Helping women realise and experience this is at the heart of the work of AMW.

Commodities and objects are ‘things’; if we are not ‘things’, a patriarchal system cannot categorise us. We are half-formed things, not tangible, not fully real, in its eyes. Little wonder, then that we receive the constant conscious and unconscious messages, and reactions, from so many sources, that caring is a form of debasing, of lessening one’s self, of masochistically choosing to be subservient, as though anyone involved in caring is somehow a bit pathetic and lacking; too inadequate, feeble, incapable, or maybe plain old boring, to participate in ‘real life’.

Loving, helping and keeping vulnerable others happy, healthy, safe, and alive is, then, supposedly demeaning, whereas performing often meaningless undertakings for others we have to treat as our superiors, for monetary reward is empowering and worthwhile. Well, I call bullshit on that. Having to grit my teeth whilst some twat in a suit, who talks down to me even though he’s easily 10 years younger, pulls fuckwitted ideas out of his arse in an interminably long meeting, or running around a park pretending to be a magical flying cat with an amazing, hilarious, scrumptious child who worships me like a living god? It’s no contest for me. Hell, I’d even do it for free… Oh, wait, I DO do it for free!

It might seem strange to some people to talk of motherhood bringing autonomy and self-definition when one’s identity often feels subsumed with that of one’s child or children, particularly in their infancy. However, here again, I see profound power and strength of self. Not only do we find the maturity, lack of ego and rejection of unhealthy types of power to prioritise our own needs according to those of others dependent on us, or with more urgent needs, we eschew implementing hierarchy and superiority in relationships where we actually hold all the power. We hold the power over our children, even if it doesn’t feel like that at times! And yet, we do not make ourselves ‘the boss’, or objectify them. We endlessly find myriad ways to shape and help them, all with a determination not to dominate or oppress them into acquiescence. All this, again, is a rejection of, and refusal to participate in patriarchy and androcentrism. I’m not saying that motherhood holds all the answers to unlocking total self-definition and fulfilment, just that it is far from the dull and demeaning experience and rôle that it is too often depicted as.

No wonder motherhood confuses, repulses and scares misogynists. They do not know what to do with us, now we’re not sexual objects, or capitalist commodities. Now for the good news: when someone does not know what to do with you, YOU get to define that for yourself. The question is, can we find a way to do this when our whole lives up to this point have been about having it clear that we mustn’t and shouldn’t define ourselves. The answer to that is, we must, however strange or hard it might be. In a truly equal society, even discussing this sort of thing would be seen as bizarre. Let that thought keep you angry enough to not stop pushing to always be yourself. – EP

In further articles, I will discuss how to redefine oneself and find ways of working (including for pay) that does not commodify one as a women (or is as non-commodifying as is possible for anyone in a capitalist state), and also look at why mothering is made invisible, or inconvenient, in depictions of, and discussions about, daily life and ‘real’ life, and what we can and should do to address that, to normalise, reposit, and to more correctly represent parenting within societal understanding.

Anxiety; it’s a bastard

You don’t have to be a parent or a feminist to suffer from anxiety, but amazing how many do….

opinionatedplanet

Like a dead weight around my body, paralysing and pulling me down into a pit of self loathing and fear.
I smile and nod, attempt to mask the all encompassing fear of the world.
My head is filled with a thousand thoughts, all of them worries magnified beyond belief.
Logic and reason hover like a tiny, wafer thin thread holding me to the ground. The slightest rip and it will go, floating off in to the light and leaving me plunged into the darkness.

I have to get out of bed. I have to go to work. I have to blank my mind in order to function because the fear of telling people why I can’t is too great.
Where does it come from, this overwhelming sickness? I can trace it back and see the beginnings but I can’t see how to make it go away.
Go for a walk…

View original post 157 more words

A Bundle of Joy – Untold Tales of Motherhood and Oppression

A Bundle of Joy - Untold Tales of Motherhood and Oppression

A Bundle of Joy – Untold Tales of Motherhood and Oppression

 

I will be exhibiting a series of artwork about Motherhood and Oppression exposing the way society treats mothers. I combine stereotypical images of love, harmony and happiness with statistics showing the discrimination women with children face.

Women’s lives change considerably after pregnancy. It’s a time when many women report a variety of mental health issues and are at risk of domestic violence in the home, discrimination in the workplace, many mothers are thrown into poverty, particularly if there is no other adult in the household. Childcare is unaffordable and isn’t flexible enough to meet the demands of employers yet women are often blamed for being ‘scroungers’ and their unpaid work (childcare and domestic work) goes unrecognised by society.

The artwork shows the struggles women face and aims to demonstrate this is more than a series of similar personal stories and individual unique experiences: this is political.

The aim of the exhibition is to help women speak out about the difficulties they face when becoming mothers by showing how the reality of women’s experiences clashes with false messages of ‘perfection’ and domestic bliss. More important than the artwork on display is the conversation women need to have with one another. So bring your sister, your mother, your daughter, your girlfriend!

10th September – 24th September – Monday till Saturday 12-3pm

Holy Trinity Church – Tottenham Green – Philip Lane – Tottenham  N15 4GZ 

 More info here

 

A bundle of joy

I had a baby 20 months ago.
And my life stopped.

Being pregnant and becoming a mother was by far the most difficult thing that happened to me. Becoming a mother is the biggest oppression I have yet had to face as a woman.

That oppression is something I guess I knew but never truly consciously understood before I was a mother. I definitely felt motherhood would be difficult, I never wanted children before in fear that things would become so hard. Children freaked me out, motherhood freaked me out. And it was not something I ever looked into in detail, it was just too scary to acknowledge.

As I grew older I slowly changed my mind, convinced myself it would be ok, convinced myself I would manage, convinced myself my partner who I had shared 13 years of my life with would be a good father, would be trustworthy, would do his share. Convinced myself I wanted a child. Convinced myself I would regret it if I didn’t have one. Believed the myth. Didn’t trust my gut feeling.

Saying that things didn’t quite work out is an understatement.

 

All one ever hears of motherhood is at best incomplete at worst a totally male invented propaganda.

What I heard about it from friends and family ranges from “your life is about to change” to “it’s a bundle of joy”. Telling a pregnant woman “your life is about to change” is both a ridiculously obvious statement (duh! I know that!), but also a huge understatement. Nobody is prepared to tell you what it actually means. Your life is about to change? What is going to change? How? I don’t even want to comment on the “just bundle of joy” statement. Seriously, no matter how much you love your baby, having a child is NEVER “just a bundle of joy”.

 

What happens to the woman who just gave birth and who thinks having a baby is not quite a bundle of joy? What happens to the women who are not enjoying motherhood? What happens to the women who don’t manage, whose experience doesn’t live up to these myth?

What are women who already have children thinking when they repeat the “bundle of joy myth” and omit everything else? Why are they not saying more? Why are they not sharing their stories? Why didn’t anybody warn me? Why didn’t anybody tell me it could be so hard you can find it horrible? It could be so hard that you start thinking the only way you can find a release from this situation would be to disappear from the planet? Why didn’t anybody tell me it could be so hard 70 000 women suffer from postnatal depression each year? I used to ask myself these questions all the time.

I felt lied to and betrayed.

 

Women may have spoken about it before, but somehow the message never got to me. Patriarchy’s language is a powerful tool of propaganda; male speech is constructed as the reference, the objective point of view on everything. Women’s speech is subjective, gossip, not serious, not worth anyone’s attention.

Any women’s definition of anything almost always stays in the background, is trivialised, or is simply totally invisible. Even if it is about a definition of a purely women’s experience (like motherhood is), it is still male definition that will prevail.

“The society in which many of us have been reared has a legitimated meaning for motherhood which means feminine fulfilment, which represent something beautiful, that leaves women consumed and replete with joy.

I am not suggesting that motherhood does not or cannot have such a meaning, but that it is a partial meaning and it is false to portray this as the only meaning. For many women, motherhood may have been an entirely different experience. Such women may have generated alternative, even conflicting meanings (and names) in relation to motherhood but their meanings have been without authority or validity. Such meaning then, may not have been handed down, or if they were, would not have carried the same weight as the legitimated one.”

Dale Spender.

When we women speak about our experiences, our speech is never the mainstream; it is never accepted as the reality for women as a group. Instead it becomes an individual woman’s problem, she become the unlucky one with the bad experience, or the unfit one, she doesn’t live up to male’s definition, she is defective, she is wrong. That’s what makes it so hard for us to tell our truth. Because we know we will be neither believed nor listened to and we certainly won’t be taken seriously.

 

I am writing here to share my experience and tell my truth about motherhood. I am here to say that motherhood is not just a bundle of joy, not just going to change your life, not just hard work.

I am here to say motherhood is an impossible task in the patriarchy, one doomed to failure because it takes a village to raise a child but somehow we are expected to achieve this task on our own and unassisted.

Because motherhood doesn’t come naturally.

Because it needs to be learnt and no one is doing the teaching.

Because none of us has any idea what the hell is going on and what we are doing.

Because sleep deprivation is a torture technique and its effects include stress, depression and psychosis. And this is how women spend the first year of their baby’s lives.

Because most of the childcare and housework will be women’s responsibility no matter what other obligations we may have.

Because institutionalised sexism means women with young children are the most discriminated against group in the workplace.

Because you may just need your job when you are at your most vulnerable yet 30 000 women in the UK lose their jobs as a result of being pregnant each year.

Because no matter what happens to you and how destroyed your life is, all you can feel is an incommensurable feeling of guilt and the sense you are not good enough.

Because however supportive your partner may choose to be, it is your life that is shambled, not his.

Because childcare is an absolute rip off and having to work in order to pay someone else to do the job you are doing for free is totally insane.

Because motherhood is so often a place of loneliness, isolation and depression.

Because 30% of all domestic abuse starts in pregnancy.

Because if you ever manage to escape that violent man, you are very likely to be one of the 43% of single parents family who live in poverty.

Because patriarchy is turning an amazingly powerful loving experience into an event that leave you exhausted, depressed, disempowered, your self esteem shattered.

Because the whole structure of society makes sure that when women get pregnant, they walk straight into a trap.

 

I am here to say having a child in the patriarchy is not just changing your life, it stops it. It is not just hard work; it is a shock to the system. It is not just a bundle of joy, it is a nightmare.

 

I want to share my truth on motherhood because I know my experience or part of it, is shared by many mothers around the world, many mothers who never dare speaking up because they think they are the one with a problem, because they fear they would be judged, not listened to, labelled as bad mothers, inadequate, unnatural, not good enough, guilty, unloving, selfish, mad.

I want to share my experience because the women who do not have a baby need to know the reality, the thing we don’t tell them, the things that are never talked about. The things I would have liked to hear everywhere and louder.

I want to share my experience to liberate speech around motherhood. Together we need to burst the myth and the taboos, we need to speak up OUR truth about motherhood, generate our own meanings and fight hard for those meanings to be accessible for other women and other generations of women. We need to speak up until it stops being seen as women’s individual problem and becomes viewed as what it is: a political institution created by men to keep all women under control.

 

Rats and snails :: on raising a boy – part 1

My feminism is about women, always has been. Not for me the notion of men as feminists. Not for me the third wave love affair with the phallus. And yet. Ten years ago, at the age of 42, I gave birth to that most alien, unknowable, dangerous of creatures – a human male. Despite being determined to have a girl, a son is what I got. And how I love him. Despite him not being a girl.

Don’t misunderstand. I was never an advocate of exposing male newborns on hillsides like some radical feminists of the ’70s and ’80s but I felt quite certain I didn’t want one of my own. Biology had other plans.

Mothering a son presents a range of challenges to a feminist. First off, there is the realisation that the tiny, little feet, the weeny, balled up fists, the angelic curls that bring a lump to my throat, will one day grow into a big, adult male. A man. Secondly, how can I be critical and disparaging of men if I am raising one? It isn’t really acceptable to add ‘except for my boy’ to the end of any criticism of male behaviour. But it has made me critique my own position on males. Am are learning to love men? Well, no, but I feel I have a huge responsibility to raise a man who does not rape, disrespect, beat, control or otherwise abuse women. Or regard women as inferior or, worse, here for his needs. And yet I want him to feel good about himself as a man. After all, I don’t want to raise a serial killer.

Regularly, since my son started school, I have had to challenge the insidious, casual sexism that seeks to disrupt my plans. My son brings me all kinds of foolish nonsense about girls that is picked up from the world around him; women are not doctors; girls like princess toys; boys are best at sport; boys are best. It is more constant than I would ever have imagined.

I have watched with horror as his views have been reinforced by the behaviour of the girls around him….pink, glittery, princess acolytes whose parents perhaps are not as opposed to such stereotyping as I am. I have been aghast at his enthusiastic rejection of anything he considers to be remotely female. Consider a conversation when he was eight:

Boy:  I don’t understand why people are frightened of pink. I mean, it’s just a colour isn’t it? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not like it can hurt you or anything, is it?

Me: So, would you wear pink?

Boy: Ugh no! Everyone would think I’m a girl!

Funny, yes but also not. In rejecting pink, what he is really saying is that there is pretty much nothing so bad as being considered to be a girl. Being a girl is the biggest insult. Crying like a girl; screaming like a girl; being girly.

And yet he has arrested all my expectations. He is kind and sweet and caring and not at all aggressive. My boy. But maybe all boys are like this really. Maybe all men start out like this; the rapists, the murderers, the abusers, the bullies, the sexist pigs who make the lives of women impossible. He is ten years old. Does something happen in the intervening years to turn our sweet-natured boys into swaggering, entitled, abusive men? Is that something I can influence?

At the end of the summer he will enter high school. The last vestiges of being a little boy will be cast off along, presumably, with his willingness to submit to my kisses and cuddles. Already at primary school he has learned that it is not cool to play with girls. Girls don’t play with ‘proper’ Lego. But he has astonished me with his insight. His class recently had lessons on sex education and saw, on film, a baby being born. Later I asked him if he has learned anything that worried him. ‘I am just so glad I am not a girl. It seems so hard for girls’. Hold onto that thought, little man.

Once at high school, and accompanied by the tumultuous spasms of puberty, my boy will probably absorb the type of patriarchal propaganda I have struggled to hold off. He will absorb it because to do otherwise will court derision, bullying, rejection by his peers, conjecture about his sexuality, self-doubt, alienation. Violence. He (hopefully) will know that calling a girl a ‘slag’ is wrong. He will (I am determined) know that pornography debases men as well as women and is an ugly representation of a beautiful reality. He will know (I am sure) that being a kind, compassionate and gentle man is a positive thing. But will he be able to resist the onslaught of images that counter what I am telling him? Will he be able to stand up to friends who verbally abuse girls and women? Will he be able to laugh off the taunts of being ‘queer’ because he refuses to do violence to another child?

Gender is not kind to boys. It all but destroys girls but it is not kind to boys either. I will try my best to guide you, little man, and I hope the foundations I have laid will help you. But ultimately, devastatingly, you will be on your own. Be bold in asserting your individuality, be fearless in the face of oppressive dogma  that would entrap you and mould you and make you its own. Be human.