Tag Archives: domesticity

Doesn’t everyone have house elves??

I’m getting really fed up with the crummy mother-shaming exhortations to “slow down” or “simplify” or whatever, and today I read one that included a couple lines just perfectly encapsulates why I loathe them so, that went something like “slow down mommy, those dirty dishes can wait / slow down mommy, let’s bake a cake”. Because, uh, HELLO, I CAN’T BAKE A CAKE IN A KITCHEN WITH A SINK/COUNTER THAT’S COVERED IN SHIT THAT NEEDS TO BE WASHED AND ALSO NOT IF ALL THE SHIT WE NEED TO BAKE A CAKE IS, Y’KNOW, FUCKING DIRTY BECAUSE YOU JUST TOLD ME NOT TO WASH IT ALL.

Who the hell do the authors of these things think is gonna make sure kids have a clean plate to eat off and oh by the way also something to eat (maybe even something that isn’t going to spin them into hypoglycemic crash and turn them into asshole devil children)? In what magic fairy land does messy play not require a significant amount of prep and/or clean up which apparently we’re not supposed to do because gods forbid we spend two seconds doing anything other than staring at our cherubs in absolute rapture? Where the hell do the clean warm clothes come from for kicking in the leaf piles and how the fuck are we supposed to spontaneously hop outside to jump in them if we can’t find anybody’s %$#@ boots because no one spent the time to make sure they were put where they belong? What the FUCK are we teaching our children if we never let them see us engage in the daily activities of life, including cleaning up after ourselves and yes washing the fucking dirty dishes NOW, not after Freespirit doTerra Moonbeam goes to bed?

But no, fuck all that, once again allllllllll the damn work that mothers do is made invisible1, dismissed as unimportant, and we are told, again, that we are doing. it. wrong.

I get that I’m not the intended audience, but I still get caught in the shotgun spray. Because these things almost never say “hey, if you haven’t played with your kid this month because you’re still polishing the silver, maybe you could consider letting that go for a day”. They don’t often say “you’re doing the best you can under an impossible and unbearable set of demands, so yay you! When was the last time you cut yourself a break and took a moment to just breathe in your kids?” No, they say “you, Mother, I know all I need to know about you because you’re a woman with children and there is nothing beyond you than that, and so I know you’re doing it wrong, and let me tell you how in guilt tripping and/or infantalizing ways”. And that’s fucking awful.

Now someone clean my damn kitchen. I want cake.2

  1. Also invisible: any parents who are not mothers! Because they do not have Sooper Speshul Relashunnship With FdT Moonbeam because, um, vagina! Or something! Also, they wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes in the first place cuz that’s wimmin’s work, ammirite?
  2. “WHAT THE HELL ARWYN WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?” Umm… hi! A…round? Mostly trying to earn munnehs and do good work and shiz? And, y’know, cleaning and parenting and sometimes even baking cakes? Y’know! Stuff! Um. Sorry? Hi! …bye! *runs away*

Cooking and Competence (and Massively Mangled Metaphors)

Recipe for competence

Stuffed squash and
Sausage stew and
Spiced muffins and
Sweet potato popovers and
Creamy corn chowder and
Risotto from scratch and
Stock from scraps
  because I am able
  and they are there

Chop, stir, spoon, cook,
dash of this because it smells right,
measure of that to rise it well

Each meal might last as long as leftovers, built into the menu
  or
  a frozen portion put up for who knows when
(more likely gone tonight)

and

this is how
I feed
my family
  self
    soul

***

I’ve been cooking more, lately. We’re back to weekly meal plans (and their requisite weekly shopping trips), a chore that creates more work, yet (done well) makes our lives easier. There is mindfulness to be found in the movement of food from pot to plate, to be sure, but sometimes it’s more a struggle to eke out the time, trade off the babe, fend off the child (or, harder, invite him in to help). Yet when it is done: I have done it. We, more likely, but for all the effort is communal, my pride is personal. I was taught some skills in each discrete kitchen task, but never shown, in instruction or by model, the how of putting it all together in putting a meal on the table. This is learned. This is mine.

There are so few areas of my life I feel unreservedly, realistically competent. Not confident — a wager on oneself, a boast of one’s abilities — but competent: to know a job has been done well, and I have done it, not by fluke or luck or Herculean effort, but by showing up and simply doing. A repeatable act.

I have skills as a parent. Contrary to the trolls taken to haunting my comment box, I am not a bad parent. I have skills, and creativity, and a vast, emphatic love for my children. I have a metaphorical toolbox full of skills and tricks and guiding ideas — but its latch sticks. Its hinge is squeaky sometimes, and I’m not sure there’s enough oil in the world to make it open smoothly when I most need it. I do not feel competent as a parent, not past infancy. I cannot stir lovingly and spice well and bake children with brilliantly balanced flavors, nor whip up a smooth and full and just-right-sweet relationship with them. I know how to hold and I know how to hold firm, and I even have an idea of when each is needed, but the synthesis (the putting into practice when three burners are full and the oven needs emptying), the ownership and overarching knowledge of this parenting gig, is lacking. My snuggle soufflés, like my similes, fall flat.

But in the kitchen: this I can do. There’s no cookbook I follow (though I always have Joy at hand, a metaphor too obvious to pursue), no single philosophy beyond “food as much like food as seems appropriate” (because sometimes there’s only time for canned beans, or a craving only boxed mac’n'cheese will fill). I use what I have, clean out the fridge when things get funky, mix beloved dishes with new recipes with spontaneous inspirations, and feed us, and feed us, and feed us — knowing none of it will last, knowing failures and fiascoes are blessedly fleeting, knowing with each meal I am building something worthy, knowing tomorrow’s drivethru cannot uneat today’s homemade fare.

This is competence, and I did not know its lack until I first tasted its elixir. I find myself craving more.

Further conference thoughts, and some Big Questions

So, I arrived home safe and relatively sound, though I’m still dying from this cold1 and I left my notebook at the conference2, but Thoughts have been swimming in my head. Well, I say Thoughts, but I mean Questions, or Observations that I’m not sure what to do with yet, and, me being me and this being a blog, I thought I’d share them with you3:

How can we have a (singular) “motherhood movement” when what we want, as mothers, is not all the same? Cindy Sheehan evokes her motherhood in her pacifism; Sarah Palin does the same in support of her pro-war, pro-gun stance. My motherhood most definitely informs my support of gender-neutrality or gender-prescriptivism-abolition. Andrea O’Reilly argues that there is a motherhood movement, with a “diffuse style of organizing… reflective of the eclectic and democratic nature of maternal activism.”4 But where, if anywhere, is the line between democratic and discordant, between non-hierarchical and non-cohesive? Further, is it possible to create a cohesive “us” (to say “yes, we are part of the same [motherhood] movement”), without necessitating an opposition to a “them” (“you are not a part of this movement”)? Does it even matter whether we acknowledge or create this cohesion currently, or do we get on with our lives and our work and let history sort it afterward?

Speaking of our work, where is the balance between big picture thinking — knowing where we want to go, and specifying what is wrong with where we are — and single-step action? Does working to address one small injustice “bog us down in the details”, or is it the only way the whole is ever changed — or do a bit of both? And how do we — do I — pick which one (or few) small step(s) to work on? When we — I — care about so many parts of social justice (breastfeeding support and rights, birth choices, abortion access, disability rights, queer rights, just to name a few), how do we say “this is where I shall dig in my teaspoon”5, leaving the rest to “someone else”?

I adored being at a conference where for three days the topics, and the majority of attendants, were mothers. And yet… We cannot — will not — achieve gender equality until men, as a class6, are spending as much time on their fatherhood and their fathering, are as worried about work-family balance, are as invested in the domestic sphere as women, as a class, are. But, the “fatherhood movement” equivalent has so far shown to be patriarchal and misogynist, focusing on holding on to their society-granted status as “head of the household”, not moving toward doing the housework. So what would a non-patriarchal parenting movement look like? Can we only get there via a motherhood movement, just as we required feminism to gain what small equalities we’ve achieved outside the domestic sphere? How do we simultaneously keep in mind and move toward the equality we desire while acknowledging the all too real power differentials that currently exist — whether the topic is parenting, or race, or gender, or sexuality, or insert privilege/marginalization axis here?

And finally7, and far more personally, when am I going to get to do The College Thing? Will I be able to do it this time? Is this a socialized desire based on a hierarchy that places Official Academics above non-institutional thinking and lived experience, a needy feeling born, or borne, of my feelings of insecurity at academic conferences and around those with Important Letters after their names, or a real longing reflecting my joy in intellectualism and all the better parts of academia? And how long will it take after the new baby comes for my brain to de-mush itself enough to me to attempt, again, The College Thing, and figure all this out?

If motherhood and activism and women-with-children “speak[ing] out on why we need to change the world and how to do it” is your thing, check out MIRCI. Get your hands and eyes on a (heavy! huge!) copy of The 21st Century Motherhood Movement. And if you are able, get thee to a MIRCI conference. Sure, it’s smaller than BlogHer, and you won’t be bringing home a Potato Head or a KitchenAid unless you pay full price for it, but oh will your brain thank you.

At least, if it’s anything like mine.

  1. Not really — I think — but very much Not Enjoying it, especially the coughing-until-I-piss-myself-or-vomit aspects, and no one in Toronto actually ever heard what I sound like, but, y’know, I’ll heal…
  2. Thank the God/dess for meeting someone Very Nice there who lives not two miles from me, found it, and brought it back to Portland for me. But we haven’t managed to meet up here in Oregon yet, so I still don’t have it.
  3. In no particular order except which ones came into my cough-addled brain first.
  4. The 21st Century Motherhood Movement, page 3.
  5. I don’t know if Liss coined it or merely popularized it, but I learned of this metaphor — not the same as the spoon theory — at Shakesville.
  6. And not merely a few individual men, whatever one pseudoenlightened egotistical mansplainer on Twitter says.
  7. For tonight, at least.

On mothers’ groups and men-bashing

“Yeah, my husband will change diapers when I ask him to, but only if we have the man-friendly/easy-to-use ones clean.”

“Sure he says he’ll clean the bathroom, but he’s a man, it’s like he doesn’t see the dirt.”

“My spouse is such a GUY — fifty things to do before my family comes over, and he spends an hour on one that’s not even on the list.”

“Bloody men!”

I hate hearing phrases like these. Hate. (Loathe might be a more accurate word.) They drive me absolutely up the wall, and occasionally send me to a safe space (or Twitter) to rant about how much I cringe upon hearing them — and I do, seemingly inevitably though to greater or lesser extents, any time a group of women (especially mothers) gather together.

A short list of the problems with these and similar phrases:

  • They extrapolate from one man to all men as though men are a monolith, each identical to the other. (Sometimes this is “reduced” to “only” straight men — because “gay” and “straight” are two discrete categories, and within each all individuals are the same.)
  • Related, they extrapolate from “once” (or, granted, a historical pattern) to “always”, thus encouraging (which is not to say entirely creating) a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • They assume inadequate performance is due to inherent incompetence rather than cultural learning (or lack thereof).
  • They assign said incompetence to gender — or sometimes, explicitly to (inevitably cissexist) symbols of gender, such as cocks or Y-chromosomes.
  • They excuse, and thus encourage, said incompetence — after all, he can’t change that he’s a man/guy/has a penis; plus, who wants to do more of anything that gets them berated?
  • They exclude men from the domestic sphere, leaving women as the ones who must be competent at home, thus denying them the freedom to move into the public sphere.
  • They’re wrong, both factually an morally, for all the above reasons.

Yet — I almost never say anything when they’re said. What could I say? I’m one of the “lucky” ones1, so any protests would read as either bragging, preaching, or rubbing their noses in what many others don’t have and I do. Yet murmur vague concurring noises, and I’m agreeing to sexism — not “reverse sexism”, but the logical sequela of women-need-to-stay-at-home misogyny. Go off on a rant about society and the damage of kyriarchy, and I’ve both lost my audience (a minor issue) and completely ignored the emotional content of my friends’ complaints (a rather more major one).

For there are reasons women complain about the incompetence of the men in their lives, not least because it’s true — if not as a generalization, then for them, in their lives. And it’s crappy, and of course they want to complain and vent to a supportive audience of their peers, many of whom experience similar personal aggravations and injustices. These phrases do reinforce misogyny and sexism, both personally and culturally, but ultimately it’s not women’s job to make sure men do theirs, not our job (alone) to eliminate sexism, and in many relationships it’s just not as simple as stepping back and changing our words and trusting that suddenly, magically, the men will step up and do their share.

I wish that were always the case — and it sometimes is, and I invite you to decide to what extent that’s true in your relationship, because I surely am not going to attempt to — but sometimes leaving things up to a woman’s partner puts her children at risk; sometimes ceasing to excuse him increases the antagonism at home; sometimes it increases verbal/emotional abuse, or risks turning it into physical abuse. Complaining, though often counterproductive, is sometimes a woman’s only coping mechanism in a situation where she has little power and a very small set of crappy options. Furthermore, generalizing those complaints to “men” instead of her man places her in solidarity with other (male-partnered) women rather than (falsely!) placing the blame on her and her “bad choice” of a partner. I can’t — won’t — deprive someone of their coping mechanism, won’t condescend to presume even that such is true for every woman I’m listening to, won’t offend by assuming ill-intent or laziness.

And so I cringe, say nothing, and think of my child — self-declared boy, statistically likely to be straight and one day woman-partnered — and I hope that he never gives his lover cause to evoke these phrases, never is hobbled in his parenting or partnership by these all too pervasive cultural ideas.

ETA: And just in case we needed evidence this is hardly a mothers-started idea, making it even more pointless to blame individual women, here’s evidence of just how pervasive the-incompetent-dad idea is.

  1. A phrase which itself silences the few complaints with my partner I may have, because then not only would I be placing myself as “perfect” — hah! — to his “imperfect”, I’m also not “appreciating” my “luck”.

The M-word: in which I indulge in angst, whining, and more angst

So, for some reason, some o’y'all seem to like my writing. Or what I have to say. Or something about this blogging thing I do, anyway. (Don’t ask me why, I dunno either; I’m still trying to figure it out.)

And, this blog, for some reason, is getting a teeny, tiny bit Out There. Which is, y’know, cool.

For example: Didja know an article from here was published in a real print rag? So, it wasn’t mine, it was a guest post. Not that I’m bitter or anything. (OK, maybe a little bitter, although I love the lucky author to death and don’t begrudge her the byline at all.) (OK, maybe a little begrudge.) (That they put in my old web address after I asked them three times to use the new one? That I might be bitter about.)

And I’ve been contacted for an interview so someone else can get paid to write a book.

And got a very weird offer I’m not sure what to do with yet, that might actually give me money — if I just agree to sell my soul, my dignity, and my values. (It is, alas, totally legal.)

Completely unrelated (except in my crazy brain), over in the Twitterverse there’s a convo (Twits don’t have conversations, that’s too many characters) on #blogmoney going on, and over in another part of the intarwebz I’m eyeing ad rings with simultaneous lust and revulsion.

And an already-published friend is writing her third novel, and damn it’s good.

And Kelly Diels is prostituting her cleavage for money, and I’m convinced she’s going to start succeeding any damn day now. (With those assets, how could she not?) (I meant her writing.)

And, y’know, all of that has me angsting just a HUGE FUCKING TON little, over what I do, and what to do next, and, uh, can I get paid for this too? Because that would be nice.

Because while capitalism sucks non-consensual donkey dong, having none in a capitalistic state sucks syphilitic donkey dong. (I totally stole that line.)

Of course, I don’t have none.

I have lots, comparatively. (And lots of debt, but who’s counting?) (Other than our creditors.)

Which the white cis heterosexual male I live with earns while I sit on my arse and Tweet and write and angst and neglect, mostly benignly, our Boychick.

He also gets Social Security credits. I do not.

(To those following along at home in less sadistic countries, Social Security works like this: when you earn money, the federal government decides that you are a worthwhile human being, deserving in your old age of support and food and a roof and occasionally even some heat if the gas prices aren’t too high. The more money you earn over your life, thereby allowing you to possibly put away a little for retirement and the less, consequently, you need to rely on outside assistance, the more they decide you’re worth. If you don’t earn enough money, or don’t earn money often enough, perhaps because you’re busy taking care of said old people and sharing your roof and your food and your heat with them, or new people, ditto, or are unable to work for pay but unable to prove you can’t work, or maybe both (hi!), then your Social is Screwed rather than Secured, and the government decides you are worth bubkis and you get exactly that.

Unless you marry money, or a man who can earn it. Which is a whole ‘nother can of botulistic cow feces.)

Where was I? Oh right, angst and greed.

Ooo, greed. The sin that conservative Christians and liberal social justice activists have in common. Supposedly, anyway.

The thing is, I’d kinda like to get paid for my writing. Sometime. Eventually. A bit, at least.

Partly, it’s because while I hate capitalism, I kinda like money, and the things, like food and cars that don’t burn oil, that money can get one in a capitalistic system. Partly, it’s because money is the scorekeeper in our society, and I’m broken enough to want to beg for some of that recognition. Partly, it’s because of aforementioned debt, and the desire to be rid of its tarry grip. Partly, it’s because I’m a bit squicked out by the work women do — and this woman in particular does — once again being unpaid, unacknowledged, unofficial, and unsupported by society at large. Even if said society is FUBARed.

Partly, it’s because a friend just bought a house, and I am not above envy. Green looks good on me.

Green would look good in my wallet, too.

But, how to actually do something about that? I can’t help but feel that ads are tacky capitalistic and kyriarchal, I don’t do reviews, sponsored or otherwise, and submitting to print publications takes a fuckload of spoons and practice and rejection slips. Also contacts and networking and skills and know-how and determination and lots of other things I lack in abundance. (I lack them, but I lack them a lot. Surely that counts for something?)

This is what I think about at 2am, while my lover and my child sleep, after I come home from yet another unrewarding and emotionally stressful (don’t ask) Pathology class so I can maybe one day make a bit of money performing personal yet professional services for rich folk who can afford it and don’t need it near as bad as those who can’t.

Here’s a start: I’ve made an official Raising My Boychick Wish List at the evil Amazon (see? compromising values for compensation), which anyone who cares to can click through to order me whatever I put on there.

I haven’t put anything on it.

This sums me up.