Tag Archives: Privilege

On contrived debates, strawmoms, and kyriarchy’s binds

A rant inspired by far too many “feminism versus mothers/attachment parenting/stay at home moms! SHOW DOWN AT SUNDOWN!” articles I’ve encountered recently. Storified, because I ain’t typing all this twice. (I don’t know how well/whether Storify works with screen readers, so if you can’t access this, please let me know.)

You will never be him; please don’t be them

Dear Boychick,

Last week was your fifth birthday. We made carrot cake and sang you happy birthday just the once like you wanted and opened so many presents from family who love you fiercely despite being so far away. We bought you a bike and a raincoat and I cooked breakfast and lunch and dinner (and did I mention the cake?) just like you asked for and I marvelled at how very fast you are growing up.

There’s someone I’d like you to meet. I don’t know if you’d like him, or vice versa. He was born twelve years before you, which is too much of an age gap to be peers, but maybe he was the type to like kids. I don’t know, and we will never find out. I would like you to meet him, but you won’t, because eighteen days before your birthday, he was shot and killed by a man who looked at a black kid in a sweat shirt and saw a threat. He was killed by a man who is walking free still, nearly a month later — after your presents are losing their luster, after your bike is no longer quite so new — because of racist gun laws and racist police departments. He was killed by a man who mistook vigilantism for protection, violence for justice, and a kid walking with candy in his pocket for a no-good criminal.

Millions of parents across our country are holding their sons closer now, with this one thought echoing in their heads: that could have been my son.

You’ll forgive me I hope if I hold you tighter tonight, if I snuggle you just a little longer, kiss your hair just that bit stronger. But the thought in my head is: that will never be you.

You will never be seen as suspicious because of your skin color. You will never be coded as a violent criminal because of your race and your gender. You may one day know persecution, may one day be subject to epithets and violence simply walking down the street — you may be a fag or a tranny or a crip — but this, this will never be your fate.

But I am aware, I am so very, painfully aware that you might be on the other side of this. You might be the one wielding the gun1. You might be the one looking at the dead kid and seeing a corpse, a criminal, a cause for gunfire and “self-defense”. You might be the one letting the killer go without testing him for drugs or alcohol. You might be the one lobbying to pass laws that are disproportionately harmful to black and brown communities. You might be the one opining that it’s all so tragic but the kid did look like a thug after all and he shouldn’t have been out walking where he didn’t look like belonged.

When I hold you tight, I am thinking, praying, begging: don’t be them. Don’t be them, please, child, my beautiful boy: don’t be them. Don’t be the one that black mothers are afraid of tonight more than usual. Don’t be the one that lets this happen without trying to make it better. Don’t be the one that cracks a joke, that thinks of it as their problem, that doesn’t bother to care. Don’t. Be. Them.

You are, no matter how much I wish it otherwise or how much I work to prevent it, going to be infected by racism. It will — is, has already — pervert you, damage your ability to see others’ wholeness and humanity and (says your theist parent) holiness. You live in this society, in kyriarchy; it cannot not touch you and make you rougher.

But you don’t have to let it make you them. You don’t have to let it turn you into Trayvon’s murderer and his family’s misery. You have to not. You have to resist. You have to find a new way.

I’ll help you child, as much as I am able — how can I do else when there is a family without a son and without justice for their loss? — but as much as I want, I cannot shape you as I will, cannot fill your tabula with my anti-racist scripts (nor would I know the right things to write there, even if I could). I can only whisper in your hair, pray to whatever gods are there, write to a you I hope will be ready to listen: don’t be them. Don’t inflict this pain. Remember a boy you will never meet, and for him, for his family, for every family knowing it could be them: please, be better.

For Trayvon Martin. For so many others. Please.

Yours always,
Arwyn

  1. George Zimmerman — per Mother Jones — is Latino, but the point stands: white men might kill a black boy, but they will never be killed for being black.

Moo! Or, Men Call Me Things, Too

I have a new post up at Global Comment, on #mencallmethings as an example of the exclusion of motherhood from mainstream feminism:

C*nt. Bitch. Whore.

Likely you’ve read these and other epithets, and related threats, flying around the internet recently. If you’re not a woman or a feminist-minded blogger, you might not be used to seeing them quite so often, but rather than dealing with them each on her own, women and perceived-women writers have been talking about them publicly, culminating in a cathartic (and often triggering) sharing on Twitter under the hashtag #mencallmethings. As with many other moments in feminist activism, however, the protest has been as revealing about who is welcome and centered in feminist circles as it has been about the abuse and harassment all such writers, centered or not, receive.

Go read the rest, so the following makes sense!

Naturally, I’ve already been accused of indulging in grudge wank, engaging in Oppression Olympics, and coopting a movement that’s not really about what I’m trying to make it about.1

Originally, when the editor at Global Comment commissioned the piece2, I had envisioned it as part of a larger conversation about the exclusion of mothers and mother-feminism, with #mencallmethings coming so close on the heels of a similar exclusion in NY Magazine. Of course, then life intervened3, and I can’t expect anyone to engage with what I meant to write only with what I did. And while I stand by what I wrote, of course it is just a piece of a bigger story.

So because this is my blog and I get to do things like say “And another thing!” here are some Another Thing!s:

  • This sorta should go without saying, but pointing out exclusion does not imply accusing intent. I doubt any of the article authors sat down and said to themselves “Let’s see how much I can marginalize mothers today!” No, the point is, we’re too often simply not thought about, unless the topic is maternity leave or pumping laws. The commentary around #mencallmethings wasn’t the first and won’t be the last time it happens; it wasn’t particularly egregious, it was just there when I had time and inclination to write about this topic.
  • Pointing out exclusion should not be seen as whining what about meeeee?? Because frankly, since more size = more trolls, I’m kinda fine not being a big, oft-linked blogger. Though it’s always thrilling to see my name in print, what I really want is to see my life reflected — or at least acknowledged.
  • Pointing out exclusion is not engaging in Oppression Olympics; I don’t think it matters whether mothers have it any worse than other women, I think we have it different, and that by itself is important. And, mothers are hardly the only group frequently excluded this way, which is why I draw parallels with women of color, trans women, women with disabilities, etc — and, of course, all the lived combinations thereof.
  • Finally, while again I don’t think this is a matter of intent4, framing the conversation as what men do rather than what we experience doesn’t leave space for the lived realities of not just women with children but trans women, gender-queer and nonbinary people, and others, who also experience gendered marginalization and, yes, abuse and harassment from other women. This framing — not an active choice, simply the unintended consequence of privileged habits — is why I speak up when mothers are erased from feminist discussion, because it won’t change until we are not seen as a particular case, a subgroup, not quite really a part of feminism, but women, full stop.

And — a reward, for those of you who made it this far! — here is an excellent example of how to include mothers in social justice discourse (and an important piece in its own right on mental health and the problems with compulsory “treatment”.). See? It doesn’t take much.

  1. Really? I thought it was about what women — including, shockingly enough, mothers — experience, but whatever.
  2. I think to stop me filling up her chat box with my rantings.
  3. Going on day 6 of vertigo, Occupy Portland and Occupy Wallstreet dismantlings, The Man working overtime, and — yay having a preschooler — yet another Cold of DOOM. Frankly, I’m pretty damn chuffed just having finished the piece at all, especially without phrases like “and, um, stuff!”
  4. At Sady’s admission, she spent all of 30 seconds or something coming up with the hashtag, and didn’t expect it to grow as it did, and many people both participating and not pointed out that “men call me things” doesn’t mean women don’t also.

Quick hit on paid parental leave

The kid just threw up. And this is why we need universal paid parental leave.

No really.

The kid just threw up, and his preschool has a 24-hours-without-vomiting rule. Which means he can’t go to his (long) day of preschool tomorrow. Which means I lose 6 of my weekly 10 work hours this week. Because I have to stay home with the kid.1

Why?

I, being self-employed, don’t get any paid leave, so there’s no scrimping needed there2, whereas we’re saving every minute of The Man’s paid time off we can for after the baby comes.3 So he can’t take tomorrow off (not even for a half day) as he used to do regularly when the Boychick was sick.

Just one tiny example from a relatively-privileged family, but still: my kid threw up, and this is why we need universal paid parental leave.

  1. No, I can’t work while he’s home, even if I plant him in front of the TV. Ariel Gore wrote about distractability in How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: when we can be distracted or interrupted, even if we’re not, we cannot really focus. Maybe not true for everyone, but absolutely true for me. This is yet another reason I do most of my writing at night, at the cost of my sleep (and thus why I’ve been doing so little writing recently, because sleep is, at this stage of pregnancy, far less sacrificeable).
  2. And not having a salary or a direct dollar-per-hour payback for my work — and, really, not getting paid much/anything for my work at the moment at all — it’s a lot easier on the budget to sacrifice my hours than his. This is not normally something we pay attention to, but when we’re trying to buy a house, pay the midwife, and save for the babymoon? Yeah, it does matter.
  3. And it still won’t be enough. With him having a “really great” salaried position, he’ll be able to go 40 hours in the hole on PTO, which means he’ll probably be paid for about 2 weeks off. And if we can, we’ll take another 2 off unpaid. I know to be able to do so, even potentially, is a sign we’re fucking privileged. But it’s still criminal that a new parent gets so little time.

Dear Erica Jong

Dear Erica Jong,

I am about to enter my 30s. I cosleep. I babywear. I breastfeed (for years). I am monogamous. And I have fucking fabulous sex.

I’ve had fabulous sex in bed next to my sleeping child.

I’ve had fabulous sex with my child sleeping in his bed three feet away.

I’ve had fabulous sex while breastfeeding my child.

I’ve had fabulous sex while pregnant.

I’ve had fabulous sex while pregnant with my second child.

I’ve had fabulous sex in my kitchen.

I’ve had fabulous sex in my living room.

I’ve had fabulous sex in the shower.

I’ve had fabulous sex in public.

I’ve had fabulous sex in other people’s houses. (When we were spending the night anyway, for those concerned.)

I’ve had fabulous sex on the phone.

I’ve had fabulous sex on the “sterile” internet.

I’ve had fabulous sex that required an hour of washing up afterward — and not just of us.

I’ve had fabulous sex by myself. Lots of it. Lots and lots and lots of it.

I have a drawer full of accessories that I sometimes like to use while having fabulous sex, and a wish list as tall as I am of more that I’ll buy just as soon as we have the spare thousands.

I’ve had fabulous sex with a man — one man! one person! ever! in my life! how puritanical! how old-fashioned! — who wears our baby, who never was so ignorant as to think my breasts were “his” or “for him” to start with, who has seen me (was there for me, helped support me, caught for me) push a baby out of my cunt (in our bedroom, in which we had had, and later proceeded to have more, fabulous sex), who has snuggled next to our child nearly every night for the last almost 4.5 years, who helped me conceive our second child with still more fabulous sex (lots and lots and lots of it, given how long it took us).

I don’t know what issues you have with your daughter, or why you think extrapolating from (your understanding of) her to every other woman in her generation is such a brilliant idea, but when you say things like:

Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him. Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion?

I truly wonder what universe you’re living in, or why you think you understand my life and my motivations so well, when you are so very wrong.

And I wonder what form of feminism you’re practicing when you blame women — mothers, women with children, women who already have placed on us additional burdens and double binds galore — for this “backlash against sex” you hypothesize, and never investigate what societal pressures might exist that create the situation (you think you see), give only the briefest, un-nouned mentions of forces other than (your daughter’s) choices of which you disapprove.

Because us modern-day mothers? The “freedom” you supposedly bequeathed to us hardly exists. We are still called sluts if we say yes. We are still called frigid if we say no. We are still threatened with the removal of our children if we have sex, if we admit we like sex, if we admit we don’t like sex, if we dare to write about sex. (Heavens forbid we be non-white, non-cis, non-middle class, non-straight, non-able and attempt those things, but then, you don’t seem to care much about those of us who fall in those categories anyway.) We are exhorted to be available, always, cautioned still that even if not in the mood (when, say, pregnant and exhausted — because we couldn’t possibly be pregnant and want sex) we should “be creative” and find ways of “meeting our partner’s needs”. We are told — by the generations before us, who really ought to know better — that we’re not doing sex right because we’re not doing it like they did, like they wanted us to.

When our sexualities are still not our own, when (middle class straight white) America is still obsessed with a very particular sort of (matriphobic) sex performance, when the “sexual revolution” still hasn’t allowed us to have children and sex only when and how we want, when the burden for fixing all this is still placed on our (be-slinged) shoulders, is it any wonder that some of us say “enough!”, would wash our hands of the whole messy topic?

I’m not sure I agree with you that there is a backlash against sex (a war against women and a backlash to what little autonomy we’d achieved, no question), but to whatever extent there is, I object to your definition of its parameters (we are only liberated in “open marriages”?), to you building your argument on our backs, to the idea that it is because we “[want] to give it up”.

Monogamous partnering and parenting — even the attachment parenting you so loathe and deride — have not limited my passion for sex, for orgasm, for physical connection with my lover and life partner (which are, please note, three different, though oft related, things). But if I were constantly held up in measurement against your visions of sex, your ideas of passion, your standards for sexuality, I might declare surrender and pretend disinterest as well.

Women, and women with children especially, do not need yet another person (and one who claims the title “feminist”, claims to be on our side, at that) telling us what and how we’re doing “wrong”, especially in regards to sex. But if you ever want to come ask what my life is like, why I chose the life and parenting I do, what constraints I live under, and how you could help me work toward liberation, well, I’ll be over here.

Just be sure to knock first. Because I might be otherwise occupied.

Private