Tag Archives: societal pressures

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*

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.)

Writings on a baby’s body

On sisters and siblings

I made the mistake early in my pregnancy of asking the Boychick if he wanted a brother or a sister, meaning did he want one-of-the-above. But he heard me, paused for a moment, and announced “A sister!” I laughed, and tried again after explaining that we didn’t get to choose, but he was undeterred. From then on, he was adamant that a sister he would have.

And then came the baby, vulva first. (The line that ran through my head at the birth, which we weren’t expecting to be breech, was “I don’t think scalps have mucus membranes.”) We explained again, as we had throughout the pregnancy, that we were making a guess about her gender, based on her genitals, and we wouldn’t know if she was a girl until she told us, just like we didn’t know he was a boy until he told us1. He was fine with this (it helps, I think, that he has an openly trans man in his life, so he’s familiar with vulva-but-not-a-girl) — as long as we were clear that she was his sister. “Sibling” just would not do.

So sister she is. And she she is, for the moment, as long as English insists on gendered pronouns. Oh, I could refer to her online as ze or s/he, but the truth is, we don’t do that in person, and it seems overly pretentious to do it online alone.

On pronouns and provisional assignments

Which, of course, begs the question: why is she she? Why do we, The Man and I, advocates of gender diverse parenting that we are, assign gender at all, no matter how provisionally? I’ve been asked this before, even been attacked because of it, and had my “commitment” to the “cause” be questioned.

Not, please note, by anyone with children of their own.

Because here’s the thing: this parenting gig? It’s fucking hard. It’s hard intrinsically, one of the most physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging activities one can engage in in life, and certainly the one with the longest haul and hardest hurdles to “quitting”. And my society, my dear, pressures-all-(privileged)-women-to-be-mothers-but-forget-about-actually-supporting-them society, makes it so, so much harder.

All parents are attacked for their choices by somebody2; any parent making a choice outside of the “mainstream” gets attacked even more viciously, by even more people; and the more marginalized a parent is, the more the attacks come not “just” in words3 but in tangible, terrifying ways.

Nearly every time I write about gender diverse/gender “neutral” parenting, I have a queer parent or a trans parent or a parent on public assistance or a parent dependent on the goodwill of their disapproving family tell me that they would be so much more radical/subversive/gender-diverse in their choices if they weren’t afraid they would lose custody of their children.

They have reason to be afraid.

I’m reasonably protected from the most catastrophic of the consequences, apparently living in a socially-condoned heterocentric, white, middle-class relationship — but even I still have so much shit to deal with, with my finite mental/emotional resources, that there’s only so much I can do. There are only so many choices I can make that take me out of the mainstream and into even-deeper public scrutiny, and still, y’know, survive.4 So I make the ones I do, the ones I can, the ones I am willing to defend in the face of the worst of the judgment.

(Just for not enforcing gender roles with my children, I am called a cunt and a dyke and a fucking crazy bitch and told I should have my children removed. There are all too real consequences for stepping out of kyriarchy’s line, before it even comes to the level of custody issues. It is not only unreasonable but actively harmful, a means of perpetuating kyriarchy and oppression, to demand that parents, already attacked on all sides, do all the work raising children radical. Society has to help make it reasonably safe for us to do so, as well.)

Vulva Baby or the Girlchick?

Girlchick seems the obvious blog moniker for this new child of mine, doesn’t it? We have a child with a penis, the eponymous Boychick, who was given that name years before his gender was self-declared, and now we have a child with a vulva. And I tried it on, used it in a post, tweeted it a handful of times — but it never sat right with me.

I look at this child, and I don’t see “girl”. I see a baby, as her brother was once a baby; nothing screamed “boy” about him, the occasional acquaintance’s comments to the contrary, and nothing announces “girl” about her. She is very much not her brother: she spits up less, and farts more; she is happier to be in a carrier when awake, but more often prefers facing to the side instead of towards me; her elimination signals are clearer, and she wakes more frequently at night; her hair is redder, her eyes less goopy, her scalp more bumpy, her digits shorter. And she has a vulva. What about this makes her a “girl”, if we are to avoid essentializing gender to genitalia?

When strangers ask me “Boy or girl?”5, I’m apt to answer “she’s a she”, because saying “girl” just doesn’t feel right, or honest, or accurate; this answers the question they really need to know6, which is what language to use to talk about this adorable being. But it seems nearly obscene to that heavily put a gender on an infant this young; can’t she just be a baby for a little while, before we start telling her what role to play?

Resolving the conflict

That may seem like a contradiction, this use of “she”, this (mostly) avoidance of “girl”. But one is about survival in a society antagonistic to non-gendering; the other is saying “this far and no farther”. I cannot stop all damage from being done to this perfect child of mine, but I will do what I can to minimize it. I won’t pretend that she’ll be unaffected by others’ perceptions of her, but I will help her be aware of them; I won’t tell her what her gender is, but I will tell her what her society thinks her gender should be; I won’t subject her to every strangers’ disapproval of alternative pronouns, but I will tell her she can choose another if she likes; I will tell her she has a vulva, but I won’t tell her she has to stay that way. And I will tell her I will always, always, always love her, whoever she turns out to be.

  1. He started declaring “I’m a boy!” around a year ago, at 3.5 years.
  2. No, really — that is the point of the “mommy wars”: there is no winning. It truly does not matter which “side” you fall on, because there’s the mass media, telling you how much the “other” side thinks you’re ruining your children/going to hell/Doin It Rong. Fun! Only, not.
  3. As though the psychoemotional toll of verbal abuse isn’t itself a problem?
  4. For someone with a set of mood disorder diagnoses that is the most lethal of those tracked, this is not hyperbole.
  5. Or, the strangest comment I’ve received yet: “I’m sorry, I can’t tell from here, is that a boy or a girl?” Like you could know if she weren’t inside the wrap?
  6. Yes, need, until English eliminates the need for gendered pronouns.

Elimination communication: in order to hear, you first must see

When the Boychick was an infant, in the long-ago days before this blog was started, he was known online as Naked Baby. Most days, he’d be found at home wearing, at most, a shirt and a snappi’d prefold — and in newborn days, would simply lie or be wrapped in a large flat diaper. Though it was partly due to his predilection for spitting up that made clothing seem a ridiculous endeavor, it was also thanks to elimination communication, aka EC — an alternative-to-exclusive-reliance-on-diapers (and alternative-to-conventional-potty-training) parenting method that we used with the Boychick way back when. And now it’s Vulva Baby’s turn.

As dressed as we ever get

Although I frequently roll my eyes at the term “diaper-free”, by which EC is sometimes also known, the way we practice elimination communication is nearly so. But far more compelling at the moment to me than the way is the why of it — and Vulva Baby is reminding me daily of those reasons. There are reasons like earlier toilet independence (and a smoother road to get there, usually), reduced diaper use, reduced diaper rash, less time spent cleaning up or in contact with poo (really!), etc, etc — but honestly, those aren’t the things I’m thinking of these days, especially not when I’m tossing yet another premium size prefold in the laundry because of one tiny grain of poo on it.

No, we do EC because Vulva Baby tells us to, because within the first day of being born she was clearly grunting at us and waiting to eliminate until we held her in position. We do EC because she fusses until we hold her over a bowl and say, with a psss, it’s ok to pee now. We do EC because I can’t imagine ignoring her first communications now that I so distinctly recognize them for what they are.

We do EC because she relaxes and trusts us more, knowing that we understand her — at least most of the time. We do EC because sometimes she sleeps through a pee and sometimes squirms and kicks until pottied, only to fall right back asleep. We do EC because it’s another tool we have to help us figure out why she’s upset, and, sometimes, gives us the ability to do something about it.

We do EC for philosophical reasons, too — because I believe that children, even newborns, are people, because I believe it’s more respectful. But more importantly, we do EC because it’s fun, because it’s satisfying, because neonates spend nearly all their awake time either eating or eliminating, and this turns half of what she does into something we do together.

I admit I had a lot more anxiety, and put a lot more pressure on myself, when doing EC with the Boychick. There are many factors to my more relaxed attitude now, among them that Vulva Baby signals more clearly (or are we simply better at recognizing them?), less anxiety overall (so far, *knocks wood*), a better understanding of what EC with a newborn is like, and, most tellingly, more confidence, now that I don’t feel the need to “prove” that it “works”, because I simply know that it does.

Although there are many problems with EC advocacy, many reasons not to shame or pressure others into doing it, this experience leaves me wanting to shout about it in every venue available, especially because I am becoming ever more convinced that the reason it is perceived (and experienced!) as “so hard” and “too time consuming” is that we don’t see it. I’d read all about EC before the Boychick was born, read and watched everything I could get my hands on, pestered people with a thousand questions online — but still, I had never, ever seen it in practice. I knew how it was supposed to work, but had no idea what it was actually like in daily life. Only now, having done it once already, do I have that practical, indelible experience and observation that society had denied me.

I’d delve further into kyriarchy and its obsession for consumerist fixes and its disdain for the messy complexities of relationship, but if you’ll excuse me, I have a baby to potty.

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.