A recurring issue that’s been troubling me, lately: my children have begun asking why there are no women who … fill in the blank. Why are there no women who play hockey (in the NHL, in the playoffs, which are on every evening at our house). Why are there no women who coach kids’ soccer (thankfully, we found some women coaches to counteract that observation; but it’s still mostly true. It’s mostly dads out there on the field). I’m trying to think of another example of “no women who …” but can’t offhand. Anyway, it’s a good question. It reminds me that we aren’t, exactly, who we claim to be, as a society. Our relentless message is that girls can do anything, be anything, choose anything; and while it’s essentially true, there’s no counter-conversation about why so many girls/women don’t, and what, if anything, we should do about it.
Above is the hard copy of my women’s studies project. Some of you were involved in it, having responded to my questionnaire on a separate blog created for the project, called Moms Are Feminists Too. Thanks for your participation. I continue to feel inspired to add content and thought to that blog, even though it feels like I’m formulating ideas even as I go along. The above zine was produced with a great deal of self-doubt, and I almost didn’t hand it in, despite the effort behind it. I almost handed in an alternative production that was tidy and pleasant and not very activist-y (yes–that is how much of a keener, I am–I actually completed this single project TWICE). The zine you see above was produced late at night in a fit of scissors-ing, pasting, and scrawling. The words came from the heart and were not exactly well-planned, and I lost a few marks for that, but the emotion and purpose must have come through because the prof liked it enough to keep it.
I confess that the project surprised me in a number of different ways. It surprised me that I felt this passionately about motherhood and work, and the value (or cultural undervaluing, to be more precise) of children and childcare. I was surprised by how hard it was for me to step out and declare a position. It was difficult even to declare myself a feminist, with all the negative connotations associated with that word, and because this blog, Obscure CanLit Mama, has never had much interest in politicizing family. It doesn’t seem the place for it. I wonder why not?
Here’s another tiny and rather ironic revelation that came over me on the drive home from my last class, tonight. I thought: gee, I kind of took this class to see whether my brain could still retain information and regurgitate it on command (which is what most educational testing schemes require of students). Apparently, I still can. Really, it stands to reason that I’d be much the same student now as then. So why the heck did I think my capacity to be a “good” student might have changed? Easy. Because in between the last time I was a student, and now, I gave birth to four children. Somewhere along the line, I must have bought into that theory about “motherbrain.” You know, how motherhood fuzzes our brains, how we become all leaky and exhausted and incapable of rational thought. Forever. Um. Damn! I cannot believe that some part of me actually believed that theory enough that I needed to test myself, to prove myself. Personally, I think motherbrain is probably the same as fatherbrain–caused by severe sleep deprivation, and, generally, passing post-infancy. This is just one small example of how insidious these messages are, how ever-present, how we tell them to ourselves, and pull them into ourselves, and how they have the potential to keep us from exploring wider possibilities, or pushing beyond what’s expected of us–and what we expect of ourselves.
This class has actually been something I never anticipated it being. It’s been consciousness-raising. (And I already considered myself a feminist). Oh, how I would like to push my children’s gender boundaries just a little bit more, how I would like for all of them to share those best qualities that shouldn’t be gendered at all. Kindness, gentleness, empathy, grace, ambition. To be thoughtful, hardworking, confident, open. To lead, to share, to cooperate, to give. To be creative, active, brave. Never to fear judgement. To develop job skills and domestic skills, and to be loving caregivers.
I have not been a good blogger this week and there’s a reason. The reason is that I have started writing a parenting column twice a week for a new website that will launch in December. I’ll invite you there, when it goes live. Meantime, though there’s no direct poaching of subject matter (well, not in the columns I worked on this week), there is a general overlap between the genres. The columns are polished, obviously, and much more topically focused. But are blog-like in that I’m talking about real things that are really happening.
But I need to continue this blog, and push to find a few minutes here and there (like right now–while CJ “washes” every plastic dish in the house in our kitchen sink while standing precariously under-supervised upon a stool with a revolving seat while juggling lit matches … um, just kidding about that last thing. Please stay calm. And, yes, aren’t I eminently qualified to write a Parenting Column? I find myself muttering that on occasion since landing the gig. Hey, this is a great Parenting Column moment. Parenting Expert over here! Please, nobody look!).
Because I haven’t blogged most of the week, I’ve got an overload of topics on the brain. Such as, how has this return-to-school experiment gone? I’ll tell you. I’m not a student anymore. It’s not part of my identity. It would suck to go back to school for real. It would take some humbling. And a genuine desire to acquire the skills contained within the degree–and to get to the end. That’s the only reason I’d go back. If it felt imperative. I’ve enjoyed stretching my brain, and it’s awfully pleasant to spend a couple of hours away from home every Thursday evening, but, hey, I could accomplish that by going for a walk with a girlfriend, and get some exercise to boot. Also, though he hasn’t explicitly expressed this, I’m pretty sure Kevin is terrified that I might go back to school. This experiment (ONE CLASS THIS TERM!) has proven how hard it would be on the whole family to launch this mother into a new career. It would be a full-family project, and I wouldn’t be the only one making sacrifices. Interesting. Trot over to my Moms Are Feminists Too blog which is where I really should be venting about this subject and discovering creative solutions.
If only I weren’t so tired. Topic four. So Tired. I felt so tired this afternoon it was like being extremely hungry, except insert sleep for hunger. And CJ declined to nap. This took me way back, when, after a night spent up with two kids under two, I’d be so exhausted by mid-morning that I’d try for a brief nap on the living-room floor with Apple-Apple crawling on my head and Albus pulling open my eyelids. Good times.
Well. I have managed to rouse myself in order to cook up a delicious-smelling hamburger curry which simmers on the stove behind me now while light-as-air rice is steaming inside a clay pot in the oven while CJ tries out surfing in a giant wok on the kitchen floor (having safely descended). Some of the things mentioned in the last over-long sentence feel like achievements. Actually, they all do, even the surfing undersupervised (and entirely content) toddler. No one’s going to grade me on these accomplishments, or, likely, even say thanks, but nevertheless … the best moment yesterday was walking onto campus and remembering the warmth of the scene I’d left behind: bean/sausage/endive soup and fresh-baked bread upon the table, which one of the children had set without (major) complaint, my family sitting down to eat. (Though apparently both soup and bread struck out with the two youngest, who dined on cereal instead). Nevertheless. It’s a scene that takes constant vigilance and effort to conjure, day after day; my life. Ours.
What a mess this house is. What a crumb-cluttered, toy-tossed, almost indescribable state of yuck. Here’s a stuffed duck I found inside a pot inside a drawer. Duck soup. We suffered complete pandemonium after tonight’s supper, for which there was no explanation. Both parents were too tired to rise from the table to staunch the inevitable tragedy-in-waiting. (Nothing too terrible happened). But, crikey, it was loud. You could have called it downright chaos. Anarchy.
After dish-washing, and lunch-packing, I corralled the older two children into helping me plan out new morning and evening responsibilities. Actually, there’s nothing new about any of these, it’s just new that we’re writing it up and posting it on the wall under the saleable titles of: Happy Day AM!, and Happy Day PM! (Chores, duties, and other words of that ilk did not feel quite so inspiring. Hopefully this is not a case of Orwellian double-speak). Thanks to both Janis and Marnie for their helpful suggestions on organizing and motivating feet-dragging children. We’ll see how this works, and for how long …
In other news, I’m discovering mixed emotions about my women’s studies zine/blog project (read the previous post if this is the first you’re hearing about it), though perhaps should not be taking its temperature minute-by-minute (curse you, internet, curse you!). Talk about a consciousness-raising project (sadly, it may only be raising my own …). But I spent part of last night surfing for blogs by feminist mothers, and found … so much anger and bitterness. Destruction rather than construction. I wonder whether this is the feminist that other women don’t want to define themselves as, and whether the word now means something other than what it once did. And maybe I’m a complete naif for never noticing that. I’ve always rather blithely defined myself as a feminist, without bothering to explain: oh, but not that kind of feminist. But I guess I’m not that kind of feminist, really. I’m not a natural activist, that’s for certain. I have an abhorrence toward violence of any kind, and rage causes me deep discomfort. I do recognize there are situations in which rage might be the only response. But I still don’t like it. I don’t like feeling angry myself or assigning blame. I’m wondering … can change happen … gracefully, gently, slowly? Can it be brought about by people asking: how can I make this better? What does better look like? How can I help?
Please go and read the responses to the questionnaire that are coming in. I’ve posted them here. They’re lovely and thought-provoking, and I thank everyone who’s taken time to reply. You’ve got me thinking, too.
Hi readers. Could I ask a favour, please? I’m working on a zine project for my women’s studies class, and have launched a blog to complement it. Both relate to a recent post on how the personal feels political. The blog is called Moms Are Feminists Too. If you are a feminist and a mother, or even a mother who’s thought a bit about feminism, would you consider visiting and responding to my opening questionnaire? It focuses on motherhood, identity, work, and feminism.
I haven’t got any brilliant ideas, yet, for change, but basically want to create a forum to discuss how we can make this job of mothering more valued in our culture. Think of these two extreme characterizations of stay-home mothers: yummy mummies and welfare moms. Think of the negative baggage both of those images carry: on the one hand, we have the self-indugent hyper-privileged moms, and on the other, the lazy, uneducated moms. It’s mean. And it’s prevalent. (Can you think of a different prevailing characterization for motherhood today? If so, I want to know! My fuzzy-mummy brain can’t conjure any up …). (And, yes, I wrote that last sentence on purpose). Stay-at-home dads face similar problems, which makes me think the underlying issue is a general cultural disdain for childcare and children.
Because this is a school-related project, I can’t promise it will have legs past the assignment’s due date. But then again, maybe it will. Thanks in advance for your help and input!
Note: you don’t have agree with everything / anything I’m saying to add your voice to the mix.