≑ Menu

On feminsim and equality in parenting blogs

Man and Baby.jpg

If you were reading this blog a couple of years ago, you’ll know that my feminism is all about proper equality, by which I mean it’s about everyone, men as well as women. I think it’s just as important that men are not stigmatised for displaying behaviours that are socially coded feminine, as it is for women to do stuff that is coded masculine. I keep banging on about it because I feel that not nearly enough attention is paid to the former. And nowhere is this more apparent than in discussions of motherhood.

I started seeking out feminist blogs about pregnancy and children early on in my pregnancy, but sadly I never really found anything that properly worked for me. A huge theme on all these blogs is that unpaid caring work needs to be valued as much as paid work in the formal economy. And I could not agree more, absolutely. But what I found hugely problematic (and this was the case on almost every blog I came across) is that this unpaid work is consistently and uncritically referred to as mothering. It’s all about recognising the worth of women and how ‘we don’t have to be “like men”‘, as if that was an objective description. Of course the majority of caring work is still done by women, and carers need support, but it doesn’t have to be just women, that’s the whole point.

I actually left a few comments in various places suggesting that it might be helpful to refer to the gender neutral parenting rather than mothering, and that arguments for revaluing unpaid caring work could only benefit from being more inclusive, rather than making it purely a women’s issue. I was shot down by other commenters like you would not believe, in places purporting to be feminist. It wasn’t even that people disagreed with me, but that they seemed to genuinely not get what I was trying to say. No one else was saying anything similar either, it was just not part of the conversation. So after one particular exchange in which I left a series of increasingly defensive sounding explanations, I decided for my own sanity to stop commenting, stop following all but a couple of blogs, and stop reading the comments sections even on those.

I do wonder whether partly this is a US – Europe thing. When it comes to parenthood in industrialised, the USA does seem to hold a special position, and not in a good way.* Maybe if I lived in a country where 8 weeks unpaid maternity leave was considered generous, and employers are mostly refusing flexible working, I’d consider leaving work too, but honestly, it’s never crossed my mind. Even ignoring the long term financial impact, I find it difficult to imagine how anyone with a half decent job, given a genuine choice, would not chose to combine paid work and childcare in some way.** I find all the shouty arguments about whether intellectual or emotional work is more valuable and satisfying baffling, frankly. Who’s saying it’s an either or scenario? But maybe if I was forced to choose between two shitty options (full time or more, non-flexible work or completely withdrawing from the labour market), I’d get a bit defensive about whatever choice I’d made and would try to convert everyone to my side too. I kind of understand where the extreme polarisation of people’s views comes from, but at the end of the day it was too much for me.

I’ll talk a bit next week about our own decisions re parenting equality, which are not as consistent as I was expecting. In the meantime, thoughts, anyone?

* I don’t want to talk about this now, but I’m reading ‘Why have kids?’ at the moment, and I am truly shocked by a lot of it. Chapter 8 is particularly horrifying.
** With unskilled minimum wage jobs paying less than childcare would costs I get why you would just leave.

photo source

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anne @ The Frump Factor 14 November 2012, 11:46 am

    I’m not a parent, but I couldn’t agree with you more: we need to acknowledge that PARENTING is not just a woman’s business. I think a shift is happening, albeit slowly, even here in the US. In recent years, we’ve been hearing that more men are serving as stay-at-home dads. And in the current recession, in which job losses have affected men more than women, I believe those numbers have increased.

    Now, obviously, we still need to solve the issues of child care and family leave (we even call it that now, not maternity leave). The American workplace is not family-friendly, as a rule. But I believe that will change, and soon. Can you guess why? Because it’s not “just” a woman’s issue any more. If we want the hard work of parenting to earn the respect it deserves, the best thing we can do is acknowledge that men do it too.
    Anne @ The Frump Factor recently posted..And all I got was this lousy T-shirtMy Profile

    • Franca 14 November 2012, 12:21 pm

      That’s good to hear! It wasn’t the impression I got from the blogs and the Jessica Valenti book, which seemed to be populated almost entirely by women. Interesting about family leave as well. Things are slowly getting better on that front in the UK, but we’re still far far away from anything properly equal. Even the most progressive plan (which wouldn’t kick in til 2015) would rely on the mother transferring her leave to the father, rather than the dad having rights in his own right. And employers are apparently up in arms about this, thinking it will ruin their businesses (which means men’s work is more valuable than womens’?) But then it’s a very different question depending oif you are talking about 8 weeks unpaid or a year of which most is paid.

  • Stef 14 November 2012, 12:43 pm

    So nice to hear someone speak about equality πŸ™‚
    All too often I read up on feminism and find bloggers making blatantly discriminating statements regarding men in the same sentence as they bang on about equal rights. Somehow it seems to be okay to stereotype and poke fun at men, which seems to me to be a step backwards and away from equality. Only it’s not something it is easy to be loud about, it’s all too easy to be misunderstood

    Obviously I have no real insights into parenting, but this aspect of it sure is an interesting topic.
    Stef recently posted..You can call me DonaldMy Profile

    • Franca 21 November 2012, 5:49 pm

      I agree, it’s weird. Like stereotypes are ok as long as they make women look good. I am actually allergic to any ‘men are like this, women are like this’ statements. Like I hear it all the time that women are better managers because they’re more emotionally aware. It drives me up the wall!

    • Lauren Cooke 29 November 2012, 2:26 pm

      This is exactly what I wrote about on my blog recently – not the parenting thing, so much, but the equality thing. I actually found myself worrying about whether feminism is becoming stigmatising, inwards looking – or whether at the least that is how it is perceived. It’s a really interesting debate!
      Lauren Cooke recently posted..Feminist? Equalist? What do you call yourself in today’s society?My Profile

  • madam0wl 14 November 2012, 2:56 pm

    My husband has always said he’d happily be the stay-at-home-parent (or work-from-home, but little does he know how hard it is to “work” with a kid at home)… and I’d/we’d have been fine with that if I could have found work in the same pay grade as his. Even with a higher level of education than he has, due to the years of experience he has acquired by now, it’s pretty much impossible for me to find work in his salary range, and he isn’t even making big $$$, really. But it’s income enough to have allowed me to stay at home for the past 3-4 years, as long as we kept a fairly tight budget.

    Given the choice I’d have picked a combination of working and childcare, sure. But our reality, even a higher-than-minimum-wage, “half decent” job would just barely pay enough to cover the cost of childcare, especially if you have more than one child. Plus, not every child is the kind of kid that will happily go off to childcare (center based -or- home based) without any problems, issues, recurring sickness, etc. So the “emotional cost” has to be factored in as well. In our case, it would have been way more stressful for me (and the family) to keep working, making just enough to pay for a level of childcare that often ended up being more trouble than it was worth.

    I hope I don’t come off as defensive. I get what you are saying about gender neutral parenting vs mothering and don’t really see how anyone would be confused about that. I just think choosing undervalued unpaid work is not an easy decision for anyone to make -and- in most cases, equality in the workplace or not, the fathers are still the ones making more money… so there are probably quite a few ruffled feathers out there in the parenting blog world.

    Now that I’m nearing the other side of it all I’m really a bit at a loss. Should I go back to work? Do I want to go back to work? All 3 are in school now but going back to work full-time in the traditional sense, like 8 – 5, would still mean needing after-school childcare, maybe even before school if I had to commute like my husband does. And then there would be a need for full-time care during summer vacations / other holidays. It still just seems like too much of a hassle. But am I starting to feel intellectually (and maybe a touch emotionally) unsatisfied? That’s a big yes.
    madam0wl recently posted..Words & VideosMy Profile

    • Laura 19 November 2012, 3:43 am

      This is my situation too. I am also an American. My husband makes more money than I could (although I have more education),but also works long hours. It makes the most sense financially, emotionally, and logistically for me to be a stay-at-home parent. Among my friends, the stay at home parent is the one who makes less money; and the couples who both work full time with 2 or more children under school age have a lot of stress and angst. Part time work is often hard to find, pays less, and can be inflexible or difficult to juggle.

      • Franca 26 November 2012, 8:43 am

        I won’t repeat everything I said to Sandra, but I totally understand you, and I’m sorry that is the situation. I would say that where part time work is often hard to find, pays less, and can be inflexible or difficult to juggle, and the person working full time has to do long hours, that’s not a genuine choice. And that’s a problem!

    • Franca 21 November 2012, 6:15 pm

      Thanks for your comment, I don’t think you sound defensive at all. I suppose the situation you describe I would not see as a genuine choice if all there is is undervalued underpaid 8 to 5 work. The money thing is hard. It makes sense but then it’s a vicious circle because the lower paid person falls further behind. We were actually in a very similar position until about two months ago, when Dave finally found a permanent job. Before that he was in a satisfying but completely precarious (through an agency, to be renewed at 3 monthly intervals) job that paid just enough to cover childcare, whereas I’ve been in a permanent job for six years building my career and am in a good place. There didn’t seem to be any option other than for me to go back full time as soon as my full pay maternity leave ran out, and Dave was going to stay at home for a while. I wasn’t happy about it at all though, both because I wouldn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted with Captain Nemo, and also because of the impact on Dave’s already pretty fractured career. Even now he has a permanent job, he still earns much less than me so it still would make more financial sense for me to be full time and him to be very part time. We are going to try to both go 4 days a week though (or maybe 4/3 if we need it). Good luck with the decisions about the future!

  • Susan K 14 November 2012, 3:00 pm

    I am also expecting, and I am the primary breadwinner in the household. My husband works part time, and his personality is made suited to more flexible, contract-based work, than dealing with meetings, bureaucracies, and other fun stuff on a daily basis (seems like I am well suited to all that). So the obvious outcome is that he will do more of the child care, although supplemented with some professional childcare. While we both like this arrangement, we’re not so naive and realize that we will both have to deal with social consequences and judgments (especially from his own family) about this less common arrangement. My sister-in-law is a stay-at-home mom, and his mother thinks this is perfect. However, the fact that I make more money than her son upsets her to no end, even though she claims to be a feminist.
    I’m curious to read your thoughts about the Valenti book, which I don’t want to spend money on but have on hold at the public library.

    • Franca 26 November 2012, 5:32 pm

      Yeah, so happy for you! When are you due? Now you can get deep into mommy blogs πŸ˜‰

      I liked the Valenti book, it’s an easy read, and I liked the balance between personal, other people’s individual stories and general statsitics. I suppose I had expected to be a bit more challenged by her opinions, since virtually every review I read said something like ‘I don’t agree with much of it, but it definitely made me think’. There wasn’t much I didn’t agree with, and it was only small stuff, not the fundamentals, so I wonder what they were talking about. I did hope it would go a bit further beyond the identifying the problems towards some practical solutions but I suppose that would have been a whole different book. I’m not sure I’ll read it again, and I’m not sure it quite justified me breaking my ‘no buying books’ rule, but since it’s american, and written for an american audience, my library were not realistically ever going to stock it.

      • Susan K 29 November 2012, 6:00 pm

        It is on my list. I am intrigued even more now. I’ve been following Valenti casually since her work on Feministing.
        I am due in mid June, so I’m close to the end of the first trimester (so fast!) I’m already deep in the world of mommy blogs. It’s been so great following your pregnancy and a few others online.

  • Jen 14 November 2012, 4:16 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! I consistently use the term “parent” and “parenting” and try and think and act in terms of equality in my family life (this reflects my attitude in non-family life too). Aside from birthing and breastfeeding there’s nothing men don’t do, and I know so many two-dad, two-mom, multi-parent &/or transgendered families anyway that these divisions just seem ridiculous. I’ve found lots of allies and am just getting on with things as best I can, which is all any parent can do.

    I think your analysis of differences between the US and elsewhere are accurate. I live in Canada and the contrast between the two countries in this area could not be more stark – Canadians have 12 months of parental leave (either parent can take time, and one can take some and then the other etc). The differences in healthcare are also highlighted, Americans talk about how much they had to pay to have babies whereas we don’t. These factors do make their situation different, and not in positive ways I find. There’s a lot of stress and everything comes down to individual families rather than community support/solutions.

    • Franca 26 November 2012, 6:49 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Good point about non-heterosexual families. Another part of the debate that’s often ignored!

  • Daniel 14 November 2012, 5:58 pm

    As a chap, I agree with the ideal of the feminism you cite, I think our in our society gender roles are forced upon individuals, and non-conformerity is pushed out. (My boy has danced around in a tutu, likewise one of my daughters wants to be a boy! We’ve never forced roles onto them or told them not to do something because its not what boys/girls do). I’ve never fitted the ‘male’ mould properly either!

    As a parent, I think its interesting how your own views change as you mature and your children grow. I have 3 children, born about 2 years apart, and while I understand the desire to work (your current identity) and try and balance work and childcare, there is no ideal solution. We decided that my wife would put her career on “ice” to focus on raising our children. She will cite the lack of identity of being a mother, (You become xxx’s mum at the school gate) as a huge frustration, (this does become easier as you make friends). She give up teaching to bring up our children, and we accepted the compromises that come with this. But on the other hand we both agree that the time spent with our children during the early years is priceless, and seeing them develop, with as much parental time as possible has been vital to their ongoing development. Would I have stayed at home? Probably not, and not for any other reason than I don’t have the patience!

    I actually think the role of childcare, whilst needed, is also breaking our society, (it forfils the government ideal of getting as many people out to work as possible). Added to this in many ways the media push unrealistic ideals onto women, i.e. you can have it all; be a great mother, successful career etc etc. The reality is that this is impossible to achieve, raising children is exhausting, they demand attention, by that I mean even if they have spent the day at childcare, they still want and crave time with parents (Maslows heirachy – Love/belonging). To have it all, to be perfect, is not possible, be it male or female, simply due to their not being enough time in the day.

    There is no doubt that parenting is hard, its hard to come to terms with the changing relationships between husband and wife that children bring, time together become sparse, time as a family can take over, team work and communication, and looking out for each other. But it is also very rewarding. In balance, its worth considering the short amount of our lives thats actually focussed on bringing up children, and the joy they can bring along with the frustrations! Against the time you spend working over a lifetime.

    Sorry if this an intrusion, feel free to delete, I happened upon your blog, and found your article interesting! Good luck!

    • Franca 21 November 2012, 8:03 pm

      Thanks for commenting. I completely agree it’s good to spend time with your kids, and I’m not advocating full time working for both parents at all. Or ‘having it all’ which is clearly a recipe for disaster! I just think that if you need/want to have 7 or 5 or 8 or however many working days a week to live at the standard you want, then doesn’t it make more sense to share these equally between partners? So both parents get to enjoy the time with the child, and to have the satisfaction of doing something adult. I am also very wary of the idea of putting your career on ice, like you can just pick up where you left off. There might be some jobs where this is still possible, but in this economy, the vast majority of people trying to reenter the labour force now after taking 4-6 years off are find it extremely difficult to get a job at the level they left off at. We’ve been through the frustrations of (good) jobhunting for the last two years, and I can only imagine what it would be like with suty skills (or skills that are preceived to be rusty). I’m also very aware of the risks for families with one worker if something happens to that person’s job, or divorce or widowhood, it always seems such a gamble.

  • StephC 14 November 2012, 11:22 pm

    Agreed. When we had a tiny baby, my husband and I split the parenting 50/50. Really. I was working and he was finishing uni. And there we had our tiny baby. It didn’t make financial sense to put her into care until she was nearly 4, and even then only because we knew she needed to be around other kids….

    It’s so funny to me, because during my pregnancy my MIL took great delight in telling me how my husband had no experience with babies, he was hopeless, what do you expect from a boy, etc. She’s a feminist! A good old fashioned bra-burning type! Yet she had this awful attitude towards male parenting….

    But I had the last laugh on that one… My husband is a fantastic parent. Sometimes I joke he’s a better mother than I am. When our girl was small, he took careful pains with her- dressing her, trimming her nails, feeding her, playing little games with her, taking her to the botanical gardens to see the changing flowers.. He still does her hair in the morning.

    It’s a huge shame about the shortness and the scrooginess of the maternity leave in the United States. It never fails to amaze me how many Americans get shirty when you point out little details of living like that, like it’s not vitally important to society to support parents. Part of the problem is that something like 20% of Americans have passports so they never pull their heads out to see things are done better in a lot of different places…
    StephC recently posted..Finished Object: The Felted Sweater ToteMy Profile

    • Franca 22 November 2012, 9:53 pm

      Wow! He has no experience with babies! I have no experience with babies! And I’m sure I’ll be fine! And the only way you get experience is to just do it. I think Dave will be a great parent, and if anything will be more ‘natural’ at it than me, because he’s got a more caring personality type. It really doesn’t have anything to do with gender.

  • Veronica Darling 15 November 2012, 11:47 pm

    Yay! I’m very happy you’re exploring all this because I tried when I was pregz, but couldn’t focus on anything the way my analytical brain used to… Now I’ve lost my pregnancy hormones (I was surprised they affected me so!), I’m back into reading my feminist chit chat blogs… (you know Blue Milk is my favourite: http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/ cause she’s Australian) and I’m actually thinking a lot recently about capitalism and that pressure to keep up with things turns Mothering into a Work ideal, etc but I haven’t really grasped it for me and my family yet.

    American perspectives can be really weird, in my opinion, because there is a very strong capitalist structure but also different government benefits/systems… ANYWAYS! Would love to chat more but a baby is calling me! xoxo
    Veronica Darling recently posted..Baby DarlingMy Profile

    • Franca 26 November 2012, 8:32 am

      I didn’t know blue milk was Australian! That’s one of the blogs I’ve decided to keep. We were shown lots of pictures from Australia in our antenatal classes!

  • Yasmeen (Castle Fashion) 16 November 2012, 1:19 am

    I have no idea how I found your blog but I’m in love. I think because the word feminism linguistically revolves around females, it’s easy to forget the whole point of feminism is problematizing traditional gender roles and emphasizing choice for all. My boyfriend has always reassured me that my career is as open a door as him being a stay-at-home dad. I like that idea. And I think as blogger progress along their “feminist journeys”, they’ll come to realize that women’s rights are virtually inseparable from dissecting the macho complex.

    When I think about how slowly the US has been working toward accommodating such a ubiquitous biological tendency, it kind of just blows my mind. Women have been giving birth to children for as long as we’ve existed and yet it’s still interfering with their careers and financial stability? In fact, in my Gender Economics class we learned about why women inevitably lean toward career options like teaching and push away positions in technology or engineering. Those industries grow very quickly and returning from maternity leave with a rusty skill set doesn’t work. It could certainly work if we started developing programs to accommodate for pregnancy but I, like I said, the US has been working slowly. Very well written and thoughtful post, btw.
    Yasmeen (Castle Fashion) recently posted..Covet | Holiday StyleMy Profile

    • Franca 26 November 2012, 8:39 am

      Oh, don’t get me started about science! Dave was an academic geneticist until recently and it was terrible for parents! There was a woman doing a postdoc in his lab, who had a baby half way through. She only took 6 months and then returned full time, but still was getting no end of crap from her boss. They never considered extending her two years to make up for the maternity leave, and at the end of her time she was basically told that she had not achieved anything and wasn’t very good. No one took into account that she was away for a quarter of her time! I wonder if they would deal with someone being off sick for extended periods in the same way.

      The other story Dave always likes to tell is that he was at a conference and this woman was being given an lifetime achievement award. They illustrated how dedicated she was to science by saying how she would go into the lab at weekends, leaving her children outside in the car in the car park. AS IF THAT WAS A GOOD THING!

  • Terri 17 November 2012, 12:52 am

    I know that when I remarried at age 40, one of the most attractive qualities about my husband to be was that he had been raising 4 children on his own. I found him to be an incredibly nurturing man. And now that he has retired ahead of me, we review our childcare (a grandchild in our household) on a daily basis to see whose schedule is most suited for the care that day. It’s very flexible and suits us both.
    Terri recently posted..Visible Monday: Missing in ActionMy Profile

    • Franca 26 November 2012, 8:40 am

      I think that’s wonderful. Anyone raising four children on their own is a hero in my book!

  • Rosa 26 November 2012, 12:14 am

    I think that there is something that you are not quite ‘getting’. Your feminism is missing ‘acknowledgment’. I’m using the ” because acknowledgment is a pretty big facet of feminist thought, and one that needs to be taken into account to understand certain theories. Mothering is a term used in blogs more often than parenting, and mothering is the ‘job’ that a lot of people want to see valued (I’m not supporting this position myself, just explaining the thinking behind it) because they are acknowledging that *most daily parenting is done by women*. This therefore makes it a womens’ issue. In an ideal world, parenting would be done equally by both genders, and then we could talk about using the word ‘parenting’ instead, but those blogs which equate mothering/parenting to a womens’ issue, are acknowledging the actual statistics, rather than using language to create an environment to create a new statistic.

    The same applies to your opening sentence on how your feminism is ‘about proper equality’ and therefore addresses issues for both men and women. While I would argue that all social movements, including feminism, work towards a better future for *all* people, regardless of gender etc, your inclusion of men’s issues in your definition of feminism does not acknowledge that *we are not beginning with a level playing field*. Women are at a significantly worse disadvantage in many areas of life, all over the world, than men are, and this is why they need a movement such as feminism to advance their concerns, politically and socially.

    That men are stigmatised for displaying ‘female’ behaviour is certainly a problem, and one that needs attention and highlighting. But decrying a movement which works against such massive odds against women (I’m really looking at large, global issues here, but it works on all levels, right down to pink lego πŸ˜‰ ) because sometimes it seems to some women as though there is not space to fight for the rights of some men too, is not really acknowledging the bigger picture at all.

    • Franca 27 November 2012, 9:27 am

      Thanks for your constructive comment, I appreciate it. However, I don’t think that saying ‘we should value unpaid childcare’ instead of ‘we should value mothering’ is not acknowledging that the majority of caring work is done by women*. But it does show that it doesn’t have to be, and that not all of it is. It doesn’t exclude those men who are taking an active part in changing things, unlike statements such as ‘we shouldn’t try to do what men do’ as if men were some unitary group that there can be no understanding with. Maybe it’s because I’m a civil servant, and the university department I went to was big on this stuff, but I do believe that non-sexist/gender neutral language is really important and more powerful than you might think. I think with all this parenting stuff, and the role women in public/private life in general, we are in a situation where we have fairly strong equality laws and formal rights and yet things are still moving far too slowly, and possibly even in the wrong direction. As I see it, the barriers are socio-cultural, and so the solutions would do well to focus on that too. I’m not suggesting that lots of effort should be put into men’s stuff and the expense of women’s, like single father groups or whatever, merely that when lobbying for parenting rights and services, these should be designed in a way that is accessible to men too*. I really don’t see this as an either or scenario at all. It’s maybe a little bit more effort, and requires some reframing of campaigning, but the benefits of not creating a confrontational men vs. women situation (always given as the reason why many women refuse to identity as feminists), and not inadvertently reinforcing Conservative ideas about women being naturals at this stuff surely outweighs that a million times. That being said, I do acknowledge that my feminism comes very much from my privileged standpoint of being a middle class educated woman with very limited direct experience of sexism, in a country that does seem to have the legal basics more or less in place, so I can worry about the social barriers. Of course there are contexts where things are so bad that efforts might better focused on just women’s stuff. And maybe the US is one of those contexts, I don’t know.

      * I do think that is really important and David Cameron saying that quality impact assessments are unnecessary paperwork makes me sick. I just don’t think that the mothering/parenting point in any way precludes having that view.
      ** I was speaking to my friend who has a 9 month old last night, we were talking about the new rights for mothers to transfer the final 6 months of maternity leave to the dad, and she said she thought that men doing this were brave, because all new parents support is so completely focused on women.

  • Lorena 18 January 2013, 2:19 pm

    Here maternity paid leave is 3 months.
    Where i live the issue with having kids is that there are no good day cares and in most cases you need at least two working people to maintain a household. When I was growing up we had a maid at home that took care of us, but that is extinct $.
    Education is ranked poorly, if fact in a recent study we ranked 63 and 64 on a total of 65 countries participating that were tested on mathematics, reading comprehension and science.
    So this means that you cannot rely on the government for education and have to dish out at least 500.00 USD a month on private schooling. Regardless of the fact that our minimum wage is 380.00 USD a month !
    Lorena recently posted..Messy hair morningMy Profile