Mother’s Day, 2015

I was on Radio NZ Nights a week or two ago, talking feminism and motherhood. You can listen to the podcast here: RNZ Nights – Feminism and Motherhood.

Often mothers feel that there isn’t a place for them in feminism. I think that’s a mistaken view, although it’s an understandable one. If feminism is about making choices, then motherhood does tend to run you slap bang into traditional gender roles, and suddenly there are no possible choices for you to make. So “choice” feminism simply has nothing to say to you.

But there is so much feminist stuff to say about motherhood.

For starters, we have a weird conversation about motherhood in our culture. On the one hand, all the rhetoric tells us that mothers are valued and that their role is the most important role a woman can have, but on the other, there is often very little support for mothers (oh for flexible work, and readily available childcare, and financial support, and easy access to healthcare, and employers who understand that schools are on holiday for 10 weeks of the year, and support for breastfeeding, and…).

On top of that, mothers are constantly judged. Then judged some more. Damned if you do go back to work (you’re selfish) and damned if you don’t (you’re a bludger and every bit of support for you and your children is taken out of the hides of hardworking taxpayers). But of course, you “chose” to be a mother, or you “chose” to work, so best you just live with your choices!

Then there’s all the issues around childcare and housework. Women still seem to end up doing far more of these everyday tasks, even when both parents are working. And if fathers do take on some of the childcare, then they’re praised for it. Or praised for “babysitting” their kids.

On the other hand, I’ve heard fathers being criticised for staying at home with the kids, and I know that fathers who take on the primary caregiving role often feel isolated and very much unwanted at playgroups and schools. As ever, patriarchy harms men too… Oh for a world in gender roles didn’t constrain us so much.

So when it comes to Mother’s Day, well, it’s lovely to have a cup of coffee in bed, and to spend some time with my beautiful daughters, and talking to my wonderful mum. But that’s very much an individual thing, something that happens between me and my mum, and me and my daughters. But when we look at our wider society, we see that there’s so much work still to do around motherhood and parenting and valuing women’s work, and valuing women. And the nominal respect we show for mothers on Mother’s Day makes me feel angry. It’s all buy mum this, and make her feel nice for just one day, and let’s pretend that we really do care about mothers and mothering, but we’re not actually going to do anything about it.

Marama Davidson puts it well.

When all mothers are truly valued as integral and essential parts of our economy, our politics, our workforce, our families and our society. …….until then the people pushing the mother damning agendas that we see today should all step down from any delight they take on Mother’s Day. Have you no shame?!

Finally, on Mother’s Day, remember that there are women who long to be mothers but for one reason and another, do not have children, and there are women who have lost children, and people who have lost their mothers. For so many of us, this can be a lovely family day, but for others, it can be very sad.

As for me today, it was a busy start to the day with eight or so extra teenagers in the house this morning, sleeping over after the after-ball party. I got up early to unstack the dishwasher and get breakfast set up, only to find that my lovely youngest daughter had gotten up already and organised everything already, and made a large pot of coffee to boot. And now that the extra teenagers have all departed, and the house is quiet, my three girls are making dinner for me.

The really nice thing is that my girls often do this sort of thing. They look after me all the time, not just on Mother’s Day. I am so very blessed to have these beautiful children.

To finish off – my favourite feminist parenting blog is Blue Milk, written by Andie Fox. I recommend it. I’m also enjoying Boganette’s Mama said. If you are one of the three people in the world who haven’t read her opening post yet, then I suggest you pop on over there now to read it: I am grateful, now f*#k off. Be warned: Boganette’s post is full of swearing. If you prefer to avoid the swearing, then here’s a version that she put up with the swearing removed: I am grateful and….

1080 and threatening babies

When I was campaigning, I came across a few people who opposed the use of 1080 poison. Their reasons varied: some thought that possums were darling creatures who did no harm, others wanted their dogs to be safe in the bush, still others argued that the bush fell silent after 1080 drops. They all wanted to know what I thought about using 1080 to control possums and other introduced pests.

“I follow the science,” was my standard reply. And the science is very very clear: 1080 is very effective with respect to controlling possums and other pests, and it does minimal harm.

There is scads of actual research supporting this conclusion. Not anecdotes, not hunters’ tales, but scientific research, conducted using standard scientific protocols. And the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment backs the use of 1080. If the evidence changes, and by that, I mean that if the *scientific* evidence changes, then I will change my mind about using 1080. But until then, it’s the best weapon we’ve got against possums and other pests that are decimating our native bush and wildlife.

So when some nasty person, or group of people, threatens to poison babies because they don’t like 1080, then like most New Zealanders, I’m outraged. It is never right to threaten babies in order to make a political point.

More than that, I’m sad and angry for the parents who are trying to do their best for their children. Feeding my babies was a lovely time for us, most of the time. It was about cuddles and talking and eye contact and cherishing my littlies, even in the turmoil of trying to manage twins. Moments of tenderness and love for us.

How many parents are now upset and worried because some fool thinks it’s okay to threaten babies. There are so many things wrong with this action, but the one that is biting deep for me is this robbing parents of moments of joy and tenderness with their children.

As I tweeted yesterday, I think that the anti-1080 lobby in New Zealand will have lost a lot of its supporters now.

Handy research for talking to the pregnancy police

Like every other woman I know, when I was pregnant I was subject to all sorts of instructions, from all sorts of people, about what I should and shouldn’t do. Top of the list was not drinking alcohol. Then there was not drinking coffee, and making sure that I put on enough weight, but of course not too much weight. On it and on went. I was infantalised, and control was taken away from me.

I especially resented the advice about alcohol. The pregnancy police took “We don’t what level of alcohol is safe during pregnancy” and turned it into, “Therefore, pregnant women must never ever touch the demon drink” despite clear evidence that one or two alcoholic drinks a week don’t harm the fetus. Here’s a classic of the genre:

However, a spokesman for the Department of Health said that its advice would remain unchanged.

“We are continually taking account of evidence and welcome this further report.

“However, the research does not lead to any change in the current UK wide advice that pregnant women and those trying to conceive should, as a precautionary measure, avoid alcohol.”

Additional advice from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence urges women to avoid alcohol, particularly in the first three months of pregnancy. (Source)

But here’s an article from economist Emily Oster, who spent quite a bit of time digging through research papers when she was pregnant.

Take back your pregnancy: Modern pregnancy comes with a long list of strict rules, but does it have to? An economist examines the data and finds room for choice amid the familiar limits.

Her findings?

  • An occasional glass of wine is fine.
  • Most soft cheeses are fine.
  • Most deli meat is fine.
  • Having a low birthweight baby is worrying, so you do need to gain a fair amount of weight during pregnancy, but gaining “too much” weight is not really an issue.
  • Drinking coffee is fine.
  • Her concluding paragraph nails it:

    Pregnant women are clamoring for better information about everything from exercise to hair dye to bed rest and delivery. They don’t want categorical limits based on fuzzy science and half-baked research. They want to assess risks for themselves and make their own best decisions.

    Just so. Stop with the infantalising and policing and controlling women, and trust us to make our own decisions.

    Other posts on pregnancy policing:
    Because it’s always better to police women
    Another opportunity for body policing lost

    Framing the judginess of Plunket

    It turns out that plenty of new mothers aren’t exactly forthcoming with Plunket nurses.

    Pressured new mums not always honest

    For people from outside New Zealand, Plunket is an in-home baby and new parent support service. When you have a new baby, and after you have left your midwife’s care, or hospital care, you sign on with a child and baby health support service. Someone from that service will visit you at home while your baby is tiny, to give you advice and assistance with everything from bathing the baby, to feeding it, to managing older siblings. Once your baby is a little older, you will visit the support provider’s rooms. The support provider will carry out a series of “well child” checks (height, weight, developmental milestones, general health). Plunket is the oldest of these services in New Zealand, and for a long time, it was the only provider of such services. It is much lauded, with good reason.

    But… it’s very judgey, even when it’s not meant to be. You will breastfeed your child for six months. You will worry if your child is not lifting her head at 3 months. You will never let the baby sleep with you. All the rules for looking after small babies and children, laid down in black and white.

    Here’s the problem. Even when Plunket nurses try not to be judgey, they are. You can be made to feel very small for having strayed from the guidelines in any way. And those guidelines turn out to be not very flexible at all. When my younger daughters were about 18 months old, I took them in for a regular checkup. They were doing well, but then I was asked how much milk they drank each day. About 400 to 500mls, I said. Neither of them were fond of milk.

    I got the look. “You really should get them to drink more milk. They should be drinking about 600mls a day.”

    My older daughter was with us, so the Plunket nurse took the opportunity to check up on her too. She was about four at the time. “And how much milk is Miss Four drinking each day.”

    About 800 to 1000mls. She really liked milk. “Too much. She should only be drinking 600mls a day.”

    So it turned out that the “guideline” was in fact a rigid rule, and any straying from that was not to be discussed in the context of the whole child, and what else she was eating and drinking.

    I am a highly educated, middle class, white woman, and I felt intimidated, and judged. And really, even if I was doing all the “right” things, it would be hard not to feel judged. Health service visitors come into your home and assess what you are doing with your children. It’s very intrusive, even when it’s very helpful. My Plunket nurse was also a source of some great advice, especially with respect to managing twins. Even so, at times I found the advice, well, judgemental.

    But for all that, take a look at the story about new mums not necessarily being honest with Plunket. It’s all framed as being a problem with the mothers.

    Lying to Plunket nurses has become commonplace among first-time mums as they shy away from confrontation and questions about their baby’s milestones.

    Let’s turn it around, and think about the source of the problems. How about…

    Pressure from Plunket nurses is so great that young mothers feel they have to conceal things.

    Then this becomes a story about how the support structures around new parents aren’t working, and a story about the need for better training of Plunket nurses and other health care workers. Simple stuff, like how to frame a conversation. For example, here’s a bad conversation.

    Mum: I’ve started my five month old on solids.
    Nurse: Really, she shouldn’t have solids until she’s six months old.

    And here’s a simple way to talk about exactly the same issue.

    Mum: I’ve started my five month old on solids.
    Nurse: Okay. What was your thinking around that?
    Mum: She seemed to be very hungry, and she’s a big baby for her age. It’s only a little amount of rice cereal, in the evenings.
    Nurse: Yes, I understand that. Just take it gently, and try to keep it down to just a little bit for the next month or so.

    Framing. It makes a difference.

    Where did I learn my feminism?

    This is a repost. I first wrote this post back in 2007, when I was starting out in on-line feminism.

    By way of Feministing’s Weekly Feminist Reader, an article in the Guardian where women talk about the books that first tuned them into feminism.

    The stories are fascinating, especially because they cover books I have read myself. But it made me think about where I learned my feminism.

    The answer – at my mother’s knee. My mother taught me that I must speak for myself, that I must be able to support myself, and preferably, have my own income, that I was an equal participant in this society, that I had the same rights and responsibilities as my brothers (I don’t have any sisters), that women must be independent. All this from a convent educated married woman who was still at that time a practicing Catholic. Mum also opened my eyes to the misogyny in the Catholic church. She could see that I thought that it was deeply unfair that my brothers could be altar servers, but I could not. Evidently even a 10-year old girl was too unclean to be allowed near the altar. She also taught me that it was possible, and desirable, to live with and love men, as independent, free standing adults.

    So when I read books such as The Female Eunuch and Man Made Language, although some of the ideas were shocking, the whole thesis was not.

    Thank you, Mum. I promise to pass the torch on to my daughters.

    Today in fat hatred (and hating on children for good measure)

    Also today in pig-headed ignorance, and today in ignoring science, and today in failing to think through consequences, and today in hating on children.

    F for fat: obesity on report cards?

    A CHILD’S weight should be included in their school report as part of a radical plan to tackle the obesity crisis, according to [Professor David Penington] who led Australia’s successful response to the AIDS epidemic.

    I find this mindblowing, not just for the complete disregard for science, but for the astonishing idea that it’s a good thing to shame children about their weight, and that somehow, magically, this will make them thin and happy. It doesn’t work with adults because (a) shaming just upsets people and (b) shaming does not result in weight loss and (c) weight loss does not lead to better health (just google “obesity paradox” and you will find the evidence), and it works EVEN LESS with children because….. (hold your breath, here’s a giant reveal that seems to have escaped Prof. Penington), CHILDREN DON’T GET TO CHOOSE WHAT FOOD THEY EAT.

    As parents, we impose our own lifestyles on children. The children in my house? They’re great at argument (conceptual, inferential, evidential, you name it – they argue it and yes, this is a problem from time to time), but sports, well, whatever. They play a bit and we go and cheer them on, but really, it’s just not a big deal. That’s because in our house, discussion is a Big Thing. But they miss out on sport, which is a large part of many families in New Zealand, because it’s just not a big deal around here. They are deeply influenced, and the patterns of their living set for a long time to come, by the way that Mr Bee and I live.

    And the type and amount of food they eat, and the exercise they do, or don’t do, is deeply influenced by us. They have no responsibility for what does into their lunchboxes. That’s MY responsibility. I’m the one who buys the bread and the sandwich fillings, makes the muffins, ensure there’s some fruit and some yoghurt on hand, so that they can make their school lunches.

    So when Prof. Penington sets out to shame children, not only is he doing something that is completely ineffective anyway, but he totally missed his target.

    I’ve had enough of teachers and doctors and (alleged) experts filling the school curriculum with do-gooding nonsense, which only leads to children coming home and trying to get their parents to change. But exactly how much power do children have to change their parents anyway? Very little indeed. It’s an intolerable burden to place on children. I think Prof. Penington must hate children too.

    Cross posted

    On going dancing

    Mr Bee and I went out dancing last night. When we got home, we found notes from our daughters.

    Some extracts:

    I hope you enjoyed your dance, and that you managed to talk to other people at least a bit.

    Clearly our daughter understands our curmudgeonly introverted natures all too well. For the record, we *did* talk to other people there. And we even danced.

    We are fine (no fights).

    A fairly minimal standard of being fine…

    I hope you had a good time too (I also hope Mum’s feed aren’t too hurt because of Dad’s footwork.

    Also for the record, my feet were just fine, and Mr Bee didn’t tread on them at all.