Sacrifice, Parenting, and Feminism

OK – here it is:  my first Feministe post.  I’m sorry this is rambly – I’m working through these thoughts, myself.  I’m happy to clarify.

There have been, for a number of years, endless debates about approaches to parenting.  When I had Bean, the Sears and Sears’ “Attachment Parenting” was big, and it sounded pretty good to me, despite some very serious flaws.  For those of you who are not familiar with this concept, let me give you a quick primer.

Attachment Parenting (not to be confused with the psychological notion of “attachment”) suggests that we parent through more closely bonding with our babies.  This bonding happens, Sears and Sears argue, through breastfeeding exclusively and on demand and for an extended period (e.g., no fixed feeding schedule and no formula, until the child weans itself), “baby wearing” (you’ve all seen those slings, right?) as opposed to strollers, and co-sleeping (which actually can refer to a number of varied practices, but essentially what it means is that the baby does not go off to a separate room to sleep.  Co-sleeping can mean that the baby sleeps right in the bed with the parents; or it can sleep in a cute little (expensive) specially-designed co-sleeper, which is like a bassinett only it attaches to the side of your own bed so that you don’t have to get up to reach the baby; or it can sleep in a little baby bed with sides that is then put on the bed, between the parents; or the baby might spend part of the night in your bed and part of the night elsewhere.  Many co-sleeping families simply have a couple of mattresses on the floor and everyone sleeps in the same room (this is nice for toddlers and older children who are afraid of being alone at night).

These practices, Sears and Sears tell us, are all the rage in other, “primitive” cultures, where babies don’t cry (we know this, of course, because anthropologists have said so, but I don’t believe that any of the communities being studied have made these claims).  They have supported huge businesses here in our “more developed” cultures, where, if you have the money, you can buy all kinds of fashion nursing tops, slings, and, as I mentioned above, various equipment for co-sleeping.  Also, as these practices have been imported, they’ve lost their community focus.  Instead of depending on, say, the other women in the village to help you breastfeed your child, just as you do for theirs, the task of breastfeeding every hour falls to you.

So, it’s very apparent that the “parent” doing all of this parenting is the mom.  Well, in Sears and Sears’ model, both moms and dads (and of course, we’re talking heterosexual, cisgender, white, American, and middle-class couples as far as they are concerned) have particular roles to play.  The dads “support” the moms.  The moms generally do the heavy lifting, the breastfeeding being the heaviest load because – leaving aside the issue of sore nipples, leakage, mastitis, etc. – it takes a lot of time.  To breastfeed exclusively and on demand often means breastfeeding nearly continually for the first 8-12 weeks.  (Now, let me be clear:  I did this, and I don’t think this is a bad thing in and of itself, BUT everyone should know that this is a huge undertaking.  Potential breastfeeders should know what they are getting into.  Everyone else in the family should support the breastfeeder and recognize the work this takes.)

(There are, apparently, some anecdotal stories of men breastfeeding in more than one culture, including contemporary American culture.  Women who have not been pregnant or given birth can lactate, and it would not surprise me if men could, as well.  So far, though, there has not been a push for men to breastfeed.  From what little I’ve heard about this, the process would enlarge the male breasts, which would require us to think very differently, societally, about gender (and that wouldn’t be a bad thing).)

Since we’re on the topic, my attitude about breastmilk is this:  it is wonderful for babies, and if you are able to share it with them, for however long or short a time, that’s awesome.  If not – well, babies have thrived on formula for generations.  There are many, many things we do as parents that help our children.  Breastfeeding is just one.  I mean, make no mistake, I’m a breastfeeding advocate, even a lactivist, but parenting is a life-long endeavor and you don’t get points for, for example, breastfeeding your babies and then teaching them all kinds of effed up stuff about what God thinks, KWIM?  (Attachment Parenting is one place where the feminist, crunchy-granola mom comes together with the fundamentalist, quiverfull mom, so the situation I’ve described is plausible.)

Anyway.  Moving on to baby wearing.  Certainly, dads can do this, but Sears and Sears expect dads to be off at work, so mom is left to clean this house and do laundry with baby in a sling.  (I could never figure out how to do any of this without whacking the baby into things.  I certainly could not have worn my baby to work on any kind of regular basis.  Sears and Sears also suggest that moms think about whether they really need to work, or not.  This is where I started to get very suspicious of Sears and Sears.)  However, regardless of who wears the baby, it does seem, for some babies, to be a useful thing.  The sling calmed Bean down on many occasions when nothing else did the trick.  (Of course, in this experiment, my n=1, so this is purely anecdotal.)

Finally, co-sleeping.  In terms of actually getting the most sleep, I have personally found that this method works well.  However, I know some (heterosexual and cis) couples that had difficulty with it because the male partner wanted the bed to be a Place of Sex, and the baby (or toddler) being there made this a problem (in these cases, the mom wanted to co-sleep, and the dad, who worked hard all day at the office while the mom stayed home and cooked, cleaned, and took care of the kids, was not really terribly interested in co-sleeping or even attachment parenting).  I am a little judgemental about these  particular couples; it seems to me that there are lots of other places that can be used for sex, and anyway, if you have a small child and the mom is breastfeeding, I think the partners ought to back off with the sex demands until she initiates things, because it’s easy to feel touched out and exhausted from body contact when you are breastfeeding, baby wearing, and co-sleeping (and this, in fact, is why some women, too, object to these things).

This might be a good time to point out that I am in no way attacking families in which the moms work at home and the dads work in an office.  I’m writing about a fairly specific community in which I lived when Bean was born.  I was shocked at how many women I knew there who had husbands who wouldn’t, for example, change any diapers.  They had children with men who thought that changing their own baby’s diaper was disgusting and beneath them, and therefore, the wife should do it because the poop would be less disgusting to a mom, or something.

In any case, what I’m trying to present a snapshot of here is a traditional patriarchal, gender division of labor that both supports attachment parenting (since it supports the woman at home, holding her baby all day) and also makes it hard to practice (because it challenges the woman as Provider of Sex and bed as Place of Sex).

Well, I tried to start out talking about what I liked about Attachment Parenting and ended up ranting about Sears and Sears’ inherent sexism and homo-transphobia (I doubt very much we’ll be reading about men who give birth in any of their books) and patriarchal culture in South Dakota.  Let me get back to what I like about AP as an idea, apart from the problems I’ve discussed so far:  I think it’s good for the baby.  I think breastfeeding is good for the baby.  I think being held close much of the time is good for the baby (and comforting).  Ditto for sleeping with the baby’s parents, esp. the nursing parent; co-sleeping is also good for the nursing mom because she doesn’t have to get out of bed to breastfeed – she can just roll over.  And it is frequently the case that she wakes up before the baby starts crying because the baby will start to become restless when it gets hungry.

OK – so I’ve written all of that simply to get into the issue of parenting, sacrifice, and feminism.  For feminists, there are some clear issues here about gendered division of labor with regard to parenting.  There are also problems in assuming that the amount of work required of each mother is desirable, if it is even feasible.  (Families with two (or more) breastfeeding people in them would be great, actually, though you’ll certainly never see such a suggestion in a Sears and Sears book.  But here is where households with two moms, or with more than two moms, or with any combination of more than one breastfeeding person, have a clear advantage.  In these families, everyone will get more sleep.)

Feminists have argued both sides of the issue of AP, and breastfeeding is a particularly volatile topic.  Feminists who have argued against this practice have pointed to the ways in which it ties women down, can interrupt careers (pumping milk poses its own problems and is not a panacea), and demands sacrifice.  And this is key, because forcing a woman to make a sacrifice, even having a general expectation that she make a sacrifice, is the antithesis of white, middle-class feminism.  I think white middle-class feminism sees certain aspects of parenting as sacrifice and writes them off, when really, they are required aspects of parenting.  I don’t mean that breastfeeding is a required aspect of parenting, but that putting yourself second and your child’s needs first is necessary for good parenting.  I’m also not saying that not meeting your own needs and only meeting your child’s needs will make you a good parent.  I’m simply saying that sacrifice is part of parenting.

I think that indigenous feminisms and woman-of-color feminisms and working-class feminisms have tended to get this.  They have formed movements that often manage to put the community needs at the center, rather than the needs of individual women.  White, middle-class feminisms have tended to call the category of “women” a community and to thereby focus on individual needs.  And that’s not all bad, at all, but it’s not all good.

Where I think we run into trouble is in not understanding that being a parent is going to require constant, unending sacrifice.  It should not be all on the part of the mom.  But I would love to see, instead of someone using feminism to argue that breastfeeding is bad for women, someone using feminism to write, perhaps, about how men can breastfeed and how it would be good for men.  Instead of just rejecting a practice because it feels rooted in biology, let’s maybe challenge what society is telling us about biology. 

And the importance of sacrifice isn’t just in parenting.  We are all well aware in the First World that we are using far beyond our share of the world’s natural resources.  We know what we are doing to our environment.  We know that we have far, far more than our share of wealth.  Making sacrifices isn’t just about what we give up for ourselves as individuals.  It’s about what our sacrifices allow others to have, or, to put it another way, what our refusal to sacrifice means for others.

(One note re. comments – this is NOT an abortion thread.  I will delete comments that take this there.)

80 comments for “Sacrifice, Parenting, and Feminism

  1. August 5, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Thoughtful, thorough, comprehensive post, PF–and it’s so great to see you here!

  2. evil_fizz
    August 5, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    To breastfeed exclusively and on demand often means breastfeeding nearly continually for the first 8-12 weeks. Now, let me be clear: I did this, and I don’t think this is a bad thing in and of itself, BUT everyone should know that this is a huge undertaking. Potential breastfeeders should know what they are getting into.

    THIS. My daughter is currently 5 and a half weeks old, and while I am more than pleased to be nursing her, it’s an incredible time commitment, and I can’t pass it off on anyone else. (I look forward to walking to the mailbox in the evening because it’s the one period of time where my husband has her and I’m not nervous about her getting fussy and having to come to the rescue.) I would give just about anything to be able to hand off the nursing duties on occasion, but I will settle for her getting a little older so that we can have more of a schedule.

  3. August 5, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Yes, yes, and yes. I hate how oversimplified these issues often become in current debates. As if it’s a simple choice the mother must make concerning breastfeeding. As if making any sacrifices at all is unfeminist. And as if we can’t back off of these issues a bit and take a broader view about the cultural forces that put us in the position of having to make these choices in this way in the first place.

  4. UnHinged Hips
    August 5, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Eh, this supposed unequal division of labor along gender lines in attachment parenting is pretty much only an inherent issue when it comes to breastfeeding (which is of very limited duration in the context of all of childhood). Any other inequalities have nothing to do with biology and are due to parental choice- what I see you describing here is attachment parenting by the mother and typical detached fathering. I mean really? No diaper changes? Hell, my rule when my kids were newborns was that if I had to be in charge of all the input (nursing) then their father could damn well be in charge of all the output (diapers).

    Also, the nuclear family is a piss-poor framework for raising children.

  5. August 5, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    THIS x infinity!

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve wanted to point out how classist AP literature tends to be because many books I’ve read since my daughter was born assumes the mother can even take an extended maternity leave (that is, more than six weeks), and there really aren’t many resources out there for women who have to go back to work right away.

    Motherhood has truly tested my definition of feminism though. I can’t tell you how many books have actually made put extra pressure on myself to do all that extra attachment parenting stuff because I felt guilty about having to work right away, even though I was doing what I had to to keep my family afloat.

    Also, I felt the onus was really on me. My partner wanted so much to help me, but neither of us really knew where he fit in until I STOPPED reading the books, which is bullshit.

    Anyway, rambling on here. Thank you so much for this.

  6. August 5, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Note: I am not a parent and I have no desire to be one. However, I was involved for many years with a woman who was a big believer in attachment parenting philosophies.

    The thing that has always annoyed me about attachment parenting is the exoticization of so-called “primitive” cultures. People in these cultures often wear their babies because it may not be safe to not wear them. They often sleep with their babies because there may only be one place for the family to sleep. I haven’t read Sears (since I am not a parent), so perhaps they actually cite studies which show that babies whose parents do these things are somehow better off than parents who opt not to do them, but I rarely saw any acknowledgment of the differences between a white woman living in the US and a woman of color living in a country which is not the US and which we would probably call Third World with all the baggage that entails. (It seems to me that the primary audience for the Sears books are white women, but that could just be because the only Sears devotees I’ve known are white women.)

    There seems to be a whiff of the Noble Savage around the entire attachment parenting movement which, when combined with the disproportionate burden placed on the mother, makes me somewhat uncomfortable with the philosophy as a whole–even though components of it are certainly beneficial to families.

  7. August 5, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    oh, that being said, i did want to note that my partner has been a very active parent — i feel i need to defend that — but breastfeeing for the first 18 months definitely skewed the balance.

  8. August 5, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Terrific piece. In my 2nd trimester and just beginning to research my options in terms of birth and breastfeeding, I found this to be a good, honest read.

  9. August 5, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Men breasfeeding (and it sounds like you are really talking about cissexual men here, not intersex or trans men) is new to me. I didn’t know this was biologically possible. Do you have resources for more information on that?

  10. Habeas
    August 5, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you for this. I wonder if more childfree women read this post and learned more about what feminist mothers take on in terms of physical/time sacrifice, if there would be more support from them for paid parental leave and other such family-friendly policies. The rhetoric of motherhood as a choice has, I think, marginalized real feminist issues around mothering in terms of the time and economic resources required.

    Being sexually active is also a choice, but I’m not going to stop fighting for access to subsidized birth control just because I don’t need it now and am not childfree. I wish that there was less of a divide between feminists around childbearing, and that we could work together towards laws and social policies that worked for women from initial sexual activity through motherhood (if chosen) through menopause…wearing my utopian hat today, I guess.

  11. Fizgig
    August 5, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    THANK YOU! I’ve got a 6 month old son and I have been trying to work through my feelings surrounding motherhood, attachment parenting and feminism. It is a messy, complex set of issues and I am sick of seeing it over simplified. My husband and I both believe that attachment parenting is good for the bebe (we were both raised that way) but holy crap does it require that I sacrifice my autonomy almost entirely. I want to be a great mom, but I miss having a life and I have never been one to take pleasure in feeling like a martyr (which I have felt like lately).

    I’ve also been feeling like a crappy feminist because it has been me and not my husband who is tied to this wonderful little creature all day and night. The hubby is doing everything humanly possible to share the responsibility but, as you said, he doesn’t have the boobage. So, I’ve been feeling like a mindless milk making machine instead of a college professor and, to speak plainly, that just sucks.

    To add to my frustration, most of the women I’ve met who are AP types seem to almost be in it to out martyr each other. Many of the women I’ve meet are proud that no one else can even hold their baby and they are proud of the fact that they do nothing but hole up at home for a year to feed and nurture their little ones. Our son cries in his car seat and so one AP mom told me she would just not go anywhere for a year…wtf?!

    Anyway, I’m very happy to see this conversation because it is hard to figure out what to do with the biology of motherhood in the context of my feminism.

    Oh, and incidentally I AM an anthropologist and the Sears’ idea that babies in other cultures don’t cry is utter crap. Attachment parenting makes sense (evolutionarily and studies also show it produces more emotionally healthy kids) but it isn’t some “primitive” magic bullet than means your baby will never cry.

  12. Nentuaby
    August 5, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Heh, what Katie said. First I’ve ever heard of this!

  13. kb
    August 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    also what Katie said. I’d like to know. because particularly breastfeeding and how unequal that seems to have to be, terrifies me about motherhood. I don’t think white middle-class feminists deny that putting yourself second is important for good parenting, but at least this one just denies that such sacrifice is a goal. I don’t want children specifically because I don’t want to do that.

  14. mama mia
    August 5, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    For me, discovering books about attachment parenting was the greatest relief. I was surrounded by people and family pressuring me to do the “correct” parenting techniques, like ignoring the baby while she cried, and they didn’t work for me, but no one else (except my husband) supported me in wanting to do it another way. The thing that often gets missed about the Sears books, is there are statements all the way through, over and over, saying that if something doesn’t work for you, you should not do it, it has to feel right to you. It has chapters on incorporating AP if you are a single working mom, a working mom, etc. It says if co-sleeping or breastfeeding are interfering in your happiness, stop doing it, and don’t think it makes you less of a parent.

    For me, it was permission to do what made sense to me. It seems many people think the predominent pressure on mothers is coming from AP martyrs, who exist. But there is another huge and equally aggressive group pressuring women not to do anything AP.

    The most common thing people ask me about co-sleeping is whether my husband is doing it because I make him do it, and this bothers me so much. It denies men the right to be nurturing by assuming they always want the baby somewhere else. My husband gets very upset when people assume he doesn’t like it.

  15. August 5, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I turned to Ms Google and found some links on Breastfeeding for men and Adoptive Parents. Since this is something I know little about, I can’t speak to the validity of these sites:

    Men Breastfeeding
    Breastfeeding the Adoptive Child

    As for the post, Plain(s)Feminist, this gave me a lot to think about. I’m Childfree by Choice, so although I try to advocate for support for working moms, I’m never quite sure how to do that other than by supporting the women I know who *are* working moms, and attending rallies (go go rallies). I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  16. Nia
    August 5, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Re: baby wearing. My mother is a pediatrician with more than 30 years’ experience and she doesn’t belong to any one particular “school”. She says that slings, or “kangaroo bags” make babies have better digestions and better sleep, regardless of who wears them.

  17. Fizgig
    August 5, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Oh, I also agree with the race/class issues raised when AP types point to “primitive” cultures as their example and wanted to comment on that. Women in many parts of the world carry their babies all the time/co-sleep because they don’t have any other way to keep their kid with them. They also don’t work in an industrial setting – they wear their baby to cultivate the taro patch or whatever. There is nothing romantic or “noble” about the way they raise their babies. It is, however, more natural which is where I think AP shines. It makes sense that the kid will learn language faster if they are held, babies like to sleep next to a parent and be held when they cry, etc.

    The fact that the Sears target white, middle-class moms while referring to primitive cultures as “ideal” has a veery high ick factor for me.

  18. August 5, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Is there any parent of the planet who doesn’t think parenting is about sacrifice? Parenting is actually pretty simple. Do what works for you. That’s it. I don’t mean to be cynical, but all of this seems a bit redundant.

    Feminism is not at odds with parenting and you’re not a bad feminist if you decide to breastfeed. That’s just silly. What’s at odds, is the way society makes women feel like they can only be good mother’s if they breastfeed.

  19. Jessica
    August 5, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    @Anna my mom and my boss are both working single moms and i think the most valuable help they could have been given would be more low cost childcare options. if you have any interest, i would encourage you to check out places where you could provide day care voluntarily, or advertise that you will babysit for low fees.

    i personally babysit for my boss for free on occasion, and i also mentor with big brothers big sisters, and find both of these to be rewarding for me and helpful to the kids and their moms

    my partner does not like to volunteer himself, but he has contributed financially to big brothers big sisters and some other organizations ive worked with, and i really appreciate that he makes the effort to support me and the causes i believe in this way

  20. Fizgig
    August 5, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    @alana, I agree that it is about what works for each person but about the breast feeding – it wasn’t my choice to breastfeed that made me feel like a bad feminist. It was the associated lifestyle – always home, always with bebe in arms, that made me question some of the basic feminist ideals I had once held. Not to say they weren’t wrong ideals – its just hard to reconcile the idea of being truly equal with the very clear biological reality that you stay home and feed a little one on demand.

  21. bfp
    August 5, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    you know, i never thought of AP as “doing what’s best for baby” or as a “sacrifice” when doing AP with my kids. I thought of it as me doing what was best for me. I mean–has anybody ever tried to get up at 2 in the morning and make a bottle? And what would people rather be doing during the first five weeks of the kids life? Cooking and cleaning, or sitting on your ass snuggling with your kid?

    I mean, I’m saying this as a person who has a partner who shared full time parenting responsibilities with me, so I am in NO way insinuating that AP is better for single moms or working moms (I was not working when my kids were little)–but if you are in a partnership that shares work–what would you be doing while your partner fed the kid? Dishes? cooking? That’s better than breastfeeding…how? How is getting up to make a bottle and then holding the baby to feed the child better and less work than putting a boob in a sleepy kids mouth and the two of you falling back asleep? If I shared feeding responsibilities w/father, I would have to get my ass out of bed just like he did.

    For me, it was less work. It was scamming out of work. it was lying on the bed dozing with the baby and leaving all the dishes for dad to do when he got home. because I was doing the more important work of feeding the kid, right?

    but again–this is also best case scenario of eager and willing partner who is as committed to full time parenting as I was. And it’s also not to say I was never tired. I was *always* tired. but I was tired because both of my kids were high needs kids in the beginning (both were hospitalized), and because I had no support structures at ALL outside of my partner (literally) and because breast feeding *is* lots of work. and it would have been *amazing* to have another (wo)man there to help out–and to have entire communities there to help–

    but at the very least, I was never tired because I was up every two hours making a bottle and holding that sucker so my kid could have a drink.

  22. bfp
    August 5, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    also–a quick side note–as somebody who comes from “primitive” cultures (indigenous mexicans) and has had to take a *serious* amount of flak from white women for breast feeding–who has heard of women in her community getting children taken away for doing what is normal in our culture (an example was talked about on this blog–co-sleeping becomes ‘not buying necessary items’ to be a parent, and as such a bad parent), i personally feel uncomfortable hearing people say–oh, teh primitives doing AP is not ‘better’ it’s just that’s what they had to do in their communities!!!!

    I personally would rather a well known mainstream doctor call me and fellow community members primitive but still have the ability to point to his recommendations in a court of law as being “better” than to have attachment parenting dismissed or just looked at as a second choice in parenting options. it may be a second choice for many people, and THAT’S OK–but to imagine that people in the u.s. ONLY use AP as a second choice or an alternative choice–that it’s NOT necessary and absolutely culturally relevant…it’s not only a privilege–but it’s also a bit threatening to me. I can promise you that Cirila Baltazar Cruz would take being called a primitive any day of the week as long as she had her kid back and her parenting style legitimated.

  23. bfp
    August 5, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    just a quick add on to what I already said. Last sentence should say this: I can promise you that Cirila Baltazar Cruz would take being called a primitive any day of the week as long as she had her kid back and her parenting style legitimated as NECESSARY AND CRUCIAL FOR HER BABY”S SURVIVAL–not something that is done as a luxury or if you have the support systems that AP type peoples say you need to DO attachment parenting.

  24. bfp
    August 5, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    so i guess, in other words, as long as we question what “third world” really means, I don’t think we should assume that third world doesn’t exist in first world, that the borders are *really* that strict. that people aren’t doing AP here in the U.S. because there is no other choice. And that people in the U.S. aren’t getting legally attacked for doing what they NEED to do because they have no other choice and what they’ve been TAUGHT to do because you don’t just stop being from a “primitive”/”third world”/”indigenous” community.

  25. August 5, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    “These practices, Sears and Sears tell us, are all the rage in other, “primitive” cultures, where babies don’t cry ”

    Note: I am not commenting in any regard to “primitive” cultures. I am only commenting on my own experiences.

    I co-slept with my infant daughter and breastfed her exclusively and on demand for 13 months. The only time I recall her ever crying was on one occasion that she had a fever. This was largely due to me being so in tune with her that I would know when she was awake and ready to feed even if I happened to be asleep or on the other side of the house.

    I did not breastfeed my son for as long and the experience was entirely different. While he wasn’t an extremely fussy baby, he did cry often.

    “Men breasfeeding (and it sounds like you are really talking about cissexual men here, not intersex or trans men) is new to me.”

    Maybe it’s a reference to the practice of men holding children to their naked chests and basically mimicking breastfeeding without the actual nursing? This is recommended as a practice for men so that they can feel more bonded with the baby. Not to mention that it’s considered a very effective method for soothing an infant.

  26. sophonisba
    August 5, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I think that indigenous feminisms and woman-of-color feminisms and working-class feminisms have tended to get this. They have formed movements that often manage to put the community needs at the center, rather than the needs of individual women.

    This is pretty shocking stuff, and I am unpleasantly surprised to see it received so well. To be clear, I don’t believe that you’re saying that women of color do feminism better because (or on those occasions when) they’re moral or mature enough to subjugate their personal womanly needs to the good of the group, while white ladies want everything to be all about them–certainly some people do think that, generally the same people who think that mail-order brides make the best wives because they put the family’s needs first, unlike selfish white American bitches. To be clear, I find this construction remarkably racist, and not, or not primarily, against white women. I am sure this is not what you mean, but I am hard-pressed to discover what it is you do mean, because that is what it sounds like.

    Cultural differences do exist. But for you to assert superiority of one cultural tendency over another (“managed to,” really? not just chose to? It was an achievement, a victory, a Good Thing?) requires more than that basic assertion.

    White, middle-class feminisms have tended to call the category of “women” a community and to thereby focus on individual needs

    I recognize that you have clearly stated this as an observation, not a criticism, However, I don’t see how it’s true, especially since it contradicts itself in your own formulation.

    The white etc. feminisms I am familiar with have tended to analyze women as a class, not a community, and therefore to talk about collective problems and solutions (thereby garnering a lot of criticism for their conclusions and assumptions about race, among other things.) That aside, this casual dismissal not only of women’s theoretical or actual communities but also women’s connections to one another within traditional communities demands some defense, some explanation. How, precisely, do you mean this to be taken, how can one consciously and deliberately declare membership in a community, work for the betterment of that community and simultaneously be accused of focusing only on individual needs? All communities are collections of individuals, so any group of people conected by ethnic or familial bonds can also be accused of only caring about individual benefits, since all members of their group are individuals. But that’s a reductionistic and pointless analysis; why’s it only applied to women who put their interests first, not other groups?

    I think you may be right, to an extent, that women consciously giving their loyalty and practical support to other women in order to form a community is a middle-class feminist ‘thing’–though having typed that out, I am much less sure. More precisely, it may be a middle-class feminist tendency to choose primary allegiance to a group other than the one you were born into. But even if that is so, how does that chosen community’s needs degenerate into just a group of individual needs? How it is that a group of women is a bunch of individuals, while a group of women and men and children is mysteriously something more, something worthy?

    I am also interested to know what necessary sacrifices you think white middle-class feminists are reluctant to make for their children. I have some guesses, but I have done enough reading-in and assuming for one day.

  27. Alex
    August 5, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I have heard stories about breastfeeding males, but always as a joke, not something to be taken seriously. It’s a spectacularly stupid idea, practicing it probably constitutes child endangerment/abuse.

    After sitting here for 20 minutes trying to put the biochemical explination as to why in terms a layperson can understand here’s the best I can come up with.

    Breastmilk is more than just “food”, it also contains hormones and antibodies that aid in the infant’s development. As men are not female, some of those hormones are slightly different, but different enough that they fall into a chemical class of compounds called xenoendocrines, endocrine disruptors that cause all sorts of health problems.

    Think a human produced compound that’s biochemically similar to both estrogen and DDT.

  28. August 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    @ Unhinged Hips:

    what I see you describing here is attachment parenting by the mother and typical detached fathering. I mean really? No diaper changes? Hell, my rule when my kids were newborns was that if I had to be in charge of all the input (nursing) then their father could damn well be in charge of all the output (diapers).

    Also, the nuclear family is a piss-poor framework for raising children.

    Yes, on both counts!

  29. August 5, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    @ Katie and others –
    I will email a friend who told me something about men breastfeeding in a U.S. commune a couple of decades ago and see if I can find something resembling an actual source. My assumption was that the men breastfeeding were cis men, but I have no way of knowing. Anyway, I’ll see what I can find. I did also read something long ago about men in a particular tribe in Africa breastfeeding, but I don’t remember the specifics. I haven’t had a chance yet to look at the links Anna posted…

  30. sally
    August 5, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I was having a similar conversation with a woman at work today. It DOES seem like there is a bubble of young people who live in the 1950’s while all of us other folks live in the now.

    As much as it’s supposed to be that women are supposed to support women, this romance with the stay at home mom who is totally merged with kids is hurting us all in ways that don’t get discussed. I see some stay at home moms who do everything “because he works, you know” or “it’s my job.” I’m going to say this – there’s a reluctance by some moms to balance out the nuturing because it’s what they cling to to justify their choice to be stay at home mothers. They don’t challenge the ideas of mothers being the natural, genetically driven, be-all to their kids and it seems like instead of being healthy, we’re back to that unhealthy 1950’s world where the mother doesn’t have a life outside her kids and won’t separate from them as they grow.

    And this return to the 1950’s, hurts us all around to the brass tacks issues of money. Even now, during layoffs, if there’s a man with a stay at home wife and a woman, there is pressure to assume that the man “needs” the job more. And being men, as most management is, they naturally sympathize with the guy with a wife at home. This is the ugly truth few feminist sites talk about, because they want to support stay at home wives. I’ve even overheard at work the self-congratulations of male management laying off women because “they (the women) actually would enjoy being at home more.” Yes, I think. She didn’t actually NEED a job. It was whimsy for her to work.

  31. August 5, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Re. the whole issue of “primitive” cultures – I think that it’s true, as Natalie L. says, that there’s a “whiff of the Noble Savage” in the AP discussions. More than a whiff, actually – the message, as I interpret it, is something like:

    ‘these people, who are part of ancient cultures and who live closer to nature than we civilized folks do, know better how to raise their children. So, we should all follow them and breastfeed, co-sleep, and babywear. But of course, we should ignore the cultural context and community context in which they do these things, entirely, because we know that it isn’t sanitary or ‘nice’ for a woman to breastfeed another woman’s baby (unless it’s through a milk bank or it’s a celebrity or some such exception), and because we don’t really want to see community-based parenting because that would threaten the capitalist, patriarchal system that God wants us to have. Also, whether or not parents follow these parenting approaches are really a matter of personal choice – we know that most women don’t make enough money to justify keeping their jobs with a newborn, especially when you consider all that the moms and babes are missing out on due to their mothers working out of the home. (We aren’t going to address single-mom households or same-sex parents or any other ‘nontraditional’ families because we don’t really see that as ‘normal.’)”

    So on the one hand, I get what Bfp is saying, and I agree with part of it, but I also think that part of the *AP* message is about not just saying “this is a better practice,” but also saying “the people who developed this are gone/inaccessible/somehow not present, so it’s up to us (white) doctors to reintroduce these practices with our own twist on them.” I think the Sears’ books really are directed at the white middle class, and they never talk about the kinds of issues Bfp mentions (and there are lots of these – co-sleeping, in a family of color, could easily be ‘evidence’ of child sexual abuse, for another example).

    This AP message is distinct, however, from a more complex, feminist approach (or approaches) to parenting such as that explored by the Association for Research on Mothering and their press, Demeter Press (disclaimer: they published my book).

    And, of course, as Bfp is suggesting, this AP message is distinct from the actual parenting approaches that many, many cultures practice without fanfare and without huge publishing deals and without branding and all kinds of additional items marketed toward a target audience.

  32. Plain(s)Feminist
    August 5, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    @ sophonisba:

    To be clear, I don’t believe that you’re saying that women of color do feminism better because (or on those occasions when) they’re moral or mature enough to subjugate their personal womanly needs to the good of the group, while white ladies want everything to be all about them–certainly some people do think that, generally the same people who think that mail-order brides make the best wives because they put the family’s needs first, unlike selfish white American bitches. To be clear, I find this construction remarkably racist, and not, or not primarily, against white women. I am sure this is not what you mean, but I am hard-pressed to discover what it is you do mean, because that is what it sounds like.

    What I mean is that, if you compare WOC feminisms and working-class feminisms to white, middle-class feminisms – and I’m taking some liberties, here, because they aren’t all divisible that way – there are some clear differences. The biggest difference, and it’s particularly clear between WOC feminisms and white feminisms, is that white feminisms have tended to define things in terms of “women’s issues” that affect women as a class (you’re right – my error – I originally wrote “community” and should have written “class”). However, it’s the old attempt to divide race and gender – this class of women is always defined (not explicitly, but by default) as white. WOC feminisms, in contrast, have tended to define “women’s issues” in a way that recognizes the needs of families and communities of color as part of these “women’s issues.” It is not a matter of “subjugating their personal womanly needs to the good of the group,” at all. It’s a matter of seeing the world differently.

    Most people are probably familiar with the Combahee River Collective Statement, part of which talks about why lesbian separatism, in the form of leaving male children, male friends, and male family members, is not an option for Black women. Less well-known is a response to this Statement by lesbian separatists (I can’t remember their names – they are published in the anthology “For Lesbians Only”). The response proves the existence of a branch of feminist thought that sees gender as the primary oppression. While lesbian separatism is a very small branch on the tree of feminism, the idea of gender as the primary oppression runs throughout the sap of the tree. WOC feminisms have challenged this repeatedly and have – to (poorly) extend the metaphor, planted all kinds of new vegetation that will nourish not just women, but their parents, children, and communities.

    I don’t know if this is any more clear than what I originally wrote.

    Cultural differences do exist. But for you to assert superiority of one cultural tendency over another (”managed to,” really? not just chose to? It was an achievement, a victory, a Good Thing?) requires more than that basic assertion.

    I’m asserting the superiority of one group of feminisms over another, that’s true. I don’t really understand your beef with my language, but what I intended to convey was that this was indeed a victory.

    The white etc. feminisms I am familiar with have tended to analyze women as a class, not a community, and therefore to talk about collective problems and solutions (thereby garnering a lot of criticism for their conclusions and assumptions about race, among other things.) That aside, this casual dismissal not only of women’s theoretical or actual communities but also women’s connections to one another within traditional communities demands some defense, some explanation. How, precisely, do you mean this to be taken, how can one consciously and deliberately declare membership in a community, work for the betterment of that community and simultaneously be accused of focusing only on individual needs? All communities are collections of individuals, so any group of people conected by ethnic or familial bonds can also be accused of only caring about individual benefits, since all members of their group are individuals. But that’s a reductionistic and pointless analysis; why’s it only applied to women who put their interests first, not other groups?

    I’m trying to differentiate between a feminist politic that looks at the problems of women as individuals within their families, workplaces, and communities – while it does also, and significantly, see them as members of a class and look for collective solutions – and one that looks at these problems but that considers just as fundamentally the struggles the community faces. I used the word “individual” to try to convey this difference. The rest of your above paragraph seems to be in response to something I have not said…?

    I think you may be right, to an extent, that women consciously giving their loyalty and practical support to other women in order to form a community is a middle-class feminist ‘thing’–though having typed that out, I am much less sure. More precisely, it may be a middle-class feminist tendency to choose primary allegiance to a group other than the one you were born into. But even if that is so, how does that chosen community’s needs degenerate into just a group of individual needs? How it is that a group of women is a bunch of individuals, while a group of women and men and children is mysteriously something more, something worthy?

    I think you are using the word ‘community’ very loosely, implying that being a member of a community means choosing to be a member of a community (even as you note that the ability to do this might be something that not everyone has). I don’t think that women, as a class, are a community. There are communities of women, and women come into community, but women don’t exist as one community across class, race, culture, etc.

    Also, I haven’t said that anyone is more or more worthy than anyone else. But I do think that a *feminism* that takes as its central issues things like sexual assault, racial profiling, access to health care, and immigration is a better feminism that takes as its central issues only sexual assault and abortion. (Clearly, I’m exaggerating, but the scope of one feminism is larger and more useful to women internationally and across class than the other.)

    I am also interested to know what necessary sacrifices you think white middle-class feminists are reluctant to make for their children.

    Specifically, I was referring to white middle-class feminists who have argued against breastfeeding on the grounds that it demands sacrifice. (Some have also made the same argument against having children in the first place.)

  33. August 5, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Plainsfeminist – so great to see you here, and I *love* this post. It captures much of my own ambivalence about attachment parenting. Even now, nearly 10 years after the birth of my first child, with both kids in school, I do the lion’s share of nighttime parenting. And I *did* have a partner who gladly changed diapers, bathed the babies, and more. Breastfeeding just sets women up for sleep deprivation that often lasts until menopause naturally starts fo mess with our sleep.

    Re: the primitivism issue. I see Dr. Sears as following in the footsteps of Dr. Grantley Dick-Read, who wrote “Childbirth without Fear” and maintained that European (and by extension, American) women suffered in labor only because they’d drifted too far from nature, while “primitive” African women gave birth painlessly. It’s such a crock. And yet he’s the guy who founded “natural childbirth.” (I don’t mean to put down women who choose to labor without drugs, but I think it’s important to recognize the sometimes-racist and/or -sexist roots of otherwise reasonable ideas.)

  34. mama mia
    August 5, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Sally, there are 80.5 million mothers with kids under 18 in the US. Only 5.6 million of those mothers are stay at home moms. The problem is NOT those moms taking down feminism. The problem is the media misrepresenting the “epidemic” of stay at home moms. There is no epidemic. There is no bubble of young women in the 1950s who are damaging other working women. It is a red herring to accuse 6% of mothers of causing other women to lose their jobs. The problem is a cultural bias against women and mothers. It is not useful AT ALL to totally buy into that bias and perpetuate these mommy wars. We should be attacking the media, not other mothers. That’s lazy.

  35. August 5, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    I tried AP and for me it was AWFUL! I did breastfeed exclusively for 3 mos. and non-exclusively for 3 more. It was very, very hard. Harder than anyone had ever led me to believe. Maybe because I was formula fed, my mom had no advice for me. The lactation nurses just made it sound like a breeze, so “of course I’ll breastfeed.” I wish someone had explained what that really entailed and specifically for a baby w/reflux who spit up about 80% of what went down 20 minutes before and so was therefore ALWAYS HUNGRY and always in pain and crying. As for co-sleeping, that was a disaster too. I was hyper-sensitive to my child’s noises and didn’t sleep until we finally got her into her own room – after a few weeks of giving co-sleeping a go. I’m sure AP works for some. But for me and my daughter, most of it did not! I don’t feel we missed out on anything. My daughter is bonded, happy and healthy and if I had it all to do again, I would have given up breastfeeding sooner and would have skipped the co-sleeping all together. To each mommy her own.

  36. sally
    August 5, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    It’s not a red herring to mention that men with stay at home wives get preferental treatment in layoffs as opposed to women. It’s not a red herring to day that all the ads promoting the Total Mom promote the idea that it is natural and better for a woman to be a full time mom.

    The only nasty thing is: this attitude means dollars and cents to those who do work. It bleeds over in decisions to lay off and to hire in a tight market.

    To deny my experience with that is lazy and easy on your part. It may be something you cannot come to grips with. I admit this is an ugly sexism to be laid off or not hired because you are competing with the attitude that a guy “really needs the job” because he is the only breadwinner. I wish my superpowers would make that not so. But it is. And outside a perfect mutually supportive progressive correct world, it is so.

    But yet, I know I’m not the only one to notice that in raises and in layoffs, the people making the decisions in many workplaces have a sympathy for the male breadwinner, regardless of his performance against a woman when a decision of reduction has to be made.

    It is true that I overheard the conversation where men were congratulating themselves for giving 4 laid off women more time to spend at home. Maybe so they could be more like the Sears image of motherhood. I have heard people say the comment “well, he really needs the job, he has a wife at home.” To these people, it’s not an abstract feminist issue. It is not a choice to stay at home, it is still the natural desire of a natural woman – and best for that matter. It seems morally better for them to help a guy with a stay at home wife to retain his job. Heroic even. I cannot deny there is a bias in my workplace for this. To tell me that I’m lazy and it’s not useful to tell you this. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    I have heard people say about women that it’s fortunate that they don’t really have to work when the discussion of layoffs come around. As far as calling it useful to point out…this doesn’t go away by shouting “lalalalala” and holding your ears and puting me down for saying it. It’s not “buying into that bias” to overheard and listen to and report what people are actually saying. More than me is seeing, hearing it, living it. It means to me on the real, dollars and cents.

    It’s was a tactic of the right wing to shout down things they don’t want to hear by saying “class wars.” Here, to shout down real life experiences because they don’t square with textbook feminism with “mommy wars” is the same thing. We can’t deny and miss directly addressing this bias that’s happening now with the layoffs. Maybe you won’t see it because you are in entry level or in an office with predominantly women in charge, but if you have experience and are competing to keep your job with men who have that stay at home wife arrangement and to add to that, management who have a stay at home wife arrangement, most of the time performance will not weigh heavily with the layoff decisions.

  37. mama mia
    August 6, 2009 at 12:19 am

    Sally, I definitely understand what you are saying, and yes, of course there are far too many situations where management decisions make women lose out because of an unfair advantage given to men who are assumed to be taking care of families. My point is that it seems to me you are placing the blame on those women who stay home, and not on the culture that is encouraging that bias against women as a whole. The problem is not that a very small percentage of women stay home for some period of time. The problem is that women have ALWAYS gotten the short end on those kind of lay-off decisions. And yes, I completely believe that you have overheard those conversations because I have heard them myself in my own workplace recently. I just want the blame placed correctly, and it should not be on the moms, it should on the managers who are too lazy to think beyond the stereotypes, on the culture that doesn’t believe women are breadwinners, and very strongly on the media that perpetuates the myths that all women secretly want to stay home. Most women don’t want to or can’t afford to stay home, and we should be working to make sure our culture supports them, but it doesn’t make sense to place the blame for the problem on a small segment of moms who do stay home. That is why I called it mommy wars. It is focusing the fight internally, when it should be cultural.

  38. sally
    August 6, 2009 at 1:44 am

    I’m not focusing the fight internally. I’m getting it out in the open. And we need more frankness. It’s not an abstract, academic issue of how women are treated in the media. It’s not a “well managers are lazy ain’t that too bad” issue. It’s a paying the rent issue.

    And as we are talking about a harmful image of sacrifice, it gets to what we call natural and good women. You know, now that you bring it up, I often see support for stay at home moms on feminist sites. But you know, I don’t see the same support and self-awareness on most mommy sites for women who work, and no awareness on how they can participate in this value that stay at home is best. And I mean BEST. Great. Then it comes down to these values being applied at work in a lean time. Just as the Sears ads have a sensibility, these people who work on stay at home as BEST bear some responsiblity for the sensibility they push and their husbands carry to work.

    How many mommy blogs write about how their husbands view of the role of women carry over to work and how does this help or hurt women’s equality? I know, I know, it’s forbidden to ask that question. That’s when we avert eyes and mumble something about “cultural.” Yet, who better to ask the question. How do stay at home moms/spouses affect the way men, particularly powerful men, see women at work? And how can we directly address and discuss it?

    Believe me, if we can’t discuss this at a progressive feminist site, there is no place to discuss it.

    This discussion may be taking a turn that you didn’t expect. It’s not a part of the sanctioned lexicon for a feminist to even bring up what I wrote. It wouldn’t be an issue with heartbreaking consequences in richer times. I’m speaking this truth honestly that my livelihood is endangered by this bias that women’s natural work is to be a stay at home mom is very real.

  39. Dr. Confused
    August 6, 2009 at 9:16 am

    I am still breastfeeding my 19-month-old daughter and she and I sleep together. Babywearing never really worked for us, but other than that we are the AP target market.

    However, I CAN’T STAND Dr. Sears. His books are full of condescension and sexism. The woman is to take care of the baby; the man is there to support the woman. My husband wanted to read The Baby Book but I recommended against it because I didn’t want the sexism of the book to turn my husband against AP practices.

    I went back to work when my baby was 8 weeks old (thank you terrible American maternity leave policies!) and my husband is a full time parent. It *is* possible to do many of the AP practices and shared parenting at the same time. But not if you read Dr. Sears. Breastfeeding is the only thing the father can’t do. And while pumping is not available to all women and is also a big time sink, for those of us in jobs that it works with it can be a way to work and breastfeed.

  40. Ledasmom
    August 6, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I remember that a few weeks after having the baby, I was absolutely desperate to hand the baby off to someone else and just get out and walk. Hauling baby around didn’t cut it. Pushing a stroller didn’t cut it. What I needed was time off without the baby.
    And yeah, most of the time I would have rather been doing dishes than holding the baby. Some of us don’t do motionless well.

  41. bfp
    August 6, 2009 at 9:42 am

    is it really “motionless” to be feeding a baby? It’s just weird to me how BF is defined as work and we shouldn’t do it (unless you’re paid to do it) because then we’re not real feminists (not saying you ledasmom, just thinking of the many lactivist/working mom wars I’ve seen), but then at the same time, when you say, “i would rather be feeding the baby than doing dishes–if two jobs need to be done, I would rather be doing THIS job”–and suddenly BF is motionless, not really working, a waste of time, etc…which is it? BF can’t be the worst nonpaid nightmare job in the world AND doing nothing at the same time.

  42. bfp
    August 6, 2009 at 10:04 am

    also, I think that ALL motherhood (in the U.S. at least) requires that you be a supermom, not just AP parenting. The idea that you can’t take a walk without the baby? Feed the child then go (assuming you have a partner or community to help), you’ve got at least an hour, usually more time than that, to get out and go for a walk, take a long shower, etc.

    but the number of mothers that I know who using ALL sorts of parenting styles who *won’t* hand over the baby is astounding. Social pressure from pretty much every fucking corner of U.S. culture demands that mother be the exclusive parent (the number of doctors I have had who ONLY ask me questions about kid, rather than my spouse!!!! I can’t even count!)–but also, i think that there is a sense in women that this (obsessive parenting) is the ONLY way they can get intellectually and physically stimulated. For me, attachment parenting was not the problem with motherhood, being left alone for hours at a time with no way to get out of the house was. Being expected to be content with a 2month olds company for days at a time was. Boredom in short. Which is basically why I think so many SAHM’s start blogs and blogging communities. Isolation, lonliness, no friends (all of them are working!), etc etc…this was the reason I started reading the Feminine Mystique…I am smarter and need more grow up stimulation than a two month old.

    but Friedan’s solution–go back to work–I think is a part of what created the conflict between sahm’s and working moms. Do sahm’s really need to go back to work to be stimulated as a full grown adult? Or do they need a community that is easily accessible and stimulating and supportive? Does there need to be ways to stay at home, AND be intellectually and physically stimulated? Do “progressive” and “radical” spaces need to be readjusted such that moms and their kids can actually participate in the space?

    For example, I was at a conference just a bit ago, and although daycare was provided for the kids, it was clearly marked in the itinerary when children were “allowed” into the big people room–and my kid–who is an older kid, was bullied by one of the conference organizers. I almost left, but other mothers stood by me and we confronted the situation together. But new mothers who are BF aren’t going to go to that space because the “rules” state kids can only be in the space during X times. And this was a feminist space. So if a woman isn’t working for pay and decides to organize instead so that she can get that emotional and intellectual stimulation–what is she supposed to do when she is treated to such unfriendly and hostile spaces like that?

    I mean, that feminist space was telling mothers, you’re only wanted here if you make your child and your motherhood as invisible as possible–*we* don’t want anything to do with your motherhood. Which helps to create that “you must be a super mom” mentality, even as feminism is *saying* it’s critiquing it. When a woman isn’t even welcome in feminist spaces what other choice does she have but to sit and stare at her child all day and try not to eat her own tongue from boredom?

  43. Ledasmom
    August 6, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I would say that breastfeeding is work, but not work that involves enough muscular exertion to keep me from getting fidgety. One of the advantages of cuddling cats versus cuddling babies is that, with the cat, you can just chuck it on the floor and get on with whatever else you were doing.
    Some breastfed babies aren’t particularly good at being soothed by people other than their mother, at least until after weaning. In a perfect world, one has someone to look after the baby who is fine with being screamed at for an hour nonstop. In this world, one has a husband with imperfectly-controlled depression. So it goes.

  44. Dr. Confused
    August 6, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Breastfeeding is what it is: sometimes a welcome respite and sometimes a pain in the ass. And of course it is different things for different women, and I’m sure here at Feministe we can understand that not all women approach the same thing in the same way.

    I breastfeed my daughter when I get home from work. Often at that time my husband is washing dishes and cooking. I say “Sorry, would love to dry the dishes, but as you see I have a growth on my boob” and I get out of that work. I like that.

    I breastfeed my daughter to sleep in the evenings. I lie there near-motionless while my back aches. Sometimes I enjoy the space to daydream. Other times I am chafing, willing her to just get to sleep already so I can get up and do work, or find a better position and go to sleep, or play World of Warcraft.

  45. August 6, 2009 at 11:44 am

    On the topic of Natalie’s question (way upthread now), there is evidence that babies who are held (or worn) more and cosleep are better at regulating their own breathing, heart rate, and body temp. Something about being close to an adult body with consistent and steady biorhythms…

    Also, I always thought co-sleeping was traditional because for the huge chunk of human history before we had climate-controlled houses, it was the only way to keep the baby warm and protected from the elements. Also, before formula was available presumably everyone breastfed, and co-sleeping lets the mom sleep.

  46. August 6, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    you’re only wanted here if you make your child and your motherhood as invisible as possible–*we* don’t want anything to do with your motherhood.

    and

    Do “progressive” and “radical” spaces need to be readjusted such that moms and their kids can actually participate in the space?

    YES! yesyesyesyesyes OMFG yes!!!! Thank you!!!

    There is a branch of “feminist” and “progressive/radical” thought whose proponents seek to distance themselves as far-the-fuck away from mothers as possible. It’s as if they can only envision one, very limited representation of motherhood and parenting, and doubt the existance or possibility of feminist parenting. Folks, if feminist parenting is impossible, so is feminist everything else.

    And yes, this attitude perpetuates the notion that feminism isn’t for everyone.

  47. August 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    There is definitely a primitivist . . . . I don’t want to say “undercurrent,” because it isn’t that subtle . . . in the AP movement. I think a lot of it stems not from the Sears books, though, but from a very popular book called “The Continuum Concept,” which was originally published in 1975. From continuum-concept.org:

    Jean Liedloff, an American writer, spent two and a half years deep in the South American jungle with Stone Age Indians. The experience demolished her Western preconceptions of how we should live and led her to a radically different view of what human nature really is. She offers a new understanding of how we have lost much of our natural well-being and shows us practical ways to regain it for our children and for ourselves.

    So, yeah. That’s where it came from. And there’s some ugly, ugly exoticizing.

    However, I don’t think there’s anything inherent in AP practice that requires gendered imbalance in parenting, aside from breastfeeding (while I don’t doubt that it is physically possible for some men to induce lactation, I’m not ready to embrace that as the perfect solution until I know more about it). I agree that the Sears books themselves are sexist and condescending, but to date I have never read a parenting book that wasn’t. I think AP practices can be used as excuses to subjugate or isolate women, and when it comes to groups such as the Quiverfulls, that’s certainly an aspect that gets promoted.

    I breastfeed my 17 month old twins, cosleep with them, and wear them a lot not because I am Awesomely AP but because I am lazy and it is easier this way.

  48. amy
    August 6, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    How do stay at home moms/spouses affect the way men, particularly powerful men, see women at work? And how can we directly address and discuss it?

    Sally, I think that’s an interesting question. I’m a SAHM of an infant, and now I’m wondering whether there things I could be doing or not doing to better support my fellow mothers who choose to or have to work. I’m able to stay home because, bluntly put, we’re affluent; I don’t want to grub for cookies, but I would rather be part of the solution than part of the problem, if that’s possible for a SAHM.

    It perhaps doesn’t help that parenting (and staying home) so far isn’t a sacrifice for me – getting a temporary reprieve from the constant criticism, the politics, the micromanagement, the pointless assignments, the lack of recognition, to spend all day with someone adorable whose problems can be solved by lifting my shirt? Going back will be the sacrifice. (But we have this fantasy of sending her to college someday, so…)

  49. Kristen J.
    August 6, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Sally,

    Look, I’m one of those women who recently got laid off for just that reason. So I sympathize with your anger. But I’m not going to sit here and blame women for the choices they make that may indirectly hurt you or me. We each try to live our lives in the way that makes us happy. For some women that choice is to work and be childfree; for some women that choice is to work and have children; for some women that choice is to not work and be childfree (lucky bastards); and for still other women that choice is to not work and have children. That choice is an intensely personal one.

    And one that has nothing at all to do with me or you.

    In directly we may be harmed when other women make decisions that the patriarchy use to brow beat us into submission; but it is the patriarchy’s fault not some other woman’s. She is just making the best decision for her self and she is not responsible to me for that decision.

    She doesn’t have to change her life and her desires so that the patriarchy will treat me differently. To repeat she is not personally responsible for my happiness or my success.

    Should we be talking about how the patriarchy sees women and men differently in the work place? Absolutely. Is it sexist that companies see women as more disposable because of our reproductive options. Absolutely.

    Is is some SAM’s fault that I got terminated, just because she enjoys staying home with the kids…absolutely not.

  50. August 6, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I’ve been writing about these issues for a long ass time cuz I’ve been living these issues for a long ass time. I wrote about how attachment parenting was comodified and baby wearing exoticized (do a search on the site anti-racist parent and my name) and took so much heat for speaking the truth, even though I breastfed and “wore” my second baby. I didn’t breastfeed my first cuz I had to go back to work two weeks after having her but I coslept because there was only one place for both of us to sleep. I breastfed my second hija cuz I was working at home two weeks after having her and didn’t co sleep cuz we all couldn’t fit in the bed. Sometimes the choices we make as mamis are just based in day to day living not high minded theory.

    The sad thing is that now as I enter my third year of single mami’hood 2.0 it is still glaringly clear why I am a mami, live in the mami’hood, and and a mami blogger.

  51. August 6, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    “Attachment Parenting (not to be confused with the psychological notion of “attachment”)”

    PF, I wanted to single this out and thank you for pointing this out. I have always known about the psychological notion of attachment, because of child development classes, child advocacy trainings and so on. So when I had my daughter Annalise, now 2, and a lot of the attachment parenting “rules” didn’t work out for us, I started envisioning Annalise as not having the basic human need of “attaching”.

    It was violently frightening.
    And, I know it was a little dillusional, but at least I could blame it on new mom brain. But reading back on attachment parenting stuff now, I can see how they lead vulnerable people to believe outlandish things like that.

  52. sally
    August 6, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Here’s a blunt question for all of you. (I realize it’s a dangerous, dangerous question that many will hold their ears and go “lalalalala”, but if we aren’t courageous here, where can courage be?)

    Question: If a stay at home mom relates her experience as BEST as a drum beat at home and in her marriage, not just a choice, but the BEST choice, how much do you think her working husband is influenced toward an attitude of working women? Zero percent? A lot? Some? Do male and female decision makers bring their values to work and can wives influence them at all?

  53. August 6, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Heh. When I had my child a book by Adele… someone, Davis maybe was all the rage. Mostly about the best nutrition for babies and moms, with charts and illustrations so you could either freak out because your baby had the wrong shaped head or chin or be secure in the knowledge that some other woman was obviously a Very Bad Mother because her’s did. What a crock.

    Luckily, babies are pretty resilient and as long as we are reasonably careful with them we won’t break them, either emotionally, psychologically or physically. Parents are often far more fragile in two of those areas, I believe.

    I worked at a fairly demanding job up till the day before I had her and, far as I can recall (it was quite a while ago), I had six or eight weeks off afterward, then it was back to work. I did try breastfeeding, but I was young, isolated and quite convinced I was no good at it (or any of the rest of the mothering stuff), so I went to formula and that was that. (The shape of my daughter’s head remained unchanged, regardless.)

    Sally – not so much a dangerous question, I’m thinking, as an unformed one. Or one that assumes at least somewhat like values, experiences, level of education, income or something to whittle down the vast differences in stay at home moms and their reasons for staying home with their children. And, for perhaps thinking their reasons are BEST.

    For instance – in two working parent households with unequal take-home pay, couples (or whatever) often make the decision that the person with the least pay stay home with the baby, as that is the best decision for them. Particularly if the pay does not adequately exceed the sometimes very high cost of daycare.

    How is the working husband influenced by this, if it’s his wife that is staying home? Dunno, lots of factors go into that, but in my experience, at lower income levels, working wives/mothers/girlfriends/daughters, so on are the norm, not the exception, so I don’t imagine it would make much difference in his views (whether they were pro or con or indifferent they would remain so, probably, unaffected by circumstance).

    Single parent households often have even fewer options so of course BEST would have to take surviving on no outside income, except savings or state aid (depending) or something, into account but as they don’t have spouses to influence at work, perhaps you are not interested in this group?

    Also probably not in the group of women who have been working steadily since the age of maybe 14 in various jobs and who view childbirth and care as the BEST opportunity for them to take a rest and take care of themselves as well as their baby. If they have the opportunity, that is. I doubt what their spouses say at work much matters, but it wouldn’t surprise me if men in particular (but also women, sometimes) felt and articulated a sort of pride in being able to have only one spouse working. I think that has as much to do with culture, the American Dream and class as it does with gender.

    And, let’s see… oh, I could go on and on but I’m boring even myself. Maybe if you define just who fits the image you have in your mind of these influential, career threatening moms and spouses who actually have choices that particular conversation would go further.

  54. Kristen J.
    August 7, 2009 at 4:48 am

    how much do you think her working husband is influenced toward an attitude of working women?

    Zero percent (and a remarkably useless question). He undoubtedly chose her because she shared his views. Do you really think some free thinking, liberal male feminist is going to change into a 1950s neanderthal because his wife thinks that being a SAHM is best? In relationships we seek out people who agree with us, who share our values. You don’t fix the patriarchy by brow beating women into fitting your ideal, you do it by giving women (and men goddamn it) the opportunity to be who ever they choose to be.

  55. August 7, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Cosign to everything Nanette said, especially this:

    I think that has as much to do with culture, the American Dream and class as it does with gender.

    And, let’s see… oh, I could go on and on but I’m boring even myself. Maybe if you define just who fits the image you have in your mind of these influential, career threatening moms and spouses who actually have choices that particular conversation would go further.

    *sigh* I think one of the biggest problems informing or influencing the disconnect between what plain(s)feminist spoke of as, “I think white middle-class feminism sees certain aspects of parenting as sacrifice and writes them off……I think that indigenous feminisms and woman-of-color feminisms and working-class feminisms have tended to get this…” (a statement I agree with, btw)—-is our radically different experience of what motherhood is, who mothers are, how households function, and yes, what “best” practices are.

    Here’s what I think informs the idea that many white middle-class feminists have of the shape that activism should take, that activist and/or feminist space (including intellectual space/theory) should take: motherhood is limiting. It’s a pedestal. It’s the “feminine mystique.” It’s strictured, and concerning with being THE BEST. It’s a place where one has to worry about what the neighbors think. It takes away options. It’s freedom killing, which can lead to soul-killing. And it’s the single human institution least likely to change….that women can have enough power to change politics, the workforce, medicine, academia, etc.—-but women will never have the power to change assumptions or practices of motherhood.

    (I’m not going to be arrogant and say, “this is the truth.” This is my perception. This is me, from the outside looking in.)

    And that clashes with the experiences that many working-class and/or WOC have, which is that motherhood is expanding, despite the inherent limits of sacrifice. It brings a respect, and its own power and authority that we don’t experience either on the job or in life in general. It’s a venue where we get to make decisions, we get to make choices, for better or worse. And the limits that exist in our lives, the lack of comparative power and privilege that we have, means that we have to not only think creatively, but enact “best” practices (a multiplicity of forms and acts) that work for us—we have “on the job experience” of the power we have to change perceptions, images and practices of motherhood.

    (again, this isn’t “the truth”, and I can’t speak for WOC, and I’m not speaking for “all” working-class or italian-american women, certainly. This is just what I have experienced, and what similarly-situated women that I personally know have expressed to me when the topic comes up.)

    Now, when you add to these generally different perceptions, images and expectations the pre-existing racist, classist, heterosexist, ableist, etc. power schema—the “whose voice is more important” or “whose voice actually has something worth saying” in feminism, I say….Houston, we have a problem.

    So to get back to your question Sally, I’d turn it around completely. What makes you think that it is women who are having the most influence in the perception of what is BEST—staying home, or going to work outside the home? Considering that (as pointed out above by mama mia) so very few women are even able to make this choice? And considering that it has been official public policy since welfare deform that poor women should NEVER be able to make this choice?

    Sally, I am a single, working-class mother. I don’t have a husband’s income to rely on. I never did. (I was married once, before I became a mother, he seldom worked, long off-topic story…). I get where you’re coming from. I have been laid off in economic downturns, despite my superior experience, work history, work ethic, and ability to Get Shit Done. And yes, I do feel that it was directly related to gender, in that I supposedly have the “ability” to snag some man to pay my bills, while the men I work with have “families to support.”

    Except here’s the thing—-all the married men I work with have working wives. Not only working wives, but wives with jobs that have similar take home pay. So, my married brethren have twice my income, twice the benefits—a nice cushion to land on in case of layoff that I. Don’t. Have.

    It’s not whether or not women work. It’s the fact that we’re women, and that the people (mostly men) making these decisions are from an entirely different social and economic class with those inherently different experiences, images, and expectations.

    It’s about power. Who has it and who don’t. And Sally? We don’t. As feminists, we can choose to change that. But we can’t if feminism doesn’t offer all women a place at the table, and value all of our voices. For years, one of the big issues brought up by women who fill out AFL-CIO “Ask a Working Woman” surveys is the availability of child care. This is seen as an “important” issue by mainstream feminism—but in practice not important enough of an issue to dedicate limited financial and activist resources to. So, while this is seen as a practical decision, other women (like the ones in my neighborhood and worksite) are simultaneously making our own practical decisions on what movements want us; what movements have our interests at heart. For me, that would be the labor movement. I strongly feel that the labor movement has more to offer on a feminist level than mainstream feminist groups like NOW. Because the labor movement is “better”? Because it is “more feminist?” (heh. no.) No, a strict Maslow’s hierarchy here—it does a better job of listening to what I need, and focusing on those needs.

  56. Nicole
    August 7, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I think you correctly identified the problem with regards to feminism and parenting, particularly what you accurately termed white middle-class feminism as opposed to women who are working class or of color who are also feminists.
    Though I am by no means middle-class, nor did I ever have the opportunity growing up to be in the middle-class income level, I inherently believed in the middle-class way of feminism in that certain aspects of parenting were a burden. I’ve tried to coalesce my beliefs in feminism with my beliefs in being a good parent and it was hard to correctly identify why I felt such anguish. I felt I was losing who I was inside. If I had had a more community centered approach my attachment parenting (which I did with my children, more so my second than my first), wouldn’t have felt so disheartening because I would have been supported in my decisions and not felt so alone. White women in particular as so ready to make judgments on others’ parenting and are really the last to offer help. Everyone woman on her own!
    I think to be a true feminist one has to also be involved in her community and to offer help and advice for everyone who needs it. A new mother, sleep-deprived and exhausted should be at the top of the list!

  57. August 7, 2009 at 9:32 am

    I think Sally’s on to something, but she’s placing the blame in the wrong place.

    Why *is* there still such a pervasive idea that men “need” jobs and for women, they’re optional? Why do we still have a pay gap, years after laws were passed eliminating the kind of institutionalized discrepancies in pay that were the norm not so long ago?

    Why is it that it always seems like the “easiest” thing for a woman to take time from work because she’s the one who makes less?

    Could it be that the odds are still stacked against women in the workplace, and in particular, mothers in the workplace?

    Remember that “the personal is political” doesn’t mean that a woman’s individual choice should be held up as an example of what’s hurting women. What it means is that her choice doesn’t exist in a vacuum, that the reason her choice seems like the most sensible one is that society has greased the skids for her.

    So to the extent you’re not looking at the grease on the skids, you’re missing the picture. Same goes for lipstick and waxing, etc.

    @bfp: but Friedan’s solution–go back to work–I think is a part of what created the conflict between sahm’s and working moms. Do sahm’s really need to go back to work to be stimulated as a full grown adult?

    Some do. Some women can’t stand being home with the kids all the time. Some wouldn’t do anything else. And in Friedan’s world, she and her cohorts were well-educated women who had talents and interests but were pushed into this subservient role by the expectations of their socioeconomic class and were unhappy about it.

    Not to mention, where money means power, having a job is a means of having some kind of equal footing as your husband. I work with a lot of men whose wives stay home, and it’s always “his” money; her contribution to the household economy is invisible to them and therefore unimportant. Even though it means he can have all the trappings of an upper-middle-class family man while not having to deal with what makes all those trappings possible, other than earning money. The men whose wives work, especially if they’re also in a similar job, talk of their wives as more equal and also seem to be taking on much more in terms of household duties because they don’t have someone at home full-time to take it off their consciousness.

  58. bfp
    August 7, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Zuzu, i’m not saying that the only choice is either stay at home or go back to work. Im saying that the FM presented go back to work as the ONLY alternative to the boredom and mind numbing work of staying at home. Some women need to go back to work. Some women need to organize and some women just need a person to talk to every day. If feminists are going to organize around what “feminist mother’s need” then they need to stop presuming that the only way mothers get physical and intellectual and emotional stimulation is through the 9-5 stuff.

    Also, i’m partnered with a self identified male and I think it does a real disservice to politicized mothers partnered with men to assume that the only currency to power they’ve found is money. Maybe that’s where radicalization and powerful change really lies is in how mothers have found alternative and sustainable models of power and economies simply out of necessity and pure grit.

  59. August 7, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Disclaimer: I’m a white middle class cisgendered married SAHM of a 6 week old.

    I practice AP, partially out of the idealistic reasons to, and partially because I”m cheap and lazy. For our family, AP is SO much easier. I’m also part of a mother’s group that is geared towards the AP people, and AP/natural-oriented families are a lot more diverse than described here.

    My family is solidly middle class and living in a town that has pretty low cost of living, and we are some of the most affluent in my mom’s group. A lot of the women are SAHMs, but I’d place most somewhere between working class and lower middle class. I’m DAMN lucky in a lot of ways and I know it, but AP in my experience is by no means a practice only for the affluent.

    Frankly, I’d like to see motherhood get more respect. Right now it’s fetishized, and i’d argue all mother’s objectified, but we’re not respected. I’ve already felt the pressure of being the sole caregiver for my child, even though my husband is insistent that he share as equally as he can (of course, I have the boobs, so….). Parenting absolutely does not mean Mom puts herself second and her kids first. Honestly, the highest priority in my family is my mental health.

    AP does help with this. Because we co-sleep and breastfeed (which my husband was a much bigger advocate of than I was), I get more sleep. Because we cloth diaper, diaper changes are easier and I have fewer blowouts. In 6 weeks the only diaper blowout I’ve had was when we were using disposables; I truly believe cloth is of higher quality. Babywearing makes my life so much easier. My daughter is being extremely clingy, and if I didn’t wear her I’d either be tied to the bed or listening to her scream all the time. She’s asleep in a carrier right now and I’m relaxing.

    But I also make sure to get time to myself every day. After dinner, which we make together, depending on whether or not the baby needs to nurse at a given moment, I hand the baby off to my husband and go to a coffee shop to read or write for an hour.

    AP really doesn’t have to be a sacrifice, nor does parenting. If I didn’t AP my life would be much much harder.

  60. Alyssa
    August 7, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I just saw this post through a link from your “What is Feminist Mothering” post. I can’t help but giggle a little bit because I also called my child “Bean” before she had an official name. In addition, I received the Sears and Sears book as a gift from my sister (talk about horrible gifts). When I got to the chapter on working mothers, I actually cried. I have never had a book make me feel like a terrible mother as much as this one did. I eventually put the book under my bed and left it there permanently.

    Anyway, as far as the sacrifices of parenting: yes there should be sacrifices on all parents/caretakers involved. Parenting is not easy, and no one person should take the brunt of it. As far as who makes what sacrifices, it really doesn’t matter. So long as all parties involved are in agreement and the arrangement is working, then there are no problems.

    We all tend to see what ever works for us as superior and become judgmental of situations that wouldn’t work for us personally. But we need to realize what works for us doesn’t necessarily work for another. The best way to be supportive of other parents isn’t telling them what works for us (unless they are specifically asking) but giving them the confidence to know that they are doing just fine. Parents tend to be overly critical of themselves, and honestly need to hear that as long as they love and care for their child, the child will be fine and isn’t going to become the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

  61. sally
    August 7, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    It’s funny that some people are writing about my comments just in the way women’s feminism was discounted: “angry….blaming…whatever…”

    Yet……

    Everyone dodges the question: If a stay at home mom bangs the drum that stay at home is best…does it affect the attitude of the man towards women who goes to work?

    Now…..you all…get out of your blame-thinking and throwing rocks at me and open your mind to a different, cool way to look at the problem.

    1. If a man has a positive attitude toward equality at work, is it or is it not correlated to having a stay at home wife?

    2. If a man has a positive attitude toward equality at work, how does this correlate to what his stay at home wife does or does not do? How can create a more equitable attitude? Or does a wife have zero impact?

    A lot of people here say that these are unfair, impossible question to ask. Dangerous even. But, we should raise awareness.

    Nevertheless interesting questions for a study to get funded and some awareness raised.

  62. Kristen J.
    August 7, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Sally,

    I answered your question. You’ve ignored it because you don’t like it. Tough.

  63. mama mia
    August 7, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Sally,
    Your whole premise seems to based on the idea that the majority of women who stay at home believe all women should do so. However, if you were to interact with a representative group of stay at home moms, and not just mean spirited women on some ultra conservative blogs, you would learn that the VAST majority of women who stay home for a period of time plan to and eventually do go back to the workforce. They do not hate other women, nor are they campaigning against mothers who work.

    You also seem to be imagining husbands as blank slates who only become misogynists at the insistence of their wives. As Kristen J. said clearly and you ignored, people tend to choose partners who reinforce the views they already have. Do partners influence each other? Of course. You seem to believe that is the only way men are influenced, however.

    The truth is that even if there were no stay at home moms in America, people at your company would still be laid off because we are in a recession. The managers would just find different reasons to retain the white guys over everyone else.

    Before you go feeling too dangerous and courageous, do a little more exploring.

  64. August 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    What mama mia (and others) said.

    I mean, I’ve worked with plenty of men who were sexist, chauvinistic, or outright misogynists, yet almost all of them had wives who worked outside the home. The fact they desired that second income didn’t neatly correlate with their general attitude towards women.

    Then again, these are all working class men I am thinking of. It is possible that the attitude is different as one moves up the economic and social power scale. Working class men don’t quite have the same luxury to indulge upper-class forms of sexism.

    What I think is that power is seductive. Power over, as opposed to power with. Sally, I don’t see anything particularly different or cool about your way of framing the dilemma; it’s the same-old, same-old of putting the burden on the (individual) woman’s back. Re-read zuzu’s comment. When I read your question, I’m hearing/seeing the framing as yet another damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t that reifies/reinforces the power-over dynamic; in this case, power over the (very small number of) women who are choosing to stay home with their children (most of whom are planning to and do return to the workforce, albeit not without penalty).

    I mean it, re-read zuzu’s comment. Do I believe having a stay at home wife influences a man’s attitude (more importantly, his behavior) towards women in the workforce? My answer: not anywhere near as much as the attitudes (I almost typed “assitudes!”) of the other men he works with. My guess would be 5% wife influence, 95% male co-worker/boss/corporate culture influence. Because see, most of those men don’t have a problem with women in the workforce. The problem is when those uppity bitches have the same title or higher. They aren’t upset about the cleaning ladies or secretaries. They are pissed that they have to compete with women at the same level.

    So, they amplify the attitude that women are a drag on the corporate culture when we have babies (no matter how fast we return to work), and at the same time, deride childfree women like zuzu for being unfeminine ballbusting bitches because they don’t have children.

    And it behooves us as feminists to go after the origin of the sexism, rather than help divide-and-conquer women who are left with few (if any) good choices.

  65. August 7, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Zuzu, i’m not saying that the only choice is either stay at home or go back to work. Im saying that the FM presented go back to work as the ONLY alternative to the boredom and mind numbing work of staying at home. Some women need to go back to work. Some women need to organize and some women just need a person to talk to every day. If feminists are going to organize around what “feminist mother’s need” then they need to stop presuming that the only way mothers get physical and intellectual and emotional stimulation is through the 9-5 stuff.

    You have to keep in mind that Friedan was describing a problem that was fairly new and fairly unique at the time. Once the men came home from the war, Rosie the Riveter was sent home, and there was a tremendous amount of pressure on women to be happy housewives, or at the very least not to try to compete with men on the job. Women were encouraged — strongly — to marry young, have large families, and subsume all their interests to their husbands’ and children’s. Because of the economic boom, families *could* rely on one income, which was alien to the parents of a lot of the same women who started feeling unable to accept this role that they were being sold as their highest and best duty and purpose in life. All this at the same time that the nuclear family, rather than the extended one that had been the previous model, was becoming the ideal, so all of the work fell on the wife/mother rather than being spread through an extended family.

    And the laws and customs were also set up so they couldn’t compete with men at the workplace, anyhow, even if they wanted to work. Hell, Sandra Day O’Connor was the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Law Review, and the only job she could get after graduation was as a legal secretary. The same thing happened to a former boss of mine who graduated from Harvard Law School.

    The problem Friedan described was of women not being allowed to develop their own identities separate from being their husbands’ wives or their children’s mothers, and being cut off from the kind of support network that had enabled their mothers to have children, make a living and not have to spend every waking minute with the kids.

    Yes, it’s dated now because we don’t live in that time anymore. And it may seem like she prescribes work as the solution, because for her, at that time, it *was* the solution for creating a separate identity. You’re coming from a place where you already have a strong sense of identity, so you can see it’s not a panacea.

    Also, i’m partnered with a self identified male and I think it does a real disservice to politicized mothers partnered with men to assume that the only currency to power they’ve found is money.

    I never said it was the ONLY currency.

  66. kat
    August 7, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Sally-Kristen J. perfectly answered your question.

  67. Plain(s)Feminist
    August 8, 2009 at 11:07 am

    @ zuzu:
    You have to keep in mind that Friedan was describing a problem that was fairly new and fairly unique at the time. Once the men came home from the war, Rosie the Riveter was sent home, and there was a tremendous amount of pressure on women to be happy housewives, or at the very least not to try to compete with men on the job. Women were encouraged — strongly — to marry young, have large families, and subsume all their interests to their husbands’ and children’s. Because of the economic boom, families *could* rely on one income, which was alien to the parents of a lot of the same women who started feeling unable to accept this role that they were being sold as their highest and best duty and purpose in life. All this at the same time that the nuclear family, rather than the extended one that had been the previous model, was becoming the ideal, so all of the work fell on the wife/mother rather than being spread through an extended family.

    What you say here is true; however, women of color and working class women had always worked outside of the home and *continued* to work outside of the home, for the most part. So this shift most greatly affected white, middle-class women. The liberal feminist push for women to go to work pretty much ignored this reality and didn’t do much to address the concerns of already-working women in factories, in domestic work, etc. (I just wanted to add this for the sake of historical accuracy.)

  68. mama mia
    August 8, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I want to make one comment back on the topic of exoticizing. It is absolutely true that there is a strain of “Look at the beautiful noble savage with her natural primitive ways- she is a mother goddess.”

    But to build on a comment I think bfp was making, be careful with how vigorously you attack that idea. I think some people are so insistent that “they would never choose to live the way they live if they had any other options” that what is implicit in their message is “those women would be white, mainstream Americans if they had any options- they aren’t primitive and happy, they are primitive and depressed.”

    Both sides are essentially calling women from other cultures primitive. Would they all choose to use strollers if they had the option? Some would, some wouldn’t. Don’t glorify the “happy savage” but let’s also not diminish them to “unhappy savage” either.

  69. antiprincess
    August 9, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    you know, as white and privileged (yet desperately culturally sensitive) as I am, I wouldn’t use a stroller if Our Lord and Savior Great White Blue-Eyed Republican Jesus himself invented it. And I get slightly pissy when I (whether personally or by generalization) catch crap for using an obviously better, cheaper, safer and saner alternative.

    I like a carrier. I do a lot of walking and bus riding (I can’t afford a car), and a stroller just isn’t as maneuverable as my own two feet. Also, it doesn’t make sense to me to push around x-whatever pounds of stroller in addition to however many pounds of baby I have to haul (even factoring in the fact it’s on wheels). Further, the distance between me and the baby in a stroller makes me nervous. what if he stops breathing, or has some kind of seizure, or swallows a bee, or…? if the baby is right on me, I at least know he’s still alive. as a frantic new mom, that’s reassuring.

    when I’m on the bus and carrying my son in a ring sling, sometimes spanish-speaking bus passengers assume I speak Spanish. When I’m using my wrap and the baby’s on my back, West African bus riders tell me “that is the way to do it, like we do back home.”

    of course, as I type this I realize that my average-white-mom’s privileged pissiness doesn’t really measure up against the cumulative effects of a lifetime of cultural insults.

    But I am grateful for my carriers. they let me do stuff I couldn’t otherwise do and go places I couldn’t otherwise go. I can’t pretend I’m some sort of earth-mother goddess with magical mommy powers, but I am every day grateful for my global ancestors who make my own little mommy-bubble a saner place.

  70. August 11, 2009 at 11:27 am

    “The idea that you can’t take a walk without the baby? Feed the child then go (assuming you have a partner or community to help), you’ve got at least an hour, usually more time than that, to get out and go for a walk, take a long shower, etc. ”

    …that’s a pretty big assumption.

    Also, some of us don’t leave our kids with babysitters or daycare because our children have atypical physical challenges (read: they’re sick, and not in an acute or temporary way) that means that babysitters aren’t qualified and no daycare would accept the liability involved.

    I’m not granola enough for the AP crowd, but granola enough that the non-AP crowd thinks I’m weird. For me, the helpful part of AP is the idea that you don’t always have to ‘fix’ your child, or train them like a dog. You don’t have to teach your child how to sleep or when to eat, you just kind of roll with it.

    It’s not so much a lack of discipline as it is an acceptance of how babies ARE, which is kind of annoying and inconvenient sometimes (no matter how zen you are, I do not believe you if you tell me that you do not mind growth spurts, when your child wakes you up 5 times in one night to eat or play or just cry, and you have to work in the morning, AND you have the flu), but that’s a feature, not a bug. Babies are needy because they have NEEDS, not because they’ve been raised wrong.

    We co-sleep because we sleep a lot better when we don’t have to listen for a monitor or get out of bed when the babies cry. Rolling over and patting a baby is much more convenient than dragging your bleary ass out of bed.

  71. August 11, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Great post. As a feminist, attachment parenting mother this post really spoke to me. I would also love to see more of an exploration of the issue that you raised at the end – the overly individualistic focus of white middle-class feminism and how this almost places babies in the position of ‘enemies to feminism’. A feminism that, instead, demanded more from the community in terms of supporting mothers, children, and (involved) fathers would be far more useful in my opinion…

    To be clear: I think that this feminism does exist, but that the more individualist one tends to get more air time.

  72. August 11, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I’m now 19 and experiencing being a dad. I must say although it feels good it’s still hard. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but to be honest, the hard part is having to balance time. My daughter is great and makes managing her never dreadful. -Teen dad

  73. August 12, 2009 at 10:28 am

    @ Cristy – I think these discussions are happening, to some extent, in the Journal and other publications of the Association for Research on Mothering. I also think that Ariel Gore and the zine she founded, Hip Mama, take on some of these issues.

  74. August 13, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Good lord, it took me ages to get through all the comments. Anyway, I first read about men breastfeeding here: http://blogs.static.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/20193.html

    When I casually asked my husband if he would consider BF, he responded “no” without thinking. I’m not entirely sure if it’s because he’s seen how much work is involved in BF or because it’s just something that women do, but the idea that men would refuse to use their own bodies to nourish their own children while being supportive of BF mothers is ridiculous to me. But of course he’s willing to feed our son with BM in a bottle.

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