Wednesday, June 25, 2008

mothering as a feminist act*

*i was tempted to title this post, "mothering as the ultimate feminist act," but that felt wrong. it felt very hyperbolic, similar to "Bean is the cutest two year old that ever existed." true, on some level, but really only true-ish. (but not truthiness, because there's legitimate truth in there) Bean is, indeed, an unbelievably adorable 2-year-old, but creating a hierarchy where she towers so far above every other adorable two year old is a little silly.
because while mothering is an absolutely vital part of taking feminist action (at least, a certain kind of mothering that i'll discuss herein), it is, of course, not the absolute most important feminist act one can take. there's no hierarchy here. it's all important. but in this post, mothering - truly feminist mothering - is the focal point of feminist action(s).

when you think of "feminist action," most people think of petitions, marches on washington, lobbying your congressmen & women, taking it to the streets, working for legislative change, working for community change. most people do not think of family as a site of feminist action. at most, they'll think of family as the breeding ground for feminists, raising feminists by instilling ideals of equality and social justice in their kids, so that their kids can one day take these more obvious steps we call "feminist acts."

the family, though, IS a site of feminist action.
or, at least, it can be.
(i will speak directly to the act of mothering here, because that's what i can speak to most eloquently and knowledgeably, but that of course does not preclude other kinds of parenting, and it does not necessarily apply only to women.)

mothering is not black & white, but, if you'll allow me some brief essentialism, it can pretty much be boiled down to one of two forms:
feminist mothering,
and anti-feminist mothering.

my mother, despite identifying (somehow) as a feminist, engaged very intently in anti-feminist mothering. her self-proclaimed identity as a feminist did not stop her from acting toward her daughter (and her sons) in distinctly anti-feminist ways. it's pretty clear to most people who know me that i have plenty of grievances to file against my mother and the way in which she chose to mother me. here, though, i won't air the particulars, because they're not especially relevant to my point.

in general:
anti-feminist mothering is unloving mothering.
anti-feminist mothering plays into sexist and misogynistic views of women - in either/both blatant or subtle ways.
anti-feminist mothering refuses to empower daughters to exist in a powerful way in our racist heteropatriarchy. (it also refuses to teach sons how to exist in a privilege-conscious way in our racist heteropatriarchy.)
anti-feminist mothering expects daughters to pick up the slack of the mother's lost opportunities, not for the sake of the daughter's opportunities, but for the selfish sake of the mother's need for approval and validation. i.e. not encouraging the daughter to succeed on her own merits or of her own volition, but instead, to succeed for other people.

on the flip side, and what i'd much rather talk about, is feminist mothering.
(which isn't a given when a feminist becomes a mother. see, for example, my own mother. and also, Alice Walker.)

feminist mothering is based in love. because true feminism is, at its base, all about love, feminist mothering necessarily has true love at its base as well. (the "true" part of "true love" there is important; wounded, selfish ways of loving do not allow for a feminist action of mothering.)
this basis in love is really what informs all other aspects of feminist mothering.
feminist mothering is empowering, because it teaches (through example) self-responsibility for actions & feelings. feminist mothers teach their daughters how to embrace their own power, how to use their power to protect themselves.
at the same time, feminist mothers protect their children. not in a smothering way, not in a disempowering way, but in what should be an expected way. a protection based in love. it's not selfless, none of this is. to be selfless is to give up the self, which is anathema to the idea of self-responsibility. feminist mothers create a net of safety for their children, a place where their vulnerabilities (being female, for example) are not open invitations for abuse or mistreatment.

the best way i know of to identify feminist vs. anti-feminist mothering is this: feminist mothers are those mothers whose interactions with their children give me - and, i think, most people with a developed feminist consciousness - a warm, full feeling in my heart.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

dear lesbians,

this is why you should care about what's going on in the reproductive justice world.

because refusal clauses cover more than just those pills for those straight girls.

because Guadalupe Benitez represents more than just one wronged woman in California.

because people like Americans United For Life, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, and the American Civil Rights Union (the asshole counterpart to the ACLU) are organizations that all hate you, my fellow queer women, just as much as they hate women who've engaged in PIV intercourse and want to be able to exercise control over their bodies.

because these organizations and people aren't just going to stop with trying to control contraception and abortion, which applies more directly to het women than to my women-loving women friends. because you've got vaginas too, my dear lesbians. and the anti-choicers? they want to control your vaginas (and the rest of your reproductive systems), too.

yes, what happened in Benitez's case, when she was refused IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatment because she was an unmarried lesbian, is different from the use of refusal clauses by pharmacists, hospitals, and doctors when women are denied EC or other contraception because these health care professionals have "moral, religious, personal, or ideological objections" to providing this kind of health care. of course they're different. the individual discrimination in Benitez's case isn't always involved in your everyday invocations of the "conscience clause." but they're fruit of the same fucked up tree.
make no mistake: these doctors were able to refuse to treat Benitez based on her sexuality exactly because of the groundwork laid by anti-choicers. this "conscience clause" that they've pushed so hard for has worked...on a much larger scale than we usually recognize.
it's worked on a level that directly affects us, as queer women.

now, my dear lesbians, i know that there are few of you that i need to speak to here. most of us already have what seems to be an odd, misplaced investment in the reproductive rights movement. from the outside, it seems weird that all of these women who aren't engaging in PIV intercourse and don't usually need ready access to contraception or abortion would care so deeply about repro rights.
i don't have sex with people who have organs that can get me pregnant. i don't really need to care about whether or not my pharmacist is going to be able to refuse my prescription for birth control. except...i do.
because i might want a kid someday. and i might want to use a fertility doctor to make that happen (for my partner - no baby is squeezing out of this vag). i don't want my doctor to be able to cite some bullshit piece of legislation that says he doesn't need to treat my lesbian partner, and i don't want to sit in that office, years from now, and think, "fuck, i guess i should've paid attention to that refusal clause shit."

this movement is something i need to be invested in.
this movement affects me, directly.
and, my dear fellow lesbians, this movement affects you, directly, too.