Her Bad Mother

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Let's Talk About Sex

Some time before WonderBaby was born, my husband and I had a conversation about what it was going to be like to have a daughter. I asked him whether he thought he might find it challenging, as a man, to raise a girl. No, he said. Not at all. Except…

Except what?

Except that I’m bracing myself, I guess.

For what?

For more pain, than if we had a boy. For getting my heart broken.

I knew what he meant. He wasn’t talking about losing her, one day, to the great big world beyond childhood and family - to life on her own, to lovers, to a spouse, to adulthood. That was a given, a pain that we didn’t need to brace ourselves against, a pain that we had already accepted, even though it was so far off. He was afraid of not being able to protect her from the darker forces of a world that would likely try to take her from us too soon – that would take her childhood, her innocence, too soon.

He was talking about all of the terrible things that the world can do to girls (which is not to say that boys are invulnerable, only that we usually believe girls to be more vulnerable), about all of the dangers and all of the threats that shape parents' nightmares, the things that we all want to plug our ears and shut our eyes against. But he was also talking about the more insidious ways that the world conspires to steal our daughters' innocence.

He was talking about the influence of this sort of thing:

And this:

And, God help us, this:

The knee-jerk response to this - my knee-jerk response to this - is to want to hide your children from the world, to protect them from the world, to protect them from the influence of Britney and Lindsay and Paris and Bratz Dollz and (god dear god crop tops with saucy diapers and chain-linked bottles) Baby Bratz Dollz and Pussycat Dolls.

The knee-jerk response is to want to keep them innocent forever, to want to do anything, anything at all that will keep them innocent forever. But that's not necessarily the answer - as Rebecca of Girl's Gone Child reminded us all the other day, our children need to learn how to navigate this world. We don't necessarily help them by keeping them from it, or it from them. We need to mediate their relationship to the world and everything in it, certainly, but do we help them by censoring it?

I'm still undecided about where, exactly, I draw the line between mediation and censorship in helping my children navigate the often choppy and mostly murky waters of this world that we live in. But what I do know is this: I not only want to preserve my daughter's innocence for as long as is reasonable (how long this is, is another question), I want to her to come to understand herself as a physical and, eventually, sexual being innocently. Does that make sense? I want her understanding of herself as a sexual being to unfold naturally, healthily, innocently - I don't want it forced upon her. I don't want it imposed upon her by popular culture or by peer pressure or - dear god - by another human being.

I don't want her to be confused by or misinformed about human sexuality. As I was. If I want my daughter to be powerful as a woman - and I do - I need to ensure that she understands herself (in the healthiest way possible) as a powerful physical being. She needs to understand her own sexuality.

So, I end up caught between a rock and a hard place. Protect her from becoming sexualized, but encourage her to understand and embrace her own sexuality. On this issue, I am at a loss.

What to do, what to do...?

I know! Let's ask Gloria Steinem!

Us:* How do we – as women and mothers and feminists – find a balance between embracing and being empowered by our own sexuality and protecting our girls from the effects of a hyper-sexualized culture that seems to encourage them to use their sexuality in all the wrong ways?

Gloria: We have a power that the media doesn’t: the power of an all-five-senses example. If our daughters see us behaving as sexual and whole in a positive way – if we don’t allow ourselves to be treated as we wouldn’t want our daughters to be treated – that’s truly subversive. If we don’t give up ourselves for male approval, or “Uncle Tom” by treating men as more important than they are, or complain about our bodies every time we pass a mirror, our daughters will know they don’t have to either. They may go underground for a while and conform to the media or their peers, but they will always know there’s another way. Also, I think we can link kids’ sense of fairness to sex. Why should girls be more judged by appearance than boys? Why are our bodies ornaments while theirs are instruments? Why should girls perform oral sex on boys – what kind of unequal pleasure is that?

I love this answer (and I love her for taking the time to answer it) - but, I'll be honest, it also frustrates me. She's absolutely correct that we are the best examples for our daughters - but what if we are still struggling with our own sexuality? On a cultural level, I'm thinking of all of the women my own age that I regularly see who seem to be modelling themselves on Bratz Dolls - if these women are or become mothers, they're going to be raising a whole generation of little tartlets.

On a personal level, it's even more complicated. I still have lingering issues about my body, and issues about my sexuality. This isn't the forum for them, but they're there. And I'm terrified of passing these on to my daughter. I have some miles to go before I will feel fully confident about modelling 'whole and positive' sexuality and body confidence to my daughter. But I need to get there.

What do you think? About her answer, or about the general dilemma? I'm looking for more guidance here, people...

Because Mother's bathing costume looks exactly like this one...

*This question was an amalgamation of a the questions submitted by Izzy and Penelope. I compiled a second question from a few more of your questions, which she also answered (nice lady!), and I'll post it next week. In the meantime, check out these other blogs, which will likely have their question/responses posted soon:

Jen Satterwhite of Mommy Needs Coffee; Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation; Leah Peterson of Leah Peah; Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored; Ingrid Wiese of Three New York Women; Sarah Brown of Que Sera Sera; Stolie of Funky Brown Chick; Liz of Mom-101.

Sex Talk! With Aging White Feminists!

Later today on Her Bad Mother, Gloria Steinem answers this question:

How do we – as women and mothers and feminists – find a balance between embracing and being empowered by our own sexuality and protecting our girls from the effects of a hyper-sexualized culture that seems to encourage them to use their sexuality in all the wrong ways?

Audience participation will be mandatory.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

So, is this about feminism, or my neuroses? You decide!

I kinda don't feel like talking about this anymore right now... but then again, I kinda do, and the only other thing that I'm burning to write about right now is how fucking unkempt and ugly I feel these days and you really don't want to hear that sorry rant.

(Then again, it was going to be punctuated by my astute observation that even skinny young undergraduates look silly and - sorry - fat in this stupid belted-sweater look that some moron decided to resuscitate from the 80's. And that would have made us all feel a little bit better about ourselves and yielded at least one good piece of fashion advice - don't belt your sweaters around the waist. Don't do it. That, or my derogatory use of the word 'fat' would have offended you and caused you to send me mean e-mails and we'd be right back where we started.)

(Hey! If I've lost you already, maybe you want to go read about animals! Or maybe you'd prefer to just scroll around and admire the gratuitous photos of WonderBaby!)


Where were we? Right. What I don't really feel like talking more about, for the moment: feminism. Not because I don't loves me the subject, but because I'm feeling a little bit as though I'm harping on one note - a good portion of my recent posts have been about feminism and/or feminists and/or any number of feminiceties. I'm a bit talked out about it, after last week's feminist ranting and this weekend's blog exchange debate with the lovely Julie of Mothergoosemouse (who is also continuing the discussion chez soi). I fear that the discussion is getting a little tired. (Cue big sigh.)

And - here's the real complicating factor - it's making my head hurt a little bit.

This might sound surprising, coming from someone who writes obscenely long posts on whatever topic happens to strike her fancy on any given day, but I don't really like explaining myself. I want to speak my piece and I want you to get it and - here comes the uncomfortable confession - I want you to like it, whether you agree with it or not. I don't mind if you disagree - I like disagreement - but I want clear, positive, constructive disagreement. Julie and I disagreed in our blog exchange posts - she doesn't like calling herself a feminist, I think that it's important to identify myself as a feminist - but it was sympathetic disagreement. I can see her point, and she can see mine. And pretty much all of the discussion that came out of that debate was wonderfully constructive and illuminating and I enjoyed it. But I get uncomfortable - and I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, just an uncomfortable thing - when I get caught between points of disagreement. When I'm not sure if my original point was understood, or not sure that I was sure of my original point, or not sure that I understood the disagreement, or just plain not sure of where I stand on any points that I made or that someone else made and who started this goddam discussion anyway?

Not me.

And there were one or two points of disagreement that caused me some discomfort. Not in a bad way - just, rather, in an I'm-sensitive-and-want-to-be-understood-so-that-you-won't-dislike-me kinda way. Some objected to the use of the word 'feminazi,' and said that we shouldn't be using the word at all. I took pains to explain in my comments that my use of the word wasn't approving - that I used it because it had been used on me, and because it had come to represent, for me, part of my struggle with certain elements of feminism (the angry parts, and the parts that provoke anger in me.) The whole post was, in a way, a plea to reject anything and everything that employs and provokes that term, and to embrace feminism in a positive, inclusive way. But I ended up feeling uncertain about whether I had made my point clearly. Maybe I had misused the term? Had I been perpetuating old, evil stereotypes about feminists by using it? Pass the Tylenol.

The other thing that I found discomfiting was my own, emotional, response to people who said that they had always been feminists. Mad Hatter wrote a wonderful post about this, about how she simply cannot understand how or why it is that some people reject the label feminism. She makes an impassioned plea for us to get passionate about feminism, to change this world in which so much violence is done to women. It's a great post, but it made me uncomfortable - because it made me feel somewhat ashamed to have ever rejected feminism, as I did for a while in my years as a graduate student (recounted here). I read it and thought, yes. How wrong of me to have ever rejected the label 'feminist.' How embarassing to have done so. Bad woman!

What do I keep telling you? BAD.

But then I thought again - my struggle with some of the extreme elements of some corners of feminism was a valid one, as was my struggle with anger and frustration last week when I was accused of being a tool of the patriarchy for supporting Gloria Steinem. I thought that Girl's Gone Child's treatise on masculism a few months back was brilliant and forceful and compelling, and I was totally sympathetic to my girl Jennster's struggle with all this femi-talk a few weeks back. And I still think that Julie has some valid points to make in her defense of her rejection of the term feminist, even though I disagree with her conclusions. And it all makes my head hurt a little bit. Because I can't have it both ways, right?

I want to passionately support women, but I don't want to exclude men, and I certainly don't want to exclude women who don't identify as feminist. I want to be a feminist - but I want to be a humanist and a masculist (to borrow GGC's term), too. I want to be warrior-like in my defense and support and promotion of women, but I don't want to be (here comes the dreaded word) a feminazi - that is, someone who provokes anger with her anger, who provokes hate by hating. I don't want there to be any reason for anyone, anywhere, to use the term feminazi. I don't want Julie, or Jennster, or anyone, to be put off by feminism.

I want all of the good, and none of the bad - is that too much to ask?


So, in a twist of cosmic fate, I receive in my inbox, just after writing this, an e-mail with Gloria Steinem's responses to our questions of a few weeks ago. (I'll post these later this week.) And in it, among a zillion other wonderful and fascinating things that I will share with you forthwith, was this exchange with Kristen:

Kristen: How do we and/or can we redefine feminism as a more inclusive term? Does identification as a feminist require outspoken activism? Or is it a belief system, that we nod our heads at from afar?

Gloria: There are many great terms – feminist, womanist, mujerista, women’s liberationist – and they all mean the same thing: the belief that females are full human beings. There’s no litmus test for action; it’s what each of us can do and wants to do. We probably cycle in and out of periods of activism, whether that means living out our values in a private way or in a public one. I would just say that if we don’t act on what we believe, we soon feel powerless and depressed, so why would we not act? I often think that the only alternative to being a feminist is being a masochist!

So, while that maybe doesn't totally answer my question, and probably isn't convincing to those who think that Gloria Steinem is irrelevant or dangerous to feminism (and I experience no discomfort in disagreeing with those people), it is a start.

And maybe that's the best that I can hope for, for now.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Debating Feminism

Hey, all! What better way to celebrate the beginning of October than with the September Blog Exchange? This month's exchange is a series of debates between pairs of mom-bloggers: you kind find the full list HERE, at MotherhoodUncensored. And if you'd like to participate next month, send an email to kmei26 at yahoo.com.

My debate partner is my good friend Julie of Mothergoosemouse - she's challenged me to a duel on feminism (actually, Kristen assigned us to duel on this subject, very possibly on the basis of random selections made by her daughter Q). Her argument - against the label 'feminist' - is below. You can find my side of the argument - for feminism - over at her place.


I see feminism as having two distinct and separate definitions - as an ideal and as a movement. First, the classical definition - political, economic, and social equality - pertains to feminism as an ideal. I believe in this ideal - not just for women, but for all people (otherwise known as humanism). In this case, under this definition, I could be considered a feminist (although I'd still cringe if you called me one).

But it's the other definition of feminism - as a movement - where I part company with the sisterhood.

Beyond the tired old bra-burning, man-hating, so-called "feminazi" stereotypes that have prejudiced many against the feminist movement, my disillusionment with the movement stems from two areas, the first of which being the judgment leveled by feminists against choices made by other women. Choices that they believe undermine the movement.

Yes, I'm in favor of political, economic, and social equality - equality of opportunity, not equality of results or equality of representation. That is, an approximate 50/50 breakdown of men and women may exist in society, but I don't expect a 50/50 breakdown of men and women in other demographics, such as medical students, elected government officials, and Navy SEALS, to name just a few. Having the opportunity doesn't mean I want to take advantage of it. And even if I want to take advantage of it, I may not be qualified.

Apart from those relatively exceptional examples given above (exceptional because only a select few men and women even consider pursuing those opportunities), women face choices every day. Choices that are difficult enough to make based on our own circumstances and preferences without concerning ourselves with what others might think of them. Making a choice that is different from another woman's does not mean I am undermining an entire movement. And if it does, it's probably not a movement that interests me.

My second objection to the feminist movement pertains to advocacy - specifically, that as a woman I should act as an advocate for other women. Instead, I work for change on behalf of my own choices. I don't presume to act on anyone's behalf but my own.

When I was in second grade, I wanted to participate in the spelling bee sponsored by the local newspaper (leading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee). Participation was limited to fourth and fifth-grade students. I asked the principal to allow me to participate, and she opened up the bee to all students, regardless of grade.

Was I an advocate? I suppose some would say so, given that not only was I granted the opportunity to participate, but so were my classmates (and future students in the lower grades). I think it would be more accurate to say that I was an advocate by example.

But I didn't seek out a perceived injustice and act on the behalf of others. Nor did I consider the participation constraints to be discrimination. I don't jump to the conclusion that simply because an opportunity is not yet available to me, it's because I'm not wanted.

I do know that there is much anecdotal and statistical evidence that gender discrimination persists, despite the advances made toward political, economic, and social equality. But I don't feel it's my place to act on behalf of other able-bodied and able-minded women - women who may not want me to act as their advocate (and likewise, I don't expect anyone to speak for me).

Nor do I look for discrimination where it may not exist; rather, as Stephen Covey stated in his Seven Habits, I seek first to understand, then to make myself understood. Doing so increases the strength of my position, whereas assuming that I have all the facts before speaking may very well dilute the strength of my position.

In addition to the points outlined above, I dislike labels that signify membership of a group (and imply acceptance of all planks in the platform of the group). And those are the reasons why I do not consider myself a feminist - either as part of the feminist movement or as an ideal.


Want to hear the other side? Read my argument HERE. (I'll say now that it is entirely accidental - and evidence of the whole 'great minds think alike' thing - that both Julie and I refer to 'feminazis' in our posts. We had not read each other's posts before publishing!)

Then go check out the other debates, on other hot topics, by following the links HERE.


A Perfect Post Momma K just e-mailed me to tell me that she chose the Call to Action post (Ordinary People) for her September Perfect Post Award. Aw, shucks... what to say? I'm honoured, of course.

But I think that the honour extends to everybody who responded to that call to action.

As of yesterday, there were over 60 contributions to the
Changing the World, One Blog at a Time list. You all rock. I have more links to add, and will keep adding as you send them in. I'll post the list on the sidebar (along with the Babies and Eros list, which I am still - still! - adding links to) on Tuesday.

Take a bow.