what does it mean? what is it for?

by Zoë on January 19, 2009

I’ve been linked to by one of my preferred bloggers, bluemilk . And once again I find myself thinking and not being able to answer my own questions. So, please do it for me and then ask some other people as well?

I am often bemused and bewildered by feminism and motherhood , and while i am very keenly experienced in one and not well read on either, I suppose I form my own opinions from experience and common sense. A fundamental point seems to be that there will always be a basic conflict between mothers and fathers. Our brains are wired differently, that’s just how it is, and we notice different things and have different priorities. I saw a telly show recently which did some cortisol level readings in children’s brains and it showed the chemical was present in frightening amounts in the brains of children while being looked after by their fathers. Even the child of the eco-hippy-dad (who was just about the most at peace male I’ve seen and obviously very involved and caring) registered dangerously high levels of cortisol in the brain. I remember years and years ago a New Scientist article statistics which showed that children who were cared for their paternal grandparents had several years shaved off their life expectancy. (some of us are aware that if our children were primarily cared for by their paternal grandparents, they would have no life expectancy.)
Cortisol is not good for kids. It isn’t good for grown ups either, and I suppose I’m not attempting to make a value judgement here, as my husband looks after our kids often, and increasingly so, but it really does make sense in a way. Dads do stuff differently. They just don’t have the same level of instinctive/intuitive care that mothers give. Even I have “eyes in the back of my head”. There are certain silences and moments when I am outside, or involved, and I just know to yell/run to stop/save someone from something silly. DishPig just doesn’t have it. He doesn’t even register about half of the dangerousness/silliness going on. No blame placed, its just what it is.
The few dads I have come across who do the early-babyhood care while mums go back to work, look dreadfully tired and, well, haggered. It took me a while to realise that every time I breastfeed my baby, I get to sit down for up to an hour, and I get a nice flush of endorphins to zone me out and give me some happy rest. (well, once the initial pain of breastfeeding subsided anyways!) Dads don’t get any of these hormones! Of course they look/are more tired!

Some other thoughts I have often thought….

Why does feminism mean not having babies and staying in paid employment?

Why does feminism seem to mean returning to work 10 mins after giving birth?
Why does it seem that the “choice” of synthetic liquid baby food is healthier than breastfeeding so you can return to work quicker?
Why does it mean that women who return to work to earn money are more feminist than those who don’t?

Can you stay at home full time and be a feminist? How do you articulate this?
Why does feminism seem to be so tied up with sex?
Why does having lots of sex=feminist?
What makes being a female pron star or a sex worker seem to be more feministic to some than staying at home with kids?
Can you be the primary care giver in the household and be a feminist? How?
Can you indulge in the “gentle arts” (sewing, knitting, crochet, etc) and have feminist street cred? Can you be smitten/preoccupied with the history of such domestic arts and still have street cred?
Is it possible for a feminist mother to recommend The Wiggles when that fucking dinosaur is such a twit? On those grounds is it then possible that the females portrayed in Hi5 are actually more realistic than the females in The Wiggles?

What is feminism about now? Is it simply about having “choice” (a confusing notion to me, as I feel that many choices we are “given” as mothers under the guise of “freedom”/”independence” are more often compromising to the health and well being of our offspring)? Is it about maintaining the hard fought right to make a choice, rather than just choosing?

Is having such a plethora of choice helpful to us anyway and do we feel more free for it?

Does the fact that many women/mothers now work just as hard as their male partners to earn money actually mean that we have earned equality of the sexes? Or does it mean that we are simply of more use to the consumerist society so many of us claim to be bucking against?

Are you still are full-card-holding feminist if you don’t split living costs equally with your man/woman/elephant?

And finally, When a 4 year old boy you have never met starts telling you about how he and his dad play violent virtual games which involve men killing men and that girls can’t be in the army, and you interject and say that girls/women can be in the army and shoot to kill as well, have you gone too far?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire Falkingham 01.21.09 at 12:01 pm

Interesting post, and lots to think about …. I’ll get back to you, when I’m able to think properly, as an adult, and not a 5 year old!
PS. My 5 yr old response is: ‘can I have that cut into triangles, with the crust removed, delivered to my table with a smile and a curtsey?’

Nathan 02.02.09 at 9:38 am

A few intial thoughts:
“dangerously high levels of cortisol”
- evidently the definition of “dangerously high” is rubbish. Our brain chemistry and biological makeup are far far to complex for some idiot to swipe a big fat brush across one isolated reading and say “see: fathers shouldn’t be involved in child raising”. I can just as arbitrarily declare “without adequate levels of cortisol a baby will not develop properly”. So anyhow take with a handful of salt that sort of sensationalist rubbish. Sure: if a kid is cowering in a corner when a male (or female or animal) is around: then perhaps there’s a problem. But Cortisol is a naturally occurring part of the way our body works. Sure, little kids might feel a bit in awe of the big strong male, boys tend to be a little “scared” of dad, but real world is full of males. Everyone seems to deal with it ok in the end. One could declare the birth process off limits because it’s stressful to a baby (wow! look at those hormone levels during the birth process! Surely that can’t be good for a baby!). Or perhaps we as humans need to have our chemical stabilisation worked out while growing up by experience and exposure.

Next bit:
Men are different from women generally. Men do things differently to women generally.
Until the synthetic chemicals, soy and plasticisers we are constantly soaking in that are sapping our sperm counts (did you know men today have on average half the sperm count of our fathers? That sperm levels regarded as abnormal are constantly being adjusted down every 5 years or so) turn us into a single androgynous unit: we’ll continue to be different halves of the same species with very different biological tuning.
As part of that biological process of growing up I think it’s been pretty clear over history that boys need to have role models that are men. Girls need to see how women behave too.

As for “dangers” that men are oblivious- you can say the same about different parents. Kids really don’t die that much growing up although you’d never know it looking at the mass pussification of playgrounds that happened at the tail end of my (our) childhood. Kids bounce well, heal excellently although they might get sick and appear to need to get a healthy exposure to germs to develop a normal immune system. But the extraordinary helicopter parenting (hover around constantly stopping any slight “danger”) is somewhere between unnecessary and extremely damaging I reckon (but hey, I’m not a parent.. But I was a kid and get annoyed at parents who prevent their kids from ever finding out things via our inbuilt action-pain result-resulting don’t f**king do it again process. It’s been replaced with action-immediately prevented by parents-possibly don’t do it next time to avoid the smothering parental attention. That might just be what you’re experiencing there rather than a man vs woman thing. Or it could be that men generally believe it’s better to get a bit dirtier, muck around, take a few more risks: you know, to have fun as a kid. I’ve seen plenty of dads doing the helicopter parenting big time. But if boys avoided everything their protective parents said not to do: there’d be no climbing trees, riding bikes, swimming in rivers, mountain exploring, wilderness adventuring, pilots, motorcycle riders or pretty much anything other than “stay inside wrapped in cotton wool” aficionados. :)

Feminism:
- I think the term “feminism” gets used or is associated with a range of stuff. I’m not too fussed on what it can mean, I’d prefer “equal opportunity” as the goal. If someone wants to do something then there shouldn’t be any gender bias getting in the way. That’s all that’s really important. Whether you adhere to the ideals of some particular feminist ideology is kinda irrelevant so long as the opportunities aren’t cut off, limited or hampered based on sex.

Can one be in a 1950s “pappa brings home the bread, mumma irons the shirts” and still believe in feminism: sure. Is how they’re living taking full advantage: well, it’s about choice, so yes in that sense, but with reference to fully flexing the “feminist muscles”: perhaps not so much. Is the society that person is living in in need of that flexing? Perhaps not very much in Australia, but in saudi arabia: most definitely.
People believe in all sorts of ideologies and concepts: whether they put them into action is another thing. I feel very strongly about the environment, but I have flown quite a lot in my time. I mitigate it via planting trees, but really I’d be much truer to the ideal if I never set foot on a plane. Am I a hypocrite for not shunning air travel completely, or just a bit selfish enough to take advantage of the ability to travel vast distances in reasonable time? Perhaps? But there’s rarely a situation without at least a little compromise or some hypocrisy in pretty much everything in our lives. The trick is to try and minimise that I think. So staying home with kids and then voting for a law that effectively muzzles women might not be really sticking with feminist leanings. :P

Arwyn 02.05.09 at 4:56 pm

“Dads don’t get any of these hormones! Of course they look/are more tired!”

While they don’t get the hormones from breastfeeding, attachment-dads get loads of love- and parent-promoting hormones. Anyone does, simply by holding (and especially wearing skin-to-skin) and smelling and feeding and caring for and sleeping next to babies. Oxytocin is the hormone of love, and is present whenever we touch each other with caring, sit down to a meal, brush a child’s hair. Dads need to do a lot MORE of the hands-on (in-arms) caring of kids in order to meet similar levels of a breastfeeding mom, but it’s not like they are hormone-deficient or hormone-static systems. Actually, studies looking at men at birth show that fathers intimately involved (by their choice!) in the birth experience show a similar hormone spike post-birth to those of an unhindered-birth mother.

(I also disagree that the average stay-at-home dad looks any more wiped than, say, I did that first year — and all I did was sit at home and nurse him and try to survive until The Man got home!)

As for a lot of the rest of your questions, I’ve tried to answer a lot of them myself over at my blog. I’d be interested in your reactions. :)

blue milk 02.08.09 at 9:04 pm

Phew, a lot here. I’d recommend some reading actually as the best way to start answering all this – The Price of Motherhood would be an excellent start for the motherhood stuff and maybe Emily Maguire’s Princesses and Pornstars might be a good beginning for tackling all that sex-pos vs anti-porn feminism stuff.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>