Fertile Feminism

// 30 March 2010

Amity Reed, founder of new website Fertile Feminism, explains why mothers should be central to feminism. Laura has written a reciprocal post at Fertile Feminism, which you can read here.

black and white photo of woman's pregnant belly, her hands clsaped underneath itI found feminism when it came shooting out of my uterus.

I’d been ‘equality-minded’ before that, certainly, but the harsh, cold reality of deeply-ingrained and omnipresent sexism didn’t hit me full in the face until I became a mother. Having a baby changed my life in a practical sense in that my lifestyle was drastically altered, but it also altered my view of the world and gave me a new understanding of just how conscripted my role in it was. None of the pregnancy or parenting books had prepared me for that. The antipathy I’d felt towards ‘badly behaved’ children in public, all of the judgement and scorn I’d heaped on mothers I felt weren’t ‘doing it right’, my grand proclamations that I would do things a certain way and that my kids would be different…well, let’s just say that hindsight is an incredibly humbling (and embarrassing) thing. The rose tinted glasses came off and what I saw and experienced shocked me.

I couldn’t get a part-time job that would pay the bills and full-time work was out of the question with the astronomical cost of childcare compared to my salary level. I was suddenly thrown into the role of stay-at-home mum, a ‘luxury’ that I was meant to be thrilled with but which felt more like a mandate than a choice. That’s not to say I wasn’t very privileged because I was (and am), but it made me realise that if I wasn’t happy with the lack of choices available to me, how few did women of lesser socio-economic status have? I came to realise that class is inexorably and completely woven into and around mothering, constricting it to fit a certain mould of societal expectation, often to the detriment of individuals and their families.

My growing involvement with feminist activism and interest in mothering as an important intersection of that ideology has lit a fire in my belly for revolution, but a feeling of exclusion from the ‘mainstream’ ranks of feminism is sometimes strong. Many mothers I have spoken to (both self-proclaimed feminists and otherwise) feel the same way. When an entire conference on reproductive rights doesn’t include a single workshop on birth; when stay-at-home mothers are denigrated for wasting their skills and educations; when so many resources are directed towards fighting strip clubs and lads’ mags but so little towards child poverty; when public spaces and services are made inaccessible and unwelcoming to families; when feminist books devote many more pages to the evils of pornography than the fact that mothers are disproportionately the ones suffering the monumental and adverse effects of the gender pay gap…it’s enough to make many mothers feel they’ve been forgotten by feminism, that their struggles are unimportant or inevitable.

To help give parents a place to discuss feminist issues important to them and strategise our role in the women’s rights movement, I’ve started a new website called Fertile Feminism. Its goal is to not only give voice and venue to discourse among parents, but non-parents as well. Without open and honest dialogue between us, divides (whether real or imagined) will continue to dominate at a time when feminism needs, more than ever, some cohesion. Imagine what it would mean to our movement if thousands and millions of mothers, many of whom hold feminist principles, were engaged with and included in a real, meaningful way; where meetings and marches are not always held at our children’s bedtimes or in places where our pushchairs won’t fit, our children can’t play and there’s nowhere to change a nappy. I’ve noticed a recent improvement in considering these things in some groups and organisations and applaud their efforts, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Parents can be activists too, but only if our caretaking responsibilities are being met concurrently. Could helping mothers be proud to use ‘the f word’ be the key to riding the third wave, our wave, to the crest of something meaningful, something that our granddaughters will read about in their history books? I think it just might be.

I hope you’ll visit Fertile Feminism and join the discussion.

Image by Emery Co Photo, shared under a Creative Commons License.

Comments From You

Cycleboy // Posted 30 March 2010 at 12:57 pm

Ms Reed comments about “the astronomical cost of childcare compared to MY salary level” (my emphasis).

She doesn’t mention the father, so my apologies to those mothers who are bringing up children alone. However, I’m often dismayed when I hear women talk about the cost of childcare in comparison with their wages and never the father’s. I did once hear a father talk about staying at home because of the cost of childcare. Note, I said ‘once’. When women compare their salary with childcare costs they are implicitly assuming that looking after children is (naturally?) women’s job. It’s a short step from that assumption to then shouldering the lions share of the task and letting men off the hook.

K C // Posted 30 March 2010 at 1:44 pm

I am not (and will never be) a mother, and the few radical feminist spaces I have participated in have been very welcoming to feminist mothers and their issues, but I do see that there is a lack of discussion on the issues mothers and children face under the patriarchy. Growing up in an abusive family, my mother had a full-time job and got a higher raise than my father- still, she suffered the dynamic of an abusive lifestyle where her children favored the father and slandered the mother who was the only parent to actually TRY in the household both for the home and the children. Her trials were trivialized by society because people refuse to acknowledge how common it is for a mother to be overworked, under appreciated, and victimized by a society that expects fertile women to be “super moms”, and one who does not wish to achieve this status, or cannot, gets considered negligent. But no one questions the father, who does a mere fraction (if any) of the work. People fail to connect this to sexism. Pro-abortion, anti-pornography aside, there is always a place to discuss these issues and EVERYTHING that affects women of all kinds, be it their race, sexual orientation, or fertility. Thank you for the link!

Employer // Posted 30 March 2010 at 1:58 pm

Interesting comment Cycleboy. yesterday I discussed flexible working with a member of staff. She said she was making the request and not factoring in her husband as being able to help round the house at all, and not counting his salary, and said, “After all, only one of our careers should suffer because we’ve had a baby, and it makes sense that it’s mine”.

FertileFem // Posted 30 March 2010 at 2:46 pm

@Cycleboy – Great point and thank you for mentioning it. When I wrote that line I was thinking of ‘my salary level’ as in my household’s salary, collectively, but I can see how that would be taken to mean I was only comparing the costs of childcare against my own wages. I agree that many people look at childcare costs only in terms of how it will effect the mother’s salary and working situation while leaving the father or non-birth-giving partner completely out of the discussion, which is definitely a problem.

Helen S // Posted 30 March 2010 at 3:05 pm

This is an interesting topic and one very close to my heart – my youngest sister was born in 2000 when I myself was 16. As a result I’ve witnessed first hand my Mum struggling with this very problem. She has to work part-time as they wouldn’t be able to afford their home otherwise, but full-time is not an option. She had to be the one to go back to part-time hours as Dad earns more – this isn’t necessarily always a ‘the mother should do part-time not the father’ but simply a financial decision as usually the father earns more. If women earned as much as men, I suspect we would see a lot more men taking part-time jobs to help raise their family.

Mum’s at an age when most women of her generation have children who have ‘flown’, yet she’s still doing the school run. A 50 year old part-time Mother is not viewed very highly in the cut-throat world of employment. Flexible working is not working for the average Mum (and she’s worked in councils her whole life who are supposed to be ‘family friendly’).

As a result, this has made me adamant about never having children. I’ll definitely be joining the discussion.

FertileFem // Posted 30 March 2010 at 3:28 pm

@Cycleboy – Great point and thank you for mentioning it. When I wrote that line I was thinking of ‘my salary level’ as in my household’s salary, collectively, but I can see how that would be taken to mean I was only comparing the costs of childcare against my own wages. I agree that many people look at childcare costs only in terms of how it will effect the mother’s salary and working situation while leaving the father or non-birth-giving partner completely out of the discussion, which is definitely a problem.

FeminaErecta // Posted 30 March 2010 at 3:55 pm

An interesting debate and a very informative website- I am however a little shocked that you are affiliating yourself with a website that catorgorises blog posts under the heading ‘The Nitty Gritty’. I have commented on the article in question and I may have gtot this horribly wrong (and if so, of course I apologuise) but as I understand it this term is extremly offensive and not what I would expect to find in a feminist safe space.

Laura // Posted 30 March 2010 at 4:03 pm

I had absolutely no idea of the origins of ‘nitty gritty’, nor that it was considered an offensive term. This BBC article says that “one theory is that “nitty-gritty” refers to the debris left in the bottom of a slave ships at the end of a voyage. Hence, use of the term is highly contentious and has been banned by the police”. I think it’s unlikely Fertile Fem was aware of this either. Thanks for highlighting it.

JenniferRuth // Posted 30 March 2010 at 4:05 pm

@ FeminaErecta

I had never heard of “The Nitty Gritty” being offensive before! So, I went and googled it. Even though there is no direct evidence that the phrase is racist I think it is important to be aware that many people do feel that the phrase is racist and therefore entirely appropriate to ask people not to use it.

It is certainly possible that other people don’t know so here is a link to an article that explains why:


FeminaErecta // Posted 30 March 2010 at 4:08 pm

no problems, Laura, my equal oppertunities training clearly comes in useful occasionally!:-)

FertileFem // Posted 30 March 2010 at 5:11 pm

I was completely unaware of the racist origins of that term and have changed it on my site. My sincerest apologies for any offence caused. Thank you for bringing it to my attention FeminaErecta.

Rose // Posted 30 March 2010 at 7:41 pm

As a fertile woman with no interest in ever having children, I feel that I am involved in feminism, but not in maternity – hence, I do not really consider child-raising to be a feminist issue. (Don’t shoot me!) To me it’s a parental one.

If a father fails to provide (his share) for his child, spend time with/educate his child – to me thats not a feminist issue, it’s a question of child abuse/neglect.

If society and employment are making life ‘extra’ hard for parents, again, it’s an issue of child/parent welfare.

I agree that feminist events need to do what they can to encourage everybody willing to get involed – but terms such as ‘fertile feminism’ make me personally feel discluded. I feel it suggests that as a fertile woman there is something wrong with me if I do not progress in life to become a mother.

To me, the central message of feminism is self-determination.

‘women and children’ are not one group. I think that single mothers problems need to be considered more in the light of fathers failing to be dads, in order to explain to men why it is their problem, and why they need to change, and take on some of the burden of offspring.

Kay Fellows // Posted 30 March 2010 at 9:38 pm

‘When so many resources are directed towards fighting strip clubs and lads’ mags but so little towards child poverty’

I differ in how I see feminism. As a general overview, I see too much energy wasted in what it ‘should’ be and shouting down what little effort there already is.

If you’re referring to Object, Object isn’t ‘Feminism’ itself, it’s just a grassroots organisation with people who can be bothered to shout about things. With its hard work the group gathered funding and awards.

I think feminists should avoid thinking of this ‘feminist body’ who knows how to do nothing but screw up. For one thing, a feminist body doesn’t exist. Any feminism is what women suffering today make it. I.e if you’re not getting ‘heard’, shout from the rooftops, before bemoaning the lack of attention your cause is getting or how feminism has let you down.

Abstract, yes, but feminism has a tendency to spend every ‘resource’ it has on criticising feminism itself. It grates over time as someone who would very much like to be a feminist but gets distanced by such attitudes.

Jane // Posted 30 March 2010 at 9:52 pm

“his isn’t necessarily always a ‘the mother should do part-time not the father’ but simply a financial decision as usually the father earns more. If women earned as much as men, I suspect we would see a lot more men taking part-time jobs to help raise their family.”

This has to do with the gender pay gap of course but also with individual decisions. Plenty of women would just not get married/settle down with men who earn less than them.

FertileFem // Posted 30 March 2010 at 10:38 pm

@Rose – I disagree that maternity and motherhood have nothing to do with feminism and are instead ‘parental/child’ issues. I actually find that statement quite astounding. Just because you have chosen not to experience something doesn’t mean it ceases to exist. Yet that seems to be the attitude of some feminists when it comes to motherhood. Is it because having children is considered a ‘choice’, unlike, say, race or class or sexual identity? Because I doubt that you would say that those things aren’t important intersections of feminism just because you haven’t or won’t ever experience those disparities.The fact of the matter is that the majority of women become mothers (biologically or otherwise) at some point in their lives and so shutting them out of feminism because their issues aren’t deemed ‘important’ enough is exactly what turns so many women off from identifying with the movement.

It’s too simplistic to say it’s merely a case of getting the fathers more involved — they too are constrained by gender roles/stereotypes, two-income capitalism and a centuries-old cultural bias that has conditioned them to defer childcare to their female partners. It’s not just ‘deadbeat dads’ that are the issue — it’s a deeply-ingrained and complex societal problem that affects many families (women, children AND men) adversely.

Finally, the term ‘fertile feminism’ isn’t a literal reference to biological fertility but a nod to the idea of a grassroots movement needing to grow from the ground up. I’m sorry if you feel excluded from that but the site is actually meant to foster these kinds of discussions so I do hope you will venture on if you want to learn more or engage in further dialogue.

Alex T // Posted 30 March 2010 at 10:53 pm

Rose – motherhood, children, parenting, women, families and feminism are all inextricably linked because EVERYONE starts life as a child and EVERYONE has a mother, be she good, bad, on/off the scene, biological/adoptive, whatever. When we make things better for women, we make things better for mothers. When we make things better for mothers, we make things better for children. And when we make things better for children, we make things better for everyone. Its a fallacy to say that there is any one group of people who shouldn’t necessarily have to concern themselves with mothers’ or childrens’ issues, because that is to deny one’s very own start in life. I hope all people, especially feminists, reading this will actually take a moment to think about their own mothers and childhoods, and not just about some potential future that they have rejected for themselves. Having children is not something that people just do for a laugh as adults, it’s how you were granted your existence in this world.

Shea // Posted 30 March 2010 at 11:15 pm

Brilliant post and very relevant.

I don’t think whether or not you wish to have children or not has a bearing on whether you can support “fertile feminists” (feminist mums). Motherhood has a direct effect on the place of alot of women whether or not they realise it, in the views of employers and possible discrimmination towards women of child bearing age.

I don’t think it can be viewed in isolation as a separate part of feminism. In the same way that fighting against discrimmination against race, or disability or sexuality are crucial fights for feminism as whole whether or not one is directly affected by those things.

@ Rose (not trying to shoot you, I’m not a mother either and I don’t want to be one).

“I do not really consider child-raising to be a feminist issue. (Don’t shoot me!) To me it’s a parental one.

If a father fails to provide (his share) for his child, spend time with/educate his child – to me thats not a feminist issue, it’s a question of child abuse/neglect.”

To me this smacks of individualism and this notion that children are the *problem* of the parents, rather than being the literal future of society in which all of us have a stake. If a father fails in his duties there are implications for the state in picking up the tab in providing for the child, there are implications for the welfare and long term development requiring intervention from social services, medics etc. Then there is the question of the adult this child will grow into. Not to mention the effect on the mother in terms of a lack of resources, problems with employment and childcare, and an inability to build up sufficient savings/pensions because she is materially deprived.

At the same time this idea of “communal” ownership of children/mothers is problematic for the reasons Amity points out, and the judgment of “bad mothers” directed at women for all kinds of trivialities and the continuing “advice” directed at pregnant women suggests the societal view that women’s bodies especially in pregnancy are open to discussion and ownership, but only up to a point. When it comes to help and support, suddenly parents are on their own.

It’s a bizarre disjunction.

Horry // Posted 31 March 2010 at 12:59 am

Amity’s point about child-friendly space is so important, and so often overlooked. It matters not because mothers should be the only ones taking the pushchair out, but because it should be assumed that young children are a part of our everyday environment, and it’s hard to believe this wouldn’t be the case if men spent as much time as women getting trapped in shop doorways, not being able to go to the toilet because there’s nowhere to put your children, not being allowed on the bus in the rain unless you collapse your double buggy while absolutely no one offers to hold your infants … It’s all mundane stuff, but it matters, both for mothers, and for children experiencing the world for the first time as somewhere that isn’t made for them or mummy, as somewhere where until you reach adulthood, and ideally identify as male, you only get in the way…

Cycleboy, I’m really glad you made that point about salary, too. It’s funny, when it comes to most essentials, it’s assumed it’s my male partner’s salary which covers them (food, bills, housing – poor wage slave partner, keeping his family, day in day out). Meanwhile there’s me, “career woman”, pissing about in the office just to have something to fritter on lipstick and Jimmy Choos. But hang on – we have children at nursery, and suddenly that’s all my responsibility so all my money. And so people have plenty of scope to question why I continue with paid employment at all, since my salary’s “cancelled out”. Silly me, plodding on with work which gives me enjoyment and security and uses my skills – why do I bother, when there’s nothing left for power dressing and apple martinis once the cheque for “Little Monkeys” has been paid?

Rose, as a feminist with children, I can understand what you are saying. While I think pregnancy and birth have to be feminist issues, I don’t think raising children has to be. But it is, and the battle to ensure that it isn’t has to be fought on feminist terms. Society and employment are not simply making life extra hard for parents – they’re making life extra hard for women who are parents, not least by creating conditions which ensure it remains women who do the majority of childcare in a self-perpetuating cycle of disempowerment (no one powerful cares about childcare issues because it’s mainly women who are affected, these women don’t have access to power because of childcare responsibilities, childcare responsibilities shouldn’t be a barrier to power except no one powerful cares enough about making this happen etc. etc. etc.). When you write about a father who fails to provide for his child, you make it into a personal issue when it’s a much bigger social one, reinforced by laws on leave and the attitudes of employers, families, friends. The problems many mothers (single or otherwise) face aren’t simply down to them having had a child with the wrong man.

Claire // Posted 31 March 2010 at 8:51 am

Not sure I agree with your stance that just because something doesn’t personally apply to you it can’t be a feminist issue. Lots of things can be viewed from a feminist standpoint without them directly applying to you.

As for single mothers’ problems arising from the lack of involvement of fathers, I’d also have to disagree. In abusive relationships where the women has taken the self-determining step of leaving and thus becoming a single mother, securing the continuing involvement of the father is not the paramount consideration, to say the least.

FertileFem // Posted 31 March 2010 at 11:26 am

@Kay Fellows – I wasn’t referring specifically to any one group, just the general focus of the most active parts of mainstream feminism, which centre mainly around the Body (abortion, assault, objectification, porn, prostitution, strip clubs, etc..), whereas some of the lesser-recognised intersections of feminism have more to do with our everyday Lives (race, class, mothering, division of domestic labour, working environment/wages, immigration, gender identity, environment, etc..).

I do not mean to denigrate or diminish the tremendous work being done in these areas of ‘Body’ activism at ALL. I think groups like Object are fantastic and I completely support their work. I’d personally love to get more involved with issues like this but, unfortunately, a lot of the meetings and events are difficult to attend, be it because of time of day, lack of childcare/child-friendly space or a lack of awareness that these meetings even exist since much of the advertising and promotion for groups like this are often concentrated on university campuses, message boards and feminist blogs, which older women, working class women and/or mothers might not have access to or be aware of. That’s not the organising group’s fault, per se, I just think a little more could be done to reach out to those who don’t fit the ’18-30, university-educated, tech-savvy, no children’ profile. It’s not meant to be a finger-wagging condemnation, just a suggestion for how we might get more women who may not readily identify as feminist more involved. If people feel their situations and needs haven’t really been taken into consideration, they are less likely to feel enthusiastic about devoting their time and attention to a cause.

I’m not asking anyone to radically alter the way they are doing things, I’m just asking that we try to see things from outside our own experiences and perspectives, as Laura so eloquently described in her post on Fertile Feminism. I don’t see how wanting to make feminism more inclusive and far-reaching to groups on the sidelines can be a bad thing.

FeminaErecta // Posted 31 March 2010 at 12:03 pm

You’re going to think me a right pain in the bum, but I’ve been thinking about this overnight and it is bothering me slightly.

It seems to me you are highlighting two things; pregnancy, childbirth and all that goes with that, breast feeding, how people’s bodies change after giving birth etc; then there is the issues of being a parent itself and how some aspects of feminism and feminist action are slightly excluding in that respect (completly get your point about marches being at children’s bedtimes and by this I presume you mean Reclaim the Night- which is a fair enough point, but wouldn’t really be the same if it was during the day- also more people couldn’t go who work during the day- would creche/ mass babysitting facilities make this better?).

Now I see why the issues belonging to parenting should be greater represented by feminists- espcially considering the rise of mumsnet and co that don’t really see things from a ‘feminist’ perspective, or at least are built around that ethos, more as a ‘sharing best practice’ one. With the massive voting power of the mumsnet vote as well, feminism being more vocal in parenting groups (or maybe being more aware of the needs of parenting groups) would give feminist issues more voice in politics and maybe see more policies that are pro-equality and more focus being put on women’s issues.

I also get why more needs to be said about birth- I have heard plenty of feminists talk about the right to choice when it comes to abortion, but I have only ever heard discussions on birth and birthing method choices on national radio, television and supplements of daily newspapers and magazines. Obviously this is a failing on behalf of feminist groups, its just a shame from my perspective that abortion and repoductive rights are only ever talked about without the associated stigma in feminst circles.

In fact, the only problem I have is the wording- why ‘fertile’ feminism? I am fertile- I know this, but I am not a parent, does this mean you represent me? My auntie is not fertile, but she is a parent- with an entire whole other set of issues related to adoption, I know she would not want to go to a website that appeared to exclude her, even though I know that was not your intention, I get the metaphor of grass-roots growing, but it just seems an odd choice of wording. Will you be talking about IVF on the NHS, women having the oppertunity to be paid for farming their eggs, the problems that come with poly-cystic overies when living in a world where having extra body hair and body fat is seen as a failing, and other issues relating to fertility exclusively? If this is not the case- why are you ‘fertile’ feminism? Why not just ‘feminism’?

Also related to Alex T’s post about us all having mothers at some point- now this is interesting as I would like to see more support for people who DON’T have mothers, or whose mother’s have died, within feminism. ‘Mother’s Day’ or mothering sunday or however you want to call it can be a very triggering time for someone who has lost their mother (a horrible euphanism I know) I had loads of respect for Prince William when he talked about how isolated he felt at that time of year after his mum died- try walking down the highstreets in late February having ‘if you love your mum, you’ll buy her this and this and this and this’ screamed at you by billboards , when you can’t because she’s dead…it would be lovely to have an anti-exploitation of parental love group be set up, but thats more of an anti-consumerist issue…

I get annoyed when the press seems to highlight only feminist groups working against violence against women, or the porn industry, or lads mags, or sex-work. I would like to see more campaigns in the press against traditionally femalecentric professions such as nursary nursing being paid less that a living wage. Nursary assistants in a nursary one of my friends used to work at were paid £5.95 an hour- that’s ten pence more than the minimum wage, working out at £11,900 a year working 38 hour weeks before tax and the parents of the children paid £10 an hour for each child, with most being in the nursary for three full days a week split up over half days so that usually the mothers could work part time or have flexiworking. The 12 women and 1 man working in the nursery could not afford to have their children in childcare themselves and so had to give up work or rely on family and friends to babysit if they had children. In this case Horry’s claim that “no one powerful cares about childcare issues because it’s mainly women who are affected” certainly rings true.

Mobot // Posted 31 March 2010 at 12:35 pm

I fully agree that parenting issues are feminist issues… it’s the entrenched patriarchal values that causes the uneven division of labour which manifests so clearly in many family set-ups – it’s not just a product of informed individual choice that leads to parenting being seen as ‘woman’s work’ and being undervalued.

FeminaErecta: hear hear on the correction to ‘everyone has a mother’ and the insensitivity and consumerist exploitation of mother’s day (and father’s day for that matter). I do find the blanket assumptions that everyone has parents excluding, as my parents died when I was young. The more we can ‘normalise’ the non-traditional family, the better. Whatever our reproductive choices happen to be and whatever our family situation is, we deserve equal rights and recognition.

FertileFem // Posted 31 March 2010 at 1:18 pm

@FeminaErecta – Issues relating to fertility also includes INfertility so yes, I would be likely to talk about IVF and the problems women face when their fertility is challenged or altered in some way. However, that is not my main focus so I can’t imagine it will get a large amount of coverage.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a website that celebrates and discusses motherhood and fertility and the biological processes associated with it (pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, etc..).The very reason I wanted to talk about these things is because they don’t get a lot of coverage in the mainstream media. Sure, there’s the odd article about mothers and their parenting (and sometimes reproductive) decisions in a wider social context or in a finger-wagging, sensationalist way, but rarely from a distinctly feminist perspective. I wanted to create a space where feminist mothers and their allies can have respectful, safe and honest discussions without having to wade through all the comments about how horrible children are or how birth and breastfeeding are ‘gross’ or hear being a SAHM equated with being ‘brain dead’ (which I have seen first-hand on many feminist sites).

My site cannot be all things to all people and while I very much do not want anyone to feel excluded, it is an inevitability that some may feel that way because not everyone is a mother, or fertile, or a feminist. For example, I don’t identify as a womanist but I read Womanist Musings. I identify as white but I read Angry Black Bitch. I identify as cis but I read Bird of Paradox. I read these sites to learn and expand my feminism and wouldn’t want them to water down their message just to make me feel more comfortable or included. There’s plenty of room for my privileges elsewhere.

Rose // Posted 31 March 2010 at 2:19 pm

I really don’t think it’s an individualist approach, nor do I think it negates the issue of abusive fathers.

If a child is born of your biology, (female or male), you are it’s parent, you must provide for and care for it.

If the state is partly to blame for fathers failings towards their children then it is institutionalised child abuse/neglect. Otherwise, it is a fathers abuse/neglect of his child.

I’m not sure how people managed to read my last comment as saying that child abuse/neglect is not important – clearly it’s important. Parental/child issues play a huge role in life.

I would say that a man expecting a woman to be his slave, raising his seed, is a feminist issue as that is about how social gender inequalities damage the quality of life of many women. (Along with questions of womens reproductive health and self-determination).

But, the questions of child care, child benefits, child education, parental roles (personal choices of level of involvment, etc.), to me are parent/child issues.

There are many aspects of feminism that are not part of my everyday life (such as FGM), but it’s different to say that I do not feel that an issue is actually a feminist issue.

For example, I feel that it is a feminist issue that I, as a woman, should be able to decide for myself how I spend my time, (within reason), however I do not consider my vegetable garden to be a feminist issue – it’s a horticultural one.

Mair // Posted 31 March 2010 at 2:53 pm

Great post. It’s really good to see this issue getting attention here. Personally, I think we need to get to grips with parenting as a major feminist issue. If we don’t, we’re just going to have to keep on re-inventing the wheel as yet another generation grows up.

Liz // Posted 31 March 2010 at 2:53 pm

I have to say that I find fertile feminism really inspiring, her posts are well thought out, brilliantly composed and excruciatingly relevant to me. It’s nice to have that sphere available. In fact, I name checked her as one of my influences in a recent blog post – that’s how important I find her work. Keep it up Amity!

Alex T // Posted 31 March 2010 at 4:09 pm

Eek, sorry everyone, that was hugely insensitive of me. Of course, not everyone has a mother – what I meant was that we all come into the world courtesy of a mother. And even though she may not be around anymore, that doesn’t negate the rights she should have been accorded.

Hope that doesn’t invalidate the rest of my comment – namely that mothers’ rights are isues for everyone. (I think my gaffe shows what happens to the mind of a mother of a poorly 9-month old, who works full-time and has had 4 nights on the trot of interrupted sleep! Sorry again!)

Liz // Posted 31 March 2010 at 4:10 pm

Rose: But don’t you see that those issues are inherently sexist in our society – child care and benefits are inextricably linked to the pay gap because some incomes make it impossible for one parent to stay at home with a child (even if a parent wanted to CHOOSE that option) and some incomes make it impossible for one parent to go back to work due to the fact that the cost of child care NEGATES the actual pay received. Who earns less? On the whole: Women. So who is likely to sacrifice their job because they can’t afford childcare? Is that not a feminist issue?

I think someone previously said that parental roles were one of the key issues of 2nd wave feminism.

And education? Well, how do we PREVENT sexist attitudes and misogyny from occurring in subsequent generations? By educating our children NOW. That is one of the biggest feminist issues for me.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 31 March 2010 at 4:44 pm

child care: availability has a lot to do with whether women can work and what jobs are available, and how much they can earn. with it being easier to get maternity leave than paternity leave and hiring companies expecting domestic roles to fall on the mother when deciding who to employ, it becomes more of a womens’ issue unless a father goes full time, which with current gender roles has its own problems. It isnt only work, but often in public places people dont like being around children and this can shut them out from things in the public sphere. whether childcare is affordable can depend on class, and the poorest people in the country are single mothers.

child benefits: this affects the last point of the above hugely. it also has to do with the worth given to supposedly “womens work” an this seems to change with the common view about whether single mothers are single handedly destroying the economy and such, which will play into peoples views of ‘irresponsible’ female sexuality. plus some women are mothers, just as some are disabled and black and lesbian or trans and on this site we tend to look at things that affect sexism in different walks of life.

child education: this has SO much to do with feminism. it shouldnt, but it does. whether its education from well-meaning relatives, parenting books, the tv, teachers or other friends and their parents, so much pushes gender roles on children as well as other prejudices. the first question asked when out with a baby is what gender it is. the subtler points of education of children have a huge effect on who they become, and what options they have to be that person. also you can add in body awareness, non-secular shames and sex education to this.

parental roles : well i do think this is very much down to the individual family, but when its so enforced not only in our culture, but by paternity rights and such, so it might not always be a free choice, and so still worth discussing. also, if a role in a household is either encouraged or discouraged in cartoons or advertising, this can put expectations in a kids head of what they are supposed to do. i am sure a feminist parent will explain a lot of these things to their children, but it is still a fight when in battle with what other influences say.

so whilst, yeah, non-mothers like myself might only find interest in skimming the odd article on a feminist site, i think a feminist parenting site is important, not just for support, but to determine how the next generation can be improved.

LonerGrrrl // Posted 31 March 2010 at 5:04 pm

I agree Amity, that there should be as much focus on issues like the gender pay gap, child poverty, and other issues affecting mothers as there is on sex object culture within mainstream UK feminism. Whilst I don’t have children myself, I have seen how mothers in the workplace continue to struggle to balance work and childcare & the ways in which the structures and demands of the workplace still discriminate against women, especially mothers.

FeminaErecta: I would also like to see more attention afforded to the discrimination faced by women in female-dominated areas of work. I worked as an admin assistant for the childcare section of my local authority, & saw the pitifully low wages paid to childcare workers.

There’s also a whole issue around state-funded vs private-funded childcare that also demands some feminist attention. In the city where I live, private nurseries tend to set up in the more affluent areas of the city because they know parents can afford to send their children there, and hence they can survive as a business. But what about children living in the areas of poverty? In those areas there’s a lack of quality childcare, and so state-funded childcare is necessary.

Kay Fellows: Sometimes it’s not always so easy for women to just ‘shout from the rooftops’ e.g. they may have work & family commitments preventing them from attending protests & getting involved to a greater extent. This is why we need feminists to form solidarity with such women, starting with making themselves aware of the issues affecting them, and not just say they are moaning about the lack of attention they get.

Rose // Posted 31 March 2010 at 6:04 pm

When I’m in my vegetable garden… and somebody says that I need a man to dig the garden for me because I’m too weak, or tells me that I cannot produce the same quality and quantity as a male gardener, or that I’m doing the vegetables like a good little girl whos life resolves around feeding people – it shoots straight to my feminist outlook.

That does not mean that digging a garden is a feminsit issue.

The feminist issue is one concerning a respect for women in all areas of life.

I would say that a universal approach of general respect, equality and freedom affects all walks of life.

Where mothers problems stem from a male disrespect of women it is a feminist issue in that it is an issue of male disrespect of women.

The problems for mothers are a symptom of the greater disease.

And as horticulture, ‘government grants and subsidies’ isn’t a feminist issue, (obviously, rightly), I don’t see why child raising is treated so differently? Men seem to have largely walked away from that line of work – that doesn’t mean women have to take it on.

I don’t think that society will ever really believe that women don’t want to spend their lives wiping bottoms while

the child bit of ‘women and children’ is being held onto as an intrinsic part of feminine life.

Liz // Posted 31 March 2010 at 9:40 pm

Laurel: thanks for elaborating on what I was trying to say, I was rushing earlier :)

Laurel Dearing // Posted 1 April 2010 at 12:18 pm

i was always under the impression that male disrespect of women was one of the main feminist issues, and as part of patriarchy, the stem of what choice we have, like abortion, what jobs we are expected to be able to do, how much we deserve to get paid, whether we get shouted at in the street, whether a guy cares what we want in bed and what lengths he deems acceptable to get that… =/

FertileFem // Posted 1 April 2010 at 1:12 pm

@Rose – You keep equating parenting with vegetable gardening. I find this not only an entirely inaccurate comparison but also quite insulting. Parenting a child is a little more complicated than growing a potato. I know you’re simply trying to draw on your own experiences but I think it’s a poor metaphor and am uncomfortable with its use.

Feminist issues are not only ones in which men disrespect women. A man can very much respect his partner and still fall into the patriarchal role he’s been conditioned to play (breadwinner, ‘protector’, decision-maker), especially once he becomes a father. Men have quite a few constraints in how they’re ‘allowed’ to father as well. And the feminist issues pertinent to mothering are much more complex than just issues of men denigrating women — there are centuries-old cultural biases and modern-day economic and social pressures as well. Believe me, I wish it was as simple as saying that dads just need to step up and stop disrespecting their partners but it’s not. Not at all.

Rose // Posted 1 April 2010 at 6:13 pm


I do not mean to course offence with my comparison.

I simply use it as a field in life with which a woman may choose to occupy some of her time.

Vegetable gardens are actually quite complicated, with long term cultivation of soil, knowledge of disease, inter cropping, understanding of medicinal properties of various plants… etc. Chemistry, geology, agriculture, ethnobotany…. .

And then if you look at this centuries big challenges you will find ‘food security’ right there next to ‘over population’.

Is vegetabe gardening really an insulting comparison to mothering?

Perhaps we just have very different views of life/the world.

Also note, I mentioned my opinion that parental issues (for the less socially questioning), come in institutional form.

The establishment needs to change it’s basis against women – in all walks of life.

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