Attachment feminism

// 12 July 2012

Tags: , , , , ,

Pavement shadow of a child holding the hand of an adult on the rightChrissy D talks about the unsurprising discovery that Attachment Parenting is actually perfectly compatible with feminism.

There was that Time Magazine cover. The one with the “extreme breastfeeding” mom and her toddler, provocatively positioned, defiant and ready for the backlash. The headline Are you Mom enough? invited – incited, even – the visual of mums fighting with diapers, Cath Kidston romper suits and John Lewis nursery furniture, all scattered like fallout on the newly-carpeted floor nursery. Then more supportive pieces started to spring up. Woah. Feminists actually want to spend time with their children? Is that even allowed in feminism? Now some research has found out something many actively feminist mothers aren’t at all taken aback by: feminist mothers like to spend a lot of time, day and night, asleep and awake, with their children.

Why this is a puzzle for some is simple. Over time, feminism and motherhood has had the misfortune of being narrowed down to a checklist of presumptive dos. If you must have kids:

  • Do go back to work full-time as soon as possible after you have your baby
  • Do strive to maintain all the same agency, capital and energy as before

In a breath of fresh air we didn’t realise we needed, the study found that feminist mothers are more likely to practice Attachment Parenting, which itself has been reduced to a check list of illegal-sounding compound nouns: breastfeeding, babywearing and bedsharing. Attachment parents (some of whom don’t even realise they are part of a movement with a title) are not surprised by this correlation between feminism and what are seen as “natural” parenting practices. Some come to it by accident and go on to see it as their right to raise their children in the way they think is best (not dissimilar to the way other mammals raise their young) and a decision not detached from feminist politics.

The problem is that society, patriarchal as its gaze invariably is, does not afford motherhood the credit – sometimes literally- that it deserves. Motherhood and children are still seen as additions (e.g. “Actor and mother…” and “She’s also a mother” etc). Women are amazing, mothers are amazing… but when we treat parenting as a post-it stuck onto the end of a resume of REAL work or achievements, we are neglecting something fundamental. Something fundamentally feminist.

The choice to be a full-time mother can be a luxury, as can the decision to return to a beloved occupation. Who cares that I went back to work after a year of leave? What I take issue with is the idea that feminism is somehow to blame for the guilt inflicted on mothers for their choices.

What we forget, among all the outdated accusations of attachment being a return to “traditional gender roles”, is that these very roles were socially – not biologically – constructed to begin with. In choosing to be a mother on a full-time basis, a mother isn’t returning to something archaic or oppressive. She’s actively reclaiming a role that she is equipped to do.

The problem -the draconian idea that we haven’t moved away from- is the fallacy that motherhood is a job that, by its nature, should go unpaid and that work outside the home should be much more greatly rewarded.

Until I was a mother, I really had no appreciation that the triple shift even existed. Even the double shift seemed pretty easily workable. But as women, society now not only holds us responsible (oh yes, it does) and accountable in the raising of the next generation, but also expects us to prop up the economy with the best eight hours of our day. One job paid, the other out of love.

I’m not arguing against working motherhood; I am a working mother. But what strikes me as odd and dire is the raised-eyebrow response to the compatibility between feminism and wanting to be pivotal in growing one’s own kids (what it really boils down to).

Despite some claims, this is not feminism’s fault. Feminism is not to blame for women feeling guilty about going to work or inadequate and unemployed for “staying at home” (a phrase entirely misrepresentative of the truth, since maternity leave was the only time I ever had a tan on my feet). It is, like so many of the misunderstandings of feminism, the fault of a patriarchal culture that refuses to re-examine its own value system and allocation of capital. It’s the product of a society that will pay banks billions to keep a mythical economy afloat, yet will afford only a cursory maintenance payment to those producing and bringing up the generation who’ll be paying for its nursing care when it can no longer fork out for itself.

Picture by bricolage.108, shared under a creative commons licence.

Comments From You

Megan Stodel // Posted 12 July 2012 at 6:27 pm

I think this is an interesting article :)

However, I disagree with this bit:

“Motherhood and children are still seen as additions (e.g. “Actor and mother…” and “She’s also a mother” etc).”

In many ways, I think some women are defined by their motherhood at times when it isn’t necessary or relevant. You might hear about a woman on the news, and whether it’s because they’re a member of parliament or a singer or somebody appearing in court, they’ll often be described as a “mother of two” or something, when actually the fact is completely irrelevant, and a similar tag would not be used to describe a father in the same situation.

Alocin // Posted 12 July 2012 at 9:20 pm

The argument “it’s what other mammals do” is unfortunate. Isn’t this just the kind of argument that patriarchy has used for centuries to keep women in their place (at home, in private, with the children)? “Look at other animals in the animal kingdom — the males go out and hunt and protect the family, the females nurse the puppies…”

There is also the assumption that what is natural is what is best. Again, this has been used to keep women down for centuries. For the best discussion surrounding the “natural” I suggest reading The Sceptical Feminist by Janet Radcliffe Richards… but here is a short clip from her book:

“The knowledge we have of the natures of things in no way dictates what use should be made of the raw material. It does not dictate our values, and even within a set of values there may be enormous scope for different routes to be taken. There may actually be several possible states of the world which are equally good.”

I’d like to see a world that is more supportive of parenting and values parenting, including recognising the importance in the work of bringing up happy and healthy children in our society. But this doesn’t sound like your post… it sounds like the title of “Attachment Parenting” should be “Attachment Mothering” because there seems to be a much heavier set of expectations for the mother. And I think it does nothing to serve feminism to focus so exclusively on the mother because that just reinforces societal prejudice and discrimination about how women ought to be — which is exactly what I thought feminism was all about stopping…

Samantha // Posted 16 July 2012 at 7:32 am

yes, yes, yes :-) this is exactly the blog article I’ve been waiting for!


an Accidental Attachments Parent and a Feminist

EastKentMum // Posted 16 July 2012 at 8:27 pm

I thought this was insightful, easy to read and explained Attachment Parenting as I umderstand it (but would never have been as articulate and precise). Bravo on capturing the current vibe and feelings on so many mums.

I hope you don’t mind Chrissie D but I linked this article to my recent blog update on Attachment Parenting and Business. Do check it out

Thanks again. Your article meant a lot to my husband and me.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds