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There are things I would say if I had a voice.

I don’t, you see – have a voice. Not an individual voice that is mine and that matters and can be heard over the din. Because it is put down, or written off, or labelled in a way that makes it worth less. Not worthless maybe, just worth less. I am told I am a mummy blogger, and maybe I am – but I am also not a writer, I am a woman writer. A woman who writes, predicated on gender; an aside, behind the hand, good at what I do for a woman. ;

There are moments in every woman’s life when she is both confronted by her womanhood and reviled by it – when it beats on her like a hammer, a mantra, a reminder of all that she is, all that she is not, all that is expected of her and all that is not allowed of her. To be a woman is to be mired in contradictory social conditioning that both contains us and undermines us.

(I am 13, walking to a fete on a hot day in a singlet and shorts, and some hoon drives past slowly, leaning out the window, making a lewd gesture. I bloomed late – I have no breasts, no curves, no signs of womanhood other than I am taller than I used to be. This is a rite of passage all young women face – this moment, of being unsure if this is a compliment or an insult, or somehow both. Feeling raw and slick with disgust and heat and shame and yet somehow pleased too, because only attractive girls get leered at, right? Right?)

I am a mother now, and this is an extra caveat to womanhood, an extra characteristic that defines me as Other. I am a mother with that this pertains – the guilt, the boredom, the terror and fleeting moments of joy; joy so sharp and poignant it is more like a bandaid being torn off than any permanent emotion. Like a quick rip through the heart that leaves you blinking back tears, because this joy feels almost like grief too – I get this, yes I get this joy but the compromise is so great. There is so much I lose. The cost is so high. Motherhood is another way of losing one’s voice, after all.

I had no voice today in the shopping centre – the mother rocking a wretchedly sobbing infant in her arms – while in the pram, a toddler mimics the wails of the infant. An old man walked past, staring at me like I’d ruined his day, like I’d brought my children into his space and deliberately upset them, so the shrieks echoed through the vaulted mall in a way that is perfectly toned to make your ears itch. If I spoke then, my voice would have been lost in this old man’s judgement. Mothers are not supposed to inflict their children on public spaces, THEMSELVES on public spaces. Do not be a mother in a shopping centre doing her shopping for dinner, trying to get out of the house for an hour, to make the scenery change for a moment of a day otherwise filled with childish chatter. Do not be a mother whose children are not perfectly silent and still mannequin models of good behaviour. Do not be a mother who is trying her best, getting through the day, trying to cope. Do not be a mother, because mothers have no voice.

Mothers are in the home, most often, because it makes sense after a traumatic or exhausting birth, or a c-section, to be the one to stay home. It makes sense, being the one who breastfeeds, or even bottle feeds; it makes sense when doing the night wakings. It makes sense for me to stay home now with the second baby because I stayed home with the first one, and after several years of a slow domestic tilt where everything slides in my direction, it makes sense that it is my studies that stop, my career that grinds to a halt, my earning opportunities that pass by unnoticed because I am a mother, and this is what mothers do. I stay home and contemplate the scars on my body, the medicalisation of my genitalia, the baby on my breast. I stay home because it is easier, and anyway mothers who don’t stay home are judged too. ;

If I talk too loudly about my needs and wants, if I try to speak up about equality – for any woman who speaks up about equality – there are other ways of being silenced. There is the label of ‘feminist’ – not the meaning, just the word – the label that some say needs ‘re-branding’, as though it is an item for sale rather than a thought or a need. There’s the ubiquitous, ‘but I’m not a feminist’, as though it’s a club you sign up for a membership for rather than a way you live your life, a definition of your core beliefs. So this word, feminism-in-quote-marks, it comes to represent all of these things that it does not actually mean, it becomes an insult and a pejorative explanation, a political ideal and a movement that is picked over by those against is so they can say, ‘feminism has failed’, like it were a child, when really this is just another way of shutting us up. By saying ‘feminist’ as though we don’t matter. ‘Feminist’ as though our words have no import – after all, it is only a feminist who is speaking.

(It is 2009. I am in a relationship with a man, watching the slow wince form on his face when I speak too long and too loud on the gender pay gap, on domestic violence statistics, on cases of sexual assault. I am in a relationship with this man who professes to love me but at the same time, would prefer it if I didn’t talk about the things that matter to me, the life I live and the fear I face simply by being a woman. I am in a relationship with a man who wants to play ‘devil’s advocate’ and try and tear holes in the things I say or deny my experiences because he can. And one day I wake up and realise I don’t love him, I don’t want to be with him, I shouldn’t waste anymore of my time on him because someone who would rather I be silent is not someone I can trust. I end it, but he won’t ever understand.)

There are things I would say if I had a voice, but I don’t by virtue of being a woman. By virtue of being a mother, a feminist. I am categorised and allotted a certain space in this world, slightly over and above those who do not have the privileges that I have (the right skin colour, the right gender identity, the right sexuality, the right socioeconomic background, the right abled body, et cetera, et cetera), and I, like most women, am told I will be assigned someone to speak on my behalf, to choose my reproductive rights, my pay grade, my career opportunities – and when I look up to see whose voice will actually be heard, it is usually a man.

As it has always been men, a whole establishment of them. Calling us ‘feminazis’ with a sneer. Legislating our bodies. Marking us down on a list, splitting us into little categories, some with more privilege than others, deciding our rights and where we fit, writing us off as good at what we do ;for a woman. ;

Telling us where we fit. Mummy blogger. Woman writer. Just a stay at home mum. Just a woman. ;

Which might as well be nothing at all.

;

;

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This week David Koch, who is a co-host of Channel 7’s Sunrise, made some horrible, horrible remarks about breastfeeding. His remarks might seem somewhat innocuous, but when you take them in the context that any discrimination against breastfeeding is illegal in Australia, and that women deal constantly with body and motherhood policing, they’re pretty offensive.

I wrote a reply over at The Peach:

Can you not see how ridiculous your comments are, how they attempt to police women, motherhood and women’s bodies? Because nothing will ever quite be ‘discreet’ enough, or ‘classy’ enough. I mean, all breastfeeding women everywhere could sit in out-of-the-way armchairs with blankets draped over their shoulder and child, and someone, somewhere, would walk past and know what was happening under that blanket.

The whole story: My body is not shameful and I will not be shamed.

My article is personal to me, for many reasons – I breastfed my first child for 12 months, and hopefully will do the same with the imminent arrival, if not longer. But more importantly, I am SO TIRED of privileged white men thinking their opinion counts when it comes to women’s bodies. Like they get a say, even if the law is already clear on the subject.

If you haven’t been following this issue, my article at The Peach handily comes with links to relevant news and blog posts so you can catch up.

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I fit easily under the umbrella definition of ‘mummy blogger’ – I’m a mother, and I write about my child and current pregnancy. But it’s not all toddler snacks and playgrounds; I don’t exist in a bubble, separated from the rest of society by the status of my uterus. I interact with and observe aspects of society on every level – medical, government infrastructure, consumerism, feminism and education. So why doesn’t my voice matter? Why am I dismissed as a ‘mummy blogger’?

From now on I’ll be a regular contributor at fantastic feminist mag The Peach, and here’s my first article on gender bias in the media and women writers (including yours truly).

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I have watched a lot of films lately that easily fail the Bechdel Test. If you’re not familiar with the Bechdel Test, then hit the link, it’s eye-opening. Basically it works like this: to pass the Bechdel Test, a film has to 1) Have at least two [named] women in it, 2) Who talk to each other, 3) About something other than a man.

The most recent example is The Hobbit, which fails on a catastrophic level. There’s one named female character. One. And people say to me, oh, but The Hobbit was written in a different era. This excuse doesn’t fly for me, because most contemporary films, based on material created roughly a century later, also fail. Think The Dark Knight Rises, or The Avengers, or what about Life of Pi. Some of the biggest films of the last 12 months fail.

This upsets me because I am a woman, and my reality is not represented in mainstream media. There are so many bromance films out there, but so few films about women, with solid women casts, who live complex lives where the film plot is not about romance, break ups or weddings. When I see a film with a largely male cast, with one or two supporting female characters, it doesn’t matter how kickass that female character is when she kind of seems like an accessory to the man.

Here is my reality: I have women friends, and I don’t call them ‘The Girls’, because that’s infantalizing and horrible. Sometimes we talk about our relationships, and for those of us who are heterosexual that means talking about men. With other mothers, we often talk about parenting, where the male partners (for those of us that have them), will come up too. Sometimes I talk to other women about feminist issues, and naturally men come up then, but kind of in a generalized, peripheral way. But a lot of the time, I mean over my whole lifetime, I have talked to other women about things that were nothing to do with men.

I have sat in a Muslim prayer room with Muslim women, who removed their headscarves and bared their arms because they were in a female space, and we talked about god and science as they hennaed my hands.

I have talked with women in their late teens and early twenties about teenage bullying and peer pressure. We discussed women’s magazines like Cleo and Cosmo that seemed to foster unrealistic ideals of femininity, sexuality and attractiveness. We talked about societal expectations of women, the hypersexualization of pre-teen girls and untenable atmosphere of competition that exists amongst young women. We also danced badly to Fergie.

I have had long, long conversations with other mothers I know about baby poo, spit up, sleep schedules and mother-guilt. I’ve talked about my fears and expectations for my child, how the love feels so raw and overwhelming, and which noisy toys annoy the hell out of me. As a stay-at-home parent I’ve talked about meal planning and grocery budgets and maternity clothes, about breastfeeding and stress and time out, about loving my child but sometimes feeling a need for physical and mental space; the paradox of loving your child, needing and wanting them but being overwhelmed by them too.

I have talked to many, many women over my life about mental illness. I’ve spoken at length with other women about having depression, managing it, trying drug after drug and shrink after shrink. I’ve talked about the shame I have felt, the stigma, the rejection and the anxiety. I’ve spoken of my fears and wants and needs, of the physical illness that accompanied the mental illness and made it worse – but I’ve also spoken about my small milestones, my achievements and breakthroughs, the struggles and ultimate successes. I’ve spoken about being sick, and the gratitude I have for being well.

I have lain on a picnic blanket at twilight in summer and talked with a woman about my dreams, my hopes for the future, the things I want to achieve in my life. I’ve spoken about writing, and creativity, and art; I’ve spoken about painters I like and poetry I love and plays I’ve seen and music I’m into.

I have worked hard, with other women, on theatre projects that consumed my life, and we have talked about everything from technical details to the greater meaning of the text. We’ve talked about words that I have written and what they mean, how they can be transformed and represented on the stage. I have had the great pleasure of sharing my writing about women with other women, and heard their thoughts and interpretations and felt that slow burn of satisfaction that what I write has meaning.

I have spoken to women about everything that is deep and meaningful, like religion and the soul and what happens after death, but I have also spoken to other women about clothes I like and shoes and craft projects and shiny things.

I have had conversations with women that were beautiful or tragic, awkward and light; conversations that have lasted hours or just a moment or two. I have emailed women on the other side of the world and chatted to women on the phone who were not very far away. I have sat in dark theatres with women as we’ve caught up on our lives, and asked after their families, or their work, or even their state of happiness. And sometimes, but not all the time, we have talked about men.

Only sometimes.

That’s my reality. That’s what I wish I could see in a film or a TV show with any regularity. I want to see all the parts of myself that belong only to myself, and not to a man.

smother

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I have been feeling angry at the world lately. Namely, I’ve been angry at the hate and violence directed towards women. From the tragic death of Jill Meagher (I used to live right near where she was taken) to the kind of everyday street harassment that I hear about all the time. I’m shielded, somewhat, from that kind of harassment, because I’m pregnant and it seems there are some lines even street assholes won’t cross… but I did notice a man staring at my breasts quite openly today when I was having lunch with my toddler, and he didn’t even bother to look away once he realised I knew he was watching me. This, despite being six months pregnant with a small child next to me.

I often feel angry at a society that belittles, degrades, oppresses and humiliates women, and then denies there is anything wrong. I feel angry that there’s still a substantial pay gap between men and women in the workforce; angry that there are websites that collect and post exploitative photographs of women that have been taken without their knowledge, and angry that it’s so damn hard for women to have children and a substantial earning potential in the one lifetime. All that anger just becomes exhausting, doesn’t it?

But today, I saw two articles that lifted my spirits – Why it’s been a great year for women by Clementine Ford, and the photo essay The 20 Most Influential Female Voices of 2012 by Sarah Oakes. It reminded me that there are good things happening – you women learning about feminism as they enter adulthood with genuinely positive role models in the public forum; women writing and talking and teaching about feminism; women speaking out for their rights (Julia Gillard, anyone?); and men who are doing all of the above too.

Both pieces mentioned above came from The Daily Life – click the pic to link through to a kickass feminist magazine.

It reminded me that there is a positive space for women that is all around us, a community of voices that is slowly gaining volume. It helps me feel less angry. Or maybe, it helps me feel like that anger is useful and not just frustrating and fruitless.

So. Who is your feminist role model for 2012? What did they achieve that inspired you?

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Today Catherine Deveny’s Lunchbox/Soapbox address Pernickety Parents: Catherine Deveny embraces 70s parenting popped up in my newsfeed, via The Wheeler Centre. And yeah, I get it. It’s a humour piece, in which Deveny describes herself as practicing ‘detachment’ parenting and nostalgically recalls the often comically laid-back parenting style of yesteryear, specifically the 1970s.

But here’s the thing; Deveny doesn’t just highlight the inherent humour in politically correct language changes that have occurred in the last 40 years, or reminisce over the potentially dangerous activities that were supposedly common practice back then. She actively attacks contemporary parents as helicopter parents. You know, the kind that hover. It’s a common phrase that drives me fucking mental.

Here’s a quote, showing where Deveny crosses the line from satirising herself into attacking other parenting styles:

There has never been more time, energy and thought spent on the raising of babies, toddlers and children, and it’s detrimental, counterproductive and narcissistic. It’s suffocating our children and oppressing parents, particularly women. […] Attachment parenting is the epitome of this competitive parenting as an extreme sport. The parenting cult where you wear your baby everywhere, never let them cry and all sleep in a big bed together. It leads to dysfunctional co-dependence and is simply set up by needy parents to enable their own abandonment issues.

You know what? Fuck off. Fuck off Catherine Deveny, for writing a funny piece about the difference in generational parenting styles, and turning it into a sneak attack on those that don’t agree with you. And honestly, it’s not so much an attack on parents who do things differently than you do – as mothers are most often the primary caregivers, this is an attack on women who do things differently than you do. Because women don’t have enough shitty judgement calls heaped on them every day of their damn lives.

I’m sure your piece is supposed to be all ha-ha-ha-can’t-you-take-a-joke, but no, not this time. Because belittling women who try to balance their kids and relationships, and potentially study and working lives as well, is a cheap, easy shot. Attacking women who are doing the best they can, often under intense societal pressures to live up to certain standards of parenting behaviour, is fucking low. Your writing is funny. Your message is vicious – if I don’t like what you’re doing, I’m going to make judgement calls on you using psychological terminology like ‘co-dependence’ and ‘abandonment issues’ in a public forum. What a cool joke.

I hope you feel real good about yourself. Because this kind of article doesn’t let anybody who varies from your narrow worldview feel good about anything.

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1.- You’re not fucking fat.
In fact, you’re young and reasonably attractive with the natural curves of any woman that doesn’t have the metabolism of a mouse. You are years away from getting pregnant, ballooning up with pregnancy weight and an over-sized fetus accompanied by extra amniotic fluid; years away from your breastfeeding size G-cup breasts that naturally deflate a little when the milk goes dry after a year of nursing; years away from your stretch marks and birth scars. Because all of those things will make you review your body image and come to terms with how your body changes over time, and you gain some sort of equanimity for your weight and shape and look because nobody is a supermodel except supermodels. You’re 20 and you look great and your attractiveness really has nothing to do with weight.

2.- Stop dating jerks.
Your first true love at 18 was wonderful and heartbreaking, and you’ve spent two years dating guys who are bad for you and will for several years to come. They don’t make you feel good about yourself, but you keep trying because you figure that if you make them feel good about themselves then they’ll return the favour. They won’t.

3.-Your friends are the people who show up when you say you’re feeling crap.
And it takes you years to learn this lesson – that when you phone a friend or two and say, ‘I’m having a really hard time right now’, it’s the people that truly give a damn that take time out of their day to listen to you or visit you or show you their support – and the people who make excuses, or don’t have five minutes, or are really busy right now can-I-call-you-back-never? They’re the ones who will always take when they need help, and never give it back when you do.

4.- Your family matter more than you realise. Because at 20 you’re still hung up on teenage resentments and trying to figure out how to be an adult and independent and still ask for help when you need it, but the truth is that you take that support for granted when it’s always been there unconditionally. Be patient, and kind, and give love and recognise when it’s given in return. And not just your parents and your brother – remember you have a whole crowd of grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts who have always been around and interested. Because you know what? People get cancer and die and you can’t get them back again. Appreciate that the people who care about you stand back when you need it, and step in when you need it too.

5.- You don’t need to grow up so fast. You’re 20, and one day when you’re older with a family and a job and responsibility you’re going to nostalgically look back and realise you spent so much time fighting to be grown up and strong and independent that you forgot, for a while, how to be young. And it’s ironic that at 28 with a family and a job and responsibility you will feel like you enjoy life much more than you did as a young and free 20-year-old.

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