Thursday, 26 April 2012
I don't feel as if this baby-making thing has secured my womanhood and led me any closer to having a concrete answer to the question "What does being a woman mean?". It has made me certain that I hate "Mommy/Mummy Wars" discussions. It has made me certain that I get irritated by unsolicited "advice" about being a mother, particularly the sort of "advice" that intimates come next month, I will cease to have a life. That's about it so far.
But as is the case with a lot of people I know or whose blogs I read, gender expectations and stereotyping as they relate to babies and children have already become apparent, and given me plenty to think about when I wonder what it's going to be like to bring up a son or a daughter. It starts when, like me, you don't know the sex of the baby you're having, and some people treat you as if you're being difficult, stuck in this ridiculous sexless limbo that means you must be at a loss how to decorate the baby's room, or buy clothes for it. Admittedly, this does depend on the shops you frequent and the attitude you have towards colours, but I've already been informed that red, green and yellow are "boy colours" and that "you can't put a boy in a cardigan with ducks on it" (watch me).
This, of course, is the age of PinkStinks and Pigtail Pals and Hamleys doing away with its "pink for girls" and "blue for boys" signs. All that sort of stuff gets flak from certain news outlets and commentators for the supposed "anti-pink" stance ("girls are WIRED to like pink and that's a fact, people" - or otherwise - "urgh, first world feminist problems"), but we all know it goes further than that. It's not about being "against" the colour pink (I'm certainly not, despite the fact it's far from my favourite colour), but the way it has taken hold as the only option available, while displays of toy domestic appliances leave us in no doubt at which gender they're meant for.
Last month when I asked people about their perceptions of womanhood and femininity, Sarah Ditum told me she'd been pitched into the "war on pink" when she became the mother of a daughter, before it made her wonder just how consistent that made her as a role model - which I think is a really good point.
"That was interesting for a start – to realise that I'd designated 'boy things' as neutral and 'girl things' as optional extras, even though a lot of my identity and personal happiness is vested in [enjoying fashion, makeup, and other 'feminine' things]," she said, adding that she has no problem helping her daughter understand that these are things that make her comfortable with her identity as a woman, even though she doesn't necessarily see them as synonymous with "femininity", or necessary.
"It's impossible to be truly neutral," she said. "Instead, I hope that I can at least introduce them to the way gender is made at the same time that they are learning its codes."
I think part of doing this in a positive way is obviously about how gender is modelled within the family, and this is partly why I've been recently featuring guest posts from blogging friends who practice egalitarian relationships and shared parenting. It was interesting to read this piece by Jill Filipovic for Comment is Free last week, entitled "How gender equality is the friend of the family". Filipovic highlighted some recent research from the US that shows women now, more than ever, consider job success and satisfaction extremely important. Yet the research also found that there's also been a significant increase (since 1997) in the percentage of both men and women who see being a good parent as a top priority.
"Both men and women spend more time, and more quality time, with their kids than ever before – even more time than at the height of the stay-at-home mother," she writes.
"Dads who also balance work and family mean working moms aren't under quite as much pressure to be full-time employees and over-time parents, and so young women now can reasonably expect to have a fulfilling career and also be great moms. And dads, relieved of the burden to be the sole financial provider for their entire families, can recognize that their contributions to their kids can go far beyond the monetary, and include the tough but fulfilling emotional work of parenting, as well."
Filipovic adds that naturally, there is still a long way to go, in terms of equal pay, in terms of differences according to class privilege, in terms of the division of labour in the home. This much is true and must not be forgotten, but it was good to see a piece that didn't fall for all the usual "Having It All" or "Mommy Wars" clichés, or highlight some research claiming to show that women are more unhappy with their lives than ever - thanks, of course, to modern society making them feel they have to subvert traditional gender roles.
I'm left wondering how my own perceptions and opinions might change in the next few months. For now, I await the arrival of the baby.
Some recommended reading: blogs that deal with motherhood and parenting issues. I've been reading a fairly limited list, but these are the ones I go back to.
- PhD in Parenting
- Balancing Jane
- Adventures in Boogieville
- The Feminist Breeder
- Emerging Mummy
- C. Jane Kendrick
- The Achilles Effect
- Blue Milk
- More Than Toast
- Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein