All the mommas who profit dollas

Friday, 22 June 2012

Upsetting people this week: Elizabeth Wurtzel's piece for The Atlantic, entitled '1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible', and Cherie Blair's comments on women who put rich husbands and staying at home with the childen ahead of a career. Yes, this is both a 'Mommy Wars' AND a 'Mummy Wars' post, with a dash of Destiny's Child.

The shoes on my feet 
I've bought it 
The clothes I'm wearing 
I've bought it 
The rock I'm rockin' 
'Cause I depend on me 
If I wanted the watch you're wearin' 
I'll buy it 
The house I live in 
I've bought it 
The car I'm driving 
I've bought it 
I depend on me

Wurtzel, like most of us, is concerned about the continuing attempts by Republicans and the Christian right to control what women do with their bodies and their personal lives that have become so numerous and shocking they've required a catch-all term: the War on Women. Unlike most of us, however, she's decided to pin the blame for all this on the wives of rich men. It's a tedious tactic played for maximum controversy: snipe at women; insinuate they're somehow to blame for their own misfortune. Blair, too, has beef with the rich men - and women who want to marry them because they're in search of an easy life and don't want a job. She's also got issues with 'yummy mummies'. Predictably, there is outrage.

Having read Wurtzel's piece, I actually do think that she makes a handful of good points. It's a shame it takes a turn for the worse so quickly.

"Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it?"

That question right there is probably one of the things that makes me - and other feminists I know - want to tear our hair out the most: the idea, beloved of people on the internet who think they're being smart, that gender equality, at the end of the day, is all about choice. We all know it isn't; goodness knows it's used at every available opportunity to justify things that are exploitative, subtly misogynist or have absolutely nothing to do with feminism in the first place.

"Feminism...should mean something. It should mean equality."

Well, obviously.

"Most mothers have jobs because they need or want the money and fulfillment; only in rare cases are they driven by glory. To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege..."

It's actually not very often that high profile, privileged people point this out. It's usually left to the women who read their articles to shout about it when assumptions about mother who work outside the home are made.

So what goes wrong? For a start, I'm deducting points from Wurtzel because she mentions bra-burning. In general, though, it's her focus on economic equality and how she links this to the War on Women.

"Let's please be serious grown-ups: real feminists don't depend on men. Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own."

Why is it suddenly all about cash? Never mind the current job market, eh. Or, you know, privilege.

"And there really is only one kind of equality -- it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo -- and it's economic."

Really? Just one kind? Has she been spending time with Louise Mensch?

"Because here's what happens when women go shopping at Chanel and get facials at Tracy Martyn when they should be wage-earning mensches: the war on women happens."

Wait. How did we get here?

"...these [rich 'housewives'] are the reason their husbands think all women are dumb, and I don't blame them."

Okay. So from what she's saying, rich women choose not to work and instead lead pampered and pointless lives. Their husbands don't work with women (unless they're secretaries); they don't see them as equals. They see them as the person who racks up enormous credit card bills. And then they support the War on Women. Women need to go out to work and have their own money. Particularly intelligent women who have graduated from top universities. Because being a mother isn't a job. ALL THIS IS RUINING FEMINISM AND LEADING TO LEGISLATION INVOLVING VAGINAL PROBES BEING ENACTED.

Even if all these moneyed women and women with degrees from Ivy League institutions went out and worked and realised that they need to stop pretending motherhood is 'work', the War on Women would still be happening. Look what happened in the 1970s and 1980s. Women took great steps forward in terms of economic equality and careers. The right-wing backlash still began. Women on the right made careers of their own telling women not to work and "return to the home".

Plenty of the politicians involved in the War on Women don't really mind women going out to work - they seek to control their sex lives and reproduction. When they do care about women with jobs, it's part of a bigger picture of wanting to keep us 'in our place'. They simply don't trust women to take care of themselves, make their own decisions, and have their own opinions, and I'm not sure it's rich wives who are to blame. An opinionated woman is a harpy, a woman who uses contraception is a whore. A woman boss is a bitch and a woman who has an abortion is going to hell. Let's not pin all the blame on the Real Housewives of Orange County - it's obvious there's more to it than that.

Cherie Blair, tackling things from a UK perspective, I think, has fallen victim to the media's love of creating drama over any comment made about motherhood and work, however insignificant that comment may be. Fair enough, I don't agree with her that women are making a bad decision if they choose to be stay-at-home mothers, and I don't agree that it discourages children from being independent. Emily Murray explained this very well in a piece for the Guardian, pointing out that a politician and a barrister would hardly have the same worries about childcare costs and paying the bills that most of us have to contend with. But I'm not sure her sentiments as expressed in the quotes below are all that much of an attack.

“I look at the sacrifices that women have made and I think why do I need to bother, why can’t I just marry a rich husband and retire?” and you think how can they even imagine that is the way to fulfil yourself, how dangerous it is. In my case I saw my mother abandoned by my father when I was eight – but even good men could have an accident or die and you’re left holding the baby.” 

Isn't everyone in favour of women being able to take care of themselves as much as they can? I don't think this must mean 'having a career' - after all, plenty of people just don't want what's generally regarded as 'a career' - but it's important however much (or little) money you have. A couple of years ago, I remember an acquaintance telling me that she was 'terrible' at managing her finances.

"I think it's because I assumed I'd be married by now, and that my husband would take care of all that side of things," she said.

"We need to devise business strategies and societies that allow women to make choices that aren’t all-or-nothing choices. We’ve been conditioned to think that if we make a choice to have a child at this point, then that defines what you do for the rest of your life. That’s not true – it doesn’t have to be like that…"

I know women who have been conditioned to think that having a child will mean their life will be 'over'. Who think it will mean the end of any job satisfaction or career success. We know the outlook isn't always rosy. As Blair says, the system isn't terribly good at helping us - and our partners - to make "choices that aren't all or nothing choices". Everyone knows that needs to change. It doesn't need to involve every women going out and trying to get top jobs, it needs to result in them being able to feel they are making the best choice for themselves and for their families.

Why should UK Christians care about mutuality?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

I was discussing one of the posts from Rachel Held Evans's Week of Mutuality series with some friends on Twitter yesterday, when someone mentioned that the debate surrounding gender and the church isn't one that we hear a lot about in the UK. If you look at it in terms of the way the issue is discussed in the USA, this is certainly true. As another friend on Twitter, one from America, once said to me, "Over here, the evangelical voice is king." And when she said "evangelical", she meant it in the American sense - that of the Christian Right. It's the culture that I'm currently seeing a lot of younger bloggers reject as they explore whether it's possible to form Christian communities and "do church" in a different way. Evangelical yet more accepting, more open to questioning, more open to people who don't "fit the mold". More accepting of science, more accepting of women in leadership, less centred on condemnation and less intertwined with right-wing politics.

To the majority of people in the UK, you mention "women and the church" and they'll think of the current debates about women bishops. Others will think back 20 years, to the debates about women being ordained. For a lot of people, the idea of churches where a woman can't even read aloud from the Bible, or where a woman working outside the home would be an abomination, is quite odd. The church telling husbands and wives what they should and shouldn't do at home would be weird. A couple of years ago, the fact that a Church of England curate gave a Valentine's Day sermon urging women to "remain silent" and "submit" caused such outrage that it became a national news story (sorry - it's a Daily Mail link). Of course, if you read the comments, you'll see the nation's supporters of male headship coming out of the woodwork, but as a rule, it's not something that a lot of people see as a Big Deal.

1. It may not be a Big Deal for the UK church, but what about our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy for things to stay that way. By and large, parachurch organisations and ecumenical bodies in the UK have a reasonably positive attitude - on paper - towards women and what they are "permitted" to do. But in recent years, groups and individuals with a more conservative and restrictive viewpoint have been aiming to exert more influence - in universities, through books, through insisting women are excluded to accommodate them, through having a personality that appeals to a certain type of Christian (Mark Driscoll; young men - I'm looking at you). As the church realises the amazing impact that raising up women and encouraging them to serve in whatever ways they are truly gifted to do can have, they wish instead for the tide to turn. People do leave churches because they refuse to call a woman "Pastor". They do walk out of services because they won't take communion from a woman. Teenage girls do attend seminars at summer camps and get told that any ambition to "lead" means they have "Jezebel spirits". Women do leave the church because of what they've been told about their gender. It's not just America's problem.

I believe that much of what is taught in the name of "distinct roles" is nothing more than 20th century gender stereotyping at best (and incredibly, some prominent theologians happily admit this, saying it's necessary to instruct people how to "fit in" with society's expectations of their gender), highly damaging and potentially abusive patriarchy at worst. In terms of theology, it's often a case of desperately clutching at straws (check out Rachel's posts from good analysis of the theological issues at stake). You might think that's me being overly dramatic, and I'm not suggesting for one moment that I think the "Biblical Patriarchy" movement could make significant inroads in the UK (it couldn't - I don't think even the most earnest British Christian could cope with the realities of Vision Forum), but just because it's not happening here doesn't mean it shouldn't matter to us, as part of the Body of Christ. Some of the posts written as part of Mutuality2012 make that abundantly clear when they describe the way their authors have been treated and made to feel in the name of  a "plain reading of scripture".

2. On paper, we're there (depending on the denomination). In reality...

I mentioned above that "on paper", things look pretty good for women in the UK church. This gets to make people feel quite good about the situation. We're really positive about equality! We have a woman speaker sometimes! Women are the backbone of the church! You know how it goes. But if having a woman speaker sometimes, or admitting that women do all the support work behind the scenes and always serve the refreshments and always look after the children allows people to sit back and wash their hands of the whole issue of gender and the church, that's not good enough. We have to support those women who want to lead churches. We have to praise those women who want to head up organisations. We have to affirm those women who don't want to stay in the background but stand at the front with pride.

And this won't happen simply through praise and affirmation. It's got to happen through good employment practices like encouraging and supporting women who are mothers and want to work in full-time ministry, or not requiring that clergy wives forego a career. We need to talk about the women of the Bible and their stories on a Sunday, in the main service - not just as a part of women's Bible studies or women's retreat days. Churches should be discouraging sexist attitudes and showing that men and women can be a lot of different things, outside of stereotypes and expectations. They should be doing more to support single women and divorced women and childfree women and women who are survivors. It's not about "political correctness" as some would probably claim - there's nothing suspect about making "equality" a priority. It's not some woolly liberal concept to be treated with suspicion and laughed off as nothing to get too involved in or too serious about; it is, in fact, Biblical.

3. When people care, great things happen.

I'm thinking of the important work done by the Sophia Network and Women and the Church. By Soul Survivor's Equal conferences. By organisations like Restored, fighting gender inequality and violence against women. By all the people who have ever helped a woman see that she is not limited by her gender but free to make waves. It's our duty to educate ourselves and set an example for others. It's as simple as that.

This post is part of a synchroblog for Rachel Held Evans's Week of Mutuality. Follow the conversation on Twitter via the #Mutuality2012 hashtag.

Motherhood. Womanhood. Whatever.

Monday, 4 June 2012

I can't remember whether or not I've ever mentioned the fact that I found being married quite hard to adjust to, being a person used to spending a lot of time alone, and having had a relationship, pre-marriage, that had been primarily long-distance. Someone else was making demands on my time. Living together felt a bit stifling. I wondered whether I would lose my identity, whether I had stopped being "Hannah" and had instead become "Luke's wife". This scared me. After a while, I adjusted. Things were fine. It took a while, and a lot of talking things through, but one of the first things you need to learn about marriages is that they take work, and it's good to realise this at the beginning.

Adjusting to motherhood involves many of the same issues. I'm now at home until next year, but someone else is making demands on my time. This time, however, I can't throw my hands up and say that I need my own space, because that someone is a newborn. Of course Luke spends his fair share of time parenting too, but for the time being, I'm the one with the food. And so at present, I spend the majority of my days on the sofa, or on my bed, baby attached to me, checking Twitter on my phone as he eats.

I've used plenty of this time to look back on my experience of pregnancy and birth. I feel incredibly fortunate  that everything was so straightforward and without complication. I certainly wasn't expecting to dilate from six to ten centimetres in an hour. I definitely didn't think I'd pop a baby out after just 18 minutes of pushing. Everyone tells you your birth plan will "go out of the window" once you get to hospital and things get moving. I stuck to mine: I was standing up until the very end; I used gas and air, no drugs; I had a physiological third stage. These were my choices; I decided they were right for me and for my situation, and because everything progressed without complications, I was able to go with what I had planned. What other women choose to do, or have to do out of medical necessity, has nothing to do with me. I know everyone doesn't treat the experience of birth like that - hence the so-called "wars" that take place on blogs and forums, where a simple retelling of a birth story is often seen as a judgement on women whose experiences didn't go to plan or who chose to do things differently. It could have all been very different for me, so there's no judgement here.

I was surprised at how everything turned out. It made me feel very powerful. Powerful because of what my body has done in terms of creating a child; powerful because of how I had managed my labour; powerful because of how my body worked to bring Sebastian into the world. I felt somewhat less powerful in the following days as I experienced all the expected anxieties that come with being a new mother: hormones, sleep, feeling as if broken glass was coming out of my nipples when I fed. There are other things I've done that have influenced a positive attitude towards my body image, not as something to feel smug about because I have a magazine-approved "bikini body" (I don't - especially right now), but as something awesome - climbing a mountain, running half marathons. Now "creating and birthing a child" can be added to that list and also to my list of "defining experiences of my journey as a woman". It definitely deserves a place there. That's my journey, not "the journey of women in general".

See how blogging about motherhood is already making me feel as if I have to attach qualifiers to everything, in case people think I'm being judgmental about the choices and experiences of other women? It's not something I normally do - it's ridiculous, and it's a sad reflection on how all this works. Apologising for your opinions the minute you talk about them (isn't that what we women are supposed to do?). Mommy wars. Mummy wars. Whatever. So I think that's the last time I'll do it: no more qualifying statements for me. I trust people to understand, by looking at the way the rest of this blog works, that this isn't what I'm about. If it's anything like my pregnancy, I'll blog about about motherhood once every few months. So there's some advance warning.

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