Motherhood and Feminism

Monday, March 8, 2010
Twenty-six years ago feminism and motherhood had an interesting convergence for me. March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). It’s also our son Jeremy’s birthday. Actually, the realization of this convergence was more apparent the next day when flowers arrived with the card that read , “Another son born to a great feminist family.” I don’t know whether my husband and sons would call themselves feminists, but I do.
I’ve proudly called myself a feminist for many years. Before we knew the word “feminist” my mother was raising her daughters to believe in the principles of feminism: social, political, and economic equality between women and men. That’s it. That’s the principle, although many would have you believe that feminism is a whole group of other principles. That’s another discussion.
In 1983-84 I worked at the Sudbury Women’s Centre to bring together a network of child care providers and parents. We operated a child care registry, offered workshops, and produced a newsletter. I helped organize other Women’s Centre events, including of course, the annual IWD celebrations. Jeremy’s birth changed my plans to join the fun, although my friends did [jokingly] suggest they could sneak me out of the hospital and let the nurses take care of him while I went to the party. I didn’t mind having my own celebration. Being a mother did not prevent me from continuing to be a feminist, and IWD  is celebrated in many ways.

Fond Farewell

Sheila (holding Jeremy), Jennifer, Jan, and Joan during our last visit to the centre before moving to Prescott in June 1984.
On the surface, it may have appeared that my home life didn’t match my feminism at all. I stayed home to care for the boys while my husband Jim earned the money to support the family. Hello June Cleaver? Hardly. Equality and choice were alive and well. I’d left my  paid work as an early childhood educator when our son Eric was born telling people that I was just changing careers. The job of being a mother doesn’t pay, but the benefits are immeasurable.  My staying home was the best choice for our family, and it was an equal partnership. Responsibilities for the “house and kid stuff” were shared according to time available, not gender. Throughout the years our sons learned that their father and I may not have had financial equality, but we certainly had social and political equality. They also learned to be self-sufficient, which served them well when they left home.
I’ve had part-time paid work in addition to my mothering work. In 1999 my business card, “Mother, Writer, Editor”, showed that my unpaid work of being a mother was equally as important to me as any paid work I might do. I simply listed the work in order of importance to me. Someone asked why I didn’t put “daughter” or “wife” on the card. I explained that I was listing the work that I did, not my roles in life.  One editor was so impressed that he said he was going to change his business card to read “Father and Editor.”  I’ve learned that I inspired others to change the way they thought about being a mother or father.
When I joined the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) in 1998, I learned about women around the world doing research and working hard to earn much-needed respect for the institution, role, and work of motherhood.  Why is this association important? As Founding President of ARM, Andrea O’Reilly loves to tell people, “There are numerous courses, books, papers, films, and other mediums showing how much we love to study the institution and practice of war. Doesn’t motherhood deserve the same”? I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist of her message.
This year, ARM is in trouble, and many, not just mothers and women, are upset. But mostly it’s the mothers who are upset. “Hell hath no fury like a pissed off mama.” (That’s a direct quote from Andrea.)
Now  motherhood and  feminism is converging again. I no longer need to be the caregiver/mother, but I am still a mother, and I still support this valuable international feminist organization. It has helped me to define, defend, and support my motherhood work literally and figuratively. This organization doesn’t appear to have the same social, political, or economical equality as other research centres at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where ARM is located. University administrators are saying they support ARM in principle, and respect the work done to date, but they can no longer do so financially. That level of financial and other support is being brought into question, and is debatable. ARM needs us, and we need ARM. Details on how you can support this are on the ARM website.
Over the years, I haven’t participated in very many International Women’s Day events. I was happily busy with Jeremy’s birthday celebrations. I mark the day in my own way, the best being by celebrating being a mom. Happy Birthday, Jeremy, and Happy International Women’s Day to everyone else.