Saturday, 31 May 2014

Am I a feminist?

If you've read around my blog (and if you haven't, please do!) you will notice that a particular concern of mine is resisting sexism and gender stereotyping in the way I raise my daughter. From this, you may extrapolate that I am a feminist.

The thing is, I don't actually know if I am.

The trouble is that whenever I try to find a definitive definition of what feminism is, I run into difficulty. Because there doesn't seem to be a definitive definition. Different groups think different things about what it is to be a feminist, so it's really hard to work out if my values and way of life are compatible with the label. I'll read one thing and think, "yes, I agree with that!" Then I'll read something else and think, "oh, now I'm not so sure if I fit."

On the one hand, I am a bit of a traditionalist, although perhaps an accidental one. I took my husband's name when we married, which some feminists would frown on. I left my job to 'stay at home' with my daughter, and while I do have my own business now, I do still think of myself as a mum first and foremost. I do the lion's share of the housework. And before I became a mum I had some very stereotypically 'female' hobbies, including knitting and baking. I do sometimes joke that I should have been around in the 1950's!

But if I think more carefully about it, I'm not quite the anti-feminist walking cliche I appear to be on the surface. I had thought about double-barrelling my surname when we got married, but then we booked our honeymoon before we had the conversation and it hadn't occurred to me that they would ask what to put as my surname. In a moment of panic I blurted out my then-fiance's name, and that was that. Decision made. Besides, when I think about it, my maiden name was my father's surname so whatever I chose I'd have been named after a man anyway.

It's similar with me leaving work when I became a mum. As I've mentioned before, I had every intention of going back to work, but then I was offered voluntary redundancy and, well, it made sense. I wasn't especially happy in my job and I intended to train as a teacher anyway, so why go back to a job that I knew I'd leave before long. Of course, the teacher training hasn't happened yet, and there are a number of reasons for that, but the main one is that my daughter seems to be particularly sensitive to separation, so I sought an option which meant I could be there for her as long as she needs me. It makes sense for me to be the one to stay at home at the moment as any regular job I could get wouldn't attract a salary we could live on - not because I'm a woman, but because I don't have the requisite experience or training.

Then there's the housework thing. Yes, I do most of it, even though I now work at my own business. But the great thing about my job is that it's flexible - I can set my own hours, which means I can make time to cook tea, do the ironing, etc. My husband's job is not nearly as flexible and considerably more demanding in terms of hours, so again, it makes sense that I look after the house. When I had an office job, the split was far more equal, and when my husband is on holiday he helps out a lot. And besides, I'm hardly an obsessive housewife - the washing pile often reaches a critical point before I tackle it, hoovering happens once a week at best, and meals tend to fall in the 'can make in less than 30 minutes after husband is home' category. Maybe my ineptitude in this area cancels out the gender stereotype!

What it all boils down to is that I've chosen this path. I made the decision to change my name, even if it was a spur of the moment choice. I didn't become a 'stay at home' mum grudgingly, but gratefully - I was so happy to have the chance to spend more time with my wonderful child. I'm less happy about the housework, but I certainly don't feel shackled to the kitchen sink, I just accept that I've got the lighter workload so it's only fair that I pick up the slack around the house.

And isn't that part of what feminism is all about? The right to go for any role we want, even if that role is a 'traditional' one. The right to be a CEO, or a stay at home parent, or anything in between. Isn't it about having access to the same opportunities as a man, but making our own decisions about which of those opportunities are appropriate to us?

I believe that men and women should be raised equally, educated equally, paid equally, treated equally. I am angered by the widespread treatment of women as second-class citizens, something which has been highlighted by a number of recent events, including the abduction of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, and the murder of a Pakistani woman for choosing her own husband. Interestingly, I am much more fired up about these things now than I might have been five years ago - whether this is to do with my age, or the fact I have a daughter of my own, I'm not sure. But it has made me realise that, globally, men and women are not even nearly equal yet. And that makes me angry. The creeping sexism in childhood - the pink/blue divide, the pointlessly gendered toys, the pressure on girls to prettify themselves and boys to play it tough - makes me angry too. I hate that my daughter could be forced into a pigeonhole she may not want to fit in by this bizarre swing in attitude toward childhood.

So, does that make me a feminist?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A discount for "well-behaved kids"??

This is probably not going to be a very eloquent post as I'm tired and ill, so please bear with me, but something has got me annoyed. Flicking through twitter just now, I saw this article about a couple who took their one year old daughter out for a meal, and were given a discount because she was "well-behaved."

First of all, I want to say my annoyance is not at the parents. I'm very happy they had a nice meal. It's the way this idea is symptomatic of an anti-child culture, where natural childlike behaviour is branded as bad.

Most parents will have suffered the ill-effects of taking their child to a restaurant when they're having a tough day. Or even when they're not having a tough day, they just happen to be a lively and exuberant (read: fidgety and noisy) child. It can be a very stressful experience. Walking round with the child trying to amuse them before, between and after courses, trying to stop them making a grab for the cutlery and glassware when they're at the table, the almost inevitable fight getting them into and unfamiliar highchair, persuading them that food should be on the plate or in their mouth, not on the floor or smeared across the table. I feel panicky just thinking about it. And it's even worse if you feel that you are being judged by fellow diners and staff, that they are all thinking your child is naughty and you're not doing enough to control them.

How much worse would it make you feel if you knew that the family at the next table, whose child happens to be having a good day or who is naturally quite chilled-out, has been given a discount because staff have deemed that child to be "well-behaved"?

I take issue at the suggestion that a one-year-old can be well-behaved anyway. That age is far too young, in my opinion, for the child to grasp the nuances of social propriety and modify their behaviour according to the situation. My two-and-a-half-year-old is only just starting to grasp the idea that it's wrong to do some things, and those things tend to be the big things like hitting or pushing. Restaurant etiquette is entirely beyond her. Does that mean I'm a bad mum? I don't think so, I just think she's a lively, spirited young girl who is learning an awful lot right now and will figure out "good behaviour" when she's done figuring out more important things like sentence structure and just how high is safe to jump from. (Importance is relative!) Saying that a one-year-old who happens to have the right temperament and conditions (i.e. not tired, hungry or ill) to sit quietly for an hour is well-behaved implies that any child who doesn't meet that criteria is badly-behaved.

The tone of the article annoyed me too - it talks about the parents getting a discount, "simply for having a child who didn’t terrorize the dining room." Terrorize? Really? I know that there are times when kids take it too far, but saying that anything less than quiet acquiescence is akin to terrorism just shows how intolerant of children some people are. And I say this knowing that I too used to get annoyed at families with noisy children - until I discovered what it was like to be that parent. Until I realised how hard it is to "manage" a child who is out of routine, in an exciting new environment, probably hungry, and not accustomed to sitting around a table waiting for food to appear. 

There is a slight suggestion in the article that parents just shouldn't take their children to restaurants if they're likely to be, well, children. Is that fair? What if the meal is for a birthday, or pre-arranged with other people? What if exceptional circumstances like a house move or being on holiday mean a meal out is the only option? What if the parents would just like the opportunity  to go out and enjoy something they used to do without a second thought?

As nice as it must have been for the couple in the article, rewarding parents for having "well-behaved" children (and, as I've mentioned, that concept is ridiculous when applied to a baby or young toddler) is a subtle way of stigmatising parents whose children don't fit the restaurant manager's ideals. Is it really for a member of staff at a restaurant to say whether your child is being "good" or "bad"? And is it right for them to make families feel unwelcome if their children like to stretch their legs and make some noise?

Frankly, on the rare occasion that we take Eleanor out and have a nice, quiet, undramatic meal, our reward is just that - having a nice, quiet, undramatic meal! How about a restaurant that acknowledges that taking a child out for dinner is a potential nightmare and acts with compassion towards the poor parent who is letting their food go cold while they try to entertain, calm and feed their over-excited, over-hungry, overwhelmed child? How about we show a bit more understanding towards each other?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Turning work into play: Watering the Plants!

I think I've found a job for Eleanor.

Don't worry, I'm not talking child labour here. She's not even two and a half yet. But I've found something she can do, and she likes to do, and it needs doing anyway.

Watering the plants!

We've started to get our back garden sorted out so it's more child-friendly and productive. It's still very much a work in progress but we've managed to plant out some veggies, fruit bushes and flowers. Eleanor's quite interested in it all. She 'helped' to pot up some of the plants (actually she wasn't a huge help, but she was there, and she did stuff with a trowel) and she knows what most of the plants are going to produce.

But of course, a lot of plants means a lot of watering, which takes a lot of time. Fortunately, Eleanor regards this as a fun game. We spent ages watering the plants yesterday afternoon. She loved coming to the tap so I could fill up the can - although she was a little too impatient to fill it more than an inch! She loved carrying the can up the steps. And she loved the watering itself, and proudly telling me what she was watering. "Watering the bottoli!" (That's broccoli to you and me.) "Need to water the batturant bush!" (Yep, blackcurrants.) She came back to the tap again and again, and when we'd run out of plants I got her watering the newly emerging grass!

She had a lovely time, and it means one less job for us. Win! I think I'll try to encourage her to do this little chore every afternoon, it's a great way to keep her occupied in the garden and hopefully it'll give her a great sense of achievement when we're eating food from the garden and can tell her it's all down to her excellent watering! I just hope the novelty doesn't wear off too quickly for my plan to work!

Has anyone else found that they've been able to turn work into play for their toddler? I'd love to hear what works ... and not because I want to offload chores ... I'm nurturing her independence ... right?!

(By the way, yes, that is an interesting outfit, isn't it? Her choice. She insisted on the 'boo dess'. And the 'Leeds Rhinos top'. And that she wanted the 'dess under the top'. As I've discussed before, when her outfit's weird, it's ALWAYS her choice!)