I felt a post coming on today when I caught myself sounding just like my mother. The subject was women who choose to rely on their male partner’s earnings instead of going out to work themselves.

Although my mother did work periodically – on a part time basis, usually to “help” when money was tight, as long as it didn’t interfere with looking after the children – her main role was always to keep house and to be our mother.

Once or twice, she tried to kid me that it wasn’t so bad, being a mother and housewife. I didn’t believe her. It wasn’t the life I wanted and (apart from a brief wobble when as the mother of a young baby I suddenly wanted to be exactly that and never have to go back to work again) I’ve felt the same way my entire adult life. Maternity leave is the only time I have ever been out of work or off work, and it drove me crazy. It would be disingenuous to suggest that being off work was the only thing that made me crazy. But it didn’t help, and I am certain that it was getting back to work that saved me. Work isn’t a bowl of cherries but it is independence – and, of course, a break from domestic drudgery. In my case, Arbeit really does macht frei.

My mother, despite having been to work only now and again and only on a part time basis, is very quick to criticise women who do not work. She recounts, for example, the stories of her various friends’ offspring who have marriages that break up and is scandalised that ex-wives seek maintenance payments from their ex-husbands instead of going out to earn their own crust. I argue sometimes, and suggest that there might be lots of good reasons why a wife, especially a mother, could reasonably expect her ex-husband to help support her – not least because so many women give up their own careers and torpedo their own earning potential in order to look after their husband and children, to be that mother and housewife, to further the husband’s career and enhance his earning power at the expense of their own. As it happens, my mother is one of those women – she could have had a great career herself if things had turned out differently. She says that if she had been left to cope alone, she would have done, and would have gone out to work and done it all, and claimed not a penny from anyone. I believe her. But wouldn’t it have been unfair?

And yet…

There is something in me that reacts quite violently, reflexive and unthinking, on this subject. So often it is hinted or implied or outright said that a working mother is an aberration: the suggestion that my own “choice” to work (as if I even had one) is not valid.  So often I am told, directly or indirectly, that a woman’s place – and especially a mother’s place – is in the home looking after her family. Which is a lie. And when a woman reinforces that lie by actively choosing to take up that place, it pisses me off.

I am quite defensive on this, and not always wholly rational. If I manage to switch on my brain for long enough, I am not likely to hold it against the woman personally, because she is not the patriarchy. In particular, older women who married in the 1970s or 1980s or so – the generation of our mothers – get a pass on this. Serious job or career opportunities for women were so thin on the ground, and the training for motherhood and house-wifery was so intensive, that for most there was no realistic choice anyway.

But on the other hand, for my own generation, surely things are different? There is a glass ceiling, of course, and three-year-old girls still get Barbies from old men pretending to be Father Christmas – but we are a world away from the world in which our mothers grew up. These days, a woman who is perfectly capable of working but who chooses to rely on a man instead is (on the whole) making a genuine choice. Why? If there are no realistic job opportunities, I can understand it. If you have children and have made a pragmatic decision to take the risk of dependence on someone else in order to have the opportunity to be a full-time parent, fair enough. But there are women who just feel like it is the man’s role to provide, and it is her role to care for a man (and his children). It isn’t necessarily laziness, but it is the voluntary and unnecessary assumption of the passive role of female dependence. And that pisses me off.

It’s like not voting.
It’s like one in the eye for all the women who fought to free their sisters from household drudgery and servitude.

And – the longer we collectively assume responsibility for housework and childcare, the longer it will be before we kick away the idea that this is Woman’s natural place – and that men who “help” are somehow special. And that will keep the glass ceiling firmly in place, because practical equality in public life can never happen while there is practical inequality in private.

And that – as I think I may have mentioned – pisses me off.

Some time ago I wrote a post that proved rather more controversial than I was ready or able to deal with. This one.

When I wrote it I was feeling pretty disillusioned, frankly. Here was I, attempting in good faith to examine my own privileges, race, class, hetero(ish) and more… hoping to encourage other women to examine theirs, hoping to find useful insights and move forward to useful actions… and yet everywhere I turned there seemed to be blank looks, active discouragement. Why did these women, professing to be radical advocates for female liberty, fail to see any oppression but their own? I was fed up of seeing people around me, including people who I felt should know better, being so damned heartless.

Caveat: I am not talking about everyone or even anyone in particular, other than myself. Dear reader, it’s almost certainly not about you. I’m just saying that this feeling was there, for me, this disillusionment, exasperation. I’m just trying to explain. Explain myself. My naivety. My sudden disappearance, my disengagement from radical feminist circles. Where it all went.

So.

The “trans” issue, the fear – yes, fear - that some women seem to have, the fear that transwomen will damage or even shatter the peace of a woman-only space, this issue just happened to be the one that went nuclear: people I knew, people I considered friends, people who’d commented here before, people who’d never even heard of me or this blog until they saw a link somewhere, they all turned up to have a slice of the action. I’ve been sort of puzzled about how that issue happened to be the one that broke the camel’s back, the one that made me question whether I can even call myself a radical feminist any more. It’s an issue in which I have no personal involvement, no axe to grind, just one in which I had become sort of engaged. But, after all, perhaps it’s not surprising: trans-exclusion seems to have become one of the radical feminist touchpapers, the way abortion rights are a touchpaper in US politics. So I wrote some posts about it, and that was the one that happened to go nuclear.

I have learned a lot since then – from writing that post – from the frankly overwhelming trainwreck that ensued, spinning out of control quick as quick – and also from the rather more thoughtful responses I have read, some in comments but mostly by e-mail and on the blogs of women of many shades of opinion. I have read responses to and critiques of my post from all sides. (Hard to believe, but people are still writing about that post. And I’m still learning.)

Some things that I’ve learned.

I understand far more now about where women are coming from who wish to exclude transwomen from “women-only” spaces and services. And I recognise that the privilege of not being afraid is one that not all women have, whether or not they are trans. And I can understand some women born female not wanting anything to do with women born “male”. And from my place of privilege I am not going to blame them* or say that they are bad people, that would be unfair and untrue.

* I blame the patriarchy. Obviously.

Having a deeper understanding of the honest and heartfelt reasons some women have for wanting to keep transwomen out of women-only spaces hasn’t changed my mind about the issue. If anything, I am now even clearer in my mind, that the exclusion of transwomen is – just – wrong.

Feminists have, in general, come to realise that more privileged women must end their erasure and exclusion of less privileged women: of lesbians, of black women, of women with disabilities, of poor women, of young women, of old women, of pretty and plain and fat and thin women. If in practice we haven’t actually ended all erasure and exclusion, we do at least recognise that in principle it is wrong.

Some feminists who are not trans haven’t yet got to the same realisation when it comes to transwomen: some of us still try to justify a lack of concern for them (excluding them from women-only rape crisis and domestic violence shelters) by claiming that they are not women, by turning a blind eye to the rape and violence that they suffer precisely because they are women. On this issue, many women who are not trans still know too little, engage too little, listen too little.

When all is said and done, if I were writing that post again, I wouldn’t change a lot. I would amend some points of detail, and I would watch my language more closely. I would be a bit less tactless, less patronising and sanctimonious actually. I would also be less tentative about identifying transwomen as women. I would think more carefully about whether and why I still cast transwomen as “other” than women, rather than as simply a particularly category within class Woman.  I would be less fearful about upsetting my radfem friends, too; with notable exceptions on both sides of the divide, some of my radfem friends turned out not to be so friendly after all.

And, finally, if I were doing this again, I would put comments on moderation, or at least waded the hell in once it became clear that the thing was getting out of control. If i can figure out how, I’ll be putting comments in moderation for this post too – just in case.

Where does that leave me?

Older, wiser, and still here – now and then.
Still trying to work it all out.

Youth violence is not about race - the problem is feminism

Dear Mr Lammy

I read with interest your article published today regarding the difficulties that young men often face in Britain, and in particular the problem of young men becoming involved in gangs.

There is however an aspect of your comments that I found troubling.

I will quote: “Some of the old images and expressions of masculinity are disappearing from society. Most obviously the relationship between men and their work has undergone a revolution. A model of work built on physical endeavour is slowly being replaced by an emphasis on intellectual and emotional labour. Women are beginning to break through the glass ceiling, displacing men as the principal earners for the first time.”

You go on to suggest that the solutions may include better male role models, funding for boys’ services, apprenticeships for young men – in short, new ways of helping boys to build up a new, healthier masculine self-image.

Firstly, I am troubled that you identify the disappearance of old images / expressions of masculinity, and women’s progress in the workplace, as causative of young men’s malaise. As far as women are concerned, many of those old images and expressions of masculinity only worked because they excluded and subordinated women: male-dominated workplaces; male-dominated sport; male-dominated homes and families; male-dominated politics; male-dominated life. If they had not excluded or subordinated women then they would not have expressed masculinity but humanity.

Is it fair to blame male violence on female advancement, on the lessening of female oppression? Is it fair to say that young men are giving up and turning to crime simply because they now have to compete with women for legitimate successes? Should we women give up our progress towards an equality not yet achieved so that young men will put down their knives?

I am sure you realise that when women are kept down in the workplace, women suffer. I am sure that you also realise that when women are given the default role of “secondary” earners at best, when husbands expect to earn more than their wives, women suffer. As a single working mother in a family with a now-absent father, I know the price women pay for being “secondary” earners – we pay it when we have a husband, and we (and our children) pay it even more after our husband has gone. I had no choice but to “displace” my husband as a primary earner, but I still don’t earn as much as a man would earn who had my skills and qualifications. I do not relish being “blamed”, as a woman who has taken a “male” job, for causing the disaffection and violence of male youth.

Still, what you say is, I think, absolutely accurate. If women gave up their progress towards equality in the workplace, in art and media, in sport, at home, in politics and in public life then men would feel more confident, more comfortable – and they may not feel the need to carry weapons to feel manly.

Nevertheless, I am troubled by your suggestion that the solution to violent masculinity, where knives and other weapons become symbols of male power in place of more traditional symbols such as male jobs, is to re-draw masculinity in a more “positive” way. In effect, you want to redirect masculinity, create new and less destructive definitions of manliness. Thus you want to recreate “traditionally male” jobs or other valuable and worthwhile “male” activities.

Yet I don’t see how young men can be encouraged into some valuable or worthwhile activity as an expression of masculinity – whether it is male jobs or boy scouts or anything else – unless you also deny women access to that same valuable or worthwhile activity. If women were allowed to do it on the same terms as men, then the activity would not be masculine. Redirecting young men’s energy into some “new masculinity” can only work if this glowing renaissance of masculinity comes at the expense of women. If the new masculinity isn’t about being better than women at violence, then it will be about being better, more powerful, more privileged than women in the workplace or in some other sphere of life where women deserve not oppression or discrimination but dignity and equality.

(And jobs are not male or female. Jobs are jobs. Women and men do them. Will young women be encouraged to go onto these apprenticeships? If not, what will they lose out on while young men are being encouraged to learn a useful “masculine” trade? How could encouraging boys instead of girls be justifiable under sex equality laws?)

So there is the choice – give men something good to do, which women may not do; or let men be bad.

I applaud you for wanting men to have something good to do: but not if you insist that it must be “manly”, because that means excluding women. However, the alternative is not to let men run wild: there is a third way, which is quite simply to discourage this idea that men must differentiate themselves from women at all – discourage this harmful polarisation of the sexes – abandon manliness in favour of simply humanity – embrace true equality.

In the past, when men were deemed indisputably superior to women, they were masculine and women were feminine. The sexes were utterly polarised. Now women are less submissive, less dependent, less traditionally feminine. Logically men have only two options – they can struggle to maintain the sex polarisation by becoming even more masculine, hyper-masculine in compensation for the lessening of femininity – or they can abandon sex discrimination and accept women’s equality as human beings.

Sadly, hyper-masculinity means, on the whole, that men become even more violent and even more domineering, often towards women. Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if we stopped insisting that men be masculine and women be feminine, and just let them be human beings? If men didn’t feel such enormous pressure to be different from (and better than) women, then both of the problems we are concerned about would disappear. Men would not need to prove themselves with violence or rape. Women would not need to subordinate themselves to men in order to escape violence and rape.

The End.

It’s been a long old time on this here blog.
I think I’m tired of the name.
I think I’m tired of the pattern.
The rut.

I think I want to start fresh.
Strip things bare.
Break out.

The name, the style, the blog was right, well-chosen a couple of years ago, but the time since then has been a slow metamorphosis of me.

Then, I was a slightly battered, still tottering girl-woman-newmother, writing essays to answer questions about questions, looking for certainties to cry out into the big void of the world, seeking – something - but without any clear idea of what. And that uncertain, rather diligent little creature has been quietly growing, changing – into – me – as I am now. And setting out in consciousness towards what I will be – when I get to infinity?

But as for now, the only thing worth grasping, how am I now?

Stronger, happier, better, freer. Crashing around the same as I ever did, but aware now more than before that I am crashing around and that it is me crashing around.

(Have I “found myself”? Is this what they mean when they say that?)

And that slow metamorphosis – where does it lead?
Not back here, surely not.

Time to move on?
to emerge?
and fly?

It would of course be lovely if I could be one of those amazing Gentle Parents who aim to act always by consensus, who empower their children to make good decisions for themselves, who never assume dominion or authority over their children – and all that.

Wouldn’t Ariel be lucky if she had a mother like that? A mother who would never shout or punish or say things like If you hit mummy again then mummy will hit you, and I’m bigger than you so it will hurt – let alone follow through with such a threat… A mother who would always be calm and reasonable, or at least wiling to apologise and admit that she’s wrong if she occasionally fails to practice what she preaches…

Well I do truly and genuinely admire people who can follow that model effectively, and in all honesty I do aspire to it, in my way. But I’m not capable of doing it, not all the time, if ever. It’s too hard. If I haven’t the energy or the time to discuss and negotiate, I just don’t. I assert my authority, I threaten, in the event of disobedience I carry out my threats, and I never (hardly ever) back down, even from the fights which in all honesty I wish I’d never started*. I do all these things, and I don’t even feel bad about it.

* Like the one over whether or not I’m going to get out of bed at 5am to accompany my perfectly capable Ariel to the toilet, just because she doesn’t fancy going on her own…

It would be so much better, I’m sure, if I could manage to be a Gentle Parent, but I’m not. I wasn’t brought up that way, I’m not made for it, I wouldn’t know how to do it and stay sane, and I’m not sure (now) that I would even want to try.

Yes, I am somewhat authoritarian. My name is Maia and I am an authoritarian parent.

It isn’t all bad. I am less authoritarian than my own parents and, if she chooses to be a parent, I am hopeful that Ariel will be less authoritarian than me. And I’m not, as the title to this post hints, the worst possible mother. For one thing, I am here: every day. Every day, I get up and I do parenting – some days I do it well, other days not so well – but every day I am here and I am doing it, I am being a parent. And that is not a small thing. It amazes me that so many people do it, because it is not a small thing.

Today is a day
to stand back and say
that this is okay.

So I’m making my peace with my mothering, authoritarianism and all. I’m accepting that there is only so far I can go in unlearning my earliest lessons in how to parent. I am steadily realising that I am not, never will be perfect, in mothering or in anything else – but that, as it turns out, this is OK. I’m OK.

It’s good to know. If nothing else, it’s one less worry to distract me from actually being the person, the mother, that I want to be.

Despite being a non-heterosexual woman-centred celibate woman, I apparently still get to go “He’s quite tasty!” when the moment arises. I tend to react that way (oh dear, how predictable) to rugby players, men in uniform or black tie, and a few Professional Ugly Blokes like Gerard Depardieu and Gordon Ramsey. I’m such a useless stereotype, it’s actually embarrassing.

The above is by way of being an introduction to a post about something else, because I had one of those kinds of conversations with someone the other day and it set me musing about this and that.

It should already be clear that my rating a man as tasty does not mean that I would like to have any sort of relationship, or even casual sex, with him… No way!!

For one thing, I learned from trial and error (oh, college days) that the best looking ones are always the most selfish, in bed and out, but especially in. No – you always go for the slightly nerdy-looking bloke with a twinkle in his eye – not the one who never pulls, but the one who just happens to have interests in life other than getting off with girls. Honestly. It’s not just the “he’s so grateful you even looked at him” nonsense, it’s also the fact that because he is neither drop dead gorgeous nor obsessed with sex, he hasn’t been trained since puberty to expect that women (girls) will throw themselves at him, hasn’t learned contempt for us, hasn’t learned to view us as entirely replaceable and to take our availability for granted. So he treats women – or is more likely to treat us, at least if he isn’t a porn monster (which, if you pick right, he isn’t) – like human beings deserving of, you know, consideration.

In any case, the moment some bloke – especially Some Famous Bloke – opens his mouth is usually the moment I lose interest, so I tend to admire from a distance, or with the sound turned off… I guess that’s why firemen and rugby players are good to choose, they don’t talk much while they’re on the job.

Yes it’s all very dysfunctional and somewhat laddish. I blame the patriarchy, or something. But all that is by-the-by. (This is clearly doomed to be a meandering post where I get distracted at every turn, and I must keep hauling myself back on track. The trouble with trying to write a post on sexxiness, or even a post that isn’t actually supposed to be about sexxiness at all, is that you end up going down all sorts of by-ways and unplanned diversions. OK, I’ll stop looking at Jason Robinson’s torso now.)

The nutshell I got to on Tasty Blokes was, more or less, that just because men may sometimes be quite sexy doesn’t mean I want anything to do with them… It’s not that all men are stinky and mean – clearly, that isn’t true, although if the cap does fit… Ahem. Nor is my decision to steer clear of men, however tasty, a political one rooted in some ideal of a far-off feminist utopia, although of course my chosen way of life is definitely rooted in the feminism that gave me the eyes to see it and the courage to live it.

As I was saying, it’s not that men are all horrible creatures from the deep, or that they are politically unacceptable to me. No. What puts me off the idea of having a (sexual) relationship with a man is the way they just take over your life.

Seriously. One day you’re an independent woman doing your own thing and enjoying every minute, the next you’re worrying about whether you have time to cook the lovely meal you have in mind cos you need to have a bath and get yourself ready for Stud Man. A month later you start taking an interest in his darts league; after a year you’re wondering why you never have time to see your friends any more; five years down the line and you’re a haggard wreck because you can’t cope with the fallout from his depressive mood swings or his mid-life crisis.

Screw all that.

Of course, it may not turn out quite like that every time. But what is true of all relationships – all the ones I’ve had, anyway – is that there is never peace. There is never time to just be; you are no longer a person but only part of a unit; suddenly somebody else’s problems all become your problems too.

It is what I think about when I see ants – when you disturb a nest they all run about madly, grabbing eggs and making a run for it, busy, busy, busy. But why should an ant, a worker who will only live for a few days anyway, waste its precious time saving somebody else’s eggs? Because the ant is not an individual; the ant is part of a collective, a mindless collective, an ant unit. Is that what I want to be?

I’ve been reading Possession and although it is seriously stagnant for most of the plot, there are moments that speak to me. There is talk of a clean, white bed. Another of the main characters writes of solitude as freedom, she uses intense privacy and voluntary isolation as her means to achieve freedom and independence – but when she allows a man to penetrate her solitude, when she allows herself to be blown off course by romantic love, it all comes crashing down.

Screw all that.

Just give me a bed of my own.
It needn’t be white, or even especially clean.
Just a bed, a space, a sanctuary, a time and place to be – something that is all my own.

What do you reckon? An abstract masterpiece?
Or – does it go this way up?

We felted by hand and then, because it was basically in shape but not “solid” if you know what I mean, it went through the washing machine and tumble dryer to see if that would finish it – which made no difference at all! Ho hum.

I think the problem may be that we were using alpaca wool and maybe some of it was – not kinky enough? The hairy bits sticking up are all straight hairs. We have a bunch of sheep fleeces to do next and they are definitely kinky enough! :shock: – the coloured merino wool felted beautifully, it was just the alpaca that was troublesome.

Possibly the verdict should be – not bad for the first attempt?

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