Do you sometimes read an article that makes you just want to get trapped in a broken lift with the author so you can scream incoherently at them for several hours? I read a piece like that this morning: Attachment Parenting IS Feminist. So, I know it’s on the HuffPo blog, and they’re not exactly known for being picky about what they publish, but GP publishes *me*, so it’s not like I’m punching down.
Where to start with this traincrash piece of privileged special pleading masquerading as social justice? Let’s start with the title: “Attachment parenting IS feminist” Is so! Is too! Anyone else detect a little hint of desperation here? There’s one thing to say in its favour though – it’s nice to finally see this little slogan attached to an attempt to justify it rather than splashed over soft-focus images of smiling white mothers and babies on a Facebook meme.
It’s not more than two sentences in before we hit the biological predestination and pseudoscience. Attachment parenting is, apparently, “the way [parents] were designed to parent”, and it’s “evolutionarily advantageous”. Now, I’m not even going to get into the cod evolutionary science behind attachment parenting, or worry too much about the misunderstanding that we’re in any way ‘designed’ to do anything. What bothers me so much to see this in a purportedly feminist article is this insistence that doing what our biology suggests is normative is somehow superior or better. It’s a theme that comes up again and again, in the “natural parenting movement” in general but also in this piece: humans are “biologically programmed” to attachment parent, it all about a woman discovering “how awesome her biology is”, mainstream parenting doesn’t respect “the biology of the mother”, and women’s bodies need to be “utilised as the powerful life giving forces that they are”.
I am so puzzled how anyone who knows anything about the feminist movement could seriously promote the idea that it’s feminist to tell women that their biology should dictate their behaviour. I’m just, honestly, kind of bowled over. One of the greatest victories of the movement, up there with equal pay acts and the criminalisation of gender discrimination in employment and education, is the wide availability of birth control. One tiny pill a day which could unshackle us from our biological destiny to be mothers every two years has unleashed world-changing social progress and the empowerment and emancipation of women worldwide. So the argument that there’s something inherently feminist about women’s biology is just daft; if the second-wave feminists had thought that, we’d still be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.
Talking of birth control, let’s talk about what patriarchy tells us about motherhood, because this authors thinks it’s telling her not to have babies. Apparently, the patriarchy ‘holds the status of maternity in beyond-insultingly low regard’, and tells women ‘their bodies are a statement of how dedicated they are to the cause of conformity, their bodies are to be looked at through the male gaze’ – it apprently tells us that we should be tight-tummied little sex kittens rather than saggy, sleep-deprived matrons.
Undoubtedly it’s true that there’s more pressure than ever to look like a pinup, even if you’re a mother (Maria Kang, anyone?), and it’s true that this sucks and feminists should definitely do something about it. But the message isn’t, and has never been, ‘don’t have kids so you can stay sexy’. Patriarchy is quite clear on what happens to women who don’t have kids – they turn into sour, withered, jealous, unfulfilled hags. In fact, while birth control made it physically possible to remain childfree, it’s still so far from socially acceptable that making it mainstream an important part of the feminist fight. So the idea that the patriarchy is trying to keep us sterile is just…well…go and read The Handmaid’s Tale.
And then we get into the bit about men. Because don’t be deluded by the title – the article so far has not been about attachment parenting, it’s been about attachment mothering. But don’t worry! “ATTACHMENT PARENTING IS NOT ANTI-MEN”. See. It’s in capitals. It must be true. And of course, the author goes on to tell us how men have a unique and special role to play in attachment parenting, which while it’s not nearly as important as what women do, of course, is nonetheless very worthwhile. You know what this reminds me of? Every Christian apologist I’ve ever read trying to justify how Biblical gender roles doesn’t diminish women’s equality, because God created them equal but different, and women are just as important as men except for the fact that they’re not allowed to be important. And here we have a self-identified feminist arguing that it’s not that men are the less important parent, just that they’re… not as important.
And then we have a bit about how “mainstream parenting”, or this parody of it where we’re all “brainwashed” into dumping our formula-fed children to scream in cribs in the shed or something, is apparently less consumerist. Yeah, right. I bought my second-hand crib, bottles, pushchair and newborn clothes for less than the price of a woven cloth wrap, and I stopped visiting sling forums because I was honestly disgusted at how brand-obsessed and avaricious they could be. Not to mention the growth of luxury nursing wear, or the plethora of products aimed at co-sleepers and extended breastfeeders found in shop of the main UK organisation promoting attachment parenting. It is maddening that the economic benefits of women entering the labour market have been mostly realised by everyone buying more stuff, but changing your ‘parenting philosophy’ is going to do bugger all about that.
That’s not to say that taking maternity leave, breastfeeding or using a sling makes you not a feminist – if it did, they would have been round to take my membership card off me long ago. Feminism, is, in essence, about doing away with gender-based prejudice and discrimination. Anything that helps further this end can legitimately be described as feminist. So that naturally means that I, as a feminist, do lots of not-necessarily-feminist things in between campaigning for better abortion access, breaking glass ceilings and voting Labour. I drink a lot of tea. I go to work. I change my son’s nappies. Is this feminist?? What about when I changed my name when I got married? What about the part where I do most of the cooking? What about my shaved armpits and long hair?
There are lots of times in my life when I’ve had the chance to challenge current gender norms in my own small way, by choosing the option that women have historically been denied. Some of those times I did – I work full time while my husband does more childcare, I chose a male-dominated career path – but other times I chose the thing that would make me happiest. That thing didn’t necessarily advance the cause of feminism (and let’s have none of that ‘it’s feminist if it’s my choice!’ crap), but I’m ugly enough and privileged enough to own those decisions for myself, and recognise that a more principled person might have chosen differently. I’m certainly not going to demand a Feminist Cookie* for making those choices but, frankly, that’s what this author seems to want. Because there’s nothing that says 1950s patriarchy more than white middle-class women staying at home to do the majority of the childcare while the men work. And while I will fight for every woman to have that choice, no matter their age race or income, (because let’s not forget that this article would garner a very different reaction coming from a black teenage single mother on benefits), I am not going to call your choice to do so ‘feminist’. And if you start telling other women that they should do it too, not because they might want to, but because it’s ‘normal’, or the only way to be a good mother, or even essential for a baby’s wellbeing, then I would honestly consider whether you might not find a better ideological home in the Christian Patriarchy movement.
The whole point of second-wave feminism is that most women didn’t look at full-time childcare and call it liberation. And honestly, I don’t care whether you’re trying to tell me that my having a career or not letting people touch my breasts is against God or against ‘evolution’. Either way, it ain’t feminist.
* What would a feminist cookie look like??