DIY Martyrs, I Mean Mothers

Jess from Sprachbund In Austin wrote about this in a blog post way back in 2008, relating her experiences as a DIY mom to the Judith Warner book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety:

Judith Warner also claims that the mothers who are really facing the challenges of unrealistic expectations are those born between 1956 and 1972, i.e., in the wake of the 2nd wave women’s movement. But as a woman born in 1976, I think my generation is doubly judged. Not only do voices from the mainstream admonish us with “You finally get to have it all, career and family, so why are you whining?”, but there’s also the whole do-it-yourself hippie/hipster counter-culture movement that differs from Martha Stewart mainly in aesthetics and the politically-correct provenance of raw materials. Otherwise, I think DIY culture can be freakishly backwards. When I read an article in BUST or a similar magazine on knitting stocking caps for all my friends for Christmas, I’m sorry, but I feel like running to Target and buying everyone striped socks made in China. And this mentality carries over into counter-culture mothering, best exemplified by “Mothering” magazine, which I prefer to call “Martyring”. “Mothering” magazine seriously makes me want to wretch, despite the fact that many of my beloved family and friends are subscribers. I’d elaborate, but first I need to go finish harvesting my own baby food while my 5-year-old breast feeds in her hemp cloth sling. And that’s after I take her to a drum-circle that comes from a culture my country is neo-colonizing. Barf. [post here]

This is obviously the reflection of a woman who is in the throes of birthday-party planning for a 5-year-old. I would love to hear more thoughts on how mothering ties into the DIY/craft culture expectations of women of our generation. It’s interesting that she ties it into “neo”-colonization, too – in my article, my editor took the adjective “white” out of my list of self-descriptors, but I thought it was pretty important. Any women of color want to chime in on their relationship to DIY? Mothers? Women outside of my age group?

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6 thoughts on “DIY Martyrs, I Mean Mothers

  1. Laura says:

    One of my working mom friends expresses similar frustrations. She says, “There’s a sliding scale of ideal mom-ness that requires DIY baby food and cloth diapering and lots and lots of other time-gobbling DIY tasks for top marks.”

    And she points to a great article on breast-feeding. (DIY food and antibodies and IQ-increasing goodness! Or maybe not.)

  2. Jen says:

    Meh. More ways you’re a crappy mother. You’re too committed to breastfeeding — really, you’re just drunk the Mothering Magazine cool-aid. You’re not committed to breastfeeding — you’re giving your child a sub-optimal food source. You’re wearing your baby in a sling — you’re spoiling him, get that kid in a stroller. You’re not wearing that baby in a sling — you have no crunchy credentials and your kid will obviously have insecure attachment.
    Fuck it. Seriously, fuck it. I don’t have a problem with your question — I think it’s quite interesting — but the except really irritated me. It’s just yet another snarky hit in the mommy wars and I am soooooo over it. And yes, I read mothering and took it with a grain of salt, but also got some great info out of it. Like slings. They’re great. They were a total lifesaver. The baby is happy in them, the parent has two hands free to do other stuff, they’re easier to maneuver through a crowd than a stroller — they make sense for me. I just seriously don’t need judgement on either side stemming from my choice to use them or not use them.
    If you want to judge something, be useful and judge it on a societal level. Take breastfeeding — it’s not a consumer choice that gives signals about your social class (choosy moms choose breastmilk), it’s a fundamental human right. And yet women are still getting thrown off of airplanes for nursing their babies. Hospitals are still doing stupid shit that make it supremely difficult to establish breastfeeding, and they’re still passing out bags with formula samples. And a remarkably high number of states still don’t protect breastfeeding in public, meaning a woman could technically be arrested for indecent exposure. It’s gotten worlds better in just the last five years, but what’s happening is a restoration of a basic human right. Incidentally, there are lots of rebuttals to that Rosin article and the science isn’t as thin as she portrays. I do agree that it’s shifted to excess judgement of women who don’t breastfeed (at all or “long enough”), but in their defense, it’s coming from a place of being a minority group fighting to restore rights. I worked with the women who got the breastfeeding protection law passed in Texas not many years ago, and the shit they put up with was pretty epic. The point isn’t to force all women to breastfeed and make them feel guilty if they don’t. The point is to remove barriers to breastfeeding, should they choose to do so.
    Or take our labor policies, which are pretty crap for everyone and especially crap for mothers. Take maternity leave. We’re one of four nations that don’t have mandatory paid maternity leave. The other three are Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papa New Guinea. Betty Friedan was talking about the desperate need for maternity leave is the freaking 1983 edition of the Feminist Mystique. We’re one of very few countries that don’t have mandatory paid sick leave. Or take the fact that the wage gap between men and women has actually shifted to a wage gap between mothers and non-mothers. The best predictors of poverty aren’t about being female, they’re about being a mother. Something like 80% of dudes don’t pay child support. Take work supports. We’ve replaced TANF with daycare subsidies, but states are slashing those like crazy and many states have huge waiting lists and subpar pay scales.
    Or take birth, and the fact that more than one-third of births are now performed via major abdominal surgery because we’ve moved to an imhumanizing and non-evidence based system (which incidentally doesn’t have a good safety record). And many states still don’t have the option of legal midwife attended homebirths.
    When I became a mother and learned all this, I got really angry at the feminists that came before me. I felt totally abandoned by them. It’s like they secured abortion rights and stopped at that. So that’s what I’m doing at the policy level. And in the meantime, I’ll leave the judgement of individual moms at home.

    • amyegentry says:

      That’s all good stuff Jen, although my sense reading the original post was that she was succumbing to a rant in a moment of supreme frustration, not making a universal judgment.

      But that’s exactly the thing – we (moms, single ladies, women in general) get judgment from every side no matter what choices we make. I think we’re all for choices here, but it’s hard to even talk about our own experiences without stepping on someone else’s, because everyone feels so beleaguered and frustrated and judged. In a patriarchy, women are competing for scant resources, and I think that’s why we feel so defensive when something threatens our status – whether it’s Motherhood or Pinterest or whatever. (Yes, I feel threatened by Pinterest sometimes. And yes, that is weird.)

      • Jen says:

        I would say that part of it is that we’ve moved to a culture where, at least for the privileged class, the items that we choose to purchase and consume send huge signals about our personal brand. Which sucks, and I try not to play into that mindset, though I know I still do. But all sides of the mommy wars takes that concept of personal branding and runs with it. It’s a symptom of a larger culture (we are what we buy) but in general you don’t see dads being judged as men by what kind of toys their kids are playing with or what kind of food they’re eating, as long as it’s basically safe. Dads are, in general, held to a significantly lower burden than the moms in just about every way. I’ve often said that, culturally, the things that make someone a “great dad” are the basic starting points for not being considered a terrible mom.
        And another thing to remember in approaching any kind of question like this is the basic fact that the vast majority of parents a) love their kids, and b) want to provide for them and raise them to be happy, decent human beings, and c) don’t want to go crazy while they do it. I think that basic point gets forgotten in a lot of these conversations.

    • amyegentry says:

      In my humble opinion, mothering is just like getting married, which is just like trying to have a career, which is just like every other thing in a woman’s life: a splendid opportunity to fail at being a woman, in public. There are so many ways to fail and approximately zero ways to win.

  3. Katie says:

    I wasn’t breastfed myself, but I think it’s pretty important (if you’re able).

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