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A traditional "mother's rights activist" who does not consider herself to be feminist writes to me: "We have a really serious problem going on that is about to come to a head on the N.O.W. vs. MOM issue. They do not respect or appreciate mothers, homemakers or anyone without their own agenda..."
And I ask in return: who are "they...?"
It may well be that some women who believe themselves to be feminists do not respect or appreciate (or understand) mothers or homemakers and their issues, or the "big picture." However feminism is women's rights and WE are all the women who move the agenda of what that means. Feminism is not merely N.O.W. Nor is the National Organization for Women or any other feminist organization by itself the be-all and end-all of feminism.
My question is: why aren't more mothers -- as such -- currently in N.O.W. and active in other feminist organizations? Feminism is for women, and the majority of them are mothers!
The women's movement in the United States is in its 152nd year, starting with all the women who began working for suffrage. And they were nearly all married mothers. It's true that organized second-wave feminism DID give somewhat short shrift to many of the issues that face mothers (90+% of women) through the seventies and eighties, and this aspect of the second wave of feminism, and the reasons for it, is discussed in my article at http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/002.htm, "Male Bashing?"
However: neither N.O.W. nor the leadership of N.O.W. defines what feminism is or means or is or what feminists should be doing. "They" are "us." The feminist movement is "women." ALL women. Even those who have not formally "come aboard." (But no woman can expect all individuals in any organization, even women, to fully represent her if she's not willing to be there to represent herself.)
There is no other organized movement or ideology other than feminism that is, by its very definition and purpose, by, for and about women. NO political party, religion, or other group is comparable in this way. Even when those other groups profess to be standing on an agenda that will be "good for women," or "the welfare of children," etc., they will NEVER have as a primary purpose anything other than what, first and foremost, actually is perceived to be good for and wanted by men, because ALL of these groups and their ideologies were formed by, for and about men, and STILL are controlled by men.
Sure it sounds nice to profess to be "equally for everybody," favoring no particular group. But where there is a conflict from time to time between what may be "good for men" and "good for women," or an alternative which might work better overall (and let's be realistic, sometimes perfect solutions that are equally pleasing to everyone are just not always possible in this world), every other ideology other than feminism, always has, and always will reconcile the conflict in favor of what works better for men. (Although it might not be portrayed as such.)
One of the dilemmas that N.O.W. has faced, and the minority positions in N.O.W. pro-motherhood and marriage have had to contend with over the past thirty or so years, is precisely that, although N.O.W. and other feminist organizations all began as grassroots organizations of WOMEN -- ALL kinds of women -- those individuals who have had the time and ability to be most active (young, single, lesbian, academic, etc.) are disproportionately NOT currently caregiving mothers. Because of their responsibilities to others, primary caregiving mothers, on the whole, have the least flexible time, the least leisure time, and the least money and independence compared with all other demographic groups. So when mothers are divorced, or single, and coming face-to-face with those women's issues, the bulk of their time and energies are going into the basic and immediate needs of themselves and their children. Unfortunately, when they are happily married, and all is going well for them, they still are busy and isolated. In addition, happily married mothers often tend to feel that their first loyalties are to their husbands and children, and that they are sheltered from the "women's issues" that are most pressing to other women not so situated. (This is the "it won't happen to me" syndrome that we see in other areas of life.) But in one way or another, even if that is a solitary old widowhood it does "happen" to most women.
The problem with mothers being absent from the political arena in this way (or permitting their men to "represent" their interests) is that NO person who has never borne and been the primary caregiver of children can ever FULLY understand what pregnancy and motherhood means and does to a woman's life -- in every positive and also negatively impacting way.
Many feminists currently are working, as we have been for many years, to move more feminist scholarship, and the formal direction of activist feminist organizations, toward a greater understanding of motherhood issues. Good strides have been made, and this IS starting to happen. Part of the proof, ironically, is the rise of the men's rights (father's rights) backlash. (But don't kid yourself that the tide has turned -- the tolerance level of patriarchy for any loss of its own influence is nonexistent.)
It is a mistake for anyone, man or woman, to buy into the media and cultural propaganda that would lump as "feminists," only those women who are not interested in marriage and motherhood.
Nevertheless, there are no shortages "out there" of ignorance or misunderstanding of the underlying philosphy of feminism and women's issues. On the part of all kinds of people. Even "feminists." Just because a woman identifies as "feminist," wants women to have choices, and sincerely believes in women's equality and rights, doesn't mean that upon her identifying as such, someone has waved a magic wand and bestowed upon her all the knowledge and insight to know all that underlies women's history, or legal jurisprudence, or what policies and programs will best serve ALL women's equality and women's rights -- and that MEANS mother's rights -- in the long term and generally. People do tend to see things primarily from their own perspectives UNTIL TAUGHT the "big picture." And all of us, too, grow up in a patriarchal perspective of the world and what is normality.
The difference, however, between a woman who is a feminist (but who appears to be campaigning for an agenda or spouting ideas that are or seem anti-mother), and another person who espousing a platform that appears (in the short-term, at least) to be more aligned with pro-mother concerns, (but may even be anti-woman long run), is the underlying motive. (There also is the problem of "pseudo-feminism," which is the subject of another article. One example of pseudo-feminism can be seen at http://www. i feminists.com/. If political ideology were a product on the market, these people would be guilty of misleading advertising. Another pseudo-feminist organization is the "Independent Women's Forum.")
Feminism stands for full equality and choices for ALL women. While some individuals sometimes might be misguided about how to accomplish that (or are falling into, as we all can at times, an egocentric perspective regarding what's good for their own individual circumstances), those who are anti-feminist are not moved at all by the purpose of full freedoms and choices and empowerment of ALL women, whether single or married, mother or childless, young or old, lesbian or straight, employed outside the home or not, believer or nonbeliever, member of one's own culture or country or not... That makes all the difference, and it's also the way you can tell the difference.
It's time more mothers. carrying the banner of mothers' issues, BECAME "NOW women." The majority of women are mothers, and motherhood issues should once again be the priority issues of major feminist organizations, just as they were during the first wave of feminism. It's time we put a stop to the drivel which constantly convinces women that their interests are not aligned, and which has kept many married women and mothers out of feminist organizations. It sets women up to compete with each other their entire lives, it convinces second wives that somehow "they are different" or "more loved;" it constantly is played in the media as working mothers versus nonworking mothers, or married women versus single, or "family values" women versus lesbians, etc. And it also makes some women point to "feminism," instead of patriarchy, as the source of their problems, or to form organizations of "mothers' rights" as if these aren't one and the same as "women's rights," given that 90+% of women are mothers!
It was MARRIED MOTHERS who began marching 150 years ago who sought women's suffrage and mothers' rights to custody of their own children on divorce. They sought the equal right to own and manage their own property, the very right to divorce itself, and such things as free access to birth control. They weren't marching for gay men's rights, or singlemindedly focusing on abortion rights as the only reproductive issue of importance.
And in the divorce courts, it is not WOMEN as a group who are causing problems for mothers. FEMINISTS aren't taking mothers' children away in bad custody decisions. Individual women who revel in male approval may be doing this. But not "women," and certainly not 'feminists." Whether it is husbands, fathers, judges, lawyers, experts, or other professionals, male and female, who are doing this, it's not feminism they have in common. They are all those whose points of view alone have importance in the same old system that rewards women when they're "good girls," but heaven help them if their interests don't align with what daddy wants or if daddy doesn't find them attractive. [note]
What is causing the current problems for mothers is the same old same old that for eons has caused problems for all women: patriarchy. The father's rights movement (i.e. patriarchy) is backlash against women's rights and freedoms and choices, and autonomy and control over their own bodies and lives and the children they bore and reared with those very bodies and lives.
This may be true in more recent years. But why weren't these mothers all actively a part of the feminist movement and the majority of women making up these local feminist organizations in the first place? Here's why: because they were not feminist identified in the first place. They were convinced that they were "not feminists," or somehow didn't need to support any furtherance of women's rights, because they THOUGHT they had enough! It was ONLY when they personally fell out of favor with the patriarchal anti-woman system, which UNTIL THAT TIME HAD SERVED THEM WELL (far better than it served, e.g. an unmarried woman to support herself and her family, or e.g. a lesbian to whom marriage to even a good man offered nothing for her life) that they first realized it the system never has been set up to work for any woman, including those who previously thought it did. This is the result of falling for patriarchy's "divide and conquer" propaganda. SOME women have always been "rewarded" by the system for for believing in and supporting it. There have always been women who have been patriarchy's princesses (the Cinderella story), convinced for a time that they are (or could be) more loved, different, beautiful, special than those "other" women... but...
The patriarchal system isolates women. It pits women against each other and labels them: good girl/bad girl, madonna/whore, mother/spinster, lady/slut, Miss/Mrs., etc. Divide and conquer, divide and conquer. We (society) do the Cinderella story thing, convincing girls and women their entire lives that they should compete with and shun other women and prefer their daddies and husbands, we brainwash women into feeling that they are the beloved chosen to the point where while things are going well, they consider themselves better than or different from "those other women," and believe that their fortunes and lives will be best served by aligning their interests with what works for MEN.
But mothers are NOT alone, and it does NOT have to be this way. Mothers MUST get off their duffs while things are peachy keen, while they are in happy marriages, while they have no financial problems, and get back into the feminist organizations. I have seen for many, many years -- women who have nothing to do with supporting or assisting other women, or being involved in feminist organizations and women's rights issues, who, only upon their own dismissal from "the men's club," first turn to other women who HAVE been feminist all along, and then condemn them when these other women don't understand their perspectives or these other issues and are unprepared to handle them.
Of course motherhood is a respected choice. But one cannot expect a never-married 22-year-old whose personal involvement with women's rights is the harrassment she's getting from her college professor, or a lesbian whose personal involvement with women's rights is about the lifelong difficulties she's incurred because marrying the guy next door wasn't viable for her as a life option, or a childless professional whose personal involvement with women's rights was observing the lot of her mother and deciding to do things differently, to understand fully a point of view that is not being presented by her own peer group.
Take a look at your local feminist chapters. Where are the comfortable, married young women with families? If they are not there, how can you ask why their agendas are not being promoted? Now that more and more divorced women are getting shit on, of course, and more and more badly, in the family courts, they ARE starting to make their voices heard, they ARE joining forces with other women, and, as a result, we will keep seeing the feminist organizations moving accordingly.
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