23rd 2011
I just went gay all of a sudden!

Posted under: American history, Gender, GLBTQ, happy endings, Intersectionality, women's history

Maybe it wasn’t all of a sudden–maybe it’s a process that has happened over the last few years, or maybe I was born this way, but I find myself wanting to align myself with the queer bloggers ever more closelyThe queer bloggers I read and feel a comradeship with don’t think that there is only one way to be a good lesbian or gay man.  They don’t police the language that other gays and lesbians use to write about or talk about their own experiences.  We sometimes disagree, but they don’t feel the need to lecture me about daring to write about queerness or question the authenticity of my queer sensibilities. 

Some of you heterosexualists, especially some of you who identify online as mothers:  not so much!  Quite frankly, I’m tired of my comments threads being jacked by people claiming to be mothers who are offended by this or that thing that I wrote about motherhood.  Although Historiann is not a blog about motherhood, I will talk about motherhood whenever I like because I am an American women’s historian, and motherhood is something about which women’s historians in general have had a lot to say.  Feel free to disagree with anything I write–but don’t bother with the complaints about “hurt feelings” and the insistance that your subjectivity is the only one that counts.

Dr. Crazy has written about the ways in which the interests and views of one subset of women–mothers–come to dominate conversations in the feminist blogosphere.  For example, conversations about improving workplaces for women come to be about maternity leave and child care, as though the careers of non-mothers are somehow perfectly free of institutionalized bias against all women.  She writes:

But don’t tell me what I should think or what words I’m allowed to use. Don’t expect me to believe that the needs of parents are somehow more important than the needs of other workers. Because I just don’t believe that.


Some conversations here this summer have followed a familiar trajectory–like yesterday’s post in which I made an aside about how I didn’t think motherhood should qualify one for an exemption from jury duty.  The comments degenerated into accusations that I’m smug and not authentically feminist because I wasn’t sympathetic to the difficulties of finding child care, the frustrations of women who care for their own children, etc., when I thought it was clear that I criticized *one* woman in particular for mobilizing motherhood as a strategy for avoiding the responsibilities of citizenship.  (As I said in the comments there–I’m sure Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the mother of seven, is spinning in her grave!)

So if this is what some readers think it means to be an authentic straight mother/feminist  blogger, I want off this wagon train.  And if anyone asks, tell them that I just went gay all of a sudden! Now, which of you gay bloggers is going to fix me a drink? (I’ll bring the steaks, obvs.!)


76 Responses to “I just went gay all of a sudden!”

  1. Fratguy on 23 Jun 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Dammit! What the hell ????

  2. DickensReader on 23 Jun 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    I don’t think motherhood dominates feminist discourse. I think it is abortion. I get so sick of hearing about abortion.

    But of course, anyone who wants to talk about whatever they want to, can.

    It seems so simple.

  3. votermom on 23 Jun 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Sorry your feelings got hurt.

  4. Comrade PhysioProf on 23 Jun 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    Your appropriation of gayness to suit your own selfish blogging ends is an OUTRAGE! On behalf of all gay bloggers, I hereby DEMAND a sincere and heartfelt APOLOGY! OR ELSE!

  5. GA on 23 Jun 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    Oh, sister, am I every with you on this issue.


  6. Digger on 23 Jun 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    Beer in the fridge; help yourself!

  7. Bardiac on 23 Jun 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Gin and tonics on the deck! Whatever you like on the grill.

    I love that moment in Bringing Up Baby. (I think that’s the film, no?) (Speaking of amusing “parenting” issues.)

  8. Dr. Crazy on 23 Jun 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Welcome to the Gay Club for Straight Female Bloggers! It’s really the only way to go :)

  9. Western Dave on 23 Jun 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    I deleted the furious response I wrote to CM as being unworthy of your comments section. Now I regret it. I’d recreate it but there was a blind rage involved so I don’t remember it that well. There were a lot of f-bombs though.

    Oh, and sense everything old is new again, the term we used in college back in the late ’80′s was “political lesbian.” I think it meant, “I am in sympathy with gay people, the feminist movement etc., but I am a heterosexual female.” Me, I just use that other f-bomb – feminist.

  10. TriPartite Academic on 23 Jun 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    Well, this straight feminist greatly appreciates your blog. I have to navigate all kinds of minefields when I try to make people understand that I chose not to become a mother, but that my own very personal decision doesn’t mean that I hate mothers, or motherhood, or kids. Sometimes the personal is not political, it’s just personal.

  11. Nicoleandmaggie on 23 Jun 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    Now I’m going to have that song from Avenue Q stuck in my head for the rest of the week!

  12. Nicoleandmaggie on 23 Jun 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    (Since the link didn’t post: “If you were gay,” from Avenue Q. Specifically the part near the end when he’s like, “If you were gay, I’d shout Hurray!”)

  13. Kathy on 23 Jun 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    Sounds good to me ;-)

    I am (and identify) as a heterosexual mother, although not only as that, because there are other aspects to my life and opinions that are unconnected to those particular descriptors of my life. I write about parenting stuff sometimes, and my parental status isn’t a secret.

    But I completely get what you mean. I don’t read a lot of mummy-blogger-type blogs anymore because it gets a bit tiresome and self-referential after a while. Moreover, the pressure to never-disagree is intense and can be unpleasant. And I say this as someone who actually *is* (or used to be) pretty interested in discussions about parenting young children, so I’m pretty core demographic there.

    I enjoy your blog a lot and will continue to do so long after my own offspring are grown, and my interest in child-rearing discussions is no longer pressing (or, probably, present at all).

  14. Z on 23 Jun 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    It appears that the most transgressive thing you can be is straight, female, non partnered and non parental. If you’re gay at least you have an excuse.

    I used to be interpellated as de facto pet sitter and things like that — official “feminists” (sitting on the p&t committee when I was up for tenure) would say to my face, I didn’t have an oppressor, i.e. a husband or the gay bashers, or a duty, like a child, so my duty was to serve those who did.

    Natural result: I oppose identity politics.

  15. Dremrigsby on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Wow. I am a hetero woman academic and parent, and while I generally don’t like hiding any of those statuses, because they express aspects of my experience, I hate even more the assumptions people make about me based on them. I love this blog, though. And I loved it when our dear H. was more coy about her parental status. I even love it when it’s about cocktails.

  16. Roxie on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Pisco sour comiin’ right up, girlfriend. Everybody who’s anybody is pretending to be gay these days, so why not you? We always thought that sassy style of yours was suspect, and lord knows lassos are gay, gay, gay. I’m even willing to declare Fratguy an honorary lesbian if you’d like to continue to keep company with him while playing for our team.

    As to your point about queer blogs being mostly congenial, non-judgmental, less driven to drama spaces, I think you’re right, but I’m not sure how to explain it. Maybe because a lot of us see blogging as an extension of queer cultural traditions of quipping, bitching, and camping it up. We do it to have fun, even if we take up serious subjects from time to time. And our readers generally enter into that spirit, which keeps things friendly.

    Just a thought, not very fully formed. You want some chips to go with that drink, cowgirl? You need to get liquored up before softball practice starts!

  17. MommyBorg on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    We are the MommyBorg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be subsumed by our own. Resistance is futile.


    Oh, goddamn it. Didn’t you hear us? Resistance is futile!

  18. LadyProf on 23 Jun 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    All the major feminist blogs have undergone heavy criticism from women who felt betrayed and attacked (by whatever), haven’t they? There are a few exceptions: but those blogs moderate comments intensely.

    This mommy-attack is extra depressing, though. As someone here who doesn’t know Historiann in real life, I valued her withholding her parental status. A noble response to the constant pillorying of women for having children and not having children. Historiann was saying: This post isn’t about me. One aspect of who I am isn’t on the table. Can we talk? Apparently some thought not. But it was a great idea.

  19. liza on 24 Jun 2011 at 3:22 am #

    “The queer bloggers I read and feel a comradeship with don’t think that there is only one way to be a good lesbian or gay man. They don’t police the language that other gays and lesbians use to write about or talk about their own experiences”

    You’re kidding, right? Maybe the ones you read and feel comradeship with, but in general…dream on. Queers police each other all the time.

    Sign me, Dyke, feminist, mom, blogger.

  20. Perpetua on 24 Jun 2011 at 4:37 am #

    @Ladyprof – Yes you’re right, IME – there was an extended, and pretty depressing, round of conversations over at feministe for example about policing language, how terrible the comments are to moderate at feminist website (and they weren’t talking about the deranged misogynist trolls), the endless calling out, policing, & silencing. Sorry I can’t find the link at the moment. There’s a lot of that kind of commenting going on at TR’s place, too, and on topics other than parenting. I don’t think it’s a phenomenon exclusive to mommy-bloggers, or as @liza comments, heterosexualist ones.

    Yeah, identity politics is problematic. But this always leaves me wondering about the role of experience in activism.

    (Yesterday I started writing a response to the comments H is talking about here, largely b/c I could see the general point that 6 weeks isn’t always adequate time to find child care – as I discovered in the past -, but then I stopped myself because it seemed a)like a thread jack not related to H’s post/point; and b) I didn’t want to sound like I was allying myself with posts that were launching ad hominem attacks against H., with whose agenda I definitely do not agree)(grammar fail in the last sentence – the agenda of the commenters. I agree w/ H’s agenda!)

  21. Dr. Crazy on 24 Jun 2011 at 5:40 am #

    “Yeah, identity politics is problematic. But this always leaves me wondering about the role of experience in activism.”

    Perpetua, I feel like this is an important thing to wonder about. What I think, off the cuff, is that experience is one way into activism, one influence on one’s perspective/beliefs. And that’s not a bad thing (and even if it were, I’m not sure how one would get around it). What I find unproductive is when *other* ways in are dismissed, or when one *type* of experience is privileged as “authentic” and thus the perspective that flows out of it is privileged as “authentic” or “authoritative.” If we think that experience is the only way in, that’s pretty darned anti-intellectual, and, at least to me, that would be a bizarre position for an academic to take and a pretty fast way to stop any possible conversation.

  22. -k- on 24 Jun 2011 at 6:26 am #

    Interesting, too, how quickly the focus shifted from being about parent/caretaker to ‘mother’.

    The nice thing about the comments on this blog is that there’s room for disagreement- I’ve always appreciated the way you engage with your readers ‘down below’. There are definitely some loud talkers, but on balance, the offensive comments by offended motherhood advocates seem pretty well matched (in volume, if not in number) by the folks foaming at the mouth over the evils of choice feminism or beating their poor caps lock buttons to death in an attempt to make it VERY CLEAR that motherhood is in NO WAY special. (Pardon the hyperbole.)

    With the recognition that it is a different thing to be the writer or a blog versus a reader, as one of the latter my happy impression is that both of those groups are far outnumbered by the people here that tend to state their opinions respectfully enough. May it continue to be so.

  23. Historiann on 24 Jun 2011 at 6:37 am #

    Thanks, all, and thanks for the offers of adult beverages. It’s only 7:40 a.m. here in the Rocky Mountains, but it’s 5 p.m. somewhere, right? (New Zeland? Indonesia?)

    -k-, that’s a really good point you make about the quick shift of the problems facing “caregivers” to the problems facing “mothers.” I think it must be much more difficult (as well as expensive) to find a qualified, competent person to look after a disabled or very elderly person than a healthy child or children.

    And liza: I hear what you’re saying, I’m just talking about my experiences with my queer blogging buddies and why I feel much closer to them than to some of my nominal demographic peers. As Perpetua wrote, the connections between identity, experience, and activism are complex and often fraught, but I think Dr. Crazy sorts it out pretty well in her response. (It’s an explanation for how comments about “caregivers” becomes a conversation about “mothers” only, for example.)

  24. Feminist Avatar on 24 Jun 2011 at 6:47 am #

    I think the articulation of experience is vital to feminism, because it is the right to articulate your experience that gives those experiences power, and that is essential to giving women power. At the same time, this very fact means that such articulations will of necessity come into conflict with those of others with different experiences. I don’t actually think this is a bad thing; I think that we need such conflicts to ensure that power in unstable and not held by one group. And, that is as true in blog conversations as in other contexts, and I personally think it’s good to be reminded to check your privilege from time to time, or simply reminded that things aren’t as black and white as they superficially appear.

    What I do have a bit of a problem with though is the way that off the cuff comments on feminist blogs (and writer’s more broadly) are often jumped on in a way that forgets a blogger’s (or feminist’s) entire history. If a person has a long history of good standing on a subject, why assume the worst of them for one throw-away sentence? I get especially irritated that we will jump on feminists so hard, when we often are so polite and respectful to trolls as we explain why they are wrong. (Or in a different context, forgive sexist men for being good liberals, or good on race or whatever; but ignore a feminist’s entire ouvre because she made one ‘wrong’ statement). I am regularly amazed at how we are so forgiving of sexist asswipes, but so hard on each other.

  25. Emma on 24 Jun 2011 at 6:49 am #

    You’re kidding, right? Maybe the ones you read and feel comradeship with, but in general…dream on. Queers police each other all the time.


  26. Emma on 24 Jun 2011 at 6:54 am #

    Oh, and sense everything old is new again, the term we used in college back in the late ’80′s was “political lesbian.” I think it meant, “I am in sympathy with gay people, the feminist movement etc., but I am a heterosexual female.”

    Actually, it describes women who choose to live as lesbians, i.e. have their intimate, sexual, and emotional, relationships with women, for political reasons. It was meant, in part, to directly undercut the assertion that people “are” heterosexual or homosexual.

    That seems to have been replaced by “Straight but not narrow”, a much less transgressive idea than choosing to be a lesbian.

  27. Meghan Roberts on 24 Jun 2011 at 6:56 am #

    Word. I couldn’t believe how the comments degenerated on your last post.

  28. Comrade PhysioProf on 24 Jun 2011 at 6:59 am #


  29. Emma on 24 Jun 2011 at 7:08 am #

    I am regularly amazed at how we are so forgiving of sexist asswipes, but so hard on each other.

    Other women are easier targets than men, that’s a fact of patriarchy not a value judgment.

    Also, many women have loyalties to the men in their lives that are much, much harder to impinge upon, even indirectly, than their relationships or political ties with other women.

    I think being “disloyal” to children is also seen, in part, as being disloyal to the imperatives of heterosexuality. Such disloyalty suggests that things could be different if women chose differently. So, of course, women are going to implicitly feel attacked for not choosing differently.

    More and more my response to women in my demographic is going to be a very unsympathetic “so, choose differently”.

  30. Bix on 24 Jun 2011 at 7:34 am #

    I’d like to say thank you for keeping it ambiguous for so long, I really appreciated the way you didn’t let it dominate your blog. Much like you, I find the seemingly constant judgment that “mummy bloggiers” bring to the table to be oppressive. And it seems like no matter where I go, if there’s a “woman’s topic” and it ever verges on motherhood, the comments are full of women — who seem to identify solely as “mothers” — decrying the actions of other women for things as, well, as PERSONAL as breast-feeding choices. I’ve seen a lot of blogs I used to like go completely down the road of constantly talking about motherhood/pregnancy/babies after a certain point (particularly one that I had previously quite liked that made a radical about-face six months ago from issues for women graduate students in science to constant discussion of the author’s personal fertility/pregnancy issues) and so I have really appreciated this blog NOT doing that.

  31. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 8:25 am #

    I like the point on how “caregiver/parent” morphs to “mother” too, for lots of reasons.

    Re identity politics and experience — the older feminist idea(s) were that theory arose from practice and that experience and personal stories were to be valued.

    I see those ideas used in self serving ways sometimes, though — generalizing from the individual, or privileging one’s own subjective & often middle class viewpoint, etc.

    I also like the point about direct experience not being the only way to understanding. Sure, not having it can be a barrier, is a kind of barrier (I don’t know how it feels to be, say, Etruscan). But still.

    But perhaps the key in all of this is Emma’s last point, on being disloyal to the imperatives of heterosexuality. That’s why mothers are angry that Historiann, a mother, doesn’t perform motherhood in the way they wish, and so on.

    (To say “I’m gay, here is my girlfriend, this is our suburban home, here are our voter registration cards…” seems to be less offensive nowadays than being a mother and not saying gosh I’m engulfed, or being straight and not married. I have observed that if you are a woman, the bottom line is that people want to know who you are sleeping with and ideally, see that person, and if you are a mother, people want to scrutinize you in this role. So, maybe the betrayal is not only of heterosexual norms but of norms for all women — show us who you’re shagging, show us who you’re mothering [and by the way, prove to us you are nursing them yourself].)

  32. Historiann on 24 Jun 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Z: Don’t forget sacrifice! Motherhood must always be an unending sacrifice. After all, it’s for the children that women make themselves miserable. An unending capacity for sacrifice is also a key component of being (as you said last week) the “good kind of woman.”

  33. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Re mothers and judgment (Bix’s post, above) — I have wondered for years why so many middle class American mothers think this status gives them so much authority in so many areas of life. They judge other mothers, and they also claim authority over multiple subjects they have not in fact mastered, in the same way that men do.

    I also appreciate, in Emma’s last post, the point on choosing. Rephrase: women who have chosen more traditional roles and performances of femininity feel attacked by those who have not (and so they counterattack).

    It’s an obvious point, I suppose, but profound! I might post it on my wall! I tend to forget and to think that I really have done something mean to married women with children by not being one!

  34. anonymous on 24 Jun 2011 at 8:58 am #

    When and how did “caregiver/parent” morph into mother? I’m missing this logical leap everyone is so concerned about.

    Yes, Historiann’s original post was gender-neutral, so it did start out by saying “parent” and “parenthood” rather than “mother” and “motherhood.”

    However, her second post made it clear we were discussing a SAHM. Regardless of SAHM or SAHD, the point of the story really wasn’t about being a caregiver — because there was (am I the only one who read this?) a checkbox on the juror form about that.

    The anecdote, as I read it, was about being a SAHM and therefore not presumed to serve despite weeks of notice. Being a SAHM who presumed that the mere factual existence of her “little guys” (and not a true lack of alternate caregivers, see: juror form) would be enough to excuse her.

    I’m sure I’m missing something. What is it?

    Why is it so strange to leap over “caregiver” straight into “mother” when it seems as though that’s what the person in question did?

  35. anonymous on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:01 am #

    I have wondered for years why so many middle class American mothers think this status gives them so much authority in so many areas of life. They judge other mothers, and they also claim authority over multiple subjects they have not in fact mastered, in the same way that men do.

    I understand what you’re saying, but don’t think it’s at all the same way men do.

    It’s always different to claim authority because of your relationship/cooperation with power as opposed to claiming it outright.

    It comes out differently. Sometimes it might even be harsher (because of self-policing the “embarrassing” minority members) but it’s different.

  36. anonymous on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:05 am #

    The clip is indeed from Bringing Up Baby, which IS an extra layer of hilarity. An all-time great movie and this scene is ridiculously “sticky,” mentally speaking. I haven’t played the clip, nor have I seen the movie in years, but I can “hear” and “see” Cary Grant’s delivery of this line in precise detail.

  37. Bix on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Z, I think you’re right about the defensiveness — there’s a lot of middle-class friction, I think, between mothers who stay at home and those who don’t. The insecurities arising from that lead to that judgment, is my guess.

  38. Kathie on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:10 am #

    I just finished reading and thoroughly enjoying Tina Fey’s Bossypants – it was a birthday present from my daughter – and she has many choice things to say about women comics, motherhood and “working mothers,” and as a bonus includes the script for her first skit as Sarah Palin. Her comment on the last item: “You all watched a skit about feminism and you didn’t even realize it because of all the jokes.” That actually describes the book as a whole, lots of laughs, but not that hidden, lots of feminist comments drawn from her life experiences.

    About kids: “Like most people who have had one baby, I am an expert on everything and will tell you, unsolicited, how to raise your kid!” And the entire “Juggle This” chapter about her mothering and her working life, which topic is, as she says, “a tap-dance recital in a minefield.” I’m sure Historiann can appreciate that assessment!

  39. Historiann on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Kathie, I totes loved Bossypants. Was it ideologically correct in all respects? No, but she calls herself a feminist, and her struggles are very much feminist struggles (albeit in a very rarified and glamorous workplace. At least, my department doesn’t seem nearly as exciting as Liz Lemmon’s or Tina Fey’s, but then, the hours are a little more reasonable.)

    And yes, to Bardiac’s question and anonymous’s reply: the above is indeed a scene from Bringing Up Baby, which is a pretty stupid movie but it features slapstick like this from two incredibly attractive actors, so who’s complaining? (And I didn’t even think about the obvs. resonance of motherhood and Baby, kind of like I didn’t even think about the strange clash of using illustrations from Madeline a few weeks ago, who was after all a child famously abandoned by her parents while suffering and recuperating from appendicitis!)

  40. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:26 am #

    @Historiann — oh yes, sacrifice! It’s important for mothers and also fathers! I’ve got various stories I could tell from this — you have to sacrifice and suffer. I have some examples of outright discrimination against people who openly enjoy their kids.

  41. GayProf on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:34 am #

    I agree with the other queer bloggers to say that there is a considerable amount of policing that goes on around the GLBTQQ blogosphere. When people are certain that they are right, it can be tough not to assume everybody else is wrong. Whateve’s.

    My cocktail shaker is always chilled and ready.

  42. squadratomagico on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Just chiming in to voice support, Historiann! Don’t let the assholes get you down!

  43. Feminist Avatar on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:58 am #

    Motherhood has been used to give women authority for nigh on 300 years now, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this continues. Firstly, as indicated by my flippant remark in the last post, women in the late eighteenth century used motherhood to claim citizenship. They made male citizens in the home through their childrearing and so were contributing to the polity. This contribution also made them citizens. We see this argument made in the US, the UK and France from the Amer Rev onwards.

    Secondly, in the nineteenth century, we carry this further by arguing that because women are mothers and homemakers they have a right to be in the public sphere to ensure women’s role is protected and because they have ‘specialist knowledge’ on particular areas. This argument is used to put them on education boards, poor law boards, local government and eventually get the vote. Female citizenship (and so political power) in a western context has been powerfuly tied to motherhood.

    Now, if you want to follow the single, motherless ladies in the nineteenth century, you can argue your authority comes from your innate mothering instinct and your role in the public sphere is providing this vital ‘female’ contribution, without neglecting your home duties (cause you don’t have any)! But, I think this is where feminism impacted on this discourse. We quite effectively argued that motherhood is not an innate skill, but in doing so, we inadvertantly allowed the discourse on mothering and citizenship to be connected to the physical act of giving birth, rather than of being female.

    Of course, this is why we should all grab our Wollstonecraft and claim our rights based on our humanity!

  44. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:58 am #

    @Anon., re authority, yes — I could have much more accurately said, in a way related to what men do, or something like that.

    On the discussion of parenting / caregiving morphing into a discussion of mothering — I think regular readers are referring to more than just this post / this discussion. I know I am. Very briefly, the point is:

    - as we know, parenting and caregiving take a lot of time and energy
    - many parents and caregivers are women
    - much parenting and caregiving is mothering

    This is to be recognized, but it at the same time one notices how discussions of issues like getting parental leave degenerate into arguments over the “correct” performance of motherhood.

  45. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 10:06 am #

    FA: “But, I think this is where feminism impacted on this discourse. We quite effectively argued that motherhood is not an innate skill, but in doing so, we inadvertently allowed the discourse on mothering and citizenship to be connected to the physical act of giving birth, rather than of being female.

    Of course, this is why we should all grab our Wollstonecraft and claim our rights based on our humanity!”

    Thanks for making this connection!

    @Gayprof, I agree, too. Good point on cocktail shaker, I must get one.

  46. Historiann on 24 Jun 2011 at 10:23 am #

    On the elision of caregiving >> motherhood: Z. has it basically right, but there are lots of other kinds of caregiving beyond parenting. I have a number of unpartnered/child-free friends who precisely because they *don’t* have families of their own are expecting to be much more involved in elder care than their siblings with spouses/children. They will need accomodating when the time comes in terms of teaching schedules & work expectations, but they feel like their lives as caregivers are largely invisible because they can’t occasionally parade around an adorable baby or toddler as proof.

    Feminist Avatar provides a great brief explanation for the history of invoking motherhood as a kind of authority. It actually has a clear *feminist* genealogy, because at the birth of feminism women had no other sphere of expertise than domesticity/children. It makes perfect strategic sense that feminists 200 years ago made the argument that motherhood authorized women as citizens/activists/voters, etc.

    Much as I believe in patriarchal equilibrium, times for most of us have changed. Moreover, these days it seems to me like many mothers who identify as feminists (or vice-versa) are invoking motherhood not as a wedge into the public sphere, but as an excuse to remain enclosed in the private sphere, but of course they *say* they’re feminists so *how dare* anyone challenge the politics of their choices. (Ergo, the arguments that SAHMs have a legitimate reason to skip jury duty, etc.)

    This is where “choice feminism” leads us, friends. Anything a woman chooses is necessarily feminist because it’s her *choice,* and it’s badbadbad for anyone to suggest that some choices are more feminist than others, or that some choices are in fact not feminist at all. In fact, we can’t have this conversation because it’s so wrong.

    Tiptoeing out of the room to find GayProf and his cocktail shaker. . .

    BTW, to MommyBorg wayyy upthread: hee-hee! Thanks!

  47. Cloud on 24 Jun 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Wait? What? I can get out of jury service because I’m a mother? Why did no one send me that memo?!?!?!

    (Of course, in my state, I CAN get out of jury service while lactating, a rule that I have decided to, um, milk for all its worth. But I dutifully went to service during the 8 month break between nursing kid #1 and nursing kid #2.)

  48. widgeon on 24 Jun 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Great post and discussion. This has made me reflect on how often compliments coming my way incorporate my motherhood: “I can’t believe you finished a book and got tenure when you had those two babies!” What about the female academic who didn’t choose to procreate? Are her book and tenure less valuable than mine? I think not. Next time I get this (often from female graduate students) I will strive to make this point.

  49. Emma on 24 Jun 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Z, I think being partnered up in a suburban home with kids is a heterosexual, class-based norm no matter who does it. There is a great expectation, now, that gays/lesbians will line up happily behind heterosexual norms. And those of us who don’t, or who advocate for something less landlocked and stifling, are looked askance.

  50. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Widgeon — what I get is, shame on you for squeaking to tenure on one book when, instead of doing all that activist work, you could have had a second book or some kids. The only justification for non workaholism appears to be motherhood.

    Historiann — *yes* re choice feminism!!! and also yes re parents and other forms of care giving, naturellement.

    It’s very interesting about motherhood and feminism. In Lat Am some key examples are the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and Domitila Barrios de Chungara. It’s sometimes said the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo reoccupied / redefined motherhood to make it political, but they were actually following a tradition (and a well worn one in Argentina). And Domitila Barrios did feminist and labor action from the status of housewife, politicizing it; I remember teaching her testimony / memoir once in a Women’s Studies class and the students didn’t get it … thought she couldn’t be a housewife and feminist (even though in her town, the definition of being housewife included making things to sell and marketing them, i.e. having and running a business). I can’t believe I haven’t been able to explain better, so far, why these and other activities aren’t *that* unusual / don’t come out of nowhere. Esp. since I had the info, no reason not to put it together better. So thanks again FA.

  51. The Rebel Lettriste on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:16 am #

    BTW, I had a lethally good cocktail last night, when I gave the finger to the role of self-sacrificing single working mother and went out on a date and shit. The drink had: habanero-infused vodka, muddled cucumbers, lemon simple syrup and lime juice. There was a slice of cucumber floating in its green spicy lustre.

  52. Feminist Avatar on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:16 am #

    “Much as I believe in patriarchal equilibrium, times for most of us have changed.”

    This is possible a total threadjack, but…

    Recently, I have been wondering whether modern women are de facto feminists for this reason. Now, it’s a bit of an old trope that every year we ask our students ‘are you a feminist’? and they say no, and we say, but do you believe women should be edumacated, and work, and have the vote, etc etc. And they say yes, and we say, look you ARE a feminist.

    But, I have been wondering whether being a feminist requires pushing the gender equality status quo. So, it is not enough to be happy with what we’ve got, but to actively demand greater equality to carry the feminist label. And, that of course, requires us to interrogate what the status quo is and whether we are doing this and how what we do contributes to greater equality.

    And as a good socialist, I think that should apply to our choices to work, as well as those not to! I have a real anxiety that we shouldn’t be setting up engagement in the capitalist system as the feminist way forward, which is hugely problematic for a whole set of other reasons.

  53. wini on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Thanks for the blog recommendations and for making me think for more than a year.

    Apropos of nothing, my summer 2011 jam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt5MWCwFhCI&feature=related

  54. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:22 am #

    @Emma, yes.

    Also: somehow being partnered has morphed into not only a sign of superiority but also a sanctified type of oppression.

    Maybe it’s just my experience but I hear a lot of the following, often from the same individuals (at different hours)

    “I am part of an official couple, [optional: and we have kids], so I have been validated by society, so I am right about most things in life”

    but also

    “I am part of an official couple, [optional: and we have kids], so I am oppressed”

    and at the same time

    “I am part of an official couple, [optional: and we have kids], so I should be entitled…”.

    It all seems so self serving and seems to much like a manipulative appropriation of actual feminist political analysis.

  55. Emma on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Welcome to the Baby Project, a new blog that will follow nine expectant mothers who are due to give birth this summer. They come from all over the U.S., and have a range of stories and experiences to share.


    Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!! Send the BorgMommies here!

  56. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:25 am #

    @FA “I have a real anxiety that we shouldn’t be setting up engagement in the capitalist system as the feminist way forward”


  57. fannie on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Mojitos at my place!

  58. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Emma or anyone, re that Baby Project — is it just me, constantly living in all of these Catholic places where there are lots and lots of kids and they’re not segregated away from the rest of us, who does NOT find babies exotic? I mean, they’re charming and stuff but they’re very familiar … and to me the families on that NPR site look like a primarily homogeneous, not a primarily heterogeneous group.

  59. Gay History on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Homosexuality is a gift, one of most wonderful gift for the world from the Lord. It’s within

  60. Janice on 24 Jun 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    I get too busy to come online all day and what happens? H’ann goes gay and I missed it, plus all the good drinks or so it seems.

    Sorry that the comments on the other day went south but I’m unsurprised. My years at iVillage scarred me but good: women are very good at being vicious toward each other, just like men, and the internet breeds an outrage where every comment that can be twisted to be an attack upon one’s self must be twisted that way.

  61. Hattie on 24 Jun 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    You can be sure Elizabeth Cady Stanton had domestic help.
    Over and out.

  62. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    True Hattie and important.

  63. anonymous on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:01 pm #


    One of the reasons that Stanton was able to suddenly have the leisure time to engage in these activities was the fortuitous hiring of a 16-year-old Quaker housekeeper named Amelia Willard. [22] Stanton described her as “a treasure, a friend and comforter, a second mother to my children, . . . [she] understood all life’s duties and gladly bore its burdens. She could fill any department in domestic life, and for thirty years was the joy of our household. But for this noble self-sacrificing woman, much of my public work would have been quite impossible.” [23]

    In addition to Amelia Willard, Stanton generally employed one or two women to act as housemaids or cooks. She seemed to have a singularly difficult time keeping them as her letters are full of woeful tales of inept servants or disappearing kitchen help. She tried to be philosophical about it, but rarely succeeded when it was she who had to fill in behind them. The servants left so frequently it seems, not because the Stantons were particularly difficult to work for, although the children did have the reputation in town of being somewhat hard to handle, but because the other opportunities available elsewhere were more attractive than domestic work. Stanton noted in an 1859 letter that one cook was leaving to take a job in a factory, and that she really could not blame her for being tired of “revolving round the cook stove.” [24] Stanton was not the only Seneca Falls resident who had trouble retaining help. A farmer who settled a few miles outside of the village in 1848 recalled that “household help was difficult, if not impossible, to come by. . . . We tried sometimes to work it out with immigrant girls from Ireland or Germany, but just as soon as the girl learned the language and something of the ways of the family, she was apt to get restless and move on. Or some young fellow would come along and marry her, and off they’d go.” [25]

    Stanton’s inability to secure good household help in Seneca Falls helped to strengthen her belief that a communal life-style was the most desirable and equitable domestic arrangement. She had spent a short time at the Brook Farm Community while living in Boston, and was much impressed with the utopian experiment. [26] To have men and women sharing equally in all domestic and agricultural work, and enjoying frequent literary and musical diversions with congenial companions, was to her, an ideal living arrangement. She spoke and wrote frequently on the subject, and never ceased calling for a more equitable distribution of household duties between the male and female members of a family. She was very resentful of the system which confined her to the house while her husband was free to pursue any interest he pleased. Henry Stanton was generally willing to let his wife pursue her reform interests if she could find the time, but even this very liberal individual was not going to volunteer to assume any of the domestic duties to allow her some leisure in which to work. Her frustration boiled over in the following letter to Susan B. Anthony:

    Oh how I long for a few hours of blessed leisure each day. How rebellious it makes me feel to see Henry going about where and how he pleases. He can walk at will through the whole wide world or shut himself up alone, if he pleases, within four walls. As I contrast his freedom with my bondage and feel that, because of the false position of woman, I have been compelled to hold all my noblest aspirations in obeyance in order to be a wife, a mother, a nurse, a household drudge, I am fired anew . . . . [27]

  64. cgeye on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Z, about this:
    “Re mothers and judgment (Bix’s post, above) — I have wondered for years why so many middle class American mothers think this status gives them so much authority in so many areas of life. They judge other mothers, and they also claim authority over multiple subjects they have not in fact mastered, in the same way that men do.”

    That’s the hangover from teh Victorians and their “women’s sphere” — you can be an activist, decry bars and hookers, but only for the sake of the *children*, not because teh mens are being evil imperialist fucks because their government does that sort of thing. Power could only be wielded in the role of the mother — I suspect they only tolerated female spinster/free love activists ’cause the married ladies had to go home every once in a while and give the servants instructions.

  65. anonymous on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Forgot to bold this. It bears repeating

    She spoke and wrote frequently on the subject, and never ceased calling for a more equitable distribution of household duties between the male and female members of a family.

    Hiring help per se is not the feminist issue. Shifting men’s burdens to other women so that men never have to shoulder them is.

  66. cgeye on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    And Fratguy: aw, pookie…

  67. anonymous on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    (Sorry for the sidetrack back to the housekeeper conversation of last week.)

    Anyway, yes, ECS had domestic help. She also engaged in public life, critiqued her husband’s lack of assistance from a feminist perspective, and used her frustration with his perspective and the freedom of the domestic help in order to push for a different vision.

    She didn’t hide behind her children or her identity as a mother.

    The insistence upon making the juror’s statement (counterfactually!) into a CLASS issue is bewildering.

    Women in poverty, after all, don’t get to say they can’t work or comply with government requirements because they’re mothers.

    Housekeepers and waitresses certainly don’t get to call in because they don’t have childcare.

  68. Historiann on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    How could I have forgotten Fannie and her fab Room? (Sorry, GF!)

  69. Z on 24 Jun 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Yes to cgeye and also to anon. — great points — (you know, I feel now as though I’ve been in class all day and learned a bunch of important stuff).

  70. ADM on 25 Jun 2011 at 1:25 am #

    If you had said that taking care of kids shouldn’t be an excuse, I’d have understood the outrage. But you didn’t.

    You said that a SAHM with four kids, whose husband has some sort of job where he has patients, i.e., some sort of medical professional, should not be able to beg off a constitutional responsibility because she didn’t get off her ass and get a sitter.

    From where I sit, that’s perfectly in order. If you had said she had no excuse, even though she had said she tried and brought some sort of evidence to explain why finding care was a hardship, then I can see people getting all upset. There are all sorts of reasons a SAHM, or a working single mom (or dad) might have a hard time getting a sitter that should probably be taken into account. But people in shitty jobs have to lose pay to sit on juries, so it seems to me that people whose job is taking care of a house and kids might also expect to be inconvenienced.

    The real issue here is not about whether finding a sitter is hard, or unreasonable.

    The real issue here is that Historiann called out a woman for trying to dodge her responsibilities simply because she was a mother, and so should get some sort of special privileges. The point Historiann was making was not about whether or not the woman could get childcare. It was about the fact that this woman thought her SAH parenthood (and, I think, the class privilege that allows it) entitled her not even to try.

    As an addendum on identity politics: Racefail 2009. Ugliest identity war I’ve seen so far. By the end of the first day, many US-based PoC, were telling PoC who had experienced racism differently because racial identity isn’t necessarily the same in Europe, Africa, and Asia than it is in the US, that they were doin it rong. American exceptionalism at its finest there.

  71. ADM on 25 Jun 2011 at 5:16 am #

    also? “I’m sorry your feelings got hurt” is not an actual apology.

  72. Historiann on 25 Jun 2011 at 7:10 am #

    No, it’s not! It’s snark, but wev. I think you’ve summed it up nicely, ADM. I wonder how these families cope when a family member gets sick, or any other of life’s emergencies happen.

    Looking after other people’s kids on occasion helps build up a community that one can go to when one needs a similar favor. But I think part of the ideology of the SAHM is that their labor is unique and uniquely valuable to their families, and having a friend or neighbor babysit occasionally undermines that belief. If just about anyone can do it, then their labor isn’t so special or valuable.

  73. mandor on 25 Jun 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    I always thought if I were to send a not totally anonymous history blogger a t-shirt, if would be this one, but now I’m thinking maybe this one. Both are from the very awesome cartoonist Kate Beaton.

  74. FrauTech on 27 Jun 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    OMG! It starts again!

    Thanks Historiann for writing about life and leaving out the motherhood. I, like TriPartite Academic above, am childless by choice. But I do not resent anyone’s decision to have kids, it’s just not for me. You wouldn’t know that from people’s reactions though who assume I hate children or hate mothers or hold motherhood against them.

    I used to read a few family/work/life balance blogs written by women and found they quickly devolved into motherhood-only. That’s fine, I accept that being a parent is a large part of somebody’s life. But it’s nice to go somewhere and talk about work and our homes and who we are and not have someone trying to define themselves by their children or lack of children every minute of the day. Aren’t we individuals? I’m as a career-centric as most of the men (and women) I know but I get judged differently for it and it doesn’t seem to be a suitable “life” treated as fairly as “motherhood” is. So it’s nice to go somewhere and meet some like minded women and not talk about what our uteruses have been doing lately.

  75. Dear Tenured Radical, : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 02 Sep 2011 at 8:34 am #

    [...] can I go for a smart conversation about the cultural significance of Jo Calderone?  After all, I’m only a lesbian on the internets–and like most of your readers, my real life is much, much duller without [...]

  76. How Will I Know How To Treat You If I Don’t Know What You Are? « tressiemc on 24 Jun 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    [...] don’t think people deserve to necessarily know such things. A friend forwarded me a link to this blog where the writer does a much better job than I of explaining why that is [...]

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