Does it really take a divisive stereotype to catch a divisive stereotype?

Author: blue milk – kinda radical feminist who kinda identifies with the “suburban mum” tag these days.

Not so long ago Monica Dux, in promoting the publication of jointly-authored book The Great Feminist Denial, attempted to initiate a conversation about re-branding feminism (in this opinion piece). You might recall that this didn’t end well for Dux. For many of us, excited as we are by the premise of Dux’s book, it remains difficult to see re-branding as anything more than capitulation to anti-feminists. Because while we understand that there is great diversity in our ranks and that diversity is a selling point for the movement, in rushing to distinguish ourselves from the ‘hairy lesbians’ and ease the fears of delicate recruits, we wonder what is so wrong with being a hairy lesbian.

In this opinion piece Rachel Funari also wonders what is so wrong with being a hairy lesbian. And there is much to like about her retort to Dux’s foot-in-mouth piece, particularly its strong defence of “glorious spinsterhood” and its articulation of the necessary challenges one faces in adopting a philosophy for change like feminism. If only Ms Funari hadn’t also peppered her piece with so much hypocritical sniping against mothers. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And mothers really aren’t your enemy.

Suburban mums with badly-behaved children (thanks for your parenting insights) and tedious complaints about husbands not doing enough (inequality is just so boring) aren’t taking over feminism any more than radical feminists have been relegated to a historical curiosity by the movement. Motherhood injustice is getting air time, quite a bit recently, but this has been a long time coming. Don’t forget we’re only now looking seriously at a paid maternity leave scheme in this country, there is much left to achieve. Scream all you like Ms Funari, look away, change channels, whatever you need, because some of us are relieved to be finally seeing issues like work/life balance and domestic labour negotiations getting serious attention. Some of us might even be radicalised as feminists by the process of seeing our stories told and shared with so many other women. And some of us suburban mothers are lesbian mums, and hairy or not have a lot more left to say about ‘mother rights’.

Funari says that the “balance between freeing women from a notion of biological destiny and acknowledging the importance of child-rearing is a tricky one”. Indeed, tricky enough to have stumped Funari.



Categories: gender & feminism, work and family

Tags: , ,

40 replies

  1. Great post, thanks. I am beginning to suspect there must be some inherent quality in the op-ed genre that makes it impossible to make any kind of point without gratuitously sniping at somebody or something.
    Personally I find this article even less palatable than Dux’s.

  2. If we got rid of the stereotypes we all don’t identify with we end up with a pretty small little group of feminists, don’t we?
    Devaluing motherhood isn’t going to improve things for women in general.

  3. I don’t think this piece devalues motherhood, it just doesn’t clelbrate it unconditionally.
    And yes, there are badly behaved kids out there and parents who don’t seem to feels it’s a problem.
    As a childless ‘spinster’ (and I love the word) I want my taxes to go to maternity leave, affordable child-care and all the other things that are going to make it easier for mothers to live the life they want.
    But that doesn’t mean that ‘motherhood’ and individual’s mothering skills are beyond criticism by a feminist.

  4. I agree; Funari’s post so nearly hit the mark, but veered right off with what felt like almost a tirade against mothers. If you’re not personally affected by issues of feminist motherhood, whatever; listen in that seminar, or don’t listen; sympathise and work to improve things, or don’t; but why whine that mothers are taking over the feminist movement? On what planet is that even true? Mothers aren’t revered and rewarded any more then childless and childfree women.
    Here’s the thing: all women get blamed for whatever choices we make or however the dice fall our way; we all get vilified; we all get the sharp end of the stick. Women without children just make more money and have more leisure time along the way, and retire much wealthier. And if you don’t want anyone to fight to redress the financial injustice associated with motherhood because it’s “not your issue”, you might as well be throwing your sisters under the bus. Which is your prerogative, sure, but let’s just be clear here: that’s what you’re doing.
    I’m not personally at the sharp end of a number of feminist issues right now (not yet, and possibly or definitely not ever) – racism, severe visible disability, child rape, equal pay for equal work, single motherhood, living below the poverty line, being lesbian or trans, maternity leave (too late!), partner violence, the issues of undocumented immigrants …
    Should I stop giving a shit about all of these, and start whining about how THOSE people are taking over MY movement which should be all about ME ME ME?
    The common factor is egocentrism, I think. Everyone has it, of course – I sure do – but recognition and mitigation is the key.

  5. I thought it was worse than that. She simply fails to see the work-and-family-and-parenthood thing as one of the primary complexes in keeping women in a subordinate position. Also, what’s with “complaining their husbands don’t do enough housework?” Is she saying feminists shouldn’t point out the discrepancy in domestic work? It may not be a glamorous topic, but can’t she see the brute fact that it eats away hours and hours and hours of our lives while putting us in a subordinate position, again?
    I also call absolute bullshit on her stance as a true radfem fighting the boring bourgeois mumfems (I just invented that word). I went over to LIP magazine for a look – OH PLEASE. Full of earnestly written little puff pieces which look about as threatening to the status quo as a Bratz doll.

  6. Oh, and I should mention instead of the lively comments threads we get on Hoyden / Bluemilk / Kim at LP / etc, the mean average no. of comments on Lip seems to be… 0.
    So who’s boring the feminist constituency more, then?

  7. Fine, there are badly behaved children, and there are badly behaved adults, and there are some crappy parents, and there are generally good parents and children who are having an off day (or moment) when you happen to see them in public, none of those is actually relevant to the argument Funari was trying to make. It was a side swipe, and it was completely unnecessary.

  8. I think the point that Furnari is making is that discussions about feminism in the MSM almost always centre around the issues of women and motherhood e.g maternity leave, work-life balance etc. Should you stay at home, should use child-care? etc, etc. All these are absolutely essential, but they’re not the only issues. Lauredhel listed a lot of others:
    “racism, severe visible disability, child rape, equal pay for equal work, single motherhood, living below the poverty line, being lesbian or trans, maternity leave (too late!), partner violence, the issues of undocumented immigrants”
    I’m sure we could think of more. But when do you see op-ed pieces about any of these (except for maternity leave)? For instance, the proverbial ‘hairy-legged feminist’ is less likely to have kids, so where do their needs sit in this debate?
    Kate, I agree that Furnari was talking an unnecessary side-swipe. But, I also get annoyed with the attitude that any negative comment about parenting skills is somehow being a bad feminist. Every sort of person behaves badly, and mothers with badly behaved kids aren’t immune from criticism, just like anyone else.
    Lauredhel, I’m pretty sure I’ve read work that indicates that single, childless women are more in danger of falling into poverty as they are age, than any other group. They’ve rarely had the income to buy into the housing market, as it takes two incomes and they often don’t have the family networks which help ameliorate ageing and poverty. If so, there’s a feminist issue you rarely see discussed in the MSM.
    I really hope this isn’t seen as anti-motherhood and feminist rant, because that’s not my intention. It’s more to say that there are other feminist issues which rarely get discussed in the MSM and I think that’s what Furnari is getting at.

  9. I’m so uncomfortable with these attempts to own feminism and deny others a place in the movement. As a chardonnay-swilling leftie elite, I’ve long been the subject of op eds claiming I’m misguided and not welcome in Australia (even as I was part of a group who was somehow taking it over and sending it to hell in a hand basket), and I’m saddened that I’m subject to this now as a mother and a feminist. But it’s also frustrating because as bluemilk suggests, we occupy multiple subject positions: I’m a mother and I don’t shave my legs and I’m a radical feminist; I’ve been a childless spinster and a domestic drudge. I’m not going to suspend my membership when I’m identifying/ identified with the ‘wrong’ kind of group, and pick it back up again when I’m the ‘right’ kind of woman for the movement.
    I really believe people aren’t uncomfortable with feminism because it has an image problem but because it requires a re-dismantling and rebuilding of social structures, relationships and identities. I don’t think any marketing strategy is going to sugar that pill.
    On Kate’s point: I think there’s a difference between commenting on specific behaviour and using ‘badly behaved children’ as a shorthand for ‘shut up and get back in your box’, which seems to be how it’s used in the op ed piece: how our children behave has nothing to do with claims for equality. I don’t see criticism as an act of a bad feminist but it is often uniformed, fails to recognise the context of the child’s behaviour and is another woman-blaming act (it seems to me that mothers’ children are so often ill-behaved but fathers’ children aren’t) – basically, walk a mile in my shoes before you pass judgement me and my kids.

  10. What is devalued is women, who do other things than just raise the next generation of consumers.
    I find it hard to read this sentence as anything other than a nasty dig at mothers. Apparently all I’m doing is raising consumers, and that’s not a very good thing to be doing now, is it?
    Glorious spinsterhood, freedom-loving childlessness, uncommitted fame and fortune and, yes, hairy-legged firebrands enjoying safe and wild sex lives. Without these images, feminism is not only hard work but boring, too.
    And I’m boring.

  11. I really hope this isn’t seen as anti-motherhood and feminist rant, because that’s not my intention. It’s more to say that there are other feminist issues which rarely get discussed in the MSM and I think that’s what Furnari is getting at.
    THat would be all very well, Fine, if she didn’t use such disparaging language in the process. And why isn’t she at the forefront of discussion of these things? Where’s Furnari’s blog? All I see on LIP are coy little spurts about Sex and the City, “Heelarious” shoes (a mild eye-roll but no analysis of the kind we’ve seen here), parties’n stuff. Nothing particularly wrong with that, but if you’re setting yourself up as the arbiter of What We Should Be Talking About – well, pfft. (And middle finger.)

  12. Fine:
    “Lauredhel, I’m pretty sure I’ve read work that indicates that single, childless women are more in danger of falling into poverty as they are age, than any other group.”
    More so than single mothers? I’d be surprised, but I’m happy to look at your data.
    Totally agree with you that the way feminist discussions are typically constructed in the media (the “mummy wars”, etc) centre white able-bodied heterosexual citizen women.

  13. Lauredhel, I could be wrong about that. It’s only from memory and it would be great if you could dig up some info.
    Helen, I don’t know if Furnari writes about this or not. I don’t know much about her. I looked at Lip magazine and it’s pretty ligtweight stuff. But it seems to be aiming for a young demographic and perhaps they think that’s what’s going to appeal to them.

  14. I think Rachael basically started Lip (the magazine, not the blog) up herself, securing the funding, and selling it at zine fairs. It’s a magazine for younger writers and I think she originally intended it as a kind of alternative to Cosmo/Cleo/Girlfriend magazines. There is, or was, also a radio program on Melbourne’s community radio station – lipradio.blogspot.com. The general attitude shared on Lip blogs/magazine/radio seems to be that of giving younger feminist writers an opportunity to express themselves.
    I think Rachel deserves some credit for getting Lip mag up and running at least. But this is largely a separate issue to the particular arguments that she makes in her opinion columns.

  15. Speaking as a hairy-legged lesbian who has raised three childres and has two grandchildren, I really liked Funari’s piece when I read it in the Herald and I liked it when I read it again just now. I don’t read Funari as anti-mother; she’s trying to widen the debate. I think that Fine is right: most debates on feminism **do** centre on work-life balance and issues around motherhood and heterosexual relationships. Once feminists really struggled with the issue of how to relate to men intimately without losing their sense of themselves as independent; they wrote articles called things like ‘Sleeping with the enemy?’ to try and sort out their feelings and discuss the hard things. Now it seems to be all whingeing about how men don’t pull their weight. I remember the shocking life-and-death stories about backstreet abortions; now we have long sagas about fertility treatments. And that’s without all the ‘sex-and-the-city’ kind of feminism which any dolt can see isn’t feminism at all but simple-self-centredness.
    Look, I’m not trying to be divisive or saying that things were great in my day – they weren’t! But i am disappointed that many of the debates seem to have shrunk from conceptual discussions to personal sagas. I sometimes feel that the patriarchy has co-opted feminism for its ends – and I realise that it doesn’t even surprise me that I’m thinking like that.

  16. Aren’t there better ways to broaden debates than by suggesting new varieties of scapegoats?
    You honestly have me stumped there M-H: I’m not familiar with the phenomenon of feminist thought having largely degenerated into whining about men not doing enough around the house. I just don’t see that narrowness taking over. Am I reading the wrong things? I freely admit I rarely bother reading opinion in Australian newspapers any more, unless somebody links to something.

  17. Aren’t there better ways to broaden debates than by suggesting new varieties of scapegoats?
    Laura, Spoton. Also, if you are a lesbian, then men not doing much around the house is ipso facto not an issue, right? unless you live in a share house. It all comes back to the fact that certain things are easy to trivialise. There was a new study reported on the ABC this morning which put the share of the domestic load for het couples at 30-70. Now you can call that trivial but I don’t. And we have barely scratched the surface of this problem.
    Part of the problem is that the tendency in society is to valorise women taking on male roles, while ignoring the lack of, or poor perception of, males taking on female roles. The personal is political, remember? These things matter. I think another problem is that Funari is at the age where she hasn’t been mugged by motherhood. Hell, many women are actually radicalised by motherhood, that’s when they feel the pincers tighten and realise that their special snowflake-hood isn’t enough to save them!

  18. Word, Helen.
    And what’s with the whippersnapper op-edists? Sheesh.

  19. I didn’t read it as if she went out specifically to devalue motherhood. All in all I agree with much of what she says, although I will concede some of the ways she makes her point are unfortunate.
    I love what Kris said: “I really believe people aren’t uncomfortable with feminism because it has an image problem but because it requires a re-dismantling and rebuilding of social structures, relationships and identities.” This is so true.
    As Funari said a lot of feminism is not fun, it means a constant thought process on your mind of where you fit in, what your view is. There is a continuum of feminism that the mainstream media can’t or doesn’t care to represent. That is to say there is not ONE feminist, hairy legged or no, mother or no, go-getter career woman or no. Most women become used to juggling roles depending on necessity. Therefore feminism is made up of “images” in their multitudes. The less certain images or roles are attached to a specific gender or value judgement, the more feminism wins.

  20. I don’t have a problem with the suggestion that suburban mom-dom or hairy man haterism shouldn’t be the only representations of feminism in the mass media. But if you can go ahead and point out someone who does. Someone anywhere ….
    Also, she says “feminism isn’t easy”. Compared to the alternatives, it is ; )

  21. I’m not convinced that Lip Magazine is relevant to the subject of the thread, which is this particular opinion piece. It’s up to blue to make the final call on her thread, but I’m glad to see the thread getting back towards being on-topic.

  22. Sorry lauredhel, I was deliberately staying out of directing the thread because it is not my blog.
    I agree with observer and kris that one of the strengths of Funari’s piece was the way she conveyed the hard work of feminist identification (and I hope I made that point adequately in my post). If you don’t find parts of being a feminist difficult – continually challenging your views, questioning your choices, checking your privelege etc – then I don’t think you’re delving very far into your feminism. Lots of people don’t want the hard work of holding themselves and their lives up to such self-scrutiny. Feminism will always battle this problem in reaching people, but that shouldn’t be viewed as a weakness for elimination.
    Motherhood issues have got a bit of attention lately (although putting it in perspective – some of these problems are several hundred years old), and it is likely that a significant degree of our success has been because we are hetero-friendly as a topic for mass media. Other feminist causes don’t have the same luxury. I get that. And that would be a fair point for Funari to have made, but she didn’t need to make it by being snarky about mothers.
    I found several of the descriptions used by Funari, as highlighted in my post, pretty snarky to mothers. I suspect Funari wanted to be provocative, and she has provoked a reaction. Great that this keeps the discussion going, not so great that it pits us against one another AGAIN.

  23. I was deliberately staying out of directing the thread because it is not my blog

    Sorry blue – we mean for guest hoydens to feel free to shape their threads according to their own tastes, but we obviously didn’t make that clear! (we will moderate blatant malfeasants, of course, but otherwise it’s all yours)

  24. Motherhood may get media coverage but I don’t see them solving the problems of the discrimination, vilification, and double standards that mothers face. If anything, the media seek to reinforce stereotypes with their scare-mongering of mothers, pregnant women, and any woman who may wish to become pregnant someday. To say nothing of employers.
    I’m a hairy radfem suburban mum, but I’d much rather both my husband and I were working part-time and doing equal childcare. Unfortunately, we had very different lives and support systems growing up (read: he had one, I didn’t), which has resulted in zero chance of my being able to pull in a wage even close to his. I wonder how many other women are in that position?
    Probably a lot, and my life doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what others are facing. I have a lot of unearned privilege.
    Feminism should rally against all the unfair pressures and discrimination that women face, even if they are the result of life choices someone else wouldn’t make. That’s kinda the point.

  25. “Also, if you are a lesbian, then men not doing much around the house is ipso facto not an issue, right? unless you live in a share house.”
    Of course you might be a lesbian who has sons. Or you might live with extended family. If you’re a lesbian, then a male *partner* not doing things around the house is ipso facto not an issue, but that’s a very different thing from assuming no men except housemates.

  26. And my reading of the op ed piece was not that she was having a go at motherhood, but that she was having a go at the social construct of motherhood as the only important part of being a woman – and saying that if feminism focuses *solely* on motherhood then we’re falling into that patriarchal trap.

  27. God, what an awful article. Funari lost me at the end of the first paragraph, although I battled on to the end of the first page.
    Maybe there was a point in there somewhere, but I think it got lost in all the crankiness about mothers’ apparent dominion of every feminist debate. blargh.
    The interesting thing is that I am in my mid-twenties… no kids… and I am actually tired of the Australian political focus on ‘the family’. So over it. But for God’s sake, women as mothers are vilified enough. It’s not exactly an original theme.

  28. Thank you Rebekka, you beat me to it. Of course men doing the housework can be an issue for lesbians – why would you assume that it isn’t, Helen? I’ve personally brought up two sons to do housework and I would think that many other lesbians care about this issue for a variety of reasons. I also agree that Funari was complaining about the way society deifies motherhood, not vilifying mothers as people. There is a vast difference. Putting women on pedestals, whether they be mothers, nurses, single women or any other identifiable group in society, isn’t helpful. Knocking those pedestals down so that women can be seen as simply human and thus worthy of being taken seriously in their own rights, not because of their marital or parental status, is what I have always believed in.
    M-Hs last blog post..House update

  29. I’m thinking of households where boys are younger, I guess. But from where I’m coming from at the moment, it’s important to acknowledge the exhausing and life-draining quality of men who think they’re a helluva lot more reconstructed than they are.
    (And if Rachel Funari thinks that’s whinging about how men don’t share the housework, well, yes, it is. So!?!)

  30. I’m at home now and have had time to look for something I blogged four years ago, when this article seemed to me to be a kind of epitome of the adulation of motherhood. Here’s what I said then.

  31. MH – it is a patronising article, but – “I take my hat off to her,” Professor Boyle said. “Who among us at the age of 43 would decide to go out and get a PhD on a subject they know nothing about?” – he has a point, and you can see that the article is trying to celebrate that point.

  32. It is an interesting question how one identifies oneself as a mother. I cringe whenever I see a “Mum’s taxi” sticker on someone’s car (sorry if you’ve got one) – my reaction is haven’t you got an identity of your own, aren’t you someone more than a workhorse for your family?
    But we have to be careful not to shame women for identifying as mothers, for some it is probably an act of reclaiming status; like bitch and cunt, third wave mumfems (love that term you invented Helen) have been very loud about reclaiming terms of ridicule like “mama” and even “breeder”. (Frankly, having been the recipient of some mind-blowing anti-mother troll abuse before I can see the motivation behind this). And even when you’re talking to less revolutionary women it is nice to hear a woman refer to herself as a mother instead of “just a mother”.
    After I became a mother I was surprised how proud I felt of my status, not because I suddenly had some straight world credibility but because I would look at my daughter and just think to myself “I’m your mother, wow”. My mother is a powerful force in my life and I felt amazed that I’d entered that world. I wasn’t trying to prove a point to anyone when I introduced myself as my child’s mother, I just liked getting used to the sound of it. Of coure I understand that ‘mother’ identity has also been used as some kind of moral authority in much the same irritating way that ‘working families’ was used as some kind of superior household type during the last election. But this is a complex issue with too many subtleties for someone being as heavy-handed as Funari was with the subject matter.

  33. I know that I am coming in very late, but I mostly wanted to chime in and agree with you Blue Milk.
    This was the quote that annoyed me the most:
    “Though most men want children, you don’t hear them going on about it. And there’s the crux. Men have children and find their power elsewhere. It’s time for women to do the same. The future of feminism will determine whether and how women will be more than mothers.”
    Why can’t we also “find power” in motherhood as well? Why is it so wrong to also claim motherhood as a positive and valuable identity?
    I also think that the dichotomy between “the hairy legged lesbian” and “the mother” is particularly stupid. My mother is both. Interestingly she has always felt as though she failed to fit into either identity properly because of this stupid dichotomy. I am completely at a loss to understand why Funari is so keen on perpetuating it.

  34. “Though most men want children, you don’t hear them going on about it. And there’s the crux. Men have children and find their power elsewhere. It’s time for women to do the same. The future of feminism will determine whether and how women will be more than mothers.”
    What you said, Cristy; also, this is probably the key paragraph that shows Funari is completely clueless about the power imbalance. Men were free to find their power elsewhere because they use women for the cleaning, house maintaing, emotional/family work and childrearing; In the previous century, women could enjoy a limited slice of the power as long as they remained child (and also husband) free, but besides paying a price in social ridicule and perceived loss of status, they might well have wanted a family but were unable to combine the two.
    Domestic labour is an inescapable building block in grasping opportunities for women to excel in other things without being forced to give up families (Funari even points out that a majority would like this) like, you know, men. And unfortunately, it therefore follows that men taking on a greater share of the domestic labour (that’s me, “whingeing about my husband not doing enough housework”) is a necessary part of that.
    Unglamorous, but necessary.

  35. just because women choose to marry, or have children or shave – doesn’t make them any less of a feminist.

  36. Also late, but just had to chime in on this one.
    Regardless of how I (or anyone else) read Rachel’s op-ed piece, I just want to expand on what TimT confirmed. Lip Magazine is not intended to be a more advanced collection of feminist discourse. It’s designed for young teen readers, both as an alternative to Dolly etc, and as an introduction to feminist ideas that they may not have been exposed to elsewhere in their lives. It’s meant to engage a very different demographic. Rachel was the founder, but has since handed over to another team.
    In response to some of Helens rather harsh statements about Lip, the magazine (both printed and online) is incredibly important, and should not be devalued. Just because young girls aren’t confident enough to have robust debate via comments threads such as this one, doesn’t mean that Lip isn’t connecting with an audience which badly needs it.
    Rachel may be saying something you completely disagree with, but claiming she is “completely clueless” is to fail to take the writing in context. She didn’t write an in-depth article, her op-ed has essentially been distilled (and edited by a mainstream paper, let’s not forget) to her core argument. That doesn’t mean she’s clueless. Given an extended piece, you might find that her extensive experience and feminist understanding becomes clearer. Another guest post, Hoyden?

  37. And we’re just supposed to suck up a description of feminists with children as a “bunch of waxen, anorexic, botoxed mannequins, with badly-behaved children, complaining their husbands don’t do enough housework”? Who’s being harsh here?
    But that’s not important, because I really couldn’t give a flying fig what she thinks of me. The bit I take more seriously is that she appears to think that writing or agitating about the division of domestic labour is somehow second-class stuff, tangential to the real revolution, whereas I am trying to point out that such unglamorous things are central to the feminist project.

  38. Good on anybody who does something like start a magazine.
    That said: if something can’t be said properly in 800 words, then don’t attempt it. A phrase or a few lines can be taken out of context, but not a freestanding article in the paper.

  39. “That said: if something can’t be said properly in 800 words, then don’t attempt it. A phrase or a few lines can be taken out of context, but not a freestanding article in the paper.”
    I’m of the professional opinion that just about any concept* can be expressed in 800 words, so I think that should be rephrased to “If you can’t say something properly in 800 words, then don’t attempt it”.
    *just about.
    Rebekkas last blog post..Monica Dux: More undetectable irony?

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