Deveny’s ‘financial abortion’ is a form of coercive control

I wrote an article for Overland in response to a recent article by Catherine Deveny supporting a right to so-called ‘financial abortions’ for men.

Deveny argues that men should have the opportunity to ‘opt out’ of fatherhood if a woman ‘chooses’ to continue with a pregnancy against his preferences. The fact that so many men already get away with washing their hands of any parental responsibility – including the payment of child support – is apparently not enough. Deveny is seeking to both formalise and legitimise this existing practice.

So what is the problem? Isn’t this a natural extension of being pro-choice? Shouldn’t women have to take responsibility for their choices?

In a word: no.

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Lactivism – a review

I was recently asked to review Courtney Jung’s book, Lactivism, for the Alternative Law Journal. While I appreciated much of the nuanced critique of American neoliberal social policy and the penalty that it imposes on mothers under the guise of individual ‘choice’ (an issue that is also very relevant to Australia), ultimately I wasn’t convinced by the central premise of the book – that ‘Lactivists’ (rather than neoliberal governance) are the real culprits in this situation.

My full review can be found here.

The day I bought my son ‘beautiful gold shoes’

I have an article up on Essential Kids about the challenges of raising our son to be free of the constraining effects of gender stereotypes.

I’m driving to the shops with my four-year-old to buy a pair of ‘beautiful gold shoes’. He desperately wants a pair just like his big sister’s.

When we find them – a pair of sparkly gold slippers with fluffy white bows – I wait for the sales assistant to say something. She does double-check that they are actually for him, but then appears to swallow her objection and smiles nervously. I breathe a sigh of relief. He has a lifetime to deal with the weight of other people’s gender issues; he doesn’t need to hear them now.

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Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children

For Australian women of my generation, many issues of structural gender inequality can seem far removed from their daily experiences and, thus, difficult to relate to. Many civil rights, which were only recently (and only partially) achieved, are easily taken for granted when you have grown up assuming access to them. For this reason, it is not uncommon for women to feel shocked when confronted the ongoing reality of structural inequality when they become mothers and they suddenly find themselves falling into gendered roles and suffering from gendered disadvantage as a result. Given this fact, it is a shame that the dominant form of feminism in Australia – liberal feminism – does not deal particularly well with the structural inequalities faced by mothers.

Liberal feminism has failed to adequately respond to the realities of motherhood, because it has primarily focused on helping women to overcome their historic status as second-class citizens by becoming independent. This vision of equality has led to the struggle for a range of positive measures for women, including:

  • the rights to education, to work and to receive equal pay;
  • the right own property;
  • the right to participate in public life by voting and running for political office; and
  • the right to bodily autonomy, including the right to refuse to consent to sex and to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

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In defence of mummy blogging

This post was originally published at Larvatus Prodeo.

Six years ago I stopped blogging here at LP because I became a mother for the first time and suddenly the style of discourse that dominated here became jarring. Newly immersed into the constant and somewhat shocking demands of motherhood, I found it impossible to engage in the combative debates that were par for the course here at LP. So I retired to my personal blog, which rapidly morphed into what is now so charmingly described as a ‘mummy blog.’

On a personal level this so-called ‘mummy blog’ of mine did a lot for me. It helped me to connect to other people (mostly women, it must be said) who were experiencing the transition into parenthood in similar ways to me. It helped me to fight off the crushing isolation of the early months of my daughter’s life, when I knew so few other young parents and had few reasons to leave the house. It also helped me to gain confidence in my own approach to mothering, and to discover that what I was experiencing was quite normal and would get easier with time. For me these benefits were an absolute lifeline and I shudder to think of how I would have coped with out them.

However, so-called ‘mummy blogging’ is not a purely personal endeavour. Despite the gleeful mocking of ‘serious bloggers’ and ‘hilarious male columnists’ the issues explored by ‘mummy bloggers’ are often highly political. For many women of my generation, motherhood is a time when we are confronted with the full force of patriarchy and the seemingly insurmountable challenge of maintaining equality in our relationships, let alone within society, after becoming mothers. The shift in dynamics begins with the vulnerability of pregnancy, when our bodies suddenly seem to become public property and we are thrust into a medical system that strips us of our rights and treats as like children. It continues as many of us take time away from the paid workforce to care for our children and find the dynamics of our relationships changing as a result. For those of us who breastfeed, the public desire to control our bodies rolls over from pregnancy and continues with the ever-helpful social pressure to breastfeed our babies for the arbitrarily determined length of time that Western culture sees as necessary, while ensuring at all times that we do it in a manner than inconveniences and (most importantly) offends no-one (i.e. at home).

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Transgressive breastfeeding and the rules of the public sphere

In case you missed it, there has been some controversy in Australia over the last few days over the issue of public breastfeeding.

A mum in Queensland was breastfeeding her baby at a public pool while supervising her two elder children. A staff member approached her to say that another family had complained, because they were offended by her breastfeeding. She then asked her to move to a private area of the pool or cover up. The mother, rightly, refused and said that this demand was illegal discrimination. Nonetheless, the pool attendant insisted and so the mother ended up taking her three children and leaving the pool in tears.

On Friday, a morning television show, Sunrise, decided that it would be a great idea to debate the issue of whether breastfeeding in public is offensive and whether the pool did the right thing. [As an aside: do we often debate whether someone breaking the law and discriminating against another person did the right thing? Why is this OK when it comes to breastfeeding women?] One of the hosts of the show, David Koch (or Kochie, as he is apparently called), expressed the opinion that the pool had done the right thing and that if women are going to breastfeed in public then they ought to “be classy about it.” Later on Twitter, he explained that it was “just common courtesy” to “be discreet” when breastfeeding.

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Birth plan – a response to Mia Freedman

When I was pregnant with my first child I tried to do all the right things. I got a spot in the public Birth Centre and discussed my preference for a water birth with my midwife. I also attended the birth preparation classe (although I did leave one class before the subject of medical pain relief was discussed, because I’m scared of needles and figured that wouldn’t change anytime soon). Besides, I told myself, labour only goes for a few hours, how bad could it be?

My midwife gave me a video of a water birth to watch to prepare for my own, but I felt uncomfortable with the intimacy of it all and never watched it. Instead I guzzled parenting books and focused on the long term – the task of parenting the baby I would be birthing.

It was early in the morning and 11 days past my due date when labour finally started. I was so over being pregnant and so ready to hold my baby that I greeted the pain warmly. I told my partner that my contractions had begun and we started to record them so we’d know when they were regular enough to justify going into the Birth Centre. Hours passed.

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A woman’s work

For quite a while now I have been struggling with the implications of my pregnancy – wondering what it will mean (and already does mean) for my identity, for my future choices, for my body and for my relationships. Now a number of posts, particularly a few recent ones from Ampersand Duck and Pavlov’s Cat (and also a post and comments thread over at Crazybrave), have prompted me to post about these issues.

I have to admit to having been shocked to the core by the impact of pregnancy on my body. I never understood that feeling ‘fatigued’ would involve falling daily into a deep black pit of exhaustion, or that the addition of the word ‘morning’ to sickness was such a cruel joke. Despite years of experience with (admittedly fairly mild) PMS, I also had no real understanding of the power of hormones to influence my outlook. Instead of the pure joy that I had anticipated, I felt sick with worry and doubts about the pregnancy; about my capacity to be a mother; to endure the loss of sleep; to successfully breastfeed; and to keep our child safe – none of which were assisted by feeling as though we couldn’t share the news with anyone except our closest family members. My brain was taken over by thoughts of how to deal with every possible problem and with my evident lack of capacity to cope as well as I had expected. My self-confidence plummeted as I realised that I was not glowing with prenatal health, but rather was a wreck who needed to sleep all day and could only stomach vegemite saladas.

Fortunately, the second and third trimesters have been a lot easier on my body – my blood pressure is stupidly low and so I get faint very easily, but my energy levels are much better and my appetite has returned. I also feel a lot clearer and happier about the pregnancy. The first ultrasound and the first little kicks did fill me with the excitement that I had expected earlier, and suddenly everything did feel OK again. Continue reading