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Feminist mothers' domestic dilemmas

  • 13 November 2012

Next year, feminist writer Monica Dux will publish a book about motherhood called Things I Didn't Expect (When I Was Expecting). I know this not only because I follow her on Twitter but also because about 18 months ago, in the name of research, she asked me (and I'm sure many other women) about my feelings towards my post-birth vagina.

While I can only guess the tone and themes of Dux's book, I generally like my written reflections on mothering to be filled with pathos and searing political indictments.

Does it explore postnatal depression (Friday Forever by Susan Bradley-Smith), women artists' tortured quest to combine motherhood and creativity (The Divided Heart, Rachel Power), social repression by the realities of mothering young children (The Mask of Motherhood, Susan Maushart), or the suppression of women's liberation by the natural birth, breastfeeding and anti-childcare movements (The Conflict, Elisabeth Badinter)?

Yes? Then here is my library card. I avoid positive-thinking guides and cheery mummy memoirs. If there's no feminist political bent, it stays on the shelf.

But I don't know many other mothers with such criteria. Friends who regularly read (and there's many who have no time or energy) favour escapist genres that have nothing to do with rearing small children. Those who do peruse parenting books often have no stipulation that they be feminist. In some cases they shun such texts.

But there are others who seek out politically themed material. Louise Brand, a 39-year-old gallery curator, likes exploring 'how I have handled motherhood, and how it has affected me' through other women's writing on the subject. She has consequently read Maushart's The Mask of Motherhood and Badinter's The Conflict.

Likewise, Amelia Carson (artist, poet, mother of three young boys) read Maushart because she is interested in 'the cerebral side of motherhood and the wider discussions of family, woman and motherhood in today's society'.

For 33-year-old professional photographer Mabel Herford (not her real name), who struggled to breastfeed and experienced enormous shame when she switched to feeding her baby girl formula at six weeks, Badinter's book had a revelatory impact. She now feels 'no guilt about using childcare and feeding my baby formula'.

If tired mothers are unable to commit to long books, then what about feminist-themed motherhood blogs? Thirty-four-year-old lawyer Cristy Clark searched for online material 'because I was looking for voices that reflected my own experiences and perspective'.

Indeed, the search for material that deals honestly and directly with motherhood