Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Breastfeeding mothers do not need to be breast shamed

There is hardly a week that goes by without some sort of personal affront being directed at a breast feeding mother. The latest story concerns a TOWIE star's, Billie Faiers, sister who was photographed breastfeeding her baby while sun lounging. Before that the actress, Jaime Winstone, suffered online attacks after posting a photo of herself breastfeeding.

If this isn't breast shaming I don't know what is! 

Breastfeeding is a natural thing and a normal occurrence but a quick glance from the negative comments left in response to these articles show opinions being divided along private-public lines. Public breastfeeding seems to offend some people's sensibilities who view it as a private act that should be only done at home i.e private domain. On the other hand others, quite rightly, view breastfeeding in pubic as a natural occurrence and are accommodating of mothers needing to feed wherever and whenever required.

The private-public divide is a regressive binary view that does not help mothers in any way.

Public opinion that attempts to consign breastfeeding into the private domain is effectively making life much harder for mothers and curtails their freedom of movement. It is intimidation. Having a baby can be a rather lonely experience in itself for all sorts of reasons and the last thing a mother needs is to be ridiculed for feeding her hungry baby outside the home.

'The Milk Trucker: The 'Controversy' of Breastfeeding and an Artist's Response' is a chapter written by Dr Rachel Epp Buller featured in a MIRCI journal titled:  'Motherhood Activism, Advocacy and Agency'Dr.Buller is a feminist-art historian-printmaker and a mother of three children. While her work concentrates on attitudes in America all of it could just as relevantly apply to the debates in the UK. For instance, she argues that culture and the popular sentiment promotes the "lactating body as a controversial body to be censored".
JMIV3No2
Motherhood Activism, Advocacy, Agency $10

The hypocrisy over breasts is also called out and is described as being "a study in contradiction". The prominence of breasts in the 'Sports Illustrated' swimsuit issues feature alongside positive news reports with pictures of celebrities breastfeeding in news stands. Ordinary women, however, do not receive the same adulation, according to Dr Buller, even though the 'Breast is Best' campaign is promoted by medical personnel and milk formula companies. So breastfeeding mothers are subject to different rules according to their status in the celebrity fuelled media world.

Different breastfeeding campaigns and protest actions are mentioned in the chapter and parallels can be drawn with the protest that took place last year in London outside the Claridge's Hotel after a mother was told to cover herself. Publicity about mothers who are negatively featured for breastfeeding in public can be seen as being "instances of maternal surveillance" that attract 'good' and 'bad mother' labels.


All this proves that the personal is certainly the political when it comes to breastfeeding. 
A mother who is breastfeeding in public should not have her personal choice judged on notions of breast shaming.


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Blog posts sought on mothering issues from MIRCI members

Years ago I felt as if I was the only feminist mother in the world. In fact, I didn't even know that I was a feminist mother. One night I googled something along the lines of 'mother organisation' and came across the 'Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement' (MIRCI). It saved my sanity.

I was finally able to put a label to what I was trying to be - a feminist mother. I have since spoken at a MIRCI conference and have about twenty MIRCI journals at least which cover almost every aspect of being a feminist mother.

In March 2016 I was appointed as the official blogger for MIRCI  by the founder Dr Andrea O'Reilly who writes and gives speeches around the world on women's issues, especially on motherhood. The email that was sent out to members is featured below.

I am thrilled and proud to be able to blog about and share MIRCI's in depth analysis of contemporary motherhood.

I am inviting MIRCI members to submit blog posts on their experiences of mothering, research work or activism. This is not an exhaustive list. It would be especially good if members were able to tie their blog posts to a MIRCI journal in the way that I do. Readers of my blog who aren't members may want to consider becoming one.

I look forward to receiving your submissions addressed to ambitiousmamas@gmail.com



Friday, 15 April 2016

Austerity cuts and the impact on mothers

Austerity measures, based on the belief that people can work themselves out of poverty, are harming both mothers and the future generations they are raising

Children being made homeless, rising child poverty, sanctions imposed against mothers on benefits and mothers cutting back on their meals so their children can have food are some of the ways in which mothers are suffering.

The greatest price that mothers pay, while finding the means to survive, has to be the emotional toll that results from the hardship of surviving poverty. The cuts are justified by people in power through phrases such as “We cannot burden future generations” or “Our children will ask us why we did not do anything? 

The counter-question has to be, who are these mythical children whom we are paying the price for and what about children here and now?

According to the book ‘Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty’ by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack,  20 million people are living in poverty and the costs of poverty are “poorer health, lower levels of educational achievement and fractured social cohesions” and that “aspirations have been capped and life chances eroded”.

The reality is that our hopes and dreams for our children are blighted by austerity-driven poverty.

Poverty is not only a personal problem. It is a structural problem to do with the economy and the way work, wages and benefits are structured. The great lie told is that poverty is an individual’s fault and that if people worked harder they would be able to rise out of it. The fact that many people are hard-working but are in low-paid work and, therefore, still need benefits to get by is conveniently ignored.

Image result for breadline britain
The greatest lie told, however, is that if children work hard at school the world could be their oyster. As all children do not start off in life on a level playing field, ‘working hard’ becomes a subjective effort. A child living in a hostel in one room with the rest of the family may be working hard but is likely to suffer from constant interruptions. Compare this child’s predicament with another who has their own bedroom and adequate props like a computer, stationery and workbooks.

The personal anecdotes of mothers on benefits are vast and bear testimony to their inability to ensure that their children will thrive. I know of a mother with three children who was living in my south London borough before the council moved her to Birmingham where rents are cheaper. The price she paid for this was to remove her two elder children from school where they were settled and to involuntarily leave her network of supportive family members and her partner who did not move for fear that he would not find another job easily.

The Independent newspaper has published a case story of a mother of three who was moved by a London borough council into a hostel while accommodation was found for her. The children did not have the space to do their homework. As a result, the mother suffered from depression and anxiety. 

According to ‘Breadline Britain’, there is nothing ‘inevitable’ about condemning people to a life with few opportunities and low incomes and puts it down to political choices made by the powers that be. These choices impact negatively on many mothers.

Image result for breadline britainChoices that mothers should be free to make such as staying at home in the early years are only given respect if these choices are made by women with financial means. Mothers who go on benefits to look after small children are vilified, even though they might be saving the state money through lessening the need for childcare places. Ironically, children are the future foot soldiers of Capitalism and, accordingly, giving them the the best start is an investment.

The never-ending debate on whether ‘mothers can have it all’ is a symptom of the class structure that exists in the Western world. Having it all is something that middle-class women think about. For those mothers stuck in low paid jobs the ‘having it all’ argument takes on an irrelevancy because the choice whether to work or not  is, in fact, an illusion. These mothers probably have to work and will have few options to choose from if they are in jobs where they have little autonomy or are even on zero hours contracts.

Feminist mothering is about mothers being able to have choices in how we mother and access services. It is about recognising those choices that are illusory and those that are real. Feminism in the context of a capitalist state is about jobs, social care, the workplace and welfare benefits. Mothers and children have become victims of austerity cuts through policies that fail to acknowledge both the cost and the importance of mothering.

This article was originally published on the FWord website when I was the guest blogger for March 2016. I have since made some amendments to the version published above. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Do you let your baby cry itself to sleep?

The sound of a baby or toddler crying hits me right in the heart. There is something really pitiful and plaintive about a wee one's voice in distress. When my daughter was born I vowed to not let her cry herself to sleep. It was instinct, a mother's instinct if you like. I wanted to show her that I would be there for her. 

My daughter was a bad sleeper and sometimes she would wake up about 8 times in the night. I was exhausted all the time but I never gave up going to her when she woke. A year later the child health visitor advised me to attend a sleep clinic for babies. At my first appointment the child psychology expert told me that babies who cry themselves to sleep over a prolonged period of time start to learn that no one will come to them when they need soothing. I was mighty pleased that I had persevered for a year. 

I do know that there are many people who believe that a child who cries in the night ought to be left alone in an effort to get the baby to learn to sleep through the night. I am sure that many babies subjected to this experience have turned out just fine too but this was not my choice.

There is an article on the Huffpost site which has gone viral because of the photo of the mother sleeping in her daughter's crib. The reason why she did this is the real story. She had heard about an orphanage in Africa where over 100 babies lie in cribs without crying. This is because they, allegedly, stop crying after a week of being brought into the orphanage because they have learnt that no one will attend to them if they cry. 

That brought a tear to my eye. 

Friday, 8 April 2016

A symbol of a bad mother


The horrific case of the murder of a toddler called Ayeeshia Jane Smith by her evil mother as reported today makes me wish, on a rare occasion, that we had capital punishment for people who ill treat children and exploit their vulnerability.

Under normal circumstances I would not use the term 'bad mother' but this case transcends normal debate. As a result, the picture below is a symbol, I think, of what a bad mother would do. She was a regular cannabis user and stored her drugs in a Tommee Tippee cup.

Calling her a 'bad mother' does not go in anyway towards fully describing the atrocities that she committed.

Cup

Thursday, 31 March 2016

A community of feminist mothers with blogs

Feminism is about collective action, help and support. 

I am looking to create a community of feminist mothers with blogs. I am hoping that, in this way, feminist mothers will have a 'pool' from which to access help, share ideas,share blog posts and comment. Feminism is about collective action, help and support and it would be great to have some sort of interaction within the feminist mothering community.



 Please leave a comment if you are interested together with your blog title and twitter handle.