So Mother’s Day has come and gone, for this year. I was with my mom all this past weekend and the one before so I was a wee bit busy with my real-deal mother and didn’t have time to post a tribute to moms on this blog. But it’s still the month of Mother’s Day and really shouldn’t it be Mother’s Month?
Okay slight digression here (but it’s related!)… It’s been a year since I left a full-time job in the DV (Domestic Violence) field and now my work is much broader than solely DV, though it still substantially pertains to DV because DV is e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. This year has been awesome because after 8 years of strictly DV work, I am learning a lot and I am expanding my knowledge base. I am being challenged and I am challenging society and systems. While no longer in the DV field, I am forever a fierce advocate for survivors. So the system pushes me and I push back.
Part of this self-expansion is, of course, stepping out of my comfort zone. I look at how human services have become just that; services. The field has moved away from the movements for social change and social justice that really ignited so much of this work in the first place. Admittedly, the DV field has always been steeped in white privilege, specifically white lady privilege and its brand of feminism, white feminism. But as the DV field streamlined itself to get more stable (if you can call it that) funding, it began to depart from its origins and the social justice that it was also steeped in. It became less accessible to those most marginalized. It became top-down and much more overtly white supremacist even though many survivors are not white and women of color are disproportionately impacted by DV. In this past year, I have by broadened my work and I have been graciously welcomed into new communities and all this has pushed me to understand how my own privilege and internalization of white supremacy has rendered me null and even harmful to many people, in the DV field and beyond. Simply by being out of the DV field, I come to see just how many survivors have been excluded from the DV field. The conventional DV models benefit many but also ignore many and that fact makes the whole system worth revisiting. I like to think in my new work, I’m in a good position to witness other ways of supporting survivors and their families. Then I can school my white lady colleagues on how it is 😉 And part of that education is to push them to not just get this information from me because a white woman is just never going to entirely get it or articulate it very well.
None of this, btw, is to knock the DV field. I am so happy I spent 8 years of my life working in the DV field and it is entirely likely I will return to it one day, just not quite yet. But the reality is that the DV movement and its subsequent field, like many social movements of the last century, are symptoms of a society/system diseased by white supremacy, misogyny, ableism and the like. Despite the many obstacles the DV field does still do a lot of good work and most people in the field are conscientious, work really hard and want to do more and to do better. It wasn’t necessarily (entirely) intentional that the DV field shifted in this direction but that doesn’t mean it can’t be accountable for the shift and work to change.
But I digress. The truth is the work-related challenges of the past year have not always been so pretty and inspirational. While I have been able to see more clearly the insidiousness of white supremacy in my work and how I can change that, I have also come face-to-face with the misogyny that is entrenched in human services, despite it being a female-dominated field. The messages of the fathers’ rights movement have infiltrated the human services field and people of all genders wittingly and unwittingly regurgitate its rhetoric. There is blatant misogyny and heterosexism in these messages and yet it is completely disregarded and all sorts of support and attention are given to (primarily straight, cisgender) men.
And of course, men and fathers deserve support and attention but in terms of gender, aren’t they the ones who have traditionally gotten more of it? Even in parenting. Despite the fact that women have traditionally (and still) done the majority of child-rearing, we still live in a patriarchy and men still assume heads of household and dominant positions in the public and private spheres, at least (typically) compared to the women in their lives. Right now, engaging and including fathers is all the rage and while there is inherent value in this initiative, it is, in my opinion, putting the cart before the horse. The horse, or er, first step is to push for fathers to be responsible. Fathers need to be accountable to their families; their children and the other parent of their children. This is not to imply that all fathers are irresponsible or to label men or fathers as “bad” – although the percentage of fathers who exercise power and control over their families or abandon their families is far too high and warrants attention. Rather this is to acknowledge that women were relegated to the domestic life and primary parental role. Against their will, women became viewed not as humans but as vessels for babies and were pushed into the home, thus stripping them of any sort of economic or political power, which in turn led to a loss of personal power and agency. And while many women who weren’t white or middle class had to enter the workforce, they still did most of the care-taking and were made inferior to men in their lives. And all of this says nothing for the women who weren’t into dudes or people whose gender identity did not match their assigned at birth gender.
In essence a woman could not be safe or well without a man (because of societal restrictions to her independence) but being with a man could also jeopardize her safety and well-being. And while this is 2016 and the women’s rights movements has had several waves now, the fact remains that this is still true to an extent. The fact also remains that women still take on the lion share of domestic work and end up being more tired, less well and still politically and economically disenfranchised. If men want equal rights to children, they need to share equal responsibility and hell, they need to let women put their feet up once in awhile.
Again, this is absolutely not to say all men are bad – or really, that any man is bad. Even batterers cannot be labeled as “bad people.” The good/bad dichotomy causes far more harm than help and frankly as a society, we should know by now that people are far too complex to be defined by one single adjective (duh).
So this is to say that if fathers ask for rights without showing their commitment, it is adding extreme insult to terrible injury. I mean to the guys out there, it’s like you all put us in this position. So don’t just come sashaying in here and take over. Help us. Be there for your children and for us, time and time again and without expecting anything in return. For millennia women have been self-sacrificing and given their all and then some to their families without demanding anything in return (and don’t any one of you dare say that women expected a man to work and provide for them because it was not our choice to not work and to have to be dependent on you). Men are never going to go through millenia or centuries or any amount of time being in the position women have long been in. Still. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Don’t just say you’re a parent with rights, show you’re a parent with rights. Put your kids ahead of yourself and make sure you and your partner take turns taking care of each other. Always be civil to the other parent, even if you’re no longer with them. Being a parent is more than sharing DNA or having some little person refer to you as their parent. It’s giving your all and then some and not being entitled about it. It’s thinking about your responsibilities to this child, not your rights to this child. And since mothers still assume the most responsibility (in straight relationships) for parenting, we need to see dads doing the same. Yes, we need to engage fathers, but we need to engage them first in responsibility. Whether this means a father needs to be accountable for his abusive actions or be accountable to his children when they’re sick and sometimes be the one to stay home with them. This is parenting and this is what children need from the adult or adults in their lives.
And no, I don’t have daddy issues, thank you very much. I have mommy issues. Because, let’s face it, no parent is perfect and with all her imperfections, my mom was the one who really took care of me. My dad is great but like your average American dad, he left most of the parenting to my mom. And parent she did! Through all the beautiful moments and all the icky, exhausting, relentless and terrifying moments, she gave it her all.
Happy Mother’s Day!