Friday, January 20, 2017

Why Mothers Need to be Included in Social Justice Movements, and How to Do It

More than 80 percent of women eventually become mothers. Research consistently shows that motherhood escalates inequality between men and women. For many women, this escalating inequality, coupled with the need to forge a brighter future for their children, is radicalizing. This is especially true now that we have a misogynistic, racist, sexual predator for our president. As groups organize to fight back against Donald Trump, they must remember that mothers have a significant investment in securing a brighter, freer, more feminist future for their children. When people are fighting for their children, they fight harder.

Mothers want to participate in social justice movements. Because they're raising the next generation of activists, their contribution is invaluable. If your movement excludes mothers, you are excluding the majority of women. Mothers make up a larger segment of the population than almost any other group. So if you can't bring yourself to care about including mothers, it's time to examine your internalized misogyny.

I've written in more detail about the exclusion of mothers from social justice movements here. So if you think you're being radical or something by excluding moms, I strongly encourage you to read that piece before going any further.

What can social justice movements do to include mothers? Plenty.

Don't Make Protests the Gold Standard for Activism 
Protests are just one component of effective activism. They feel good, though, and this emotional payoff convinces some activists that protests are the most meaningful form of activism. History suggests otherwise. Lawsuits (Obergefell v. Hodges, Brown v. Board of Education), boycotts, letter-writing campaigns, voting efforts, books, and articles have all changed the course of history.

Protests can be dangerous. Not all mothers have a guardian who can care for their children if something happens to them. Even if they do, they might not be able to line up child care. That doesn't mean they should be excluded from activism. The daily drudgery of research, letter-writing, and communication requires significantly more investment than a single protest, so let's stop pretending like public protests are the only, or most important, or most challenging way to effect change.

Make at Least Some Protests Safe
Mothers with children can be a powerful presence at protests. They belie the notion that feminism is a young people's movement, or that people with "real concerns" don't care about social justice. Children who attend protests learn about the democratic process, and are more likely to support social justice movements as adults.

So these movements should do everything they can to ensure that at least some protests--particularly large ones that are likely to get media coverage--are safe for families. I know it feels good and radical and aggressive to insist that protests be over the top, unrelenting, and unwilling to kowtow to authority. But good feelings don't effect change. Don't insist that every protest be a violent uprising, or you'll exclude most women. Many women already face plenty of violence in their lives. For them, a violent uprising doesn't sound like chic radicalism. It sounds terrifying.

Understand That Accessible Childcare is a Key Feminist Issue
White liberal feminists frequently discuss childcare in terms of affordability. That's a very real concern, but cheap childcare is not the solution. Real human beings provide childcare. It's hard, intellectual, demanding work. They deserve a fair wage. 

Organizations that want to put their money where their feminist mouth is should consider providing well-paid childcare for members. If they can't do that, they need to welcome children. 

Welcome Children 
The notion that allowing children at an event makes the event unserious or creates a distraction is sexist. Why? Lots of things can cause a distraction: smartphones, laptops, people who talk too loudly, speakers who speak for more than their allotted time. Banning more pervasive distractions, such as cell phones, would certainly make events better. It also would be less of an inconvenience than banning children.

But even social justice warriors have swallowed the notion that children make an event unserious. When you ban children, you ban women. You also weight the event's agenda toward the interests of childless women and women who can afford childcare. The former group is a small subset of all women, and the latter is a privileged group that needs feminist activism less than those who can't afford childcare.

Welcoming children also means welcoming breastfeeding--without asking women to cover up, without staring, and without taking women less seriously for choosing to publicly feed their children. Think public breastfeeding is gross, or weird, or inappropriate? Here's why opposing public breastfeeding is misogynistic.

Know That Women Often Give More
Only a very small number of men are the primary or sole caregivers to young children. Even when there are two parents in a family, caretaking and childcare decisions fall primarily or exclusively to mom.

Taken in conjunction with the childcare crisis most parents face, this means that mother activists tend to sacrifice more than childless women or men. To represent protesters, an activist lawyer has to pay a baby-sitter. If she's doing the work pro bono, she's not just going unpaid; she's losing money. A male lawyer may have a wife at home caring for the kids--or worrying about childcare.

Activist organizations should consider providing a small childcare stipend to leaders who volunteer their time. That includes instructors, volunteer lawyers, and others who should not have to lose money because they made the brave, bold decision to help others.

Consider Scheduling Issues 
This year, a "radical" organization scheduled a midnight protest. They were radical enough to spout a lot of rhetoric on their Facebook page, but not sufficiently radical to consider how their scheduling choices might affect attendees.

There's no research showing that any given protest time is more effective than any other. So consider scheduling protests early, before kids' bedtimes, so that moms can come. The same goes for other organizing events. We cater to the working day by scheduling most events outside of working hours. Shifting events slightly earlier is a much smaller concession, and one that encourages more mothers to attend.

Prioritize Mothers' Issues 
The push toward intersectionality and inclusivity has encouraged activists to prioritize trans, disability, class, and other oft-neglected issues in their social justice agendas.

Mothers' issues remain on the sidelines, even though mothers make up almost half of the population. When a group contains no mothers, that group misses vital perspectives. Just as a group fails when it ends up all white, it fails when no one is available to offer insight into mothers' issues.

Activist groups need to actively work to recruit mothers, to include their issues, and to understand how the intersecting roles of female and mother (and, often, poor, black, disabled, etc.) act and are acted upon in an oppressive society.

Don't Make Assumptions About Mothers 
I have to take 10 deep breaths every time someone asks me if I work. People make a range of assumptions about mothers, and this intrusive, sexist question is just scratching the surface.

Please don't assume that a woman's status as a mother tells you anything about her personality, her work life, or her views. Not all mothers are gentle or caring. Most work outside the home. And giving birth does not rob a woman of her intellect, her sexuality, or her radicalism.

Know That Civil Rights Activism Begins at Home 
Jeff and I recently realized that, in his group of civil rights lawyer friends, there is almost no one who is a primary caregiver to small children. So when he started leaving events early and scheduling things around our daughter's needs, people thought it was strange. Most of our activist friends simply do not realize how significant the burden is when a speaker goes over the allotted time, sending Jeff home after Athena's bedtime.

Because he is male, most people seem to find his involvement in our daughter's life charming. If he were female, his involvement might be considered a sign of wavering commitment. In both scenarios, activists must realize something: much misogyny originates in the home. To combat it, it must be acceptable for both men and women to schedule their lives around their children--and, where possible, to bring their children to events.

Activists should not be an exception to the cultural norms they want to take root. They must lead the way.

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