The folding of Gender Across Borders one year ago brought home the challenges of online feminism. Like, the fact that it’s (more often than not) unpaid. Piled on top of paid jobs and activism, plus (for me at least) raising children and working on longer writing projects. (Or at least talking about them.)

Fortunately some folks who are a heck of a lot smarter than I am have been thinking about the need for sustainability in the online feminist ecosystem. And while they don’t have all the answers, they’ve started a public conversation to generate exchange, debate, and new directions.

Tonight at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, I heard Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti (along with some amazing bloggers from Feministing, Crunk Feminist Collective, SPARK Movement, F-Bomb, Feminist Teacher, and Feminist.com) present a report, #FemFuture: Online Revolution, about where online feminism needs to go. Their inspiring and thought-provoking report can be found here. It reminded me of the HUGE amount of amazing feminist work happening online… and I also learned about amazing folks and projects that I’d missed (such as the successful crowdfunding undertaken by queer Nigerian Afrofeminist blogger/online activist Spectra for social media and communications training for African women’s and LGBT organizations).

Martin and Valenti propose a range of strategies under the category of “more”… more collaboration, reciprocity, infrastructure, coordination, strategic thinking, and sustainable business models (both non-profit and for-profit). Because, as they put it, “An unfunded movement further privileges the privileged.”

They have some (preliminary) ideas about how to strategize long-term, though mainly they’ve started a conversation for feminists who are online. And ones who aren’t, too. The conversation turned global with the presence of organizations like WEDO and Digital Democracy, my new favorite org that’s empowering marginalized communities to use technology to fight for human rights in a handful locations, including Haiti. DD’s insight? Think mobile.

Your insights?

 

In celebration of International Women’s Day, UN Women has released an English-language song, “One Woman,” featuring 25 female artists from 20 countries.

Personally, I prefer “Break the Chain,” the “mass rising” theme song for One Billion Rising, which I wrote about last month. Partly because of the music itself (though I do love the roster of female vocalists who came together for “One Woman”). Partly because of the catchy lyrics. “Break the Chain” names the issues in the very beginning (rape, incest, abuse, ownership of women’s bodies) and defies this violence in powerful lyrics that embrace dancing as an act of self-empowerment and connection. (The creators did such a good job that I’ve witnessed elementary-age kids singing along, in a girl power kind of way: “This is my body, my body’s holy….”)

Plus, “Break the Chain” fits in nicely with the “official theme” of this year’s International Women’s Day: violence against women. As the UN website tag line puts it, “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”

By contrast, “One Woman” doesn’t directly address rape or sexualized violence. While I very much like the different women’s voices—each artist sings a line about a different woman in a different part of the world—it’s not as catchy or as issue-based. Instead, it wades right into the fraught feminist territory of sameness and difference.

Take, for example, the following line: “We are One Woman, your dreams are mine, and we shall shine.” Last I checked, feminists had pretty roundly critiqued the notion of “one woman,” led by many women of color in the U.S. and globally (including Chandra Talpade Mohanty, M. Jacqui Alexander, and the members of the Combahee River Collective, to name only a few). These critiques of overly idealized notions of global sisterhood have pointed to the deeply significant differences of race, nation, and class in our capitalist world. Many feminists have theorized and acted upon alternative models of alliance and coalition-building that can allow for difference and disagreement even as solidarity can take shape around particular issues.

To be fair, the song also contains examples of difference: it identifies many individual women living in particular locations (Kigali, Hanoi, Tangier, Kampala, Juárez, Jaipur, Manila, and so on) whose everyday lives are sources of inspiration and strength. And one line says, “Though we’re different as can be, we’re connected, she with me.” These elements of difference, however, are framed within the refrain of “We are One Woman”—which is, after all, the title of the song.

So who is this song for, and what is it trying to do?

The press materials for UN Women state that “‘One Woman’ aims to become a rallying cry that inspires listeners about the mission of UN Women and engages them to join in the drive for women’s empowerment and gender equality.” This suggests that the song wasn’t written for activists on the frontlines, but rather potential donors and women (primarily in the U.S.? across the “developed” world? or throughout the entire world?) who aren’t involved in struggles for gender justice.

I do love the voices of each of these female artists, many of whom I was not familiar with before this song. And who knows? Perhaps some of their fans at home will listen to “One Woman,” learn about International Women’s Day, and experience heightened consciousness around gender-based violence.

That’s the thing about cultural productions like songs. You just never know how listeners will understand what they hear.

Can we end rape?

It seems impossible, and yet many activists are urging us to imagine a world without rape and sexualized violence. Now. Today. 2013.

February 14 marks One Billion Rising, the fifteenth anniversary of V-Day, which urges “ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence.” In a similar vein, Women Under Siege director Lauren Wolfe issued a call to action in a recent OpEd: “Let’s declare 2013 The Year to End Rape.” Women Under Siege is having its own anniversary: February 8 marks the first year of this project, which was launched by the Women’s Media Center and has been documenting rape and sexualized violence in conflicts around the world. For example, Women Under Siege is using crowd sourcing to document and map the violence in Syria. One year ago, Wolfe and Steinem explained the goals of this project as follows:

Naming sexualized violence as a weapon of war makes it visible—and once visible, prosecutable. What happened to men in the past was political, but what happened to women was cultural. The political was public and could be changed; the other was private—even sacred—and could not or even should not be changed.

Making clear that sexualized violence is political and public breaks down that wall. It acknowledges that sexualized violence does not need to happen. When masculinity is no longer defined by the possession and domination of women, when femininity is no longer about the absence of sexual experience or being owned, then we will have begun.

Women Under Siege strives to name and analyze sexualized violence in several conflicts, including those in Burma, Mexico, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As Wolfe and Steinem argue, “we must understand how sexualized violence is being used. We must understand in order to stop it.” Their analysis not only spans the globe but also looks back at history to include the Holocaust, based on research from the 2010 book Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, edited by Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel.

The essays in Hedgepeth and Saidel’s book reframe the Holocaust to include a range of violent acts perpetrated against Jewish women. I haven’t read their book, but I have read At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, Danielle McGuire’s remarkable account that places sexual violence towards black women—and their resistance—at its center. McGuire’s focus on sexual violence in the Jim Crow South requires us to shift how we understand the entire civil rights movement. By the end, we’re left with a very different story.

The groundbreaking research undertaken by McGuire, Hedgepeth and Saidel, and Women Under Siege allow us to ask some powerful questions. Did sexual violence in the Jim Crow South manifest similar or different patterns than those in conflicts in Libya, Sierra Leone, or Bangladesh? What might we learn from a comparative analysis of different kinds of conflict situations and the sexualized violence that accompanies them? How might we then use this information to prevent more human beings from being raped and killed?

What’s inspiring about Women Under Siege is that they’re asking us not just to look at awful things that are happening, but to understand precisely what’s going on in different contexts—and to refuse to accept any of it as natural or inevitable.

If we refuse to accept the violence, then maybe 2013 can become the year when we end rape.

 

Last week I showed my students the documentary The Business of Being Born, an eye-opening and important film about birth in the United States. While I applaud the film in multiple ways, I always wonder whether its critique of the medicalization of birth, and its elevation of natural birth without intervention, might not inadvertently make some women feel shame. What about those women who “fail” in their quest for a natural birth?

Writer Solange Lopes reflects on her own struggle with ideals of natural birth in the essay below. A mother, writer, and editor of the blog keurawa.com, Solange last wrote for Global Mama in July. Originally from Senegal, she now lives in Rhode Island.

— Heather Hewett

Natural or C-section: Birth or Stigma?

Hello, my name is Solange, and I did not give birth naturally, twice over….

Sounds like the typical introduction line at your local AA meeting, yes? Maybe there’s a reason. I delivered my daughter via emergency Cesarean section three years ago, and had a repeat, scheduled intervention for my son’s birth eight months ago.

Now, understand, I am an African woman, born and raised in Senegal, West Africa. My maternal grandmother walked herself to the hospital to deliver each one of her 12 children, all of them barely a year apart from each other. Where I come from, women are admonished not to scream in the labor room, because giving birth—naturally that is—is a woman’s ultimate pride.

As I suffered through 18 hours of excruciating labor, my mother, sitting by my side alongside my husband, kept reminding me to breathe… and to forego the epidural. I didn’t need it, she said, I could just push my way through it. Well, it turns out that my body wasn’t exactly in a cooperative mood, and neither was my mind.

I can still taste the disappointment in my mother’s eyes, as salty as the tears rolling down my face, as I signed the medical release authorizing the drugged relief into my body. A lifetime of suffering and self-denial flashed through her eyes, as she shook her head and sat back down with the heaviness of forced resignation. Despite the relief offered me a few hours later, pain still stung my entire being, this time more mental, more acute.

Hour after hour of pushing and breathing and laboring, and… nothing! Then the doctor’s stern face announcing that the baby’s heart rate was declining and that surgery was needed. The first thought that coursed my mind was: “What will my mother think about it?” I had mentally foregone my unborn child’s well-being, as always seeking my mother’s approval. I was not a grown woman giving birth; I was back to being a fatherless little girl looking for her mother’s approval.

And again, I saw it. The disapproval in her eyes, the images of centuries of strong women before me who gave birth alone, laying on dirt floors, with little or no assistance at all… And I, incapable, unworthy, weak thing!

The remaining hours were a blur. Within a matter of minutes, I was a mother: a child, my child, removed from the depths of my womb, or so it seemed. I was neither deserving nor did I feel entitled to receive the customary congratulations. The title of mother felt usurped, stolen by this little woman, this sell-out whom I could only perceive from my ego’s eyes. This other woman, not me, who had not proved worthy, or up to the task at hand.

In both Senegalese and Cape-Verdean cultures, both cultures I was raised in, how you gave birth is more important than the extraordinary act itself. When my more Westernized guests would inquire about the height and weight of my small angel, some other guests would ask, crudely and without compromise: “So did you have her natural?”

As I would fumble, searching for the right enough words to summarize one of the most defining moments of my entire existence, I would meet, yet again, disapproving glance after shocked look.

Ay credu, you couldn’t push that baby out?”

Scheduling my son’s delivery via C-section was no easy feat either. Faced with the grim statistics of a repeat C-section delivery as opposed to a VBAC (vaginal delivery after C-section), I followed my doctor’s recommendation and opted for another intervention.

Another silent inner battle against deep-seated feelings of lacking self-worth and humiliation. Yet another excruciating series of questions from family members. Another opportunity at practicing my hard-earned skills at dodging inquisitive glances and words alike.

Yet in all this confusing brouhaha of egotistical mentalities, mine included, one cannot help but hear the deafening sound of sad world statistics around maternal mortality.

According to the World Health Organization’s May 2012 Fact Sheet, approximately 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to childbirth and pregnancy. Ninety-nine percent of these occur in developing countries like my native Senegal. The reported figures are staggeringly high: for each 100,000 births in developing countries, 240 result in maternal death. Compare this to a maternal mortality ratio of 16 per 100,000 in developed countries. As much as unnecessary surgeries should certainly be avoided, it is evident that adequate medical care before, during, and after childbirth is still lacking.

Having access to surgery saved my life and my babies’ lives, despite the cultural stigma I am trying hard to let go of. It will save the lives of many like me who are privileged enough to benefit from it.

But shouldn’t this privilege be available to all women?

Hello, my name is Solange, I am healthy, and so are my babies.

 

I just finished watching Half the Sky, the two-part PBS documentary “inspired” by the nonfiction book written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It aired on Monday and Tuesday nights, though you can view it online through October 9. It’s well worth your time, though for reasons that may vary individually. Watch it for what’s going on if you don’t know a lot about global issues such as gender-based violence or sex trafficking or maternal mortality, but watch it for how it’s filmed and put together if you know a fair amount about the what.

First, a few thoughts about the what. Feminists have levied plenty of critiques against the book, and many of these apply to the documentary. On these issues, I’m in agreement with Courtney Martin, who reviewed the book a few years ago on feministing.com. She aptly sums up its shortcomings in this way:

What Half the Sky is not: a feminist analysis of the systemic injustices that intersect in these women’s and girls’ lives. It is neither psychologically complex, nor steeped in moral investigation. It seems that Kristof, who is the author most often mentioned, still hasn’t explored or isn’t interested in exploring his own privilege and the way it interacts with his “subjects.” It’s a book that prizes pragmatism over an analysis of power, simple stories over complex narratives, and motivating an “everywoman” reader over pointing out hypocrisies, inconsistencies, and challenges of Western-based activism for global uplift.

But Martin also observes what the book does right:

It is a fantastic primer […] for folks who are new to learning about global health and economic challenges disproportionately affecting women and girls. Kristof and WuDunn are masters are using a very unique story to illustrate a vast issue, incorporating statistics, and making non-partisan, no-nonsense arguments. They also did a notable job of finding plenty of grassroots activism, born and continued by those being directly affected, as model examples.

Ditto for the documentary, with its sleek design and high production value. I found the film powerful and, at times, emotionally difficult to watch. I suppose the inclusion of six female “celebrity activists” (America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde) is partly intended to help first-world viewers process the heartbreaking realities of poverty, violence, and oppression facing women and girls in the countries where the documentary was filmed (Cambodia, Sierra Leone, India, Vietnam, Kenya, and Somaliland). In other words, celebrities play the part of the “everywoman.” And of course, they also help provide “visibility” to the issues explored in Half the Sky—all of which is explained to us at the beginning of the film by George Clooney, who’s sitting back in a comfortable armchair and looking awfully, well, comfortable.

Masterpiece Theatre, anyone?

It’s easy to feel a little cynical about this part of the film, but to their credit, the “celebrity activists” aren’t sitting in armchairs. They travel to remote locations with Nick Kristof and listen to the stories of girls and women who have suffered human rights violations and, with their different styles and personalities, do their best to connect with the people they meet. And let’s face it—they do bring visibility to issues that many different feminists have been working on for decades.

Documentary as a form can bring us into individual lives and allow others to tell their stories. It’s an edited version of these stories, of course, but still compelling if, like me, you like documentaries. (Though it is a little odd to see Eva Mendes consoling a young girl who has been raped while Nicholas Kristof asks questions and jots down responses on his reporter’s notepad. However, in one of the most interesting moments in the film, Kristof abandons his journalistic persona and actively pushes the Freetown police force to arrest the alleged perpetrator.) Following Kristof’s and WuDunn’s lead, the filmmakers have wisely chosen to focus on people, notably nine activists who are fighting different battles for women’s rights. Many of these activists are local women whose lives exemplify the leadership and vision that it will take to end global scourges such as gender-based violence. Women like Edna Adan, Somaly Mam, Amie Kandeh, and Rebecca Lolosoli provide the heart and soul of the film—as do several younger girls who are struggling to overcome barriers and achieve their full potential as human beings.

The next time I teach my class on transnational feminism, I’ll consider using part of this documentary. I currently use an excerpt from the book Half the Sky when we discuss global sex trafficking. Kristof and WuDunn take a firm abolitionist stand against prostitution, which they view as connected to sex trafficking. Their position contrasts starkly with the other readings in the class (usually by feminist sociologists), and the ensuing classroom debate is always animated. Here’s what else: the students always love Half the Sky, even when they don’t agree with all of its positions. They always tell me that they wish more of our class readings were as accessible and interesting as this book.

There’s a lesson here for those of us who want to build bridges between research and reality.

 

It is my pleasure to introduce Solange M. Lopes, who contacted me last month about contributing a post. Here it is! Solange is a 33-year old native of Senegal, West Africa, wife and mother of two residing in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A writer at heart, her writing experience includes creating and editing the “Kawraal” student magazine at Suffolk University Dakar Campus and serving as student journalist for the Suffolk Journal in Boston from 2001 through 2004. She is the chief editor of her own blog at keurawa.com and is currently working on a collection of short stories.

A Lighter Shade of Woman

“Pretty for a dark-skinned girl”: since I was a little girl in pigtails, this has single-handedly been the one so-called compliment that’s always left me puzzled as to whether I should be flattered or offended by it. Or maybe a bit of both?

According to statistics by the World Health Organization for 2012, 77% of men and women in Nigeria alone regularly give in to the widely popular practice of skin bleaching. The report also cites other African nations such as Togo with 59 per cent of skin bleaching product users; South Africa, 35 per cent; and Mali, 25 per cent.

These statistics are not only proprietary to Africa. Per an article published by BBC News Africa in June 2012, “for centuries Indian women have been raised to believe that fairness is beauty, and this has given rise to a vast and ever-growing skin-whitening industry – which is now encouraging women to bleach far beyond their hands and face.” The phenomenon extends to Cubans, black Americans, Jamaicans, Japanese and Arabic women as well, largely in cultures which appear to vastly favor fairer skin tones.

Some of the worst components of skin lightening creams include, but are not limited to, topical steroids, hydroquinone and derivatives of mercury. As stated in the World Health Organization June 2012 Information Sheet, “many skin lightening creams and soaps contain some form of mercury as an active agent. But mercury is dangerous. It can cause kidney damage and may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.”  Unfortunately, the incidence of skin cancer, neuropathy, skin atrophy and pigment disorders, as well as neurotoxic problems, to cite a few, has not halted the devastating progress of this lethal practice.

All in all, skin bleaching, or “skin lightening” as it is often mildly put, represents a serious disease affecting not only the body at large, but also detrimentally endangering the mental health and social well-being of its advocates.

As numerous and alarming the consequences of skin bleaching, even more varied and dire are their root causes. So many reasons have been cited to attempt to explain, or maybe justify this practice, from the disastrous post-slavery and colonial effects, to the argument around debasingly low levels of self-esteem in women using lightening products, to the now most prevalent phenomenon of socio-economic and media pressure.

However, after so many centuries of theorizing the why’s and how’s of this phenomemon, it has become obvious that the conversation needs to be modified, if not redirected in an entirely new direction altogether. Dwelling on obscure questions and tentative answers to explain the occurrence of this rampant social plague only perpetuates the problem by pitting real or imagined offenders, be it slavery, society or the media, against enabled victims who have no intention of curbing their destructive habit. The conversation, therefore, needs to focus around working to proactively put a stop to this calamity through education, self-empowerment, and self-acceptance.

The truth is, directly or indirectly, closely or remotely, we as human beings and especially as global women and creatures of change and advancement, are victims. Victims of the lack of education around the practice itself. Victims of disempowered societies in which the woman’s appearance is viewed as her main means of survival through fruitful marriage contracts and unions of monetary convenience. Victims of deconstructed families in which mothers teach little girls and boys to erase the original versions of themselves from the blackboard of Experience, just as they would unfinished infantile drawings. Victims of the loss of our women, our authentic, strong, beautiful women, the ones to lift up our men, carry and bring up our children, feed our families, plant trees and open new paths.

Victims because we fail to see and call attention to what’s inside, so we can go on and teach other women to see and call attention to what’s inside. Victims because so many times, we remain silent instead of speaking up, because just ignoring the issue is an issue in itself.

– Solange M. Lopes

I’ve been thinking about Mona Simpson’s beautifully written essay and Michele Asselin’s exquisite photographs since they appeared in The New York Times Magazine last weekend. Asselin’s portrait series, accompanied by interviews, is called “Full Time Preferred: Portraits of Love, Work and Dependence.” Her photographs feature nannies with their charges—their employers’ children—in intimate moments of caregiving. The women and children are beautiful and content, bathed in radiant luminescence and surrounded by darkness. Most of the children are babies or toddlers, ages when showering them with love comes easily, more often than not.

Simpson writes with nuance and honesty about the complexities of relationships based on paid caregiving. She accurately describes Asselin’s photographs as

…moments of private contentment, with the serenity and depth borrowed from the portraiture legacy of the Madonna and child…

By placing nannies in this visual legacy, the photographs deliberately elevate caregivers who aren’t valued in our society. Asselin’s impulse is to make paid caregivers visible, to bring them out of the shadows and into the center. In her essay, Simpson observes that nannies have confided to her that their employers “crop them out of photographs of their children.” These portraits, the interviews with them, and Simpson’s essay all work against a society that still prefers to keep caregiving and domestic work invisible.

The online slideshow allows viewers to play a series of recorded interviews with nannies and their employers. I prefer this to the excerpts in the magazine because more individuality and complexity emerge among and between the different women. For the same reason, I’d love to see more photographs from Asselin—ones that leave behind the vein of Madonna-and-child. I’ve love to see photographs that not only lift paid caregivers out of their private, “unseen” world but also allow a fuller register of lived experience to emerge. With these children, yes, but also with their own children. Their own friends, partners, parents, relatives. And in all the public places we see paid caregivers, with others or by themselves: at the playground. At the store. At school. At the bank. At the airport. At the mall. And at daycare. (Because most children aren’t cared for by nannies or au pairs, and most paid caregivers don’t work in private homes.)

Just as biological and adoptive mothers have worked hard to break out of the impossible expectations placed on them by the ideologies of motherhood associated with the Madonna—everlasting patience, self-sacrifice, martyrdom, perfection—these “other mothers” deserve to be seen as being fully human, too.

I’d also love to see some portraits of male caregivers. There used to be a male au pair in my neighborhood. This was unusual, so all the kids at the playground knew him. But they’re out there. Just like fathers.

At its core, caring for others is not exclusively women’s work. It’s at the core of what it means to be human.

Visual imagery can’t convey the truly invisible structures of global inequality, sexism, and racism that underlie these relationships. But they can expand how we see the world—and how we imagine what’s possible. For this reason, I’d love for Asselin to continue to create images that ask us to re-imagine family in the broadest and most expansive ways.

 

Along with thousands of other travelers, I flew home today from Oklahoma City.

Unlike them, I wasn’t visiting for the NBA finals.

I flew to Oklahoma a week ago to help my mom with my 86-year-old father, who fell over Memorial Day weekend and fractured a vertebra. After a several-day stay in the hospital, he was sent to a rehabilitation center so that he could participate in intensive therapies—physical, occupational, and speech. Since he injured himself and entered the hospital, he has lost most of his ability to walk (because of his back brace, plus atrophying muscles), talk (weak vocal cords), and put on his glasses (weak motor control). Fortunately he is lucid, and his physical condition has been improving.

Nevertheless, this sudden turn of events has been very hard on my mother, who’s only a few years younger than he is. There’s a lot to do, much of it stressful. For the past week, we’ve been visiting my father, tracking down nurses and doctors and therapists, meeting with care managers and lawyers and neighbors, visiting other facilities, and talking to insurance companies.

It all gives a new meaning to the name of this column, “global mama,” when you think about it a bit more expansively and in terms of long-distance caregiving. Which is probably one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to issues such as transnational mothering in the first place.

I live in New York. My elderly parents and my younger sister, a 40-year-old woman with Down syndrome, live in Oklahoma. And she’s not getting any younger, either.

My mom is the primary caregiver for my father right now. But his recent fall and my trip have started me thinking about a lot of things. About the fact that my aging mother is caring for an increasingly infirm husband and an adult daughter with mental disabilities. About the fact that my mother and my sister are aging. About the increasingly obvious fact that in addition to being a mother of young kids, one with severe food allergies, I am also a long-distance caregiver.

I have never understood how this is going to work. To be honest, I have preferred straight-up denial, because my life feels way too complicated already. But I am starting to do what I do best when faced with complex, uncertain, and slightly terrifying challenges: write. I have started to read about eldercare issues and to process what I am reading, one sentence at a time. I have a lot to learn.

Caring for aging parents is a hot topic right now. Just take a look at the June 11 Time magazine issue, with its cover article “How to Die” by Joe Klein. Or last month’s New York magazine, with the devastating cover article by Michael Wolff: “Mom, I Love You. I Also Wish You Were Dead. And I Expect You Do, Too.” (That one nearly sent me over the edge. Wolff is one of the most brutally honest journalists I’ve ever read.) Sandra Tsing Loh recounts her own familial story in an Atlantic magazine review of three recent books about caring for aging parents, one of which I’m reading: Jane Gross’s A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—and Ourselves. So far, it’s quite good; as a journalist, she’s a bit more measured in a genre that tends toward trafficking in “Elderschadenfreude” (pure Sandra Tsing Loh, and she hits the nail on the head). But even Gross’s story provides little to no comfort.

Gross writes with an attuned sensitivity to gender. For example, she observes that most adult children caring for elderly parents are daughters. While many are sons, the numbers aren’t equal. Just like there’s a “mommy track,” there’s a “daughter track.

But these two worlds share less than we might think, she argues. For example, she writes that while many companies have addressed (some of) the needs of working parents with programs like parental leave policies, few if any workplaces have addressed the needs of caregiving adult children with comparable policies and programs.

This depresses me. As if we’ve made enough progress on support for working families. (Have I mentioned that my own maternity leave was unpaid?) To add insult to injury, according to Gross, we’re even further behind with policies supporting nonprofessional caregivers.

The childcare paradigm doesn’t work well for the end of life. Gross points out that pregnancy and birth can generally be planned for, well in advance. (Adoption, of course, is another story.) But most end-of-life crises can’t.

Thankfully my dad fell during summer vacation. But what about when something happens during the semester? Or during a family trip? I’ve realized that I have to accept a fair amount of constant uncertainty.

Gross writes to help adult children navigate these uncertainties (she is also the founder of The New Old Age Blog at The New York Times). So far, I’m finding A Bittersweet Season helpful. I even thought about giving it to my mother, but I hesitated. The book isn’t really written for her. So I have started to look for resources for caregiving wives—another “track,” I realize, similar and yet different from the “mother” and “daughter” tracks.

All three “tracks” occur when women (still) perform caregiving work and shoulder the invisible emotional toll of caregiving—despite the way that traditional gender roles have opened up. As Peggy Orenstein writes in Flux, our world remains “half-changed”: institutions and social policies have not kept pace with how many families now live their lives. And, I would add, roles such as daughterhood and wifehood—like motherhood—carry with them gendered stereotypes and expectations. The dutiful daughter. The martyred wife. These can be damaging, particularly when others expect women to do it all, and to bear their burden silently.

In 1976, Adrienne Rich split apart the institution of motherhood from the act of mothering. The first she viewed as oppressive, the second as empowering. Other feminists and gender activists have worked to preserve mothering (or, simply, parenting) while questioning its alignment with sex and gender identity. Is it possible to do something similar with caregiving for the elderly? Do we need a movement to help enable all of us to care for our families, both those we are born with and those we choose?

 

We’ve teamed up!  Deborah Siegel (a.k.a. Mama w/ Pen and our very own Girl w/ Pen founder) and I have collaborated on an OpEd on Elisabeth Badinter’s new book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.  We agree with some of her arguments, but take issue with others.  Our call?  Let’s move past all the mommy wars and focus on the real needs of U.S. mothers.  Read more over at CNN.com.

On a personal note, I cannot think of anything I have done this past year that has been as gratifying as working with Deborah on this piece.  Two is definitely better than one!

 

THIS SUNDAY, MAY 13, 2012 — Mother’s Day in the United States — women everywhere will simultaneously post this letter to their blogs, websites and Facebook pages, to honor the work of Mothers around the world.

YOU ARE INVITED TO ADD YOUR VOICE. To join our Mother’s Day Blog-In simply,

1. Copy & paste this letter on your blog, Facebook or Google+ page.

2. Add your name and links to your site, work or organization in the comments at https://www.facebook.com/MothersSpeakOut

3. Tweet, share and post the link to your letter using the hashtag #MothersSpeakOut

We also invite all mothers to post a comment or image about their authentic, true reality as a mother — ones that they don’t often see reflected in the mainstream media.

* * * * * * *

Together, Mothers Are Powerful.

Last month’s furor over the remarks of political pundits and candidate’s wives launched a flurry of conversation among mothers.

Mothers have a voice of their own to add to the discussion. Authors, activists and others have been writing and identifying the issues raised this political season for decades, and women have been listening, again and again.

It’s time for mothers’ own voices to be heard.

We are a bi-partisan coalition of women’s organizations, experts, and writers who have diligently worked on bringing mother’s issues into the mainstream political discussion.

Some of us are advocates, and some are community organizations. Many of us are authors and experts about mothers’ lives as well.  All of us recognize the value of a mother’s contribution to her family, both the paid and unpaid work that women do.

Our message is simple: all mothers need more support.

This Mother’s Day we want to get the word out about our ideas, our work, and our priorities. We offer the following list to provide resources for real information and places for women to gather for intelligent discourse on the many problems — and solutions — to the issues facing mothers and families.

We offer this list as an alternative to the tired and cliched coverage of mothers in the mainstream media.

Please join your voice with ours this Mother’s Day. Together, Mothers are powerful.

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ANN CRITTENDEN

Author, The Price of Motherhood

Co-founder “MOTHER: Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights”

DEBRA LEVY

Past President, Mothers & More