Feminism: Being Free to Make Your Own Decisions
Today we welcome our first post from Marissa Harrington-Verb, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
My mother, Elisa Harrington-Verb, loves feminism. But more importantly, my mother loves motherhood. She is the most devoted and loving mother that my little brother Sawyer and I could have wished for. When we were young, she stayed home with us all day. She slept next to us at night, and she breastfed us until we decided for ourselves it was time to wean. I love her more than anything, and if you had tried to tell me back then that she was raising me wrong, I would have looked at you like you were crazy.
I had no idea that my mother’s relationship with us was something she had to defend.
Everything that Mom did for us as babies and toddlers was in fact part of a movement called attachment parenting. It’s a parenting style based on creating a strong emotional bond between child and caregiver. Through breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and just being near the child in its early years, the parent becomes sensitive to the child’s needs so it can grow the way it needs to. This kind of nurturing shouldn’t be as controversial as it is, but something about being so close to one’s young child disgusts Western society.
The controversy over this parenting style has recently become more pronounced and public. Two years ago, Time magazine demonized extended breastfeeding on its cover, and attachment parenting got an easily targeted celebrity spokesperson when it was incorrectly blamed for the divorce of The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik.
Today’s backlash against attachment parenting, however, comes mostly from the ignorant, sensationalist Internet culture that sees everything as sexual. But in my mother’s day, just as much as the criticism came from other women who hated what attachment parenting required her to be: a stay-at-home mother.
When Mom was in college, the idea of the strong working woman was the ideal in feminist circles. But then, as Mom got married and had kids, there came a wave of women who decided that they would rather be home for their children than work in an office. But that first group of working mothers was still around and it wasn’t long before everyone started judging each other. Stay-at-home mothers criticized women who put their children in daycare; working mothers huffed at women who chose to devote their lives to domesticity. My mother felt pressure from both sides when she was deciding how to raise me. When she was younger, she’d always thought that she would be an independent working woman, but as feminism split in half around her and her baby daughter, she knew what she really wanted to do.
It wasn’t the path you think of when you hear the word “feminism,” but the way she fought for her decision, it didn’t even matter.
Most of my and Sawyer’s pre-school playmates had mothers who also believed in attachment parenting. Mom was friends with those mothers through an organization called La Leche League. La Leche League is an informational support group about breastfeeding, although when I was little it was just some meeting that my mom took me to where grown-ups talked about food I liked. In retrospect, some of things that they did were pretty cool. What sticks out to me in particular about our time with La Leche League is the “nurse-in.” When a local woman was told she couldn’t breastfeed in a store at the mall, the League went to the mall and nursed. They just sat there with their babies and they nursed.
I barely remember the nurse-in (I couldn’t have been older than three), but I think I enjoyed it. I was playing with my mom and my brother and all of the other moms and babies, and it was exciting because it was at the mall. That was my first experience with activism, and you could say it left a good taste in my mouth.
The way my mother chose to raise her children was not popular, but she truly believed in it then and she still believes in it now. She certainly convinced me that attachment parenting is the best way. But she wouldn’t have been able to convince me, her shy and sensitive daughter, if she’d been pushy and preachy about her methods. Sure, she once boycotted Nestle products because the company sold formula, but I never heard her mention it outside of our house. She is respectful of other women’s decisions, and all that she asks in return is that they respect hers.
And that is what feminism is to me. It’s not necessarily about subverting anything, nor is it about bringing anyone down. First and foremost, it is about lifting people up – specifically, other women. There is no right way to raise your children, but it can still be wrong to judge the way others do it. If women judge each other, then we are hurting ourselves just as much as society as a whole can.
Mom says that feminism is about being free to make your own decisions. And if she decided to be my lifelong best friend, then how can I doubt her?