Something occurred to me last week as I sifted through a series of Mother’s Day specials on the feminist blogs I peruse regularly. During the rest of the year, women like me, a 24-year-old childless feminist, are surprisingly disengaged from the debates surrounding mothering and caregiving. Blogs targeting young feminists run the gamut from equal pay to women in politics, but their posts more often hash out topics like reproductive rights, sex, domestic violence, body image and women in the media. Books by young feminists in the past few years, like Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth, Courtney Martin’s Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters and Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, barely scratch the surface of issues like paid maternity leave, affordable childcare and balanced parenting.
By the same token, mother- and family-related blogs, social networking sites and activist groups rarely associate themselves with mainstream feminism. Most feminist mom organizations and websites like Sistas on the Rise or Hip Mama are local and grassroots, often excluded from discussions of feminism in the national media. The profusion of mostly white, mostly middle-class mom bloggers like Mindy Roberts from The Mommy Blog or Daphne Brogdon from Cool Mom don’t promote their work as feminist or even activist.
There’s a palpable disconnect between these two worlds, and it’s starting to worry me.
Is it because younger feminists don’t relate parenting issues to feminism? It’s more likely because most young feminists in the national conversation don’t have kids, and people are less likely to fight for issues that don’t affect their everyday life. Or because the media hone in on hot-button feminist issues such as teen sex or women and pop culture, deeming them sexier than free daycare or family leave.
These would seem like logical explanations, but does it go deeper? Chicago-based feminist blogger Veronica Arreola says yes. She asserts that young feminists don’t focus on these issues because we’re fighting against the stereotype that “a woman’s life is incomplete until she reproduces.” It’s a familiar sentiment that dates back to Second Wave feminism, when the pressure to become a mom and a wife right away was even greater.
Arreola, a 34-year-old mother who writes the blog Viva la Feminista, is a rare exception, a woman who has a strong blogger presence as a feminist and mother. She was one of the first in her group of feminist activist friends to have kids, a fact that immediately put her in “some other camp,” she admits.
Charlie Rose, a 20-year-old Smith student and mom who chose to conceive at 15, doesn’t exactly feel embraced by mainstream feminism, either. Rose is the site producer for Girl-Mom, a website for radical young mothers. In April she was featured on the popular young feminist website Feministing as “counter[ing] cliches with badassery”–a nod to independent young mothers that pleasantly surprised Rose. But although she considers herself a feminist and publicly tries to break down the stigma attached to teen motherhood, she’d never heard of Feministing until the site mentioned her. And the post about her prompted more than 150 comments, many of them negative. “A 15 year old girl deciding to have a baby at such a young age? Wow…I just find that really sad,” one person commented. Another agreed, “I don’t trust any fifteen year old to be emotionally mature enough or financially stable enough to raise a child on her own. Choosing to conceive strikes me as reckless and ignorant.”