Call to action:
Sunday 8th May, say NO to their « Mother’s Day » and march for choiceS!
We, as girls and women, are instrumentalized for economic purposes. Cis women are pseudo-praised for a supposed maternal instinct: empty words hiding the face that maternity, presented as a joyous duty, brings with it a series of difficulties. Those of us who live outside of a heterosexual couple and/or a heteropatriarcal family, single women with or without children, asexuals, lesbians, and others, are seen as denying a true heteromaternal nature. Our status as women is reduced to our reproductive possibilities and desires, when we have them, in such a way that trans women or post-menopausal women are not viewed as “true” women.
We are encouraged from birth to care for others and put our own needs aside: through play, through the teaching of empathy, through representations of the heteropatriarcal family as the one true family, and of the voyage from girl to adult woman as necessarily passing through traditional maternity. Citizenship and adulthood for girls is still represented as being inextricably linked to maternity.
Women who have children are also subjected to judgment and approval, or more often disapproval, from institutions and from the people aroud us: we must be mothers, but mothers of a certain type, natural, perfect mothers. Being a “good mom” requires belonging to a certain social class, a privileged social class, and the problems that poor mothers face are put down to a lack of educational competence, rather than to poverty itself. Discourses concerning violent or negligent mothers reduce the responsibility to the individual, while social and economic pressures are without a doubt not innocent in the production of parental violence.
The fear of an invasion through reproduction is often mentioned. Mothers who do not speak an official national language or whose cultural habits are different from what is considered “national” are often mentioned as poor educators. Discourse surrounding social « ills » targets these mothers. While it is precisely non-white single mothers who are the most at risk for poverty, our heads and media persist in guilting them for problems their children face: notably, lack of employment and educational opportunity. Non-white families are presented as being a threat in our racist culture of fear. Furthermore, a “good mother” must be neither too old, nor too young. Her private sexual behaviors may be subject to examination in a custody battle, for instance. Our uteruses are thus enrolled in service to a racist State which is obsessed with economic growth and a firm believer in demography as destiny. We are tired of serving capitalism.
Abortion remains a stigmatized choice, and is still mentioned in the Belgian penal code, even if it is now legal. Many women who make this choice are guilted, by people around them but also by medical professionals. Furthermore, too few doctors in training are learning how to perform abortion, and too many are reaching retirement age. It also remains cost-prohibitive for too many girls and women. This right is thus under threat.
Many problems specifically target mothers, who take on the greater part of work linked to childcare and the running of a home. Childcare remains expensive and inaccessible for too many women. Paternity leave is rare and short, maintaining the idea that caring for babies is women’s work. To further complicate things, long trips between work, school, activities, errands and home, in a city whose urbanistic projects are hostile or at best neutral to the needs of carers, contribute to pushing women to the breaking point. For disabled women, these difficulties are multiplied.
Working hours are incompatible with school hours, reducing the choices of women who are responsible for children and searching for a stable, fulfilling job; women work part-time far more than men, and they are the first to remove themselves from the job market if children or other dependents join the household. They also however are pressured to work, in today’s austerity-driven world, and they are even sometimes expected to work several part-time jobs, which has been shown to be quasi impossible! Breaks in careers also contribute to tiny pensions which barely allow for survival. For women, being a parent today means being at higher risk for poverty in the future! As long as wage inequality exists, it will make economic sense in a heterosexual household for the woman to quit work if dependents arrive on the scene.
The workload brought by dependents is still principally feminine. Women and couples who are economically privileged can, and often do, hire other women, often migrant women, to lighten the load. These migrant workers often work in instability and insecurity. Home childcare workers often work with no legal status or security. Many parents turn to family and friends, especially grandparents, to fill the gap left by insufficient public childcare. Family and friends, mostly grandparents but also teenagers, are too often negotiated into becoming private solutions to a lack of public resources, caring for children and other dependents. This can be a positive phenomenon, reflecting solidarity and community, but must be a choice and one aspect among several of a balanced life. Private alternatives, the arrangements that women come up with, reveal an amazing resilience and creativity. These alternatives can be negotiations to maintain small margins of freedom.
However, it is not women’s job to fill the gap left by insufficient public financing, and these alternatives are too often the results of constraints, when family becomes an essential pillar of a very delicate financial and chronometric balance. Family who does wish to help should of course be able to do so while maintaining comfort and dignity. Among others, too restrictive laws on immigration through family ties often exclude people who women rely on but who are not genetically or who are too distantly related. The idea of family as genetic is a modern Western construct, which serves no one.
Women who are economically dependent and victims of partner violence have a very difficult time finding temporary accommodation when they wish to leave, and these difficulties multiply when they have several children, and even more so if they have disabled or special needs children. Generally speaking, the fact that our right to benefit from social services is based on the family unit rather than on the individual creates situations of dependency for women and can make separation an economic impossibility, even in the case of violence.
If parent couples separate or if one parent is lost for another reason, the risk of poverty goes way up; one third of single parent families in Brussels lives beneath the poverty line. Child support is far too often not payed and while a service does exist to make up for this, the SECAL, too many barriers still exist in recovering lost child support.
All these realities form a complex web of constraints, situations, identities and strategies which exhaust too many women and silence their political voices.
This mother’s day, let’s say NO to this web and dare to imagine alternatives.
We, as parents, refuse their flowers and demand that our rights be respected; we refuse false congratulations which constitute us, even during the time of a single hypocritical speech, as an interest group whose needs are competitive with the needs of other women;
Mothers do of course have specific interests and demands, but the pressure to motherhood which faces women without children is not a separate phenomenon from financial and other difficulties of mothers, or from the injunctions to be the right kind of mother;
These are the different faces of a sexist, racist and capitalist monster. This mother’s day, we will march for choices which must no longer be accompanied by guilt, by stigmatizations and by discriminations, by risks. We will march in solidarity to show the true diversity of our realities faced with the homogeneity of their representations. We will march, with or without children, to say loud and clear that we will accept nothing less than dignity for all.
We will march:
- For an ecological perspective on parenting which situates raising children at the intersection of many influences, to replace the perspective of mother-blaming.
- Against the stigmatization of non-white families.
- Against the enrollment of our uteruses in social wars
- For a representation of the true diversity of families and women in public discourse and images, including school manuals.
- Against demands made of women to be mothers, to be mothers of a certain type
- For the removal of abortion from the penal code and for free contraception
- For better R and D of contraceptive alternatives
- For childcare accessible to all
- For a true consideration of children’s needs and of them as citizens
- Towards and equal division of labor in the home, we ask of the State that it contribute to this: obligatory paternity leave.
- For a true and consistent application of gendermainstreaming, prescribed by law since 2007
- For an urban planning which takes into account the rhythms and lives of all its citizens.
- For the individuation of social rights
- For a legal status for people who do care work in the home
- For a (re)valuing of jobs in care
- For a consultation of those who are concerned when elaborating family and child politics
To sign this call to action, write to firstname.lastname@example.org