French braids

I’ve had some really bruising and hurtful encounters this week. Reflecting on them, they feel very connected, to me, to being a woman and a feminist, and navigating a profoundly misogynistic world. It’s compounded by being a mother and a feminist. It goes beyond the invisible labour I perform and am expected to perform, the gender roles I am expected (and expect myself) to adhere to, beyond pink and blue toys, beyond the gender pay gap. It goes deep into how we construct motherhood, the constraints we place on the role, the way we glorify it and fetishise it and punish those who do not make the grade.I make no apologies for being intelligent, educated, ambitious, career driven, and finding meaning and happiness in work. And that’s all palatable, up to a certain point. But if I were to say- I enjoy work more than I enjoy parenting, and get more out of it- that feels less OK. What’s missing is the caveat, ‘I love my children’. I refuse to give you that caveat. Why should I? How dare you ask for it.

I’m nearly 40 and I don’t want to learn how to do a French braid. I want my girls to be fierce, to question things, to be hungry, to fight, to achieve, to be. I want them to be wild, I want them to be civilised, I want them to be tender, I want them to be angry. I don’t care about neat and tidy. I don’t want them to be writing this one day.

Where is the space to query motherhood outside of the academy, outside of my niche radical circles? When the boots hit the ground, my clever theories about the construction of motherhood are tossed aside, as I wilt in your gaze. I only aspire to good enough parenting, and even there I fail, sometimes, often. I cannot be the mother you want me to be, and the woman I want to be. There is no space. I have all the words, so many words, but you cannot hear them.

4 thoughts on “French braids

  1. Akiko, you bring me awe. You are more than enough. Your children will become themselves. Your dreams and their dreams will dance. Your work, their work, your creativity, their creativity….I await with grateful anticipation.

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  2. Akiko, you bring me awe. You are more than enough. Your children will become themselves. Your dreams and their dreams will dance. Your work, their work, your creativity, their creativity….I await with grateful anticipation.

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  3. Akiko, you are unique and magnificent. Do not tear yourself apart over a false dichotomy. You are the woman you are, the mother you are, you are – in the familiar but perhaps inappropriate phrase – one and indivisible. Your children will be perfectly capable of following your excellent example, and will love you the more for your determination to be yourself, true to your convictions, and always true to those you love. This is pretty good parenting by any standards.

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  4. Thanks !

    I need to read again, but two thoughts :

    1. ‘Parenting’ (as a word – parenting classes, etc.) is at least as bad a word as ‘motherhood’ : when social workers, etc., are patronizing in a meeting (as someone referred to on Twitter this week) by putting the ‘mum’ label on, say, a woman called Jo, and framing utterances such as ‘Mum [meaning Jo] perhaps could consider…’.

    2. We do not taint either of the words ‘fatherhood’ or ‘childhood’ with the responsibilities, etc., that you mention : we ask Alex Baldwin (is he a father ?), ‘How do you find fatherhood / being a father at the age of ??’, but is he meant to say much ? Or does a child, by being born, expressly (if not de facto, for some parents) agree to be or do certain things ?

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