Monday, May 10, 2010

Is it My “Feminist Duty” to Mention Mother’s Day?

So, yesterday was Mother’s Day. For the past three years I have written on Menstrual Poetry and for those three years, I have written about Mother’s Day and how this one day, for me, brings about anxiety, panic attacks and an overwhelming sense of loss.

It’s no big secret that I am a survivor of child abuse, neglect, sexual assault and rape. I have written about all of this on this website many, many times and a few years ago I had given an interview to the Scranton, Pennsylvania Times Tribune about being an adult survivor of childhood sexual assault and also made my childhood life experiences public to a crowd of a few hundred people at the Scranton, Pennsylvania Take Back the Night rally at Courthouse Square. But regardless of the amount of times I write about it or talk about it, the gut-wrenching, crippling, bottomless pit of emotion does not go away. Sure, I have learned healing techniques from the Women’s Resource Center, whom I sought help for my anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression from after calling the RAINN hotline one day when I was alone in my first apartment, feeling defeated and as if I were trapped inside a bubble of negativity. There are also some amazing resources online for survivors, like the Survivor Manual, started by Angela Shelton, a survivor, filmmaker, author, comedian, writer, actress, model and all-around fabulous and inspiring woman. If the amount of resources made available to survivors tells us one thing, it is that we are not alone and that sentiment inspires and motivates us to heal and to help others in their own healing journeys in any way they will allow us to. But healing is a journey–a very long journey and in the end, while you may have come to terms with what happened to you, there are still days when you can do nothing but “sit in your shit,” a term I could not help but adopt from my counselor at the Women’s Resource Center.

Having a “dark day” or period of time where you can do very little but “sit in your shit” is perfectly okay and it is completely normal. Wallowing and grieving is part of the healing process and you have to allow yourself to do that throughout your entire healing process. I remember reading that on any major given holiday, there are twice as many phone calls made to rape crisis and assault hotlines than any other time of the year. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter, parent-specific days of recognition and all holidays in between are major triggers for those affected by assault in some way.

Mother’s Day has been my biggest trigger for over ten years.

While I have written posts about Mother’s Day and how it affects me on a severely personal level for the past three years, this year I contemplated what I would write about and kept coming up with virtually nothing. I have said it all before and nothing about this aspect of my life has changed, so what else was there to say? This year, Mother’s Day seemed to be on steroids. Between two email accounts, Facebook, Twitter and the general blogosphere, for a week I have not been able to get away from the “Happy Mother’s Day” sentiments and this year, I really wanted nothing to do with it. So my approach for this year’s Mother’s Day post? Complete and utter avoidance. But that didn’t necessarily work out the way I thought it would–obviously.

While visiting my daily reads around the feminist blogosphere, Mother’s Day was undoubtedly a major topic of discussion and conversation.

  • The Undomestic Goddess listed things her mother had done for her to shape her into the woman she is now; from being her Girl Scout troop leader and “room mom” in school to teaching her the importance of friendships and how to not let people take advantage of her in any situation.
  • The Pursuit of Harpyness made a list of the best advice given to them by their moms (or maternal role models) and asked for the best advice or “how it’s done” statements made by the mothers of their commenters.
  • Our Bodies Our Blog featured a fun video that will insert the name of the woman of your choice in a faux news story awarding that person with the “Mother of the Decade Award” from MomsRising
  • Girl with Pen compiled a wish list for Mother’s Day including ideas like “A world in which being born a girl is not a risk factor for malnourishment, hunger, neglect, discrimination, poverty, abuse, sexual violence, forced labor, trafficking or death.” and “A newspaper filled with stories about the new global peace: no environmental disasters, no bombs exploding, no torture, no hate crimes, no war.”
  • fbomb dedicated their ongoing series of articles of ‘Support Women Artists Sunday’ to Mother’s Day and to Carly Simon because their mother was obsessed with the artist.
  • Jezebel featured quite a few different posts about and in dedication of Mother’s Day, including an article republished by Morning Quickie about how her mother had not attended a school play when she was 10 because it conflicted with a Buddhist retreat she needed to attend and how that moment taught her that you can be a wife and mother without completely giving up your sense of self.
  • Womanist Musings has a new post over at Global Comment about Mother’s Day and what it really means to celebrate motherhood when in the wake up Mother’s Day or any recognition honoring mothers and motherhood brings up the conversation of choice and a woman’s right to choose abortion.
  • Chloe at Feministing wrote an article about the glorification of motherhood in our culture while American mothers are still denied basic rights like paid maternity leave, how women can be kicked out of public places for breastfeeding, the pay cut women take when they become mothers and the fact that single mothers earn between 34% and 44% less than men in the same field.

It was the Feministing article that really struck a chord with me–and not necessarily in a completely good way. It is definitely an inspiring and motivating piece for those who find themselves “with-mother,” with sentiments like “you only get one [biological] mother” and “it isn’t fair that mothers only get one special day a year,” but to someone tragically without, I can’t imagine being this high-strung, this emotional and this triggered more than one day a year.

But as a self-identified feminist who runs a feminist-centric blog, one must ask themselves–is it my “duty” as a feminist to blog about Mother’s Day regardless of my personal triggers and downright discomfort with the subject? Motherhood and a woman’s right to bear children is a major feminist issue. From the absence of paid maternity leave as a fundamental right to women with careers to women being formally and socially judged if they receive welfare and choose to become mothers; not one of the road blocks women hit repeatedly from the time of pregnancy to actively parenting are okay and I try to blog about these problems as much as I can, but this conversation becomes more involved, wide-spread and more passionate on Mother’s Day. The day I cannot bring myself to see the silver lining if said silver lining hit me over the head like a baseball bat.

To the credit of the Feministing article, it did mention “sparents,” a term coined by Mia Freedman. Sparents (or “spare parents”) are those nurturing and responsible adults who play essential roles in shaping the lives of children who may not be biologically theirs, but that doesn’t stop them from teaching, sharing, guiding and experiencing.

I didn’t have “sparents” exactly, but I did have a kick-ass, liberal grandmother who gave me the foundation to grow into the woman that I am today.

So, to my GramPat–

Thank you for showing me exactly what a proud, independent woman looks like. For your undeniable and unwavering love, regardless of the mistakes I have made in my life and will continue to make throughout it. For raising me with the respect to make my own decisions and form my own point of view and for your guidance. For reminding me to never be too proud to ask for help and never judging me. For instilling in me the knowledge that women can do anything and giving me the courage to speak my mind and do what I believe in. For not making too much fun of me for being 23 years old and still not knowing how to cook. For all the school projects, middle-of-the-night Walmart runs, early-morning deep, philosophical conversation accompanied by cup after cup of coffee and for teaching me who is on the 50 dollar bill, which to this day I still know the answer to (Grant.) Thank you for making me look up how to spell certain words in the Dictionary, you’re probably single-handedly the one to thank for my excellent spelling skills and for making me look up anything I wanted to know more about in the Encyclopedia first before you gave me your point of view on the subject.

Thank you for your infinite wisdom and thank you for helping me become the woman I am today. I hope to one day become even a fraction of the empowering and inspiring woman you are.

But even though I have been fortunate enough to have a deeply inspiring grandmother who is still a tremendous mother-figure in my life, that cannot erase the sense of loss that is felt when you have a mother out there, who is not deceased, but just doesn’t want you. To realize that you are not wanted by the very person who brought you into this world is a deeply damaging and tragic realization. My mother does not want me and she never has; when she had me, she did nothing but make my life into yet another statistic–another case of child neglect and emotional and physical abuse, another case of childhood sexual assault, another case of irreversible mental illness.

So last night, when sitting here thinking of the day in which we recognize the good in motherhood, I sobbed. I sobbed for the mother I have never had; for my loss of a fit and capable mother that I deserved. But what gives me that little comfort I need is the fact that there are people in my life who want to be in it and who deserve to see the woman I continue to become.

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Posted in: Musings | 10 Comments

10 Thoughts on Is it My “Feminist Duty” to Mention Mother’s Day? | Leave a Comment

  1. Gram Pat says:

    This morning I came home from work and before turning in for a few well deserved hours' sleep I checked in on Menstrual Poetry to see if your' website had mentioned Mothers Day. I know it's a difficult day for you, but as always, you faced it with the strength of words. If, in some small way, I have helped you find those words to express your feelings, to work your way through those difficult days, to become the special person that you are today………all I can say is that I tried my best and it seems that was good enuf for you. I love you unconditionally, do not ever forget that. If you need me for any reason, I am here. I don't know how wise I am, but you got the “kick ass” right!

  2. very touching. I've also greeted my mom last sunday, though I forgot to mention and reminisce about our pursuit of harpyness moments :) great read, i think my eyes enjoyed reading this entry, and I've read about 10 other blog posts earlier and this seriously hit me hard. I think this is a good way to wrap my day.

  3. Gift Baskets says:

    You've a well written site! Your Gram Pat is truly a wise person. Her guidance has made you, thru your words a great person!

  4. Matt says:

    That is a moving story, Im glad you shared it with us and Im glad I stopped by to read it. Panic and anxiety are two things I wouldnt wish on my worst enemy. God Bless You

  5. jaxx says:

    what a touching post, holly. you found a wonderful way to handle the whole question — which in my opinion shouldn't even exist. to me, artificial holidays such as mother's day, father's day, valentine's day and thanksgiving are symptoms of our cultureless culture, one devoid of any common rituals or practices that would make the very idea of something like a “mother's day” seem ludicrous.

    what? abolish mother's day? i would if i could. along with the others mentioned above and, for that matter, christmas (which can no longer be called christmas because that's too sectarian – so if we are agreeing as a society that it's not a religious holiday then what, exactly, are we celebrating?) and thanksgiving, which is basically a day of gluttony in honor of slaughtering the native american tribes, following by a day of frenzied mass-shopping (malls opening at 5am!) in order to prepare for …. of course … xmas.

    sorry to go on and on about it, but this subject is close to my heart. we created these “holidays” to fill a huge gap in our culture. yet not only do they fail to fill that gap, they create a whole other set of problems just by existing.

    is there anyone, of any gender/sexuality, who hasn't gone through some kind of hurt relatedto valentine's day? i don't know even one. the way single people feel on V-day is akin to what the motherless, or the mother-estranged (i'm in that group) or the mother-hating feel on M-day. and so on.

  6. sesli chat says:

    thank you very much

  7. Lia says:

    Personally I don't feel anything about certain holidays except some annoyance, which only increases as years go by. I don't need a day in the calendar that tells me I have to celebrate a certain person's relationship in my life.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Nice read!!
    I am lucky to have passed your blog and have bookmarked it.I would like to comment on this post just because it has touched me.Mental scars remain long after the physical ones are gone. and its the past alone that has made what I am today!

  9. I read this post and was almost moved to tears. You've said things I could never say, and I thank you for it.

  10. wakemenow says:

    Oh god, Holly. I haven’t read all of your blog and don’t know many of the details of your upbringing, but your post above really affects me. I can relate on some levels, as a child of a mother who does not want her and barely ever did. Our experiences differ, it sounds, but the turmoil remains similar. My grandma was my mother-figure as well, though she is certainly not “liberal.” My Papa played the figure of my main male role-model. Having no biological father (but a stepdad I didn’t get along with) and a mother who just never cared like people expect a mother to, for whatever reasons, who I’ve been completely estranged from pretty much since age 12 — I can understand that it’s tough listening to the Mother’s Day talk. She didn’t want me, doesn’t like me and hasn’t since I was a very young child, and I will never probably really know why. Knowing that others have good mothers makes me happy for them, though also admittedly a bit jealous. It’s one thing to recognize one’s blessings and be glad to be who you are right here in the moment, but plenty serves to whip at that wound, Mother’s Day being a sensitive trigger. Not always, though I’ve proven successful at avoiding blogs and commercials around that time and don’t usually read feminist blogs aside from this one occasionally (Thanks Holly!). It’s just tough for people to relate to unless they’ve been there. They may try, and that’s sweet, but there remains a barrier in understanding. It’s kind of amazing how much we tend to take for granted, and Mother’s Day reminds some of us of this.

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