Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Motherscribe Interview Series: the 4th interview...

My 4th interview is with a 42 year old woman living in the U.K. She is single, and has 4 children. She works a flex schedule so that she can be at home with her children after school. She has a blog called The Reluctant Blogger.

What does the word feminist mean to you? Has the meaning changed over time? I have to confess that I do not like the word at all (it is not quite so unpleasant as "lesbian" but it comes close). When I was growing up I think it brought to mind unwashed women protesting in muddy fields, these days I think it brings to mind a radicalism that is perhaps counterproductive and unnecessary. I have a dislike of labels in general and this one is a particularly outdated in my mind.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? I think I embody a lot of feminist traits but no I would never use that word to describe myself. I am just me - a funny old mixture of things.

Would others consider you a feminist? I suspect some might.

What are some images that come to mind when you think of the women’s movement? The people who were prepared to die - those who threw themselves in front of race horses, who risked everything for the rights we now have. I admire those women a great deal. There was a battle to fight back then and they fought it with courage and conviction.

What was the greatest gift of the women’s movement? The opportunity for women to be who they wish to be and achieve anything they wish to achieve.

What was the greatest failure of the women’s movement? As far as I can see, it has perhaps failed to move with the times. I think terms like "feminism" can alienate a lot of people and polarise people on different sides. Most women do actually want the same thing - to be able to choose about things in the same way that men do - but they do not necessarily want to compete with men at work or give up what are seen as traditional roles. The women's movement has, I think, made some women feel like failures even though they are employing their right to choose - i.e., to stay at home and look after their children. The idea of these early activists was not that all women should be doing the same thing - just that we should have the opportunity to do what is right for us on an individual basis.

Was your mother a homemaker? Yes, primarily. She did work on a part-time school-hours basis when I was in secondary school.

How did that affect you growing up? My mother instilled in my sister and I a belief that we would not follow the same path that she had. We were expected to go on and have fulfilling careers. I grew up believing that if stayed at home to look after my children and did not have a professional job outside the home I would be failing in some way. But my mother was always there to assist us with homework and we felt valued in what we achieved at school.

Did your father respect your mother? haha oh yes!

Did your mother respect your father? She loves him a great deal but I think probably there was more respect flowing in the opposite direction.

Who were your earliest female role models other than your mother?My maternal grandmother was a key figure in my childhood.

What did you dream of being when you were a child? Grown up I suppose. My sister knew she would be a doctor (and she fulfilled that ambition). I had no idea. I assumed I would have children and that I would also have a career.

Was getting married/partnered a conscious goal or focus early on in your adulthood? I was always very confused about that side of things. I knew that I didn't fancy men but assumed that one day I would. I couldn't see myself being married to a man and had no idea it was possible to have a relationship with a woman so I think that whole area was a bit of a void. Children featured in my imagination and a home - but there was no man!

Is there an event(s) that affected you in childhood/adolescence that impacted your identity in a positive or negative way? I think so. It's hard to know for sure because one never knows if one would be the same or different if the event had not happened. I was raped when I was 16. It had many effects inevitably. But I think the main one was that it sent me off on a quest to prove I was "normal" despite what had happened, to prove that I could be the same as everyone else and not be affected. I didn't want to be seen as a victim. It's hard to take myself back - but I think it explains a lot of odd decisions I made and didn't make a few years later - why I got married for instance (to prove I was OK) and why I didn't accept my sexuality more readily (in case people assumed it was a reaction against the rape.) I didn't realise at the time that I was doing this but looking back I think that was the case.

Have you ever dieted? No, not really. I have never been a comfort eater fortunately - if I am stressed I forget to eat and go skinny! I have to be careful about some foods because they upset my stomach and make me feel tired - wheat mostly. I am not always good about avoiding them. When it is hot I like a nice cold beer.

Are you happy and/or comfortable with your weight? Yes.

Would you describe yourself as someone with “body issues?” No, fortunately not.

How do you feel about the sexualizing of young women in our society? It is amazing how this has become so widespread over the past 10 years. Even when my daughter was young this was not such a big issue but now I see tiny tots dressed in provocative clothing wobbling about in pink Barbie shoes. I find it very sad that children can not be children for as long as they used to be. But because all my younger children are boys I have worried about this a little less than I perhaps should. My children do not watch much TV so they are protected to a small extent.

What do you wish your mother had told you about marriage, life, anything…that you didn’t hear from her? I wish that my mother or someone, even the television or books, had been able to present a picture of a world where people had same-sex relationships. I spent most of my childhood thinking I was the only person in the world who felt the way I did. I was too scared to tell anyone, even myself really. But if I had seen someone in a same-sex relationship or if my mother had just mentioned them in passing I think I might have accepted it more readily and not suffered all the confusions that I did. It was not an easy time.

What role did your father play in your childhood? He inspired me really to believe I could do anything without pushing me in directions I did not want to go.

What was your relationship like with your father? Not close because he was at work all day and my mother monopolised his time when he was home. We had to fight to spend time with him - but the time I did spend was good time.

How do you feel about aging? I am resigned to it. It did shock me a bit when I first realised it was happening to me - I suppose I was about 35 at the time and I think it contributed to a spell of depression. I wish I didn't have so many aches and pains (back, tendon) and that my skin was not so dry but other than that I just get on with it.

How do you feel about plastic surgery? I have no strong feelings about what others choose to do although I do think some people look awful if they overdo it, but it is not something I would do myself unless I had a hideous disfigurement.

Are you happy and/or fulfilled with your life? Why? Yes, very much so. If I had been asked this question five years ago I would probably have lied and said yes and then later cried about feeling the need to lie. But now, I am happy. I have the balance that I want in my life between work, family and relaxation. I am enjoying my independence and am lucky that I do not have any financial, health or other major worries. I consider myself very fortunate indeed.

Did your mother or another caretaker talk to you about sex and what to expect? No, not in detail. I was told how babies came about but I think that was about it.

How was your first sexual experience? As rape (stranger rape) it was terrifying, degrading and extremely painful. My first consensual experience (more than two years later) was healing and I think I owe the fact that I do not have any serious sexual hang-ups to that relationship. My first experience was with a woman (we were together for 3 years whilst we were students and are back together now after a gap of more than twenty years amazingly enough). I think, in terms of exploring what works for you, what feels good, in a safe environment where discussion also takes place, being with a woman is the best thing possible. It meant later, when I was with men, I knew exactly what I wanted them to do, was very keen to experiment further and find out what felt good for them, knew exactly how my body worked and had expectations that sex was a mutually rewarding experience with plenty of orgasms that involved communication and variety.

Is marriage liberating or inhibiting sexually? Well, I have been in long term relationships. Do I answer this? I did have a bad time after my last child when I probably had PND (Post Natal Depression) and then I think being with someone was a very bad thing - I felt obliged to have sex eventually when it was the last thing I wanted to do and that was a terrible thing for my self-esteem. I hate to think now that I did that, because it is not me at all, but when you are depressed that is exactly it - you are not yourself. I would have been better on my own at that time. I do think that it is easy to fall into lazy habits in a long term relationship and forget to or feel embarrassed about trying new things, or ones you enjoyed in the past.

What makes you feel sexy? Music I suppose, a glass of wine, someone who I fancy like crazy who appears to take an interest in me, who listens attentively to what I have to say. I am not sure. But I feel sexy quite easily. It's certainly not about underwear or erotic videos for me. I cannot for a number of reasons indulge in fantasy - I have to be firmly embedded in reality.

Do you have the energy/desire for sex at the end of the day? Yes, generally if I am with someone I want to be with. My sex drive has always been high except for the years when I had PND (Post Natal Depression) and had a house full of young children. Then I didn't want anyone to touch me at all when the children went to bed - children are so physical that I longed for peace, quiet and personal space.

What turns you on? Oh gosh, I am unsure how to answer this.. Music for sure, but being with someone who clearly desires me, and someone whose clothes I long to rip off. A massage is good, sharing a bath, just snuggling down on the sofa with little or nothing on. I actually need to love someone to relax and trust them enough to have sex.

What would make your sex life better? Well, it would help if the person I loved was not thousands of miles away. But no, my sex life is fine when I am with someone good. It is within my power to make it how I wish it to be after all. I have more sexual hang ups probably than the average person but I have learnt to cope with them and find alternative ways to enjoy sex.

What do you do for a living? Primarily I work on a self-employed basis writing academic reports but I also retain a small number of hours working for the University as a lecturer and thesis supervisor.

How do you combat stress? By writing, running, walking - basically by having my own space and plenty of thinking time coupled with some mind-numbing exercise. If none of that is possible, I turn to alcohol!

Do you get out regularly with friends? I am not very gregarious but I could do so if I wished. I like to meet up with friends singly and I do get to do that.

What do you love about being a working mom? I am in the fortunate position of being able to work when it suits me to do so - I write when my children are in school and when they are in bed. I love writing reports - researching the background, doing the writing and yes, I like being paid too. I have an overactive mind and I need to keep it busy.

What are the challenges of being a working mom? When I did it full-time, when my daughter was little, I found it hard - I was always careful to ensure I did everything as fully as the non-parents (mostly men) and that meant I was working late at night at home to catch up both on workstuff and on chores. I didn't feel I fitted properly in either camp - wasn't functioning on top form at work or as a parent. But I wouldn't have admitted to that at the time! These days the only challenge is staying on task during the day. Being at home I am sometimes distracted and potter about tidying up when I should be working.

If you had a choice to be at home with your children, would you? I do choose to be at home when my children are. I chose not to do that when my daughter was young. I was on the career treadmill then. At the time it was probably the right thing for me to have done, now I have different priorities and less energy to be honest.

Was the decision an economic one (e.g., your family requires two incomes)? When my daughter was little, it was an economic decision. I was on my own. But I could have managed working part-time but at the time I was determined to get on with my career. My decision to work from home now was partly to be there for my children but also because I was tired of working for someone else and wanted my freedom back.

Do you beat yourself up for not spending enough time with your kids? I did, yes when my daughter was little.

Do you feel supported by other women? I don't think I did particularly when I was working full time. This was 15 or more years ago of course but I always felt that I had to work harder to prove myself to other women than to men. Stay at home mothers were always out to prove I was damaging my daughter by working and working women with no children were determined to prove I did not give of myself as fully as they did. I tended to avoid other women to be honest.

Do you believe a happy, fulfilled mom is a better mom whether her choice is to work outside the home or to stay at home with her children? Yes, in general I do.

Can women do it all? No, certainly not. But we try to do far too much, particularly with regard to parenting. So many people over-parent these days which is bad for their self-esteem and probably not great for their children either!

How old are your children? My daughter is 20 and I have sons who are 11, 9 and 7.

What do you want to do differently with your children than what you received from your parents? I don't want to put them under pressure to succeed, to feel that they must do so to please me. I am probably too laid back as I try to do the opposite. I want them to do the best they can but to enjoy life along the way and have fun.

What would you like to carry on that your parents established with you? A love of learning, and reading and travelling. My parents also gave us a lot of freedom to play outside and explore the world by ourselves and I do let my children do that, despite society's current view that it is too risky.

Do you see evidence of “The Mommy Wars” in your everyday life? I steer clear of such things these days.. I do not tend to mix in any groups - working mothers or stay at home ones. But I am sure they are still going on!

Do you have personal “ME” time scheduled every week/every day?Yes, my children are at school all day so that time is for me to do as I wish with - I do some work, potter about, meet people for coffee. I have to have my own time and space or I become very cranky indeed.

What do you yearn for? Now? Gosh, nothing at all. My life is pretty well how I want it to be. I cannot think of anything. That probably sounds a little lacking in imagination and complacent but I am spending a three month spell in Western Australia, I choose the work I take on, I have lovely children, I have a romantic interest. What more could I possibly want?

Thank you, Reluctant Blogger.

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