International Women’s Day, Birth Activism, and Feminism

“The minute my child was born, I was reborn as a feminist. It’s so incredible what women can do…Birthing naturally, as most women do around the globe, is a superhuman act. You leave behind the comforts of being human and plunge back into being an animal. My friend’s partner said, ‘Birth is like going for a swim in the ocean. Will there be a riptide? A big storm? Or will it just be a beautiful, sunny little dip?’ Its indeterminate length, the mystery of its process, is so much a part of the nature of birth. The regimentation of a hospital birth that wants to make it happen and use their gizmos to maximum effect is counter to birth in general.” –Ani DiFranco interviewed in Mothering magazine, May/June 2008

“We were all held, touched, interrelated, in an invisible net of incarnation. I would scarcely think of it ordinarily; yet for each creature I saw, someone, a mother, had given birth….Motherhood was the gate. It was something that had always been invisible to me before, or so unvalued as to be beneath noticing: the motheredness of the world.” –Naomi Wolf, Misconceptions

Since tomorrow is International Women’s Day, I felt moved to share the above quotes. I also wanted to touch briefly on birth as a feminist issue, spurred by this thought-provoking post by my friend Summer (I have TONS more ideas about this topic, but limited time in which to share them!). Personally, I’ve identified as a feminist since I was a child—long before I became a birth activist. Identifying in this way was my first taste of the activist spirit that has fueled me for the rest of my life. For me, my birth activism is intimately and inextricably entwined with my larger interest in women’s rights. I have always been somewhat confused to hear any woman say she is not a feminist, it grieves me because when you dig a little deeper, it is usually because they are defining feminism according to a very skewed, simplified, inaccurate, media misportrayal of feminism (i.e. a man-hating caricature). I also like the term “womanist.” To me, being a feminist most simply means believing and acting as if women have value. All too often, those who mischaracterize feminism in the above ways believe EXACTLY the opposite.

In one of my many books about women’s issues, I found these awesome explanations of what feminism is—the source being of some surprise to me, the Roman Catholic Order of Sisters of Loretto:

Feminism: a world-wide social change movement which critically but lovingly rejects relationships and structures based on stereotyped roles of dominance (male) and submission (female).

Feminism: a life-affirming movement reorganizing institutions and relationships, so that women will have equal access to society’s goods, services, status, and power.

Feminism: the bonding of women discovering the joy of woman-identity.

Feminism: a process freeing women to work toward liberation for themselves and other oppressed persons.

And here is another definition: “Feminism is a conscious and continuous effort to improve the lives of all women, an effort which requires changing the system that defines success as making a lot of money.” –Jane O’Reilly

To me it also means defining all women’s work, paid or unpaid, as having real value (this includes the “invisible” work of mothering reflected in the second quote I chose to open this post).

I think all of these definitions can be well applied to our work with birth!

I  also think some women who do not self-identify as feminist do not because they feel like, “feminists want women to be like men.” So, here is a feminist quote about that too 🙂 “A woman should not be a mirror image of man’s universe. A woman should not try to emulate men, thus taking on masculine traits, she should develop herself, realize herself, gain direct vision into her own being.” —Anais Nin

I love the final point especially—gain direct vision into her own being. I think empowered birth often triggers this for women.

Net of love in action!

And, then finally, bringing us back to International Women’s Day I have a final quote:

“I believe that these circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we’re weak and sing with us when we’re strong.” –SARK, Succulent Wild Woman

As I noted in my post for CfM this week, in honor of International Women’s Day—and every day—let us celebrate our bodies, honor our mothers, and trust in the nets of love woven around us by a multitude of remarkable, powerful, everyday women.

4 thoughts on “International Women’s Day, Birth Activism, and Feminism

  1. the problem I run into is that a lot of feminists of my mother’s era (baby boom generation) take all those “liberation” ideas and interpret them as “don’t be a martyr, have the epidural!” (actually said to me by one of my aunts at the baby shower for my first pregnancy) and “what do you do? oh, you’re home with your baby – well, what will you be going back to after maternity leave?” as if mothering children isn’t enough (and these have happened at church!). I have been subjected to disapproval from older women because I CHOSE to let my husband’s career be more important than my own (his is a steadier income than I could hope to have without an advanced degree, being a public school science teacher – which he became the August after we finished our bachelors degrees, and so since our household finances couldn’t support us both going to grad school and he needed extra classes for his license, I CHOSE to put off my advanced degrees until after we started a family, I’m currently hoping to finish my Master’s then have one more baby, then on to PhD and MAYBE one more baby while I’m working on that degree, so they’ll all be born before I’m trying to deal with being a professor and such. I said I wanted 5 when my first was less than two hours old and I still feel like there are two family members missing as I hold my sleeping 3rd baby in my lap to type this). I have been told, outright ot my face, that I am squandering my potential and talents by devoting these years to motherhood (and having “so many” children – these are people who don’t know I still wish to have 2 more as that is not something I bring up much). The academic research I want to do involves pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and other parenting issues (basically children and their parents from conception through early adulthood, and how differences early on may shape outcomes in the young adult years). My children are my pilot subjects 😉 Piaget did it too.

  2. Pingback: International Women’s Day: Prayer for Mothers | Theapoetics

  3. Pingback: International Women’s Day: Body Prayer | Talk Birth

  4. Pingback: Tuesday Tidbits: Women’s Work | Talk Birth

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