Day Thirty One: Sheena Goldstein (Metuchen, NJ)
December 2016 marks the completion of my first year as a working mother. Participating in Dressember 2016 allows me to express the deepened respect and appreciation I have for mothers and women everywhere.
As I pushed myself through the daily physical, mental, emotional and social challenges of working motherhood, I began to understand some of the critical realities of how and why women have too often in history endured the cycles of abuse that Dressember illuminates.
I came to understand that throughout history, before crucial progress in technology, culture, medicine and laws, being a working mother outside the domestic sphere while caring for an infant was almost impossible. This was especially true if a mother was able and committed to providing the critical health benefits to her child and herself through breastfeeding that only a mother can provide. Furthermore, before the industrial revolution, there was no hygienic alternative to breastfeeding for nourishing a newborn. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684040/)
What does this have to do with cycles of abuse, you may ask? When women are not able to work outside the domestic sphere:
- Who determines how rape is legally defined, what its legal consequences will be and how they will be enforced? Men.
- Who creates the fashion marketing campaigns that often prey on women’s insecurities and promote a cultural myth that women’s bodies are worth less than they truly are? Men.
- Who writes the history textbooks that children read to understand who built the world we live in? Men.
Men who don’t grow breasts from their body at puberty and experience the subsequent unwanted glances and social pressures specific to women. Men who have never created a human being in their body for nine month, pushed that human being out of their body, and then supplied that baby’s only nourishment from their own body for her first months of life. Men are only 10% of adult rape victims in America, while women are 90% of adult rape victims. One in every six American women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape. (https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)
I am not trying to demonize men here. We certainly need their help in the fight for gender equality and so many are already fighting with us (Thank you, President Barack Obama! http://www.glamour.com/story/glamour-exclusive-president-barack-obama-says-this-is-what-a-feminist-looks-like) However, the public sphere needs women’s voices and mothers’ voices on issues that only they can truly understand.
Additionally, working outside the domestic sphere gives women and mothers economic, mental and social independence.
As I try to wrap my already protective mother-frenzied mind around the reality of Donald Trump’s presidency haunting my darling baby daughter’s most precious childhood years, I am reaffirmed in my belief of one thing: we must fight like hell to protect the rights that our foremothers (and forefathers – Vice President Joe Biden, I love you http://msmagazine.com/blog/2016/10/06/115168/) fought like hell to ensure for us.
Fight for laws that protect women from domestic abuse and sexual assault. Fight for access to contraceptives. Fight for our right to choose if and when we will become mothers. Because believe me, if and when you do, you will need the protections in place that our foremothers fought to secure for you, your bond with your baby, her health and your own.
And when you are managing everything to stay calm and not bring stress on your body during pregnancy to have the healthiest pregnancy possible, and rocking your newborn to sleep after nursing her until she became milk drunk, and handing your precious baby (who can’t even sit up on her own yet) over to a bright eyed young teacher at daycare, then unsuccessfully fighting back tears as you tear yourself away to take a car, two trains and walk 10 city blocks to work on women’s history textbooks on the 48th floor of a New York City skyscraper, you will feel waves of appreciation wash over you for the laws and advancements that your foremothers and forefathers fought hard to provide, to enable you to balance motherhood and the career you worked hard to build:
- For those who fought for protected maternity leave (which still needs much further improvement and protection).
- For electric breast pumps and those who fought for legally protected time and private, sanitary space to pump breast milk at work, enabling you to continue breastfeeding for as long as you and your baby need (protecting both yourself and your baby from some cancers, sustaining your strong emotional bond, among 99+ other proven benefits of breastfeeding, which would otherwise virtually stop if you were away from your baby for a full time work week without pumping: http://www.notmilk.com/101.html)
- For the women who broke down barriers in the workplace to fight for our place there, despite pregnancy, etc.
- For freezers, refrigerators and microwave ovens, which allow us to eat a warm, prepared meal without spending hours over a stove every night.
- For all modern appliances – washers & dryers, dishwashers, I love you!
- For internet, email and VPN access that allow us to meet work deadlines that day care closing hours just won’t allow you to complete in the office.
- Smart phones, texting, and yes, social media, for when your postpartum, lactation hormones are in full force, you’ve had three hours of sleep, are behind on multiple deadlines at work and just need a few words of encouragement and support.
- Video monitors, digital photography etc. for when you are away from your baby for 8+ hours and just need to see her face.
- Formula, so that if pumping doesn’t work for you, or you need to supplement your pumping supply, your baby can be fed while you are away at work. Not all women are physically able to breastfeed, and it does not work for everyone, so we are fortunate that this alternative is now available.
- For Feminism, which taught men and women that it’s okay to bend traditional gender norms. It taught men it’s okay to change a diaper and care for his own baby (deepening father and child bonding as well) so his wife can sleep before and after a hard day at the office (a day spent not only meeting tight work deadlines, but pumping breast milk one, two or even three times throughout that work day, and composing herself enough each time to step out again into the office and sit with colleagues around a table for an important meeting: critical, physically tiring work that only a mother can do).
On the completion of my first year of working motherhood I feel relieved, empowered, proud of my professional accomplishments (despite many new challenges) and ready to face year two with one year’s experience under my belt. I am also grateful for the normalcy gained from a connection to my old life and to my wonderful, supportive team of mostly female co-workers, many of whom are working mothers themselves.
Every mom, dad and family has different circumstances and it is not always practical for a mother to work outside the home. That is a perfectly wonderful and healthy choice as well, if that works best for you and your family. Feminism has also enabled a world where men now very often take the role of stay-at-home dad while the mother works, which is thankfully more and more accepted in our culture. Being a mother or father is extremely challenging, whether working outside the home or not.
Whatever your situation may be, continue to fight for women’s rights, for us, and for our daughters. Fight to ensure that women’s and mothers’ unique voices are heard in our justice system that defines the laws of our land, in our culture that molds young minds and the leaders of tomorrow, and in our workplaces where women will continue to impact the world in ways that only a mother or woman can.
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