Tako, 26, Tbilisi
„A scene in a kindergarten:
– Why are you crying?! You are not a sissy, are you?!” – The preschool teacher scolds my son.
– Calling someone sissy is rude! Besides, boys cry too! – My angry son retorts.
I am summoned to the kindergarten.
In my opinion, fostering women’s studies and feminism is an important political strategy of achieving equal rights when you are living in a patriarchal society. In such a society, religious and other institutions, the culture, and most of the public, repeatedly reminds women about their inferiority. This is a massive systemic problem – non-recognition of the abuse that some families or even women do not or cannot admit and believe that “it is how it should be”. Some women do realize that they are being abused but they prefer to adapt to the “system” and the environment. According to my observation, though, feminist mothers choose a different way: we fight with these stereotypes, we do not instill “gender roles” in our children from birth, we try to rationalize and explain to them using simple examples that the gender does not give anyone any privilege to bully another person, define somebody’s status or think about girls “stereotypically”. I personally prefer the positive discipline in upbringing – the one based on education. I have never used corporal punishment; I try to get my son used to critical reasoning, the need to ask questions, and I see him as equal. I try to serve as a role model in destroying stereotypes.
Even though I am a feminist, there are some issues in feminism that are not given necessary attention (at least in the subculture around me). On the contrary, I have frequently met disdain and disapproval from my own circle of society. We often discuss global feminism, queer issues, and strategies of fighting the patriarchal environment, various theories and practices locally and globally. In addition to my personal outlook, this is part of my job as well, as I am a gender studies expert. Having said that, few feminists who are not mothers have inquired about my experience, what challenges and experience I have as a mother. I cannot say that the “family” is only “the product of the patriarchy”, because I’ve come across feminist families of various sorts. I have a sort of a feminist family myself. Criticism from fellow women who have not been through your experience sounds like a “stigma”. Yes, we are mothers, the women and the girls who try to instill in the future generation from an early childhood the values that will foster abuse-free environment.
One way or another, I am a feminist single parent and a mother. I got married at 19. I was in love. This is the time you think yourself an adult. Then everyone expects that the culture “has raised you well enough to serve the man in the family”, to live only by following his dreams and wishes. However, when I matured, even though I had a husband and a child, I started questioning many family issues. As soon as I began asking questions, rationalizing and saying “NO”, I immediately faced consequences. I realized that in the environment I was going to raise my child, a woman did not have “the right” to her own opinion. Quite the reverse, arguments and quarrels took place right in front of my child, under constant stress and monitoring. After three years, I left my family feeling that “they could not tame me”.
I am blessed because I had full support and protection from my parents. They help me with raising my child so that I can continue developing and working as a professional. Unfortunately, I am still financially dependent on them and I am working and studying very hard to get employed. My child’s father is actively involved in bringing him up. I think that the father must share equal responsibility of taking care of the child, whether a single parent or not. He is successful in his career however I don’t think he has got rid of the cultural clichés in dealing with women. Despite the fact that we haven’t been together for five years, he sometimes resorts to the psychological abuse when we fail to agree on something, sometimes even in front of our child. So, girls, it is very easy to enjoy the privilege of not having the responsibility to raise a child for the society free of psychological traumas, homophobia, misogyny, sexism and abuse, which is so abundant in our society; it is too simple to say “a family is absurd”, “I’d rather have a cat”, “I’m never going to have a child”, because this is a huge responsibility in this environment and some of us happen to have a child.
Therefore, I have to face social, economic, cultural, psychological and other issues, as a mother. So that “being privileged with a child” is yet another issue.
Every day, I am forced to send my child to the environment full of stereotypes and then take him home and remove those stereotypes. I try not to fall behind current events and be active in the cause of protecting women and minorities. Unfortunately, I cannot always afford participating in expensive gender conferences or trainings held locally or abroad. Also, I cannot take my child everywhere, and sometimes I cannot leave him and therefore my right to be involved in political and social developments is restricted because of my gender. For the most part, the environment is not adapted to allow people to take children with them.
When discussing women and feminist experiences, we do not talk about the role and needs of feminist mothers. We never talk about the difficulties that queer feminist mothers with the status of a single parent face. My son knows that “love does not have gender, orientation and gender identity” for me, what matters are the values. Kindergartens and schools are gender insensitive even today. Therefore, need for awareness and education is extremely important in the family environment. I always try to give exhaustive answers to my son’s questions.
Yes, my son is informed that there are different kinds of families: the ones with a mother and a child, the ones with a grandmother and a child, the ones with only a father, the families who have no children or do not wish to have, and many others. What matter is love and care! He knows the reason I cannot stay with him all the time: I need to receive education, to have my own space and I’m working hard for him and me to live together. I want to be financially independent, so that he does not have to spend most of his time with his financially secured father and I am not just a “guest” there. He knows about all the colors of love. He sees that I change my look quite often: my hair is short, frequently dyed in different colors. He knows that he must not abuse girls, and that boys can cry too. We often discuss that there are people with various interests, love, and look. We also discuss animals, women’s rights and why I am a vegetarian. He is worried about environmental pollution; we draw, read, knit, and bake together. He is friends with a girl in the kindergarten, who he loves because, and I quote, “she is strong and smart”. It is becoming his second nature. This is how I try to raise my child.
It is difficult to find specific answers, but I think that feminism has to focus on motherhood as well. I think it is important to include this experience in theories and practices, and it is intersectional too. Certainly, it does not mean that childcare is only a woman’s responsibility and gender roles do not need to be fought. On the contrary, I am speaking from my experience. Even if a mother or a foster mother does not identify herself as a feminist, raising a kid is in a way policymaking. That is why, self-criticism is important so that we can think about the role of feminist mothers, and be more supportive of them, because we are all contributing to the social change. Even when I think I am not doing anything valuable, I look at my son and hope that I am raising him to be a good person, which is not an easy task in the given environment.
I believe that after some years, the time will come when he is proud of me, proud to be my son and will continue fighting for social change like his mother.
A dialogue in the kindergarten:
– Is your mom a boy and has a colored hair? – A group mate asks my son.
– Nope, my mom likes short hair, besides its blue and pretty, – is the answer.”