Monday, November 26, 2012

Childcare and feminism

Usually, you’ll hear this kind of thing from shits saying “why should you get help that I didn’t get?” Bear with me. It won’t be that way.
Because of the people I follow, I saw a lot of observations recently on Twitter that child-care is the feminist issue that’s on the don’t touch list; that the people who have “feminism” in mind are happier dealing the clue-by-four to radio shock-jocks whose opinions won’t change si why waste the time? (courtesy Helen Razer); that motherhood isn’t sexy enough for the feminist agenda (Asher Wolf).
Yes to all of you. You’re fighting the hardest fight that remains to feminism.
I have no direct stake and therefore, I guess, no right to comment. I’m not a woman. I’m a father whose sons are now old enough to do without me. If I died tomorrow, they’d get by somehow, not least because Ms T has taught them to cook – properly. That is: they can get by without pre-preps for the sauce. They can eat cheap. They’ll live.
Ms T, however, would not get by without me. Does that at least qualify me for “observer” status? I bloody hope, so or I am in the cross-hairs for the best flaming I’ve had in years…
Because I’m trying to be sensitive to others in this post, it’s hard to have the words flow. So if I wander, forgive me.
I identify the child care issue as the hardest fight, not only as a father, but as someone whose contacts reach back to 1896, when my late grandmother was born. I’ll just stick with my father’s lifetime: his mother, Doris, suffered septicaemia when her youngest son was born. This was during the Depression, at a time when government support for the merely unemployed was as hostile and hateful as today’s bipartisan contest to rain horrors on the heads of boat-borne refugees.
She never truly recovered: my dim memories of her are as someone who wore heavy coats and felt hats in a Sydney summer, and once seated as a visitor, barely moved. People came to her.
When my father joined the navy in WW2, he was directed to the ship’s laundry as a volunteer, because he’d wrangled the copper since age ten.
When I was seven, my mother suffered an affliction which much later I identified as Menier’s Syndrome, and was so ill that she needed to convalesce. I was too young – strike that, I know what I was, too much of a trouble-making pain in the arse! – to remain in Sydney with dad and my siblings. He had an over-the-odds too-many-hours job that precluded him from travelling to school every other week.
So I went to Springwood with my mother, to be cared for by my grandmother while my mother lay in a bed that spun if she closed her eyes. There were penalties and compensations in that six-months. The school I temporarily attended liked me just about as much as I liked it; my grandmother was a very severe product of the 19th century; but she had a short-wave radio! She also let me use any amount of cubed sugar in tea, and talked in a way that I liked hearing, in spite of the 70-odd years between us.
It would be easy, from my point of view, to say “So, there’s no support for child-care? Get over it, there never was any.”
I won’t.
My uncle – the only survivor today of Dad’s family – told me at a recent funeral how his elder siblings gave up fun and opportunity to help bring him up (dad didn’t resent his part in that; he resented bad medicine and the Depression).
And I recall a 1960s in which the only way to keep a family together – one that nearly failed anyhow for other reasons – was to divide it for a time. Because sickness didn't warrant support.
And me? I’m here. My sons are beyond compare, but they’re no the topic of this post. Nor are my experiences – and Ms T’s – of parent-hood. We got by somehow, in spite of short funds, a psycho school principal, and so on.
I merely wish to say two things: the first is that I wholeheartedly support the idea that child-care is a vital feminist issue. I have no particular right to say so, but I’ve never claimed the right to express my opinions, only the ability to do so and try to stop me.
The second: keep in mind that “care” is, also and maybe foremost, the right of the child. The insane ideological inputs from the right – that the child’s right to care is linked with getting women to be “real women” – can be disregarded, unless you want to subscribe to the equally-insane notion that “real women don’t get sick”.
Get the argument right – in a modern PR-driven construction that I utterly detest, “get the framing right” (may all savvy pundits die horribly, preferably at my hand) – and both the mothers and the children benefit.
Back to my introduction: “I never got help, why should you?
Because we never buy our own salvation. If you wan to save the world, do so, but understand that it will be saved for others, not for you.
Life is tragic, that way: you are noble when you buy a better life for those that can’t do it for themselves, either because they’re powerless today, or because they don’t know they need what you’ll win for them.
Do it for yourself, and it’s just greed.
Since I’m not in the mood to dwell on religion, I’ll call instead on Lord of The Rings: Frodo didn’t rescue Frodo. Just everybody else. 
That’s why I support those who battle on the behalf of others: the new mother who finds the mere energy to become an activist on behalf of better child care will not benefit herself. It will take too long: the best she can hope for is that some other mother has a better time of it.
All mothers deserve enough support that their sons might feel that way. All children deserve their mothers – without the stresses that lack of support introduce. If feminists  – not mere publicity-seekers – choose this as a battle-ground, I can’t ride their horses, but I can carry spears.

To those trying to change things for the better: My bet is that you have my mother and both my grandmothers, my aunt and probably my father - all dead, alas - applauding you.

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