Post 197.

‘And you want to be a feminist?’, the well-known pediatrician and fellow columnist asked me, I hoped rhetorically.

As Stone, Ziya and I entered in his office, he eyed Zi’s bottle of diluted cranberry juice the way US customs officials profile suspected narcotics traffickers as they step off the plane.

‘No more processed juice’, he declared, like entrance rules of a worm-hole to some healthier space-time. ‘It’s processed?’ I countered, because I like to think we buy healthy. ‘Did it come in a box, tin, container or carton?’ he spelt out, because obviously it did. ‘It’s processed unless your squeeze juice from fruit yourself’, he concluded, because clearly we hadn’t.

Then, he seemed to stop himself from starting a radical, anarcho-feminist, anti-big pharma, anti-global-food corp critique, one he had no doubt been championing since the 1970s. Instead, he simply outlined that big companies fool us into thinking that what we buy is beneficial instead of defined by chemical colours, acidifying preservatives, emulsifiers, and harmful processes, especially for children. Just read labels. I mentioned that Zi has Kellogg’s bran on a morning with banana and, I swear, it was like watching Harry Potter bristle at a Death Eater.

I appreciated his hard core line on what we should feed our children. Like Zi’s teachers, who chastise parents for sending chocolate, fruit snacks and cookies instead of real fruit in lunch kits.

Except at birthday parties, Zi doesn’t access soft drinks, or eat those biscuits, Kiss cakes or other packages of salt, sugar, sorbic acid and various four-syllable poisons. I’ve stood in the Pennywise hair products’ aisle wondering, if I died tomorrow, who would take the time to buy her shampoo without sulfate. I pointlessly rant, as I am never home to do the cooking, about the harms of canola, corn and soy oils, and pointlessly insist, as I am never home to do the grocery shopping, on us buying more costly grapeseed and cold-pressed coconut oil.

Zi’s vegetarian because twenty years ago I read so much on the horrors of meat production that I was done. If meat was raised in somebody’s backyard on grass, that would be different. But, what we buy has often been raised with antibiotics, growth-hormones and genetically modified corn, usually in stressful conditions, and we don’t yet know what long term harm that does to children. Finally, she has never had milk because so many children are lactose-intolerant, and milk is the cause of far too many rashes, infections, upsets, sinus irritations and allergies.

We sought the doctor because Zi was suffering from mosquito bites that she scratched into sores, which wouldn’t heal for weeks. ‘Cut out juices and other products with sugar, including overly processed brans and granolas as well as cheese,’ were our final pediatric instructions as I imagined the Mission Impossible soundtrack ricocheting around the room.

It’s here I felt justifiably overwhelmed. Fresh juicing, baking with unrefined flour and buying more organic everything seemed like plenty more effort for one woman logging long hours at work. It seemed like even more effort to my pork-loving, three-kinds-of-carbohydrates-on-the-plate-eating, lettuce-as-a-vegetable-counting, skeptical-of-Gab’s-probably-unneccessary-consumption-commandments, but nonetheless supportive husband. Stone and I exchanged one of those married people glances.

‘And you want to be a feminist?’ He contested my politics when I contested his expectations. I knew better than to duel with a doctor whose crew is midwives, and fearless breastfeeding and reproductive rights activists.

Indeed, feminism includes building a healthier world, for us, animals and the earth. It includes giving consumer power to organic farmers and green markets rather than to the handful of corporations that make us stuffed, but starving, with shortening life-spans, and combinations of children’s diabetes, obesity and attention deficits.

If I wanted to be feminist, I’d have to defend the rights of my child, first in my own home, and value the responsibility and power of such reproductive time and labour. My soundtrack would have to be more Thug Life than Nestle, Pepsico, Coca Cola, Kraft Foods, General Mills and Wrigley.

As we left I thought of a joke, but don’t tell anybody. How many feminists does it take to make fresh cucumber juice? Just one! His name is Stone and we love him dearly!

Advertisements

Post 185.

HazelBrwownStamp

It’s the stories that I love.

Stories told by women who spent decades pressing for social change, and stories of solidarity by men sometimes almost twice my age. Stories that challenge myths that women of two generations ago were less radical than now and myths that feminist men didn’t exist throughout our history.

I love the stories of activists who came before because they bring our history to life, to their own lives, with laughter and commiseration, with passion and pain, with irony and unexpected twists, making us learn more about successful strategies or forgotten beginnings or our responsibilities to our future.

I love their stories because these efforts, connections and memories are our legacy, as much as the lasting reforms they created, or gains which we must still protect, are our legacy. They are a legacy because too often we think that it takes people who others consider political leaders, or people with university degrees, or those who seem to have more privilege or power to challenge everyday injustices.

Yet, stories by indomitable citizens of all classes and creeds remind us that is not true. These are stories by people who get up and do, working together to provide help or change unequal rules. Such collective love and labour by citizens is also ‘politics’ because it aims to defend their dreams for an emancipated nation and region, and their commitment to equality, independence and rights for women. These stories remind that the struggle for government by the people and for the people is not new.

Fearless Politics: The Life and Times of Hazel Brown is just the conference for those of you who also love everyday stories of those around us who got up and did, just like we do or wish to. The public is invited to attend and participate in this gathering to honour a woman who has spent four decades tirelessly fighting for social change, along with hundreds of others whose names should not be forgotten. But, helping us to remember is precisely what stories do.

Hazel’s own stories include sitting in Port of Spain City Council meetings when she was a child as she waited for the Mayor to sign her report book, because in those days the Council sponsored children’s education. It is here she began to understand government, reminding us maybe we should take our children to watch these meetings as part of their civic empowerment and critical education. Her story of running for election in the 1970s along with women of the Housewives Association of Trinidad and Tobago is a lesson in strategy for those thinking about politics today.There’s hope in working with women to buy, iron, exchange and affordably sell used schoolbooks. Then, heartbreak in her plan for a solar powered radio station that was undermined and never came to be. And there will be more than her stories.

Speaking on Saturday are long time activists in areas from women’s health to community and consumer rights, from sustainable food provision, including solar cooking and grow box agriculture, to women’s political participation and leadership, and from Baby Doll mas to the National Gender Policy.

This conference is for anyone who wishes to know more about struggles for social justice, artists and cultural workers interested in social transformation, activists of all eras and issues, and citizens whose dream for our world remains greater equality, justice, sustainability, cooperation and peace.

Come for stories about roads walked and paths still to be cut, in the spirit of our fearless legacy. This column was published prior to the conference, Fearless Politics: The Life and Times of Hazel Brown. Videos, photos and other conference information are available on the IGDS website and Youtube page. http://sta.uwi.edu/conferences/15/fearlesspolitics/index.asp. https://www.youtube.com/user/igdsuwistaugustine

10943762_986143258084212_6783588420284756353_o

Post 168.

I was unapologetically proud when Kamla Persad-Bissessar became the country’s first woman Prime Minister. I loved her clean election campaign in comparison to the PNM’s labeling their opponents ‘skeletons’ and throwing insults for cheap political gain. I was completely excited that this astute politician could defeat lesser men and lead a complex coalition, unlike any other Caribbean leader before, and miles ahead of PNM’s go-it-alone politics. I’d watch Persad-Bissessar on TV and teach my daughter the name of the first Indian woman to crack that glass ceiling.

At one meeting, along with feminist grandmothers like Hazel Brown and Brenda Gopeesingh, I breastfed Ziya while the PM talked with us and I took notes. I wondered who before had breastfed while with a PM in a Cabinet meeting room, and of course Persad-Bissessar didn’t even blink, knowing that this is what women can do in boardrooms when grandmothers and mothers hold office.

I liked little decisions the People’s Partnership made, for example to ban hunting despite a myopic ‘no hunting, no vote’ campaign, to actually answer the parliamentary questions put to the government, and the initial choice to put the gender machinery in the ministry of planning. I took heat from all kinds of people because I was seen as too silent and too uncritical in Persad-Bissessar’s first years. It was because, perhaps naively, I had such hope.

Since then, I’ve found myself ending up and again on the side of citizens, led by other women, mothers and grandmothers, protesting through media and on the street. My hope has tumbled, knocked down by bad appointments, murky state spending, the homophobia of the Children’s Act, patron-clientelism, mishandled electoral changes, and reliance on PR and attacks.

In the PM’s showdown with Wayne Kublalsingh, popular sentiment that he is mere nuisance is on her side. Regardless, his death will leave no escape from unexpected kinds of regret. By first marching against the highway and then switching position once in power, the PM created the path that led to such reckoning. Her own supporters, or advisors with their own agendas who want her to fail, may spin around and say why not have chosen mediation, and why not just agree to properly done hydrology and cost-benefit analyses? What about compassion? As we grow more committed to accountability, which we will with each decade, the principles at stake here will grow less personalized to one man and become more publicly and historically clear.

I wish I could thank the PM for setting the standard for how development should best be done, through consensus rather than division. I wish I could ask her what her grandmother would advise. I wish I could congratulate her for ending this impasse as an informed, transformational leader would. After all, a patriot is one who wrestles for the Soul of her country. I wish that, as woman, she would roar at puppet master financiers. I wish her decisions meant no future struggle over the same issues, taking up time for committed, concerned citizens like you and me.

Being a woman is public and personal, for government sets the context for the intimate, for love spans ecology, neighbor and nation, justice and future, just as it does family. Knowing more than wishing is necessary, I wake up wondering which words and deeds can make the world right. These days I awake almost holding my breath, wondering how stories I’m telling are going to end. Knowing that every decision made for the country I love feels like a turning point, I wish the PM would inspire again the hope I felt in 2010.

 

Post 118.

It’s hard to say it more plainly. Mothers have a right to breastfeed wherever they want.

There is no reason under the sun why babies cannot be breastfed in parliament, at workplaces, on Fredrick Street, at cricket matches, at church or temple, in malls, on Harris Promenade, at Maracas, on the Avenue and in NAPA.

There is no reason under the sun why these places should be defined on male terms, suited solely or mainly to male bodies and responsibilities.

Equality means making all spaces also defined on female terms, suited to female bodies, and to women’s multiple responsibilities as workers, mothers, citizens, community members and participants in culture.

Equity means not making women choose between work and family or watching a performance and quietly breastfeeding her baby. It means enabling her to speak in parliament while she is breastfeeding, if that is what she chooses, because when she’s at home no one stops her from speaking while breastfeeding. Women’s brains and their bodies can perform different roles at the same time, in public and in private. Mothers rock out like that without a fuss every day.

And, there is no difference between the home and the House of Parliament. If the family really is the basis for the nation, then the House, the state and the nation need to be more family friendly or stop and check their own hypocrisy.  

Breasts were not put on the planet for men’s pleasure, though they are just as sexual as ears, necks and knees. Women evolved breasts to feed babies, babies who go on to be productive workers in our current capitalist system, who grow into the citizens that define our nation, whose right to good health is a public responsibility.

Once you get over the tiefhead that the meaning of women’s bodies should be defined by men’s desire for them, and that it is men who therefore set the rules for women, then it’s obvious that breasts are as carnal, offensive or vulgar as elbows. They are a natural part of how women reproduce and nurture life. We have to trust and empower women to use their best judgment about where and what is right for them and their babies.

Feminist advocacy has long campaigned for spaces like breastfeeding/breast-milk pumping rooms in malls and workplaces so that women have somewhere quiet and discreet to go if they choose. The key point here is that they must choose.

Banishing women to seclusion despite their own choice isn’t progressive policy. It’s a denial of choice and an act of domination. It feels like an experience of violence. I’ve competently breastfed while giving workshops, while shopping in a store in the mall and at public functions. If anyone had ever stood up over me and forced me into isolation supposedly for my own comfort, I would have felt like they were putting a shame on me that I did not feel, and punishing me for being a mother and for inconveniently having a woman’s body.  

The mothers, grandmothers, women, fathers and men, who are clear that babies have a right to feed wherever they are, know that the shame is now on NAPA for being ignorant  and demeaning.  

Ineffectual murmuring in the hallways of the ministries of health and gender has not stopped NAPA from defending the indefensible, which is particularly insulting given that there is absolutely no written policy justifying administrators’ responses thus far.   

There is no reason under the sun for NAPA and the Ministry of Culture’s failure to publicly apologize and to immediately affirm a commitment to a non-sexist, taxpayer-funded facility. 

Post 102.

Having not grown up in a two parent household, it’s a whole new experience for me to reflect on Ziya’s experience of living with both her mother and father. Understandings of how children connect to their fathers, which should be obvious to me, are only now part of my own learning as I observe the ways she relates to her parents and constructs her idea of family.

Her connection to me as her mother is intense and intimate, even overwhelming for us both. That has resulted not only from the kind of quality time I’ve consciously devoted, but also to from more than two years of continuous breast-feeding and, therefore, physical attachment. Yet, when we are reading books, and I point out the mummy lion or hippo, or when I tell her about my plans to take her on an outing, she’ll insist on looking for the daddy lion or asking whether daddy will be going on the outing too.

In her world, both mummy and daddy are present and necessary, and they are together. While she loves spending time with each of us, she loves spending time with both of us more. This isn’t the kind of daddy-struck adoration that seems to characterize girlhood. She’s invested in our nuclear family beyond the influence of socialization and even my own expectations of her capacity at two years old.

Dads are a vital and irreplaceable part of children’s lives, but some part of me thought that mummies could also be enough if they gave their all. Politically, I also don’t want to reproduce anti-woman views that argue that all families should have a mother and father living together, and that each must be playing some rightful role, for children to grow up fulfilled and functional. Heading their own household by choice or necessity, and with dads participating to various degrees, women have raised happy, productive and contributing members of our Caribbean. Dads can do the same too, on their own if they have to. Moms and dads don’t have to live in the same house to wisely cooperate for their children’s best interest. Even daddy-struck girls can figure out how to get on with life in the midst of separations, and how to renegotiate love across new family formations. Don’t doubt that they, we, survive and thrive.

Nonetheless, I see how Ziya would be confused, unsettled and heart-broken at the loss of having both parents with her. It makes me think back to myself at two and the complex, formative emotions that I forgot existed in me then. It makes me realise, not that break-ups are bad, because they can definitely be for the best, but how much adult partnerships define children’s sense of self, safety, stability and social space. When Ziya wants to know where the daddy hippo is or decides that two of any animal represents a mummy and a daddy, it’s a visceral statement that your relationship profoundly matters and is accountable to someone else besides the two of you.

Seeing us through her eyes has made me more greatly appreciate the role Stone has to play, whether we stay together forever or go separate ways. That role and its significance is his responsibility, not mine, to treasure, nurture and ensure. Still, I mature as a mother from recognizing that Ziya will have different feelings about and experiences of motherhood than I did. I improve as a partner from openness to learning anew about fatherhood and its value. Ziya is not the only one growing. She’s making us, as individuals and as a family, grow too.

Post 75.

Given the fact that everyone involved is completely unconscious during the period under question, it’s amazing how much consideration is given to where the baby sleeps.

Okay, I’m a sucker for hug up whole night…with the baby and, yes I admit it, Stone is left to sleep on the far, Arctic side of the bed. But does it really matter? Is my marriage really at stake? Is this really going to affect my child’s ability to be independent? Will any of us ever be able to recover? Am I being a bad mother? Is it worse to be a bad wife?

I’m guessing that every single parent and rationale person on the planet will tell me to get Ziya used to sleeping in the crib again, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they are right. It’s not that I’m spoiling her, I’m spoiling me. It’s obvious that we each think that night is really the only time we get to be together, hearing each other breathe, smelling each other’s skin. Where does that leave Stone? This is indeed a good question as the Arctic is a vast, cold and isolated place. Will I feel this way only temporarily and, eventually, will both Zi and I be ready to give up all this loving up for sleeping alone (her) and hugging up only my husband again (me)? It’s hard to say and it’s hard to care.

I could be the only person to feel this way – or to admit it – but I’m in love…with Zi, far more than I’ve ever been in love with Stone (whom I’m still in love with) and right now, its all heady endorphin-infused mutual attachment. Zi misses me during the whole week, I miss her and Stone is peripheral because each of us is the other’s North Star. It’s bad, really bad. It’s worse for me because I know it’s not too long before her process of individuation starts with all its little shifts from a dependent baby to a truly separate human being, the kind who simply is no longer on you. I don’t want to keep her little and hold her too tight, I just want to hold her tight now, in fact hold now tight, while she still lets me.

I’ve heard it all. The stories of women whose children are still sharing their bed when they are ten or for that matter seventeen, and whose husbands are either in the bed with them or have made their bed somewhere else in the house. I’ve heard the warnings about how Stone’s suggestions to put Ziya back in the crib should not only be heard, but taken seriously. I’ve heard all kinds of psychological theories about ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ child development. I recognise there are multiple perspectives and everyone has a view and somewhere inside I understand why this is an issue. I see why the question of where three people lie unconsciously over a few dark hours is at the heart of how you organise your multiple relationships and selves after you have a baby. I also think that surely it can’t be the source of the crises prophesised. We are, after all, unconscious during this time. How bad can it be?

I guess, more importantly, there are three people in this family and the desires of two count more than the third. I get that inequality and loss in status and say, and it makes me feel sorry, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to go to sleep and just hug up my baby. As he shivers in the long night of virtual abandonment, I wonder how long a tolerant, understanding and patient husband will indulge me. I’m going to go thank him, give him a hug and let him know I’m living a dream I always wanted, partly because I know he loves me and lets me.

Post 71.

Motherhood is something both revered and feared. It’s revered because it’s powerful. Women create life, no one else does. We therefore rock and, by rights, should rule. There’s a reason why so many goddess figures over time have had pendulous breasts, swollen bellies and enormous labias. Power is leaking from, multiplying within and surging forth out of them, signifying a reproductive force that cannot be mimicked, ridiculed or contained.

Motherhood is also feared for similar reasons. It takes women, many of whom are already capable, resilient, responsible and smart, and adds to their cache of strengths. There is a reason why thousands of years of sheer force have been invested in making lots of us think its unnatural to give our children our own surnames or independently choose when and when not to make babies from almost nothing but our bodies. Motherhood doesn’t make women into tigers, it takes tigers and turns their instincts to ready. For what you ask? To do whatever is necessary.

When women become mothers, they put their foot down hard on what they might have once accommodated for themselves. They hold position, regardless of how much they love whomever they are up against. In the best interests of their children, they will leave marriages rather than compromise, get angry rather than accept and adjust, face up to stark realities rather than continue in blind hope. They say no, loud, when it matters, they say yes with their feet as they mark the path to a new life, they learn to replace self-doubt with trust, they throw out some of the garbage they are carrying because they need their arms free to gather up the ones they must protect and love, even  – especially – if it means protecting them against others they love too. While wrestling with near emotional insanity, motherhood will steel women in their struggle against all odds and compel a choice to be sensible rather than fuck up one day longer.

When it comes to their children, women will do what they won’t for themselves. Partners who once filled their hearts are still present, but more peripheral. Patience that was lacking can be decisively found. Mothers will stay awake at night planning by the decade and are fully-prepared to kill anyone who threatens their family within twenty seconds of waking from deep dream. When women make babies, they now operate as a package deal, and let no man and no one seek to tear them asunder. Hell hath no fury like a mother tiger. It makes sense that this kind of ability to refuse to negotiate, this willingness to cut losses and turn away, this commitment to do what’s best for their children regardless will be threatening. It completely takes women out from under the power of men, church and state. Or, it can. Not every mother can or does make these sacrifices or seize such power, but, from quiet to rich to raped to teenage to broke to overwhelmed, many, many do.  

For myself, I know what I once might have let slide, I now call out whether or not it ruins my reputation as easy-going, understanding or supportive. I brought this child into the world, she comes first. Beneath this smile are teeth. I am a mother tiger, ready, sure and unafraid.