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Web Event 3: Unbinding Parenting

Fdaniel's picture

       Is it possible to view parenting without a mommy and daddy but rather two loving parents or one loving parent that refuses to impart sexist ideals onto their children? Some may say it’s impossible but I force you to take a step back and think critically about parenting in a new light that doesn’t ignore gender and sex when it comes to parenting but not make it our main focus. Parenting Unbound attempts to do so. Parenting Unbound focuses on not just the rights of women and gender expectations but looking at the bigger picture that comes along with parenting. It strips parenting of labels and attempts to view parenting in a pragmatic way that isn’t a battle between the sexes but rather using parenting as a catalyst to begin the stages of ending patriarchy.  The patriarchy has affected parenting styles and the way children are viewed in our society; as property. If we begin to start viewing parenting differently, not as a job for one gender over the other but a learning experience with pure and genuine love we can slowly but surely end sexism and the patriarchy that is still very present in our society today. Parenting Unbound forces us to strip parenting of norms and expectations and for every aspect permanently ask: how can parenting be different or critiqued if we look past there being a mother and father role but rather two loving parents providing support and guidance? Parenting Unbound focuses heavily on parenting itself purified from sexist ideals and what it entails making it more inclusive in its efforts to combat the patriarchy in society. 

       The dynamics of parenting is quite complex in that it forces expectations on both parents and prevents a cohesive, shared responsibility. Parenting is one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs one will ever have. No matter how much preparation or experience that journey of parenting is quite unpredictable and challenging. The role that both a mother and father play in their child’s life has a tremendous impact on them in the long run. Women are held to this standard to be feminine, docile, nurturing and supportive beings while males are held to be masculine, tough, disciplinarians. Both these roles come with their positive and negative attributes that contribute to raising children. As men are seen as these tough, stern human beings they are also supposed to be the same as a fathers. “Male domination in homes often creates an autocracy where men sexually abuse children” (Hooks). This misconception effects why women hold much of the burden of parenting. Women are expected to be nurturing loving beings to their children at all times and paint this image of men as dominate, sexist, violent creatures that if solely left alone with children will impart this behavior on to them. However, this misconception fails to recognize that both women and men abuse children. This naïve and ignorant misconception around gender roles has confused our thinking on the dynamics of parenting.  Focusing on the way in which males abuse, harm or effect children allow many feminists to easily ignore how women play a part in this as well. This easily places the role of a mother to be the caregiver, supporter and expected to put family first. In order to make parenting a cohesive shared experience we must look past gender and labels and figure out how can both parents project non-sexist morals onto their children and create a dynamic that doesn’t involve gender but rather loving parents.

       Parenting Unbound is further allowing us to critically analysis the sexism that is projected in parenting.  When looking past gender roles and labels all we see are abusive beings imparting harmful behavior on their children not males or females. Feminists tend to put a lot of emphasis on abuse done to women and children by men but never really look at what women do to children. When we focus on gender and sex in parenting we are distracted by the gender expectations forced on both that we forget about what is really going on. We must focus on the children and how this is truly affecting them. Whether a man or woman abuses them verbally or physically ultimately it is still abuse. If its good or bad parenting we should be focused on how we can make it better not which parent is doing so or the gender of the parent. Allowing gender and sex to affect the dynamics of parenting effects how each parent performs in their role. It allows women to take the majority of the work while men sit in the back burner. These misconceptions that arise when gender plays a role in parenting allow us to ignore the bigger picture.

       An example of this at play is explored in Bell Hooks’ novel Feminism is for Everyone: passionate politics.  The bigger picture that needs to be address is abuse. She places children in the shoes of women to see how abuse and violence are viewed differently based on who it is rather than the fact that there is abuse occurring. “If we had heard a man telling us how he just clamps down on a woman’s flesh, pinching her hard to control her behavior it would have been immediately acknowledged as abusive” (Hooks). When we outright physically abuse children even as women it isn’t questioned or dwelled on but when men do it its different? We are very eager to attack men that abuse women because women are viewed in society as docile creatures that can’t fight back. Children too can’t fight back or have any power in that matter to end abuse imparted on them. This is a perfect example of the ideologies that society has implemented on us and has effected how we view abuse. We can’t ignore that there is a power struggle that needs to be fixed or the cycle will again continue.  Children too need rights and also caring loving parents that won’t smuttier them with sexist thinking and abuse. Instead they need parents that will instill morals that allow them to grow as individuals free of judgment. Another important aspect of parenting unbound is not looking at each parent as gender-bodied individuals but as parents, as people that hold power over another being. 

       After analyzing parenting we are able to view the deep-rooted patriarchal ideals. It is then passed on to their children through their parenting. “We have been socialized to embrace patriarchal thinking, to embrace an ethics of domination which says the powerful have the right to rule over the powerless and can use any means to subordinate them” (Hooks). Children are the powerless while parents are powerful. Always classifying a group as powerful/powerless opens the opportunity for oppression and more abuse. Titles alone hold power. Having the title as a mother or father alone screams power, control and expectations. Parents are allowed to control their children under any means necessary and aren’t judged about it. We classify children as property of their parents not human beings that have genuine rights for equality. Now, I’m not saying that children are our peers but I am saying that they too shouldn't be seen as property or abused just because their children. This patriarchal set up is embedded in our parenting, which is why parents begin to raise children that become into adults that impart that same mindset onto their children. This then continues the cycle of sexism, patriarchy and control. Always playing a power dynamic will further taint our parenting styles and the way we raise our children. Parenting Unbound is deeply questioning the parenting dynamic that has been set forth.  We must broaden our definition of who we are protecting looking past gender. This is why children must be included in this movement.

        Furthering our discussion on parenting unbound we are able to analyze the effect it has on our children. The most important aspect of parenting is the child involved and the effect it has on their character. The dynamics of parenting in society has forced children to spend a lot more time with their mothers rather than their fathers. That may be a positive thing that women are spending more time with their children but then that leaves them with the blame when something goes wrong.

…See children as the property of parents to do with as they will, Adult violence against children is a norm in our society. Problematically, for the most part feminist thinkers have never wanted to call attention to the reality that women are often the primary culprits in everyday violence against children simply because they are the primary parental caregivers.  Hooks

Women are the “culprits” or in other words guilty of projecting violence onto their children. This is because women typically are the gendered beings that are placed with this burden of staying home to raise the children. This may be why feminist encourage women to seek self-fulfillment and then put family second. However, by promoting this feminist ignore the problem at hand. Ignore that women are victims of the patriarchy and because of that it has resulted in them being guilty of abuse. Unbinding parenting purifies parenting of labels that hold expectations for each gender to act a certain why or do certain things in a family. Women wouldn't be expected to be the primary care givers. Men wouldn't be expected to be physical or sexual abusers but rather a loving parent that is fully capable of caring for children.

            Stepping back for a second and analyzing abusing children, as a norm is quite cynical. Again looking past gender, children are an oppressed group that have no rights and are affected by the power dynamics set by society. They too need to be protected from the abuse of their parents. However, placing gender into the argument clouds our judgment.  When women abuse their children, their children then abuse their wives (Hooks). This is the beginning stage of the patriarchy emerging. When we start children off with abuse “we are planting the seeds to patriarchy” and continuing to water it throughout their lives as we expose them to violence, abuse and more power dynamics in our parenting (Hooks). When men abuse women it’s shunned upon but when women do it to their children its ok. Both instances there is a victim, there is someone being slowly oppressed. What makes them so different?

          Parenting Unbound is being more inclusive in that not just looking at the gender of the person being abused but rather who exactly is being abused. When we put the blame on one gender over the other it doesn’t fix the problem, it prolongs it. Instead we should look at abuse itself and protect both children and women from oppression. Continuing to view children as the “property” of their parents takes away from the love and support that can be provided. It makes parenting a job, a burden, something that needs to be done instead of something that is enjoyable. Children are an extension to a family not someone’s “property” but rather someone’s “responsibility.” Bell Hooks states, “love is the essential key to making sure we don't have anymore-sexist adults.” If parents love their children and don't expose abuse or sexist ideas to their children then they will grow into non-sexist adults and teach the same to their children. Parents must be an example for their children. Unbinding parenting will allow children to not see gender roles but rather two loving parents that equally share the role of raising them. Parenting unbound is very unique because it grants us the ability to understand parenting after it is problematized. After we have pinpointed the issues of setting roles, labels and expectations for both parents involved and changing the definition that children are not property we are able to deeply critique the societal view on parenting and make it better

          Unbinding parenting permits us as members of society to critique the way we view power dynamics that are embedded in our parenting style. Evaluating the patriarchy and gender norms that effect how each parent is viewed tarnishes our outlook on issues that are directly an outcome of power dynamics. Parenting Unbound broadens the definition to include and further our thinking past gender and labels. By making this more inclusive it allows children to be protected as well as women in this movement.  As we continue to speculate about parenting we should take a step back and look at the parents themselves. How have they been affected by this patriarchy that is now affecting their parenting?



Work Citied:

Hooks, Bell. "Feminist Parenting." Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2000. 72-78. Print.



Anne Dalke's picture

Purifying, problematic, property...

I’ve quite tickled w/ the way you have taken this month’s prompt to construct your own topic of “parenting unbound": you speak here of purifying parenting, particularly of problematic assumptions about children as our property. Your reflections are helping me to realize that—while the power dynamics between men and women may slowly equalize (helped along by the work of gender economists like Heidi Hartmann)--the power dynamic of parents over children can never be. Thinking about family dynamics from a child’s point of view—what it must be like to always be dependent on someone so much bigger and stronger—really reorients my thinking about these issues. It also reminds me of the theories of a psychoanalyist, Jean Leplanche, who argues that the work of a being a healthy adult requires nothing so much as the the “constant re-viewing and re-contextualizing” of the “radically ridiculous, helpless situations,” the “uneven encounters” we have as children with adults—always feeling fearful, always feeling inadequate in our responses.

Your “unbound parenting” doesn’t begin to get the depths of that sort of analysis…though I might prod you in that direction, by asking you why you think most abuse happens in families (rather than, say, in child care or @ school). Does it have to do w/ parents feeling more responsibility, being more invested in the children’s behavior (as well as less supported in their work as parents)? What I'm getting @ here is that abuse can grow directly out of love (I just re-read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, as one fictional example of this dynamic--and will never forget another, by the New Zealand author Keri Hulme, called The Bone People). I think it is possible to love someone so much that you are desperate to make them comply....this goes way beyond the notions of child as "property"...

So: do you want to think more about parenting for your final project? (There's Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born, Sara Ruddick's Maternal Thinking...) Do you want to learn more about child abuse, what is known about its causes and effects? (This was the very surprising direction your project took, for me...)

Or do you want to return to the queries you had last month, when you said, "I'm now interested in finding out how do women of color feel coming here. Do they feel comfortable? Do they feel like a minority? I would also like to know how McBride’s feel. Does their age affect their experience here?"