Why I had to skip the Berks

Thanks for your kind comments and e-mails–our family emergency has been resolved.  I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth could keep me away from the Berkshire Conference 2011, especially considering that there won’t be another one until 2014!  Well, friends–there isn’t a lot that would keep me away from it, but there’s something I haven’t told you about Famille Historiann before that might put this into perspective: 

I am the living mother of a living child I’ll call Madeline (not her name), who, unfortunately, had a bum appendix that announced itself as acute abdominal pain at 5:45 a.m. Thursday morning.  She had an appendectomy about 12 hours later at Maine Medical Center in Portland, no rupture and no complications.  As these things go, this was a health emergency that was speedily dealt with and easily resolved–she was released Friday morning at 9 a.m., and by Friday afternoon was playing energetically outside her grandparents’ house with her cousin.  The timing was unfortunate since I had to miss the big conference, but it could have happened at a worse time and place–like during one of our wilderness backpacking trips, or when we’re not staying with family members.  Fortunately, Fratguy was here too–he was scheduled to fly back on Thursday, but he postponed his return to Colorado until today.

As many of you readers know, I haven’t disclosed my parental status previously by design, although I think some of you have guessed–the Sesame Street YouTube clips, the discussions of children’s literature, and the references to the Kid’s Place Live channel on satellite radio probably weren’t too subtle.  But the truth of the matter is that there are a lot of blogs out there about parenting and not so many blogs about history and sexual politics, 1492 to the present, and it’s my professional interests and political views rather than my personal life that I wanted to blog about.  There are a lot of mothers in the world, whereas there aren’t all that many people with my particular training and expertise.  There are a lot of women who write about motherhood in the mainstream media, but not nearly so many women writing outside of that identity and/or writing on feminist issues.  Motherhood doesn’t make me special or interesting, or especially interesting.

I also didn’t want to identify myself as a mother because I think that a lot of blog conversations about mothering can become essentialist and personal in ways that work against feminist analysis.  (For examples of those kinds of conversations, in which people with a particular experience of motherhood assume I’m not a mother because I express opinions about motherhood they disagree with see here, here, and hereDr. Crazy has written about this too.  Because all mothers everywhere transhistorically are identical, right?)  As I’ve written here before, I don’t think motherhood is authorizing beyond one’s personal experience, because people’s experiences of parenthood are different because children and adults are different.  What worked for your family might not work for mine, and vice-versa, and most children end up okay no matter what.  (And besides–in my case, N=1, and unlike Dr. Laura Schlessinger, I don’t think my particular experience of parenting one child makes me an expert.)

There’s also the question of writing in ways that people might find interesting and stimulating.  I love Madeline–and those of you with children love your children, too, but do we really need to read and write about that here?  I also think children should be permitted to make their own mistakes about creating online identities when the time comes.  Blogging about my child just seemed too invasive of her privacy, so I created an online persona who left her position as a mother or a non-mother ambiguous.  Additionally, when I started my blog Madeline was very small, and I was wary (as a not-really-pseudonymous blogger) about how that kind of information might be used by others who didn’t mean us well.  Now that she’s reached the age of reason I’m less concerned about her safety, but I still don’t relish the ways in which this kind of information can be used to frighten and/or enrage me.

This cowgirl has said her piece.  Let’s pretend this conversation never happened.

63 thoughts on “Why I had to skip the Berks

  1. Pingback: Natalie Zemon Davis | Z-Xiuhtecuhtli

  2. … I am still trying to work out why some were insulted by this post. I have guesses but they are only guesses.

    – I don’t understand fully yet why so many feel that parenthood confers automatic authority on a wide range of topics, but many do.

    – I note that saying “I am a mother” is tantamount to saying “I am the good kind of woman.”

    – The issue seems to be identity: not “balancing” activities during a short 24 hour day, but identities … professor is one identity, mother is another, and people have trouble reconciling. ?

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  3. OK, I am still working on it. Some of my ideas have to do with “choice” … the job market is so bad that some people may not really get on, so if they say they choose to foreground the “mother identity” now, then they protect themselves against how it will feel when there are no tenure track jobs to apply for. These are the types of “guesses” I refer to above and I have no idea whether they are right and also think they are too superficial.

    But I note one is supposed to be pious about motherhood, and mothers are supposed to be pious. This is more to the point, it seems.

    And, it seems to be an “issue” that you started a blog precisely when you were a professor-mother and didn’t make “balancing the identities” the topic … this seems to be an affront. Because doing the mother identity thing is required.

    So what I came up with while asleep was: women and mothers are to foreground struggle and suffering and nurturing-ness in women’s roles, e.g. motherhood. Then, they are entitled to a lot of things, including respect for their opinions out of field (men get that for being men, but women feel that by being mothers and experiencing that in a certain way, they get entitled and “authorized” too).

    So, if you are a mother and don’t talk about the suffering, don’t believe in that process of authorization, etc., then it’s very transgressive.

    I think I’m right on this although not original in seeing it. I can see it in my whole upbringing — the essence of which was, the rewards you can get for suffering will far outstrip anything you could actually earn, so, choose suffering, it’s more honorable and also more lucrative.

    *

    What is so weird to me about the discussions on this thread is that people say that if you didn’t want to make Madeline a character in the blog and perform the mommy identity on it, then you shouldn’t get to ever discuss her existence, no matter what.

    WHY the starkness of all this, I do not understand.
    1. You must put the mommy identity first
    2. If you do not, you may never mention it

    Why is it that one is not allowed to be a person, with various aspects to one’s life, and maintain a blog that focuses on one of these? How is it “feminist” to relinquish the right, once you have a child, to have a blog which does not emphasize this child and your maternity?

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  4. Thanks a lot, Z. That just about sums it up for me. Your comments about suffering are really interesting–very Catholic too, IMHO, although I don’t know if you are in fact Catholic or not!

    I re-read the comments above, and will just note that one commenter assumes that because I didn’t blog about M. before, that I’m “hiding” my motherhood/true identity in my RL professional life. That’s a strange assumption, I think. The truth is, I’m embarassingly conventional: I have photographs of my child and husband in my office, and my students get a glimpse of M. as the image on my screen saver sometimes as I’m firing up a PowerPoint presentation. To exactly how wide an audience do we need to perform our motherhood? My performance of motherhood is what seems to be the big issue here: it’s not big enough or authentic enough for some.

    I noticed too that no one has wanted to address the issue of children’s privacy that I raised. But, I don’t see M. as a character in my performance of motherhood. She’s her own self, who can make her own decisions about her online presence some day (many years from now.)

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  5. Children’s privacy, I think it’s really important, and the use of children as characters in bloggers’ (or IRL mothers for that matter) performance of motherhood makes me really cringe.

    The “hiding one’s children” assumption is a willful distortion.

    Catholic, that’s interesting — I am not and my mother, whom I analyzed to come up with the suffering and reward paradigm, isn’t. However, I’ve almost always lived in very Catholic environments and I also study them professionally (Iberian world, you know), so maybe it rubs off to some extent … or maybe I just “get” it to some degree.

    But I think the suffering thing is actually Xtreme femininity — a form of foot binding, you know?

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  6. P.S. new discovery of possible interest — here’s someone at a neighbor school to mine, who has a non pseudonymous blog that’s a professional blog but that has a photo stream on motherhood. AND her dissertation was on blogging! http://culturecat.net/node/825 It’s interesting how she uses it as a sort of online portfolio, too.

    Also — I know a couple who both blog, and he does it under his own name and doesn’t talk about the kids, and she does it differently. What I take from this: the “I get to have a professional blog and not make it about my private life” is a privilege men tend to take and women don’t. Which does not mean that that *blogging strategy* is patriarchal — what’s patriarchal is that only men don’t seem to get castigated for doing it.

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