Rooms With A Skew

October 31, 2006

(In which I dither and cavil and wring my hands once again! Yay! Maybe we should just call this blog Her Angsty and Unsettled Mother…)

I’ve never really considered myself to be a contrarian. If anything, I’ve always worried that I tend too much toward being agreeable. I’ve always been keenly interested in having people like me, and being contrarian isn’t particularly conducive to that end. That said, I’ve been told that I can be pretty forceful in expressing my views, and my husband has been known, on certain days of the month, to refuse to discuss what he reads in the newspaper with me for fear that I will aggressively insist upon such engagement, but still. I think of myself as pretty agreeable, the sort of person who nods a lot in response to whomever is speaking and who peppers her responses with a lot of ‘yeah-yeahs’ and who generally expresses at least some sympathy with any semi-articulate and semi-reasonable opinion.

(This has been influenced, in part, by years of teaching, an activity in which even outright disagreement should be veiled in the politest of terms: why, no, I had never considered the possibility that Socrates was under the influence of narcotic substances while engaging in dialectic. Yes, you are quite right that he does seem to like a good party. But while that does open up some interesting possibilities for interpretation of the entire Platonic corpus, I think that, for the purposes of discussing his teaching on virtue as outlined in the Meno, we need to proceed from the assumption that he was more or less lucid.)

So I was a little surprise by my reaction to the Motherlode conference, which was a wonderful conference, full to bursting with interesting women and great ideas, but which also provoked in me a powerful desire to shout contrary opinions. Not because I fundamentally disagreed with the principles of the conference or the ideas being bandied about there, but, rather, because I was recoiling from some vague but powerful feeling of being expected to conform.

I know. Confusing. I’m still confused, myself. Bear with me.

Here’s the thing: I broadly agreed with most of the principles – feminism, community, empowerment, yada, yada – that provided the groundwork for much of the discussion at the Motherlode. I identify myself as a feminist. I believe strongly in feminism, if we understand feminism broadly as support for women. I believe in the importance of action, and in human beings helping themselves and each other. I believe that mothers should stick together, support each other, help each other along. I believe in community.

BUT.

I’m uncomfortable in a room where these beliefs are simply expected of me, as a condition of membership in the group occupying the room, and where it is simply assumed that I will nod my head and agree – agree that all women should be feminists, that there is something wrong with mothers who do not identify themselves as feminists, that conservatism is bad, that anything other than social liberalism is bad but that economic liberalism tends toward bad because business and capitalism and power are bad, bad, bad and antithetical to the ethos of womanhood and motherhood. Whether I agree or disagree with any those principles is beside the point – what makes me uncomfortable is the assumption that I will agree, and, perhaps, that I must agree. I’m uncomfortable with any suggestion that there is such a thing as a natural ethos of motherhood (or a constructed ethos of ‘good’ motherhood), universal to mothers, that encompasses a specific and coherent set of values and beliefs.

The momosphere has itself been criticized for this kind of presumed conformity, of course. It has been said that mom bloggers – and parent bloggers more generally – tend to hold similar views and opinions and that we are unlikely to fall into serious disagreement and that the momosphere, for this reason, is a pretty bland place. I think that it is true that the momosphere is largely a community of like-minded individuals – we’re a community of literate and more-or-less technologically savvy adults with children who love to write and who have the luxury of the time and equipment that allow us to indulge in the hobby of writing online. We have a lot in common, so it’s not surprising that we might have certain views and opinions in common. But I do not for one minute expect all other parent-bloggers to share my views. Nor do I believe that other bloggers expect me to always share their views – Kristen’s blog exchange debates, and the recent discussions concerning feminism, among other things, provided ample evidence that there is a tremendous diversity of opinion among parent-bloggers. We’re not KoolAid moms. Far from it: in the blogosphere, I feel free to voice contrary opinions and to disagree openly (albeit politely) whenever and wherever the mood strikes.

But at the Motherlode, I didn’t feel completely free to offer up contrary opinions, or to play devil’s advocate. When someone asked the crowd what right-thinking moms should be doing to set straight mothers who don’t identify as feminists, I wanted to ask (on behalf of Julie and Rebecca and Jennster and countless others) why it was assumed that there is something wrong with mothers who do not fully identify as feminists? When I was asked, outside of the panels, what I was doing as a blogger to avoid being compromised by commercial interests, I choked on my response – why is it assumed that I, as a mother and a feminist, would be strictly opposed to and/or worried about compromising myself for commerce? And when everybody was wringing their hands about the fact we can’t seem to get away from judging each other (this after the hand-wringing about what to do about the misguided mothers who do not identify as feminists), I wanted to ask what the hell was necessarily so wrong about judgment? Isn’t reasonable judgment – the critical evaluation of what we believe to be right or wrong, good or bad – the basis for all political action? For all debate, all discourse? (This is another post entirely; stay tuned.)

The conference – what I saw of it – was full of judgment, it seemed to me, but (with a few moments of exception) this was not the sort of open exercise of judgment that provokes serious debate on fundamental questions. There was a lot of implicit judgment, but no open interrogation of those judgments. (What’s the problem, really, with non-feminist mothers? Why should all mothers identify as feminists? Why should they all be socially liberal? Why should they be wary of Business and Commerce? Why should ‘Business’ and ‘Commerce’ always be capitalized when invoked in these discussions? Why should we view all judgment as bad? Why?)

(For the record, again – and I’m discomfited by the fact that I need/want to make this clear – my politics are emphatically not anti-feminist or anti-liberal or anything of the sort. I just think that, however ‘right’ I think my politics are, I shouldn’t assume that they are the One True Way.)

I want to be careful with what I’m saying here: I’m not saying that the Motherlode conference imposed a silence upon me or anyone else. It was not oppressive: I recognize that it was a wonderful opportunity for women to investigate motherhood on their own terms, in a welcoming space. My discomfort was my own, a product of my own issues and my own ambivalence and my own experience of what it means to be discursively comfortable. I’m accustomed to being one of a very few women in rooms full of bombastic and ambitious academic men who relish the thrill of exposing each others’ weaknesses and defending themselves against such exposure. (Or, flashing pasties at rooms full of pissy women who can only agree that words are good and that blogtards are bad and that Arianna Huffington is tall.) There’s something comfortable, for me – and I know that this sounds weird – about being in a room where everyone expects disagreement, where everyone sits around openly judging the opinions and ideas of everyone else, the better to work out what opinions and ideas are worth exploring further. Being at the Motherlode, in rooms full of so much agreement – rooms full of the expectation of agreement – discomfited me. That’s my issue. And probably a silly issue at that.

Maybe I was just messed up in the head and heart from having messed up as a mother that morning. Or maybe I should blame the patriarchy. I don’t know.

Whatever the case, it’s the thing that has been causing me some post-conference confusion. Shouldn’t I just be happy that a space has been created for mothers to go and talk and revel in their commonality and community and agreement? (I am happy for this, by the way.) Shouldn’t I have just enjoyed all of the rah-rah lovey goodness? Isn’t this what I praise the momosphere for? Aren’t I always going on about how supportive, how warm, how inviting, how agreeable the momosphere is? Why did I get my panties in a bit of twist about all of the enthusiastic agreeability at the Motherlode?

What do you think? Was I being unnecessarily curmudgeonly? Have any of you ever felt a little boxed in by others’ expectations of you – expectations about what you must or must not believe or do – in your capacity as a woman and as a mother? I’d really like to know, because I’m really not sure what to make of my reaction to this experience.

I don’t know, Kermie… I think that most people do assume that you are an environmentalist, and I think that they would be very disappointed to learn that you don’t support the Green Movement…


(Ooh! Hey! Don’t forget to check out the Basement - there’re some folks looking for advice and support and contrary opinions are welcome, if stated nicely. And if you haven’t been around the Mother ‘Hood in a while, you might check it out, too…)

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    { 49 comments }

    something blue October 31, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    Disagreeing adds another perspective. Possibly an idea that I had not yet considered. I thrive off conversation for that reason.

    Being a parent means that we have strong opinions and beliefs. This has to leave room for disagreeing and judging of course in the most respectful way.

    I don’t want another mother to tell me what is best for my children but I don’t want to rah rah it up just to fit into the group. I’d rather flash pasties!

    jennster October 31, 2006 at 6:15 pm

    it’s kind of what i am talking about- or what i think…. that i don’t like that i’m expected to be ANYTHING because of my gender, or race, or whatnot. i don’t like that people are of the opinion that i should be a feminist because i’m a woman. and maybe i am one, i just don’t think about it because i DO associate it so negatively with the women who are totally over the top and i’m just plain and simple, not one of those. because i am a mom i’m not what i’m supposed to be because i’m supposed to be it. i am what and who i am because i CHOOSE it. and there’s nothing wrong with that. and i hate hate hate that other women pressure other women (or moms pressuring moms) into being something SIMPLY BECAUSE they are labeling them that something. good god, i’m confusing myself and should probably shaddup because i am rambling and we all know that nothing gets accomplished except for more confusion when i do this. but i love you and think you’re hot and miss your boobs. and that’s all the feminism i’ve got for you today. lol

    mothergoosemouse October 31, 2006 at 6:15 pm

    I think you already know how I feel. And once again, I deeply appreciate the solidarity in believing that open discussion (versus blind conformity) and, above all, respect for one another are paramount.

    jennster October 31, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    and another thing- just for fun… i really don’t like being told what to think, what to do, or any of that. i don’t take lightly to being told that i SHOULD feel and think certain ways based on certain things (like that i am a woman or a mom, etc). i’m more likely to rebel and tell them to fuck off more than conform. lol

    jen October 31, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    I just think that, however ‘right’ I think my politics are, I shouldn’t assume that they are the One True Way.

    As I am standing up and wildly cheering you on, you bad sister.

    I wonder if it’s fear based mentality you speak of – that we need to get others on board to prove that we are indeed, right. Picture instead a freeflowing exchange of all mothers and women and people on all sorts of topics, where one doesn’t have to fit into a box to participate. It’s possible, if we are able to allow our “wrongness” to mix with other’s potential “rightness”. And it can be a beautiful thing.

    Bravo, you.

    blair October 31, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    De-lurking because I can’t resist.

    I went to a wonderful women’s college in the “Happy Valley” of western Massachusetts. It was a great, mind broadening experience, but I felt so pressured to be wildly liberal that I left more conservative then when I went in. I was so irritated to be pressured to conform, that I deliberately went in the opposite direction…just because it was opposite.

    It doesn’t make you contrary, but when one engages in a conference, workplace meeting, debate, school environment and the like, and they feel stifled, pressured in one direction or as if they have encountered “the borg”, I think it is natural to rebel and pull away, despite the inherent attractiveness of the overall themes.

    :-)

    ECR October 31, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    I have beliefs that seem somehow to alienate me from anyone and everyone at some point in time. My politics are all over the place. I am very conscious of the kind of closed-mindedness of which you speak, and I experience it at different times on both sides of the political/intellectual/sociological spectrum. The end result is that I stay away from environments that I know to be overtly preachy and intolerant. Maybe that’s what drives many people to the center. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. If it’s true that the extreme always makes an impression, then I believe that open debate and compromise is what makes change.

    Pieces October 31, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    It sounds like you had every reason to feel uncomfortable and that you are not just being contrary. It is very uncomfortable to be in an environment when sweeping generalizations are made about what “everyone” believes. Even if you did agree with the prevailing agenda, it shouldn’t be assumed that you (and everyone else) will. That is why it is good that you were there! And your voice will be heard now and you will make some of other attendees think about their own assumptions and judgments.

    MiM October 31, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    You’re not a contrarian. You’re an individual thinker refraining from the dreaded Group Think.

    Thank God.

    chelle October 31, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    I am totally up for open discussion, however in some circles of thought one would be stoned for disagreeing with say some elements of feminism. I have found in those circles I slowly back away, my eyes dart for an exit and I run away!

    Why don’t geeks every debate the elements of computers?!?!?

    Mouse October 31, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    I know exactly the feeling of which you speak. I get extremely uncomfortable with assumptions that everyone in a room, whatever the setting, holds the exact same views on politics, religion, parenting, etc, even when I tend to be in synch with those beliefs. Every time I read an update from the Graduate Student Union, it icks me out to see as the #1 item, every single time, getting Canada out of Afghanistan. Do I think it’s a good idea? Yes! Do I like being told this is a good idea? No!!

    Jo October 31, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    I don’t like being expected to agree or conform. As a matter of fact, if I feel I am expected to agree, I often will disagree…just for shits and giggles. I’m funny that way;)

    Someone up above in the comments said that as parents we have strong opinions and beliefs. I tend to disagree. My opinions and beliefs aren’t overly strong on most issues and they tend to change from day to day, depending on my mood and who I’ve had discussions with that day. I think I have a very logical and objective mind. I like to see the merit and validity in all sides of an argument and I usually do. I don’t like the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in terms of a person’s feelings about something.

    I’m a single mom with three kids. I don’t identify as a feminist. To be honest, I don’t know the definition of a feminist – or – I’ve seen so many I don’t know which one is correct. I believe in women supporting women. More accurately, I believe in humans supporting humans.

    I honestly try not to judge. I try not to use words like NEVER and ALWAYS. Because, like I said above, I don’t usually know how I’m going to feel about an issue from one minute to the next. Until I have lived in someone else’s shoes, I try not to say what I would do if I were faced with their situation, because I just don’t know.

    I love playing devil’s advocate. When I hear people speaking judgmentally…I love to argue. Gossips at the water cooler have learned not to say, “I would NEVER do that….” in my presence. I have a knack for making them eat their words:)

    One thing that bugs me is people who think I should have an opinion on something…like politics. I’m educated and I have a good job. But I am really disinterested in most politics. It could be that I just don’t have time to keep up with current events. Well, more likely it’s that when I do have free time I’d rather spend it reading material written by people who interest me (like y’all, of course) than by trying to keep up with the he said/she said of national politics…so I just don’t watch the news. I get bored with it. Politics just seems so high school.

    Some people would argue that it’s irresponsible of me as a citizen to sit on my butt and ignore the issues…but I just don’t care. I’ve got better things to do. Like hang out and relax:)

    Anyway, now that I’ve not really answered any of your questions definitively and I’ve gone off on my own little rant, I’ll stop taking up room in your comments:)

    nonlineargirl October 31, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    As a liberal and a feminist, I am aware that the assumption of collective uniformity of belief on certain issues is a big turn off to a lot of generally like-minded folks. (And yes, conservatives do the same kinds of things, but maybe just more smoothly)

    What you describe sounds like an unfortunate meshing of the horrible “it must be done this way” of parenthood and the “our beliefs are the right ones and those who don’t agree are laboring under false consciousness” of sophomore in college feminists. I foolishly thought that people could move past that, but I am not an academic.

    dear wife October 31, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    I find this can often be the problem at conferences. I had a similar thing happen to me when I went to an Ecoconference. it is not that I did not agree with what people felt, I just do not see the world in such black and white terms. I think these feelings come from the fact that you are a critical thinker, which is not a bad thing. Conservative, liberal, whoever I hate when people try to tell you how you should feel and think, like there is only one way. it is individualism that makes this world interesting. Of course ZD would agree that I am quite the contrarian and when anyone implies how I should think or feel I rebel.

    Haley-O October 31, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    I know this feeling, HBM. It dominated my academic career. I remember, when I left the first time, going to an art gallery and thinking — wow…I can think whatever the fuck I want about this painting! I don’t have to refer to Derrida or Butler or Heidegger…, as has always been expected of me. There was such a freedom when I released those expectations (the expectations, the impositions, of my professors)….

    And, what you say about judging is interesting. I suppose it’s okay to judge so long as that judging is positively wrought, and not accusing or mean-hearted, etc…. I look forward to your post about this — it’s such a huge topic for us moms….

    crazymumma October 31, 2006 at 10:14 pm

    (I’m gonna swear here.) Sounds like a bit of a mind fuck.
    I for one get very confused in mass groupings. I sometimes wonder if I am too easily swayed by majority. That being said, there is nothing more spooky to me than everyone agreeing wholeheartedly with each other. It seems a bit….Children of the Corn. Sorry, it is Halloween after all.

    I think that you are brave writing this,I am sure most of your readers respect you and with good reason, but still, I think it is brave to wonder, to question what you felt, what went on inside your brain as you sat there.

    krista October 31, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    Oddly, this makes me even more achey that I wasn’t able to go.

    From the social scientist point of view.

    metro mama October 31, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    I can’t wait for the post about “compromising yourself for commerce”. There will be one, won’t there? Pretty please!

    Nope, I don’t think you’re a curmudgeon.

    penelopeto November 1, 2006 at 12:03 am

    *sorry, that was me deleting, all because of a typo. i’m so shallow. anyhoo…

    blame the patriarchy!

    funny, i’ve been brewing a post on the judgey thing for a while. we should have our opinions, our emphatic beliefs – i think that my way IS the one true way. emphasis on MY – for me. My way should be the one true way for me, or else i should probably be looking into doing something different.
    but i’m not into converting others to subscribe to my ways, or being expected to subscribe to anyone else’s.

    kittenpie November 1, 2006 at 12:27 am

    I think this reminds me of the same reason that I am sometimes a little cagey about the fact that I’m a mom and about my profession, for example. There are assumptions being made about who I am based on those facts and it makes it easy to put me in a box and I don’t want to be slotted so easily. It chafes, right? You need to be able to stretch in whatever direction you want. And then there’s the feeling of being on a runaway train that can happen with these things, too. Everyone’s yeah-yeah-yeah-ing, and you just want to say, “Hold on a minute, here. Did anybody think about this thing?” yea, I hear you.

    Mad Hatter November 1, 2006 at 12:38 am

    This is a tough one, HBM. I am all about respecting other people’s beliefs and their varying needs/wants for debate and discussions on different issues. Having said that, though, if I find myself in a room with a group of like-minded people, I am eager to take the like-minded bits as a given so that I can get on with other business.

    For example, I am a liberal, pro-choice feminist. I am in a group with other like-minded women and we are working very hard to change the law in the province where I live because it is our shared belief that it contravenes the Canada Health Act and the 1988 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. I know that there are many women who disagree with my thoughts on this issue and I firmly believe that they are welcome to discuss and debate the issues ’til the cows come home BUT not in a group that has already set itself up as having a shared belief system. That level of debate in that context serves only to thwart the activism that myself and the other women in the group deem vital to saving women’s lives.

    I don’t know what Motherlode billed itself as so I can’t assume what the “entry-level politics” might have been but I can really see and understand where a group of women may unwittingly set an agenda that might make others uncomfortable simply because their focus is on different goals that derive from a set of shared assumptions. Know what I mean?

    In short, I respect your discomfort but I know how easy it is to be on the other side. Another example, we in the parenting blogging world (or at least this corner of it) seem to operate from a shared assumption that we respect parenting difference and parenting choice. If a commenter came in hounding on a particular issue that didn’t respect our diversity, we would likely call that person a blogtard not an earnest debater.

    Shit, now my diction is all off b/c I in no way intend to equate you or anyone with blogtards. No. No. No. All’s I am saying is I can see where a community might carry some common assumptions and not even be aware that there is a level of open, honest, and eager dissent. Another example: I am a librarian. We librarian types tend to believe in free speech and respecting the privacy of our patrons. Usually, a library conference will take those assumptions as a given so that participants can build on the issues that spring from them. Sure, every now and then there is dissent on these issues but in general they are taken to be common throughout the profession.

    I do hope this makes sense and that it is read with the open spirit of debate and dialogue with which it was written.

    Lady M November 1, 2006 at 1:02 am

    Someone above said my thoughts already – I tend to disassociate with groups that are heavily ideologic, so I end up not hearing a lot of those thoughts that are contrary to my own. I don’t think it’s good to get too isolated, so I try to at least read opposing views. Agreed on your point that it’s infuriating to have people you assume your beliefs because of your gender, race, profession, etc.

    Now I need to go read stacks of pre-election propoganda to make up my mind before filling out a ballot next week. U.S. midterm elections are right around the corner!

    Damselfly November 1, 2006 at 9:08 am

    Thanks for making me think and look up the word cavil.

    Discussion of all viewpoints is a good thing. Maybe your blogging about it will encourage more discussion and less expectation of agreement.

    Her Bad Mother November 1, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Hey Mad! Your comment totally made sense. It was the thing that I was concerned about in reflecting upon my discomfort – that it wasn’t fair for me to get snippy about an assumed politics (a politics that I share, btw), especially when, as I said, such shared spaces are so important.

    That said – it was an academic conference (or was primarily billed as such), not an activist meeting (although there were certainly panels directed toward activism) hosted by the Association for Research on Mothering, which one *might* expect to express a greater variety of perspectives. (Although again with the parenthetical comment – I didn’t attend all of the panels… it may be the case that some panels were less homogenous. But the tone of some of the plenary sessions was certainly based on certain assumptions.)

    Anyhoo, as I said above, I’m aware that a big part of this was just me feeling constrained, and that that feeling does not necessarily mean that there was something fundamentally wrong with the conference. It was a positive environment that yielded much positive discussion.

    Mamalooper November 1, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Groupthink – perhaps it is more likely to occur when a perceived “disadvantaged” group gets together?

    I was in the PhD program at Big University in Social Work and I found a similar vibe. There was a lot of peer pressure to think along one vein.

    For paid work I am in the field of children’s mental health and with Monkeydad in, omig-d, the corporate world, I have a foot in each kingdom. Or queendom. And funnily enough, sometimes the lefty world has more stereotypes about the business-y world than the reverse.

    I don’t know if it is getting older (gah…) but I am more interested in the grey areas and this “and” that rather than this “or” that. My politics/beliefs skew all over the map depending upon the issue. Issues are messy and not so easily put into a particular box.

    Some groups who are alternative end up being more rigid with a “one right answer” epistemology instead of a more embracing one. Damn that enlightenment!

    Dana November 1, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Dearest Catherine,
    Whenever I read your blog, I always learn so much and nod along with the points that I “get” and I find myself trying to learn more about the things I don’t know much about.

    I think your train of thought is correct, we won’t always agree and that’s okay!

    MetroDad November 1, 2006 at 11:29 am

    As always, an intelligent and thoughtful post, Catherine. And having spent several years working in politics in Washington, DC, I know exactly what you’re talking about in regard to the near-tyrannical tsunami of forced consensus. I’ve worked with both hard-core conservatives and hard-core liberals, and I found them both equally stifling in terms of accepting differing opinions and allowing constructive discourse. It’s why I left that damn city and why I no longer tolerate that type of single-minded thinking in any aspect of my life. Nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree. Makes the world a much more interesting place, don’t you think?

    nomotherearth November 1, 2006 at 11:48 am

    I have to say that I’m with you here. I very much want to be liked and end up being agreeable in most situations (although my comments are more along these line: “of course!”, “absolutely!” or “uh-huh, uh-huh”). The only instance where I am not agreeable is when I feel, for some reason, that I have to be. I do not like ‘having’ to do anything, and I can become quite stubborn. I always use the example that I love to read, but tell me that I have to read a book for a class (even a book that I like!) and I all of a sudden have no interest in reading it.

    I also get weirded out when you’re sitting in a room full of a cross-section of people and no one has a dissenting opinion? Weird. WEIRD!

    Ok, so this rambling answer is just my way of saying – no you weren’t too curmudgeonly. I would have felt the same. I think it’s hard to form an intelligent opinion unless you first examine all aspects of a topic. Despite all the good that this conference had to offer, it didn’t seem to do that.

    Laural Dawn November 1, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    I was nodding my head through all of this. I understand where you are coming from completely. I hate it when you get boxed into something – and the expectation is that you agree with everything they are saying.
    I hate that. I hate it in motherhood and in life in general. I felt that way about a meeting I attended at work the other day.
    Sooooo frustrating.

    Julie Pippert November 1, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Have I ever felt boxed in by expectations?

    LOL

    Of course!

    I don’t think I’ve met too many people who wait to get to know you before forming an opinion about who you are simply by how you look, where you are and what you are doing.

    If I had a dollar for every person I’ve ever surprised when they figured out I am who I am not who they think I must be, I could finish renovating my house next week.

    Not to mention being a Blue in the Red. Oh the assumptions that leads to, not the least of which is that, as my very own president said, I am willfully ignorant and naive.

    I am often contrary, very opinionated, and must work very hard to be “socially acceptable.”

    I think you were not curmudgeonly. At least not from the sounds of it. I have no idea how you acted, since sadly I wasn’t there. I think ti is helpful to take a step back, play devil’s advocate and explore a POV before commiting to it.

    That you do it is a positive reflection on your ability to live mindfully and decide, ultimately, what you do think, all on your own.

    Tali November 1, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    I suppose I’m officially no longer a lurker at Her Bad Mother… hi =)

    This post really resonated with me – I think there’s a very fine line between: (1) appreciating and enjoying a group that shares assumptions and view points and comes from a common ground, and (2) feeling so comfortable in the uh-huhs and of-courses that you never question those view points, or worse, are derogatory towards those who do not come from that comfortable group.

    Which is to say I think comfort zones are very healthy and happy but you have to know that’s what they are and be ok with people politely challenging them every once in a while, in order to keep your sanity and open-mindedness (says me).

    And the real point here is that I think you captured and expressed this boundary quite well in this post =)

    Ann D November 1, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    Hey, Catherine!

    I really enjoyed meeting you at The Motherlode, right before the blogging session. It was such a bummer that your session on Mothering in the Academe ran at the exact same time as the blogging panel so that you weren’t actually able to hear what Dani, Marla, Jen, Andrea, and I had to say — and how the discussion went afterwards (although I know you popped in just as the session was wrapping up). There was some really thoughtful discussion that brought in the very points that I know you would want to have seen raised and Jen made some points during her presentation about commerce not being a bad thing; about mothers looking for creative ways to generate income via their blogs, but doing so on their terms (and not just getting the crumbs being offered by some marketers).

    Andrea is going to be posting everyone’s presentations over at http://www.thewholemom.com as soon as she comes up for air.

    BTW — I attended a lot of the panels (including a supposedly non-controversial play about birth that ended up in a very heated discussion with some people practically shouting one another down) so I didn’t feel the same “toe the line” vibe that you did. I hate that vibe and I don’t play well in groups when it emerges.

    Thanks for this very thought-provoking post.

    Ann

    toyfoto November 1, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    It’s exactly how I feel about magazines like Mothering. I might agree with some of the pricipals of “organic” mothering, but I don’t want it to turn into EVERYONE who doesn’t do things this way is wrong.

    I’ve written many a strongly worded letter.

    tomama November 1, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    Wow, we must have been in different sessions as I had the opposite reaction! For me, so many of the talks represented us trying to find common ground by challenging our own points of view and judgements, even if those views are ones that at a conference of this nature can be seen as “right” (liberal, feminist, anti-capitalist, and respectful of formal education). I’m thinking specifically of Faulkner Fox who regularly challenges her own sense of “what’s right” by looking at her ideas through different lenses. What she believes about a topic as a mother may differ from how she views the same topic as a writer, or as a feminist. The exercise of challenging not only the ideas of others, but her own ideas helps prevent the type of group think to which you refer. One example that came up was how “liberal” thinkers often see themselves as less judgemental than their conservative counterparts but this is an error. If we somewhat smugly refer to ourselves as, say, “mothers who think,” it implies that those who do not think like us do not think at all, which is absurd. Of course they think, and their thoughts are equally valid, even if they do not agree with us. Beth Osnes of Mothers Acting Up further embraced the need for what some call a “big tent”. She urged us, as mothers, to look for common ground. To listen to what someone who is politically conservative, someone who does not identify as a feminist, someone who is prolife has to say, and to embrace the similarities to push for social change. I think we had very different schedules, however, so perhaps my experience was simply luck of the draw!

    Christina November 1, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    I’ve never felt comfortable in a big group of people who are all nodding in agreement. I feel like there has to be someone there questioning the topic, and if no one else is doing it, then it must be me. That’s probably why I don’t go to church.

    I’m generally agreeable, but not if I feel like I’m being told that I’m expected to believe certain things. Then I tend to do just the opposite out of rebellion.

    And I can’t wait to see a post about business and consumerism, and why it can mesh with feminist beliefs. When I read that part, my mouth fell open. Why can’t ideals use commerce for their own good?

    Oh, The Joys November 1, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    It seems basic and fundamental that inherent in the very definition of feminist would be the words: respect the individual choices of different women with different experiences. Sounds like a touch position you were in there.

    ewe are here November 1, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Now that my toddler has finally fallen asleep, I can log in to say that I really liked this blog entry. Because I understood it. And by ‘it’, I mean your feelings. Exactly.

    While I like to be liked as much as the next person, I get really annoyed when my thoughts and opinions on a subject are treated by those around me as a foregone conclusion. It’s like it’s never even occurred to others that people might differ in their own thought patterns and conclusions. And that, perhaps, their ‘black and white’ view of the world might actually contain a lot of grey that needs to be examined. In my opinion, of course. ;-)

    Again, great blog entry.

    Granny November 1, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    Is it too simplistic to say that without debate we’ll never learn anything?

    And isn’t that what prompted “devil’s advocate”?

    Gillian November 1, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    I think in our culture right now there are mountains of assumptions made about one another. If I believe in X than it follows as the night the day that I must believe in an enormous conglomerate of other rather extreme ideas. It doesn’t make me feel good to be ‘accepted’ in the shared belief group or ‘raged at’ by the opposite group. More and more I am aware that we are moving toward a kind of group think where a trigger statement can have people reacting without thinking or listening. Blogging is by its nature reflective. Even if a blog is controversial it is frightening that there is so little respectful, kind and thoughtful response given. We scream at one another’s words like the people on tv who are clearly not ever going to reach an understanding. We don’t give each other space to try things on or be vulnerable.

    GIRL'S GONE CHILD November 1, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    Amen, thank you and YES. I have always felt like I am able to be myself most of all with men. I do not censor myself or my ideas. I can disagree and not be taken as some kind of “bitch” who’s “talking shit.” Hence, in my experience as a woman in the company of women I feel as though I am expected to nod and agree and say “totally, uh-huh” OVER and OVER and OVER.

    Which I shouldn’t do. Instead I find myself resenting women and wanting not to surround myself with them. This makes me sad but this has been my experience.

    This is also why I stayed away from Blogher and why I still don’t have a group of girlfriends… beyond this community.

    Good for you. Muah!

    GIRL'S GONE CHILD November 1, 2006 at 10:44 pm

    P.S. I’m going to Blogher next summer, though. I’m gowing up, you see. ;)

    Lisa b November 2, 2006 at 9:24 am

    You know I say always blame the patriarchy. Its the best solution really. Sometimes I just turn to my husband and blame him directly. Then I realise he’s a visible minority, clearly oppressed, so I ponder what it means for him to be oppressing me then it goes back to the patriarchy. lets just get those “tool of the patriarchy” shirts printed up.
    anyone else in?

    Heather November 2, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    I Love you!

    crabbykate November 2, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    Hey Catherine,

    (Once again, good to finally meet you in person at the conference!) As you and I discussed (however briefly) after the session with Ann Crittenden et al, I agree that more of a public disagreement over some of those issues could have been a very positive thing. I do believe there has to be a place for “healthy judgement”, I guess you could call it. Where would be if we all agreed with each other, anyway? It’s disagreement that leads us to the changing of laws, and of attitudes, for instance. And like you and I experienced earlier this fall with the urbanmom debate, we all have different beliefs about this thing called “blogging” that are all valid and should be held up for review.

    To echo Ann, it’s too bad you weren’t able to join us for the full panel discussion on “mommy blogging” There was much post discussion regarding the different divisions between bloggers and blogging politics (there you go, that word just for you!:). It ended up being a rousing dialogue of how the lines of difference actually do matter in the blogging world. Whether it be a class, race, ability, age, or political difference, we continue to discuss these lines between us and I hope figure out a way to work on something together. Maybe that’s just my feel-good thought of the day, but it is my hope that a full-on disagreement and even argument over these issues can lead us to a better place.

    Veronica Mitchell November 3, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    I get it completely. MetroDad used the apt word “stifling.” I tend to hang out on the fringes of groups because I intensely dislike all the assumptions made about my conformity. I’ve even stopped reading some blogs because of how exasperating I found the assumptions of uniform political opinion among readers. I think I hate it most because it squelches honesty in relationships. When unmerited assumptions are made about my beliefs, it introduces a situation where I can only speak as a real person if I interrupt the flow of conversation and say, “No! wait! That’s not what I think!” I can do that, but it brings conversation to a grinding halt and makes everyone uneasy, and it is difficult to resume after that. I hate situations that pressure me to be fake for the comfort of the crowd.

    I can deal with it by not going, or going and remaining aloof. I don’t nod, or “hmm,” or smile in agreement. I have to psych myself up for that. It doesn’t build relationships, but it does make people stop and think before they assume things when they talk to me. At least that frees me to be my real self.

    Lydia November 4, 2006 at 8:59 am

    I liked your post, I agree and can sympathize (if that’s the right word) with your feelings. I have some very conservative views and some liberal ones, and I don’t feel I fit into many discussion groups because of that.

    Regarding consumerism… what’s wrong with making money? As long as you don’t have orphans in sweatshops turning out your product (and if you pay them, then go ahead) there’s nothing wrong with money.

    See, a conservative at heart…

    Mom101 November 4, 2006 at 9:55 am

    You never cease to impress me – and to make me love you more.

    I know exactly what you mean about feeling the need to be contrarian. It’s in my nature. I have to fight it – sometimes my knee-jerk is to oppose, just for the sake of debate, particularly when I’m being pigeonholed into a particular role or set of values.

    I think it’s wonderful that you asked those questions. I’ve been thinking a lot about commercialism (as you know) and I find it laughable that advertising somehow compromises you. It’s an opinion spouted by those who don’t have ads and don’t realize that you pay not one lick of attention to the gif in the corner.

    I also have been thinking a good deal about judgment. I find myself highly opinionated but perhaps not judgmental. Opinionated is “everyone should try breastfeeding.” Judgmental is “if you don’t breastfeed you don’t deserve to be a mom.” Big difference.

    Devra November 6, 2006 at 1:45 am

    MOM101,
    I agree with your statement regarding opinion vs. judgement. I too am bothered by the climb to a moral high ground demonstrated when statements such as “If you don’t breast feed you don’t deserve to be a mother” are used as if they are a weapon against a difference of opinion.

    Fine that we all don’t share the same opinion, we need diversity in our thoughts and actions for without it, we would have a stagnant society, but people perch on superiority? “Houston we’ve got a problem!”

    Aviva and I were supposed to present at this conference and ended up having a time conflict as sadly we could not be in two countries at one time so we ended up withdrawing our paper.

    Each of us mothers is unique. Being unique is neither good nor bad. It just is.

    So why can’t we just Be? *sigh*

    Jennie November 16, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    The thing that may be missing from this all (o.k. – I didn’t read all 49 comments) is class and race. I learned about the conference through listening to the MojoMom podcast (which I love) but what struck me, before reading any of this, is that this “movement” seems very middle class and white — so I feel uncomfortable saying “mothers…” when it really might mean “white, middle class mothers” (probably who don’t have the work and have the luxury of time…) I HATE the phrase “mothers today”…I dont’ think that speaks for a lot of moms out there- including those without the language skills or financial means or TIME to join the “blogworld” conversation…aren’t, for example, immigrant mothers mothers, too?

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