For this episode of The Mamahood, our editor, Louisa, hung-out with Jess McCabe: mother, award-winning journalist and editor of a great new book called 30-Second Feminism.
30-Second Feminism is an excellent read for everybody. Full stop.
But it is especially great for those of us who are curious to understand more about the landscape of feminism, and why now, more than ever, we should all try to get our heads around, and be having the conversations to try to address, all of the complex issues that are at the heart of what it means to be feminist: male or female, or indeed human, in this world.
The book covers 50 of the key feminist concepts, explaining each in under half-a-minute. Making it perfect reading for our busy lives. But, more than anything, it has an accessible feel to it.
By reading the book and sharing insights with Jess (who is also editor-at-large of feminist website The F-Word), it soon became apparent that she – along with the other writers who contributed to the book, such as Laura Bates who founded the Everyday Sexism Project- not only knows her stuff, but she also articulates her knowledge with a sense of compassionate realness.
In particular, Jess is very clear that the notion of productivity equating to self-worth should have no place in motherhood.
By this, we mean that Jess does not uphold the ‘do-it-all’ facade that can be often feel overbearing.
This is important because attitude always flavours the words of a writer and an editor, and the last thing that any mother needs is to use valuable time and energy reading a book that ends up making her feel that she doesn’t measure up; that she’s rubbish; letting the side down; not enough.
30-Second Feminism is anything but a waste of time.
Its tone is one of sisterly encouragement for the politically engaged female activists, and their male supporters, both past and present.
As well as that, the book provides some context for the multiple, feminist-infused situations that we find ourselves in as mothers in today’s world.
So, if you can grab a few minutes, read our interview to see what this inspiring mama/woman/human has to say, and get hold of a copy of the book.
Jess, first of all, what a cracking book!
30-Second Feminism is absolutely jam-packed with knowledge, and I love how succinctly it explains why it’s crucial for everybody to have an accurate awareness of historical developments, as well as the recent feminist movements. Particularly in this culture of #metoo.
Arguably, these are increasingly divisive times. But they are also exciting, too. For we see people mobilising quickly and becoming ready to take a stand more easily than ever before.
In your opinion, how do you think issues around feminism play out in the arena of modern motherhood?
There is no part of motherhood, modern or, well, since ever, that isn’t touched by gender inequality. That means that feminism should be speaking loudly to the concerns of mothers and indeed all parents. In the book we cover parenting in lots of different ways. We have a section on the fight for rights in pregnancy and labour, as well as childcare and maternity leave, just giving two examples.
To talk about the U.K. specifically, it all starts before you’re pregnant doesn’t it? You’ve most likely met with expectations of whether you’ll have children or not, and might have to contend with discrimination based on an assumption that you might. Are you too old or too young? There is a term for this: being constantly viewed like you’re “pre pregnant”. Don’t ever have a drink or take any risks just in case!
Then you’ve got pregnancy discrimination at work (note the excellent activism being done by Pregnant Then Screwed). In antenatal care and during the birth, you might find there aren’t enough midwives because your care has been under resourced. Black women may be worried by statistics showing they’re five times as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white women. In labour your consent and birth plan may or may not be respected.
Pregnancy is also a major risk factor for domestic abuse – with many times the first physical assault occurring during pregnancy. So the safety of the home you bring a baby back to may be violated.
Afterwards your postnatal injuries might be dismissed or worse – just look at the vagina mesh scandal.
Lack of access to affordable childcare is a major issue – and, on the other hand, the terrible underpayment of nursery workers, childminders and almost everyone who spends their time working with small children. (Also teachers and teaching assistants.) Almost all these professionals are women.
Unequal pay and unequal wealth continue to be parenting and motherhood issues that feed into all these other problems and make them worse.
Meanwhile, there is the boring “dads babysit not parent”mentality, and general lack of fairness in splitting duties for many heterosexual parents.
Then there are all the identity issues around motherhood – how mothers have been and still are disparaged, and how that weighs us down.
I could go on, this is only scratching the surface, but you’ve asked other questions. You could write a book or two on feminist parenting ideas for example.
You’re an award-winning journalist, an accomplished editor and a mother. How do you balance everything?
Erm, the answer is, I don’t! I am on maternity leave with my second child right now, and also going through the lengthy process of getting Special Education Needs help from the local authority for my toddler. It is a lot. Things slip. We can’t do everything, even when my partner is self employed and can work very flexibly.
I am lucky that my employer also has flexible working patterns and a modern attitude about getting the work done rather than showing your face in the office for a set number of hours.
What inspires you most to write?
But also I like working on projects that genuinely add to people’s understanding, rather than just preaching to the converted. That is what the book is about: giving an accessible but well rounded entry point into feminism.
How do you look after your wellbeing?
To be honest well-being is taking a back seat right now. You asked how I balance everything and this is just not a priority right now. My aim in life is more than six consecutive hours of sleep!
What challenges you most as a mother?
My little boy has communication challenges and at the moment is very enthusiastic about playing with other children but doesn’t know how to go about it. We have had some nasty comments and behaviour on the playground already although he is only three. I am worried about the disablist world he is growing up in and how that will affect him as he gets older and becomes more aware.
Also lack of sleep!
If you had any advice for mothers who may be struggling to channel their creativity, what would it be?
I find that even if I’m low on energy and inspiration, just being in a situation where I’m expected to think up ideas is enough. Trying to find a group or some structure may help – those maternal journal groups sound great. But also don’t beat yourself up if you can’t manage this right now. You can always have another go tomorrow.
Thank you for taking the time to share your work, and your reflections, with us.