I wanted to write this post with my mother, who was visiting this weekend for, you guessed it, Mother’s Day. But every time we’d start talking about the post we’d end up in a debate about whether the ideas were feasible or whether they were too idealistic. I think my mother likes to debate with me, even when she agrees with my positions, because she doesn’t get a chance to have a lot of intellectual debates and because we can argue with each other without it becoming personal. Believe it or not, I think that arguing was part of my mother’s day gift to my mom!
So, instead of a collaborative mother-daughter post, you’re getting my list of things I want to see achieved so that mothers — and hence the rest of us really — can have better lives and lives where working for sexual freedom doesn’t seem like such a luxury.
My list, the items on which my mother largely generally thought important but too idealistic, includes the following:
– Sexual openness so that women can enjoy their sexuality and share it fearlessly with their partners. Through sex we express desires, we communicate, we connect, and we feel pleasure. We should continue to work so that women are free to experience the fullness of their sexualities without shame or danger.
– Access to contraception and safeguarding the right to abortion when needed so that all motherhood is by choice. This is a place we need to redouble our efforts, as access to good information about contraception, and access to abortion when needed, is being eroded in this country, and being eroded or prevented in other countries this country’s policies.
– High quality, affordable — dare we even say government subsidized — child care so that all parents who work outside the home — including those for whom work is a necessity and not a choice — can do so without economic penalty or fear for the safety of their children.
– Realistic part-time and flexible work options so that parents have more choices about how to divide the labor of wage-earning and child-care. I don’t mean part time with no stability and low pay. I mean part time with reasonable wages that would exceed the child care costs incurred while working those more flexible hours.
– Universal health care — not just health insurance — so that employers are no longer the ones who provide our access to health care. This isn’t just a matter of concern for the poor, either. Plenty of middle income people end up financially devestated even if they do have health insurance because the part of the medical bills that the health insurance doesn’t cover is still more than they can afford. (This is especially awful for people who have fallen prey to the “two income trap” where two parents are both working to pay for meeting the basic needs of the family and then one gets sick and the other can’t make up the difference.) Oh, and of course this health care has to cover treatment for addictions and mental illness just as it covers physical illness.
– Fair wages for all workers. This means eliminating the wage gap, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, and providing living wages to all workers. Living wages mean that parents can work reasonable hours and spend time with their kids. And we also need reasonable paid leave policies so that people don’t lose out when they need to take care of a child.
– Peace. The costs of wars, in dollars and in lives, is too great to justify, and the paying of that cost is keeping us from doing the kinds of things suggested above — things that would make economic security a reality for many more people.
Julia Ward Howe is often credited with initiating Mother’s Day in the United States as a protest against war, ironic since she also penned the Battle Hymn of the Republic. But she herself was inspired by the work of Anna Jarvis who organized around workplace health and safety issues and then organized women to tend to the wounded in the Civil War. In fact, the Mother’s Day we now celebrate is on or about the anniversary of a memorial that Jarvis’s daughter held in her honor after she died. The holiday, which originally honored women who worked for social justice and peace has become, in the US, a mostly-consumer, mostly-private holiday where we thank our own mothers for the sacrifices they have made and the work they have done. I think it’s time, again, to turn the day around and make it a day when mothers — and the rest of us — call for justice and peace.
Mothers have sex, and they need sexual freedom and economic security. Without economic security it is difficult for people to make sexual freedom a high priority. When people don’t have economic security their first priority must always be gathering what resources they can to meet their basic needs. All people, regardless of economic status, must be entitled to sexual freedom but sexual freedom feels like a luxury when you are too exhausted from working your second job and making sure the kids got to school to even think about having sex with your partner. When we work for sexual freedom we must take into account the needs of the poor and working class as well as the needs of the middle class and the wealthy.
Health care, child care, contraception, fair wages, peace, and sexual freedom. They’re all connected.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Click here for Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation as posted on the CodePink web site.
Click here to watch the Mom’s Rising! Mothers’ Day E-Card featuring the Infant Aerial Stunt Team and a simple laying-out of the Moms Rising policy goals (several of which are reflected in my post, above).