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The Scholar & Feminist Online is a webjournal published three times a year by the Barnard Center for Research on Women
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Issue: 8.3: Summer 2010
Guest Edited by Mandy Van Deven and Julie Kubala
Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert

Solidarity Through Parenting


It is the big day. My daughter's history fair competition. When I wake up, she is already at my bedside, fully dressed, munching on a bagel. She's been working for the last three months on this project, and after local competitions, she's managed to make it to the state finals. She talks incessantly while I dress, repeating all the facts she's memorized to tell the judges. In between it all, she slips in the announcement that she's invited not only her grandparents, uncle, and cousin, but her three tias as well. She tells me they all confirmed that they will be attending.

I wonder how my ten-year-old managed to organize an entire family gathering all on her own.

I can't describe the exact moment when I knew that *F*eminism[1] as I had been practicing it would never work. But I do know the moment when I realized I had just spent the last five years of my life building the wrong thing.

It was right about the time that my daughter (with the help of an older friend) figured out that the Internet was more than a few PBS sites and an occasional email to Grandma and Grandpa. As I sat on a conference call with my fellow women of color organizers wondering how to deal with the latest drama, my daughter declared that most of her friends knew how to get around the various Internet monitoring devices their parents had installed on home computers, and that she even had friends who were "hooking up" with older boys and men online.

But because I was "working," I told her to shush. After I got off the phone, I asked her to expand on what she had said. As she described the "flirting" one boy had done with a friend of hers, however, I had to cut her off. There was another phone call I had to be on, and then there were the emails and posts and tweets that had to be posted. I told her we'd talk again after I got my work done and sent her off to play.

But a heavy gnawing sensation that had been in my stomach for a while dug in a little deeper.

That was not the first time that I had made my family wait for me so that "work" could get done. There were the weekends I was out of town, the hours and hours spent in front of the computer, the unexpected crises that had to be solved immediately. I've lost track of the number of times I told my family, "hold on, it will be just a minute," only to finally emerge from behind the computer three hours later. The thing was, it wasn't that I loved my job. It wasn't that most of the work I was doing was even paid work. It was that the work I was doing was "revolutionary." It was "liberatory" and "world changing," and "necessary."

I'd seen with my own eyes the differences the work in which I was engaged was creating. Radical women of color bloggers had claimed a space on the Internet. Mami media makers[2] had demanded a presence at major media conferences, and a CD to fund travel was soon created. What started out as a handful of bloggers looking for friendship and support had become a political force to be reckoned with. We weren't the problem; we were the solution.

So every time I made my family wait for me, every time I disappeared for meetings, it was in the righteous name of liberation. I was making change, and I was doing it for my kids, for myself, for my family. If others were free, we would be. And yet, my daughter's whispered words during a phone call exposed a pressing crisis that I was ignoring and really had no resources or skills to negotiate. All the righteous liberatory work was doing nothing at all to address the sexism and potential violence my daughter was growing in to. And ironically, the activism that did nothing to address her needs was leaving very little time left in the day for me to help her as a mother.

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