Davina Rhine Talks Rebel Parenting

Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice, where we spotlight activists from across the interwebs to find out what feminism means to them. Today we’re talking with Davina Rhine, the author of Rebel Moms, about feminism, moms, and dads. 

1. How would you define a rebel mom?

A Rebel Mom is simply a mom who defies the norm, like the rocker mom, the hip hop mom, the artist mom, the activist mom, the hippie mom, the outspoken Rosie the Riveter working class mom, the Wiccan mom, and so forth.

Of course, if you weren’t expected to sacrifice who you are on the alter of the Ideal Mom, there wouldn’t be a need for rebellion. Generally, though, many women (or specifically the 52 rad moms featured in my book) clash with the Ideal Mom icons: the modernized gentrified version of a 1950s subservient homemaker/soccer mom with a full-time job (or not) and the cultural myth of the superwoman/supermom CEO type. The clash isn’t necessarily intentional, but it is evident simply because they are who they are by nature—which doesn’t mesh with the projected two mommy-icons that dominate us here in the U.S. (As a side note, we also have a projected third ‘bad’ icon: the ’welfare’ mom. The moms in this book also rip that negative stereotype to shreds, in some cases quite intentionally, since it’s an image of outright oppression and meant to shame/silence.)

2. What do you think is the most important lesson you learned while doing research for your book?

That I am not alone and other women were silently enduring astounding hardship and motherism (discrimination against mothers—who still by and large bear the responsibility for children, whether we like it or not), and that we lacked the answers and support we needed to make it. That was compounded further by public judgment and ridicule because we were fabulous and radical, haha. But for the mom who wasn’t the norm, this discrimination and lack of support was amplified.

Both Rebel Moms Dr. Taj Anwar and Kimberley of M.O.B.B. (Mothers of Black/Brown Babies) share their experience with being treated with condescension when reaching out for help due to dreads, tats, and piercings—even from so-called progressive family aid organizations and support groups. And there’s the mom whose job is made even harder because she is still getting shit for being a woman working a ‘man’s' job (Rebel Mom Syren shares this with us as a tattooist extraordinaire).

Overall, the most important lesson I learned is we all needed each other and we needed to share and bridge our stories as a means of empowerment to ourselves and other moms facing like hurdles. Until women’s and children status in and of the world is equal to men, we have to lift each other up and keep up the activism. My contribution to that was creating a road map for the off-the-road mom, something that didn’t exist at the time of inception for Rebel Moms, and to date nothing like it does. A book of rockin’ mentors who share it all, and encourages you with a hell yeah!

When I crossed over 11 years ago, moms with tattoos and political and subcultural identities and so forth were definitely looked down upon. That is somewhat less pervasive now, but the state for children and women is still pretty bleak overall. The U.S. doesn’t have the social support and government-provided aid that make it a mother- and kid-friendly world that many first-world European nations do, such as paid maternity and paternity leave ranging from six months to three years, good public and low cost/free daycare, state-provided caregiver checks and house help to help the new parent(s), and so forth.

3. How hard do you think it is to continue “rebelling” when one has a child?

Extremely. I used to attend many more potentially volatile protests (think Battle in Seattle), and participated in subversive political action like grafitti and stickering. (Just for the record, though, not that all the moms featured in Rebel Moms are political activists; many aren’t, although their lives are overtly political.) I have taken Corben to several protests such as a very well-planned-out Occupy one, anti-Iraq invasion protests, and some political rallies. I have had to be very cautious.

There have been many I have not taken him to due to the the very real possibility of a police clash. I cannot risk my baby being maced or worse. I also have not been able to to attend many for fear of being detained, which would mean job loss for me, and loss of a viable means to support my family and provide. The latter is less of a risk now, since my spouse who was the stay-at-home dad for the first four years has reentered the workforce.

I also had to ‘dress-down’ to get good-paying work to support a family since there were no nearby awesome punk family communes I could hang with. All my piercings went bye-bye and I have to cover from neck to ankle to conceal all my tattoos as an insurance agent and security business manager. Some would call that growing up, I call it sacrifice. But it’s moot now, since subversive counter-culture is now fashionable. We are a bunch of moms who are defiantly against the status quo and all the damage it causes at the end of the day.

On the flipside, I get to rebel in many ways that are good. I get to publicly support the men at work who take their unpaid six week FMLA leave to bond with their newborn children, when others literally tease or chide them. I get to create an inner world with family and friends that is fair and beautiful, and we brace each other against the storms of the world. I get to teach my child the difference between people abusing their authority and effectively teaching critical thinking. I was able to help draft a manifesto already tested and tried with great results (kids who are loving, smart, well adjusted, and not just in the game for themselves) for how amazing motherhood can be if we are willing to reject the rules that hold us and our kids down … while creating a vision of what the world could be—if we were all treated equally (moms, dads, kids, people, races, classes, and with empowering support systems) and with equal responsibility to our communities (businesses and politicians included!) and loved.

4. In light of the “mommy wars” happening in the media (and increasingly the internet), what do you think could bring counter-culture and mainstream moms together? How can we strive for parents to be important politically in a significant, non-partisan, non-”Million Moms” way?

I think dialogue and openness can help bring moms together. Rebel Moms directly has an open invite for the mainstream mom who wants to get off the Ideal Mom bandwagon which is at the heart of the Mommy Wars. I cultivated from the moms how they felt being a subculture woman and mom helped them in their lives and in parenting that they would want to share with the mainstream momma, and what could we learn from mainstream moms/parenting that could help us. Although the book was created for the marginalized mom who does not see or hear herself in most of the parenting and mom mags/books, I had much interest from moms in general who felt isolated and stuck in the Ideal Mom role with no way out. I wanted them to have an alternative parenting guide that would be as helpful to them as the tattooed mom.

The Mommy Wars depend on the Ideal Mom icons in order to fester. If our mythology is broader, there can be more room for all of us—together. The Mommy Wars is a decisive tactic to keep us all down and out, especially as women have been organizing, and mothers specifically have become a force as of late. Similar to the Jim Crow days of southern political tactic, if we keep them all focused on whites vs blacks and blacks vs whites, and whites vs white trash, and black middle class vs black ghetto trash, and everybody vs Latino or Chinese, nothing will get done to effectively challenge the status quo that thrives on exploitation, obedience, and poor self-esteem. The status quo livelihood thrives on and depends on the superficial conflicts of the working and occupied to keep in line and keep producing low wage labor babies. It’s now different for mothers and women who make up the majority of the world population because we have more of a political and directly economical weight to us.

Down with the Mommy Wars, let’s get back on board with Free to be You and Free to be Me. And while we are at it, let’s network and hang out! For parents to be an effective political force, first mothers have to be. I say that since women in the U.S. and many countries are still not treated equally under the law, and certainly not economically or socially. Until those scales are equal, women will have to fight for their rights (and protections! Violence against women is abhorrent both in the first world and the third), and must continue to do so. If women were treated equally in all domains of human experience, there wouldn’t need to be a huge parenting political push, because children would already be part of the equation. But since women aren’t and most child-rearing responsibility is still delegated to women, whether wanted or not, motherhood exposes a political weakness that further undermines and hurts women economically and socially. We have to turn around the state of women collectively and internationally, and we can’t ignore the realities and struggles that mothers have with the additional responsibility.

I’ve met young women who didn’t feel the need for feminism until motherhood knocked. They expected everything to be equal in parenting (for those who had partners), and got a cold slap in the face when it wasn’t. They also expected a supportive world and quickly learned it was not especially if you are a working mother, and even more so if you are a working class mother with modest or few resources.

I think if a Million Moms March led to the U.S. having similar pro-parent policies of the first-world European nations, and women making the same for the same job as men, it would be a win-win for moms and dads! Also, until more men stay the course of fatherhood and are doing equal work on it, the political responsibility still largely falls on those who are doing most of work. Now I have seen and know many amazing fathers, but I know far more deadbeat dads than I do deadbeat moms. For whatever reasons, fathers seem to find it easier to say ‘I’m done’ and split than women can. That creates a real unbalanced resource and responsibility situation. I mean, somebody has to raise these kids, right? To pull the Golden Girls quote from an article on Meg’s Mommy Blog, “Motherhood vs. Fatherhood“: “It’s not easy being a mother. If it were easy, fathers would do it.”

I do think, though, that as men take fathering more seriously, and as society sets the expectation that men are to stay the course and share the work, the likelihood would very well be that a Billion Parent March would happen. And that would be awesome, especially since those who run the world are still men. It is important for fathers to be fathers, and mothers to be mothers, and parents to be parents. When we have people that drop the ball and leave the game that leaves our kids messed up, and in worst case scenarios hungry, possibly homeless, and harmed. I do like President Obama’s message that it is time for fathers to be fathers, and I like Secretary of State Clinton’s message that it is time for women to be paid the same for the same job. I also like both of them sharing the sentiment that it is time for all of us to have access to medical care.

But until then we do have the political action team MomsRising, founded by Joan Blades, who was featured alongside me in the 2004 book If Women Ruled the World.

5. Your book is mostly on women (understandably), but what can you tell us about “rebel dads”?

A new and welcomed breed indeed! Actually, there have always been amazing dads (I’m sure!) but we either didn’t know of the few or society made them downplay how badly they wanted to father. And no, Freud as father does not count, haha. I think the full-on dad reality is a benefit of the feminist shake up of family roles. And just as we help empower mothers, and now dads are free to be be dads, we get closer to the P word: Parent. Parenting that matters. It will also help parents of the same gender overcome the obstacle of who plays mom? who plays dad? That was a tough challenge faced by Rebel Mom Ariel Gore; she and her partner wrestled with that as they parented a teenage daughter and a young son. I actually have been in dialogue with an incredible local union activist, Stephen Beinvades, about penning a Rebel Dads diary as a balancing point for Rebel Moms, to put out under Rebellion Press. But we will see.

A blog I discovered right before Rebel Moms came out that rocked my world was Rebel Dad. He breaks it down! And there’s a newcomer on the scene that will appeal to the majority of the mainstream whom I like a lot: Shawn Bean, the author of Show Dad How and a blogger for Parents. There is also a great documentary called The Other F Word, which features punk dads who are musicians by night and fathers by day.

I have to say an all-time favorite is Dr. Sears. His family defined attachment parenting. And their style of parenting was rebellious! It bucked the whole hospital system’s mantra of crying is a good discipline thing. Kind of like how the nonviolent movement has led to a better world for kids without spanking, and hopefully less animals being abused. Many of the moms who had men in their lives who are doing a great job at parenting shared some of those accolades in the book, too.

About Maria:
A recovering scientist, healthcare analyst and junkie of all things gender and women's health

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