friday feminaust ~ Bree Lamprell Burke

My feminism. Well, when I was first asked to think about writing this, I thought I was too far from my feminist days as a scholar or front line rape counsellor to have an informed and articulate response. After becoming a mother two years ago, I experienced a drop in self esteem as I left the paid work force, a fog of depression as I grappled with the new role of mother and wife, and the inability to reconcile my experience with my long held feminist values. Somehow my ability to articulate my thoughts, and my confidence in what I spoke about had diminished. I felt that I was not the passionate, well informed debater I once was. However, after watching ‘Made in Dagenham’ last night, which chronicles the true story of the Ford Machinists who fought for equal pay in 1968, alongside the standard oppressive conditions of ‘women’s lot’ (the family, marriage, society etc), my passion has been reignited! I am speaking as a white, middle class, heterosexual women and don’t profess to know what life is like for all women, or any men. But these are my thoughts and feelings.
Predominantly, I feel frustrated that since the early suffragettes and consciousness raising feminists of the 70’s, there seems to have been a drop in awareness of the ongoing oppression and violation of women’s rights around the world. An apathy or perhaps an ignorance, seems to pervade in many corners. Undoubtedly there are areas of intelligent discussion, activism and change (Feminaust being one of those), but I think the mainstream belief is that women have achieved equality and should just shut up now.
Studying subjects that offered gender analysis at Uni, I was relieved to know that women before me had also rebelled against the structures of society which oppress and depress women. I gladly aligned myself with this cause of fighting for equal rights, freedom and status. I gained a Social Work qualification to further the social justice cause, with a view to working in the sexual assault field. After 3 years of this I felt burnout approaching, however I had gained great insight into the nature of violence against women and my practice would forever be informed by this understanding (another blog on this to come shortly).
Where men are not engaging in interpersonal violence, they often engage in a more pervasive form of oppression in their homes. This is what I will focus on here. Economic necessity and social pressures have seen the working mother become more common than not. However, we have not seen sufficient adjustment in the private sphere to accommodate this time and energy deficit. The unequal division of labour in heterosexual couple households continues to be unresolved for many women- regardless of education level or class. In the interests of keeping the peace in their relationships- and also because they have no choice- many women work a double shift of paid and unpaid work, which is relentless and mostly unacknowledged. If she chooses not to work in the public sphere and does full time ‘home duties’, this is not valued equally, despite the essential nature of this work.

The devaluing of ‘women’s work’, of child rearing, cleaning, cooking, shopping and managing a household is nothing new. It is evident in the fact that many men return home after ‘work’ to sit on the couch and watch TV, while their partner (who has also been working all day, albeit within the confines of the home) cooks the evening meal, continues with laundry and housework and prepares for the next day. For she has not really been ‘at work’, and she has no money to show for her day. She will often get up in the night to her children, and rise early the next day to start the cycle again. She often has to continually ask her partner and children to ‘help’ with tasks. However, on the whole, she carries the weight of the responsibility for domestic labour- and this is enormous.

I know there are many men out there who carry an equal share of this load, but many do not. Many women speak about having an additional child, rather than a husband who functions as an equal in the relationship. This is the source of much resentment and conflict. Whether it is a man or woman not pulling their weight, it is an exploitation of another’s time and energy. Both of these are precious resources- ask any mother!

The biological realities of motherhood encompass physiological changes of pregnancy, recovery from birth, multiple and ongoing changes in her physical body, sense of self, social life, social position, identity and relationship. She may become financially dependent on her partner for the first time, lose the intellectual stimulation of her career and possibly lose her place on the career ladder for some time. Often with the birth (or even impending birth) of children comes a dramatic change in the power structure of the relationship.The necessity of being the primary care giver for infants (required for breastfeeding, psychological health and attachment) mean a loss of autonomy and a monotonous existence for a length of time.

So what happens to the woman you were before? Your previous life seems to disappear and morph into something unrecognisable. Certainly this was a life I was determined to avoid in my days of feminist study. Whilst becoming a mother is undoubtedly the most amazingly enriching and powerful experience of my life and I feel privileged to be a woman for this reason, I can’t shake the feeling of things somehow being that little bit easier for men. Or maybe a lot easier….. and that really grates on me. Mothers are time poor, sleep deprived and yet still face pressure to be sexually desirable and available. Multiple pressures and expectations give rise to guilt, and the abandonment of caring for your self. The mother’s role of putting others needs before her own is an assumption often not questioned until the relationship- or the individual- reaches the point of break down. Further dementing is the denial women experience when they try to communicate this exhaustion to their partner.

Men are also oppressed by patriarchy in different ways. The huge weight of being the financial provider, the challenging roles of father and partner, societal expectations and the contradictions of masculinity are but a few of men’s challenges. However, there is a unique combination of factors that result in women’s position being unjust and impossible to maintain without slipping into what is diagnosed as ‘mental illness’. For most of us it is simply the feeling of wanting to run screaming from the building and shut yourself into lockdown where you don’t have to do one more thing for anyone and can finish your cup of tea while it’s still hot!

The devaluation of women’s work also flows into the private sphere and is reflected in the lower pay rates of women in traditionally female dominated areas (teaching, nursing, childcare, social work, community services etc). In 2012 Fair Work Australia is still hearing cases for ‘equal pay’. Surely we sorted this back in the 60’s?! The result of this devaluation is that women typically earn less, and latest stats show Australian women retire with 50% less than men. So, unless you shack up with a man (and enter into all of the above) or compete on a mans level (difficult if you have kids), you lose out. Therefore, it seems that throughout life, women are also financially and materially disadvantaged. Is it any wonder that women in violent relationships often cite economic reasons as a reason to stay?

Relationships are at the core of our society- friendships, family, community. Healthy relationships require mutual respect, communication and a sharing of the load. Or at the very least, an acknowledgment of the value of the others contribution. Real change must occur in relationships and homes, or we will continue to see the divorce rate rise. Unsurprisingly it is mostly women who initiate counselling and/or file for divorce. Yes women have a role to play in the health of our relationships too- undoubtedly. But this daily oppression of women in the home has a fundamental root in patriarchy and must end. Men must stop justifying their ill treatment of women and the selfishness of their actions and wake up to the beauty of a true, equal partnership.

Bree Lamprell Burke is:

Social worker
Youth Worker 2004-5
Sexual assault counsellor 2005-8
YWCA Mentoring program coordinator 2008-9
Family counsellor 2009- present (with 10 months mat leave in there somewhere)
Mother of Ruby 2009- present
Wife to Simon 2009- present

And so much more besides…
This entry was posted in Interviews/feminausts by MsElouise. Bookmark the permalink.

About MsElouise

MsElouise is a community programs worker and feminist from Melbourne Australia. She likes to travel, write, rant and make people feel uncomfortable about their assumptions. She hopes to one day be remembered for changing the world just a little bit. Right now she does this by proving that teenage girls are a higher order of beings.

9 thoughts on “friday feminaust ~ Bree Lamprell Burke

  1. Well said!! I really had to let go of the idea of getting “back to myself” and accept the idea that I had evolved/was evolving into someone entirely different after becoming a mother. I miss me sometimes and haven’t quite learned to embrace and accept who I am now, but I’ll get there.

  2. Yes Meghann, the evolution and new identity of being a mum is a certainty. Some women/ new mums tie themselves in knots trying to prove to themselves/ others that they are still who they were. But after such a rite of passage, how can you (and would you want to) be the person you were before anyway?

  3. Well girls…I’m not quite in that stage of my life yet, although @ nearley 28…i’m thinking that being a mother is’nt really that important anyhow. mmm wee’ll see what happens. there is just so much i havn’t yet been a part of…Although i think it’s right around the corner! by the way Breeza, 100+ plus for ur article!

  4. In the last few weeks I have struggled to let go of the women I used to be and try and embrace the new me.. At the moment it’s a tad hard as I bypass motherhood and head straight into Menopause with a bang! I am struggling with that concept that I will never be the same person with the goals and aspirations to further my career in the Building industry. Somewhere between last year and this year I have lost my confidence, my brain, self esteem and for a long time I was depressed. It was only recently I was diagnosed with Menopause at the tender age of 38 and was told that I will never have children. I often ask myself in the last few weeks why me, but the pain associated with menopause migraine, flushes, moods swings and uncontrollable tears it all makes sense as to what I was going through this in the last few years and that I am not a complete nutcase. Now face the uncertainty of this life on what it may hold for me, which I must soon confront and accept that this is me and learning to love myself again. I hope that I will find my mind, regain my confidence and self esteem to pick up the baton and take charge of my life and career soon. But first I must grieve for the loss of motherhood and the feminine side of me and that will take a long time to forgive and heal within myself and not feel ashamed of being a young lady with Menopause!

    • Thanks so much for your comments Lyndal. A massive life change/ transition is afoot for you. It is interesting to unpack what being a woman, or what being ‘me’ (you) is about. Does fertility define womanhood? Does our career define us or provide an identity? Are these just roles that we carry out at different times in our life? I may be simplifying the male journey, but it seems that women have some additional rites of passage & life transitions associated with child bearing/ rearing and the end of that phase- menopause. With each phase there is loss & grief, and a transition to an altered (?stronger) identity. We are so lucky to have the ability to cultivate support networks and friends to help us through these times!!

  5. Wonderful article bree!! It is great for young women like me to hear this sort of thing because so many aspects of these issues are never mentioned otherwise- in school, antenatal care or from mothers/sisters and so. Your passion for the true and good in these issues is just inspiring, I would love to read more that you write!

  6. I felt the ‘loss’ at stopping work to become ‘just’ a mother. We always planned for me to be a SAHM with our kids and while it’s had moments of amazing, it’s also been really really hard. This year the opportunity to return to teaching 3 days a week for just a term fell into my lap and I didn’t hesitate for a second to give it a go. I was worried about my kids spending time in the care of others, worried about getting everyone ready, worried about even remembering how to teach.

    6 weeks into term and I love it. I’m a better and more patient mother which had made me a better wife and friend. I’m not complaining about the kids so much, in fact I actually miss them sometimes. I feel more myself. The kids adore time at kinder, daycare and grandmas.

    It took 4.5 years for me to allow myself to admit that I hate being a full time SAHM. But now that I have admitted it I feel so free.

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