Saturday, May 21

Diana Oliver, journalist: “You are not less feminist because your priority is to take care of a six-month-old baby”

Diana Oliver (Madrid, 1981) is a journalist and author of precarious maternity (Arpa, 2022), a book that analyzes parenting in a system that is not designed to support the people who care. The text is born from her personal experience, as an autonomous mother of two children who fights to raise, survive and reach the end of the rainbow of conciliation without losing her health in the attempt. Oliver, who refers to herself as a “precarious insider”, is not optimistic because she believes that many changes are needed to achieve sustainable farming. Her book is an honest account of motherhood, with all the bad things, but also all the wonderful things it can be.

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What motivated you to write the book?

Speeches about motherhood did not represent me. I wanted to insist on the impossibility of caring and the mess you get into when you are a mother in a system prepared for you to outsource care and for you to continue producing as if nothing had happened in your life. It is perverse that we are put under so much pressure to have children and then, after 16 weeks of maternity leave, be put back at work. They insisted a lot that my daughter had to be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. How was she supposed to do it? And that without mentioning the low and precarious salaries that many people have, which do not allow us to reduce the working day.

What conditions would you have liked to have in order to be a mother?

I could make a giant list. Being a mother means going through a series of processes that require time and the system does not support. Maternity leave is designed to recover from childbirth, but nobody thinks about those first few months, which are so important in a baby’s life. Paternity and maternity leave must be extended. I am not very optimistic, because I think a very radical change is needed and, right now, we are only dedicated to putting reconciliation patches that look great and have precious ‘marketing’, but they do not translate into anything. We also have to rethink the rigid schedule and achieve financial compensation for care so that outsourcing it is not the only option to raise children and continue working.

In your case, you decide not to outsource care. How was the experience?

What a decision! My only option was to take my daughter to daycare from first thing in the morning until God knows when. And for a price she couldn’t afford. So I thought how to cheat the system to stay at home, which I could afford to be self-employed. That’s why I speak of precarious privileges, because working with children at home was absolutely horrible, to the point that physical and emotional health were damaged. But it was the only way to sustain the situation.

He recently published a tweet in which he revealed his insecurity and which had two types of responses: those that offered encouragement and those that assured that “you can handle everything.” What do you think is more toxic, the idea that mothers can do anything or the more retrograde position of women completely dedicated to care?

Well I do not know. On the one hand we have the external requirement, which assumes that you will be able to do everything, and on the other hand there is the very requirement of having to be able to, because you have been told that it has to be that way. And that’s the worst, because it makes you put pressure on yourself and, if you don’t get it, you tell yourself that you’re weak. The two premises are very harmful, because I don’t think we have to give up anything, but excessive demands do a lot of damage. We have to start being compassionate with ourselves and with others. You don’t have to be able to do everything.

Do you think that mothers have been idealized too much as omnipotent beings? A bit like Rigoberta Bandini, who sings about a woman who always has broth in the fridge, at the same time that she could put an end to wars.

Totally. How are we supposed to sustain all that? And I say this from the tiredness of those who take care of and produce and who, furthermore, do not do it alone, but rather have a partner who is 50% involved. The two of us take care of everything, we organize ourselves with the work and we are with the children in equal parts. And yet we are exhausted and frustrated because we did not arrive.

As daughters we think of our mothers as people who could handle everything, but do we ask ourselves enough at what price?

We have assumed that motherhood is a bad life. And, at the same time, when someone complains, they are told that it is what it is, having thought better of it. I, until I have been a mother, have not been able to understand the history of mine and the effort behind raising, but we have to stop seeing motherhood as an ordeal in itself. Care should not be suffered and neither should parenting. If it is, it is because of the system we have, which denies us the support of the world around us.

By being mothers, do we become mothers and stop being women?

We have a hard time accepting that motherhood is a metamorphosis. You are not the same person again, just as your body has changed forever. And wanting to go back to being what it was before is not realistic. We have to accept that priorities and needs change. We often tend to fight it, but you are no less a feminist for saying that your priority right now is none other than a six-month-old baby to nurse, care for, and rock in the middle of the night.

If we want the system to give value to care, we must start by doing it ourselves and not revile that we want to care for another person. As Carme Riera says, feminism has to vindicate our creative capacity and defend that women can be equal to or better doctors, writers or engineers than men. But we must also claim our reproductive capacity. Patriarchy has taken it upon itself to turn it into a second-rate, ridiculous subject, when in reality it is very powerful. Motherhood is not something negative that takes us away from doing other things, as long as I can freely decide what I do with my body and that I have the material conditions to sustain myself in that decision.

Capitalism has turned motherhood into a business. Do you think we can really be free to choose?

It’s something I often ask myself. The woman’s body is permanently present and you just have to look at surrogacy or fertility clinics. They are a real bargain that takes advantage of our bodies, processes and insecurities. Egg freezing, for example, could be very good because it allows you to have children later, when you feel ready, but it is still macabre that millions are earned with that caretaker discourse.

To answer whether we are free to decide, we also have to ask ourselves who can pay for fertility treatments or egg freezing. How many women ask for credits for that? The business with our bodies is the price we pay for going out to work in a job that, perhaps, we don’t like and that we only have for survival. My mother went out to clean houses at five in the morning and didn’t come back until eight at night. Where are her speeches for her?

In the book, she talks about a friend of hers who adopted her and the process she had to go through to prove she was suitable. She says that the majority of people who raise children would not meet the conditions required for an adoption.

With the current instability and precariousness, if they had to ask us for permission to be mothers, they would not give it to anyone. Today we are clear that there is not a single family model and that there is none that is better than another by definition. But we also know that we carry many backpacks, that we have many emotional and psychological problems for trying to sustain life in a system that makes it very difficult for us. If you ask me what the family standard is for raising sustainably, I will tell you that it is very difficult to achieve it as everything is configured.

Under these conditions, is it selfish to have children?

Sometimes he is selfish, for putting his own desire ahead. But it can also be a way to go against the system and show that there is another way to raise and live. It is true that with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine I have wondered what world I have brought my children to. But I also want to think that they can be a way to change it. It is not about making a better world for our children, but about raising them to be better. That is why it is important to invest in care, but in real care, not those that only give votes and visibility on social networks.

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