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The Mamafesto: What happens when a bunch of feminists talk about family?

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

I helped gather a bunch of feminists to talk about family and it was amazing

What would happen if you gathered a bunch of feminists together and talked about all things related to family? Magic, apparently. After years of dreaming about a space where family and feminism intersect, I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to actually make my vision into a reality.

The desire to create this space came after giving many workshops and speaking on panels at feminist conferences. I usually tended to talk about issues related to the family and always second guessed whether anyone would choose my panel. With so much other wonderful social justice action going on, would anyone be interested in talking about families? Inevitably, the panels ended up being standing room only, with folks staying a half hour past our end time to keep discussing points that had been brought up. It always invigorated me to see how attendees, from teens to those with grandkids, felt just as passionate about the variety of issues impacting families. How could we keep these important conversations going, I would wonder? And so… COFFEE was born.

Last week was the inaugural event of COFFEE: the (un) Conference on Feminist Families, Equity & Experiences. This event is where parents and those who care about family can gather together and talk about everything that impacts and challenges the modern day family. It's a space where we can look at the expanding definition of what family means and how we can support it. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started putting this together. I wrangled a few fabulous friends to help me figure out just how we were going to get this off the ground, somehow found a handful of generous sponsors and watched as this longtime dream became a reality.

The first day included a working dinner, where attendees sat together and talked about why they chose to come and what they hoped to get out of the event. Over a delicious meal, the discussion at my table ranged from birth politics, where we talked about doula access. I listened as the executive director of Choices in Childbirth spoke with a local doula and nursing student. The two had never met, but it was clear how dedicated to maternal health and satisfaction they both were. We also spoke of Indiana woman Purvi Patel and the injustice over how she was given a sentence of 20 years for experiencing a miscarriage. We briefly discussed NBC's miniseries The Slap, which led to a discussion of corporal punishment just how emotionally difficult and draining new parenthood can be. And, of course, we passed around our phones, sharing pictures of our kids. Perfection.

The next day we met in a lecture hall on a local college campus to really start digging into some of the topics that were broached at the dinner. While we provided free childcare, a few women had their babies strapped to them in carriers, and talks of expanding the definition of family were punctuated by coos, gurgles and the occasional quick cry. Again, perfection. Many parents feel left out of the conversation simply because they don't have access to childcare that allows them to attend conferences, even in the social justice realm. Providing childcare, as well as making the space child friendly was so important to us.

Over the two days we spent together, we barely scratched the surface. We discussed how workplaces can better support families, birth politics, gender non-comforming kids, building community support, how race/class/gender/sex all impact families and help to expand the narrow definition that is so often used.

I left invigorated, inspired and energized to continue to keep the conversation going. We're hoping to make this an annual event, to possibly bring in speakers, have action sessions where we take our thoughts and ideas and figure out how to best put them into practice and possibly even policy. These two days showed me that within feminism there is certainly a place for families, and that families are an ever growing and important presence within the feminist sphere.

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