The Parental is Political

"I started this job believing its main job is to challenge power."

That was Mohamed Abdelfattah, winner of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression 2011 Press Freedom Award, being interviewed on The Current on CBC Radio this morning. 

"We have to honour courage in reporting," he continued. "[In Egypt] we don't feel journalism is about entertainment, lifestyle, gossip news."

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I grew up being strongly influenced by a certain type of journalist -- journalists who were fuelled by a strong sense of social justice and who didn't think their responsibility to the community ended the moment they filed their stories.

I read Michele Landsberg's columns in The Toronto Star; and her book Women and Children first was one of the books I treasured most as a young mother because it combined from-the-trenches essays about what motherhood is really like and a call to action to make the world better for all mothers and all children. A collection of Michele Landsberg's columns (Writings from the Revolution) was recently published by Second Storey Press. I can't wait to read it. (Gloria Steinem has said of Michele Landsberg, "Those who make a revolution and those who write about it are usually two different people. Michele Landsberg is one of the few on earth who is trusted and effective at both. There is no one I respect more in the trenches -- or on the page.")

I was inspired (and in awe) of journalist and author June Callwood and the various causes she championed. Her writing was honest and compassionate and she was passionate about causes ranging from freedom of expression to women's issues to AIDS. At one point, she was arrested for supporting the cause of young activists in Yorkville. She was also passionate about children and babies, once stating in a radio interview: "Most people will do anything to help a child and that's the way the human race is meant to be. We're meant to be a tribe. And when it works, it just makes your heart leap."

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By the time I entered my twenties, I knew I wanted to become a writer. I just didn't know what I wanted to write about. That all changed once I had children. I had a motherlode of material overnight. There was so much I had to say.

My need to communicate with other mothers intensified after I experienced the stillbirth of my second daughter, in 1996. As a grieving mother, I felt betrayed by what mainstream pregnancy books of the day had to say about stillbirth. ("Don't worry, it probably won't happen to you." "It's very rare.") I felt a powerful need to write a new kind of pregnancy book, one that would be honest about all kinds of issues. And once I adopted that tone in my writing (and started having conversations with other parents), my writing career took on a life of its own.

I thought I had found my one-and-only source of material: pregnancy and parenting. I used to worry, in fact, about what I would write about once the children were grown. Would I suffer the writer's equivalent of empty nest syndrome? But then, in 2006, I received a gift (if you want to call it that), courtesy of the Canadian electoral system. I will never lack for writing material again. 

It took me by surprise, at first, this new-found passion for social justice and democracy. I had zoned out politically for much of the 1990s, when I was busy giving birth to a large number of young children in rapid succession. But, now that I think about it, it all makes sense. The parental is political. Who has a greater stake in advocating for the next generation and trying to fix the world than the mothers and the fathers?