I am a mother and identify myself as a cis woman. I practice permaculture and grow food, medicinal plants and flowers. I am a massage therapist, an artist, a storyteller, and an activist for anti-colonial and decolonial practices. Both my personal and professional trajectories have been marked by the severe consequences of power asymmetries of local and global politics in people’s lives. My upbringing resulted in a lifelong commitment to socio-environmental justice.
I am a broadly trained social scientist and identify primarily as a nature-society geographer and human geographer. I believe land is the most fundamental entity that sustains all forms of life and earth’s systems, and thus one of the most important elements for a thriving healthy bio-socio-diversity. I am an advocate for ideas around pluriversalism and alternatives to development as ways to move beyond the reductionism of modernity and the oppression of ‘capitalocentrism’.
For the past 20 years I have been actively engaged in the intersections of human rights, justice, development, environmental change and land management issues in Latin America, working around strategies to tackle deforestation. I have broad experience in the Pan-Amazonian region, more specifically the Brazilian Amazon, where I have lived and worked with grassroots movements and indigenous peoples.
I am a feminist parent, itinerant farmer and critical scholar trained as a political ecologist and interdisciplinary social scientist and collaborate with indigenous and agrarian communities to explore pathways of environmental and social justice. For the past decade, I have worked with various universities, think-tanks, public and civil society institutions in United States, India, Bhutan, China and Aotearoa New Zealand on issues of plural knowledges, environmental and social justice, rural transformation, youth subjectivities, climate change and agriculture.
Synopsis: In countries where development has been tied to nation building, birthing more than one child has been viewed as antithetical to ‘progress’. In this episode, I talk with Ritodhi Chakraborty and Aline Carrara about living in Aotearoa and creating multifunctional equitable landscapes that might help address the challenges of climate change.
Together, we talk about foregrounding Indigenous people and people in post-colonial local societies rather than centring future thinking, Eurocentric environmental thought. We also discuss inter-generational parenting while living precariously in Aotearoa, and how caring for children and animals can prepare you for parenting, and the place of men in child-rearing spaces.
Watch a vimeo talk Ritodhi did with Prof Hirini Matunga on Indigenous Cartography and Land management in Aotearoa.
Read a recent publication by Ritodhi on climate justice
Listen to a radio interview Aline and Ritodhi did about their lives in New Zealand.
Music in this episode includes ‘A Box of Delights’ by Ketsa and ‘Something in the Air’ by HoliznaCC0, used under a Creative Commons license from Free Music Archive.
INTRO — You’re listening to Birthing and Justice. My name is Doctor Ruth De Souza. For today’s episode, I have three guests: Aline Carrara, Ritodhi Chakraborty and their newborn baby, who you’ll hear gurgling in the background. Aline Carrara practices permaculture and grows food, medicinal plants and flowers. She’s a massage therapist, artist, storyteller and an activist for anti-colonial and decolonial practices. With a background as a social scientist, she identifies as a nature-society geographer and human geographer. Ritodhi Chakraborty is a feminist parent, itinerant farmer and critical scholar, trained as a political ecologist and interdisciplinary social scientist. I’ve been itching to talk to the two of them, because I think they offer two deeply interesting, trans-national perspectives on issues of birthing, justice and place.
RUTH DE SOUZA (host) — Aline and Ritodhi, it’s so nice to have you on the show. And Ritodhi, it’s great that we connected through Twitter, and that we might be building something out of those initial conversations. So maybe I’ll start with you, Aline. Can you tell me why you care about birthing?
ALINE CARRARA (guest) — Because, you know, it shapes the maintenance of life. I feel it’s a very important event in every humans, like every human has been, you know, born, and from a mother. So, from that experience, every human has been through this experience. And I feel it shapes a lot how you enter this world, how do you enter, you know, society, family, whānau, and that’s why for me, it’s very important—different cultural aspects of birthing, different ways of understanding birthing and yeah.
Obrigada. And Ritodhi, can you tell me why you care about birthing?
RITODHI CHAKRABORTY (guest) — Thank you, Ruth. It’s a bit of a mixed bag for me. So, I feel like growing up in India, you know, there was such a strong component of anti-population policies, right? Which were a part of, you know, much bigger political structures that were in play, forcing, you know, the global south to talk about population control to their, you know, communities. And so while on one hand, you know we had families which were quite, I would say, open to this idea and quite rejoicing in this idea of birth, there was also this constant, I would almost call it like nagging voice at the back of the head where it was like, you know, [laughs] birth or population growth is in some ways detrimental to the overall development of a nation. And, I don’t know if this was the case in my parents’ generation, but at least in mine, I feel it is a real unresolved question, right? Like what place does birth have within a modern society? And so growing up, I feel like, I mean, I’m sure I saw one birth at home where my grandmother and a few other women delivered. However, when I personally, you know, when I got older and I started thinking about, you know, having children or, you know, having a family, for me birthing sort of also became a way of connecting with someone beyond, let’s say the state politics of trying to control bodies and what people should, you know, do and be. And so, it was kind of wonderful when I met Aline, because we, I feel, were aligned in the way that we were thinking about life and community and those things. And the fact that I feel today, when I look at it from a bit of a distance beyond just those politics of population and whatnot, it seems to me as such a common denominator right here in Aotearoa, versus in Brazil, versus in India. There’s this sense of intergenerational, I would almost call it happiness or joy tied to birthing. Which is something, when I was growing up, it seemed quite muted, at least in an urban context. I would still say like, in probably rural parts of India, that’s still maybe the case, but it was quite a mixed bag. And so, I’m glad that [laughs] later in life, I have a lot more connection to what birthing represents for humanity in general, instead of, you know, beyond just like, national politics and whatnot, so.
I’m so interested in what you’ve said, Ritodhi, particularly because I’ve looked at pro-natalism in settler societies, right? So, there’s historically been a lot of concern about settlers not having enough babies compared to the Indigenous population, and fears of so-called race suicide. So, it’s really interesting hearing about that kind of anti-natalism—you know, that anti with an ‘i’—where some parents are encouraged to have children and others aren’t. And I’m really excited about this conversation that Aline, you and I are having today, because I think you bring in this beautiful kind of global conversation that we’ve not had yet. And I’m kind of wondering if we can continue with you, Ritodhi, and just talk about where you are and what you’re doing, and what brought you to that work that you’re doing?
RC — So, thank you for the question, Ruth. And yeah, I agree with you that, you know—and I’ll get to how I got here—but to answer that more global perspective, right. And having a segue-way also into, let’s say my professional life. You know, environmentalism or environmental thought or whatever that may be, the fact that Aline and I both work around the environment or human nature relationships, means that a lot of what we do remains rooted in a certain idea of what is nature and what we should do and how we should relate to it. And it’s interesting that, [giggles] you know, so much of modern environmental thought emerges from this kind of Malthusian fears about overpopulation, right? That’s like the central guiding light coming out of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and often really, you know, I would say pushed by white, global north fears, again, about certain kinds of people overrunning the world so to speak. And so, yes, this global conversation is very important today, even as we start engaging with whatever the Anthropocene is or is not. Because those solutions—right, population control, or, you know, humans being this species that’s eating the world—is still at the forefront, right, of a lot of popular media, of a lot of even policy, where population control is still being, I would say, advocated off as a solution to some of this stuff. Which is incredibly problematic [laughs] in a hundred different ways. Because, you know, when we came here to New Zealand, and you’re absolutely right, I have never seen a place that is so supportive of children or, and in many ways kind of pushing many families to, you know, have children. And again, it was the same in the US. You know, I went to the US when I was seventeen or so, and I had never been to a place [laughs] where there was so much support for people to have children. I mean when I was growing up, barely anybody had two siblings. I mean, I’m a single child, you know, a lot of my friends are single children. And I would say my generation in India right now, I don’t know anybody that has three children. Most people have one. I wouldn’t say that most people, I would say like thirty, forty percent have one, fifty percent of people have zero. People don’t have kids, right? And you can, you know, the reason why that is, is hundred different things, right? From, you know, I would say the really sexist ways of which women are treated within workforces because of, you know, pregnancy, to the fact that a lot of people live in cities where it’s impossible to have family on one income, this, that, and the other, the breakage of, you know, communal living and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, it still means that this huge percentage of the population right, is choosing actively to not go ahead and be a part of this birthing process. And so what are you actually asked is how we got here. [Laughs] So we were living in the Amazon and in Brazil for a while, cause Aline was doing her field work. And then I was, you know, trying to find jobs because we had this child and we were both unemployed. So, I got this job in Lincoln, at Lincoln university, to kind of work with, I would say, reimagining a landscape design, right? Like how we create multifunctional landscapes that are equitable and also help us address the challenges of climate change. However, when I came here, I quickly realised that, you know, the politics of land in New Zealand, or in Aotearoa, are incredibly complicated. You can’t just throw design at it and solve away, you know, generations of trauma or generations of inequality. And so, what I’ve been working with while I’ve been here is, in many ways looking at different ways of, you know, defining what land is, how do you divide it, how do you think about the future, while actively thinking about the past, right? Because this is one of those issues again, about Eurocentric environmental thought—that everything is about the future. But if you talk to Indigenous, you know, people, if you talk to post-colonial local societies, a lot of their thoughts, or a lot of their thinking is still in that very traumatic event happened in the past. Or, the past which is still very much the present, right. But that’s sort of how we got here.
What I love about what you said is just connecting the local, the global, the political, the social, the historical. And for listeners who can’t see us in the studio, Aline is breastfeeding at the moment. So, I’ll just check in whether Aline’s up to telling her story about, you know, who you are and what you do? Or whether you need to not multitask. [Laughs]
AC — So, so yeah, I was born in Brazil, but my mum was pregnant with me when they’re both, like my parents were living in Iraq and it was after the second Gulf War. And the era in Iraq War started in ‘84, I was already two years old and we were in Iraq. And it was important to think, like, that the fact that I was born in Brazil has a lot to do with the politics of birthing—because of infant recruitment, there was no ultrasound, they didn’t know what was gonna come out of there and how that [could] impact your lives and choices. My mum flew to Brazil—they’re both originally from Brazil—so she flew to her mum’s home and gave birth. My father wasn’t able to come, so she was all by herself and with her family, of course. But you know, my father just met me when I was about three to four months old—that my mum, she flew back with me. And that was where I lived up to when I was almost eleven. And so, understanding this, and when I talk about power asymmetries I was confronted with those processes from a very early age. You know, I used to play in gated, fenced places where our only interactions were through those fences and through those gates and my friends, we had like a time where they would come by the river to just like, their mothers would do laundry, laundry, you know, wash their clothes by the rivers. And that’s when we would like, hang out. Well, my parents, they were like, you know, probably like playing tennis in a fences. So, I was pretty much like bubble wrapped in that, you know, situation, in the middle of… so it was like two-hundred kilometers from Baghdad, in a place called Nasiriyah, down south. And they were… my dad was working in construction on the Basra railway back in the day, my mum is a social worker. So that shaped, like just the politics of birth; just shaped the way and how, and where I was born, you know? And then they went back to Brazil. I spent a few years there. Then I went to the [United] States and they have been travel[ing] a lot, just for the work itself; they spent a lot of their lives just traveling. So, I grew up kind of like, having them as a reference and not much of a place of belonging. And so that’s how my life kind of unfolded. My roots were always a who not a where. And then when I met Gorky—that’s his nickname, Ritodhi’s nickname, that’s how everybody called him—so when I met Ritodhi, we kind of had that in common, you know, that kind of on the go, what’s next, what’s next. And I feel we’re just in a process of a big learning curve of what roots mean, and what is important for us in terms of, you know, rooting and grounding ourselves—as individual, as a couple, as a family. So going back to Brazil, the Amazon, you know, Do Canchim state, was a big reference in my childhood years where we would just travel to meet family, and my grandpa was there. And so, being in the Amazon was just like, kind of more like a call than a choice. And so that’s where I spent [baby coos] a lot of the years that I was in Brazil. And then, just kinda understanding different food systems. I started working with like, local valley chains and how to, you know, include women in like income generation. [Baby sneezes] bless you…
and then kinda scaled out a little bit and started looking at the effects of, you know, infrastructure, monoculture, you know, big, industrialised entrepreneurs that were coming. And then back in the day, everybody was like, ‘Oh, the internationalisation of the Amazon, where all the, you know, international investments were coming’ and how that shaped, you know, people’s lives and women’s rights. And, I myself am a product of a very patriarchal structure, you know? I remember when I came home to tell my mum that I got, like, a Fulbright scholarship to do my PhD. She was like, ‘Wow, you’re set. It’s time for you to find a husband and, you know, give me grandchildren.’ And I’m like… so I am myself in… and just kind of understanding those structures and how they actually shape. And we are very privileged because we’re able to understand these structures and, you know, mobilise and articulate, and that hence why we’re doing this, that we are right now. But how many other people and how many, you know, have no idea of how they’re subject to this very powerful, oppressive structures that are out there. And so, yeah, working in the Amazon has been very challenging, like deconstructing myself from the environmental movement and this conservation approach—you know, which is kind of like a delusional thing. But when you’re there and you’re just kind of receiving all this, like, investments and information. And then the role of academia and science-making as well, and how that science communication is important, and how the lack of it—in terms of translating the reality of science into the more regional backgrounds and more regional approaches and local approaches—was a big thing. And so, yeah, I engaged with multiple different societies—and by different I mean, like, from modern, you know, non-modern, non-monetary based societies, Indigenous peoples, and the Afro descendant communities which we call quilombola’s in Brazil, rivering communities and learning this multicultural, pluri-verse aspect of being, you know? And then understanding. And that’s only when I came back to academia to understand, like, what’s modernity actually in place? And what is this modern state has done? And what are we, you know, vouching for when we just kind of rely on the state for succeeding? So yeah, so I got my PhD in Territorial Autonomy, looking at the Amazonian Indigenous populations, [baby coos] and understanding also the role of food systems and food sovereignty and how that plays out a big deal in terms of territorial management and territorial autonomy, and, you know, natural resources as a whole, and who gets to decide and who gets to have a say. And that includes, you know, like the social and physical reproduction, which comes to birthing and all those different systems as well, you know.
And I guess I’m thinking that, I can see what you both have in common. And Ritodhi, you describe yourself as a feminist parent, itinerant farmer and critical social scholar who’s trained as a political ecologist. Can you tell us how these identities are connected, and I’m particularly interested in what it’s like for you being the parent of a three-month-old and a six-year-old, and how you’re both navigating this?
RC — You know, it’s almost like a side effect of our instrumental age that we like separating identities, which are inseparable, right? And so even those three things that I have written down, they’re sort of co-produced, right. It’s not… one can’t really exist without the other, you know. We are engaging with, let’s say different subjects. However, I really don’t see a lot of difference between farming and parenting. But, I guess I didn’t really talk much about, you know, how I grew up and stuff. My grandparents, from my, you know, biological father’s side, they were refugees doing partition. And so, they came and settled in the Eastern region of India, which was then literally at the, I would say at the beginnings of this massive industrial revolution where, you know, huge pieces of land were literally grabbed by corporations and converted into industrial belts, right? So it was coal and it was, you know, various minerals, it was steel, it was iron. And, you know, all of this was part of, you know, the birth of a nation, right? Like, the government was very interested in leaping into the future, and the way to do that was through this really rapid industrialisation. When my grandparents came right to that part of India, they just settled in, and worked in, many of these very industrial places—you know, in mines, in steel factories, that’s where these were. And so, I grew up in a very industrial… small little industrial town, which was… in many ways it was quite incredible, because it was very different from a huge metropolis or anything. It was just quite close to nature. I mean, even [laughs] ‘till five or six years ago, elephants used to come down into the city. People were often asked to not go for morning walks at very early in the morning, ‘cause elephants were just hanging out, by the tree. Things like that were quite, I would say, a big part of my childhood growing up in a city, which was a city of paradox, right? Cause on one hand it housed Tata, right? You know, the Tata is the biggest… one of the biggest corporations of India. And on the other hand, it led into this really incredible, ecological corridor, which for generations had been commonly managed by the Indigenous people of India: the Adivasi’s. So from that, you know, I felt like I didn’t want to go into this medical engineering type stuff. And my mother was quite supportive of that as well. And so, I left, you know India in search of exactly that; I knew that, you know, there wasn’t like a lot of money to pay for college or anything, so I had to get a scholarship. And so luckily the US funded all that. So, I went there and in the US I started realising that I knew nothing about India at all, [laughs] which is, you know, a sad, but very obvious side effect of growing up in a colonised nation where our textbooks and popular media was set up in a way to kind of glorify the state. However, a lot of these issues around inequality related to ethnicity, gender, whatever, what have you, was really, you know, not really talked about. And neither were far bigger issues around how we should be planning, how we should be managing some of these resources, land of peoples we have. You know, what does decentralisation look like, right? I mean India has that incredibly decentralised political structure, which goes down to the block, the village level. And how does that engage with the, you know, with the central government, the central state? Those kind of conversations were really not part of, you know, my schooling experience. It was a lot more about, ‘Become an engineer or a doctor and have a good life’; it’s sort of like ‘Climb this middle class ladder of prosperity’—whatever that means, right? And so, I would say, how to be a parent was never [laughs] a part of this bigger understanding of, you know, knowledge or of intergenerational, let’s say, transfer, right? I mean, there are many reasons why that is, right? Because I would say, later on in life when I started working, I’ve spent a lot of time working in rural India after I did my master’s. I started seeing things about India, and about families that I had never experienced before, right? Those long, intercommunal, temporal, as well as spatial sort of arrangements of families, of places. And I started seeing that in many rural places, right? I have worked a lot of time in Himalayan India, and a lot of rural Himalayan India. Children often five or six years old are an active part of child-rearing, as are people that are eighty years old, right? So, you have this very powerful, dynamic, intergenerational space. And within that space, it’s almost like, from a very young age you become an apprentice at learning how to be a caregiver. And I’m not saying that [laughs] every eight-year-old is doing the right thing; some of them are, you know, shoving cow dung into their little brother’s mouth. But the point is that, [laughs] you know, that flexibility is there. It’s like someday someone isn’t just gonna drop this on your lap and say, ‘Hey, so go ahead and be a parent now,’ you know? It’s something that you’ve grown up with—that’s one thing. The other thing which I thought was very powerful in rural India was this engagement with animals, you know? And the fact that a lot of young people from a very young age were taking care of animals. So cows, goats, and that was also kind of holding them accountable for keeping something alive—keeping someone alive. And when the stakes are not that high, you don’t quite understand [laughs] what it is that you need to do, right? Cause if it’s about life or death, your body and your mind respond in very different way. So those two things, you know, are on one end, and on the other end is something which I would say is tied into the fact that, you know, I come from a deeply patriarchal nation. And I mean, I would say most of our world is patriarchal. There really was not a big impetus on men ever [laughs] being very domestic, right? It wasn’t like, ‘Oh yeah, you’ve gotta figure out how you’re gonna take care of children, or learn how to cook or clean or whatever, right? [Sighs] I feel this way often, I have ever since I became a parent, right. That, you know, being a hetero[sexual], you know, cis [gendered] man in many of these spaces, I’m always the outsider. ‘Cause most of these spaces are full of women who are—whether through their own choice or through no choice of their own—you know, stuck in these, or are performing these roles. Often, you know, when I enter spaces like this with my child in tow, the group doesn’t know how to place me in many of these, you know, instances. And I don’t know how to place myself, right? ‘Cause there is this real, what I would call a feminine energy in this space, just because, you know, I’m one of one or two non-female people there. It is a very interesting kind of a proposition. And it also has allowed me to be in spaces where I, you know, have to actively challenge my own privilege, but also not be the leader, just be the ally. Like, I am here to sort of learn, to kind of understand; I know that, you know, things that you are going through, I will never be able to comprehend. And so that is one whole dynamic. And then finally one small last thing is the fact that we have two sons, right? So maybe, I don’t know if someday they don’t want to be, you know, men anymore [laughs], they want to be something else. I’m fine, I’ll support them on that journey as well. But you know, I grew up at least around a lot of very toxic men, right? In many different ways. And men who had no understanding of how to relate to themselves, and men who had no understanding because they had so much unresolved issues with their own psyche, with their own place in the world, that they had no way… that they had no understanding of how to relate to children or younger people in a way that would allow them to be nurtured, allow them to be nourished, kind of support them to, in many ways, like to allow them to emerge as these people that they are. Instead, a lot of, you know, my engagement with men my father’s or uncle’s age, or grandfather’s age even, like was around domination. Was around, ‘Hey you, listen, you just shut up and you just, you know, sit here or there will be violence.’ As a parent now I often see myself reproducing that exact thing and it is heartbreaking, but it’s also something that I’m actively working on. However, it’s not easy, ‘cause it’s generations of learned trauma, generations of learned reaction—which has to come to an end at some point. I don’t know if it’s gonna come to an end with me or if I’m gonna pass some of it onto my children, but this is a real problem across a lot of our societies. We are not providing proper role models, we’re not providing proper, let’s say trajectories or pathways for men to embody, to understand.
Aline, I was kind of thinking about your work and how you’re passionate about decolonial and anticolonial approaches. How has that impacted on your parenting, as well as the work you’ve done in the Amazon and this amazing history you shared with us earlier? How is that shaping your parenting?
AC — I think in every way possible, because I am a project of colonisation, right? I myself, like when I think about my roots in the Amazon, they were not from there, they were taking land, they were, you know, contributing to like a whole governmental push to colonise. It’s literally led to colonise. And so, for me it’s a deep practice and exercise to understand anticolonial practices. And, you know, decolonisation for me is just, it can’t be just a metaphor. You know, it has to have some material and practical implications. And for me, that’s land back. [Baby coos]
That’s like, acknowledging plural systems, plural knowledges, and plural, you know… and there’s no other way. However, I think we also ought to push and ought to embrace what our own reflections on how can we deconstruct ourselves and understand the pathways to anti-colonial practices. I don’t think I’m… I know about it, I’m not an expert of it, I think I’m just aware that that’s something I should and have to embrace. [Baby cries]
And so, this understanding starts with birthing. It starts with, like, my choices. Like in Brazil, I would say, I may be really wrong, but I would risk to say that more than eighty percent of all urban births are from C-section, so that’s like kind of the mainstream—there’s a whole industry around it, you know? And I’ve been in places where, ‘Oh, this woman is pregnant’ and you know when the birth is happening because the whole village is committed to it, the whole village is actually engaged into some very important process, which is bringing a new human into that community. And so, with no interference, only women, you know, and you just hear, here and there, because nothing is made of concrete. And so, in terms of my own parenting, I think I’ll touch upon a little bit of what Gorky said about, you know, this generational trauma. My parents are from a time and space where, you know, therapy was something like drama, BS [bull shit], you know? Therapy is something, like, ‘We don’t deal with that.’ And so, because of that, we just inherent all that, you know, load that they got. And I did inherit. And so, it’s not uncommon that I hear my mum’s words coming out of my mouth towards my son, and also reflecting upon that, and noticing and holding space to understand, you know, this is not how I want to reproduce, and this is not how I want to, you know, pass on my own childbearing. And I think reflecting that, I think the conversations that we have with our son, who… I think sons now, because you’re always, I think they start, you know, sinking in the energy and the aspects. And I feel there’s like very deep bond around food systems, around gender, around, you know, the politics of the world. Like the way we talk about appropriation of nature, appropriation of bodies, appropriation of ideas and what’s power, who’s got the power? I love storytelling; I love telling stories. And so, our six-year-old knows about palm oil plantations. He knows about, like, deforestation in the Amazon. He knows about climate change. He knows about the rhizomatic functions of fungi. He knows about like, you know, deep biologist systems. He knows about like deep political structures, but in a way that, you know, he’s not worried about them. He’s just awares that they exist the way we approach it, you know? Because he’s gonna face some global dynamics that are gonna be, you know, way different from where we are right now. And we don’t know how, but they’re gonna be different. And so, understanding where this whole comes from for me is a very important thing. So, I think that’s there. Like acknowledging our privilege all the time; like we are very privileged in this situation. You know, we are very vulnerable in some other situations. Like right now we’ve been facing this whole, like months of insecurity and uncertainty in terms of our staying in Aotearoa, New Zealand. You know, are we able to stay, are we not, you know? Being treated as a second-class citizen, and having to prove your worth and, you know, to ensure that our kids have the safety of this childhood, which we had, back home, you know, but in a way, but he’s aware of that! And it’s all through like storytelling. I make stories all the time. I make songs. I come up with songs, we sing, you know, we come up with like some role-play and it’s about engaging. And it’s interesting to see how it unfolds, you know? Like the other day he said—and he’s six—he said, you know, he was asking [for] like a toy or something. I’m like, ‘No.’ And it’s something like, it’s not that… I was told like, ‘Oh, we’ll buy it on our way back.’ I don’t do that with him. I’m like, ‘I don’t buy that because it’s expensive’ or ‘That would be really cool, but I don’t get… I don’t have the money right now,’ you know. And I just tell the truth or, ‘Oh, this is really nice, but we don’t need that.’ Or, yeah, this is kind of like a stupid game. ‘You don’t, you not, I’m not gonna buy that.’ So, it’s really what it is. It’s not like we’re gonna think about it. No, there’s no thinking about it. Or we go like, ‘Yeah, let’s buy that, that’s cool.’ And so, it’s very truthful. And also, I think we separate a lot what’s like his understanding and his world and try to communicate the best that we can, into that.
There was a little fart here. [Ruth and Aline laugh] It’s just, I was like feeling the little body. But that’s a good example. Like, are you here feeling their bodies? ‘Cause like, when I look in Brazil, for example, I see maids, you know, taking care of the houses and domestic work being paid like shitty, you know money, to do like… to take care of somebody else’s toilet, you know, and hygiene and houses. Babysitter is a big thing, you know?
And I see a lot of women that are not actually like hands-on in terms of what… you know? I have a friend who went to Europe and she found out this work as au pair, like babysitting. And they’re like, ‘Oh, they want me to speak Spanish and Portuguese with their baby, so it learns, but I’m not paid to be like ah, language teaching.’ So, I see that [as] a very colonial practice and it’s out there, you know, and it’s people doing it. And I was talking to a friend from Nigeria and she was saying about that. And she is now in the United States and raising… or helping raising her nephews. And so those are things that we are very concerned about and understanding how that—like the feminist side that Gorki was talking about—how that plays out on our household. What does it mean to be a feminist family? What does it mean to be aware of those global structures, and how do we translate that into how we educate our boys? So, yeah.
Wow, what a beautiful, rich conversation we are having. And you know, I can relate to what you’re talking about, you know, the concept of stratified reproduction, you know, some people are in the position where, that they can mother in specific ways, or parent in specific ways, because they have the help of other people who are not given the resources or the time to look after their own children. So, I think of my own aunt who worked in Abu Dhabi, looking after other people’s children while her children were brought up in the village in Goa.
AC — And they’re not the community, right? There is all this transactional relationship.
Which is not community.
Right? Which is not like enhancing community-building. It’s not enhancing, like, knowledge sharing. It’s not enhancing, like, people-becoming and, you know?
And that’s, for me, it’s very problematic. Because the whole thing about how to succeed—in life as well—and the burden placed upon women, you know? If you don’t have a child—and we have people, we had this conversation like very recently with like, women in their forties or late thirties feeling like a failure because they didn’t manage the whole full package that is promised to you, like the family as the institution, right? And how, you know, profitable that is to the state and to the whole system. And if you don’t abide to that, the failure and the feeling is there. And this is deeply problematic, right? This is something we should question all the time, because it’s not only about women’s rights, it’s about… and I faced that myself, like, how can I keep going with my work and have this, you know, professional engagement that I so care about, while caring for the maintainance of life and my own, you know, family and my own community. And how to bridge, how do we bridge this? So it’s still very problematic, like the structures out there.
Yeah. And, you know, like Ritodhi was saying, you know, these identities are co-produced, right? They’re not distinct, siloed things, but the kind of world that we’re in asks us to pick one. [Laughs]
AC — Yeah.
You know, demands we choose one, you know, because we’re all busy in the grind, you know? I’m just wondering if you have any last thoughts or comments. I feel like we’ve had such a wide-ranging conversation that’s gonna give me plenty to reflect on for the next little while.
AC — Well, I think my… I would say that, you know, in terms of birthing—having birthed this little one here in Aotearoa, my first one was born in the United States—and those are such different systems, you know? The medical interventions, the whole pharmaceutical industry around that. Whereas here this whole communo-system and this whole like, embracing the societal role of women and of like, pregnant women, and bringing kids up, and how they treat the babies, and how they look to women’s and to the mental health and to the whānau, you know, and the care. I think it’s very important to reflect upon the support and the systems around. And I mean, like politics and economies and the social policies around birthing—which, I had like two different, very different experiences. And for me, it’s very important and very remarkable in terms of the importance of both systems in shaping the way they were brought about. So, yeah.
RC — One of the things that I feel really strongly about, you know, is the fact that—and I have a very good friend here, Nathan, and him and I often talk about this—is that, you know, patriarchy affects everybody, men and women. Yes, men are in power, so it has a very different effect on them. However, those conversations, right—fatherhood, or how to be a parent—is still incredibly rare and still incredibly rare for men to have those conversations in any meaningful way, often, right? And that extends to every aspect of it. More, let’s say, ideological or philosophical conversations around: How should we, you know, raise children? What do you believe in? What kind of values do you want to give them? Right down to very simple things. Like, I have changed my son literally on toilet seats across the world, because, you know, they don’t have changing stations inside men’s bathrooms. That’s something which is a material, let’s say, gap, because of the way in which primary care is obviously, you know, seen as a woman’s prerogative. So, I personally feel, you know, there needs to be a huge amount of mobilisation around, at this intersection of men and care work, right? Whatever that means. And again, I know different parts of the world are different, I guess engaging with this in different ways. Maybe parts of, you know, Western Europe where there is a lot more of these fractured families or families that have different configurations, there is more conversations around this. But, you know, talking to my friends back home or even talking to people from other places, in the US for example, there seems to be a real lack of mobilisation around this. Like, what does it mean, right? What does it mean for, you know, the masculine and feminine energies within men to come together to produce something that is empathetic and something that will nurture, versus something that is there for domination, that is there for security control, almost. Like, it’s like, I’m gonna beat the wild out of you, right? It’s like men, at least in my, you know, upbringing and what I’ve seen around, their role is domestication, right? They’re there to domesticate, like and if that domestication happens through, you know, words, then it happens through words. If it happens, you know, through physical action, then it happens through physical action. And that, you know, that—I would almost call it labour of domestication that is placed on fathers or men—is an incredibly problematic thing, right? ‘Cause instead of you co-producing relationships with your children, are you in that same way, engaging with land a certain way, right? You are going about it through this lens of domination. And I see that parallel very, you know, very easily across the way we manage land and the way we raise our children. And I really feel that, you know, while there are some initiatives to encounter this, it’s there for the few—there has to be much more done to almost break the cycle, to sort of transform the ways in which that men are being positioned within our societies, you know, in relation to their children.
AC — And also, it’s important to like… also the spaces that, as he said, he is like, him and some other father in a majority of women’s spaces. It’s very important to highlight, like, the feedback of these spaces, you know, and how they see the parenting when it’s like, a man—you know, when it’s the father there occupying the spaces—which is kind of very different, you know? It’s like, it’s almost like this honouring and worshiping, you know, something very basic. And I hear that a lot, like, ‘Oh you’re so lucky. You know, that he helps a lot.’ This word ‘helps,’ it’s really, you know, problematic. And also, and that’s the dominance I feel, of the mainstream take that a lot of women… and we see here, like a lot of women see it that way. Because I think, because they don’t experience, they haven’t experienced, you know, the construction of this weaving work together, you know, and sharing the load and sharing the burdens. And it’s very, it’s very deep and it’s very ingrained in women as a whole as well. You know, seeing men as like, everything else is an extra, it’s a bonus, you know, besides the breadwinning thing.
These discourses are so powerful, aren’t they? And like you say, they have material effects. So, you know, the participatory father is exalted, and at the same time, there’s also very little systemically and structurally to support any kind of exploration of being a different kind of father, as you say. And I think also, particularly with people who are migrants you know, there is that higher dependence on your partner while you are establishing your own village and community and finding out what’s around and not knowing what is available to you, you know? And I’m just really glad that you’ve got each other and you’re building this amazing life where I’m hoping that the precarity gets resolved for you. And the roots… you know, I keep thinking about roots and trees in our conversation, and land and place. But I hope that these things fall beautifully into place for you. And it’s been a real privilege to listen and talk with you today. And I’m very grateful for the really unique perspectives you’ve brought to this ongoing conversation that I’m having with people. So, thank you so much.
AC — Thank you.
RC — Thank you.
OUTRO — Visit ruthdesouza.com/podcast for more episodes and links, including where you can find out more about Aline and Ritodhi’s work. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe to the show, leave a rating or a review, or follow us on Twitter or Instagram.
For the final episode of Birthing and Justice Season Three:
CARLA PASCOE LEAHY (guest) — I also didn’t want to exclude mothers who haven’t had that physiological experience of entering mothering, because there’s many other ways in which child-rearing is deeply embodied as well.
I’ll be joined by Carla Pascoe Leahy, a historian and researcher who’s looking at how climate change is affecting families. Birthing and Justice with Doctor Ruth De Souza is written and hosted by me, and recorded at my home on the traditional lands of the Boonwurrung people of the Eastern Kulin Nations. Our fabulous sound design and mix is by Jon Tjhia, who’s our producer and editor. Artwork for the show comes from Atong Atem, with design by Ethan Tsang, and Raquel Solier composed our theme music. This podcast is supported by funding from the RMIT University Vice-Chancellor’s Fellowship Program. Thanks so much for listening, we’ll catch up again soon.
END NOTES — Audio transcript edited and designed by Abbra Kotlarczyk, 2022. Note: the purpose of this audio transcript is to provide a record and pathway towards accessing all Birthing and Justice conversations. Editorial decisions around the omission of certain words and non-verbal utterances have been made purely for stylistic purposes towards greater legibility, and do not infer a desired ethics of speech.