Feminism and the cult of mothering

7 Sep

It’s been my observation that there is an uneasy truce between some feminists and mothers. Like two sisters who publicly get along but can’t help making the slight dig.

Feminism looks at mothering and wonders “but I did so much for you! Why aren’t you out there ruling the world?” and the Mothering replies “I did exactly as you wanted. I exercised choice.”  They then both get pissed off, feeling unappreciated and unable to control the actions of another.

It’s a soft thing but it’s something I recognise with the work and socialising I’ve done – some mothers get their hackles up whenever the “f” word is mentioned. I’ve had people tell me how  they feel looked down upon by feminism and any criticism, no matter how slight, feels like saw on flesh. If feminism has a new front that it hasn’t fully pioneered and supported, it is in the family home.

With Michelle Obama’s recent speech at the Democratic National Convention, she signed off with:

“Let me tell you something. I say all of this tonight not just as First Lady, no, not just as a wife. You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still “mom-in-chief.”

Oh, how everyone shuddered.

Jessica Valenti tweeted: “I long for the day when powerful women don’t need to assure Americans that they’re moms above all else.”

It feels like some feminists look down on mothers. I’ve lost count of the times when some childless friends drop their shoulders and sigh when I’ve mentioned my daughter. Oh you were so awesome until you reminded me you shot a baby out of there and now have to become intimately acquainted with stain remover! It’s like you can feel your feminist membership rescinding.

Last week I was at a panel where a woman repeatedly stated her distaste for kids. I completely respect her right to do that, given society’s pressure on her and refuse to judge anyone for their familial state. Women in particular are treated terribly when they choose to not reproduce and making a stand to say that you are more than your ability to squeeze out a kid is momentous. On the same token, I also respect my right to not feel like a braindead fuckwit for the fact I do have a child.

I dislike defining myself as a mother. I find it insulting and actually incredibly embarrassing sometimes. The implied notion I am nothing without my children (or, when talking to other feminists, that I’ve betrayed them somehow). That few men, unless they make money from a related industry (and even then it’s rare), ever mention they have children.

There’s a reason why it’s insulting and annoying. After giving a deft and soaring speech within a template that rarely affords women that option, Michelle Obama positioned herself as “one of the girls”. She traded the intelligence she is known for the emotions she is expected to market, which is understandable on the campaign trail but still upsetting for others who expect more from her.

When we focus on a woman’s ability or status as a mother, the clear signal is that we trading the intellect for the emotional. We’re focusing on her ability to shoot out a baby and her ability to show emotions and care for the child. Bonus points if you get to refer to “Baby Brain” because pregnancy makes you stupid….so you can be a better mother.

On the other side, this has needed to be said for a while:

Mothers are not doing the hardest job in the world.

Motherhood is not about mystical sacrifice (career and finances, apparently so; some sort of Catholic martyrdom? No.)

Mothers are not special unique creatures quietly guiding humanity like some secret and benign guardian figures who require yearly chocolate and flower tributes from a bad conspiracy theory.

I know, right? Completely different to what you’ve seen on the those Facebook and Youreecard jpgs.

It is akin to people saying that “drugs make you think on a higher level” or “travel makes you a better person”.

Mothers are – and I really want this to sink in – just women who are raising children in partnership with another or by themselves. Mothers are no more unique than fathers, mothers have no superpowers, mothers are not mystical queens of spiritual power who look over their flock and mothers do not have vaginas that act as new age wind charms that emit soothing music.

Yes, becoming a parent changes your life. It has a direct impact on your finances, time and, unfortunately, career. It can give some added perspective to how you see the world or yourself and others. But to suggest that it is the prime defining aspect of a person does a disservice to gender, families and our notions of intellect and personality.

People may be mythologising motherhood because it makes them feel good about what they’re doing. Others are mythologising motherhood because they think it’s something that only a woman should or can do, which insults men and women alike.

By claiming superpowers or gender/role specific abilities, we’re just reinforcing bias and stereotype but, worst of all, we’re distributing the sexist propaganda for them and tilling the field for more.

Are there motivated, organised and generally kick arse feminist mothers who are proud of their nutball children? Yes. Without a doubt. I’m one of them. You may be too. Many of my friends are. This woman totally is.

Feminism and mothers need to break bread and broker some sort of better arrangement. There needs to be greater support and involvement from feminist groups for families otherwise the wolf in feminist clothing will sneak in and ruin things for everyone.

Mothers, take off your capes – we are not supermums, we are parents.

Feminism, families aren’t betraying you. Open up those arms. We need to work together.

Post inspired by Amber Robinson’s analysis of the speech and related issues (Essential Baby).

Feminist? Parent? Professional blerg-botherer? Let me know your thoughts below. 

8 Responses to “Feminism and the cult of mothering”

  1. Anne Powles September 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Interesting. As early feminists my friends and I found very little difficulty mentally reconciling the roles. I do think that as families have become somewhat smaller and people have had more income to spend on extras, the resultant expectation of “mothering” has somewhat changed. I view parenting as something one does whilst one is living. Life does not pause for parenting and that role, modified continuously usually lasts till one dies. I hope most women have the chance to be feminist parents or the cause is doomed! Have fun, both parenting and feminism are great to do properly!

  2. aspiringnomad1 September 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    Interesting article and one i pretty much agree with. I’m a feminst and a trying to be mum. I would only take issue with the implication that all mothers have indeed “shot a baby out of there”, as there are plenty of mothers who used alternative means of becoming mothers- be it via adoption, surrogacy or those in same-sex relationships.

  3. sweetiesmum March 6, 2015 at 11:19 pm #

    Great piece.


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