Tag Archives: motherhood

Big Question: What is motherhood?

As our understanding of gender evolves we must ask, “What defines motherhood?” Until the mid-twentieth century, motherhood was generally confined to reproduction, childcare, and housework. [1],[2] Despite many decades of change, this traditional understanding of motherhood remains the basis of our social knowledge. Nonetheless, with the groundwork done by previous waves of feminism, today’s mothers are challenging traditional feminine motherhood unlike ever before.

With third-wave feminism’s reevaluation of femininity, mothers are uniquely challenging the presumed responsibilities of motherhood. Specifically, they are exploring different divisions of childcare and housework. Instead of accepting traditional motherhood responsibilities such as feeding and clothing, women are asking why they shouldn’t be the ones to mow the lawn. Moreover, many are noticing and demanding change in the unequal amount of time they spend (while working full time) on household chores and childcare compared to men.[3] Today’s women are increasingly focusing on inequalities in their family lives, meaning tomorrow’s mothers and fathers may approach the world from a different perspective.

The question of what motherhood is must also be asked in the context of family variability. Increasingly, there are families comprised of two gay or lesbian parents. Can a family have zero or two mothers? For many today, motherhood is separate from reproduction. Outsourced childcare, especially to nannies of vastly different cultural upbringings, is increasingly common.[4] Many women have children through alternative processes such surrogacy or in-vitro fertilization, meaning children may not be biologically related to or physically born from their mothers. Variability means that today’s motherhood is about complicating, if not transcending gender.

Ultimately, our evolving answer to the question, “What is motherhood?” is of particular importance due to the historical role motherhood plays in the family—humanity’s foundational social unit. In considering the bigger picture, we thus must ask, “As motherhood changes how will our society as a whole change?”

 


[1] Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “The Sexual Politics of Sickness,” in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women, 2nd ed. (New York: Anchor Books, 2005), 113.

[2] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 189.

[3] Lisa Belkin, “When Mom and Dad Share It All,” NYTimes Magazine, June 15, 2008, 4, accessed November 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[4] Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, “Global Woman,” in Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology, by Estelle Disch, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), 445.

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Big Question: For What Are We Responsible?

In the essay “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women,” bell hooks confronts the problem of disjunction within feminist movements. She discusses how mainstream feminism has alienated women of color because of a perception that aspects of their culture are counter to feminist causes–for instance, that black women’s refusal to self-victimize excluded them from feminism. Different groups face different oppressions; yet, hooks points out, mainstream feminism struggles to realize that feminism looks different for different groups.

Last week, Politico Magazine published an article subtitled “How Michelle Obama became a feminist’s nightmare.” The author charged the First Lady with anti-feminist offenses including “gardening,” “tending to wounded soldiers” and “reading to children.” Michelle Obama, the author argued, should be a politically involved activist, not a “mom-in-chief.” She has an obligation to the women of America; she should represent all that feminism has achieved.

But to what extent is one woman obligated to act on behalf of a nation? Is Michelle Obama single-handedly responsible for defying all norms? The demand for a woman to embody a specified role, without room for choice in what she can accept or reject, is constricting and regressive. As bell hooks argues in “Sisterhood,” feminism must account for the complexity of individual experiences. Michelle Obama’s feminism may not be Hillary Clinton’s feminism, but their experiences are equally valid.

With that in mind, are we responsible for making choices with an eye towards what will most benefit women as a population? Or are we free to pick and choose which paths to follow? How much must we consider our individual choices in the context of society?

Cited:

hooks, bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women.” No. 23, Socialist-Feminism: Out of the Blue (Summer, 1986), pp. 125-138.

Cottle, Michelle. “Leaning Out.” Politico Magazine, November 21, 2013. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2013/11/leaning-out-michelle-obama-100244.html?ml=m_a3_1

For What Are You Responsible?

Women are equipped with the biological equipment necessary for child birth, but because of that it is often expected that women will automatically take up the dominant role in nurturing and parenting. But what if women were to forgo such expectations and head back to work right away? What if the father or a nanny were to take the lead role in parenting instead? The question of what exactly women are responsible for is a major issue since the societal reaction to abandoning stereotypical maternal responsibilities is often outward shock and disapproval. But just because there is an expected maternal role does not mean there should be an inherent responsibility. Although the mother should be responsible for the child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, the entire load of responsibility for child rearing should not fall solely to a woman just because she has a uterus. The reason why we don’t see more women abandoning expected responsibilities is because “social norms play a large part in why so few marriages are truly equal….it is rare that you choose something you have never seen” (Belkin 5). Women should not be automatically responsible for bringing up the children, but society often guilts them into it. This is why, for instance, there are numerous blogs popping up dedicated solely to working moms such as http://www.workingmomsagainstguilt.com/ and http://liberatingworkingmoms.com/.

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” NY Times. 15 June 2008. Web. 01 Dec 2013.