Ventures into feminist motherhood
Kate Chopin with her children, 1877
“IF YOU AREN’T WORKING, SHOULDN’T YOU BE THE ONE TAKING CARE OF THE BABY?”
This is a question I have even asked of myself as I prepare to become a first time mom. And below are the reasons why it is the most sexist, patriarchal viewpoint ever. I will attempt to write this entry with the least amount of sarcasm, snark, and rage so as to avoid discrediting my female self as “overly-emotional.”
REASON #I. I can’t go back to work right away if I am breast feeding.
This is but one of the many reasons why maternity leave exists — despite the fact that the US is one of the few countries without mandatory paid maternity leave — read this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/15/united-states-only-first-_n_1968193.html.
And as much as I am certain I am going to love being with my new baby in ways I can not even begin to imagine yet, I also love my job. I love my career. I feel satisfied, challenged, engaged, and purposeful in my work. When the partners of breast feeding mothers become parents, they are not the ones who might compromise the health and feeding habits of their child if they go to work for eight hours or go on a business trip. They inherently maintain some sense of independence. Historically, this role has been fulfilled by men who never had to greatly consider or fear that this pregnancy/baby/new role of parenthood would completely compromise their careers/get them fired/force them to choose between their professional pursuits and their children. In 2013 I still, STILL worry about my job security and professional reputation in my choice to have children.
So while you may ask the above question from a place of honest curiosity and innocent logistical planning — the question itself ignores the deep sensitivity to the fact that having children requires a very specific set of sacrifices for all parents but especially for women. It is vital that this sacrifice is honored by constant childcare support and a great deal of gratitude if your career is not the one being put on hold, and if you are able to continue about your professional pursuits as normal — albeit more tired than usual because you got up once or twice in the middle of the night to bring your child to his or her mother while she stayed up to feed and you went back to sleep.
REASON #2. My vagina has been ripped in half and has stitches in it, so maybe you could just shut up and lend a hand?
(Failure at omission of snark, but I’m pretty sure this is enough said).
REASON #3. Postpartum depression is real, Tom Cruise you bat-shit-crazy mother fucker (oops, slipped again).
The expectation that a woman who is a) going through major hormonal changes and b) incredibly sleep deprived should be solely responsible for the well-being of an infant is not only repressive to the mother but dangerous to the child. This is why women have to depend so fully on their own mothers. Other women empathize and understand that things can and do go wrong with young mothers in postpartum depressed states. They are there to not only prevent bad things from happening, but to strengthen the new mother — give her confidence, boost her self esteem, and make her know that she is capable of handling the challenges of motherhood.
And while this maternal lineage of support is nothing short of a godsend, the patriarchal systems that necessitate this tradition serve male dominance and power in the workforce. This grandmother might still be working as well. Or perhaps she chose to retire a little early so that she could offer her daughter more support. This continues to allow men of all ages to climb ladders, make deals, produce ideas, and create projects that further their professional esteem. So again, when you ask the above question from this vantage point, you ignore a historic system of oppression that has assumed this role for women, and disregards the idea that she might also want to pursue her professional goals competitively and uninterrupted.
The overdepedence on other mothers also perpetuates the falsehood that when women offer each other the emotional support that they need, men do not need to do the same. Patriarchal systems of oppression often burden men with the struggle to express themselves emotionally — unless it is done through the masculine-approved display of anger. I call this the anger funnel in which all emotions are filtered through and result in expressions of anger rather than unauthorized feelings of sadness, insecurity, etc. The lack of emotional communication isolates new parents from each other, especially for the pre-supposed woman at home who may not have had much recent interaction with adults or even other speaking humans. So rather than turn to her husband or partner for affection, empathy, or attention — she picks up the phone to call her mother, sister, or friend.
REASON#4. Women historically were not allowed to have careers in the first place, and in many countries that is still the case so . . . .please see #2 again.
The thing that frightens me the most about the silent absorption of female oppression is the way I too accept it in my day to day. Sometimes it seems obvious and I recognize it right away — a family seats the father and eldest son, rather than the mother, at the heads of the dinner table. The female boss that accuses a younger woman of being responsible for a male coworker’s inappropriate behavior.The woman who is silenced in a conversation with two men as they never even look at her during a discussion “between the three of them.”
But other times it is in the way that I make assumptions of myself that I learn the most about my own fear. I make excuses and tell myself it’s just easier if I do it all myself. Or when I become self critical for not doing it all myself. Or silently judge a friend because she asks too much of her *bread-winning* husband. Or stick up for a male friend or family member for making an offensive sexist remark by telling another feminist to lighten up.
These are the moments that haunt me and make me wish I had more courage.
When I got married the only vow I remember saying is ” I promise to encourage you.” This is something that gets built over time, I am sure, but one that I constantly feel is at odds with the social expectations of marriage, womanhood, and child rearing. Like the dull presence of carbon monoxide in a house, these oppressive tropes that we have grown up in continue to plague us. And so often the total discrediting or disbelief that they still exist is the most oppressive response of all. I just want to exorcise those demons.