Has Feminism Sucked All The Fun Out Of Motherhood?
I have always considered myself a feminist.
All right, let’s be honest: every woman is a feminist even if they don’t acknowledge it, because feminism in its basic terms is about women demanding equality -- nothing more, nothing less.
My personal idol and all-round queen, Caitlin Moran, said it best:
I believe equality is possible, because if it's not, we may as well pack up our pink crayons and go home. It's not just the desire to see equality bloom among my generation, but also to see it continue to grow for generations to come.
Then, in 2015, I had the opportunity to put all my feminist theories to the test when I became pregnant with my daughter, Georgia.
I was blisteringly naive. Truly I was. Firstly, I didn’t think I would require much time off. I worked for my career. I worked damn hard for it. I wasn’t going to be one of those women (e.g. my mother) who gave up their career to become a mum.
I can do both. I can be both. That’s what women have been fighting for all these years, right? The freedom and the choice and the right to do both. To be both.
But... but what if we can’t? Not ‘we’ per se, but me. What if I can’t? What if I failed?
I took a year off for maternity leave. I found it hard. I found it excruciating. I found it boring, and I found it lonely. I’d never been a mother before. There was no 'routine' to follow. In the weeks leading up to bringing Georgia home, I didn't get any training on how to rear a child. I remember the first night we came home from the hospital. I sat there, staring at this tiny little human wondering, "what the f**k do I do?".
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There are so many things no one prepares your Type A personality for when it comes to caring for a baby. For example, you can't just reason with the baby to go back to sleep or to eat at a certain time. It was chaos. I thought I was losing my mind. I lost the house keys, twice, only to realise I'd put them in the freezer both times.
But then something happened -- she began to change. She had her first toothless smile, she gurgled and gifted me with her first laugh, and then she took her first steps.
Only I wasn't there to see her take her first steps. I was already back at work and it killed me. Each day before heading off in the early hours, I would kiss my daughter's cheeks, gently, trying not to wake her.
All the while I was away I would wonder to myself if she would forget me. Would she still know I was her mummy despite all that time apart?
"Try not to think about her," a female colleague with a daughter around the same age as Georgia once told me. “That’s what I do because if I think about Sam too much, I’ll just cry and have a nervous breakdown”.
What happened to me? Why was I so ill-prepared for this transition? I had no inner resources to dip into. Why oh why had no one prepared me for this the way school prepared me for exams? Or the way my employer prepared me for my first week at work?
Samantha Johnson wrote about the issue for HuffPost saying:
"In the fight to ensure equality, as we preach to girls that they can -- and should -- do anything a boy can do, we are failing to prepare women for one of the greatest challenges so many of them will face; motherhood. We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept.”
Is that really the reason? What about the good old days when that was all women were deemed to be good for? The resounding memories of the time seem to indicate a distinct lack of fulfilment among new mothers -- they wanted more.
Has the pendulum swung too far the other way?
Look, there are some women who only ever wanted to be a mother -- my grandmother was one such woman. Being a homemaker was all she ever desired. And yes, we can argue about how her life choices were influenced by the social constructs of the time and all that, but from all accounts, she was fulfilled and wanted nothing more and that is fine.
Others, however, want their career and motherhood and that is also fine. But the question I’m asking is: does feminism devalue those who want to be (and I'm loathe to use this word) 'just' a mother?
Has feminism actually made it shameful?
Feminism for me had worked around teaching women to be so much more than mothers -- without considering that, perhaps, that was all some women wanted to be.
There were the radicals like Shulamith Firestone, who once infamously blamed "the heart of a woman’s oppression" on "her childbearing and childrearing roles".
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Then there is author Adrienne Rich's theory that it is not so much the act of mothering that is, for lack of a better term, 'anti-feminist', but rather the patriarchal notion of motherhood.
In her book, Of Woman Born (yes, yes, taken from Macbeth, I know), Rich writes: "Experts -- almost all male -- who have told us how, as mothers, we should behave and feel."
She continues: "We do not think of the Marxist intellectuals arguing as to whether we produce “surplus value” in a day of washing clothes, cooking food, and caring for children, or the psychoanalysts who are certain that the work of motherhood suits us by nature. We do not think of the power stolen from us and the power withheld from us, in the name of the institution of motherhood".
I don’t know. I actually don’t have an answer. I really, truly don’t. All I do know is that it's OK to want to be a mother. And a feminist. And that they're not mutually exclusive.
Looking back, I was naive to think motherhood would slot itself neatly into my career-focused life. Motherhood, it turns out, is a totally different life in and of itself -- challenging, terrifying, joyful, boring, transformative, and for some, completely and utterly fulfilling -- and I struggled to be the best mum and the best career professional I could be all at the same time.
But maybe feminism isn't about a woman being able to do it all -- it's about a woman knowing herself, being true to herself, and having the power to make her own choices and to navigate her own path.