OF MOTHERS AND MOTHERHOOD ON MOTHER'S DAY
Well, look, another Mother’s Day. Didn’t we just have one of those last year? Just kidding. For all of those who are mothers, who were mothers, or who ever had a mother, happy Mother’s Day. This column really isn’t about mothers, though. It’s about motherhood - the institution of large numbers of women being mothers and talking about being mothers, and tweeting about being mothers, and being talked about as mothers…you know, that sort of thing. It’s about the instinctive drive of women to be mothers, and the need for mothers to concentrate on motherhood to the exclusion of all else.
Let me state my position up front. I am against motherhood. I am not against mothers, unless of course it is lousy mothers, scary mothers, abusive mothers, hurtful mothers…but I realize that every one of us has at some point in our life had a mother, and that many of us love our mothers. We love them so much that we all get together once a year to erupt in a giant flood of love for our mothers, buying them cards and flowers, taking them out to dinner, and telling them how much we appreciate them. That’s good, because it will encourage Mother to keep doing all those things we appreciate but don’t mention for the rest of the year.
Motherhood, on the other hand, is a pernicious and devious thing. It is used as a club with which to beat mothers – and all other women – over the head. It is the reason used for paying women less – oh, right, motherhood. It is the reason used for keeping women out of certain jobs – they can be mothers, they may become mothers, or they may, at the very least, bleed every month for the next 30 years. Motherhood is a societal idea that brings up images of June Cleaver, Mama Walton, and Carol Brady. It doesn’t bring up images of strong, powerful lawyers or doctors or scientists…it doesn’t make you think of truck drivers and factory workers and farmers and soldiers. Yet every single one of those fields (and all other fields you can think of) include mothers. Yes, even bank robbery and business (two closely related fields?) contain mothers. This in spite of the fact that most, if not all, of those professions are seen as inimical to motherhood.
Motherhood is the social construct that tells us that all women want to be mothers, that they have only a narrow window of opportunity, and that without that, they will be incomplete, unfulfilled, unsatisfied, and die alone. It tells women that having children and raising children and thinking night and day about your children (and showing picture of your children to strangers on the subway) is the most important role a woman will ever fill. It is the social construct that contends that women in the workplace are less happy than their stay-home mother counterparts.
In reality, do all women want to be mothers? Well, there is nothing at all you can find that all women want to do, I promise you. But yes, studies seem to suggest that most women want to be mothers, and most feel that it is part of their identity to become a mother. In a world filled with the rosy ideas of motherhood that many of us grow up with, being assaulted with continual Cleaver-esque images throughout our own formative years, it is no surprise that even women who have not seen that in their mother or any other women they know would still have that image of motherhood. It is imprinted on women practically from birth. So I give a nod to the studies, and point out that it is difficult, if not impossible, at this point in history to tease out how much of that desire is a genetic part of being a woman, and how much is the cultural goop we find ourselves surrounded with from the moment we breathe our first breath.
Do me a favor, run a little test with me, will you? Think of the word “motherhood”, and pay attention to the images that come to mind. Now, think of another word – “fatherhood” – and contrast the images that are raised with that word. You see, fatherhood is a thing, too – or at least a social construct that builds a world around what fathers are, and posits that many men wish to be fathers (notice the word that is different here? Society recognizes that not all men wish to be fathers, and understands that). Fatherhood allows men to be self-actualized, fulfilled, productive and creative even outside the boundaries of the home and hearth. It recognizes the inherent humanity of a man separate from his role as a father and husband. It also assigns him the fun jobs in raising a child – playing with the child, teaching the child things, taking the child with him when he goes to the store or fishing. It allows him to separate from the child for key portions of his life, and to turn the most odious duties over to someone else – usually the closest person steeped in the institution of motherhood.
Many men raise children on their own either through divorce, desertion, or death. I have never heard anyone tell these men that they should quit their job, stay home with the child, and never ever ever dream of leaving poor innocent Junior with Grandma or Aunt Elizabeth or the day care center. No one ever suggests that a man should leave his work and devote all his time and energy to his child once the screaming miniature person arrives in the world. The institution of fatherhood has its own societal expectations, and those are expectations that allow men a lot more freedom than the expectations of motherhood allow women.
And just in case you want to scream “Maternal Instinct” at me, think again. I have my ear plugs in, and I won’t hear you. Besides, I have known a lot of women, and have rarely, if ever, known one who has any sort of nurturing instinct. It is something that has to be learned, and it seems to me from my admittedly not yet scientific observations that few women ever learn it to anything but an adequate level. Women get by, and manage to do the things that are needed, but to say they have some sort of instinct is to go way beyond the evidence currently at hand. Until we live in a society where women are not drowned from birth in the expectation of being a mother, we will not be able to get any reliable data on that topic, because there will always be a lot of background noise.
So, on May 13, 2018, celebrate your mother. Treat your mother as nicely as you should all year long. Take her out, treat her, spoil her, give her gifts. (Just a note: it is bad form to ask Mother to wash the dishes from whatever special meal you cooked her for Mother’s Day). Just…shut up about motherhood, okay? So I can remove my ear plugs and hear my favorite music? Yeah, that’s what I thought…maybe next time.