Motherhood: Pro, Anti & Everything in-between


This third edition by The Feminist Reading List is for pregnant women, expecting fathers, people who don’t want children, people who have children for way too long, and people who just can’t understand why others annoy you to have children. It is also for children whose parents have shouted, “You will understand this when you have one of your own.”


Social duty?
Natural impulse?
Social obligation?
Biological dictate?
Personal choice?

Depending on your current station in life, motherhood could mean any, some or all of the above; or mean nothing at all. Few issues (if one may call motherhood an issue) relating to women inspire greater communal concern and panic as does the idea of pushing out and raising babies. Few issues can also cause as much moral and mental confusion, societal judgement and guilt-tripping among them. Motherhood is, of course, a beautiful experience. There is power in being able to give birth to new life. There is something magical about how the female body can sustain life like it does; how it seems to twist and re-mould to accommodate an ever-growing being within its pit. There are many deeply indescribable things in being able to feed your child’s body and mind; and there is courage in taking up this massive, irreversible responsibility. But understandably, this massive onus of a little being’s holistic development is also a bumpy road, not in the least helped by hardened expectations of how ‘good mothers’ should be. As if all the physical and emotional churning is not enough, there is the unholy specter of male privilege to deal with, wherein the man in the equation can guiltlessly move on, leaving the woman holding the baby alone. Motherhood’s biological and anatomical magic often is on collision course with the practicality of living in an unequal world where a mother’s labour has no value. And therein lies a truckload of problems.


1. Why have children?

High Heels and Training Wheels

Though cultural context is often a major factor here, the answer to why exactly do we procreate has always been rather vague, selfish-sounding, unconvincing to those who think they don’t want children, i.e., to exactly the people who are often accused of being self-centered for not having children! Irony, sigh. The truth that is emerging in countries where women are privileged enough to enjoy a few fundamental human rights, including that of education, is that motherhood is being questioned. Women and men here are pondering over its repercussions, fallout, benefits, history, irritations, joys, stigma, and so much more; which is great. But then there is the rest of the world, where there remain legions of women who get married criminally early, have little to no control over their bodies, are never offered contraception as an option, and have their lives defined and judged by motherhood that they had no say in. There exists in our world right now a basic clash in viewing motherhood as a choice on one hand, and a rigid, socially-demanded obligation on the other. Read:

Five Reasons To Have Children (via The Guardian)
Why Women Aren’t Having Children (via The Atlantic)
What If You Just Don’t Know If You Want Kids (via NY Mag The Cut)

2. Not feeling sacred or grateful or in control

FRL309Grateful Leadership

Imagine this – one night, a woman pees on a pregnancy test stick, discovers she is knocked up, and then retires to bed. The next day, she wakes up with a ladle in one hand, and a diaper in the other. She looks into a mirror and she sees a goddess, halo and all, looking all kinds of divine. Her veins no longer are sewers of junk-food/nicotine/alcohol tarnished blood, but of purified goo that is composed of love and compassion for the upcoming baby. Her smile is made of indelible ink and stardust, it can’t be wiped off! Sounds ridiculous, no? But, heck, this is exactly what we expect of mothers. All the time! If and once knocked up, the mother-to-be must appear to develop a glow so pure that it cuts out all crap about doubts, moods, regrets, and anger. While undoubtedly any woman who wants to view her pregnancy as a parachute-ride across a rainbow is totally allowed to do that, it is deeply unfair to saddle ALL mothers with these expectations. Primarily because the women don’t stop being who they were pre-pregnancy, they just grow, adapt, tweak, re-align. There is a difference. And secondarily, because it ignores every normal biological phenomena related to motherhood, from morning sickness to post-partum depression. Read:

I Wish They’d Stop Calling This Sacred (via Renegade Mothering)
I am silenced by the tyranny of impending motherhood (via The Guardian)
I Was An Unwanted Child (via Experience Project)
Israeli Photographer Elinor Carucci’s Haunting Series 
on the Realities of Motherhood (NSFW) (by Elenor Carucci)

 3. The natural instinct or not

FRL303Buzzfeed

Of the million things that women all over the world are contractually obliged to be guilty about, ignoring the utterly natural instinct to bear a child must surely be the most shock-inducing. The woman who makes the voluntary, informed choice of childlessness must surely be off her rockers! Yet, millions of women of this fertile generation have done just that – refused to kowtow to nebulous ideas of motherly instincts and decided to never interrupt their monthly period routine, however annoying that period maybe. Of course, this mythical ‘natural instinct’ is supposedly felt, nurtured, and fed by many, many women, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It becomes a monumental problem only when, here we go again, ALL women are assumed to be under the spell of this instinct. It accords an untouchable quality to motherhood, making it like a cult whose higher power should not be questioned. Or else, you are a traitor to the cause! Read:

How I Signed Up For Letting My Heart Go Walking Around 
Outside My Body (via Womens Web)
Childless, Naturally (via LiveMint)

4. Abortion and Adoption

FRL301Giphy

Once a child is born, who or what decides its destiny? Where that little person stays, what values get given to it? What visuals get shown to it? Who all get to be called its parents and siblings? How truly free this person gets to be? These loaded questions often collide with each in the vortex that is the issue of adoption. It brings to question the overarching, all-conquering force that the love of a birth mother is supposed to be. It dares to postulate that motherhood has little to do with owning a womb. It empowers girls and women with the choice to live a life they are unwilling to derail because of a rape, a drunken one-night stand, a bad relationship, incest. Standing on this very spectrum, albeit on a more prickly stage, is the question of abortion. Some say it is like playing God. Some view it is an essential choice every woman should be afforded in times when the father can easily walk away from all responsibilities. While many others bring up another critical issue preceding motherhood – being ready for it. Abortion needn’t just end a painful past, it could also prevent a tragic future. Read:

The Moralising Compass (via Fountain Ink) 
I'm a feminist and I'm against abortion (via CNN)
Jemima Kirke Talks About Her Abortion (via NYMag The Cut)
Birthmotherhood (via Scarleteen)
An Adoptive Mom’s Powerful Photo Essay (via rageagainsttheminivan)

5. Single motherhood

FRL3012Bustle

One of blogosphere’s most active corners is the one filled with motherly reflections. Some of the most vociferous voices here belong to single mothers, talking about the sheer loneliness of their choices or fates, how they got there, why they stayed, and how they plan to survive. These are powerful stories, related by truly heroic women whose heroism often goes unacknowledged. Read:

An Interview With a Single Mother: How She Survives 
In The Indian Society (via YouthkiAwaaz)
India’s Single IVF Mums (via Friday Magazine)
Surviving Single Motherhood (via ScaryMommy)

6. End of the road for a feminist?

FRL306Buzzfeed

Feminism and motherhood have historically been an on-again-off-again couple. This relationship has become painfully more complicated as the third wave has rolled in, bringing with it complex questions of choice and gender and sexual agency. The question, “Can a woman manage to remain a feminist after giving birth?” usually gets answered in the most convoluted way possible – with a flurry of more questions! “First of all, do you even understand what feminism is?” “Why did you choose to become a mother anyway?” “Didn’t you know that motherhood is a series of endless compromises?” “You will never be truly free again, you know that right?” And the most awesome of all, “Why are you even asking a question like that?!!” Read:

Feminism and the Mummy Mystique: Why being a mother isn't the 
"full stop" on my life (via New Statesman)
 
I Thought Becoming A Mom Meant Changing Who I Was
 — I Was Wrong (via Bustle)
Death of a Revolutionary (via New Yorker)

7. Judging bad mothers

FRL304Buzzfeed

Ask your mother, and she will give you multiple instances of motherhood often having been a depressingly thankless job. In fact, this prototype of the demanding kid and the capitulating mom is so commonly accepted that any mother rebelling against it instantly gets slapped with the ‘bad mom’ medal. The ‘good mommy’ is the one who picks up dirty underwear off the floor, whips tasty food out of thin air no matter what time of the day, quietly listens to and often takes the blame for your academic misdemeanors, doesn’t mind you running around like a lunatic inside a department store, has endless money for your insatiable need for toys/clothes/video games, couldn’t care less about the dark circles around her eyes…phew! She is not supposed to mind you forgetting her birthday, interrupting her in public, disturbing her while working, or laughing along when your father is making fun of her. Was ‘good’ motherhood always this warped an arrangement? Can’t say. Read:

The rise of the 'bad mom' in the social media age (via Star Tribune)
We are All Bad Mothers Now (via New Yorker)
10 Signs She’ll Be A Bad Mother (via Ask Men)

8. Screw the ‘yummy mummy’ syndrome!

FRL308FamousFix

Ah tabloids, you with your ugly yellow fonts and idiotic headlines, how you capture the guttery recesses of our imagination! You body-shame every female body that has dared to become famous. You spew lies. You never read any biology textbooks, and you still happily perpetuate nonsense about women’s bodies. You truly believe that a mother’s body is like a shapely puppy that goes missing during a 9-month gestation period, and then can be ‘got back’ only when she submits to a grueling regimen of exercise and starvation. You think a MILF (Mother I’d Like to Fuck) is the only type of mother deserving of space on this planet. You call such mothers ‘yummy mummys’, because the only difference between a woman and a cupcake is that one can wear Louboutins. And, of course, you will never stop what you do, no matter what we say. Because what is a modern mother if not a big odd bag of insecurities? Read:

Free us from the curse of the yummy mummy (via The Guardian)
There's No Such Thing As a Post-Baby Body (Bitch Magazine)

9. Possibilities

FRL307summer5610

You know how sometimes the best way of showing that something is possible is by shutting up and just getting it done? Just letting the action speak for itself? That is what some pregnant women like to do. They accept their state of vulnerability, their need to get and provide care, but they vehemently reject the society’s dictate of becoming a pampered, unproductive doll for 9 months. Women when pregnant needn’t lose sight of their careers or passions, and if their bodies are willing, should have equal opportunities of choosing to continue what they were already doing, or indeed to find new things to do. Read:

What Can A Pregnant Photojournalist Cover – Everything! (via NY Times)
 

10. Rockstar Countries for Mothers

FRL305ETOnline

The reality of our world today is that some places are just too good to mothers, while others view them as liabilities. State financial support, good hospitals, helplines, trained medical professionals, insurance – there is so much a government can do to support mothers-to-be. And some governments sure are. Clap clap clap! Read:

Mother’s Day Report From A Mom in Norway (via CS Monitor)
10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Norway (via Cup of Jo)
Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes (via BBC)
Women Can Have It All...In Iceland (via Ozy)

 Now it’s your turn to tell us what to read

The Female Body as a Shameful Thing


Look out for this weekly series every Monday by
The Feminist Reading List on Chai Kadai to explore the shapes and forms of feminism around the globe.
The first list brings you articles, songs, and open letters on how ‘shame’ is (/needn’t be) an ingrained identity of the female form whatever its shape or size or body part.


1. Everybody say, “Vagina”!

Most men and women still tend to get tongue-tied when it comes to uttering the V word in public. This either results in the collective skirting of the vagina and its issues, or in the usage of a rather long and sometimes interesting list of nicknames for this critical female body part. But no linguistic acrobatics can hide the truth here – we continue to be ashamed of the vagina and publicly acknowledging its existence is akin to sacrilege.

The Everyday Feminism site is the blog equivalent of a world-wise, liberal older sister. If you haven’t already seen it, we highly recommend that you read through its excellent, easily digestible thought pieces on modern-day concerns of feminism. Here’s an article on vagina hate: 5 Ways Society Breeds Vagina-Hate (And How to Combat It)

Now that we are on the topic, this is a good time to start discovering the magic of vaginas, and we found an excellent article on a (surprise surprise!) men’s magazine site to help you along: 12 Things Everyone Should Know About Vaginas (from Men’s Journal)

2. Historical Art and the Female Form

Vagina/vulva hate apparently goes back far in time and, unsurprisingly, found expression in art as well. If one decides to think about it, when was the last time you saw a vulva slit/opening in a public painting or sculpture of the female form? Heck, even the Barbies are as smooth as mayonnaise down there. Why is the penis acceptable on public art pieces but not the vulva?

The Fascinating Reason There Are No Female Genitals on Statues (from AlterNet)

Art Recommendation: The Great Wall of Vagina – “Changing female body image through art” (NSFW)

3. Big Boobs, Small Boobs

Ah, boobs! One of the most contentious topics that feminists can’t tire of suffering mental breakdowns over. Boobs (‘breasts’ are for medical articles!) continue to fascinate because they seem to be the literal focal point of the male gaze, and thus become an important feminist issue. Women are shamed for having both boobs that are too big, or too small. But then, no one can really classify what the perfect bust size is! So it continues – shaming women for possessing big boobs and daring to show any cleavage, or shaming them for being ‘flat-chested’ and thus ill-equipped to be used as satisfactory sex objects.

Open Letter: Big Bust Shame (from afterthree.net)

An alternate view presented here is this – why are breasts considered weapons of feminine shame in the first place? (from The Atlantic)

For some research help on the topic: Oppressive Beliefs And Breast Size Preference (from Feminist Philosophers)

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4. Crotch Sweat

As girls and women, we desperately wish to inhabit a world where people have come to terms with the fact that we bleed almost every month, pee and poo every day, and yes, sweat even around the privates when we exert our bodies. Till that day dawns, prepare to be bombarded with body-shaming ads selling panty-liners and sweatpants that hide the shameful pit stains that seem to inexplicably develop down there after you, gasp, work out at the gym. Not to mention all the male attention you risk missing out on because you dare to be sloppy and sweaty like a normal human being!

Unless, you are lucky enough to come across a man like this one: This Dude’s Response To Female Crotch Sweat Shame Is Perfect (from Bust.com)

5. Hide Your Sanitary Pads

Have you ever found it funny that most chemist stores in India display a phalanx of sanitary pad ads on their main showcase or doors but the moment you purchase a packet, it is promptly wrapped in a black little plastic cover before being handed to you? The idea of menstruation or the period is just about OK only till is presented in isolation. The moment it draws attention to the female anatomy, or what actually the period entails, it becomes a taboo topic. Generations of daughters have been raised to be ashamed of this absolutely natural physical transition and thus afraid of being seen with pads in public, or god forbid, with a maroon stain on their skirts.

The wonderful Menstrupedia movement is working to change this attitude – Ladies Keeping Periods A Secret From Men Is Unnecessary

And, here is what happens when you dare show on a social media site the consequence of the bleeding: Rupi Kaur Instagram Photo (The Huffington Post)

6. A Mother’s Body Can’t Possibly Be Sexy

Everything leading up to a baby’s birth is magical, only as long as you don’t mention the throwing-up, the weight gain, the tiredness, the water breaking, the vaginal dilation, the blood and the placenta, and all that! The problem with sanitising and soft-focusing motherhood for public consumption is that it breeds unrealistic expectations of mothers, most vicious of which is her prerogative to get back in shape pronto after delivery. The vapid celebrity culture doesn’t help the cause either, unless when some bold famous mothers come forth and flip their middle fingers at the fat-shamers. Find out how 13 celebrity moms stood up to “fat shaming”

7. Would you like to be a pearl or a lollipop?

It would be difficult to find a girl or a young woman who hasn’t ever been told to cover up or dress appropriately because her female form has the potential to attract (male) predators. It comes as benevolent advice, but hides this message – your form is vulnerable and ‘honourable’, and men are rapacious animals, so keep yourself sheathed at all times. Some communities tend to promote graphics that ideally should offend both women and men to drive home this point.

Women are neither pearls nor lollipops (TRIGGER WARNING FOR VIOLENT ASSAULT)

Ad for Hijabs! From Spirit 21 that reposted The National Article

Concerts, Dance, Movement, Theatre, Walks Scroll

Do send us a Facebook invite/link if you would like to put up your event on such a scroll next week. Currently it covers events happening in Chennai. We are open to know what happens in the rest of the world.

ashwini bhat

A brilliant crazy woodfire ceramic artist from Pondicherry. Ashwini Bhat writes in her website:

I gather shapes from the world around me, from my travels, and journeys through books. I also look inside me for forms that arise from my experience as a dancer, seeking to rephrase that understanding of the body through a new medium of expression, the body of the clay I work with.

Take a look at some of our favourite work:

figure studies

photography

Bill Durgin is an artist, we’ve been waiting to introduce to you. Especially, his work – figure studies. From the artist’s statement:

My photographs reflect a fascination with the body as form. The complex figurations, undulating arrangements of flesh, as the body seems to collapse onto it self, image an almost abstracted figure lacking appendages and hair. The physical structure becomes not just a shell, but a moving sculpture of skin, muscle, fat, and bone.

The gesture within each photograph is created through exploring my own physical limitations and collaborative improvisation with dancers and performers. Often I will come up with a pose and demonstrate it and then ask the model to repeat or respond to it. Each pose transmogrifies the figure towards abstraction; exaggerating or diminishing the skeletal structure until it approaches an amorphic form. I want the bodies to be recognized as bodies, but also to be detached from common perceptions of the figure. Bound within each singular view, the uncanny figures convey the body as both abject and marvelous.

capability vs. technology

Today, it is probably assumed that the ipad and its similar brothers are the optimum in interactive technology. Maybe, the Siri app (refined) could be the optimum. A technology that talks back to you. Humors you, once in a while.

But, A Brief Rant on The Future of Interactive Design, was a pleasant read, which with just words and few photos makes you feel and use more of your body, than an ipad could dream of right now. A critique of today’s touch and slide technology, and a probably a call to think differently, this rant actually says something very important:

Any dancer or doctor knows fully well what an incredibly expressive device your body is. 300 joints! 600 muscles! Hundreds of degrees of freedom! …With an entire body at your command, do you seriously think the Future Of Interaction should be a single finger?