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.”
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?
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:
2. Not feeling sacred or grateful or in control
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:
Israeli Photographer Elinor Carucci’s Haunting Series on the Realities of Motherhood (NSFW) (by Elenor Carucci)
3. The natural instinct or not
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:
4. Abortion and Adoption
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:
5. Single motherhood
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:
6. End of the road for a feminist?
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)
7. Judging bad mothers
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:
8. Screw the ‘yummy mummy’ syndrome!
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:
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:
10. Rockstar Countries for Mothers
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:
Now it’s your turn to tell us what to read