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

Sofia Ashraf on The Self

One of the annual stars of Justice Rocks, Sofia Ashraf, tells her brief story of shedding expectations and shackles, and embracing her heart in her brain. Power to her and all of us.

The toughest part about following your heart is the trail of broken ones you leave behind. Standing up to society doesn’t mean picket fences and tear gas. My Tiananmen Square was hearing my grandmother plead, with tears in her eyes, for me to accept Islam again while I refused to give in. My hunger strike was seeing the pride my family had in me slowly drain away. My hemlock was willfully accepting that my mother could never truly accept the person I have become. But I am too brutally honest to lie to myself. I did it for 22 years and I couldn’t do it anymore… …I am not the same girl who left home 4 years ago and yet I am still her. That girl was rebelling against pop culture by wearing her convictions on her sleeve. This girl has a whole new revolution to sustain. That girl couldn’t experiment with her clothes, so she expressed herself through her hair. This girl still loves to take scissors and colours to her hair. I mean, I went bald for heaven’s sake. If haircuts are therapy, that right there is rehab! That girl may not relate to this one nor vice versa. But I think the two can respect each other. They both believed in something.

Read the full story on Homegrown

கற்பெனப்படுவது யாதெனில்

Kannagi and Sex Problems. Photo from Kamini Dandapani’s blogpost The Streetwall Journal

கற்புனா என்ன … இது பால் சார்ந்ததா …. பெண்ணுக்கு மட்டும் விதிக்கப்பட்டதா …. தமிழ் இலக்கிய கற்புக்கரசிகளை நினைத்தால் பாவமாக இருக்கிறது … பொய்யான போற்றுதல் … அம்மா கண்ணகி, சீதா , நளாயினி உங்களுக்கு சிலை வைத்து கடவுளாக போற்றுவதில் ஒரு பொய்யான பாரபச்சமுள்ள அரசியல் இருக்கிறதே அது உங்களுக்கு தெரியுமா … பள்ளிபருவத்தில் உங்களை படித்து கொண்டாடிய நான் இன்று உங்களை வெறுக்கிறேன் … நீங்கள் கற்புதேவதைகளாக தெரியவில்லை அரசியல் கலாச்சார அடிமைகளாகவே தெரிகின்றன … உங்கள் தினிக்கப்பட்டுள்ள அரசியல் யாரால் எழுதப்பட்டவை … உங்கள் கதாபாத்திரங்கள் யாரால் வடிவமைக்கப்பட்டவை … ??? அந்த ஆண் பெரிய புத்திசாலி … அடுத்த பல தலைமுறைக்கு தன் பாரபச்சமுள்ள கற்பெனும் ஆதிகத்தை எல்லா பெண்தெய்வ பாத்திரங்களிலும் போற்றி பொய்யுதுள்ளான் … உங்கள் கதைகளில் தேவர்கள் அசுரர்களைவிட
மோசமான கதாபாத்திரங்களாக உள்ளனர் …

ஒரு எழுத்து யாரையும் மாற்றும் வல்லமை கொண்டது … ஆண்டாண்டு காலமா அடிமைப்படுத்தும் அதிகாரமும் கொண்டது … பெண்ணோ ஆணோ உணர்வுவெணப்படுவது ஒன்றுதான்.. நான் அணியும் ஆடை முதல் என் தலையில்
இருக்கும் முடி கூட நீஙகள் நினைத்தபடிதான் இருக்கவேண்டும் அது தான் ஒழுக்கமுறை என்றால் தனிமனித சுகந்திரம் என்பது யாருக்கு மட்டுமே விதிக்கப்பட்டது … ??? கேள்விகள் 1000 இருக்கு இந்த அத்தனை கேள்விகளுக்கும் விதண்டாவாத பதில்கள் கோடி இருக்கின்றன … எனக்கு பதில் தேவையில்லை …. உங்களை மாற்ற நான் முயலவில்லை …

உண்மைபெயனப்படுவது யாதெனில் ???? Ha ah ha
ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளமுடியாதவை
மறுக்கப்படைபவை
ஆதிக்கம் செலுத்தி பிரித்துப் பார்க்கப்படுபவை ..

Malini Jeevarathnam’s facebook post graciously shared with us. 

Experimenting with Gandhi

the thousand children gandhis

Gandhi is a popular symbol and brand like Rajnikanth. It is quite hard to look at such a brand as a human being who breathes, sweats, defecates, ponders, falls in and out love, explores his own body and so on. We almost want to deny him that. As a public collective we expect each other to limit criticism or investigation, and instead encourage ourselves to build a delusional patriotic awe for a diluted version of Gandhi’s value system and historical doings.

Luckily, some people think it is necessary to talk about him in all ways possible. Whether it is Hitler, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Rajnikanth, Modi or Jayalalitha it is counterproductive and dangerous for our own understanding to flatten such public symbols to just a bunch of iconic events and actions remembered in strange costume parties as above.

In a ‘series of dialogues on belief’ LILA Inter-actions, which is like our local Edge, invited Pritham K Chakravarthy and Amitabh Mitra to experiment with Gandhi – the icon, the man, the philosophy and anything else they pleased to understand. Pritham leaves this man in the books and goes in search of Kasturba, whose role is usually limited to wife or a facet of his story – the woman behind his greatness. How much do we know or remember of Kasturba? Amitabh Mitra, on the other hand, finds himself quite confused about Gandhi’s relevance in contemporary South Africa, especially among the Indians and blacks. His article makes us look at the political necessity for violence and trauma in par with Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence in South Africa and India.

Read this dialogue here and participate in the comments section.

samyuktha pc. 

Ride for Gender Freedom at IIT, Madras

04:45 p.m. Rakesh reached the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. The students gathered at the Taramani gate to begin their ride inside the campus. They plan to break for conversations with staff and students on their way. This morning Pooja, John, and Nihal helped us paint the Ride for Gender Freedom cycle. Thank you so much guys for volunteering so readily and figuring out how to make new colours with me. Here’s a shot of the Gender Bender –

shared by sam pc. 

Ride for Gender Freedom conversations with women in West Tambaram

06:00 p.m. Bharathi Kannan and Rakesh rode to a community meeting place in West Tambaram, where they had an interaction with the women and young girls and boys of the community.

KKNPP Update 2 April: Police picks up fight with Kootapulli villagers; lob teargas, beat up fishermen

2 April, 2013 — between 4-5 p.m: A 200 strong posse of police had been deployed to the Koodankulam township area in anticipation of PMANE’s declared protest at the Township tomorrow. Instead of stationing themselves near the township, the 200-strong police force entered Koottapulli fishing village. This led to an altercation between the villagers and the police, with the former demanding that the police station themselves outside the village, as their presence inside the village vitiates the atmosphere. Instead of leaving the village, an enraged police force lobbed tear gas shells and began a baton-charge. Orders for cane charge and tear gas shells cannot be taken in the absence of senior officials. However, the Superintendent of Police was not anywhere in the vicinity at that time, and arrived much later. Two people were reportedly injured badly in the police attack. The police has currently retreated and left the village premises, even as fishing villages in the region are tense.


As conveyed by Lena Kumar to Nityanand Jayaraman

“to fight for our future without nukes together”: Joint Letter from three Japanese anti-nuclear activists

To our friends who struggle for nuclear free future,

A Historic movement is underway in Tamil Nadu State against Koodankulam nuclear power station. People across the world are moved by the resistance and want to express solidarity. We tried to visit India to show our solidarity on September 25 but were denied access at Chennai airport. After an hour-long interrogation, we had our paper written as “Inadmissible person” ,which denied our entrance to India. It is unforgivable for the government, which invites countless nuclear merchants from Western countries, to deny such small citizens like us. We are writing this letter because we would like you to know what we experienced.

When we got off the plane and approached the immigration counter, one personnel came to us smiling. We asked them where we can get arrival visa. They immediately checked our passport and brought us to the immigration office. There were more than 5 personnels asking questions to us respectively. I was brought to another room and three personnels asked me whether I am a member of No Nukes Asia Forum Japan. I was surprised because they mentioned the concrete name of the organization.

“You signed the international petition on Koodankulam, didn’t you? Your name was on the list. It means you are anti-nuclear” a personnel said. It so happens that all three of us our signatories of the international petition (May 2012). Another one asked me what we would do at Koodankulam. I was surprised again because no one had mentioned about Koodankulam. But the man showed me a printed itinerary of our domestic flight that I have never seen yet.

“We already know that you have booked the domestic flight. So you are going there. Who invited you all? Who is waiting for you at the arrival gate now? Who will pick you up at Tuticorin airport? Tell me their names. Tell me their telephone number. Will you join the agitation? ”  They asked many questions and surprisingly, they knew all our Indian friends’ names. We felt scared. We felt something wrong would happen to you. So we didn’t answer.

We know that many scientists supportive of nuclear power, and some that are paid by the nuclear industry have visited India and spoken on behalf of nuclear power. These were not merely allowed by the Indian Government, but even encouraged. With India’s avowed commitment to democracy, one would imagine that contrary points of view would be encouraged.

Then, they asked me another questions about us, referring to a bunch of papers. “What is Mr. Watarida’s occupation? He is involved in the anti-nuclear movement in Kaminoseki, right?” According to Mr. Watarida, there was a lot of information about our activities in Japan written on those papers. They already researched our activities in detail.

They tried to ask various questions. At first they talked in a friendly manner. They told us that we can enter India if we gave them the information about the movement in Koodankulam. But gradually they got irritated because they wanted to deport us as soon as possible. The Air Asia airplane that brought us to Chennai one hour earlier was about to leave again for Kuala Lumpur. We were at the office more than one hour. Finally, they said ” Answer within 5 minutes, otherwise you will be deported.” We answered a little but it seemed that they didn’t get satisfied with our answer. We were taken to the departure area. Mr. Nakai asked them to allow him to go to washroom, but they refused. Probably they didn’t want us to call some of our Indian friends, or they were waiting us to make domestic phone call. They wanted to know the exact names and telephone number of our friends, so I couldn’t use my cell phone.

At the last gate, Mr. Watarida asked a immigration staff why we got deported. He answered that the Indian government directed us to be sent out and that we would be in jail if we didn’t obey. We were taken to the Air Asia airplane and it took off immediately.

We were given a paper. Mine was written as below;

WHEREAS Mrs. Yoko Unoda national who arrived at Chennai Airport from Kuala Lumpur on 25/9/2012 by flight No. AK1253 has been refused permission to land in India.

You are hereby directed under para 6 of THE FOREIGNERS ORDER 1948 TO REMOVE THE SAID FOREIGNER Mrs. Yoko Unoda out of India by the same flight or the first available flight failing which you shall be liable for action under the said PARA of Foreigners Order, 1948.

We had come to India in peace, to extend our peace and to extend our learnings about the dangers of nuclear power. As Japanese, we should know what the problems are with both the military use and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We are aware that in India, your government has organised international meetings of the nuclear industry, where the people interested in selling nuclear equipment have been invited as state guests to come and flaunt their wares. We have nothing to sell, just our stories about the dangers and pains that nuclear energy will bring you. It is unfortunate that your Government denied us the hospitality that the people of India were extending to us. In a democracy, and particularly with controversial technologies like nuclear energy, it is important that free and fair debate is conducted in a fear-free atmosphere. It is clear that the nuclear establishment in India is not prepared for such a free and fair debate.

In Japan, a report of a high level committee set up by the Parliament after Fukushima found that the disaster was made in Japan and was a result of secrecy, the failure of people to question their Governments and the closeness between the regulators and the nuclear energy operators.

Your Government’s refusal of entry to us merely because we bear an opinion contrary to theirs on the matter of nuclear energy speaks poorly of your Government’s claims to democratic ideals and free speech. We are fearful of the consequences of deploying a hazardous technology like nuclear power in such a secretive and oppressive context.

We could not see people in Koodankulam and those sympathized with them. It is truly regrettable that we could not meet them. However, after being denied entrance, our concern has become more serious and our solidarity has been stronger. Those who push for nuclear energy are closely connected. Globally, there are no boarders when it comes to nuclear devastation. Then let us overcome the difference of nationalities and languages and make thousands of, ten thousands of comrades to fight for our future without nukes together. We hope to see you in India on next opportunity.

Masahiro Watarida(Hiroshima Network against Kaminoseki NPP)

Shinsuke Nakai(Video Journalist)

Yoko Unoda(No Nukes Asia Forum Japan

[forwarded by Nityanand Jayaraman, Chennai Solidarity Group]

Appropriate Technology: E F Schumacher

E F Schumacher’s lecture on Appropriate Technology at the Great Circle Center, University of Illinois, Chicago, 3/19/77. (Peter Gillingham Collection, E. F. Schumacher Library Archives.) From Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems –

E.F. Schumacher was an internationally influential economic thinker, viewing things from a systems perspective. His work in economics led him to develop a collection of connected ideas in energy, work, technology, development, organisation and ownership, education, traditional wisdom and religion. E.F. Schumacher’s work is about a way of living that is as relevant today as it was in 1973 when his seminal book Small is Beautiful was first published.

Part 1: 4 mins 40s

Part 2: 4 mins 42 s

Part 3: 8 mins 32s

Part 4: 6 mins 18s