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

Is your experiment time travel?

by samyuktha pc.

*

Forty kilometres,

one foot after another, another one of mine,

in front of one foot, then another foot of mine,

it only takes one lakh and twenty thousand,

one foot after another, my foot after another,

walking away from my two-storey-two-TV house,

to the nearest nuclear power plant.

Uranium and Plutonium, however travel faster than me.

 

Three continuous days of rain,

and the one road that envelops my house,

it’s empty plots on either sides,

now are filled with water, knee-deep,

so one foot after another is a bit hard to count,

beautiful crabs and snakes distract me.

Then why would I want the main road,

where the buses speed in plenty?

 

“Leptos Pirosis”, someone warns me,

from inside the tiles of the house,

“Elephantisis”, I thought. “Dengue”, they say.

“SARS was many years ago”, a friend knocks my head,

“TB just might be your fate.”

“No cancer is not out of fashion.”

 

Forty more kilometers to go,

one foot after another, my foot after another,

Six hundred and ninety four kilometers,

one foot after another, my foot after another,

one foot after another, my foot after another…

phew…

one more nuclear power plant!

 

Thyroids and bladders in danger,

invisible half-lives floating around.

My stomach has been crying for days,

“Take me away from all of this,”

it craves.

 

Constitutions and nations too hard

for my four chamber stomach to mulch.

In a week, I’d be sitting

in colorful camps by governments

to scan irises,

deploy vaccines,

run emergency drills,

copy fingerprints,

build barbed wire fences,

maybe even shave our heads.

Biometric bullshit

inside my house, inside my head,

inside inside yours and mine,

inside every tube and cell.

 

Just that this is not new,

reaching this cow a little too late,

when parts of it just fall away,

inside its breath, inside its balance,

inside its sexual common sense,

not able to place any foot after another.

The cow and I stand still.

 

It takes a cold glass of buttermilk,

some prolonged sleep, and no other humans

asking it questions. Then, they, my organs, agree with me.

On this planet, third away from the sun,

maybe no longer the only one with life or diamonds,

(believed to be rare), we shall be our next dinosaurs.

 

Like the rusted seas of years ago,

now the iron we swallow,

Like the ice age remnants,

that NY uses to reach high skies,

Like the million histories, we each,

try to convince each one of us, individually,

each to be convinced, maybe that those

planes can’t crash down on

all of this and more.

No, we will all go.

 

Not together. Just disappear.

You will remember me for a few days.

Remember the post-mortem details,

and the new incinerator that burnt me up,

maybe even a biometric unique i.d.

but how would you know

how my mind decayed…

for everything we release

is invisible now.

*

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Securing Freedom: Liberty, Dissent, Terror, Security

Human beings have been on earth for probably 200,000 years now. Ever since, we started settling together as communities we’ve had a multitude of problems with taking care of our own species. Then, we had the idea of having kings and queens, and then governments. We still do not understand or agree upon providing our species the basic rights and needs. In today’s world, it is crucial for all of us to explore what freedom means to us. We need to understand the complex meanings of democracy, dissidence, terrorism, and ‘foreign policies’. The 2011 Reith Lectures invited Aung San Suu Kyi, the General Secretary of National League for Democracy in Burma and Eliza (Baroness) Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5 (the British internal security service) to explore this through their work and struggles.

English: Aung San Suu Kyi meets with crowd aft...

Aung San Suu Kyi‘s lectures were recorded secretly at her house and smuggled out of Burma to inaugurate the 2011 Reith Lectures series ‘Securing Freedom’. She speaks on the politics of dissent, freedom and un-freedom, violence and non-violence, NLD’s work in Burma, revolution, and many things that influenced her work. She says, “the struggle to survive under oppression and the passion to be the master of one’s own fate and the captain of one’s own soul is common to all races.”

LIBERTY |   28th June 2011 | 45 mins

DISSENT | 5th July 2011 | 45 mins

**

Baroness Manningham-Buller reflects on 9/11, the War on Terror, the role of security and intelligence services, and foreign policy in three lectures that closed the ‘Securing Freedom’ series. She says in one of her lectures, “Look at Northern Ireland, where former terrorists are in government. We should welcome this, not damn it. Look at many of our former colonies, whose first leaders had been imprisoned by us for terrorism. Look at Mandela and the ANC which used terror tactics when it was in exile….. Not all terrorists are evil although their acts are. Nor are they all pathologically violent. A few are but many are not and have their own rationale, not ours, for what they do.”

TERROR | 6th September 2011 | 43 mins

SECURITY | 13th September 2011 | 43 mins

FREEDOM | 20th September 2011 | 43 mins

**

*Who is Reith?

John Reith

Image by mistersnappy via Flickr

On 20th July, 1889, to George and Adah who were already in their forties, their last and youngest son, John Charles Walsham Reith was born. Busy with the churches, his parents had to leave this baby to the nurses to be brought up. Later, he  inadvertently joined a girl’s school where he had to learn sewing and singing. In the autumn of 1896 he moved to the Glasgow Academy, where though his academic reputation was exceptional, he earned the reputation of a bully, being nicknamed as Lord Walsham. When he was fifteen, he was requested to leave the academy for all the fear the 6 feet 6 in. Lord had inflicted in the younger boys. With a suggestion from his brother, who was a vicar, he joined a boarding school 300 miles away, where he was the only Prebysterian and Scot. He attempted to run away on a bicycle, before he decided to settle down and enjoy the school cadet training corps. But when he wanted to go to university, his father had a better idea. He wanted Reith to learn a trade and become an engineer. He apprenticed grueling hours at Hyde Park Locomotive Works and as soon as it ended he left to London, against his father’s advice.

He worked in a variety of firms wanting to quit,  until one day he changed his life by applying for an advertisement in The Morning Post for the position of a general manager for the British Broadcasting Company. The company which was being set up by a consortium of British radio manufacturers to produce programmes that could be heard on their wireless sets, took this amateur a bit of wriggling to get into. He became the company’s first general manager in 1922, and its first director general when it become the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927. He always stood to his ideal that broadcasting was primarily to educate, inform and entertain. He “maintained that broadcasting should be a public service which enriches the intellectual and cultural life” of Britain. In 1948, the BBC inaugurated the Reith Lectures to mark this man’s historic contribution to the field of public service broadcasting. Read more about him here>>

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