Jessica Valenti, of the Nation, recently wrote a great piece entitled “I’m not a Mom First” in which she intelligently discussed the gender politics implicit in the current trend for re-mythologizing motherhood as the ultimate expression of femaleness.
Today being the UN Day of the Girl, (though many people won’t know as Google didn’t think nearly as important to mention as the birthday of some Japanese animator to take just one example from the random trivialities they choose to celebrate) and there having been several stories in the press lately from the Jimmy Savile and institutionally corrupt BBC culture to the plight of child brides and child mothers, I thought I’d re-post my comment to Valenti’s article here.
If you want to read the Valenti column and mostly disappointing comments first, here is the link:
I think this is a great article and I totally disagree with people like Penny White, below, who think that “individualism sucks”. I am member of one of the most overlooked and ignored of ALL groups of women, regardless of racial or socio-economic identity, we are even villainized as some kind of unnatural traitors against our sex: that is: women who do not now and will not ever have children! Uppity bitches, the lot of us! I have lost count of how many times total strangers have found it appropriate to ask me within the first 2 or 3 exchanges of chit-chat whether or not I have children. This is even before they ask me that other boring stand-by: what do I “do” (?!) and I am guessing this is because I am clearly old enough to have had kids already and getting too old to be thinking of doing so if not. I find it incredibly sad, not to mention irritating, that indeed women still are looked at in terms of their relations to others, rather than in terms of their own INDIVIDUAL identity and goals and achievments and that little “grandmothers, sisters, wives” speech quote above was nauseatingly familiar to me*. (* see Valenti article)
Women with children ARE expected to be “moms first” and lots of women who’ve succeeded in other walks of life, from movie stars to CEOs, are only too happy to push this saccharin p.o.v. in interviews, further perpetuating the idea that woman is not really woman after all, unless she breeds. Men’s role of fatherhood is still accepted as a far lesser one and one that need never interfere with his career goals: whether they be in the military or as a portrait painter, rare is the man who has been prevented from doing what he wants simply because one of his sperm happens to have taken hold somewhere. Widowed men are practically the only ones who end up raising kids alone. (Until they re-marry another child-carer that is!) Absentee fathers are routinely reunited with their curious adult offspring who go on to have rich relationships with them. Whereas women who walk away from motherhood, oops, only after having given birth are still villified. How dare they not just stick it out! Brigitte Bardot went from being a woman created by God, to something suspiciously less than human when she left the kid behind with her ex-husband. Even Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the irreproachable Nobel-prize-winning heroine of Burma, has been much discussed for daring to put an entire country’s destiny ahead of her “duty” to put children and family first.
Does this ever get said of male heros? Not much.
I intend to take full advantage of the fact that for the first time in human history, we are at a point where not only do we NOT need to increase the population, but women are finally being freed of the expectation that their life ought to be a quest for a partner with whom to bring forth the next generation! Well kind of. At least here in the West.
But as shocking statistics of child marriage and child pregnancy worldwide continue to demonstrate, the female IS still viewed on a global scale as nothing more than as a biological receptacle. When we women in the West do not uphold the right for females to forego the experience of motherhood and instead to pursue to the fullest their talents and abilities, when we win Oscars, head corporations, go into space or otherwise achieve on an equal footing with men, only to then get out there and say “oh but none of it matters compared to giving birth to little baby here” we are doing a dis-service to all those girls and women around the world who are being told that every day of their lives and being denied opportunities because that belief is entrenched in their institutions of power and religious authority.
How far away that day (when women aren’t measured by their relationship to others) seems, when even I, an independent, self-employed Western female, am constantly expected to justify why I never got married? Why I never had children? As if I really had to have agonized over this decision and must have some really serious, possibly tragic reason. I am always tempted to lapse into a character from a Victorian novel and reply, “Alas, for I am barren!” It would at least shut them up. The truth is, I always knew I wouldn’t have kids.
My life has been about my own personal self-development and my work as a creative and a thinker. I believe that artists especially, have to put their art first. Male artists can be serial impregnators like Lucien Freud, and not “fathers” at all, yet still just get on with their art careers.
How many successful female artists do you, Penny White think have 13 (or possibly 16) children? I’m tired of hearing from privileged Western women about how having children makes people “less selfish” (narcissistic actors love to say this in interviews, post-baby production) whereas I find people with children to be amongst some of the most selfish I’ve ever encountered.
Certainly gigantic welfare families like we have here in Britatin are not known for displaying their qualities of contribution to society.
I am dedicating my life to making the world a better place, through my political activism, my music, my writing, my travels and my friendships. Every jerk that ever lived was somebody’s baby once, so I hope everyone who insists that motherhood is the true measure of the woman keeps that in mind.
Clearly some of those women would’ve made the world a better place by not reproducing!