Feminists Take Note: Motherhood is Not (always) a Social Construct

Recently a woman in my social media circles posted a book she thought sounded interesting and should probably be read by more women: The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Harmed All Women. I will probably read it. Later. Sometime. In the future.

Seeing it, and the subsequent conversations around it, inspired me though. One of the things I find interesting is that many radical and lesbian feminists like to argue that the condition of, or state of being in motherhood is a socially constructed ‘myth’, something to be avoided by women at all costs as it is one of the most insidious tools of patriarchy meant to keep us subjugated and oppressed by the male overclass. There was a time that I was with them on this.

Before I had a baby, before I discovered the joy of this experience, before I understood what motherhood actually is, I used to go out by myself, have a glass of wine, and just watch people. And sometimes I would write about what I was observing. One of the things that never made any sense to me was motherhood. Every time I saw women with their small children, I was dumbfounded as to why any of them would want to give up their freedom and flexibility for the experience of being stressed out with a bunch of whiny kids who likely take you and everything you do for them for granted. I also did a lot of traveling before I had a baby, and my biggest pet peeve during those years was the crying infant or toddler having a tantrum on the airplane. I used to sit there, seething, looking out the window in disgust and utter confusion, wondering why anyone in their right mind would want to travel anywhere with a small baby and shouldn’t they be home anyway, like what the hell are you traveling with an infant for?? Or a toddler for that matter. Why would anyone ever want to travel with a baby? You can’t do anything… (so I thought). I used to walk down the street smoking my cigarette, glaring at women pushing strollers, not because I hated them but because I really thought they were harming the cause. I also thought wow, I am so glad I am not her lol. Those women – even my own mother’s decision to become a mother – never made any sense to me. None of it. I was disconnected from it in every way imaginable. Almost to the extent of it being a form of internalized misogyny (little did I know, then). If someone would have told me how much I and my perspective would change after having a child, I never would have believed them. I would have thought they were insane or more likely projecting some of their personal bullshit onto me.

So many radical and lesbian feminists are caught up in a similar sort of mindset, thinking motherhood is a patriarchal tool at best, at worst a curse, a socially constructed myth that exists only to dominate us, and – strangely – on the other hand that mothers are somehow more privileged than other women, particularly childless independent women. Both of these lines of thinking are not only way off the mark, they are harmful to women and the feminist movement because they fundamentally misunderstand and devalue the nature of motherhood as a feminist act and its potential raw power in dismantling patriarchy. There are so many mothers who aren’t aware of their own power as mothers because they are still asleep to their own oppression. But if they woke up… the dragon would breathe some fucking fire. I am waiting for that day. I aim to facilitate that day.

Right now though, everyone (the feminist community) is all caught up in the trans identity debate and the overt misogyny of MtTs, the sadly ironic internalised misogyny of FtTs, the harms of certain policies against women when they are adopted and initiated uncritically, the problem of porn as a public health crisis, the subsequent and likely correlated spike in the sex trafficking of women and children, reproductive rights via women’s access to the pill, the wage gap, etc. Radical and lesbian feminists are all over this shit, as they should be – as we ALL should be, as many of us already are. Daily. Deeply. However – what is sorely missing in our movements are initiatives and projects that value the role of mothers by centering their badassness and power in our discussions about literally anything mother related.

But check it out – as much as I love and support them, independent childless feminist women really need to stop speaking for me about this issue. I admire many lesbian and radical independent women who hold these extreme, dare I say fundamentalist at times, views and opinions regarding motherhood, but I admire them for the other things they speak and write on that have nothing whatsoever to do with what it means to be a mother in this world. Like, I am your sister and I stand with you on almost everything else but you really, really, really need to stop talking for me and other women like me out here because there is a very clear disconnect happening that is glaringly evident in the things you say and think about motherhood. For example, one of the problems in a lot of feminist thought at the moment – and I’m not necessarily referencing theory itself, but more heuristic thought and casual conversation – is that the default connection many feminists mistakenly make at the first mention of motherhood is one with heteronormative relationships and women who are assumed to still be partnered with men because they haven’t woken up to their own oppression or aren’t hardcore enough to do separatism or even lesbianism as a political orientation (I realize the nuance in these debates, I’m just using them as examples here). I think the default mentality among many feminists is to think of mothers in this lump-sum way as weaker-than, as trapped, as brainwashed, as controlled, forced and coerced into sex and impregnation, and the subsequent rearing of unwanted unruly children. Surely, there are many women out there in the world who do experience these kind of sad, horrid conditions. And considering everything we know about racial and wealth inequality between men and women all over the world, certainly we understand that some women stay in some heterosexual relationships because they literally have nowhere else to go, and no ‘skills’ to take out into the world that are marketable in the white supremacist patriarchal capitalistic sense. Feminists are correct to think that these mothers – these women, our sisters – need to be woken up. But to think of them as weak is not right. To think of them as women who need to be spoken for because they can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to speak for themselves is not only not right, it’s fucking ridiculous. They maybe haven’t arrived yet, at the table of feminist theory and activism. And just because these women are out there doesn’t mean they represent all of us who have children. And the sisters who are all “Thousands of years of patriarchy… motherhood is the epitome of male dominance over women… blah blah blah” girl, bye. It can be, it has been, and still is in many places for many women, but it’s not always this way.

How is motherhood not a social construct? How could motherhood be a radical feminist act? Let me tell you.

Lesbian mothers. Let’s talk about them. Because they are out here and there are a hell of a lot of them. But working off the logic that motherhood is a myth and social construct, we have to then ask the question: are lesbian mothers weaker women for being mothers? Have lesbian mothers been duped by the same socially constructed ‘myth’ of motherhood like their hetero counterparts, or is something else going on there? Do lesbian mothers without a male partner perpetuate patriarchy and the oppression of women through the act of having and raising children? In the absence of a traditional heteronormative relationship, is motherhood still something to be dissed and thought of as a socially constructed myth and the epitome of men’s domination over women? Am I any less free, any less liberated as a result of my choice to be a mother without a male partner?

Let’s consider this again, when we flip the tables and take for example the financially independent (heterosexual and lesbian) women who choose to have a child without any partner. Let’s talk about them as well, because they’re out here too and in great number. Do financially independent women feel weaker after having a baby and raising it without a male partner? Independent women entering into motherhood and choosing to raise their children alone is a radical feminist act. It is literally a rad feminist action. Why? Because independent (single) mothers are HATED, no matter what financial tier we qualify into. We are penalized and abused and violated for not playing by the rules of society. We are less than a ‘non-traditional’ family unit. We are ostracized, marginalized, shamed, abused, stigmatized, exploited, and ignored. We and our households are the preferred go-tos of abusive men seeking a parasitic relationship where they can be in control, or pedophiles looking for easy victims. And society doesn’t care. In fact, society hates not only us, but our children as well. We are labelled and our children are expected to suffer as they are believed to be predisposed to stress and abuse because we are always assumed to be struggling through poverty and needy and unable to control our sexual desires with men. This assumes that all of us are heterosexual (we’re not). This is also not to say that many of us are not struggling with poverty – we are. The point I am making here is that no one gives a shit about us, particularly policy makers and politicians (I personally find them to be one in the same, but I digress). They don’t give a shit about the nuance, about the fact that the problem of systemic-historical male governance is set up the way it is because it needs us, it feeds off of us  – it requires us to be in a weakened position so that it can continue raping and pillaging our labor and holistic resources. Male governance rests on our backs and on the backs of our children who are so often its victims through male violence, militarisation, and sexual abuse. In truth, the term ‘single mother’ denotes not an independent woman standing alone, and surely not a financially independent one, surely not a woman to be respected in any way, but rather a woman whose dating status is open.

Read that last sentence again.

There is always an underlying sexual connotation, a connotation that we are always on the prowl, thanks to internalized misogyny of basically everyone in society. Do financially independent women without a male partner perpetuate patriarchy and the oppression of women through the act of having and raising children? In the absence of a traditional heteronormative relationship, is motherhood still something to be dissed and thought of as a socially constructed myth and the epitome of men’s domination over women? Am I any less free, any less liberated as a result of my choice to be an independent mother without a male partner? Does the fact the I am still attracted to men knock my feminist credentials back down again, despite the fact that I am not sexually active, nor dating anyone at all, not interested in dating, and would actually just rather be friends with people?

Again, how is motherhood not a social construct? How is motherhood a radical feminist act?

Motherhood is not a social construct because it is very fucking real. Within the framework of patriarchy, mothers everywhere are hated. Feminists who talk about mothers are hated, but women who are mothers are hated even more. Is it any surprise that the top three porn search terms are 1) lesbian; 2) step mom; and 3) MILF? Men love to fuck women they hate. But let’s boil this down even further: men especially hate women who are confident without them. Lesbians don’t need or want men, generally speaking. But what is more is that women who become mothers also become stronger women – becoming a mother enhances womanhood for millions of women. And not in an oppressive patriarchal way, but in an ancient, connected with Gaia and the Universal Truth of the Way sort of way. Men resent women who don’t want or need them. Fact. Even the men who ‘love’ us, tacitly, unconsciously hate us. It’s true. If they didn’t, they’d be fighting for us, for our rights, for our freedom, for our wages, for our respect, they would be not killing and raping us every day all over the world and they would be holding the other men they know to account for perpetuating such bullshit even in the most innocuous of ways. Men hate women. But they hate mothers more. Why? Because we can do the one thing they can’t and will never be able to do. Because we care more than they ever will. Deep down, they know that they are unnecessary and that we do not really need them. The bond we enjoy with our children is deeper than any affection they will ever feel, even that of a father to a child. It’s not the same. It will never be the same. Raising children is very real and it is very hard. Women without children do not understand this, which is why they shouldn’t be speaking for others who do. Women without children are not lesser women – they simply need to start passing the goddamned mic.

Anthropologically speaking, the healthy functioning of a cohesive society (on small and large scales) is the result of women’s work in raising children to be the compassionate adult human beings that they hopefully become. We can raise our children to obey your laws or to resist them. We mothers are the first teachers of the world. It is through us that our children learn whether to be content existing in a slave class or to rise up with knowledge and to question dominant narratives at every turn. It is through our example that our daughters learn to be fierce, learn to take no shit. It is through our teaching, our example and our decisions that our sons see how to treat and think about women. We are the key. But we are oppressed. In fact, in the face of the public health crisis of pornography, we are in the fucking wilderness. We raise our sons with values and morality and strong spirit centers but what are we to do within a patriarchal system that teaches them at ages 10, 11, or 12 that PornHub is normal, and that the female class of human beings is a class to be exploited and oppressed and abused, that we are objects to be fucked, and used, not to be taken seriously, and in the worst cases completely destroyed through psychological manipulation, physical violence, and even death. We go unpaid, we work for free without pension, insurance, praise, or recognition for our effort and skill. We are the most undervalued and oppressed group in society, and men know it.

Feminist analysis needs to revisit motherhood as a radical feminist act that is in truth one of the most powerful tools in the dismantling of patriarchy. Patriarchy has exploited mothering to further its own ends. Just because patriarchy frames motherhood in certain ways and supports it under certain circumstances that fit within that framework doesn’t mean that motherhood is actually that way. There is a different lens through which we can see and understand the act of motherhood and what mothers need to be supported appropriately, and it is one that is not patriarchal, nor oppressive, nor exploitative. That lens is through radical feminism and the understanding that motherhood is part of what differentiates us biologically from males, it is actually something to be celebrated, is ours to own completely, and we should be the ones talking about it and fighting for mothers everywhere. Particularly those who are oppressed because of class and race.

If mothers everywhere quit focussing on MENs’ needs, if mothers everywhere began bonding together and working toward their own interests and the interests of their children completely outside of the realm of partnership with males, we may start to get somewhere. We may start to see change. But as long as we go on in partnerships with men who oppress us even passively, we are upholding the very patriarchal structures we wish to see demolished and disintegrated. We must quit the system. Women who are already doing this – independent women/single mothers without partners – are practicing motherhood as a radical feminist act. Many of them may not realize that that is what they are doing, but once they do, they may take flight and soar into a new dimension of awesome.

Listen, sisters. I am here to ask all you childless women to stop speaking for women who do have children, who practice and enjoy their motherhood as a feminist act. I am proud to stand at your side and fight for the issues that matter to us all, but you need to start passing the mic to mothers when it comes to discussing motherhood and you need to listen to us when we use it because our experience matters. To do otherwise is to silence us and that’s not much different from what men do, now is it?

Nile Pierce

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