I have been thinking about motherhood. Shocker, right? Particularly about feminism and motherhood. About the expectations I had while growing up and after getting married, and about the reality of my life after giving birth to my first child. Are feminism and motherhood antagonistic? Who actually reconciles the two? The all-mighty mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies for years and then maybe even homeschool them and feed them only homemade foods that require sometimes unbelievable amounts of time spent planning and working in the kitchen? Or the mothers who choose to offer formula early and let themselves work for a career outside the home while their children are cared for by professional caregivers and teachers? Which way is without guilt or suffering? Which is without heartbreak at some point in time?
I find myself treading the middle line, where I am at home with my children but I do try to push a sort of career ahead from here, and where I choose to breastfeed for at least the first year of my children’s lives. I do feel guilty of course, wishing that I had chosen my path with a lot more conviction than I actually have.
I loved this article, The Case Against Breast-Feeding, by Hanna Rosen, in the Atlantic very much. And naturally I felt very guilty about it. Because more often than not you will find me in the camp of the “natural mamas” who cook organic foods from scratch and seldom buy plastic toys for their children’s pared down toy boxes. But this side of me struggles with the other side that wants fulfillment outside of the home, that wants to use her degree instead of letting it rot, that wants to achieve something more than just family. I do not feel that my children offer me all the intellectual stimulation or represent the whole purpose of my life. That would be a burden on them, I believe, and a tragedy for me.
Breastfeeding does not allow me any freedoms right now. And I am trying to be OK with that, because it’s only for a year. I wouldn’t do it for longer, though. I do feel conflicted about that. I know other mothers are happy to do it for several more years, and they would probably call me selfish, but after nine months and a year, I want my body back, as scarred, deformed and hormonally messed up as it is at that point. I just want to feel like myself again.
I know some women do not feel any identity crisis when they become mothers but I have, and reconciling all my roles means allowing time and energy to do things that are only for myself. That might take away from my time with my children. It might be selfish. It might just be one of those instances when selfishness is acceptable. Because I don’t want to be a victim. And I won’t allow myself any martyrdom. I hope my children won’t hate me too much, and they will see my point of view when they become parents themselves, when I hope they’ll feel empowered to choose the type of parenting that suits them best and not allow themselves to be crushed by someone else’s expectations.
Let’s wait and see how all this blows up in my face pretty soon. Because that’s how this ingrate parenting job always works, right?
I am working on the print edition of Spell of Blindness and hoping to make that available really soon (as soon as I am pleased with the formatting which, let me tell you, takes a lot of work).
I have also created a nice and long reading list for this year, inspired by my friend CJ of Imperfect Happiness. She is challenging herself to go through a long and comprehensive list of classics. I am not as brave as to embark on such a huge challenge, but I realized that I am attracted to the idea of creating a good list of books that can guide my readings throughout the year. My list includes feminist fiction and non-fiction, and several biographies of inspiring women.
I have started reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which is an essential and fascinating feminist work. Of course, it was written a few years ago, but it revived my worries about this direction of feminism that has motherhood as an antagonist, where the two can hardly be reconciled. Simone de Beauvoir never had children. I have discussed earlier on this blog my observation that many notable women either never had children or neglected the ones they had, and my worry that it was this personal choice that made it possible for them to create their work and become recognized as prominent thinkers and artists.
Personally, I do not believe in adopting a position that represents in any way a fight against nature. I think such a fight is futile, and doesn’t serve any cause or any individual. Sure, having children is a personal choice, but in a discussion of feminism, personal choices are of no consideration. I am sure that throughout my readings this year I will find the feminists that embrace their nature as women who are biologically determined to procreate for the perpetuation of the species. Having children, just like not having them, is similarly a personal choice, but when discussing the species, it appears that this needs to be a majority choice, otherwise, you know, we’ll be extinct soon, which is not a desirable effect, I think we all must agree.
So what I will be looking for in my readings will be the answer to questions like how can a woman be a mother, value motherhood as a part of her identity, and at the same time not deny herself the other opportunities of achievement that the public (work) world offers? How can a woman find accomplishment in both spheres, if so inclined, without making terrible compromises? We seem to struggle with reaching a balance, even today, with all the childcare opportunities and support from the government (in many countries) that mothers have. Is there an immutable conflict, or is there a way to make the private and public spaces easy to juggle by most women who so desire? Is it here where modern parenting (where the mother and the father share the work in the home equally) comes into play to change the old paradigm? Of course, we need to extend the discussion from there to the need of having work in the home and raising children (often women’s work) be valued as just as important in the family partnership as making money outside of the home. But that is yet another difficult discussion.
This article published on the website of the National Book Critics Circle is so disturbing that I have a hard time rereading it even if it was just to order my thoughts for a rebuttal. It makes me very upset and while strong feelings are a good base for fiction, they are not a good starting point for a reasonable, civil discussion. But I am a woman and I am going to own my strong emotions. I am going to accept them and use them in my favor (hopefully). For too long women have been dismissed as hormonal and unbalanced.
I am tired of seeing all the spheres of women’s interests being ridiculed, disparaged and considered unworthy. I am tired of having to defend crying, pink and other “girlie” accoutrements in front of my daughter who has started rejecting them in an effort to fit in the judgmental kindergarten social space.
So according to the author of this article, women writers should behave more like men if they want to be taken seriously: they should not do girlie chat on stage in front of an audience, speaking about going shopping, doing yoga and having lunch, like Elizabeth Gilbert and Ann Patchett did recently in Portland. They should not write about the mundane, the domestic, although it is a big part of their life, because such topics will always fail to produce the kind of literature that is appreciated and valuable. And they should not, by any means, sit comfortably with their legs tucked up on cushioned chairs. Horror of horrors! Can you imagine? Chatting “like girls at a slumber party?” (I can feel my blood boiling just by writing this quote.)
I personally would have loved to be in the audience and see these two women act like women, be natural and offer me a slice of understanding of what they really are about as people. I would think it shallow and close-minded to considered them less competent and worse writers because they put their feet up and created a more casual atmosphere in that lecture hall. Since when have we stopped allowing even the creative people to manifest their creativity?
I am suspecting a generational issue here, although I do not know who the “admin” of this blog is. The comments on the blog are also closed. What’s wrong with girls and their slumber parties, pray tell? Why is that so bad, while the image of grown up men playing like boys is so endearing, heart-warming and thoroughly acceptable?
The thing that bothers me the most, however, is the idea that a book written around topics that are, for whatever reasons, closer to a woman’s heart are deemed of less importance than topics that are more “manly,” like war, let’s say. We are returning here to that spiny problem of the domestic life and work being seen as less valuable than work outside of the home. It is a prejudiced attitude that doesn’t take into consideration the huge impact on humanity that the domestic work and home life have. Nurturing children and families has been a woman’s problem for … ever. I am not going to comment on why. But this work of women has been keeping our children and families feeling whole, happy, safe and sane. Why is working outside of the home and bringing in money more valuable than that? Why are the problems of the world bigger and more important than the microcosm of the home and family, when all the world’s bigger problems stem from here? Why do we, women, always try to change ourselves to fit some external, male-generated value system instead of realizing that maybe we are not that flawed and maybe we can change a tiny bit of that system so that it incorporates our point of view too? There is nothing inherently wrong with us, is there? Our perspective is just as valid and valuable as any other.
I believe women writers need to write about whatever makes their lives full, be it yoga, politics, healthy diets, fashion, economics or war. I don’t think we need to feel embarrassed of denigrating labels anymore and just do what’s right for us. That is how value is created. Change will happen and real value will become visible. Someday. Right now, let’s just start by folding our legs in armchairs and telling ourselves that we are not broken and what matters to us is important and serious, and it simply matters.
The book, originally published in 1990, is written around the case studies of four women managers from different types of organizations, like the Girl Scouts of America, a broadcasting company, a contractor business and Ford. The author follows these women throughout a typical work day and notes down their methods. Some of them give a very headstrong and direct vibe, some are more subtle and creative approach. The analysis and discussion around the observations gathered by the author is facilitated by the comparison with a similar study of the workday of men managers done in 1968 by Henry Mintzberg, which became the basis for the book “The Nature of Managerial Work” in 1973.
Two things have remained with me after reading this book. One is that women in power tend to see themselves in the center of a net, while men managers place themselves at the top of a hierarchy. I think this is a very interesting distinction, isn’t it? Women have a more integrative view of the world, where we are all interconnected and interdependent, while men need a more structured world, classified, prioritized, one way. I am sure there will be many perspectives in between and this involves a lot of generalization which is not fair to everyone.
Anyway, the other particularity of women’s way of managing a company and their work that fascinated me was that all the women schedule frequent breaks in their work day, while men just go on and on with their long workdays. The way the author justifies this difference is that historically women’s work has been one that never ends. Nowadays is the office/home/children trilogy that never lets you catch rest, earlier was the agrarian type of work as opposed to the hunter men, who could clearly see the end of their efforts, when the game was loaded and carried back home.
Another intriguing difference observed by the author is is that the women managers considered important to disseminate and share the information, for the good workings of the company, while men managers tended to gather as much information as they could in their no-break workdays but would have a difficult time sharing that. Men managers also tended to identify with their work completely. Because of the overwhelming nature of their work and the fact that they all tended to sacrifice family time to and personal interactions to strictly work-related activities, men could not separate from their job, while the women, being mothers, could not afford but to see themselves (and their employees) as complex individuals and would allow time for personal matters during their encounters and workdays.
This was a fascinating read. I’ll probably mention it in conversations for a long time — it’s that kind of book.
I consider myself a feminist, maybe because I come from a culture where feminism does not have as many terrible connotations as in the U.S. Some negative aspects of it are represented in Romania, too, and I guess throughout the world, and it makes me wonder why, but I do not want to succumb to the conspiracy theory of Naomi Wolf. Because I find that is the weakest and most debatable part of this book: all the negative actions and effects of the beauty myth are decoded as a devilish master plan to keep women out of politics, to make them weak and submissive and prevent them from ever attaining any sort of real power. Of course, this is her interpretation of the facts, and the facts are what matter, and they are very powerful in themselves. Many are not new (the women’s magazines fabrications and how they are more or less controlled by advertisers and by their need to make women feel bad about themselves so that buying products can save them, gift them happiness) but many are shocking (how studies show that for women a certain amount of weight is not such a big factor in decreasing health, but on the contrary, it is important for their health and may prolong their lives–how come we never hear about that? Apparently, the National Institutes of Health studies that linked obesity to heart disease were based on male subjects, and when women were finally included in the research, the results showed very little correlation in their case.) Even very simple ideas, like the fact that cellulite is just how a woman’s flesh tends to look like and is just natural, not the mark of ugliness, seem so outrageous for our indoctrinated minds.
I do emerge, after reading this book, with a more liberated sense of self, more entitled to be who I am and how I want to be, regardless of what society expects of me. I am nowhere completely free of my years of conditioning to be an “acceptable” woman of our world, but I did come a few steps closer, and that is invaluable. I think it is a book of great value that does help you pull down a few layers of the veils that obstruct the truth of a woman’s condition and conditioning in our society today. I will put this one of the pile of books that I save for my daughter, when she’s the right age.