Motherhood & Madness

Conversation 1

A: “Do you want children?”
B: “No, not really.”
A: “Ah well. I guess it’s not for everyone.”

Conversation 2:

A: “When you have your own…”
B: “…Actually, I’m not having children.”
A: “You don’t want any? I don’t know…You’ll change your mind one day.”

The difference between these conversations?
Conversation 1 is a typical conversation between a man and anyone. Conversation 2 is the usual correspondence between anyone and a female. Both conversations myself and my fiancé have encountered countless times since we got engaged. Why is it when a bloke is asked about children it’s posed as a perfectly rational response that he may not want any; and yet when a woman is having the same conversation she is inadvertently told she will change her mind?

Why is it when women are asked, and offer their honest response, they are regarded as immature in their thinking and told they will change their mind? I suppose it’s inevitable though, isn’t it, considering we have ovaries and womb which obviously control our desires and feelings…

Bitch, please. I was actually told by someone quite recently that I would definitely change my mind owing to the tick-tock of my ‘biological clock.’ (I am actually sighing deeply and shaking my head whilst I type the absurdity of that statement.)

I don’t take this personally. In fact, I am intrigued as to why this is the case for so many countless women who have decided that child rearing is not for them and would prefer to have other endeavours in life other than motherhood.

I once read an article about a 29 year old woman who was adamant she did not want children; she would seek partners of similar values, purposefully avoiding the potential wannabe Dad’s of society, in order to avoid being pressured to go down a life path she did not want to walk. As such, she went to her doctors on numerous occasions to ask for tubal ligation (the fallopian tubes are cut or sealed to prevent pregnancy.) The doctors refused time and time again. Why? Because she would change her mind. In the Western world, women have access to things that our great female ancestors fought for. In 2016 we have education, birth control, and legal abortion. Surely this idea of inevitable motherhood is a little…out of date?

I’m of the opinion that this attitude is a deeply embedded ideology that is taking an awful long time to shift. As far back as the nineteenth century, once the industrial revolution had successfully severed the domestic and working spheres, women were regarded as the moral guardians of the home. This is practically engrained in societal thinking through our attitudes and actions. Women are child-rearers, men are breadwinners. There have been some shifts in this way of thinking but, overall, I remain unsatisfied.

I know what you’re thinking – banging on with a man-hating feminist agenda. Well, you’re (half) wrong. I believe in equality of the sexes and, quite frankly, my dissatisfaction  speaks for itself; Statutory Paternity leave is either one or two weeks consecutive leave which cannot begin before the child is born. On the other hand, statutory Maternity leave is fifty two weeks. This is optional; two weeks can be taken as a minimum or, in factory work, 4 weeks are granted as a minimum. Women are also entitled to 11 weeks off prior to her due date. [1]

Altogether now…what the fuck?

Well, there we have it. Women are the child-rearers as well as the child-bearers. We’re just a one-man fucking band aren’t we? Thus, I can only hazard a guess that our refusal to have children more or less produces a discomfort in people in that we are refusing our role as a woman. We’re essentially throwing our middle fingers up at our basic societal duty as females and, heaven forbid, making our own choices.

But still this does not answer the why in “Why the fuck does this keep happening?”

This pervading ideology – that women do not know their own minds well enough to determine their futures, that they cannot trust themselves to be certain because of their biological clock, that their wombs will inevitably determine their fate and not their minds – has historical roots…

You’ve heard of the word ‘hysteria‘ right? Not just a banging song by Teignmouth’s finest boys, Muse, but the psychological disorder itself. Hysteria means ’emotional excess that is uncontrollable.’ The word itself has Greek origins where it can be translated to ‘uterus’…

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, hysteria was very much a woman’s problem back back back in the day caused by nothing else than her womb. It was actually christened ‘wandering womb’; Greek physicians became obsessed with it as the main mental and physical difference between a man and a woman. This was much more than your usual ‘ability to multi-task’ bullshit; Aretaeus of Cappadocia considered the womb to be ‘an animal within an animal.’ Furthermore, Aristotle stated that a woman was a ‘deformed male.’ [2]
Cheeky bastards.
(Yup. Just called Aristotle a bastard. And what?)

“Aristotle’s characterization of woman as a ‘deformed male’ and ‘a mutilated male’ is well known, as is its persistence in Western culture. However, Aristotle’s biology may be seen as only one manifestation of the classical Greek belief that women are both fundamentally different from, and inferior to, men.” (King, 1993: 17)

Wandering Womb was the belief that the womb would literally move around the body, causing other ailments, due to dryness. What was the solution? Other than scents to be placed within the cervix, “for the writers of Hippocratic texts […] intercourse and pregnancy rightly belong to the domain of pharmacopoeia…all disorders of women may be cured by intercourse and/or childbirth, to which marriage and pregnancy are the necessary precusors.” (King, 1993: 24)

It’s hardly surprising that the dominant means of being female in society are The Virgin or The Whore. The Whore – a woman who is sexually active – is frowned upon and distrusted. Perhaps this fear stems from the fact that sexual intercourse was a solution to a female psychiatric disorder. For example, the trial of Amanda Knox was a media frenzy once her sexual history became public knowledge. Nicknamed ‘Foxy Knoxy’ and painted as a sexual addict, it was obvious that a woman with such a ‘loose’ sexual preference would have the ability to murder, surely? [3]

Are we uncontrollable unless tamed? This notion is even Biblical; Paul of Tarsus, the alleged predominant author of the New Testament texts, was born of a devout Jewish family. Tarsus, heavily influenced by Greek langugage and culture, allowed Paul to be exposed and educated in classical Literature, philosophy, and ethics. He drew upon stoic philosophy in his letters to help Gentiles understand the concept of Jesus and God. Stoicism itself was founded in the Greek capital of Athens and you can hear the Hippocratic sentiments echoed in 1 Timothy 2: 15 – “But women will be saved through childbearing – assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.” Thus, the very salvation of a female would be as a result of reproduction – it is a moral obligation.On the other hand, “[t]he childless woman, due to lack of spaces in her body in which moisture can be stored, above all if she abstains from the ‘moistening’ activity of sexual intercourse […] the abdomen legs, and feet will swell: Death is imminent.” (king, 1993: 18)

You may be thinking I’m pulling together loose strands but I am of the opinion that this is relevant. Even though we have moved on from shoving herbs and spices up our vaginas (I hope) and Freud settled the dilemna by stating that psychological disorders are of the brain and not the womb, there are still pervading notions of the aforementioned in our society.

Moreover, the concept of of motherhood remains problematic. I would hazard a guess and state that it is not the actual child that women refuse (although some are entitled to dislike children altogether) but the acceptance of motherhood as a social role. In the past women were “to be a good wife, a good mother, and an efficient home-maker […] women’s expected role in society was to strive after perfection in all three roles.” (Wolf, 1990: 63) Nowadays, women work – but that 37 hour week is also on top of those social roles. Being a mother means being a chef, counsellor, nurse, live-in nanny, driver, house cleaner, tutor…etc…and a recent article determined that a mother should be earning £159,137 annually for these roles. [4]

The true cost?
Free.

“[I]n child-rearing, nurturing and housekeeping – their actions are not seen as defined and delineated because they are described as natural and inevitable. If it is natural you must do it. If it is natural it does not count.” (Orbach, 1978: 71 – 72)

(The irony is that “while considered the essential figure in the infant’s daily life, the mother is not considered expert on child rearing” (Orbach, 1978: 73) and will often have her opinions undermined by those who are ‘experts’)

Nowadays, women are expected to become mothers and, whilst the domestic abode is slowly becoming not just the women’s role (emphasis on slowly), there is always another ideology to replace it and keep women confined. “Of the women’s culture of the 1950s, [Betty] Friedan lamented that ‘there is no other way for a woman to be a heroine’ than to ‘keep on having babies’; today, a heroine must ‘keep on being beautiful'” (Wolf, 1990: 66)…but when she does have kids, she must be a MILF.

…I feel like I’ve wandered off topic a bit but I hope I’ve managed to answer the why of our previous question. So please forgive us for our choice (please don’t. There’s no need.) if it makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s sad that so many women should have to continually justify our choices. It’s our right to exist in the world as we see fit and that compliments our happiness, our uniqueness, and our lives. If you think that this is selfish, then you probably have proved a point…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be looking at Kittens on Gumtree and deciding what one to adopt when I decide to, um, ‘settle down.’

 

{NB: I am by no means insulting mothers…or those who have chosen to become mothers. I know many women who are mothers and they are all wonderful at being mothers and, generally, being themselves. You’re doing a bloody brilliant job at raising another human being and you deserve to be proud of yourself. So if you’re wondering whether to treat yourself to That Thing, I suggest ‘hell yes’ you should. Just do it.}

 

1 Maternity Pay and Leave and Paternity Pay and Leave. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/paternity-pay-leave/overview and https://www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave/overview [Accessed 12 November 2016]

2 Simon, M. (2014) ‘Fantastically Wrong: The Theory of Wandering Wombs that Drove Women to Madness.’ Available at: https://www.wired.com/2014/05/fantastically-wrong-wandering-womb/  [Accessed 12 November 2016]

3 Amanda Fox Documentary [Accessed 10 November 2016]

4 Goldhill, O. (2014) ‘How Much is a Housewife Worth?’ Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/11164040/How-much-is-a-housewife-worth.html

King, H. (1993) “Once Upon a Text: Hysteria from Hippocrates” in Gilman, King, Porter, Rousseau, and Showalter (1993) Hysteria Beyond Freud, Oxford: University of California Press.

Orbach, S. (1978) Fat is a Feminist Issue, Great Britain: Paddington Press Ltd.

Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth, London: Vintage Books

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