Motherhood vs. Feminism (Round 326?)

Image via The New York Times

Why? Why does the media continue to pit these two things up as if they are on complete opposite sides of the spectrum? Oh, right. There’s a new book on the shelves that’s causing quite the ruckus. (Could you describe the ruckus, sir? …sorry for the sidetracking, but really, I’m so over these faux, contrived, mommy-war arguments).

Not only do “debates” like these invalidate well, me, but they also invalidate all the other women out there who also feel that they can be mothers and feminists, and… heaven forbid, feminist mothers.

It seems that instead of fostering important and relevant discussions of motherhood that focus on things like policy, the majority of news outlets use this sort of thing to drive page views and earn higher ratings.

And frankly? That’s bullshit.

Mothers have enough to deal with between mommy guilt, peer judgment, work/life balance, etc… that they don’t need the media heaping on a few extra layers of more of the same. We don’t need more buzz words and sound bytes. That’s not what motherhood, or parenting, is. At all.

This week the New York Times posted a Motherhood vs. Feminism debate. Only, it really wasn’t. There was no real debate, no discussion at all. They shared a handful of essays with varying viewpoints along a spectrum that somehow pitted motherhood on one side and feminism on the other… as if the two must be mutually exclusive. And it should be noted that the Times chose one form of mothering – Attachment Parenting – to stand in for “Motherhood” – so the debate was really Attachment Parenting vs. Feminism, which as we know, is a debate that’s made it’s way around the block a time or two or twenty.

And it’s a shame, really. Because taken out of the poorly contrived “debate” there are actually some really great thoughts within the essays. Perhaps if the “debate” had either a. been framed different or b. been an actual debate then this long, ranty post of my would be for naught.

Of course, the NYTimes piece has spurred a plethora of responses (all linking back to the original post…clearly the Times accomplished whatever it set out to do). Some of which I agree with, and others…not so much (I also feel the need to rectify a very glaring misconception made in the comments of the Feministe piece. Attachment Parenting does NOT “reject female-controlled contraception.” And I say this as a women who practices AP and has an IUD currently taking up residence in her uterus.)

How about instead of pitting women against each other in faux debates that only encourage more criticism, more “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitudes, more defensiveness, and much more judgment, we focus on the issues that really matter when it comes to motherhood and debate those issues instead.

How about focusing on the poor state of maternity/paternity leave in the US and how that is an obstacle to many families in this country?

How about we look at the way fatherhood is talked about in our culture and why men don’t have to answer all of these questions? (Where are the “Fatherhood vs. Whatever” debates? Oh, right, because for some reason men aren’t held up to the same standards and expectations as women when it comes to parenting.)

How about we look at the rising rate of post partum depression and work towards not only receiving more funding to study/combat it but start destigmatizing it as well.

Above all, let’s try and find a way to discuss issues surrounding motherhood where we’re actually trying to accomplish something productive and useful rather than creating clickable titles that only serve to foster a spiral of fruitless arguing.

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15 thoughts on “Motherhood vs. Feminism (Round 326?)

  1. Avi, this is a great post, but I thought the Feministe article was actually spot on. I think there are boundaries that women feel pressured to ignore over because it’s the “right thing” to do for their children. Really, we’re talking about privileged women (I put myself in this category) because not everyone has this luxury of choice. But I thought Jill’s post which she claimed to like the idea that “attachment parenting doesn’t destroy feminism” is correct. In fact, I think her idea that “the pressure and the insistence that it is The Best Way can be incredibly alienating and shaming.”

    I didn’t attachment parent with my second except for a little baby wearing here and there and more, I was desperate for space. I think if she had been my first, I would have been absolutely guilt-ed into The Best Way. But isn’t this about everything in life?

    Sorry this is so long, but as usual, your posts inspire me.

    • I think my not so favorable reaction to the Feministe post is two-fold. 1. a lot of the comments left me frustrated and fuming. 2. I don’t agree with the assumption that AP is for privileged parents only. That seems to be a #1 argument for those anti-AP, and while yes – AP can be easier for those in privileged positions, I hardly think that all AP parents would fall into that category. In fact, many of the AP families that I know do not.

      I agree with your agreement with Jill’s comment about being pressured to do the “right thing.” (and let’s be honest though, this can be said about a # of varying parenting methods). But to say that and then dismiss AP as a “nightmare of epic proportions” sort of negates her previous thought (to me).

      Also, I think a lot of people confuse AP with mother-centric parenting, when in reality AP is very father friendly as well. It was so nice to know that when I was all touched out when E was a baby, that my husband could pop him in a sling and take him for a walk.

      I guess I just get annoyed when people try to use AP as this out there, wacky method of parenting, using buzz words and phrases and making assumptions, when, in reality, it’s a much tamer, less “militant” version than what’s being presented. (are there “militant” folks who practice/espouse AP? sure! but i don’t agree with them, just like there are RadFems that co-opt feminism and don’t speak for me either).

      But yeah, Jill’s post itself wasn’t so objectionable as some of the comments were.

  2. I’ve been reading those NYTimes discussions and I think you’ve hit on what’s bothering me. But I would add to your suggestions about what we ought to be focusing on, that it’s a good idea to look at motherhood seriously, as feminists, which is something that feminism didn’t do back when it was much more mainstream.

  3. I’m going to check out the comments – didn’t read them. Totally agree about the father aspect. I think a lot of AP has moved into some of our general culture without many people even realizing it. If we look at the history of parenting, fathers certainly weren’t touting baby bjorns (or slings) as some adorable method of parenting. That was considered “weak.” For me, the interesting conversation here is about The Best Way as Jill wrote. And for a large majority of women, there is a ridiculous amount of guilt-inducing pressure that stops us from making the right choices for ourselves.

  4. I just can’t wrap my brain around how being a feminist means that you have to be a certain kind of woman.

    Isn’t the whole plan and agenda of feminism about equality? About being able to choose for yourself what is best for you? About not having doors shut in your face because you have ovaries? About not being forced to live your life a certain way because that’s what others have dictated for you?

    I am a feminist. I am a stay at home, AP mom. That was my choice. I’m proud of my choice. I love my choice and I would make it again.

    So very tired of hearing that I’m setting back the movement because I don’t work outside the home or I nursed my kids to toddler-hood, or that I work too hard washing cloth diapers. That’s all crap.

    What’s setting back the movement is women fighting with each other about how to be a good feminist. If we once and for all stop this mommy war crap and work together, what could we accomplish?

  5. As a child psychologist myself, one of the things that is so misleading about attachment parenting is the name. It is only called attachment parenting because of the theory it was based upon. It is not called this because it is the only form of parenting which allows parents to develop a secure attachment relationship with their children. There are numerous ways to develop a secure attachment relationship with our kids. I explore more of this myth here for anyone who is interested:
    http://www.themommypsychologist.com/2012/04/15/what-does-the-mommy-psychologist-have-to-say-about-attachment-parenting/

    • I don’t think anyone, in any of these posts/debates, ever said it was the only way to create a secure attachment? I also don’t think the type of parenting is even at issue here. It’s about creating contrived controversy that distracts from actual important policy issues…

  6. Enjoyed reading this. I’ve found motherhood has reawakened my feminism; for a good few years during my twenties I was busy with work, self-involved and just hadn’t thought about feminism much since leaving college. I still called myself a feminist, but it was really just talk.

    As soon as I clocked the way my place in society was subtly shifting once I got pregnant, though, I was startled into paying attention again. Now, as the mother of a young boy and a baby girl, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how to raise them in a way that will equip them to deal with what now strikes me as an overwhelmingly anti-woman set of attitudes still dominating popular culture. I don’t want either of their lives blighted by this; but it’s a daunting task, even though they’re lucky enough to have two feminist parents.

    Look forward to reading more on this, thanks.

  7. Pingback: Motherhood AND Feminism: The NY Times Discussion and its Aftermath | PhD in Parenting

  8. It strikes me that separating mothers from feminists is as false as trying to pretend that there is a “women’s vote” – as if we’d ever vote as a bloc. I saw an ad where President Obama said “Women are not a special interest group.” And I think we need more of that. Mothers vs Feminists? Me vs Me? There is no “vs” that could possibly truthfully belong in there. I just makes *no* sense. (I hope this comment does make some sense…)

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  11. Relevant quote from Brene Brown’s TED talk on shame: “Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.
    And what I learned is this: You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear, I’ll show you a woman who’s done incredible work. “

  12. Pingback: The Soapbox: Attachment Parenting Is The Lazy Mama’s Secret | eParent.co.uk

  13. The idea that motherhood and feminism are necessarily at odds is patriarchal nonsense.

    As recommended by Blue Milk, I’ve been reading A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk — not an easy read, BTW. In the introduction, she writes, “Childbirth and motherhood are the anvil upon which sexual inequality was forged …” Indeed.

    What kind of liberation is it, therefore, if it *requires* me to renounce that which appears to define me as other, as less?

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