Comment: The Paradox of Motherhood
The Paradox of Motherhood
Picture: Grace Flavin
It was in Don Juan that Lord Byron reminded me how one often finds them self portraying and perceiving woman as the dependent creature.
What has confused me further, is how easy it is to forget that this dependence is little more than a common myth. Of course, its not difficult to understand how this went on for so long, considering how women have been undermined socially and intellectually. But it often seems as though biology has given men this opportunity. This is where we see the question of motherhood arising. Is it the womb that allows the world to be so cruel to women?
It is in the Second Sex that De Beauvoir declares maternity to be a woman’s ‘physiological destiny’. No matter what approach we take to female emancipation, the hindrance that motherhood proposes is unavoidable. Just as a child is trapped in a womb, so is the mother. However, we cannot simply argue that this entrapment derives from social preconceptions and the history of motherhood. In motherhood we see a child physically attached to the mother, bound by the umbilical cord and entirely dependent on her for survival.
It would be absurd to extensively read into the symbolism of this, I’ve grown hair and I don’t cry every time I get a cut and blow. But with motherhood comes nostalgia, a consistent compulsion to be depended upon, the ‘maternal instinct’. And it would not be unreasonable for us to suggest that this is a classic female stereotype, the supposed ‘neediness’ of the woman, the myth of the woman being a wholly dependent creature. This myth begins to appear ironic beside the function of the figure of woman as the creator, there is no denying that, as a mother, the woman is given an imperative role sustaining the survival of another human being, therefore is it not absurd that this would hinder woman in her fight for emancipation? Motherhood has undoubtedly empowered many women. This is the paradox we have been presented with. The concept of physical and psychological dependence, once the umbilical cord is cut the child can grow into independence and the relationship they share with their mother relies mostly on circumstance.
Research by Maureen Perry-Jenkins and Karen Folk at the University of Massachusetts found that only a decade ago “working-class employed housewives did a significantly higher proportion of traditionally feminine chores than women in middle-class occupations”. Remember the taboo of teenage mums? Supposedly getting pregnant purely so they could reap the rewards of their very own council flat courtesy of the taxpayer, a Daily Mail classic. Class is considered the perpetual hindrance to gender equality, the idea that its hard being a woman but even harder being a working class woman. The women fighting for the vote, education and independence were often upper class women, fighting for other upper class women. Stereotypes dictate that the working girl always got left behind, she had no pushy parents so pushed out some kids of her own instead.
She would never look back, its not the role she wants to play as a mother, but now she questions whether there were other roles she could have played as a woman. But motherhood has left her isolated, in another sphere to men, in another sphere to the woman that went to university, something she sees as above her.
The only way women could truly obtain independence would be to cast aside any other ethnic or cultural differences, and we can even apply this to the relationship between mother and daughter; a daughter cannot undermine her mother for adhering to a female stereotype, when all she has done is given her love, affection and a high quality of life. Its not as if the modern woman feels resigned to the role of motherhood, amongst many cultures now women do have the opportunity to balance their parental roles between themselves and the father. However, I cannot pretend I do not agree with De Beauvoir, women’s bodies are physically engineered for pregnancy and childbirth, it is impossible to deny this. And because of this physical inevitability there are extensive emotional consequences. It is imperative we acknowledge this physical attachment, this cutting of the umbilical cord and the way in which this has contributed to the inevitable paradox, which seems to have unfortunately been portrayed and perceived as a woman’s weakness and dependency.
In Byron’s eyes, the woman is consumed, she is devoured by attachment and this has led her to such an ill fated destiny of dependence, the classic case of a ‘mother living through her daughter’. I don’t believe a mother has ever lived through her child, I think that she sees woman emancipating herself as a whole in her daughter and not as a class or community, evolution taking place before her very eyes, and I believe that each woman, daughter and mother, wants to be involved.