Remember when I wrote this question in my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood?
7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
And some of you wondered what the hell I was on about. What, you asked, has sacrifice got to do with feminism and why on earth are they potentially incompatible? A question I left deliberately broad was maybe too broad. It has come up several times and I’ve been thinking for some time that I should respond. So here, not altogether coherently are my thoughts…
Being a feminist can involve a bunch of this thinking –
I am a woman.. I am my own person.. I have rights… my rights are important.. there is a lot of pressure on me to be defined by my traditional roles in life… I am more than that.. I have the right to expect equality from my partner.. I deserve the same opportunities for a full life as anyone else does… I am not a servant or a mother for the men in my life… just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I should be viewed only for my reproductive capacity.. if I don’t vigilantly defend my autonomy the patriarchal system will exploit me.. I want more than my mother had… my career is just as important as his… the patriarchy relies on me giving and giving… my time and energy is just as important as a man’s time and energy… I have to hold my ground… motherhood is important… not being a mother is just as important… I’m thankful to the women who’ve fought so hard in the past for me to have the opportunities I have today.. our generation is going to do things differently, more fairly… being a whole person means having choices and taking responsibility for them…
And being a mother can involve a bunch of this thinking –
This child depends on me for survival… its rights are (often) more important than mine… I don’t know where I begin and end and where this baby begins and ends.. I need a break… no-one else who can give this baby what it needs.. I’ve lost my train of thought.. I don’t know how to go on.. I have no choice… this baby makes me feel complete… I don’t care about my career anymore.. I don’t have the time to look after myself.. this family would fall apart without me… I can argue with my partner about my rights but I can’t argue with a toddler… I would die if anything happened to my children… my children are the best thing about me… sometimes I just really need some sleep, but I know I won’t get it… good mothers are not selfish… I feel like I’m failing if I can’t give my children everything they want from me… I love this child more than anything.. other mothers have more patience than me… one day I’ll be myself again.. I don’t recognise myself.. breastfeeding is painful but I’m not going to give up… somehow everything to do with the children has become my responsibility and not his..
Motherhood, when really overwhelmed by sacrifice can end up with a bunch of this thinking –
I gave up everything for you children… I want only the best for you… I have to be perfect… I want my children to be perfect… my sacrifices aren’t appreciated by you.. I want my children to have more than I had… I wanted to be more than a mother, but my children needed me… if I don’t do it, no-one else will… some people call it being a martyr but I call it being a good mother… without you I’m nothing… I need my children… if children turn out badly you have to wonder what their mothers did wrong… my children turned out to be selfish… being a mother is the only thing that makes me feel important.. I need to be needed… I’m suffering, but it’s ok, I do it for the children.. the children would be lost without me… I don’t know what I would have done in my life if I hadn’t been a mother, I never knew what I wanted… my family treat me like a doormat…
Can you see how I began to wonder if motherhood sacrifice challenged our feminism? It isn’t this way for all mothers but it is this way for a lot of us. I heard these sentiments from mothers and I wondered how they were reconciling them with their feminism, how they’re finding their way out of this intensely absorbing role without becoming lost, how they’re carving out an identity as a mother without becoming trapped by sacrifice. I wondered how feminists were doing this differently, or if they even were.
And I’m not suggesting motherhood can or should be done without the sacrifice, the reality is clear to any mother that sacrifice is absolutely necessary, as many respondents noted. Nor am I wishing to denegrate the sacrifice mothers make, it is heroic, but it is also dangerous ground for women.