There is a fascinating discussion over at I Blame the Patriarchy about motherhood and radical feminism. All the usual tensions are raised (and they are tense) but fear not, generally the discussion is pretty respectful and non-defensive, and if you make it to the end of the 100 or so comments you’ll probably see your view, whatever it is, represented there somewhere. Twisty’s post is actually a call for unity between mothers and others in feminism but in it she makes an unfortunate appeal, both heartfelt and condescending. (I’ve indicated the statement in bold but have included the surrounding paragraph, which I pretty much agree with, for context).
We are desperate for women to reject the specious narrative that within the nuclear family we have “choice,” when in fact the “choice” (regarding motherhood) is between doing one full-time job (stay home and raise kids) or two full-time jobs (do paid work and also raise kids).* We are desperate for women to stop buying into the patriarchy-sponsored message about women’s fulfillment — that is, the notion that you are a selfish blob of failure, or worse, that you are missing out on life’s greatest joy, if you don’t martyr yourself to home and family and totally subsume your identity in the process. We want women to reject marriage and the nuclear family. We want women to not have kids in the first place.
Twisty’s plea made me wonder if when you don’t share a particular desire it is very difficult to understand that desire. You can reduce that desire entirely to a misguided will, an inability to exercise one’s true desire, a self-delusion, an excuse for other more legitimate desires, or simply a capitulation. How do you explain the desire to be a mother? How do you explain a desire, a very strong desire, one of the strongest you’ve ever experienced, to someone who doesn’t share that same desire? It must be as difficult as explaining sexual desire to someone without a libido. Women don’t just have kids because the patriarchy believes we should, women don’t just have kids because some of us have sex with men; some of us want children, truly desire children and even desire the ongoing life of motherhood. And this desire for motherhood can be entirely divorced from a desire for patriarchal structure. But articulating that very complex and yet very urgent (and consequently seemingly simple) desire is difficult, which is why I think we end up with so many clumsy statements from parents who appear to be crying out for either therapy or tact – like “wanting someone to love”, “wanting an embodiment of their love for their partners and families” and “wanting to do something meaningful with their lives”.
Mothers do themselves a disservice when they only speak about the sacrifices of motherhood – the drudgeries, the unfairness, and the costs, when they make their role appear to be one of complete martyrdom. It is not difficult to see how for someone with no desire for children and/or motherhood that this seems to be the route taken by the very stupidest of the herd-animals. If only they could think for themselves, they could liberate themselves and stop dragging us down with them!
I’m still reading Daphne de Marneffe’s Maternal Desire and her writing was fresh in my mind when I read Twisty’s post. De Marneffe really perturbed me when she suggested in her book that bitching about motherhood wasn’t really so fresh and liberating for women. One of my motivations for starting a blog was to be able to bitch about motherhood. But continually discussing the miseries of motherhood isn’t all that taboo, de Marneffe argued, denigrating more of women’s work is not really rocking any kind of boat; owning your desire for children, your love of mothering, fighting for its legitimacy and value, that is the real unspoken truth for mothers. Oh, there are plenty of ‘family values’ types and mothers’ day card producers willing to give voice to your desire, to articulate it and place it for you, but their understanding of the desire for motherhood is as limited as those who outright oppose motherhood.