With the debate escalating again on attachment parenting and feminism – I thought now might be a good time to re-post this old one from my archives. I seem to need to re-post it about every two years.
When feelings run deep, as they do about mothers and motherhood, the temptation to make extreme statements is high… Motherhood is a raw, tender point of identity, and its relationship to other aspects of ourselves – our other aspirations, our need to work, our need for solitude – almost inevitably involves a tension. It is hard to sit with that tension, which is one reason discussions of motherhood tend toward a split view of the world.
Where we side depends on what we see as the most essential threat. For those working for gender equality over the past forty years, an enduring concern has been that women will be marched back home, restricting the exercise of their talents and their full participation in political and economic life. Efforts to mobilize public opinion against that regressive alternative have at times oversimplified women’s desire to mother and assigned it to a generally backward-looking, sentimental view of women’s place. When taken to the extreme, the argument suggests that women’s care for their children, the time spent as well as the emotions aroused, is foisted on them by purely external economic and ideological forces. Locating the sources of the desire to mother “out there” may temporarily banish the conflict, but ultimately it backfires, alienating women who feel it does not take into account, or help them to attain, their own valued maternal goals.
For those who identify most strongly with their role as mother, the greatest threat has been that caring for children and the honorable motivations behind it will be minimized and misunderstood, becoming one more source of women’s devaluation. Such women feel they suffer not at the hands of traditionalist ideology but rather from the general social devaluation of caregiving, a devaluation with economic and psychological effects. At times, proponents of this position insist on the essential differences between the sexes and the sanctity of conservative-defined “family values”. Such views end up alienating both women who question such prescriptive generalizations and those who feel their own sense of self or their aspirations are not reflected by them.
Most of us feel ill at ease at either pole of this debate, because though the poles represent opposing position, they both flatten the complexity of mothers’ own desires.
From Maternal Desire by Daphne de Marneffe. And I really enjoyed reading this book.