Friday, December 12, 2008

The Easy Bake Oven In My Vagina: The Role Of The Good Mother

One of things that I consciously try to do is think about the ways in which I reproduce hierarchy and negative social construction in my life.  I wear many hats, but I would say by far my role as a mother is one of the most important to me.  Mayhem and Destruction are a full-time job all on their own.  From the minute they open their big brown eyes in the morning, to the last night night I love you mommy, they consume a great amount of my energy and time.

Some choose to see motherhood as just a natural course of events.  When we are children we are taught that we grow up, go to college, date, get married, reproduce, then die. This staged cycle of life leaves open so many variations on a theme. 

When you give birth in a hospital you are instantly inundated with the various parenting magazines on how to raise your children.  They are filled with advertisements for the latest bottle, crib, stroller and toys.  Some will even give you a step by step guide of what to expect as your children age until they reach tween stage.  This assumes that all children are the same and that they will have similar experience. 

The mother that they are approaching is the over privileged socially unaware white woman.  Her experience is made normative over and over again.  How many times have you seen motherhood as experienced by WOC, or disabled women, or poor women?  Our voices, and our experiences don't count as motherhood. 

When I lay on my back, my body arched in pain as I struggled to give life to my children my claim to motherhood was made real.  When I stand in the middle of my living room instructing my children to stop because someone is going to get hurt my claim to motherhood is real.  When I lie awake at night and worry about their future and the ways in which the world will be unfair and unkind to those I love the most, my motherhood is made real.

It is easy to say that if you don't like what you see you should simply not purchase parents magazine or parenting today.  This excuses these magazines of constructing motherhood as an experience that happens to only women of a certain race, or class background.  Why should a poor working class mother feel from the beginning that she is less than because she cannot afford a three hundred dollar stroller?  Why is she to be shamed because she cannot afford organic baby food?  No woman that loves her child starts with the premise of doing as little as she can get away with.

Just as any other role that involves women, motherhood is highly constructed. We are constantly shamed into performing certain behaviour whether or not it is in our best interest. 

How many of you have run across the vagina equals Betty Crocker syndrome? If you have not, then you probably soon will.  The education system seems to think that this is still 1950 and that mothers are at home with tons of time on their hands to participate in bake sales.  This request is never gender neutral, even though Daddy has two perfectly good hands himself.  Why is this still the norm when most women work a double day?  Even if a woman is a stay at home mother how does a vagina translate into the ability to bake? Do I have an easy bake oven stashed somewhere in my vaginal opening that I was not aware of?

What about the ever so famous PTA?  Why are the join the PTA pitches not aimed at fathers?  Why are fathers not being asked to volunteer time in the classroom?  As far as I know it takes a sperm and an egg to produce a child and therefore they should be requested to contribute in the same ways that mothers are.

It seems though  the father as provider model is still alive and well.  Despite the gains of feminism and the lies of the MRA, women still end up doing the brunt of the child raising.  This is not to say that fatherhood is not important, or that men are not important role models for their children.  What it says is that the division of labour is highly unfair and we discipline women into believing that this is normal and naturally occurring.

Whether you are negotiating race, class or gender issues how you come to understand motherhood and your responsibilities is as much a matter of how this role is constructed, as it is the example set by your own mother.   We are often shamed for things that are beyond our control or guilted into performing gender that is either not in our best interests, or adds undo stress to our already busy lives.

Motherhood for me is extremely complex.  While it is my goal to improve upon the excellent example of my mother I still fall prey to the ways in which I am guilted for wanting a space of own, a moment in time where I can just be Renee and not mother and unwife.  I may jokingly tell the children that they can send their therapist bills to me when they grow up, but the reality is that no matter how hard I work to set a good example, fill their lives with love, and ensure a good education for them; if by some terrible chance that something should go wrong the first response will be, some woman didn't do her job. This is especially true because we are predominately a family of colour. 

Yes motherhood the job.  We all know that reproduction is necessary to keep our society functioning.  We all know that work within the private sphere maintains and supports the work in the public sphere and yet the domestic labour of women is consider a labour of love not worthy of remuneration, or even being factored into the GNP or GDP.  We demonize poor mothers but are loathe to provide them with the opportunities to provide the basics for their children.  In the end the rallying cry will not be we as a society failed, but some mother didn't do her job.

If you are poor, or of colour the support network is even less likely to be available for you, and yet motherhood is even more challenging when you must negotiate different stigmatizations.  Unlike the rich white woman we are less likely to have a live in third world nanny to exploit.  These women can do it all, as long as you ignore the fact that they are exploiting another woman all the way to their mommy and me classes. 

In the end there is no such thing as the perfect mother, no matter what the magazines tell you.  As a woman you will probably end up doing the bulk of the work and you should be prepared for that before even contemplating the idea of reproducing.  You will be asked to make compromises on a daily basis and in the end if you are lucky someone will remember to say thank you. 

Mother is what I am, but not who I am.  The complexities of my being demand more than this.  Though this is shocking to those that have bought into all the eternal guilt that comes with giving birth, a woman is all that she chooses to identify as not what society has limited her to be.

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