Friday, June 4, 2010

Motherhood is not the same for everyone

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I have been talking a lot about motherhood recently, because I feel that it is time to have conversations about this role in a non essentialist manner. For the purposes of this conversation, I am going to look at a comment made by Bagelsan, on a post I wrote earlier this week called, I won’t deny my motherhood.

However, much like the abortion debate, the women who choose to abort have historically faced a lot more shit and hassle from the patriarchy than the women who choose to keep the pregnancy. That's why a lot of feminists focus on supporting that more-frowned-upon choice. Similarly, women *not* having to do domestic chores is still a very new and not-a-little-threatened concept; it seems natural that many women would direct their energy towards the less secure and patriarchy-approved option.

Even though many feminists can come across as dismissive of the domestic sphere (including, at various times, myself) I think the world overall is much more comfortable seeing women as wives and mothers rather than workers, and in the kitchen rather than out of it. Enjoying being a mother is only a radical position within a relatively small and far-left group; in general it's still a very feminized and default and acceptable role. (empahsis mine)

I selected this particular comment because it falls into a narrative that is far too prevalent in progressive spaces of class privilege.  The idea that we need to support abortion over motherhood is indeed problematic, because it is based in the idea that women all mother under the same circumstances. 

The differently abled, Black women, First Nations Women, Latina Women and Poor women have all been subject to forced sterilization, as well forced birth control.  This means that becoming a mother has historically been something we have struggled to achieve.  Only White able bodied women of class privilege have had the benefit of near universal acceptance of their pregnancies.  This is not to say that these women have not suffered at the hands of fathers who have murdered them, rather than take on the responsibility of parenting, but it does suggest that the notion of motherhood as an unchallenged right is certainly not universal.

Even when we do miraculously become mothers, the process of raising a child is extremely difficult. Not only must we negotiate a world which has determined that our bodies are insignificant, our children are viewed as meaningless surplus population.  Marginalized women have had to mother under some of the most difficult situations imaginable.  During the violence of the 1863 New York Riot Draft, it was unarmed Black women who stood against angry mobs that destroyed property and were violent against them.  These women knew what was at risk, and those that were not able to defend their children, were forced to watch as their heads were beaten in.

First Nations women, and Black women have all been forcefully separated from our children. Supposedly, for the purposes of civilizing them, our children have been ripped from our breasts, and when we cried with a mothers grief, White women pretended not to hear us.  You see, White women of class privilege have always been considered more knowledgeable and more capable of raising our babies than us. White able bodied women of class privilege do not want to face the ugliness of the history that they have participated in.  They have never had to make the choice of murdering their child or allowing her to be returned to slavery to be raped and abused. Their choice was only how to spend the profit from the sale of our babies.

It was White women who sought independence that organized the tenement movement.  They came up with the idea of scientific domestic labour, and used their standards to attack poor immigrant women.  Their racial biases can clearly be seen in the reports that they wrote.  Families that had yet to be categorized as White, such as Italians and the Irish were constantly found to be substandard, even though these women were raising their children in a manner that was culturally appropriate for their countries of origin.

Even today, the idea of who is considered a legitimate mother can easily be seen by looking at the average parenting magazine. The stories are all about White women of class privilege, and the images are routinely overwhelmingly White.  Blogs that are considered “mommy blogs” are written by White women. Though women of colour write about their experiences, they are never considered the norm and none  have come close to achieving the same success as Dooce. Am I to believe  that there is not one good marginalized writer, or is it simply just another example of the ways in which motherhood as an identity is associated with White women of class privilege?

Marginalized women have historically had very little social power. We come together to share, love and commiserate at our kitchen tables or over the seasoning of a big meal for the family.  Though White women of class privilege dismiss this because they associate domestic labour as gender based performance, for poor women and women of colour, it is a time of community.  This is a woman's space and something to be celebrated in a world that is dominated by men.  Why should we reject this space, or even this role when it has brought us generations of joy and companionship?  This is the kind of sisterhood that marginalized women recognize as validation, but because it has not been the experience of White women of class privilege it can be demeaned and rejected.

When we ignore motherhood, or act as though it all falls under the same essentialist experience, we are once again erasing marginalized women.  This is quite common in so-called feminist spaces. From declaring a hatred of children, to a failure to talk about motherhood in real and critical ways,  we are failing to support women and once again throwing marginalized women under the bus. Able bodied, White women of class privilege can afford to dissect the roles of fathers, or speak about parenting instead of motherhood, but we who have struggled to have our motherhood validated cannot give ground, because to do so would dishonour all that we have been through. 

If we are going to talk about women, motherhood is essential to the conversation.  Domestic labour must be elevated, and it must be clearly understood that there is value in what we do.  When you dismiss mothering, caretaking or nurturing work you ignore our struggles and our pain to once again privilege your agenda.