The New York Times.com current Opinion section has been taken over temporarily by one of the most alarming headlines that perfectly illustrates current issues with feminism in society: “Motherhood vs. Feminism.” The caption asks whether or not “women’s obsession with being the perfect mother” has “destroyed feminism” and features a series of articles by a variety of women on how motherhood and feminism either mesh or don’t.
One article by LaShaun Williams, columnist and blogger, claims that “we can blame feminism” for how working mothers “generally experience feelings of guilt and inadequacy.” She also claims women should not be pressured to work by feminism, or buy into the “feminist lie that we don’t need a husband.” Some of the authors, like Mayim Bialik, believe that motherhood and feminism go hand-in-hand, and that “attachment parenting” is inherently feminist in its goals. Heather McDonald says that “being a mother is part of who you are, but it should not be all of who you are.”
So what do we make of this conversation? Though it is saddening to me that this is a conversation going on in our society, it cannot be ignored. I beg us to think about the consequences of our current discourse about women. There is nothing wrong with these women authors, or their desire to defend their decisions about motherhood and femnism. But it made me dream of a world in which they didn’t have to. This may be idealistic under current social circumstances, and hats off to Bialik or fighting to make women remember that motherhood and feminism can be friends instead of mortal enemies as the headline of the series implies.
What will it take to take women out of their totalizing categories? I wonder when we will allow women to mother and work as much as they want to. I wonder when my own feminist working mother and all women like her will be given proper acknowledgement as someone who worked full time and was still an incredible mother. And by incredible, I do not mean baking apple pies, going to every sports game, or being on the PTA, though those moms are just as incredible. In my case, I mean hearing her stories about work, holding her book in my hands and fingering the carefully constructed pages and glossy cover. I’m not scarred by that. I’m not sad. I’m inspired to be a better person. I’m nurtured, enriched, and better because of it. So are millions of kids with moms who stay home with them, making dinner for them every night. If that puts a dent in the blame game, I’m not sorry.
Being a mother does not sacrifice your feminism, and being a feminist certainly does not have any impact on your ability to mother. So I’m here to declare the outcome of the “Motherhood vs. Feminism” debate, and LaShaun Williams will not be happy about it. We could end the whole “battle” if we stopped locking the definition of motherhood into such a strangely one-note category. So many pains have been taken to do so that I’m starting to wonder if this really about the children as everybody claims or if it’s just about finding new ways to force women into uncomfortable binaries. Working women are not handicapped by their desire to be out of the house, and stay-at-home moms are not hurting the women’s movement. There is no such thing as striking a perfect balance between these two ends of the spectrum, because no perfect balance or motherhood exists, and there are endless ways to parent. Motherhood does not equal homebody. Motherhood equals whatever women shape it into so that they and their children are prosperous and happy. If the Times left it up to me, I’d call the whole thing off and name the series after Maria Blois contributing article: “Let’s Not Pass Judgement.”