Posted by: mzbitca | May 16, 2009

Feminism and Motherhood: an Opinion piece

I am not a mother.  I have not decided if I ever will be a mother.  There are days when it seems like a better idea than not and days where I can never imagine going down such a hard path.  I had heard about some of the schisms in Feminism over motherhood but I had never paid much attention and never realized how much anger there was until a thread at Feministing.  I understand that my experience with this anger was only in one place but from what I saw much of the anger, hostility and belittling came from those feminists who did not have children.  

It blew my mind.  In my opinion, we NEED womainst/feminist mothers.  These are the women who are raising both girls and boys to be believers in equal rights.  We need mothers that don’t buy into all of the gender stereotyping that occurs in childhood.  Could you imagine if the only people that reproduced are the ones that think things like “girls like only pink” and “boys shouldn’t cry.”   I am a feminist because of my mother and what she showed me about being strong and self-confident and to always make sure you can land on your feet no matter what decision you make.  My mother suffered from sexism and because she recognized it she worked hard to create a life where I had more experiences and rights than she did. 

Motherhood is changing. I am sure it’s amazing and creates a mindset unlike any other.  That’s okay, it doesn’t mean that my mindset and experience as a women currently not parenting is any less valuable, it’s just different.  Much as we say it is, in some ways, ridiculous for a man to think his opinion on reproductive rights is as informed as a womans, I find it funny to think that we don’t need mother’s opinions and thoughts when it comes to things like maternity leave, child care, health care, and breast feeding.  They know more than us because they’ve lived it.

I wonder about this anger directed at mothers within the feminist circle and I can’t help but feel it all comes back to patriarchy.  The sexist world we live in has created a situation where women feel that to express natural desires and needs can be unwelcome because of the way said desires had been “embraced” by the patriarchy.  We have been told since we were young that we were meant to have children.  Dolls where what we were supposed to want and dollhouses and kitchen sets were geared to be our toys.  We are expected to be baby happy and once we are in a serious relationship the pressure to have a child is high (I am writing this from a heterosexual point of view although I’ve always wondered if lesbian couples get pushed to adopt or use reproductive technology from those around them).  It is only natural to push back against that type of indoctrination but in so many ways I feel like that is the patriarchy winning yet again.  It’s almost a gut reaction, much like how I refused to wear pink for many years and still have a hard time purchasing “girly” colors without feeling slightly guilty.  It’s the anger that what should be individual choices have so much weight because they are perceived as “women choices.”  People can make a statement by refusing to have children but they also can by having children and yet maintaining their focus on equal rights and becoming the type of mothers that so many sexist men and women fear.  

We need feminist/womanist mothers because they are the ones raising their children to be strong against a sexist world.  They are the ones  sending their girls to Rock camp & Science camp.  They are raising boys and girls that get read the “The Paperbag Princess.” & “Free To Be You & Me.” They are the ones that are pregnant and pro-choice.  They are important and their fight is our fight.



  1. Yep we’re making enemies of each other because that’s what kyriarchy wants us to do! Fight over the scraps instead of saying “fuck you” and making a whole different table!

    • Exactly.

      It is the Mommy wars all over again, but now it is the child having vs the child free. They want us against each other and pissing in our own sandbox b/c if we are fighting each other we aren’t fighting them.

      This is a great post, mzb. Motherhood is undervalued in society and by feminists. Fortunately I frequent a lot of blogs where feminism/womanism and motherhood intersect. I try to surround myself (virtually) w/ people who recognize that Pro-Choice means just that, that there is the choice to have children and the choice to not. We mothers are working our collective asses off to ensure that there will be a future of Pro-Choice people long after we are gone, and that someone will stand up for all choices that women face. We are raising girls to be leaders and boys to not be rapists.

      I don’t pay too much mind to feministing any more, mostly b/c of the commenters. They get too vile and nasty and caught up in their right to other the rest of us, those of us who recognize the intersection of feminism/womanism and the other -isms out there. We need more safe spaces where women (and allies) can come together from all walks and realize that we are working towards the same damned goal: A better tomorrow.

      And who will live in that tomorrow?

      The children that Mothers bear.

      • We are raising girls to be leaders and boys to not be rapists.

        Maybe being a male makes me take this comment the wrong way, but why can’t parents raise girls and boys both to be leaders? It bothers me that you make this distinction between how a feminist mother would raise girls versus boys.

        My (perhaps slightly misguided) understanding of this issue would lead me to hope that boys and girls could each be raised in the same manner. The fact that the only thing you could say about how boys are raised is “to not be rapists” bugs me.

        As I type this, I wonder if your intention for the term “rapists” was not necessarily in the physical sense we normally think of the word, but a broader sense of not raping rights, beliefs, etc. Hopefully we are able to teach young boys something more than not being rapists.

        • Given how widespread rape is, I think raising boys not to be rapists would be a monumental achievement.

  2. […] Feminism and Motherhood: an Opinion piece […]

  3. Thanks for writing this. Thank you.

  4. And now, reading through the comments (why, oh why?), I can’t believe how condescending things got right out of the gates (actually, I can). Saying that all we mothers do is go on about our “widdew pweshus” (seriously, the second comment).

    I can’t speak from both sides of the argument, having crossed over to the dark side seven years ago (prior to which I swore I would never have children). I just know that it feels like the issues that feminism addresses most often are slanted toward the child-free and hoping to remain so. We fight for abortion access, we fight for birth control, and comprehensive sex ed to help people avoid becoming parents if they are not ready. Feminist mothers recognize that motherhood is intense and difficult and don’t want anyone to enter into it if they are not 100% sure that is what they want.

    When it comes down to issues such as protection for breast feeding mothers, paid post-natal leave, assistance for single mothers, universal daycare/pre-school I find that there IS a huge disconnect w/in the feminist sphere. Feminist women are quick to jump in and shout that they don’t want to see “disgusting saggy breasts squirting milk about” (from a conversation at feministing about a nurse-in at Applebee’s), and that they don’t want to have to happen across children in public. It really feels as if the only acceptable choice in feminism is the choice to not become a mother, and that if we dare be mothers that we should lock ourselves away so as not to interfere w/ the lives of the childfree. I know this can’t possibly be true, but when I reflect back on the conversations had about issues surrounding motherhood, especially at feministing, I find the atmosphere hostile to the child having crowd.

    *steps down off of soap box*

    I know mothers aren’t the only ones trying to protect the future. I also realize that in spaces like feministing it isn’t worth wasting the pain in my knuckles to type any thoughts b/c personal attacks and condescension are par for the course. Safe spaces like yours (and the countless ones I enjoy) are better for such things.

  5. […] This post was Twitted by mossyrants – […]

  6. This reminds me of the pro-choice bumper sticker “Pro-Choice, Pro-Child” which pretty well sums up my opinions on the matter. I find it disturbing that reproductive freedom/justice is somehow seen as ending with the choice of whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. And, as long as women are mothers, motherhood issues are feminist issues.

  7. Thank you for the wonderful post on this issue. I have been a feminist for a long time and I was shocked and hurt by the angry comments about mothers on the recent thread at Feministing. It seemed especially strange to me that if ever someone said disparaging things about issues that affected a group they were not a part of, everyone would call them out. But mothers are fair game? Anyway, I’ll go on living my feminist/mother lifestyle teaching my children to be future feminists all the same.

  8. Very lovely! Thank you. The one good thing about that thread, as painful as it was at times, was there were some flashes of actual discussion rather than talking past each other, and I appreciated that. And of course, your post here reflects that, too. Well done.

  9. […] Feminism and Motherhood: an Opinion piece – “I am not a mother. I have not decided if I ever will be a mother. There are days when it seems like a better idea than not and days where I can never imagine going down such a hard path. I had heard about some of the schisms in Feminism over motherhood but I had never paid much attention and never realized how much anger there was until a thread at Feministing. I understand that my experience with this anger was only in one place but from what I saw much of the anger, hostility and belittling came from those feminists who did not have children.” […]

  10. Feministing represents a very specific corner of feminism. And really, I think a lot of commenters there are very early into their journey in feminism and, honestly, in life. I don’t read Feministing, but I’d really hate for people who do to conclude that what seems like the “only acceptable option” to Feministing commenters is what seems like the “only acceptable option” in feminism/to feminists. Every group has its exclusionists, but it’s also easy to be strident at 19 and overlook the complexities of life.

    Feministing may be a vocal corner of feminism, but they are a corner, and there are so many feminist sites, bloggers, activists, thinkers who care deeply and write insightfully and passionately about issues that are important to mothers. Not being recognized at Feministing doesn’t mean not being recognized in feminism.

    • Emily,

      I recognize that Feministing is only one corner and do mention in my post that I had never encountered this belief elsewhere.

      However, many of the commentors there did talk about how they felt this on other blogs as well and it was in response to a split between mothers and those who choose not to have kids in other areas. In other words, this is a very real problem and that thread was just the place where I happened to be introduced to it.

  11. Just as long as there’s not anything wrong with *wanting* dollhouses and dolls like I did and still do. I was given options though.

    • absolutely not, I always wanted a dollhouse, something about setting it all up appealed to me. Much like i enjoyed putting together Legos and other things. it’s more the fact that so many parents buy into the idea of that’s what only girls like and that they should buy for them

  12. It saddens me to see feminists who hate motherhood and women. While motherhood should not be the only choice for woman, it is a valid choice.
    If to be respected as a woman I have to be a man and do nothing female (i did not say “feminine”) then I am not being respected as a woman. I am a woman. I gave birth to women, in some ways my committment to feminism is deeper than that of nonmothers. I am, like the joke goes, not only committed but invested. I’ve put considerable resources into the females i gave birth to, and I also happen to love them. At the very least I would imagine feminists would be happy that someone is bringing more women into the world.

    I refuse to cut off my nose to spite my face by petulantly doing anything that a man may have once required of me. As an Afrodescended woman should I, to not be racist, refuse to have children because once upon a time slave masters forced us to breed?

    Hey, I just dont get it.

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