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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Feminism and Motherhood

  In Renaissance Italy childbirth was something that was encouraged, celebrated and commemorated with gifts. At this time procreation was essential to survival of communities as so many had died due to the Black Plague. Lineage was the underlying principal of political, social and economic identity and so it was essential to carry on the family name. Birthing gave rise to high mortality rates for both the mother and the child, so every effort was put into conception,pregnancy and parturition. Women were rewarded for engendering offspring. It was considered a role of immense importance.

'Give me a child or I will die' 

Rachel-  Genesis

Women for many generations relied on their bodies to 'earn' their position of power in the male dominated world by producing heirs. Motherhood was considered to be our sole duty and aim in life. Motherhood has been seen as naturally rewarding and the childcare has been left to the mother because of her 'biological programming' which makes her the natural childcarer. Any other arrangement was deemed to be unnatural and could be even be believed to harm the child.
 There is a general history of women being in the subservient position of submitting to the male of the species and producing children without any will of their own. Procreation has always been seen as an important role.
Hopkin.s (et al 1984) suggests that women with strong emotional conflict with  idea of being a mother of who has feminine identity issues are at a higher risk of developing PND. Anxiety, hostile thoughts and self critical patterns all indicate an increased risk .

Firestones Controversial Views

Feminists have long seen reproduction as oppressing and motherhood as a burden especially during the second wave of feminism in the 1970's. Shulamith Firestone, a well known first group feminist, argues that sexual difference is apparent but only in a biological sense, and that this difference can be overcome by advances in reproductive technology. She believes strongly that  women do not have  any inherent desire or duty to reproduce. She believes that any instinct for pregnancy is only the product of the social construction of femininity and would therefore be superfluous once human science had mastered reproduction. She believes that in this utopia childrearing would be equally shared by men and women.
If we also look at the latter comment comment on childrearing, although it is still a predominately feminine role it is becoming more of a joint venture between the sexes, even with the fathers taking the role of house-husband/carer, so we don't need to go to such drastic measures as she has suggested to get there.
Her extreme views on reproduction and women's attitude to it are generally not in line with those held by many.   Most women, it has to be said do not hold such views or aspirations, however they do agree with the idea of being able to have control over their reproduction and their choice to do so and the majority will admit to the ticking of their biological clocks as far as desire to reproduce goes.
 Feminist activity has often been concerned with ways therefore of giving women control over their bodies and ways of preventing pregnancy through contraception and abortion.  In the case of abortion however it is still seen to be a particularly contentious subject even nowadays in certain circles due to religious grounds.  If Firestone is to be believed women would give up the right and desire for motherhood if given a choice because she believes there is no such thing as natural maternal instinct. It is unlikely that every women's desire to reproduce would disappear once another means to reproduction was discovered, as today there are many women whose choice has been taken away from them on medical grounds and they are still desperate to reproduce by whatever means possible. Women nowadays with fertility problems  find ways  of reproducing or nurture a child whether by IVF, surrogacy or adoption. Obviously some women do indeed choose not to have children for a variety of reasons.
 Psychoanalysts  believe that females are born with this instinctive wish to be mothers (Blaint 1949).There is also this connection made between femininity and motherhood. In Ann Phoenix's research(1991) it was shown that teenage girls still believe that they can only achieve adult, feminine status through becoming mothers. Psychological theory views maternity as 'the culmination of a woman's psychosexual development. It is seen as a self-fulfilment of natural urges. This belief is related to the patriarchal idealisation of women as mothers which is believed to be part of women's subordination (Bleier,1984). Basically it suits men for women to mother.

The Myth of Femininity

The myth of femininity is that women's role is encapsulated by the idea of the 'maternal', that all women have this biological drive to reproduce, that once born they will have this instant desire and knowledge to nurture without any kind of training. The preconceptions of motherhood have always been attached to the belief that woman all naturally have this 'nurturing instinct' that automatically surfaces .This instinct is first expected to show itself in the 'desire' to have a child, and then to care for it. Most women expect it to be automatic and instant. For these instincts not to surface most women are felt to be failures.

Positives of Motherhood
So many accounts of feminist literature seems to concentrate on the negative aspects of motherhood but, for a great number of women do indeed find that there is an unexplained bonding that takes place during pregnancy. I am myself am a mother of three, and I personally felt an overwhelming sense of wholeness when I gave birth to my children. A feeling of being complete. Even after a difficult third birth the bonding with my baby was instantaneous. Some feminists argue that motherhood is indeed an empowering and pleasurable experience. Adrienne Rich argues in1976 that ' it is medicine and technology  and specifically male control of this technology, that has made reproduction an area of oppression'. She states that men have written the rules on how  women should look after themselves as far as nutrition and exercise are concerned .She believes that the predominately male doctors take over from the midwives thus reasserting their power and disempowering the women during the birthing process using forceps and caesareans. Motherhood is caught between two paradigms of medical science on one hand and pressure from feminists to be in charge of their own bodies on the other.
These views seem very outdated now. Subordination of women was key to the feminist beliefs of the 1970,s. Women have so much more say and control in their own and their child's destiny nowadays. Paramount to decisions made medically, are the mothers and child's safety. Often it is the women who opt for caesarean births for convenience or cosmetic reasons.
Women are much more aware of their freedoms and rights today than ever before. For the first time they can choose whether to become mothers or not and to a great extent are in control of the process. For many it is a daunting position to have the choice. It can be a very major and difficult decision.To have a child requires a complete change of lifestyle, a frightening responsibility, a total and complete emotional commitment for the duration of the child's formative years and beyond. Some couples now feel ambivalent and are torn between the decision to further their careers or have children. The choice of having children or being childless. The possibility of evolutionary survival  is often a consideration.

The Bonding process
 By the time the child arrives there can be an evolution of empathy.  There evolves this continuity of 'mutuality' of needs of  interests between mother and child which are both biological and social. The mother and child give gratification to each other. For this to happen though there must be a basic capacity to relate to others.

Effect of bad parenting
During early stages of motherhood it is seen as natural to relive your experiences of your own mother-child relationship .This can result in reactivation of conflicts and anxieties developed in the early years of their own childhood. It may be possible that she will act out her own frustrations on her own baby to get back at her own mother (Chodorow 1978) . Most women do however manage to resolve these conflicts. Psychoanalysts believing that mothering gives women the opportunity to master old anxieties by mastering new ones(Deutsch 1945).

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