They probably have thought of the children

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It is so absolutely frustrating to discuss relationship issues with someone you feel vulnerable enough to talk to and have their response be some variation of, “Well, think of your kid.” This sounds like good advice, right? It also sounds like something the parent of said child has probably thought of and something that is weighing even harder on these relationship problems. This well intentioned comment can shut things down. If you trust your friend as a parent, you don’t need to ask this.

A mother is still an individual person. Only associating them with their status of mother is a patriarchal notion. Assuming that they have not thought of their child(ren) implies that they are a bad mother. If they are coming to you with something, there’s an assumption that you will understand them. Your opinion matters to them. So, please, ask yourself first if you truly believe this individual has not thought at all about their children.

People are very affected by how they were raised. For people who are not parents, their childhood may be the only way they can relate to those with children. I have experienced terrible parenting, but I am not my father. In fact, I, like other parents, am not the parent of the vast majority of you. Every person, circumstance, and dynamic changes everything. It’s hard for us to separate our experiences from those of others, but it is certainly worth a try.

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Feminism and Motherhood

baby-20boy-20clipart-baby_carriage_blueTo some feminism and motherhood are only natural. To others the two are contradictory. It is important to realize the real labour women put into mothering. It is also important not to romanticize motherhood the same way male supremacists have.

In her essay ‘Shifting the Center: Race, Class and Feminist Theorizing About Motherhood’ Sociology professor Patricia Hill Collins says that motherhood cannot be analyzed without considering the unique contexts of different people and family situations. This is how second wave feminists judged motherhood. The second wave was about white, middle-class women speaking for all women. Issues were understood from the point of view of women who had the privilege of certain choices, like being able to enter the career workforce. There was an assumption that financial security existed within all families, so something like affordable and accessible childcare was not an issue. Not everybody can afford the choices that supposedly empowered this very specific demographic who spoke of women as a monolith.

White, middle-class women saw motherhood as an obstacle. In feminist and social activist bell hooks‘s essay ‘Revolutionary Parenting’, she writes that motherhood was seen as the locus of women’s oppression. “Although early feminists demanded respect and acknowledgement for housework and childcare,” writes hooks, “they did not attribute enough significance and value to female parenting, to motherhood. It is a gesture that should have been made at the onset of the feminist movement.” Women being defined as mother, and consequently as a wife and housekeeper, is a white, middle-class, heteronormative issue. This way of thinking excludes race and/or class in feminist theory.

bell hooks says for black women, and white working-class women, the right to work was not as much an issue as it was for white, middle-class women because the former have always worked, “From slavery to the present day black women in the U.S. have worked outside the home, in the fields, in the factories, in the laundries, in the homes of others.” For a racialized working-class, more time with family was the ideal. These women were forced to work in order to take care of their family, working was not a choice and could therefore not be the source of empowerment middle-class, white feminists made it out to be. These early feminist attacks on motherhood alienated women of colour and working class women.

Since the second wave motherhood has been more accepted in feminist theory. hooks proposes this new acceptance is because bourgeoisie white women want to make up for their alienation of mothers in the past, as well as pay respect to their own mothers.

Romanticizing motherhood is still an act of alienation. What bourgeoisie white women are now doing is promoting the same image of heteronormative, middle-class women that the patriarchy does. Male domination is still assumed and alternative family structures like single parenting, parenting in polyamorous relationships, queer parenting, and community parenting are ignored. Romanticizing motherhood can be a male supremacist ideology the same way ignoring motherhood is.

In order to properly understand motherhood through a feminist lens, women need to stop being viewed as a monolith. White, middle-class women, who have benefited in some ways under the patriarchy, need to allow for other voices to be heard.

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Betrayed by The Mindy Project

Mindy Project 

The Mindy Project is one of my favourite shows. I had a therapist who suggested I watch more comedies and this show seemed up my alley. The show, written by and starring Mindy Kaling, focuses on Mindy and her coworkers at a gynecology practice. Kaling is a woman of colour and since media is a major source of patriarchal regulation her show is often labeled feminist. I wouldn’t say it is feminist, but I an argument can be made that is empowering. Either way, I love the show.

In her essay ‘High Risk Who a Mother Should Be’ Hip Mama creator Ariel Gore writes about the medicalization of her pregnancies. Doctors told her that she was a “high risk” pregnancy because she had her first child at 18 years old and then the same thing when she was pregnant again at 36 years old. Kim Anderson also writes about this medicalization in ‘Giving Life to the People: An Indigenous Ideology of Motherhood’ and how colonizers and the patriarchy attempted to destroy Indigenous health practices, such as midwifery. “Medicine is part of our heritage as women, our history, our birthright,” write Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English in Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, “Today, however, health care is the property of male professionals.” When discussing women’s reproductive health in feminist theory, binary thought patterns might get in the way. For instance, all natural health versus medicalized health. This binary is especially shown in The Mindy Project.

The gynecology practice is in constant battle with two midwives working in the same building. The midwives are men, which may be a comedic nod to the patriarchy’s appropriation of everything. The midwives are portrayed as not being real health experts. In the episode ‘Hooking Up Is Hard’ Mindy tells one of the midwives, “You can’t wave a dream catcher in front of a respiratory issue.” Though the show portrays the midwives as two white men appropriating the cultural practices of other communities, as well as the work started by women, it is made clear that we are to root for western medicine. This binary narrative becomes problematic.

When I went into labour a male resident nurse scolded me for saying yes to the morphine another nurse offered. He told me birth is not supposed to be painless. I screamed something at him about him never having had a period and that it is not his decision to make. The other nurse, an older woman, told me that I would not have been in so much pain if I had take prenatal classes. I did not yet have the language to tell her how classist she was. I knew that I did not take the classes because I was working long days doing shift work, not because I was a bad mother. I guess, though, I was already deemed a bad mother for being young and poor in Oshawa, a city that openly hates young mothers. I knew I would need a c-section, but I did not have one until over thirty hours of being told that I was not trying hard enough to have a vaginal birth. It was not until both my daughter and I almost died that I had an emergency c-section. So now, in addition to being young and poor, I had a c-section. Romanticized motherhood, and the mass society that perpetuates it, tells me this is lazy and that I am not a “real” woman. Surely a pro-western medicine show will not tell me the same.

Then I saw the episode ‘C is for Coward.’ At first all was A-OK. Mindy and her fiancé argue over her birthing plan. She wants a planned c-section with medication and he wants her to have a drug-free, natural birth. Mindy’s fiancé, Danny, scolds her for wanting to be “high on goofy gas for the most beautiful moment of [her] life.” Mindy tells him that it is her body, and so, her choice. Danny then tries to trick her body into inducing labour by feeding her spicy foods and trying to startle her. When she finds out she gets upset with him and he asks if she really wants to “sleep through [the] first big challenge of being a mom.” Mindy gets angry, which makes sense looking back at past episodes where Mindy has argued for a woman’s right to an epidural.

The episode takes a disappointing turn. Danny has a talk with a co-worker and it is decided that Mindy is simply scared of “doing something hard.” Mindy goes into labour early on a subway and she has her baby naturally, with the help of her fiancé. Danny assures her that she is tough. He apologizes to her not because he was being a controlling jerk but because he now understands that she is scared. Mindy has her baby naturally and realizes she is now a real mom.

To be fair, Danny points out that c-sections can be necessary in emergency situations. But still, just because I had a c-section does not mean my daughter’s birth was not an important experience. Just because c-sections are socially constructed as a necessary evil does not make it so. The birth of my daughter was not wrong in any way. I am still a real mom, because I am a real person. If I were not, you would not be reading this. More importantly, and less literally, by being a “bad mom” I am really great at mothering my daughter.

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