In many aspects of my life I’m reminded that I am a potential mother. That lovely crimson reminder each month is the least of my worries however. As young as five years old, I was told that I would make a good mommy some day by my day care supervisor. I had a fascination with dolls at the time and was constantly dressing them, brushing their hair, and making them drink tea, one of the best beverages of all time. I’m not sure if this was indicative of my innate mothering skills though, since I often forgot to feed them or put them to sleep.
Women are often assumed to have one main purpose in life: to give birth. Regardless of actual want or skill, it’s society’s command that women who can bear children should, and must. At some point in their lives, women are encouraged to become pregnant by friends, family, coworkers, or culture such as TV shows, advertisements, and/or movies. I myself have felt the heat mainly from family members.
Once when I was seven or eight, my mom gave me her old Barbies from the 60’s. I liked Barbies a lot, so I figured they were just for me to play with, but the first thing my mumsy told me was that I would pass them on to my daughter when I did have one. This confused me, I instantly withdrew from the Barbies and asked her, “What if I don’t have a daughter?” She laughed as she said that someday I would make her a very happy grandma. It was a sweet moment, my mother wanting to start a family tradition and all. But the happiness that I caused her seemed to be a conditional one. If I became a mother and gave her grand babies to spoil, she would be happy. Now that I’m older I know my mumsy will always be happy for me, but at the same time I know she would be even more ecstatic if I got married and popped out a couple rugrats.
It’s a common theme threaded throughout society that a woman’s most noble and important role is to replace herself with a new human being. Think of all the period piece movies in which people, especially those of noble birth, say a wife’s only role is to bring her husband and the rest of the world a son. She’s diminished to nothing more than the means of releasing a boy into the world. Nowadays, giving birth to any gender is highly revered in many places, not just boys, but the logic remains the same. The woman is mother first, and wife second. Nothing else is important.
In cases of domestic violence, women are often blamed for the abuse inflicted on their children by intimate partners or the children’s father. It is the woman’s fault for not removing the children from harm’s way even though she is incurring abuse as well and the options abused women face are often faulty and dangerous. In the book, Our Bodies, Our Crimes, Flavin says that when abused women try to leave their abusers it actually creates more reactionary violence because the abuser’s control is being threatened. The automatic blame placed on the abused mothers and not the abuser is a telling sign of how society thinks of women. Their ultimate goal is to be mothers and to protect their children, her harm is of no consequence, the only harm that matters is the harm against the child. What society doesn’t seem to realize is that healthy, stable children are usually the result of healthy and stable mothers. With no concern to the mother’s well-being children are often thrown into the same state of despair. Not to mention children become adults. If we take care of the children only when they are young, our society is sending the message that youth is a priority, especially the female population.
Another area of society in which women are treated as mothers and nothing else is in the actual process of giving birth. Hospital birth has largely taken over the United States, leaving home births with midwives at less than one percent. This is a problem because when women deliver in a hospital, all of their control over their bodies vanishes. In The Business of Being Born movie, it shows that women are pumped with drugs to induce labor faster so they can get more women in and out of the hospital, and a lot of the time they’re urged into treatments and surgeries, like cesarean section, without having knowledge of what it is they’re being forced into. The woman’s health is compromised and she’s viewed as just another body delivering a baby. All the focus is on the child and getting it out as quickly as possible. The whole process of birth is diminished along with the woman’s autonomy.
When viewing popular culture, it becomes clear that women are destined for motherhood and nothing more in our society. Most of the women on TV are either attractive, young mothers, or young women of childbearing age that could become mothers quickly. With these images saturating the market, it’s no wonder women are reduced to child bearers and nothing more. While it’s true that giving birth can be a great blessing and empowering for some women, it can also mean devastation and disempowerment for others. Just because women have the ability to become pregnant doesn’t mean that they want to or should. It applies in the same way that just because men can become fathers doesn’t mean that they have the desire to or are obligated. It cheapens the whole experience to force it onto people who are unable to enjoy it or simply have no interest in it. And even when a woman becomes a mother, it is not her only role in society. The ideal mom who does nothing but mother and homemake is quickly vanishing. Most women have careers, hobbies, and even interests! No one should live for one single thing. It has been said that it’s wise not to place all of your eggs in one basket.