This recurring feature, curated by Pilgrim Soul, directs Harpy readers to important feminist thoughts and concepts as spoken by some of her favourite feminists on and off the web. The appraisal of the value of these snippets is, of course, entirely Pilgrim Soul’s, and does not necessarily reflect the views of other Harpies. Feel free to discuss in the comments here.
Today’s Feminist Food for Thought is a bit of a repeat – we’re back to bell hooks. It’s not that I have exhausted all the feminists available. It’s just that I often, lately, have seen women misunderstand what the feminist critique of motherhood is all about, which is to say they misunderstand it as a critique of mothers. Because some mothers find a lot of comfort in the patriarchal conception of motherhood as the ultimate fulfilment of female purpose, I guess one can see why they see all criticism of the modern cult of motherhood – yoga mommies and whatnot – as personal.
At any rate, bell hooks elucidates the problems associated with the elevation of motherhood quite concisely in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center:
Early feminist attacks on motherhood alienated masses of women from the movement, especially poor and/or non-white women, who find parenting one of the few interpersonal relationships where they are affirmed and appreciated. Unfortunately, recent positive feminist focus on motherhood draws heavily on sexist stereotypes. Motherhood is as romanticized by some feminist activists as it was by the nineteenth-centry men and women who extolled the virtues of the “cult of domesticity…”
The resurgence of interest in motherhood has positive and negative implications for feminist movement. On the positive side there is a continual need for study and research of female parenting, which this interest promotes and encourages… It is also positive that women who choose to bear children need no longer fear that this choice excludes them from recognition by feminist movement, although it may still exclude them from active participation. On the negative side, romanticizing motherhood, employing the same terminology that is used by sexists to suggest that women are inherently life-affirming nurturers, feminist activists reinforce central tenets of male supremacist ideology. They imply that motherhood is a woman’s truest vocation; that women who do not mother, whose lives may be focused more exclusively on a career, creative work, or political work, are missing out, are doomed to live emotionally unfulfilled lives. While they do not openly attack or denigrate women who do not bear children, they (like the society as a whole) suggest that it is more important than women’s other labor and more rewarding. They could simply state that it is important and rewarding. Significantly, this perspective is often voiced by many of the white bourgeois women with successful careers who are now choosing to bear children. They seem to be saying to masses of women that careers or work can never be as important, as satisfying, as bearing children.
We’re all childless here; any Harpy moms want to weigh in?