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My Response: When I Became a Mother, Patriarchy Let Me Down

This post is in response to the Huff Post article “When I became a mother, feminism let me down” by Samantha Johnson. http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/samantha-johnson/when-i-became-a-mother-feminism-let-me-down/

When I became a mother, patriarchy let me down.

…and by patriarchy I mean the basic system of a society or government in which men hold the power and women are excluded from power. I prefer to call it dominator model of social organization wherein males and all things associated with masculinity are valued over things associated with women and femininity.

We are functioning in a society that pretends that men aren’t going to grow up to be fathers.

Patriarchy denies that caring and connection with other people are vital for the well-being of humanity, including men.

Patriarchy taught me that men are more valuable than women, that productive work is more important than reproductive work, and that caregiving and nurturing are women’s work (and therefore, less valuable). Oh, and that even if I do paid work, it’s worth less than a man’s work.

Feminism would say that work at home is human work and work for pay is human work.

And contrary to what blogger Samantha Johnson claims, it is patriarchy (not feminism) that teaches “…our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept.”

Johnson suggests that, “…as we preach to girls that they can — and should — do anything a boy can do, we are failing to prepare women for one of the greatest challenges so many of them will face; motherhood.”

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I would argue that we are failing to prepare humans for parenthood and failing to teach home and family life skills necessary for a productive adult life. With the exception of birthing and breastfeeding, fathers can perform any of the activities required to nurture children and to maintain family life.

Johnson wonders,“…why, when these girls become women who turn into mothers, they suffer from depression, anxiety and struggle to find a sense of self of identity. Are we truly helping women get ahead, or are we instead setting them up for a future of self doubt and a sense of failure?”

It is not motherhood that brings on suffering. Women suffer from greater rates of anxiety and depression, self-worth compared to men starting at puberty. I believe this is directly related the objectification of women’s bodies and patriarchy’s notion that women (and their bodies) belong to men.

Could it be that mothers (particularly full-time caregivers) suffer because they are often isolated from adult human interaction? Never before in history has one woman and one child (or two or three…) spent most of the day alone in a home or apartment. The “nuclear family” is not the traditional family. Historically, people have lived in extended family situations or tribes surrounded by people, where work was performed together, and there was practical support to care for children.


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Could mothers also be unhappy or feel lost because they expected partnership from their partners when it came to home and parenting? Patriarchy let them down because it defines masculinity and a man’s value in terms of ranking: who’s the strongest, the best, the richest, the most powerful? Our very definition of “work” (8-12 hours per day, 40-70 hour work week), or our “work-first culture” as author Josh Levs calls it, is based on the assumption that dads don’t really want or need or are incapable intimate relationships with their families, and that families primarily need men for their financial resources.

Feminism has not let me down. The feminist movement allows me to vote, to get 2 graduate degrees, to own a business (separate from my husband), to buy a car without a man present, to plan my family consciously through access to birth control, which has allowed me to more fully embrace my own sexuality. Feminism has given me opportunities to combine my family and professional life in ways that have never before been possible for women. Feminism has urged me to expect a partnership relationship from my husband.

Patriarchy, it’s time to catch up. Please stop trying to convince people that feminists are “anti-family,” are responsible for the devaluation of motherhood, are man-haters, or that feminists want women to be “just like men.” It’s time to stop pitting men against women and blaming the women’s movement for women’s pain when you, patriarchy, are the cause.

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About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. . Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her book The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide for Women is available now.

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Comments

Bonnie

Sports on, as always, Julie.

Rachel M.

I am unhappy as a mother because yes, I grew up expecting an equal partnership from my spouse, and I grew up expecting the ability to combine my family and professional life. Unfortunately, circumstances have not allowed for either of these, and it has left me feeling lost and unprepared. I do not blame feminism or patriarchy, but somewhere I missed that life happens, and our expectations don’t always meet reality.

Haley R

The patriarchy did not make feminists call me a traitor to my gender. Men did not shame me for choosing to stay home with my boys. It was women, self professed feminists that attacked me and my values when they were not in line with theirs. It was feminists that dismissed me when I chose not to go to college and be a stay at home mom. Modern feminism has failed many, many women, and feminist only have their selves to blame for it. Not the patriarchy

MDearest

I am a feminist and I wouldn’t ever treat a SAHM as badly as you describe, Haley. I am a SAHM myself. I don’t claim that behavior as feminism, and I hope you wouldn’t either. That’s just common, ordinary mean-girl ugliness, and it’s correct not to excuse it, but not correct to blame it on feminism.

Feminism brought many good things into our lives. For you and me, one of these things is the ability to choose birth control in spacing your children. Before the 1960s and 70s it was discouraged and in some parts of the world, forbidden. For other women who may not have a husband’s support, it means financial autonomy, being able to get a car loan or a house loan, being able to have her own bank account. This was not easily possible in America until the late 1960s. For all of us, it means we can vote and run for political office, and participate as fully as we wish in government.

But there are many places in the world where women don’t have the privileges we do, and we can lose those we do have. I look at feminism with my eyes and mind open to sort out the useful from the unproductive, and there are a great many things that are useful. Separating patriarchy, which is an earthly system, from men as individuals, who I quite like, and some of whom I dearly love, is one of the things I find useful.

Julie, the essay was spot on, and succinct, which I do appreciate.

Carrie

Haley,
It’s unfortunate you had thus experience. It is the opposite of the experience I have had with feminists, who are generally supportive of women making whatever choice works best for them. I can assure you that your experience is not representative of “feminists”. As a feminist, I have a few college degrees, AND 3 kids who I’m with all day as a full time mother. I gave up a ton career wise to stay home with my kids.( I do teach one class online during naps and after bed because I love it, but it is all from home). I have received NOTHING but positive support from my plethora of feminist friends, who applaud my choice. In your decision to not go to college, I imagine many were worried that you would limit your ability to choose later if you were unable to stay home for some reason. I’ve seen friends get divorced or widowed left with few options. I’ve seen others left with many options. I often encourage young female friends to go to collège so they have options later. I imagine the “feminists” you refer to had the same motives: not to force you to work, but to encourage you to give yourself options if things didn’t work as you planned. As a feminist, I applaud the choice of women to work full time, to parent full time, or to follow whatever dreams are theirs. All the feminists I know are supportive of this too. And, I know A LOT of feminists. I wish you well in your endeavors as a mother and a woman.

Kristine N

Simply wonderful. Thank you. I especially appreciate you pinning the anti-motherhood and anti-homemaking attitudes on patriarchy.

Lynn

I have been shamed and gaslighted by both men and women beginning 2 months AFTER getting married. Why wasnt I pregnant yet? What do you mean you’re waiting? Don’t you know you are going against the Lord’s way? What does your huaband think about waiting? That’s not what the brethern in the church teach!
That last line irked me. The men in the church have never been women. Most are retired and had their families decades ago. They lived in a world you could have a part time job in the summer and still “supposedly” be able to afford tuition. Little do some of the brethern realize they were already privileged to have the chance to go to college. My mother never had that option. She couldn’t even play sports in school and only wear pants once a week. My parents taught me early on to go to college. I did not attend an LDS college, but went to a liberal arts university. Some of my professors were mothers but they showed us we could balance work and home, that you could have both.

Before going out on maternity leave I heard 1 question posed 2 different ways: 1. Are you going back to work and 2. When are you going back to work? One aunt in law even went out of her way to shame me at a family gathering by praising my sister in law for wanting to quit work and implying how disappointing it was I would “let someone else watch my kid.” I even lost a friend who told me I was putting my “child’s salvation at risk” by sending him to daycare. They both kept quoting “the brethern.”

I will say the moment I went back to work, I felt so much happier and recovered much faster from ppd. Sometimes as a woman, you need to listen to what your heart desires over a man whose ideas are fantasy in todays world.

Heidi

This is an incredibly EYE OPENING article. Thank you Julie!

Min

Thank you for this. Growing up I was told I could be or do anything I wanted but I belonged to a church that only prepared me to be a wife and mother. My community only gave me the tools for that path as well. And I use the term “tools” loosely. I have experienced many of those feelings of isolation and disappointment. Growing up I didn’t know what patriarchy was. It is very easy to be in the middle of that and blame your situation on things outside of it. Now that I have struck out on my own and created my own circle of friends and community I can definitely see how patriarchy created the system that didn’t properly prepare me for motherhood. Conversely, I can now see how feminism is responsible for many of the good things in my life.

Sizatt

Love this !! Thank you, I think feminism gets a bad name and feel that it has helped all women in ways we don’t even realize. My hope is that we can all get along, see the wrong things in our communities, and make efforts to change them to better. We all matter and have the right to believe what we will, and need to allow others to do the same.

Nikki Schmutz

Thank you for this response article! I recently had someone I know share an article I found very disturbing, it basically stated that if women would do a few things listed in the article then relationships with their men would work (https://brightside.me/article/seven-mistakes-which-99-of-women-make-16555/). It was all on the woman’s shoulders. It was incredibly sexist and demeaning to women as well as men. I am going to share this article with the people who were sent this other article and hope some light is shed on the true problems.

Robert

You have missed a fundamental aspect to why we don’t prepare men to be fathers, and that’s because we don’t respect fatherhood. We as a society are paranoid of fathers having any sense of touch with their child, and we have framed our society so that for all intents and purposes, the child is the mother’s (before birth – abortion; after birth, safe haven laws and ability to opt out of parenthood and responsibility independently of the father). We have also decided that as a society that fathers aren’t actually needed, that single mothers can do it all on their own. This is reinforced by the work and advocacy of feminist organizations like NOW that oppose joint custody and alimony reform (like Florida bill 668 that was fought against by NOW, lawyers, and other women’s groups), making it clear that their purpose and only help is simply to provide more income to the mother. This is not even to mention that we already do a formidable job of shaming deadbeat fathers to begin with, taking father’s day as prime opportunities to shame fathers and to uplift mothers. In conclusion, it doesn’t make sense to put more responsibility on a party that has little to no power in the system. Something else fundamentally has to change beforehand.

The feminist movement, primarily in the 60’s and 70’s, were certainly against the family. The family is seen as a fundamental oppressive unit to women and children, and continuing to engage in relationships, marriages, and procreation with men is simply negotiating with the oppressor which is no way of fighting Patriarchy. It’s only furthering Patriarchy while making it work for you.

Sim

Thank god for this post because I was very unhappy reading the post blaming ‘feminism’. Your words make so much more sense

A.Roddy

The ones against the family are currently in office For decades women earned less because they were expected to just marry, Feminism fought that. In the 1950-60s family life could be oppressive because divorce was unacceptable even for abuse. They had no skills to leave and support themselves.
And society in general has failed childless people especially women in general. They are the ones often care giving and giving up jobs. They loose jobs never mind they have no kids and maybe no DH.
This was spot on.

MA

Great article. I think main problem in our society, caused by patriarchy is that parenting and nurturing work is not paid. Pay is the valuation, and until this work will be paid accordingly (maternity leave), some way of providing basic income for parents involved in the work it will not be valued.

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