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(not feminism) that teaches “…our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept.”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.”
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.
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.
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 are available now.