August 11, 2009

I Want Babies, But I Don't Want You To HAVE TO WANT THEM...

Two women I think are great are kind of in a flame war over parenting. Lainey Liu of and Catherine Connors of have opposing view points on parenthood. Lainey says it's motherhood in particular that is becoming a retrograde cult where the easiest way for a woman to increase her social esteem is through having babies and Connors thinks that Liu's argument is bullshit. Connors thinks that parents don't get higher social esteem and the only joy is the children. She says she chose to have kids, so why shouldn't she be able to celebrate them? Why does her choice impede Lainey's, she wonders, and concludes that it doesn't. I think Connors is wrong.

Connors is wrong because, as Anne Phillips would say in her seminars, every choice people make in society affects the acceptability of other choices. A good example is that many women, after having a breast removed when they have cancer, opt for a prosthetic. I do not judge this choice. There is nothing wrong with it on a theoretical level. If it makes people feel normal and healthy, I say knock yourself out! But, in practice, there is one unfortunate and often unforeseen consequence. Every woman of the thousands who opt for the prosthetic makes it harder for women who don't. Audre Lorde didn't wear her prosthetic after losing a breast to cancer and she said while reflecting on it that she got some weird looks. People thought she was crazy because most women did the one thing, and it made most women happy, so surely if she just tried the prosthetic, it would make her happier? Surely she was wrong not to TRY IT? While I would never deny a woman her agential choice to wear a prosthetic, the more popular a choice, the more normalized it becomes and the harder it becomes for agents who wish to make a different choice.

The case with parenting is similar to the example above. The more women have children and CELEBRATE and are CELEBRATED for it it, the harder it is to resist motherhood. People assume you are abject or selfish if you don't want kids in many cases and there can be a major social stigma attached. When Liu refers to the "Cult of Motherhood," she is not referring to celebrating women who have raised good citizens with strong moral compasses, she's referring to the phenomenon where a celebrity somehow starts getting press just because she has a baby bump that is still so small it resembles what I look like after eating a sandwich (and not even a big one - we are talking like a six-inch sub here). Liu is decrying that just having a functioning womb can make you famous like Jennifer Garner or can make a talentless alcoholic like Tori Spelling who was previously hated a best-selling author just because she wrote about her kids. We seem to forget mediocrity as soon as people become a mommy - and we don't even wait for proof that they did at good job at being a mother! We seem to celebrate motherhood in and of itself, and that is sick, because there is nothing worth celebrating about being a BAD, inattentive or abusive mother, which some of these celebrities could turn out to be, for all we know.

Also, despite wanting kids desperately myself someday, I resent that we seem to call children every woman's greatest accomplishment, no matter what else she does. I agree with Lainey that this attitude is retrograde. I even think it can serve as a distraction from being "mommy-tracked" in your job or the fact that you will end up making less money after becoming a mother, or that if you have a male partner, he will do WAY LESS WORK FOR THE KIDS THAN YOU and CONTINUE TO PROGRESS PROFESSIONALLY.

Having Children, in my mind, has never been my "highest calling." It's arrogant to think that it would be, because kids are just more people, and I do not think that I'm so FUCKING GREAT that it's my DUTY TO THE WORLD to produce something with a similar genetic make-up to me and then socialize it with my rules and values so I can sort of continue living once I'm gone? I mean, there is a chance my kid could turn out to be AWESOME (and not just in the way I will probably think any kid I have is awesome, but like, in the world-altering, saviour-of-humankind kind of way), but that's unlikely. It is very, very slim chances that my kid will solve climate change or find the cure for HIV or put a stop to the desertification of the Sahara or create peace in the Middle East or win the Nobel Prize for literature by writing a staggeringly beautiful series of historical fiction novels about the Armenian Genocide that finally get Turkey to acknowledge that it happened. Hell, my kid could well BE A DRAIN on society. He could become a banker who causes another financial crisis or something, and then runs away from it on his private jet to live on his private island somewhere tropical and never be of any real use to anybody. That could be my kid. Also, if I believe that motherhood is my highest calling and don't work or do anything else but raise kids, and all I have are girls, I'm not even helping to raise people who do stuff besides have kids if they buy into these same myths. How fucking far down the line will my investment in child-rearing pay off in terms of changing the fucking world?

When I was 9, I asked my mother what her greatest life accomplishment was. She replied, "Being one of the first women in North America to work as a trader in a stock exchange." I was all like, WTF? You were supposed to say ME. I'm supposed to be "your greatest accomplishment." My mom made no apologies and stood by her previous statement. At first, I was hurt, but years later, I got it. First off, I was only 9. How did she know at that time I would not grow up to be something awful, like a member of parliament for the conservative party or an arms dealer? Secondly, I think I'm pretty cool now, but as I sit here at 23, a girl finishing her master's and about to start her PhD who (knock on wood) seems to have at least a decently bright future ahead of her who does a fair amount of community service, I now more than ever get why I'm not her biggest accomplishment. Why? Because I accomplished me! Yes, my mom was the most influential person involved in parenting me while growing up, but let's not inflate the importance of mothers. To be sure, they are important, but they are not the ONLY factors that influence the kind of person you become. First off, I have a mind and perspective of my own, and even though she instilled a lot of values in me, I critiqued the shit out of lots of them and rejected many. I might have a lot of her DNA, but I'm WAAAY different. Also, I wasn't even just socialized by her - I was also taught and inspired by my child-care providers, aunts, uncles, grand parents, teachers, friends, neighbours, siblings and my dad. It's impossible to determine exactly what about me was produced BECAUSE OF HER or what about me might eve have been produced TO SPITE HER. I'm me - she just gave birth to me; I have agency and I've had innumerable other influences.

At the end of the day, I want kids because I think it would be neat to see a person socialized from scratch, to see his/her/zer life progress from the start, no matter how much influence I have in that. I would also like to be pregnant at least once, probably out of an almost academic curiosity to see what that's like, but I think I might also adopt kids, because I really do love spending time with children and don't care THAT MUCH if they share my DNA. While adopting a kid who would not otherwise have a home (if they really truly wouldn't otherwise have a home - not the way Madonna adopts) is definitely good for the world, in general, the reason I want to have kids, whether they are adopted or biological, is not altruistic but is simply because I think they're neat. I think watching someone grow up and get socialized from an early age is awesome. Is that something worth starting a cult about? Is this impulse truly a higher one? I love love the idea of raising children for much the same reasons people say they like going snorkeling - because I think it's cool.

Yeah, I want babies. I hope I have kids who become responsible adults, and I hope I have something to do with them becoming responsible adults, but at the end of the day, they will be their own people, not just extensions of me, and creating "a cult of motherhood" would just help me feel better about the fact that my husband doesn't change as many diapers as I do...I don't want to make it hard for women NOT to have kids. I don't want to stigmatize that choice, so if I have kids (which I hope I will), I won't expect to be celebrated for it and I won't lose site of the fact that children are children, not reflections of one's own hot awesomeness.

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