It was back in October 2006 that “The Motherlode – a Complete Celebration of Motherhood,” was held in downtown Toronto, at the Marriott hotel on Yonge Street. The 10th annual conference, presented by York University’s Centre for Feminist Research, Association for Research on Mothering, addressed topics like teen mothers, raising bi-racial children, post-partum depression and mommy blogs, alongside raising transgendered children, sex-trade workers and mothering and globalization.1 Certainly a mix from the usual to the deliberately unusual: A discussion of transgendered children and mothering is, after all, an academic predicament.2
These academics self-define as “feminists.” But the term has little meaning left. If it refers to the idea that women are equal to men, we are all feminists now. A 2001 survey of adolescent girls showed 97 per cent believed “lifestyle choices” should not be limited by sex.3 Indeed, young women today have every opportunity open to them – and that includes motherhood and a meaningful career.4 Yet for a time, second-wave feminists saw things a little differently. Strongly antimotherhood, these feminists thought of mothering as “drudgery,” something that women should not be expected to do, unless men did precisely half. Raising children was no longer a respectable feminine calling, but a chore. It’s a reputation feminists today, arguably the third wave, are struggling to overcome.5
Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) acted as a force behind second-wave feminism. And if her book sounds offensive, it’s likely because writing that motherhood is “domestic drudgery” and a “waste of human self,”6 is indeed an assault on the natural inclination to view the self-sacrifice of mothers as a positive. Modern feminists have not left that negative image behind: In 2004 the authors of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women mimicked Friedan’s sentiments, writing about the self-realization of women in the 1960s and onwards: “[y]oung women started wondering why they should get married at 21, let alone 18, if that meant getting chained to the diaper pail all the sooner.”7 Statements like these are the best proof that second-wave feminism,very much unlike first-wave suffragettes, did indeed image motherhood as a prison cell in which women are chained.8
Today media reports tell the stories of mothers who are indeed in chains – yet the new prison cell is stress and harried attempts at work-life balance. It appears the press presents this negative view time and again because that is how we live. A search for family stories during a two-week period in February9 revealed headlines revolving tirelessly around the stress
of balancing work and parenting.10 Parents – especially mothers – are confined to a life that makes the sweat shops of India sound relaxing.
Is there not one woman nationwide who finds peace, a sense of fulfillment and strength through motherhood, a notion which is, or rather could be, beautiful for its simplicity?
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