Thursday, November 21, 2013

We say motherhood is important, but we sure don't act that way

I've wanted to check out some more Jessica Valenti since I read her book Full Frontal Feminism a zillion years ago.* I have a few of her books on my TBR list and it turned out Why Have Kids was on sale one day, so I went with that one. Many of my reading choices are based on what's cheap at the moment.

I only somewhat remember Full Frontal Feminism at this point, but I'm still pretty confident in saying Why Have Kids is better.

Despite the title of this book, it isn't really a discussion on why one should or shouldn't have kids. The subtitle A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness is much more accurate. But it's less of an attention-grabby title, so I understand why they went with what they did. Valenti talks about her experiences being a mother and how the culture of motherhood is deeply flawed. Not that being a mother is a bad thing or a negative thing but the deification of mothers is bad for women because it suggests the ONLY way a woman can be worthy is if she's a mother.

She argues this isn't only a problem for women who have no interest in becoming a mother and having society pity them and tell them "you'll change your mind" and other very patronizing things, because man, society can be terrible.

She talks about how the whole idea that "mothers have the hardest, most rewarding, most important job in the world" is a way to tell women "the most important thing you can do is be a mother, so maybe don't worry so much about having a different career. Or at least don't worry about being paid so little for other work. I mean, that's not your true calling anyway."

She also talks about how the problem extends even to those women who want to be mothers, who are mothers, and who discover that being a mother isn't the key to ultimate happiness that they were promised.

She talks about how many laws do everything possible to protect the rights of the fetus while simultaneously ignoring the rights of the woman. How sometimes the woman is ignored as a person even when she's not pregnant because she could possibly become pregnant.

The book talks about a lot of things that make me rage-y, but that's sort of the point going into this book. You know with Valenti you're going to get feminist rants. That's why you're reading the book to begin with. The biggest argument Valenti makes is that motherhood is not the end-all-be-all. It's not necessarily going to be the most important thing you do. And that's OK, and it doesn't mean you love your kids any less, and the fact that this even needs to be affirmed shows how much of a problem this is.**

I highlighted a lot of this book and in what seems to be a theme here, I'm going to share a few of these quotes with you.

Parents expect their children to be their soul mates in the same way they expect of their spouse-they want children to make their lives and families complete. When these sweet little beings who are supposed to be the center of parents' universe don't manage to fulfill their lives completely, we come back to the most overwhelming sentiment of mothers across America: guilt.

The sentiment that women overwhelmingly hear is that if we don't think parenting is the most difficult thing we've ever done, if we don't find it exhausting and draining and killing our sex lives...well, we're doing it wrong.

How insulting is it to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I'm betting some of those women would like to do some great things of their own.

Overall a book I really enjoyed, despite the rage-y-ness. Because of the rage-y-ness? Both. I've been trying to figure out who I'd recommend this book to: women who want to have kids? are unsure if they want to have kids? know they don't want kids? I dunno, all of that, plus guys? Yeah, I think that last one works. It's an interesting take on the concept of motherhood in current American (and mostly Western) society.

*OK, it was like 3 years ago. But in internet years that's roughly a zillion. Also I apologize that my review for it isn't really a review but like 3 sentences mentioning that I read it and that I like the quote "Keepers of the all-powerful hymen." It really is a good quote, so not a total waste.

**There was recently a Guardian article titled "Sorry, but being a mother is not the most important job in the world" which goes over many of the same ideas, and you should probably read this as well.

Title quote from page 65, location 1044

Valenti, Jessica. Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness. New Harvest, 2012. Kindle edition.