Monday, 17 November 2008

Feminism and Motherhood

One of the things I realised as I was reading Mary Kassian's The Feminist Mistake is the tortured relationship the feminist movement has with motherhood. On the one hand, the potential for bearing children is viewed as the basis for women's superiority: their ability to nurture arising from their ability to bear children, would for example, lead to a peaceful world in a matriarchy (as opposed to our war-filled world, dominated as it is by men who cannot bear children and so do not have this nurturing ability). On the other hand, the actual decision to bear children is viewed in a very different light. In the ideal feminist world, women would only bear children if and when they wanted to and would have the right to change their decision at any point in time. In the eyes of some feminists, bearing children is always the wrong decision and leads to enslavement.

This is further evidence that feminism is not 'pro-woman' but 'pro-feminist', excluding all but those committed to its ideals into its sisterhood.

Why is this important?

First, it is worth noticing that feminism has had a profound affect on families over the last few decades. No-fault divorce, abortion, and other initiatives have not had a good effect on families. It is good that the Victorian era legislation has been overturned, enshrining as it did, the man's right to do whatever he liked in marriage and still have legal access to children in a post-divorce settlement, despite evidence of domestice abuse. But far from the nurturing, peace-filled world envisaged by some feminists, the result of feminist initiatives have been seen in painful, dysfunctional family situation. Men have contributed to this of course. But so have women. Given the same kind of freedom as men in the Victorian era, women have used it with the same kind of selfish abandon as men did and do. It manifests differently, but the ability to have children does not appear to seriously reign in the instincts of women to get what they can for themselves. Feminism has proven the Bible right in its assertion that both men and women are sinners. Women are not somehow better because they can give birth (or for any other reason).

The other thing which I found interesting was how close our society is to the feminist ideal for giving birth. If we hear of someone who is going to give birth either against their will or is going ahead with an unplanned pregnancy despite financial or other difficulties, we consider it a tragedy. While there is much to mourn in these situations, and much support to offer the mother in question, we need to question whether we consider this a tragedy because the woman's choice was not the driving force behind the birth of the child. I think many of us have moved to that mindset without realising it. This isn't too surprising when we realise that the feminist ideal of childbearing and raising is closer to being realised that many other aspects of their agenda. Abortion on demand, at any point in the pregnancy for any reason without financial cost or social reprisal is slowly arriving and will be difficult to dislodge. Women who disagree with this, refuse to avail themselves of the system and discourage others from this choice are outrageous.

But even for those of us who reject abortion, it is worth asking ourselves whether we reject 'choice' as the first and highest priority when it comes to childbearing and raising. Do we automatically count up the number of children someone has and wonder why they 'chose' to have that many children? Do we assume that someone or other has chosen their career over children? Do we disdain women who need to work and can't look after their children at home because of their financial situation? Do we tend to look down on those we hear of or those we know who fall pregnant out of marriage or who can't look after their children?

Choice in childbearing isn't our goal, because our God is sovereign. He chooses for us, even as our actions have certain consequences. The goal is to do everything with a willing heart in gratitude to him, and to encourage each other to live for him. (Colossians 3). Choice can give us power and freedom and it is a good gift from God when we can choose. But choice can also deceive us into thinking we can be and do anything and that that might be a good thing. If we pursue our own selves, we move in a direction away from the Lord Jesus, who calls us to give up our lives, our choices, our selves and find life in dying to ourselves in his service and the service of others. Which includes childbearing or raising - whatever the situation (wish I could, didn't have to, could work, stay home, have more, have less...)

It would be unfortunate to have the mindset which supports abortion while rejecting it utterly! But it is possible, because as Kassian observes feminism has become so influential in our society, there is a sense in which we are all feminists to one degree or another. A warning like that is really useful as we try and think and live and speak counter-culturally. If it applies to us at all, it is likely that it applies to us as we think about motherhood and raising children, so it is worth asking ourselves whether we think:
  • women are less selfish and less destructive than men (because women bear children);

  • women choose their childbirth and childrearing situations and should always have that freedom.

Bringing every though captive to Christ is hard work, particularly when we are trying to out-think our own culture.


michael jensen said...

I read a great book once by a feminist Catholic called Angela West - 'Deadly Innocence and the Mythology of Sin'. She was charting from her personal experience in the feminist movement of the 70s and 80s how feminists forgot that women participated in original sin too. Even hanging out with the women of Greenham Common there was backbiting and division and even discrimination. Great stuff.

Sam C said...

Hi Jenny,

When you say:

This is further evidence that feminism is not 'pro-woman' but 'pro-feminist', excluding all but those committed to its ideals into its sisterhood.

Are you referring to any and every form of feminism? (ie. 1st/2nd/3rd wave, liberal/radical)