4 Ways Feminism Misunderstands Motherhood

I recently came away from a job interview wishing I hadn’t talked about motherhood so much. When I was asked to outline my experience balancing competing projects and deadlines, the best examples I could think of came from my family life. But on reflection, that probably came across as unprofessional. Needless to say I didn’t get the job.

In the world of work, it’s often best to pretend we’re not mothers at all. In fact, it is illegal for potential employers to ask if we are.

Feminism has fought hard for women to be given an equal place in the labor market alongside men. But it largely achieved this by separating women from motherhood. The priorities of contemporary feminism are to enable women not to become mothers in the first place (through contraception and access to abortion) and to ensure that motherhood does not hinder a woman’s career (through access to childcare and maternity leave ).

But this creates tremendous tension for many women – we experience a gulf between the promises of feminism and true motherhood. It feels like you can’t be a good feminist and a good mom at the same time.

Feminism’s anti-natalist streak

We experience a gulf between the promises of feminism and true motherhood.

The challenging book by Louise Perry The case against the sexual revolution (read TGC’s review) helped me understand this tension. Perry evaluates what she calls “liberal feminism,” which stems from economic liberalism and shares the same goal: to free individuals from external constraints and explain all relationships in terms of social contracts between consenting parties.

Perry shows that liberal feminism is incompatible with motherhood: “If you value freedom above all else, then you must reject motherhood, as this is a state of being which limits a woman’s freedom in almost every way possible” (230). Perry has identified “an anti-natalist streak in both liberal and radical feminist traditions that excludes mothers” (230). Motherhood is not primarily about us – our autonomy and our choices. It is an irrevocable calling to welcome the children whom God places in our midst. Here are four ways lLiberal feminism misunderstands the true nature of motherhood.

1. (Potential) motherhood shapes all women.

Perry’s main argument is that men and women have different sexualities. On average, men are more interested in casual sex with multiple partners, without commitment or romance (105). Women, on the other hand, generally prefer sex within a monogamous relationship of commitment and emotional connection (106).

Perry explains why this is so: The consequences of sex are inherently asymmetrical. If a woman gets pregnant after a casual sexual encounter, it will completely change her life. However, the man involved can continue on his way with minimal consequences.

Liberal feminism attempts to train women to override these sexual instincts so they can have casual, consistent sex “like a man” (103–4). But this approach has been shown to be harmful to women, who rarely enjoy this type of sex and are left with regret, low self-esteem and mental problems (115). Therefore, Perry (who is not religious at all) wisely advises young women not to have sex and to have sex only with a man who would be a good father to her children (252).

2. Motherhood binds us to certain people.

In the modern workforce, the ideal employee is independent and interchangeable. She can move around the country and work around the clock, all in exchange for a paycheck. Like a square peg in a round hole, a mother will never fit into this paradigm. As Perry explains,

The logic of individualism collapses upon contact with motherhood. The pregnant woman’s frame contains two people, neither of them truly autonomous. . . . Even after birth, the mother-baby dyad remains a unit, connected both emotionally and physically. And for many years after birth, the young child cannot be understood as an autonomous individual, because without the devoted care of at least one adult, death is a certainty. (231)

Liberalism prioritizes relationships that can be explained in terms of an economic transaction: it values ​​professional childcare, but not the unpaid care work of parents and relatives. (Not all of us are lucky enough to have Moses’ mother who managed to get paid to care for her own baby!) Family relationships are different from commercial relationships. Motherhood makes us responsible not only for some children, but also for others U.S certain children. We may be replaceable at work, but never in our family.

3. Motherhood is always full time.

Liberal feminism reduces motherhood to the things we do when we’re not working. We talk about dividing our time, putting on different hats. But the truth is that we are always mothers wherever we are.

When a woman becomes a mother, she goes through a transformation called matrescence: Her surging hormones realign her body and mind to care for her baby. Even adoptive mothers experience the effects of maternal hormones. Motherhood is about who we are to our children, not just what we do for them.

Motherhood is about who we are to our children, not just what we do for them.

We also gradually develop new priorities, interests, knowledge and skills. Many women find new ways of working, or even entirely new careers, that better complement their role as mothers. (I’ve provided some reflections and practical examples of how women can juggle work and motherhood in a series of articles on nurturing mothers’ work.)

Mothers have always contributed to the economy. The difference is that in previous generations they usually did this in and around their home, with their children nearby. A mother should not have to take off her “mother’s hat” to put on her “worker’s hat”. And with remote work from home becoming more common, we have a great opportunity to better integrate these two roles.

4. Motherhood pays off better.

Motherhood restricts our freedom because it creates a dependency between us and our children. But the relationship of responsibility and dependency eventually reverses: In time, the children we have cared for will, the Lord willing, “return” the care (1 Tim. 5:4).

And the benefits of Christian motherhood bear fruit, not just into old age, but into eternity. Early Church leader Timothy owed his Christian faith to the teachings of his mother (and grandmother). Paul writes: “But as for you, stick to what you have learned and what you have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you were acquainted with the holy writings, which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14–15).

Irrevocable call

Sisters, liberal feminism does not teach you the true value of motherhood. It will teach you to pretend that motherhood is just a part-time lifestyle choice, a distraction from “real work,” locked in a separate compartment of your life.

But it just doesn’t work that way. Motherhood is an irrevocable calling from God to care for the children He places in our lives and to lead them to Jesus. It disrupts us, binds us, consumes us and changes us. But it is a calling that will pay off forever. So let’s embrace it with pride and joy.

4 Ways Feminism Misunderstands Motherhood

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