Feminism and Motherhood

Are these terms mutually exclusive, or can they be complementary? Can they co-exist within the confines of parenthood?

Women, particularly young women, find the idea of feminism as something outdated, out of touch. Many of these women may never contemplate the meanings of feminist literature or the relevance it may have in their lives. Perhaps feminism and motherhood is only debated by middle-class, white, educated women — the women who have clearly benefited by the feminist movement.

But what does feminism mean when it comes to motherhood? Can the values of feminism be upheld and embraced in the culture of the family given the roles of procreation? What are the ideals and values of feminism with regard to child-rearing practices? Is feminism limited to simply equal opportunity and equality within the workplace? Or does it extend itself to embracing all that being a female can encompass? I believe it is both and I believe there is much feminist work to be done with regard to families in society.

A woman who has a child clearly, and perhaps for the first time, sees herself living within an historical patriarchal societal structure which recognises the career pattern and longevity, in terms of economic production, of a white middle-class male. Our superannuation schemes and career structures are based on longevity of service without disruption for child-bearing purposes. American style competitive career building and ongoing professional development are highly valued.

This disruption for child-bearing purposes, I see, as the ‘glass ceiling’, the structure that remains unsupportive of motherhood/parenthood. Women have been viewed as less predictable in their career ‘habits’ due to the potential ‘maternity leave’ and subsequent costs, disruption, to the employer. Hence, we still have awards that fail to incorporate a maternity leave allowance (monetary) and a limited amount of leave entitlement before jobs become ‘at risk’. I understand the dilemma of small business not being able to afford maternity pay but feel it is a greater societal issue in which the federal government could lead the way in providing support for women and men on parental leave. This is our future, our children.

Careers aside, what of the gender roles within a parenting concept? What, if any shift occurs once a child enters into a relationship? Is equality a term only applicable to the workplace or can this be applied in a personal sense? Does equality become a sense of fairness — of equal share of available time, energy and resources — of equal respect for each role — of equal support, love and affection? Does feminism exist only when motherhood is revered, honoured and respected in the relationship/partnership? Where fatherhood is embraced and participation is equal within the physical, emotional and shared resources of parenthood? This, I feel, is the ideal — where feminism ceases to be an issue because the partnership is respectful and honouring of each role in its individuality. Where understanding, respect, love and an awareness of the complexity of parenting exists within a broader societal structure that is less supportive.

In the workplace and in the political arena there is much feminist work to be done. I happen to agree with Susan Maushart who says that motherhood needs to be at the centre of human society from which all social and economic life should spin. Society needs to ‘acknowledge that bearing and raising children is not some pesky, peripheral activity we engage in, but the whole point.’

To have a society that puts a true value on parenting, to redefine our structures to support this role, to honour mothering, to redefine our values and beliefs, the debate needs to exist or parenting will stay on the periphery. This is our feminist work. We need to talk and support each other, to apply pressure on the political structures so as to build a healthier society for our children and grandchildren.

Published in byronchild/Kindred, Issue 4, Dec 02



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