(Written after I wrote this whole post: I complain a lot in my description of the book, but the important thing is that I feel I am a better mother and a better feminist having read it. That is the summary of my assessment.)
I’m really surprised this book only took me two weeks to read. Especially considering they were two really busy weeks — it sounds pathetic, but since Grady was born 20 pages a day has been impossible for me. Well, that’s not true: It’s impossible without compromising my priorities.
I think this book didn’t take long for me to read because 1) it’s only 250 pages, and 2) it doesn’t require that much thought. While I appreciate the topic of the book and feel like Richards made some good points, I wish she’d been a little more impressive about it. Thrown in a little more fervor. I may have began reading it with too-high expectations, however. Motherhood and feminism are two subjects that I’m really invested in, and I hoped any book combining the two ideas would be nothing short of mind-blowing.
I think another aspect of my disappointment is due to a generational gap. Richards fully recognizes in her book that the goals of her generation’s feminists are often unrecognizable or even offensive to her mother’s generation’s goals. However, she doesn’t much consider the generations after her. My generation and I are already way past many of the problems Richards addresses. And I think that would make her happy – the generational evolution of feminism is often confusing and can’t be condensed into a tidy headline, but I think it strengthens the movement.
I’m tempted to say the words “feminism” and “generation” a few more times just to make you hate me.
One thing that I am grateful for after reading this book is Richards’ ability to tidily phrase ideas that have been stumbling around in my head for years. For example, she abstractly re-defines the words “mother,” “father,” and “parenting.” After reading the book, “mother” no longer necessarily means “female parent” to me, it means a parent or guardian who provides stereotypical motherly nurturing — and I think that’s awesome. It crystallizes the reasons I was always more interested in thanking my dad (ahem, I mean “male parent”) on Mother’s Day instead of Father’s Day, the reasons I grimace when anyone speaks of my identity as a “mother.” Also, I am a writer in college and therefore must believe that if we can change the vernacular, we can change the world.
Anyway, here are some excerpts I liked:
- Because motherhood is so frequently used as a stand-in for femininity — the supreme expression of being a real woman, in fact — there is confusion as to how it can be compatible with feminism. People are confused because feminism, according to the history books, is about freeing women from feminine expressions and expectations. To actually enjoy motherhood or to embrace it challenges most people’s assumptions about how to be a feminist. No matter how much defensive maneuvering feminism does, campaigning for women to be in the workplace or not to have children if they don’t want them is interpreted primarily as urging women to forsake their biology. In truth, arguing for inclusion isn’t the same as arguing for absolutes — asking for women to have a seat in the boardroom doesn’t mean that all women have to pursue that role.
- I want parents to be inspired to own motherhood and parenting in their own unique way without valuing someone else’s experience above their own.
- Capitalism’s successes usually come at the expense of using a disproportionate number of women as cheap labor, nationally and internationally. (She makes this point after talking about how parenting should be viewed as an actual job, and the differences it would make if added to the GDP.)
- Many women fear taking the initiative to become single parents because that might preclude them from having future romantic relationships — but rarely do those who decided to become single moms look back with any regret.
- Single mothers used to be regarded as irresponsible women who made bad choices; today they have the additional burden of being perceived as manipulative and aggressive women out to undermine men’s parenting rights. (After reading that, I tweeted this.)
- More than any internal biological pressure, women admit the burden of society’s expectations that the natural progression of life is defined around a heterosexual norm of marriage and then children. Across issues, people who make the socially accepted choice are afforded more respect and credence. The numbers of gay couples rushing to get married or at least to make their commitments legal are motivated by more than tax breaks and health care proxies; they want recognition and societal acceptance. These hierarchies and this conformity and favoritism are precisely what feminism tried to free society from. Even though feminism has made enormous progress in this direction, it’s only realistic to admit that asking people to forsake the societally approved choice is essentially asking them to willingly be disadvantaged. As Elizabeth Weil concluded in an article about babies born with undefined gender, “Our discomfort with ambiguity will never fade.” … But in the end what distinguishes someone as a feminist is the person who is brave enough — or sadly desperate enough — to step outside the bounds of expectation and discern for themselves what is an authentic choice.
- Despite everything feminism has achieved, we often depend upon pregnancy, and then our infant appendages, to demand attention and respect — becoming “mothers” is easier than defining who we are as individual women. (Bam! She got me on this one. This sentence has been sloppily sharpied onto the pages of my future journals to keep me on my toes.)
- “Until we change how we parent our girls and boys, and perhaps more importantly our boys, the patriarchal culture will not change,” Mary Kurtz wrote in her e-mail. “Mothers and fathers, in their day-to-day parenting, will either quietly work against the culture for change or they will unconsciously support contemporary attitudes and images, damaging both genders. I believe this is just as important as objecting at a school board meeting, pushing for equal access to opportunities, or writing an editorial in my local paper.”
- Laura Weinstock wrote in an article, “I don’t agree that shaking up the social order is at the expense of our children. Au contraire, I think it makes children have a more expansive, less-limited existence. Instead of being reduced to one-half the appropriate emotions or behaviors, kids of both sexes are able to access the best of both. When children are forced into rigid roles according to sex, they suffer.”
- If there’s one exception, there’s no rule.
- Perhaps saddest of all, many women tolerate unequal relationships because they don’t have the confidence to ask for or perhaps can’t even imagine that they deserve an alternative.
- The most important contribution you can make is to figure out what’s right for you and use your own example to improve the situation for all parents.
Books I want to read after having read this book:
- Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America
- Free to be … you and me
- The Snowy Day
- The Second Shift
- The Reproduction of Mothering
- Of Woman Born