Monday, April 18, 2016

Othering the non-mother and the lesser-mother

Update: Another post I wrote on this.

“Accepting the motherhood dare. I was nominated to publish a picture that makes me happy to be a mom. I am going to tag a few friends who I think are fabulous mothers and can rise to the challenge of publishing a picture of their own.”

I find the wordings of this post utterly disturbing. I repeat, I am talking about the wording of the post, and not about the concept of posting pictures of your children in general. I enjoy seeing the pictures of (most of) your children on Facebook, until you get to an obsessive point. Some of you, I do not know and do not care much. Most of you are my friends, and I feel happy. I even “Like” and of late, “Love” some of those pictures.

However, I find the above “motherhood dare” game disturbing at many levels. When I first saw a few women chip in, I shrugged it off as one of those low-IQ-but-innocuous chain posts on Facebook. Posting the color of your bra, the size of your shoe, we have seen it all. However, this post grew viral in no time, and everyone and their aunt were suddenly rising to the challenge (whatever that meant). I found a well-written article that mirrored my thoughts. So I posted it on my wall, asking what exactly was challenging about publishing pictures (that you do anyway), and what exactly was the “dare” part of it? Many got angry. Women who never write on my wall started defending themselves. Some who have not interacted with me in the last ten years “Like”d the posts of others defending themselves. Clearly, I had stirred up a hornet’s nest.

To paraphrase some of the conversation (since I cannot directly quote people without their consent), women asked what is wrong with posting motherhood pictures when people were posting pictures of their life events anyway. Everyone refused to see that I had problems with using words like “dare” and “challenge”. I had recently met a Mexican immigrant, a single mom of two who worked four jobs and earned meager wages cleaning people’s homes and toilets. If she fell sick, there would be no money coming. To me, that is a challenge. I recently met an eminent professor, a stalwart in her field, who had to bring up a child while being a graduate student, TAing three courses and doing full-time research. She had no help from parents and one day, she passed out in the parking lot out of sheer exhaustion. That to me is a motherhood challenge. I know a parent whose newborn was secretly taken away from them because the partner did not get along with them and decided that they will no longer have a role to play in their child’s life. The parent has been fighting for their rights. To me, that is a challenge. A fellow blogger has had the most difficult birth that I have known of, fighting against all the odds to keep their premature newborn safe and healthy. I know women who want children, but have not been able to conceive. That is a challenge.

To me, my own life choices are somewhat of a challenge. I wish to have children, but have never had a stable job, have been working in yearly contracts for the past several years, did not find a partner whose intellect complements mine, a person who can look beyond the money he makes and the model of the car he drives, and refused to get hitched to anyone just to get some stability and security. I know that I am running against time, and I may not have a child in this process of getting set up in life. But I do not earn enough right now to raise a child on my own, and I have decided to stay single until I find someone who believes in an equitable relationship and makes me feel that we are worthy of being with each other. There are mothers who are alone and working very hard to make ends meet. And then, there are women who want to be mothers, but cannot be due to many reasons. To think of some elite, privileged, smug women who have access to all the basic needs, who are social media savvy and posting their pictures as a challenge, a dare, seemed somewhat ridiculous, insulting, and marginalizing. Marginalizing not only to the non-mothers, but to the lesser-mothers. It’s like welcoming some people to an elite club and telling the rest that you do not belong here. As I reflected on my post and the angry comments it instigated, a few things came to mind:

1. My biggest question was, “So what exactly was so challenging and daring about this post? Did you overcome a disability? Climb Mount Everest perhaps? And when you handpick some of the so called “great moms” according to you, aren’t you marginalizing the “lesser moms”? Why did most people think I was making a personal attack against all the mothers of the world, and to the concept of motherhood in general? What might have led to such wide discrepancy in understanding?

2. Why were women writing on my wall, dissing me and defending themselves? While they posted pictures on their walls, I posted my thoughts on my wall. I never questioned them or commented on their posts. They did, to me, on my wall. Isn’t that intolerance towards alternate-opinions? Not only do you do things you assume correct, but argue and shut people who are differing in their own spaces?

3. I have heard so many women say, “Motherhood makes me complete.” Why haven’t I heard the same thing being said by men, that fatherhood makes you complete? And why don’t women (or men) say, “My job makes me complete. My degrees make me complete. My parents make me complete. My dog makes me complete.” and so on? Of course this is a general question, a reflection, and not a criticism. How can any one thing make you complete and the lack of it make you incomplete?

I had looked forwarded to some constructive comments and reflections. Something more that “You are wrong and you need to feel happy for mothers just like we feel happy for you when you visit a new country or get a new job.” None came. What came were lame, weak explanations something on the lines of, “We are modern day women. We do not judge you. It’s the older generation that did. Our generation is very progressive.” Some more sweeping generalizations on the lines of “these things never happen in our generation.” Perhaps this is what blind racism or blind casteism looks like. To totally not acknowledge that racism and casteism still exist.

Interestingly, women from our generation give me a lot of flak about my life choices, and these are women roughly my age. When I finished a PhD, they said, “Get married now, and your life will be complete.” When I found a new position and moved continents, they said the same. It is like something was always amiss according to them. With every milestone I reached, the need to be coupled to feel complete became even more profound. And the judgment came too. Big time. “This is abnormal. How long can you stay alone? Everyone needs someone. How will you have children?” People assumed things about me, that I am alone and lonely and unhappy. The discrimination was always there. Unmarried or childless women are still treated as second class citizens by our own clan. This, I speak from personal experience. 



loop said...

I broadly agree with your views, but I want to understand something better. Are you saying that, a "normal" motherhood is not a challenge, at all?

Padmanabhan said...

The way I see it, one can't use reason when there is too much emotion. This thing is something very emotional to them apparently. And people need something or the other to make them feel good about themselves and this happens to fill that void nicely. So if they perceive something as a criticism of that, they are going to get defensive and lash out. human nature I guess.

yamini girey said...

A dear friend who took this challenge, posted pictures with her dog. I am talking about an incredibly smart, well traveled, well adjusted grown up here. Made me realize how deep rooted the belief that 'you have achieved everything if you are a mother (even if to a dog)' is, in the society at large.

May be our generation first needs to stop doing things just for the heck of it.

rs said...

am not good at words. but all I can say is I agree. something totally unrelated, but I wanted to share this with you. on women's day in my office, they arranged for a session where they had invited a senior women director to talk. and the whole time she was talking abt working women and challenges and the whole discussion was about married women. being single and well past the age of marriage, that really frustrated me. challenges of working women always mean married women. the society thinks that single women don't face any challenges. seemed so absurd. I was happy the session ended. your post for some reason reminded me of that.


sunshine said...

loop, I never said that. However, there are different ways of answering your question.

1. Have never been a mom, so I don't know.
2. Is it any more challenging than the number of other things we do? Why specifically glorify motherhood then?
3. The FB post was about the challenge of posting a picture. What's so challenging about posting a picture?

sunshine said...

Padmanabhan, true!

sunshine said...

yamini, I have a few friends who chose to be childless (although married or partnered) just because they do not want children. No specific reason or justification. They just don't want something, and they said, "No thank you!". I already see a ray of hope. :)

PS: It is not about being or not being a mom. It is about embracing a life that you want, making your choices, and not following the herd.

sunshine said...

Ramya, thank you for sharing this. You bring in a very important perspective. That the challenges for women is not always about the challenges of balancing work and children. Would you be willing to write a post about it? I'd love to read it. :) And I wholeheartedly agree with your point.

itssowful said...

Interesting! recently few of my cousins/friends had their second child and everytime I spoke to seemed like they were managing a school or the toughest job on earth lol... I think its too much self loathing and hype these days that simple/natural things are so exaggerated, thanks to I/Me/MyselfBook.

Argentyne said...

Mom of two here. I very recently deactivated my fb account because I was wasting way too much time on some groups. I can't believe that people actually participate in stuff like this. What is wrong with people? Also, after one comment I made on a religion-bashing post that turned into a big fb-comments-hate-spiral, I wondered whether there was any point to declaring an opinion on fb. Would I, in my sane mind, ever speak out loud in front of a room full of these 'friends' whose other 'friends' could also hear me? Anyway, I digress. I just cannot digest that people would participate in this nonsense.

sunshine said...

itssowful, FB has made superstars, celebrities, and glamour dolls of everyone these days. :)

Argentyne, it's the herd mentality. You do it because others do it, and you need to keep a cool image. I envy you for having the strength to renounce FB. I still haven't gotten there. :)