Bodies, Autonomy, and Perceived Selfishness

Is it real or is it brainwashing?

I used to think it was wrong to disparage people socialized as women who chose to stay at home with children and not pursue any outside employment, schooling, or general interaction with adults aside from their neighbors, family members, and spouses. After all, anytime someone like me – childfree by choice – made a comment about not wanting to be a mother I would hear about how rude it was to imply that women who made the choice to be ‘stay-at-home moms’ were somehow inferior. As if that had anything to do with my personal choice to be childfree. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe any choice a person makes is inferior, but hear me out for a moment. I don’t believe that people socialized as women actually CHOOSE to be stay-at-home moms. I’ve come to this conclusion after much observation and a long conversation with my own mother who floated the idea that perhaps they are not choosing it so much as being coerced into believing that it is required of them.

This goes for those in cultures that prize motherhood in a way that is imposed upon them through rhetoric and religious beliefs. Complementarianism mixed with bullshit ideas about gender roles has created a toxic stew of beliefs that force some people into situations that they may not have chosen if they had other options. This is not about being a mother or a parent, in general, this is about the role of staying home with the children and forcing yourself to believe that you don’t want anything more for your adult life. That you are unable to do anything other than stay home with your children because others have made you believe you cannot do anything else. This, my dear friends, is brainwashing, plain and simple.

Now, I know -this seems like the ramblings of a childfree by choice feminist killjoy, but truly – I do not believe that these women who say they only want to be stay-at-home-moms are being truthful. I think they believe this because they have been made to by their upbringing, their partners, or the heads of their churches. To put mothers on a pedestal and make them believe that their ultimate goal in life should be to only raise children and take care of a home is doing these mothers a disservice. Every human has the capacity to do multiple things throughout their lifetime and motherhood is no different from any other profession. Of course – in the beginning, someone has to stay home with the baby humans, to keep them alive, but egalitarian parents seem to accomplish this just as well as complementarians, with the added bonus of all parents remaining equal. With a little help and support, parents can raise their children and have lives outside of the home. It is happening every day and it isn’t strange or different.

The glorification of motherhood and the backlash people socialized as women feel if they vocalize the fact that they do not want to be a stay-at-home-mother is damaging to society as a whole. We have cultivated a traditional sense of motherhood that has been detrimental to all people, parents or not. This sense of what people socialized as women should want is toxic and feeds into the self-loathing they feel regardless of the route they decide to take.

Of course – people socialized as men don’t get this same treatment when they say they don’t want to have kids. It is always and only people socialized as women that bear the brunt of vitriol from others. That vitriol, of course, is outwardly facing internal pain, but that is a whole other avenue of psychology that I’m not going to try and tackle here.

Critical thinking skills are essential

The conversation with my mother actually got me thinking a lot more critically on this topic. I have always believed that being a parent is a choice that each of us makes, independently of any other forces in the world, but I also realize that there are many people who make their life choices based on their surroundings. They listen to the people in their family, friend groups, community, and/or church elders to determine their choice. They may not listen to the voice in their own head that tells them what they truly want because the messages that they receive from the outside are too loud. They also might not have the critical thinking skills to determine exactly what they want versus what the world wants for them. At worst, they might not know that they have other choices.

The points above, coupled with the fact that stay-at-home-motherhood is put on a pedestal in our culture, makes for a conversation that is almost impossible to have. Or, at the very least, it is impossible for someone like me to have. Someone who has chosen NOT to have children. Someone who has listened to the internal voice that told me I didn’t want to be a parent. Someone who did a wealth of critical thinking, questioned my gut reaction, and still came to the conclusion that I did not want to be a parent. I did not arrive at this conclusion quickly, easily, or without thought. I did the work to get here. I do not believe that those in the complementarian style of life do this critical thinking. They just move forward with what they have been taught to believe and they never question it. At least not in the beginning.

A wedge emerges

The day after the conversation where my mother asked the question; ‘but do they really WANT to be stay-at-home moms or are they merely socialized to believe that is what they want?’ I woke up with my brain buzzing. Do they truly, deep down, want to be ONLY stay-at-home moms or are they just saying that because it is what they believe they have to say? Why don’t we ever give people socialized as men grief for having a job and children? Why are only people socialized as women in the hot seat when it comes to child-rearing? Why are people socialized as women put in a position to have to ‘make a choice’ or try to ‘have it all’ or ‘go childfree for a career’ when people socialized as men can just do all the things and there are no conversations about it. There are no think pieces (a quick search returns SO MANY for ‘women’) written in major publications on why people socialized as men can or can’t have it all.

And here is the crux – people socialized as women are pitted against each other in this conversation because if one person says “I don’t want to have children” another will ask “why? children are gifts from G-d and we should be happy to be mothers”, therefore continuing the lie of motherhood as an imperative.

There are people who want to raise children. There are people who want to have careers. There are people who want to raise children while having careers. But there are not people who want to only raise children and never have any other work. The idea that there are people socialized as women who are ‘born to be mothers’ or only and forever want to stay at home raising children because they don’t have any other interests is a bullshit myth that has been instilled in people socialized as girls and women for centuries in order to make the white supremacist patriarchy function.

Throughout history, when people socialized as women show ambition for anything beyond raising children, it is tamped down by the forces in society that maintain the status quo. If people socialized as women collectively agreed that we can be parents and have careers, just like people socialized as men can, then perhaps we would be able to crush the stay-at-home mom expectation that harms people socialized as women who think they have to be doing that job in order to be good.

In an excellent piece by Jill Filipovic (jill.substack.com), the myth of stay-at-home motherhood is shown in all its toxic glory through MLM schemes. The piece focuses on the new documentary about LuLaRoe, which connects directly to what I have stated above. No person socialized as a woman is born wanting to be only and always a mom with no other outlets in her life. This is why MLMs are so easily ingrained in traditionalist communities. They promise an outlet for stay-at-home moms to interact with other moms, without leaving home to do so, and in the process, they take these people socialized as women (and sometimes people socialized as men) for a ride financially. Something framed as empowering is really a scam that ends up becoming an extremely expensive hobby.

There is also something to be said for the infantilization of people socialized as women in society. Traditionalist people socialized as men see their wives as inferior to them by design and although they are tasked with the huge responsibility of keeping small humans alive, the moms are often seen as children themselves who cannot make decisions. So, when one of them is scammed by an MLM scheme like LuLaRoe it confirms the narrative of childlike behavior, further pushing them into the realm of the home and not allowing them to seek out other career opportunities or even have hobbies that take them away from the home and their children. And when a mom decides to go out and get a job to fulfill the need to be a participating member of society or contribute monetarily to the home (not to diminish the fact that domestic labour is already contributing GREATLY to the home, but as unpaid work is devalued) her jobs are often devalued by these traditionalist communities as hobbies. They are seen as ‘little jobs’ that are not really contributing anything to the bottom line, even if they have the potential to contribute a great deal to that home budget.

Double standards

Social media allows toxic positivity and traditional motherhood tropes to thrive virtually unchecked. I have witnessed comment threads in which people suggest stay-at-home moms who attempt to go out in the world to work or have a social life are being selfish. Giving pointers on how to have a job and still ‘keep house’ is a common occurrence, but only on the comment threads of people socialized as women. Those parents who were socialized as men never get pointers on housework or raising kids, even when their threads are full of leisure activities, let alone when they talk about work opportunities. The double standards abound and it creates an environment where mothers are held to a more stringent standard than fathers. This is a toxic loop that we are still having a hard time getting out of, even in 2022. The political climate of holding back on or, worse, rolling back legislation that provides equal rights adds to the issue. If paid family leave is not available then mothers end up having to leave the workforce for long periods of time, setting their careers back and lowering the standard of living for their families.

Add to this, the mothers who think they know best what other mothers should be doing. The ones who talk about how to work, take care of the kids, clean the house, do the laundry, and get dinner on the table, without ever thinking that perhaps the father in this scenario could help out as well. And that also completely leaves out single parents who have to do all of these things on their own and don’t have the option to just stay at home with the kids. If you have a partner, you should be sharing in all of the home duties as well as bringing an income into the family. Adults should work in and out of the home, no matter what gender they were socialized into.

Honestly – my partner and I share the household chores and we do them on Sundays. It takes about 2-3 hours of our time to clean our home from top to bottom. Every season we do a larger cleaning, also on a weekend. During the week we share the responsibility of cleanup after dinner. One cooks, one washes dishes. And we, together, keep our home and clothes clean. These responsibilities add up to maybe 8 hours per week total. So, if there was one person doing this type of work, why would they need to stay home and not have a job? The answer, obviously, is that they wouldn’t. The framing of ‘stay-at-home-mom’ as necessary is a myth. Yes – someone has to stay with the children as they grow, but once they are in school and on their way to adulthood, the person who stayed home to raise them should be able to re-enter the workforce or education system or any other outside of the home outlet they wish to pursue. They should not be relegated, forever and always, to the role of housewife. This role was created simply to control people socialized as women and nothing else.

Why does any of this matter?

On the individual level, people socialized as women are being made to feel like garbage when they want to raise children and have a career. At the think piece level, people socialized as women who stay at home with their children are interviewed to glorify the traditional stay-at-home mom role while lashing out at people socialized as women who are raising children and cultivating careers. But these are merely tools for the patriarchy to continue control. Wedges that are placed between people socialized as women so that we will continue the infighting, rather than looking outward as a collective at the harm that these myths have caused over time.

There are so many people who have set aside their ambitions because they didn’t think they could raise children and pursue a career and they were, frankly, duped. They can do it. With help. And that is the point. Raising children does not require some special skill that only people socialized as women have. It merely requires adulthood and knowledge. It requires assistance from others and the support of a community that cares for it’s young.

It also requires universal daycare and pre-K, universal healthcare, paid family leave for 6 months after the arrival of a child, a $20 minimum wage, and universal healthcare. It requires community care. You know – the basic things to live. The stability to live life with dignity. Needs met. We put tax dollars toward so many other things in the United States that do not benefit the whole of society, and yet we don’t see the need to fund these basic services for all. It is truly disgusting.

Because people socialized as women are made to believe, over our lifetimes, that we are not able to do all the things, we fall into the patterns that society has laid out for us. Some of us have children and stay at home. Some of us don’t have children at all. Some of us have children and careers but struggle to make ends meet. If we dropped the myth of motherhood and came together as a collective of people fighting for a common goal of equality, we would see a better world.

As a collective, we can lobby the government to get the things we need so that we can have it all, no matter what having it all looks like. We can stop resting on the myth that people socialized as women are ‘meant to be’ mothers and if they choose something else they are going outside the norm and smash that myth into a million pieces through our organizing for the rights of all people to have support in our ongoing efforts, parenting or not.

This past week

The above conversation about raising the young is all fine and good, but there is another force at play that reared it’s ugly head again last week and that is the right for people with uteruses to have the ability to choose what they want to do with said uterus. Yes, I am being very specific here because there are all kinds of people who can create, grow, and bear children and all of us are at risk of losing our rights.

First Texas, then Oklahoma, and just yesterday, Kentucky, have basically made abortion illegal in their states. At present, we still have Roe v. Wade to uphold the bodily autonomy of those with a uterus, but if the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization moves forward, it could send the decision of viability back to the states. The issue in the case is “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional” (scotusblog.com) and if found to be true would essentially overturn Roe. With near total abortion bans setup in many states across the country, to be triggered with an overturn of Roe, we are truly on a path backwards. Women are people. All women are people. All people with uteruses are people. And at the end of all of this, if we overturn one of the most crucial Supreme Court decisions we have seen in recent memory, we are telling all people with uteruses that we are, in fact, not human.

How can we retain our rights?

The good news is that many pro-choice groups and organizations, across the country, wrote amicus briefs, in September 2021, in support of the defendant, showing a great deal of pushback to the draconian reversal of human rights that the petitioners seek. Contacting legislators through phone calls, text messages, emails, and marching to capital buildings with our message of equality will continue to pressure these officials. Holding them accountable through our votes is another avenue of resistance. We need to stay aware and remain vigilant in the protection of equal rights for ALL, not just for those in power.

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