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Mother’s Day: What are we really celebrating?

Posted on Sunday, May 9th, 2010 at 6:42 am

Author: Renee Martin

Today is Mother’s Day and restaurants and florist shops are on overdrive, trying to keep up with the consumer-driven holiday we have created to celebrate motherhood.   In advertising, I have seen everything from sofas and loveseats to big screen televisions (supposedly on sale) all meant to honour women who have raised or are currently raising children.  Looking at the ads, it would be easy to believe that this is a universal concern because so much has been dedicated to this supposed holiday; however, it is far from the truth.

Jillian Michaels recently caused a stir when she announced that she did not want to have children for fear of losing her figure.   Michaels has struggled with weight problems in the past and the fear of becoming fat again was too much for her to overcome.   There are plenty of women who do not want to become mothers for various reason, but Jillian’s comments represent a particular frame of thought that has come to be associated with motherhood.

Photographers aggressively seek pictures of women with a baby bump and even when a woman is not pregnant, the slightest weight gain is enough to set people speculating as to whether or not she is with child. Once again, this might seem like an obvious love of motherhood, however, nothing could be further from the truth.  These investigations are simply just more discipline of female bodies.  If it is revealed that a woman is not pregnant, the fat shaming begins immediately and if she is pregnant, the policing of her personal activities ensues.  Suddenly, every action and every single morsel of food that she consumes becomes the business of the public – all wrapped in so-called concern for the unborn child.

Even the women’s rights movement — which has every incentive to invest in motherhood — is loath to talk about it in real and meaningful ways.   You see, motherhood reminds these so-called activists of the problem that has no name.  Visions of Betty Friedan emerge because motherhood, for liberal White feminists, often represents a trap, even though they claim to “want it all.”  Fighting for the right to have an abortion has become the litmus test for feminists today, even though it is often buried in the language of choice.

Yes, women can choose to have an abortion — but they can also choose to mother.  Though Mother’s Day is mean to be a celebration of motherhood, The Center for Reproductive Rights once again obscured the lived experience of so many women to focus again on the right to have an abortion. What is interesting about their so-called Mother’s Day video is that it stars all Black women, yet Black women have historically had to fight to have their motherhood legitimized. Black women are still understood to be welfare queens, living off of the government teat, who breed irresponsibly, and therefore the suggestion that motherhood should be celebrated by Black women by glorifying the right to choose is problematic, to say the least.  A choice should mean showing both sides of the issue and yet, when it comes to women of colour, there is a continual fixation on abortion as though we do not actively choose to mother from a place of informed agency and a desire to love our children.

The ability to choose whether or not to give birth is important to all women, but ignoring motherhood presents a particular racial bias.  White women are heavily invested in abortion rights because their ability to mother has never been socially questioned.  Their children have become even more valuable as the U.S. slowly becomes a minority majority state, whereas women of colour are still constructed as irresponsible breeders who seek to use their children either to attain benefits from the state or citizenship rights.

The Guttmacher Institute recently released a report detailing abortion rates:

“Aside from poverty, little changed in the profile of women obtaining abortions between 2000 and 2008. A broad cross section of U.S. women have abortions: Fifty-eight percent of abortion patients in 2008 were in their 20s; 45% were never-married and not living with a partner; 61% were already mothers; 42% were living below the federal poverty line; 36% were white; 59% had at least some college education; and 73% were religiously affiliated. But certain groups of women—those who were in their 20s, cohabiting, black or poor—were overrepresented among abortion patients.”

These statics reveal that despite the argument that some women don’t want to be mothers, the pro-choice movement is not doing enough for an actual choice to exist.   Simply because one has the ability to have an abortion does not mean that a choice has been made, especially if women feel that they cannot reasonably mother their children.

The failure to advocate for motherhood has given pro-life groups the right to represent a role that most women will at one point take on.  This is particularly damaging for African-American women because they can cite the history of White eugenicists who advocated genocide of people of colour through sterilization.  Georgia’s Right to Life claimed that just two years ago, almost 19,000 Black women received abortions in Georgia, as compared to 8,523 White women during that same year:

“African-Americans account for 30 percent of the population in Georgia but make up 59 percent of the abortions,” Davis [Director of Minority Outreach of Georgia Right to Life] said.  “The black community is being targeted by abortionists. The abortion industry wants us to believe that we have a greater need.”

Is the need greater for Black women, or have we invested so little into motherhood that women feel that they don’t really have any options?  This is a legitimate question and it is not being posed because any discussion is seen a threat to Roe v. Wade.  What does it say when groups that are meant to support women shy away from having radical conversations about motherhood and how it intersects with race and class?

It is time that conversations about motherhood move away from mommy bloggers who are racing to give away Nestle products as they dream about becoming the next Dooce.  Motherhood is far too serious to allow its corruption by the media, corporations, pro-life groups, patriarchy or even a lackluster feminist movement.  Instead of celebrating motherhood by purchasing more consumer items that we do not need, it is time to reclaim motherhood and really become radical in our fight to advance the rights of women.

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  1. Pingback: Interesting posts, weekend of Mother’s Day 2010 « Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction

  2. I just wanted to say that I want to thank you for this article. You’ve written a powerful, emotionally resonating and intelligent article. Your point is clear and 100% right. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: Is it My "Feminist Duty" to Mention Mother's Day? | Menstrual Poetry

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