Give her honour, you fools, not reverence

by cherryblossomlife

“Women’s liberation must be mothers liberation or it is nothing.”
Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman

[As I finished writing this article it struck me how imortant it was to preface it with some context.

Briefly, I am from a working class background in the UK. My grandmother worked full time in a factory while my grandfather minded their seven children at home (After the Welsh collieries were shut down he never found work again) My mother worked full-time while raising five children, eventually out-earning my father.

Women have always worked is the context I bring to this post. The fantasy that women of any society only began working outside the home in the latter half of the twentieth century, (along with the notion that they did not participate in heavy labour, such as mining), is just that: a patriarchal fantasy, a fiction; which unfortunately (and bizarrely) is still touted as a universal Truth.]

When radical feminist writing incorporates motherhood into womanhood all manner of misconceptions abound. Sometimes, when we attempt to attribute value to mothers and their work (the work of mothering) and assess its contribution to society, it can smack of idealization, synonymous with putting motherhood on a pedestal.

But it is not feminists who revere mothers. The beatific imagery and romantic portrayals of motherhood that saturate religious dogma and the media are the delusional imaginings of men’s minds: the 2D projections of a woman-hostile society serving to divide all women, from each other and from themselves.

Mother of God, Queen of Heaven

The root of this reverence is the irritating Madonna/whore dichotomy, stemming from male psycho-sexual issues and the need to regard mothers as pure (and therefore asexual). Plenty of psychoanalytical theories strive to understand why so many men cannot make love properly to their wives.

Without lingering too long on Freud the Fraud, I will just mention that his work on psychoanalysis was an obfuscation, a consciousness lowering medium for women who might otherwize have questioned the unfairness of their circumstances. Nowhere in all the flowery analyses of the ego and “female sexual dysfunction” were the power politics behind husband/wife relations (or the female-specific harms of intercourse) addressed. That men historically granted themselves free reign to do the dirty on a woman (sleep around or otherwize treat her like dirt) once she’d been trapped into pregnancy was quietly overlooked. Meanwhile the wife, bored to death with the lumbering sexual fumblings of her incompetent husband, knew she would be punished severely for any transgressions.

Whatever the root cause, the simultaneous idealization and denigration of mothers –compartmentalizing– is a sign of an unhealthy mind, and an unhealthy society.

The labeling doesn’t end there. Women are divided into sub-categories of “Good Mother/Bad Mother”, which tightens the noose around their necks. Certain “types” of mothers are trotted out and praised in order to serve the patriarchy’s ends. Today in 2011, celebrities serve this function and are presented as role models for women to ‘aspire to’. They are given a platform upon which they are allowed to soar high above the heads of other she-mortals, reminding all women of their lot in life, of their highest aspiration. Brides are celebrated in much the same way.

Whereas other “types” of mothers face the full force of brutal male misogyny. They are the welfare queenssingle parent chav scum, “fat bitches getting themselves knocked up”, or simply pregnancy abuse porn fodder
(F. u. u. u. c. k … I want this third wave to get off the ground so. badly. it. hurts.)

Just as Sheila Jeffreys in Beauty and Misogyny details the harmful beauty practices that are required of women, in The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and how it has Undermined all Women, Douglas and Michaels argue that maternal perfection is mandatory. But it’s lose-lose for all, even for those who are determined to scrape a pass in the Good Mother test:

“Both working mothers and stay-at-home mothers get to be failures. The ethos of intensive mothering has lower status in our culture (“stay-at-home-mothers are boring”), but occupies a higher moral ground (“working mothers are neglectful”)

Women should be told as soon as they conceive that the only Good mothers are those who die in childbirth (1), with extra points if the baby was a boy. This information should be handed out in a little booklets at ante-natal check-ups. Striving to please authority figures such as doctors (as we have been conditioned to do), submitting selflessly to the role, or believing that motherhood will offer us a sense of completeness are all nails in sanity’s coffin.

But woe betide the mother who does not at least aim for perfection. Mothers lose their children for specious reason such as: obesity (Fat Children Should be ‘taken from parents’ to curb obesity Epidemic, screams The Times.), or for refusing to drug their children with ritalin, or even for not getting their children to the brainwashing boot camp known as school on time (many mothers are too poor to own a car). A child can be whisked away if its mother is too poor to provide a bed; but as we all know, children in other cultures sleep together higgledy-piggledy on the floor with their parents.

Many a mother has failed to pass the arbitrary tests set by strange forces that did not know how much she loved the child she bore in pain, and who did not understand that she was doing the best she could with the emotional and financial crumbs she had been thrown.

(Dads? A Dad is a hero just for sticking around.  Fathers often use their hero status to fight the mother for access to the babies she carried beneath her heart for nine months, only to abuse, neglect or kill them.” It is scarily common)

I give you Greer:

“It may be that the persecution of mothers is a permanent feature of patriarchal societies, but …contempt for the mother seems to have assumed a new dimension.

…The lives of single mothers consist of love and work which are their own rewards. For this loyal, unsparing labour there is no recognition, no promotion, no security, no help. Whatever we may think about the ideologies of different feminisms we must see that a feminism that does not address this situation is ostrich feminism.

…Population control, even if it did not deliver women into the power of the pharmaceutical multi-nationals, is not the right answer to the need for child support all over the world…We will be told that technology no longer requires a vast labour force, that these children are a product that is not marketable, and that money spent on them simply perpetuates the problem of too many mouths to feed, in other words, that the children of poor women should not have been born.

…Feminism has to believe that a technology that cannot feed its people is worse than useless. We do not exist to serve technology; technology exists to serve us. With modern technology nobody needs to die of the disease of malnutrition any more; every year untold millions of people do just that. We could distribute food rationally from places of plenty to places of scarcity; we don’t. We could provide everyone on earth with clean water; we don’t. We could use our standing armies and billions of pounds worth of materiel to protect people against the consequences of natural disaster; we don’t.” The Whole Woman

Motherhood is not given any value for the simple reason that it belongs to women. Women’s writing; women’s entire lives get the same treatment: trivialization and invisibility. Childless women fare no better; they are not regarded as complete humans the way that all men are. Often they are non-mothers: women defined, yet again, in the negative, in relation to… I am reminded of a Beauvoir quote:

Thus, humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being.”

This diseased view of woman as the negative of man, “female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,” infects the whole of culture. It is the cancer in the gut of every political and economic system, of every social institution. It is the rot which spoils all human relationships, infests all human psychological reality, and destroys the very fiber of human identity. (The Second Sex)

All women. But a pregnant woman, lumbering down the street in her thirty eighth week of pregnancy has reached the nadir of all that the patriarchy despises about her sex. Passers-by can hardly contain their shivers of revulsion.

For although femininity is mandatory for women, femaleness ( when it is not actively being despised) is outrageously ignored. By refusing to reject the truth of the female body, radical feminists are accused of being essentialist, as though when the day comes that a cure is discovered (most likely by men) for the messy gloop of bodily fluids that is “woman”, be it menstruation, amniotic fluid, or a baby covered in vernix emerging from the birth canal, we will finally be free.

And perhaps in reaction to the ‘woman-as-breeder’ effigy, there has been a sentiment in recent years that equality can be had by overcoming the script of biology, an idea suggesting that outsourcing pregnancy to poor women is a reasonable thing to do, or that embracing men’s pettiness, whatever they find important, and making it part of our own lives as women is the way to freedom; followed by an even more incongruous notion that such a path is possible.

A paradigm shift is needed; society must get into a frame of mind where all women are valued for who they are and what they do. And where the “paper shuffling” of men is mocked and derided for being the waste of time that it is. Our world has been incongruously designed in such a way that women are subsidizing men’s mistakes . Women are paying for the blunders of incompetent rich white men who shamelessly rely on the money taken from the minimum wages of mothers’ part-time jobs, (jobs that women humiliatingly accept because it’s the only work that ‘fits around the kids’ ). Mothers paying money out of their taxes for bankers’ bonuses? Mothers paying out so that men can play war games in a sandpit for ten years? We are confronted with the charade that is patriarchy.

Within this shift, we must design practical solutions to the fact that to be a mother is to be:

a) stuck in the poverty trap
b) dependent on a man, or forced to pool resources with a man i.e. live with the father, or
c) forced to choose between independance (work) and being with her baby (which in turn is only made possible by relying on the class system, whereby a woman poorer and less educated will take over childcare duties– except for Sweden where a Masters degree is required to work at a kindergarten)

What are the solutions?

Refusing to have children is a good decision for a woman on a personal level. It frees up energy, and she is not bound to a man. She maintains her physical integrity and autonomy, and indeed the greatest minds (especially in feminism) have been childless women. Would Virginia Woolf had produced her final and greatest work, The Waves, if she had become a mother in a patriarchy?

Japanese women have taken this route ( Japan faces the steepest drop in fertility rates in modern civilization) Over 50% of Japanese women are single at age 30 and now the government is panicking. It offers sums of cash to mothers every four months, increasing with each subsequent child. Japanese women are not the street-marching type. To escape their oppression many have simply ‘opted-out’. “We are human beings, not machines” they say when questioned about their lack of interest in babies.

And yet the status of Japanese women remains low. They are still channelled into the pink collar ghettos, and as for politics: it’s a sausage fest.Which tells me that women wanting to have babies is not the main obstacle to women’s liberation. Men dominating women is.

I do not have a blueprint of solutions, but as a heterosexual woman, I will say that at this stage in the game –and at this point in my journey into feminism– political lesbianism (or at least rejecting heterosexual coupledom) makes the most sense. Reproductive technology is certainly not the answer, but restructuring society so that women of the middle classes no longer choose to live with the father of their children will be an important step. Private property is singularly responsible for turning women into brood mares whose purpose is to produce heirs.Women of low socio-economic status already reject the fathers of their babies in favour of living with their own mothers. It is imperative that middle class women stop being seduced into marriage by trinkets.

Whatever the final solution is, radical feminists such as myself are concerned with reversing the invisibility and trivialization of real mothers. Gorgeous propaganda does not put food in the kids’ mouths, or protect women from battery. But treating our biology as a side issue, or as something to be overcome, tamed, or denied has done nothing but shortchange women, who are forced to fit like a square peg in a round hole into a society which is inimical to what they do (biologically) and who they are. Our focus is women’s actual lives. We are not concerned with male psycho-sexual complexes. Leave romantic idealization, reverence and revulsion, the Madonna and the whore, to the men.

Because she has borne five children
And her belly is criss-crossed
With little tongues of fire…

Give her honour
Give her honour, you fools,
Give her honour

Grace Nichols, ‘Because she has come’ in The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer

1) The Whole woman pp249

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15 Comments to “Give her honour, you fools, not reverence”

  1. That is a great poem!

    This is a complex topic, I appreciated your presenting the complexity.

    I knew someone who was pregnant and who was living in a culture where she was not looked at with revulsion. Instead, men made “appreciative” comments. She did not like being objectified in this way, either, since they were strangers who felt they had the right to make such comments. Not respectful. They had to own her in some way.

  2. THanks Katie, yes it is a complex and sensitive topic. I tried to cover all bases as best I could.
    I’ve just found out that a judge in North Carolina has ruled that a mother must lose her children and give FULL custody to their abusive father because she has cancer.

    Horrifying misogyny
    http://www.change.org/petitions/do-not-allow-nc-judge-to-take-alaina-giordanos-children-just-because-she-has-cancer?utm_source=action_alert&utm_medium=email&alert_id=dlTryXcAOQ_eWOHeITRoM

  3. Wow, CBL, that makes me sick to my stomach. Heart-wrenching.

  4. Women have always worked is the context I bring to this post. The fantasy that women of any society only began working outside the home in the latter half of the twentieth century, (along with the notion that they did not participate in heavy labour, such as mining), is just that: a patriarchal fantasy, a fiction; which unfortunately (and bizarrely) is still touted as a universal Truth.]

    Exactly! It’s amazing how nobody ever points this out. There’s never been a woman in my family who didn’t work, and that’s been true for the large majority of women throughout history. This is one of patriarchy’s most transparent and blatant lies, and it’s downright bizarre how rarely that’s pointed out.

    It’s great to see a radfem perspective on pregnancy and motherhood, gave me so much to think about. Also, some of those links are just terrifying.

    I’ve had a couple of female friends (who plan on getting pregnant in the future) tell me they feel disgust when they see pregnant women, and they don’t know why. They just accept it as natural. It’s amazing how much self-hatred we internalize in the patriarchy.

  5. Hi rahelle, yes that revulsion is a learned response in a woman-hating society. I suppose it’s just an extension from the general disgust at women’s bodies. How many women would dare to go to the beach or pool with their pubes hanging out of their swimsuit?! Because pregnancy represents femaleness (not femininity, trans women represent that!), the logical outcome is that pregnancy is reviled. Women in labour are often treated like dogs in hospitals too.

    I’m going to go off on a ramble here but I remember reading a diary entry by Virginia Woolf’s husband, Leonard Woolf, the evening after they’d had some guests over for dinner, a pregnant woman among them. He was absolutely appalled and disgusted at “how much pregnant women eat” , and went on and on about how she kept stuffing food down her face (in his eyes). [The extract is in Who’s Afraid of Leonard Woolf by Irene Coates] He found pregnant women revolting… .

    It’s one thing for men to think these things, but it’s very sad when women internalize the disgust isn’t it.

  6. I remember attending a dance performance by a woman I knew who was far along in her pregnancy. This was decades ago and something that women did not do then. It was memorable and she was brave to do that back then.

    I had a male friend in high school (gay, but not out back then, no one ever was). He was a good friend but it really startled me when he said he thought pregnant women should not be seen in public. I thought much less of him after that, though this was a gut level feeling, I knew nothing of feminism. He seemed kind of sicko for this attitude, mean-spirited.

    On the other hand, the world I grew up in had families where husbands beat their pregnant wives. It shaped my attitudes about the way pregnant women are helpless since they were less able to defend themselves while pregnant and needed the man as a “breadwinner.”

  7. yes, women are more likely to be battered by their spouse when they are pregnant. It flies in the face of that other patriarchal lie: that men are the “protectors” of women doesn’t it. They become jealous of the foetus apparently, but who knows, maybe they just like beating up pregnant women. That sounds more like it.

    Gay men.. yes, in many ways they are the allies of feminists because they are also the enemies of patriarchy (except they still benefit from the system, whereas women don’t). But it seems to me that they are particularly repulsed by women’s bodies… and although they don’t annihilate and destroy women the way heterosexual men do… the disgust is most definitely still there.. There’s probably an extra element with gay men because they KNOW that they can’t reproduce without a woman, and (if they’re openly gay) they’re never going to get one (unless they BUY one like Elton John did [vomit] )

  8. Some of the worst misogyny I’ve ever witnessed has been from gay men. They (mostly) don’t rape us, for obvious reasons, but most of them (from what’s been my experience) are definitely not allies to us. A lot of them actually place the blame for homophobia in society on “dumb prudish housewives”. Once I tried to explain a group of gay guys that homophobia comes out of patriarchal misogyny, and that by perpetuating the latter, they perpetuate the former too. They didn’t get it at all (or didn’t want to get it). And, yes, gay men are definitely not shy (or polite) about their disgust for the female body. Not to even mention how venomous they are to lesbians in particular.

  9. Oh yes, the ‘ick factor’. I am heartily sick of it. A lot of gay men I know seem to hate and fear our bodies and will assert their dominance by feeling up women’s breasts. It’s not assault because they’re gay and it’s just a joke, darling, get a sense of humour.
    My partner is one of the only women in a gay pride festival group (and almost definitely the only feminist) and she is constantly battling the male dominance and misogyny. I used to long for the days of the 70s when fags and dykes battled patriarchy together but not any more. I am totally disillusioned.
    On another topic, is anyone interested in a book club of sorts? I enjoyed Cherry’s quotes from The Whole Woman (I have never forgotten that poem and the powerful emotions that welled up inside me when I read it) and I was thinking that we could suggest books to read together? Or if something like that already exists could someone furnish me with the address?

  10. HI Hannah,
    yes that poem… amazing

    There are a few things going on out there to do with books.

    Undercoverpunk has got a website
    http://feminsttheoryreadinggroup.wordpress.com/about-2/

    And I also highly recommend
    http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/feminist_book_club
    Mumsnet is a massive British website so I don’t know if that interests you, but some of the members are suprisingly radical 🙂 and they choose a book a month

  11. so many good things in here cherry! first, this is just so true:

    Women should be told as soon as they conceive that the only Good mothers are those who die in childbirth (1), with extra points if the baby was a boy.

    YES! the only good woman is a dead woman. and this seems even more relevant to mothers doesnt it? they are set up to fail, since the only good mother is a father (the hero who takes care of his own fucking kids when the mother dies or isnt present for any reason!) makes sense also where the perfect woman is a man pretending to be female (thin, grotesquely femmed out, with a nice tight fuckhole). oh sorry was that rude?

    and this:

    For although femininity is mandatory for women, femaleness ( when it is not actively being despised) is outrageously ignored. By refusing to reject the truth of the female body, radical feminists are accused of being essentialist, as though when the day comes that a cure is discovered (most likely by men) for the messy gloop of bodily fluids that is “woman”, be it menstruation, amniotic fluid, or a baby covered in vernix emerging from the birth canal, we will finally be free.

    femaleness IS outrageously ignored. probably because men cant mimick it, or pretend they have it (see “femininity” above). the equality-model doesnt work for us, because we are biologically different than men, who actively exploit this difference daily in thier own lives, and collectively as a sexual class…and then have the unmitigated gall to pretend they DONT, and demand that we accept their lies about what we are and what they do to us. oh, okay!

    Japanese women are not the street-marching type. To escape their oppression many have simply ‘opted-out’. “We are human beings, not machines” they say when questioned about their lack of interest in babies. And yet the status of Japanese women remains low. They are still channelled into the pink collar ghettos, and as for politics: it’s a sausage fest.Which tells me that women wanting to have babies is not the main obstacle to women’s liberation. Men dominating women is.

    paydirt. yes. i dont think that PIV-for-pleasure will survive womens “equality” with men (i am sure it cannot) but PIV-for-reproduction (ie. female reproductive function) probably can. its not women having babies thats the problem really, its womens biological vulnerability to male bodies that is deliberately and actively exploited, under the P. THATS the problem, right there. its MEN that are the problem. not women, and not anything our female bodies DO.

  12. Thanks for the link, Cherry! I have just visited the feminist theory reading group. It’s great! Thanks again.

  13. yes,. and what is scary about the Japanese example is that it proves that men will cling on to their privilege to the bitter end. Men are a nationalistic and patriotic group of people (well they invented nation-states, after all), and the Japanese government must be aware of the fact that women’s refusal to have children is connected to their second class status…. and YET it *will* *not* do anything to change the status quo. Men would choose extinction over women’s liberation any day. 

  14. Men would choose extinction over women’s liberation any day.

    this *is* what we are up against isnt it? thank you for stating it so plainly. its something to think about…assuming thats the case, what is this “revolution” going to look like? maybe eventually we will simply become extinct?

  15. Yes.. but at the same time it’s kinda funny because all the men (the EPs) who have stated over the years that female subordination is ‘natural’ or biological are going to have to eat their words because as more societies go down the Japanese route women’s rage and refusal to comply *will* end up in our extinction, proving the status quo has fuck all to do with survivial of the fittest…
    One thing I will say for Japan though is that it is very safe for women compared to the UK. Crime rates are incredibly low because everyone is middle class due to government policies. Women think nothing of walking the dog or going to the laundrette at midnight…. So when women’s status goes up in society (as it has done in the UK and US in recent years) violence against women and children increases. Another scary thought.

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