Womanhood, Motherhood, and Definitions

At the gym the other day, I was really excited to see a brand-new (to me, it was about a week or two old) People magazine.  I happily took it to page through during my run.  A new People at the gym is a rare occurrence, and typically portends a much longer than usual run and cool-down to give time to peruse it from cover to cover.  Since I’ve gained a few pounds over the last few months, this is a good thing.

As I was reading through, I came to the section about people making a difference.  The story was on a volunteer group of women helping put new roofs on houses, and the magazine spoke with a couple of the women.  One of the women quoted stated: “Besides being a mother, this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

Typically this is the kind of line that would leave me with a vague sense of grief and/or anger.  I really don’t know how PCOS and infertility are going to play out in my life, and it’s been a sort of wound that breaks open at even the least provocation recently.  Mentions of motherhood, even in the most generally harmless sense sometimes cause a certain ache.

This time it was more of a sense of curiosity and reflection that awakened.  What I found fascinating was that in the midst of an article about roofing and volunteer work was that this woman felt it necessary to mention motherhood as the most rewarding thing she has ever done.  I’m not questioning her feeling – I don’t doubt that motherhood is incredibly amazing and rewarding.  Otherwise why would so many of us go through endless invasive and embarrassing tests, pay enormous sums of money for treatments, or go through all the home studies and work adoption entails for even a shot at parenthood?

What I question is why motherhood had to come into play here at all.  The article wasn’t about motherhood per se.  It was about ordinary women coming together to do some great good.  The short article, though, describes the group as “moms, grandmothers, and widows”, along with the quote above.  Part of me wanted to ask: so there are no single, never-married women in this group, no childless women who didn’t tragically lose a spouse before being able to have children?

I’m not faulting the group profiled, they’re doing something amazing and probably had no real input in the writing, wording, and quotes selected for the article.  It just interested me, the words used to define these women.  The implication in the article served by that quote also piqued me: that nothing in life, no matter how rewarding or helpful to others could be a higher calling than motherhood.  There’s nothing wrong with loving being a mother, and how this individual ranks experiences in her life is her choice. The article is just a somewhat disturbing reminder of how strongly motherhood and the definition of womanhood are intertwined in the media and this culture.

It’s something that as a woman who exists in the “gray area” – childless at this time, but not by choice – I’m not entirely sure how to respond to.

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6 thoughts on “Womanhood, Motherhood, and Definitions

  1. I know, it is ridiculous how that happens. but as a writer… it’s a popular culture magazine, very mainstream, and they’re looking to target a really wide demographic and mothers grandmothers and widows hits that target. it had absolutely nothing to do with the story, and I would have chosen a better quote to put in if I was writing that, but they’re writing to a brief and that is to make it as mainstream and appealing to as many women as possible. It’s crap.

  2. These sorts of things always cause a little pang in me too and I don’t know how to feel about them.

    I do really love how you described yourself as ‘childless at this time, but not by choice.’ This says so much and includes the emotion of the circumstance.

  3. I’ve had a lot of these same thoughts. Lately, I’ve been considering how much of the cultural fetish surrounding motherhood really boils down to money after all. I mean, women seem to be encouraged to talk about their birth experiences, their status as a mother, their motherhood in a lot of detail – and it’s not just that it’s a profound life event, which I guess it is. There’s something that’s encouraging women to make this very public as well, to consider themselves part of a select community, despite how common it is for women (besides me) to have biological children. I wonder how much of this is the way that commercial forces (corporations, small business with products to sell, etc) swoop in with a fair bit of stealth, eager to make a whole lot of money off of the woman who suddenly has a new person to provide things like food, clothes, shelter, toys, education, etc for. If one can turn a major but ordinary life event into a thing of almost mythical status, then it breaks down most people’s ability to limit spending.

    That’s a theory-in-progress, anyway. 🙂

    • That’s a really good point about the money factor – it factors into those “upgrades” to a better room or suite that hospitals are starting to sell or so many commercials for products. I hadn’t seen it that way, but it’s true.

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