The erasure of mothers is coming from inside the house
Reading that Alissa Heinerscheid used surrogates for her family was an "Oh, of course she did!" moment. That helped explain to me how and why she signed Mulvaney up to pitch Bud Light. She's immersed in the Modern LibFem Girlboss dream in all its artificial and oblivious glory. She hasn't lived in the Real World for quite some time. If ever.
All my life I never understood the violent vandalism of artworks in museums and other public places. (It's just art! What's the big deal?) Seeing the photo of that disgusting sculpture gave me a visceral reaction. And I get it now. It's a good thing that monstrosity is displayed half a world away from me. I could take a sledgehammer to it in a blind rage with no hesitation.
There is a third option. Fathers can be much more involved in the care of infants and small children without being "feminized" and without being indistinguishable from mothers, whose bond with infants in particular is indisputably (to my mind) biologically primed and vital to the infant's physical and psychological survival.
Bear with me while I get a bit complicated. Dorothy Dinnerstein's book "The Mermaid and the Minotaur" made a fascinating argument that misogyny was rooted in mothers' **exclusive** care for infants. The infant's primal experience of the fact that life itself will both fulfill you and frustrate you gets projected onto women, because it is only mother who sometimes comes on time to soothe your hunger or colic, sometimes not——a literal matter of life and death in the infant's psyche. (I think this was based on Melanie Klein's psychoanalytic notion that infants split mother into the "good, giving breast" and "bad, withholding breast"). Dinnerstein believed that if it was sometimes your father who fed and comforted you—which didn't make him indistinguishable from your mother, for starters he FEELS different!—that two-facedness of life would no longer be so starkly blamed on women.
Anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is finishing a book that posits and finds evidence for an evolved and physiologically demonstrable response in men to infants and small children. It's obviously not remotely the same as a mother's response, and it can be either suppressed or evoked by culture. (A mother's response is much much harder to suppress, as witness the mothers—and their babies—who suffer by being forced to go back to work 6 weeks after birth, either by economic survival or career survival.) This gives support to the idea that men could be much more involved in their children's early care (which would also give the mother a break) without at all becoming indistinguishable from women as "parents."
There are men, "real men," who find this very fulfilling—many more, probably, than there are women (there are some!) who DON'T find early motherhood fulfilling (many privileged women today sadly struggle against just how compelling it is!). It doesn't make both parents sexless "parents," rather it taps into something that has been left untapped in men because it was labeled their "feminine side." What if it is part of natural masculinity? Tomcats can be very tender fathers.
Dylan Mulvaney is a performance artist -- he pretends to be a stereotype of a woman. Vladimir Lenin was too -- he pretended to be the stereotype of a blue-collar worker. The former cares about women about as much as the latter cares about the poor. Both are simply vehicles to power.
The new Left's culture war makes so much more sense when you realize it's just the old Left's class war dressed up in a fancy new coat.
Brilliant and important thinking! What indeed has gone so drastically wrong with feminism that Dylan Mulvaney can be its figurehead? Agree that currently many knowledge professionals are at fault for being so far removed from natural phenomena and averse to reminders of physical womanhood. However I do take issue with the knee jerk class critique of feminism fashionable in many quarters today, taken as fact that feminism has always been elitist. More educated people are almost always at the forefront of movements (MLK and Ghandi come to mind) because they can read and write, obviously, and have time to organize. None of that has been possible for all but a tiny minority of women historically. My mother's Irish and Scottish matriarchs were factory workers and domestic servants and peasants before that, but they all would have preferred to have control over how many children they gave birth to, a say in the family finances that often got gambled or boozed away before all the mouths were fed, and the option to leave a husband instead of being beaten. Feminism is as down to earth, life and death, blood and guts as it gets. Many claims of its elitism are just excuses to discredit, divide and dismiss women.
A mothers love for the infant is just sweeter and more spontaneous than that of the father in the early years especially. Sure, there are exceptions but most of us observe this in life.
Thank you Mary for your incisive essay! "When I became a mother it rapidly became obvious to me that (at least in the early stages) mothers and fathers are a very long way from interchangeable." This observation seems at the crux of the absurdity of 'parentcare' - mothers and fathers each serve specific roles, complementing each other rather than being interchangeable.
As a homeschool educator, I have met dozens of mothers who fully embrace their roles as mothers, while often having an impressive professional background (in my homeschool co-ops I have had mothers who were CEOs, surgeons, authors, computer programmers, linguists, physicians, teachers, lawyers, etc.), yet they placed their roles as mothers before their profession out of choice, not because they had to. To them feminism lay in having children, educating them, and establishing a caring and loving family. Dedicating themselves to motherhood full-time was a 'radical' choice, and continues to be a very counter-cultural perspective.
I couldn't agree more with what you are arguing here, Ms. Harrington.
Feminists who say that motherhood is "oppressive" or even a system "invented by the patriarchy" (I read that infamous essay in the NYT by Chelsea Conaboy arguing that "maternal instinct" was a man-made invention, absolute rubbish) are simply denying fundamental facts about biology. I've had conversations with fellow women (most of them feminists, but not the "reactionary" ones you describe and that I consider myself to be) where they said that they "didn't like how everything is about biology". It has always seemed an interesting point to me: Many women seem to be so unhappy with their biological conditions or feel so constrained by them that they want them erased or fail to acknowledge them, i.e. they want to "be like a man". But isn't that the whole point - that we are NOT men, but women? And isn't that the beauty of it, that women are women and men are men?
The statue of the breastfeeding man, for me, encapsulates the insanity of this whole matter: Women's roles as life-givers are invalidated, biological sex is distorted and loses its fundamental meaning, and it's the children who suffer in the end (spoiler: that baby would not survive) -- https://twoplustwo.substack.com/p/the-mimicry-of-women
I enjoyed this article, I am a Norwegian psychiatrist and witnessing first-hand the developments after decades of policies supporting this kind of thinking, recently 48% of new mothers take unpaid leave, because fathers now have been given increasingly longer leave at the expense of the mother. Thought behind it is basically what you describe here, so exhibit A, look to the new numbers out of Norway.
The picture of that statue is so revolting- I once wanted to go to Aarhus - maybe not anymore
I cannot stand the type of feminism which is biophobic toward babies or motherhood. Having said that, I am familiar with it because I have experienced it before. It is caused by a focus on achievement and/or the ridicule of boys and men who are themselves biophobic about the maturity required of fatherhood
I've been predicting a return to slavery driven by women who need amenable help to do it all.
A Canadian author wrote The Handmaid's Tale. It isn't Mike Pence who threatens to commoditize motherhood. It is already here.
Insightful as always. As a very involved father, I definitely understand the urge of the imagined "Parentcare" rebrand. It's in the hurt I feel in the (less and less common) references people make to me "babysitting" my own children whenever my wife is not home.
I don't begrudge anyone for prioritizing a career or juggling the number of competing wants and desires of modern life and the myriad tools we have to do so. But it has always struck me as odd that an ideology focused as it were, on women (feminism), has continually looked to rebrand women and their measures of success in distinctly male terms. If anyone has swallowed the "patriarchy" hook, line, and sinker - it would appear to be feminism (broadly defined) - that a gender "neutral" society looks just like a "male" one, only we've politely taken the "men only" sign off the wall. All the female things must be hastily shoved in the drawer, like a sex toy you realized you left on the nightstand. And this magic trick is called progress.
The Free Press recently had a piece on surrogacy. The only logical conclusion is that surrogacy is basically a commodification of wombs and children alike - for the mothers especially it is indentured servitude, or to be utterly blunt: prostitution. Time and again in that piece you hear people who hire surrogates complain that somehow society is "denying" them some mythic "right" to parenthood - surely the cry of the spoiled who think their money should get them whatever they want. It is hardly any wonder that motherhood is so denigrated, it is treated as a product that anyone should be able to buy for the right price.
Sigh, "be kind" for me now is code for 'pretend you're not as important as some man's feelings'. Women who are pushing the new "genderless" world are the worst. Babies haven't read any philosophy books, nor do they care about gender equal parenting. Every mammal baby is born looking for his or her mother. Period. Parents are not interchangeable Lego bricks that can be mixed and matched according to some adult's desire. And birth and breastfeeding groups that have gone along with the erasure of women and mothers are complicit in harming children and catering to adult sexual fetishes. https://lucyleader.substack.com/p/the-problem-with-adding-more-ink
Being a hands- on type of grandmother for six years to two young boys I’m wondering if grandmothers will be quite so easy to erase from the picture as motherhood is at the moment? Mary has written about the disdain some of today’s feminists can show towards those of my generation who formed the Women’s Liberation movement, finding our ideas out of date. At toddler groups I’ve attended there are always a few of us and it seems when it comes to needing practical childcare support these mothers find there’s no substitute.
Children definitely need both parents to be involved in parenting but the precise styles are different. The effort to copycat the opposite sex is inauthentic and second rate. On a child dependency case, it helps if people take into account rights, protections, the physical safety of the child, and the parent-child bond. If all the focus is on only the parent's rights, we may end up with an addict celebrating reunification day by smoking crack (true example). If all the focus is only on protection, we may not reunify a child with a truly rehabilitated parent. Maintaining balance is impossible when politics, perverse metrics, and ideology cloud our vision.