I was thinking about our discussion on family last night.
I was thinking about our discussion on family last night.
Is motherhood 'sacred'?
I kept thinking about this...
There have been different pressures throughout the decades keeping the traditional “family values” in society. As Fessler writes in “The Girls Who Went Away” about the great need to conform in the 1950’s after WWII and about how families and individuals were scared into conforming and were always wary and fearful of losing their status and moving down to a lower class. All of the brief stories from other women throughout Fressler’s writing talk about how they were disowned by their parents for having a child out of wedlock. Women were scared by what others would think; and I feel this was a great influence on many women’s choices and the idea of what a “good” mother is and the ideal “family values.” Fessler writes the women in her writing “felt that they have no other option.”
I feel the expense these family values have been protected at the expense of the women these strict “family values” limited. These “family values” were promoted by the mothers and fathers that worried about other’s opinions. When I picture “traditional families” though, I feel young unmarried women who get pregnant would be pressured by their parents and society to get married to form the “traditional ideal family” instead of giving the child up to adoption or being ostracized by society.
The concept of women's citizenship being dependent on their motherhood, and the ways in which this citizenship is mandated and enforced both politically and legally is complex and fascinating; that being said, I found myself thinking not about the external infliction of this patriarchal structure, but about the internal fortification of these values by mothers as individuals.
We have been taught to judge the quality of a mother by any number of criteria, two of which I believe are especially deeply ingrained because the state doesn't necessarily need to reinforce them: first, the notion that a mother should approach her ‘duties’ from a place of selflessness. I think this is particularly harmful because mothers are taught not only that they should be selfless when it comes to their families, but that this selflessness should come completely naturally—which, by negative definition, means that if a mother does not feel entirely selfless towards her family that she is being selfISH. Second, the image and expectation of a mother as an inexhaustible well of unconditional love really bothers me—as Alex M eloquently and succinctly put it: mothers are human. They are dark and twisty and yin and yang and complex in all the ways that we are all complex by virtue of our humanity. But despite this reality selflessness and bottomless unconditional love are two prevailing ‘requisites’ of a ‘good’ mother. And what really strikes me when I think about the belief in these two conditions is that even though they are rationally unattainable, there is still so much shame that accompanies their inevitable failure. I need look no further than many of the brilliant, strong, accomplished women who surrounded me growing up, and the incredible difficulty they had in motherhood trying to reconcile their personal wants and needs with this ideal of the mother they thought they should be. Shame is so powerful. So so powerful.
Carol Austin was the woman who had to hide her own relationship to her lesbian lover in order for them to successfully complete an international adoption. This show us how difficult it is for us to live in a lifestyle like this. (Cornell: 105) I agree that society favor a heterosexual single mother or ideal family this is why there are so few group, tribe, or people out there under matriarchy. Patricarchy is common among culture and in the world. This is why a lesbian or gay lifestyle are at difficult in the process. These adoption children comes from countries just like ours of patriarchy.
Although now, women have the rights to vote and do so much if they or men involved in such a relationship of lesbain and gay then they are seen outlawed, which could we question that those that are in a relationship of lesbian and gay a second class citizen since heterosexual relationship are valued among society? Lesbain and gay are just one person just as defining what women is alone such as a mother vs. a human. (Cornell: 112)
In today’s society, gender identities are strictly structured around a female caretaker and a male breadwinner. The woman is the “mother” and is responsible for raising the children, taking care of the house, cooking, and having a job (as long as it doesn’t interfere with the other tasks). The woman should also possess feminine characteristics, such as tenderness and subordination. The male is the “father” and is responsible for financially supporting the family. He should possess qualities such as staidness and dominance. Society dictates that these two stereotypes should combine and produce offspring, thereby creating the “ideal” family. While this model is what society tells us to strive for, it allows several variances, to an extent. For example, society is slowly beginning to accept single-mother adoptions, yet it is still “unacceptable” for gay and lesbian couples to adopt. Cornell describes a woman who “had to hide her own relationship to her lesbian lover in order for them to successfully complete an international adoption” (105). In this example, society favors a single, ideally heterosexual parent over two homosexual parents. Overall, the typical setup of the nuclear family is protected at the expense of nontraditional families, specifically gay and lesbian couples, and, to a lesser extent, single-parent families.
In Patton's "Producing 'IL/Legitimate' Citizens," the topic of transracial adoption was addressed. The traditional family value that this subject deals with is that white families with both mother and father present are the best homes for children to grow up in. This family value is protected at the expense of racial adopted children. The racial children that are adopted by white families do not have all of their interests met all the time. Though the legislature that allows transracial adoption is meant to make the whole procedure "color blind," it is actually very hard to do that. At first, the young children do not feel out of place in the home because they are too young to see race as adults do. However, once they are old enough to understand that they do not belong, their racial identities become confused. So, while the legislature is meant to do a good thing by eliminating rascism, in reality it only confuses the children. The underlying theme of this legislature is that black mothers are not as good as white mothers. It has to be allowed to place children in white homes because not enough black homes are available, or not enough white children are available to adopt.
I think that gender identities and gender roles within families stem from the idea of this “perfect heterosexual family.” In this “ideal” family, there is a mother who is the caretaker and does the housework, the father who is the primary breadwinner, the children, and a dog. This family is often portrayed in popular media. However, what happens when you run into a family with two moms or two dads, how do these roles change? These gender roles are prescribed to the individuals based on past and outdated beliefs of what it means to be a “good” mother and a “good” father. A “good” mother makes a nice meal every night, does the laundry, cleans the house, carpools, etc. However, in a homosexual household or a single parent household, what happens when there is no mother at all? As a society, we have to accept the idea that these rigid gender identities and corresponding familial roles are no longer relevant and are completely outdated. Yes, there can be a person who primarily does the housework. However, nowadays, this person does not necessarily have to be the mother. Originally, these roles were prescribed to promote some sort of ideal of “family values.” Today, however, “family” is not such a strongly defined word and values differ within each household. If we keep promoting these values and ideals of mothers and fathers, people are going to begin to feel inadequate because they are not living up to society’s standards of a “good” mother. The whole idea of particular “family values” needs to be thrown out the door and restructured. If we keep promoting these values and ideals of mothers and fathers, people are going to begin to feel inadequate because they are not living up to society’s standards of a “good” mother.
I was really struck by Cornell’s assertion that in our society women are recognized only as a member of society in relation to their duties as mothers and wives, and more importantly only as the normative definitions of “mother” and “wife” that society restricts them to be. If women do not situate themselves in these defined roles, then they are not proved worthy enough to be protected by the state. What was more interesting was how this idea of motherhood played out in terms of the legalities surrounding adoptions. Because there was so much shame attached to a women wanting an adoption ( the underlying message being that the women adopting had failed as a mother), it became necessary to erase any existence and influence by the original birth mother. There became a need to “pick and choose” the real mother, as Cornell so aptly describes. And this mindset has made it very difficult, for lesbian couples in particular, to adopt because both “birth mother” and “adoptive mother” wish to be a co-caregiver in their child’s life. I would have thought it was just a question of “family values” and the need for a heterosexual upbringing, but it seems, at least according to Cornell, that there is a distinct historical influence on adoptions and the way they are conducted.
I agree with Cornell’s rebuttal of Fineman, that a “state-imposed baseline norm”, even one attempting to protect single mothers and unconventional caregivers such as the mother/child dyad, is still privileging certain caregiving over other kinds. It becomes the state’s domain to regulate what determines care. How much care do men have to give to become “Mothers”? While I believe the idea of the dyad to be a much better system than our patriarchal one, it seems that arguing a different baseline norm of caregiving is just perpetuating a standard that isn’t the right fit for everyone.
All of our readings this week focus on family norms. These norms are hurtful to me, not on a theoretical level but on a personal level. Biological family is valued above any other form of bond. Think of the stories you hear of women leaving their husbands. Where do they go? They go home to their mothers. Maternal love is seen as transcendant and given all sorts of religious significance, seen as unquestioning, unconditional, and natural. Fineman's quote on p. 197 of our Coursepacket was really interesting for me because it encapsulated what we expect mothers to be. Can fathers be that? Can men who are not fathers or women who are not mothers ever stand in place of that exalted position of biological motherhood. I have come to hate the idea of motherhood. It is such a loaded term and forces women into so many unnatural and disadvantageous positions. We are taught from childhood that mothers have their children's best interests in mind. But mothers are human. Even the best of them hurt their children in countless ways. Motherhood is not sacred and is as fallible as fatherhood or any other expression of love. Until we can undo the cult of motherhood there can be no rearrangement of family values. There is a slang term among GLBT people where we ask if someone is "family" meaning are they one of us not-straight people. This corruption of the term family identifies that families can sometimes be a person's worst enemy. All the heteronormative structures in the world are designed to make us feel like if our family rejects us then we are not worthy people. I have a really hard time writing and thinking about these subjects because they are very personal to me. Family and the idea of family are used as weapons in the social battles against those who do not follow the norms. The distance between biology and love is sometimes immense. If you share love with you biological family you should feel very lucky.
Heterosexuality is implicitly and explicitly enforced in our culture because anything outside of this norm is a threat to the patriarchal definition of womenhood: someone who exists to bear children. Throughout history, Western culture (and subsequently the legal code) has reinforced the idea that women have no identity outside of their position as a wife and a mother within a traditional heterosexual family. According to Cornell, a woman's legal identity binds her to duties within the family, more specifically child-rearing. If a women steps outside this role as a heterosexual mother committed to family, be they lesbian, unwed, or unable to provide, Cornell argues that they lose basic rights as citizens, such as the right to communicate with their child. As it is now, the law requires that mothers giving up their children for adoption surrender all access to their children. Feminists can find no state interest in forcing the birth mother to give up all rights to have contact with their child, and conclude that this particular law exists to contain women within the rigid role of a "good" mother; that is, one who is heterosexual, middle or upper class, and married.
Society particularly reinforced these strict gender identities and familial roles during the 1950s and 60s, as Fessler discusses in her essay. During this time period, the nuclear family model was especially prevalent. Many white families were rising to the middle-class and were concerned with maintaining their increased social status. Because of this, the "good" mother archetype was especially enforced among white families: ten times as many White babies were surrendered to adoption than Black babies. This implies that when unexpected pregnancies arose, especially among unwed mothers, white families opted to surrender the baby to adoption rather than raise it in their home. Fessler writes that during the Cold War, women who didn't fit into the straight, married, or middle to upper class model of mother were a threat to their family and their community, so there was much incentive to get rid of the babies that resulted from unwanted pregnancies.
This idea that only "good" mothers deserve to have children obviously disadvantages any mothers who fall outside of this mold. Homosexuals, be they gay men or lesbians, are by and large not permitted to adopt children. Lesbians have a hard time securing parenting rights for both of the women who parent the child, even if one of them is the birth mother. Women who are economically disadvantaged often have no other option than to give away their child. Women who are single, even if they are not destitute, usually do not have the means to both work and to care for a child. Because the law dictates that they cannot have contact with their child, these mothers and the children they surrendered often experience psychological trauma. Cornell's proposal of a voluntary register in which birth mothers and their surrendered children can register to maintain contact with her seems like the most logical step to remedying this injustice.
Our readings had plenty of concrete explanations of the societal system entrapping people into traditional families, rather than loving ones. The fundamental structure of the traditional family is of male/female roles, the division of labor and then the confining lifestyles people must lead. This then leads into the way that the traditional lifestyle outlaws homosexual families, among other divergences in family life. These families are specifically discriminated against within adoption system. The attention to the role of motherhood throughout our readings was particularly terrifying. The structure of society and law form the role of women to be mothers as citizens. Mothers are defiled when it comes to their ability to give birth. A women suffers and is shamed in adoptions, but also the child suffers. They are deprived of their own histories or understanding, because adoption is systematic. The adoption industry is just one example of how women are created as mothers in society, rather than citizens with rights. Cornell pointed out that even the small advances in women's rights do not warrant success; there is an entire system suffocating them. She pointed out that “But these changes have been piecemeal because they have not adequately challenged the basis of the legal problem sweepingly called patriarchy.” (101) This is really a statement of mass dilemma.
As I read through other entries, I realize that I, myself, am beginning to have a debate going on in my head about this issue. I'm coming at it from not a homosexual standpoint, rather as a woman that wants to be working. Do I love and care for my future kids? Yes. However, the traditional standards of females playing the motherly role and staying at home and not working bothers me. How am I supposed to accomplish my dreams and have kids at the same time? Am I to tell my future husband that he has to be Mr. Mom? In the times of today, I see myself being the working mother and asking my husband to stay at home with the kids - I know I want someone there for them all the time. As I think about the readings and S. Bear Bergman's speech, I realize how hard it must be for homosexual families to overcome the difficulties of a hetersexual America. How does one decide who stays at home and who goes to work? Its a difficult enough decision for me... I feel like America has a ways to go before this answer can truly be understood by everyone.
Within heterosexual ideologies, women are expected to carry feminine qualities such as sensitivity, emotional support and understanding, domestic knowledge and skill, etc. This corresponds to women’s expected familial role as the caretaker, the one to raise the children, cook the meals, clean the house, etc. In this same way, men are expected to be strong, rational (vs. emotional), and savvy in the outside world of work and business. This corresponds to the family in the way that men are expected to work outside the home and be the sole provider and breadwinner. These expected motherly roles shape our understanding of what a “good mother” is because any mother who strays from these duties would then be considered a bad mother. Therefore, a full-time working mother would not be considered a good mother because she is spending her energy in the wrong place: on work and not on her kids and the home. Furthermore, these duties protect traditional familial values because having two working parents, for example, would leave no time for a sufficient homemaker/caretaker, which throws off the traditional balance of the family. These values come at the expense of any same-sex couple who wants a family, any women who wants to work outside the home, and/or any man who wants to stay at home and raise his family.
This is a response to Abby W's post. When you started talking homosexual families and the gender roles of homosexual parents, a discussion came to mind from another class I’m taking called Gay Men and Homophobia in American Culture out of the Cultural Studies department.
As the majority of our family value readings have illustrated, our society has become accustomed to the gender roles and duties that are assigned by the typical heterosexual commanded families.
...We come in all different shapes and different sizes, and mine's just right for me.-Barney, The Purple Dinosaur.
Majority of heterosexual families and their traditional roles are based on the patriarcial system. Many people have the men work the 40+ hour work week, while the women stay at home and take care of the family and the home. Majority of some women in households are stay-at-home and will do most of the cleaning, shopping, up-keep, and taking care of the children. These different gender identities have been in place for many years and the more the families become single parent households, or two mom's and two dad's, society is starting to rethink how the family is raised.
Many of these roles then place this pedestal on the man making the money and then the mom's are staying at home. The role of a 'good' mother is one that takes care of her children, physically, emotionally and mentally. The role of a good mom is someone who can balance it all. I don't agree with how society places these limits and expectations at the same time on many women. People expect them to do everything, cook, clean, take care of the children, and in some cases contribute to the family income. I believe that role of a good mom is someone who is loving, nurturing, compassionate, and very flexible. My mom stayed at home while my sisters and I grew up and then once we were all in school, she went back to work. Partly becuse she wanted to, but also to bring in some more money. There were even times when she had two jobs. Yet, she still found time to cook, clean, and be at all of our sporting events.
Many of these family visions are then inscribed into what heterosexual family units are suppose to be like. However, with the changing of the times and family units becoming the target of society, people are starting to rethink what their family values are. I liked towards the end of the chapter when Cornell said that "families are special because they offer a space for eroticism in which love and life can flourish" (130).
There are many factors that influence the social roles of women and men, and many of them stem from heterosexual family structure. The traditional heterosexual family promotes the idea that each gender has things that they are more capable of than the other gender. Female roles are enforced as caretakers and men are seen as providers in the patriarchal heterosexual family. The times are changing and many women are being seen now as worse mothers than those before them because women are becoming more independent from the home, and many kids want the mom who has a life that is devoted to her children, from fresh baked cookies to always picking up after her children, the traditional role of mother is a full time job. With women working their own careers today, as more women than before are, all the little extras that full time mothers can do are so much harder. Men in contrast are being seen as better fathers because the traditional role of a father is not as emotional as it is physical, and now since women are taking more of the physical providing onto their shoulders men have more time to connect emotionally with their children and obtain a close connected relationship with their children, which is a positive thing. It is important when talking about gender roles, and "good" mothers and "good" fathers that we take into account homosexual families. The traditional roles of mothers and fathers are now being filled by same sex couples who do not fit into the traditional male-female gender roles. Some may say that something is missing from these families, but i think that same sex couples and single parents show that they can provide just as well, and be just as nurturing without being locked into one half of what it takes to run a family.
On page 98, Cornell writes:
The issue of adoption demands that we examine our entire family law system from the ground up. In spite of attempts at feminist reform, our family law remains grounded in enforced heterosexuality with its inscription of rigid gender identities and corresponding familial roles and duties.
Drawing upon Cornell, Fessler and/or Patton, critically reflect on the following questions:
• What are some of the rigid gender identities and corresponding familial roles and duties that are inscribed by enforced heterosexuality?
• How do these identities/roles/duties shape our understandings of what a “good” mother is?
• How are these identities/roles/duties used to protect a particular vision of “family values”?
• At whose expense are these family values promoted/protected?