Childlessness as Virtue

womanRecently I had a polite but brief exchange with two sisters over the role of motherhood and femininity  (and whether these two are necessarily connected). One sister began by posting an article – if that’s what it can be called – which was more or less a collaboration of remarks and quotes made by famous female entertainers and their choice to avert motherhood (and why any suggestion that motherhood some-how completes or enhances femininity in any way is at bottom a sexist, patriarchal remark). Both sisters agreed that women should be able to define what is that makes them female. I made some remarks, which I will hash out below in more detail than I did on Facebook, but needless to say my remarks had no effect and were, for all intents and purposes, frowned upon by every female reading or commenting.

I mentioned that women who avert motherhood and are then celebrated for it are by that very fact celebrated for a “powerful choice”. I mean that when we celebrate a person – or a group of people – for making a decision, that decision cannot be a considerably common or “easy” one to make. Something must make that decision a hard one. I suggested that everyone – even the women being celebrated for this choice – intuitively recognizes some real determinant or condition, intertwined in their very being, in their very nature, that they must voluntarily oppose and cast off. This is the biological condition and propensity of motherhood. If these women do not make a choice to exercise discipline in their life, they may very easily fall into temptation and find themselves impregnated. This means practicing “safe sex” and contracepting no doubt. It means being “independent” and developing relationships that fit more modern standards, which complement the notion that women can “be whatever they wish to be” and a “real man” understands that (and those men that do not are deluded by patriarchal undertones). Simply put, their life must be in order; they must practice, each and every day, with great discipline, their female independence. Like many movements that find their genesis in modern liberalism, feminism is no different in that much of it verges on the religious. Here we find women celebrated in a saintly way for practicing something akin to a virtuous life. In a world almost devoid of any real, religious or transcendent sentiment, a gapping hole is being filed by “new virtues” and “new vices”. “Feminine independence” (or whatever one wishes to call it) is just one of those “new virtues”.  And like many of these new virtues, it is a “virtue” that possesses a self-determining feature (meaning it enables a person to choose what they are for themselves, in this case a woman chooses what it means to be female for herself, especially and most importantly apart from any suggestion or pressure of men). You can see this in many other social facets: gender, sexuality, race, nationality, etc. Where people are self-determining, i.e. defining what they are for themselves (in any regard), there too one finds praise and celebration. In the case of females and motherhood, their resolve to avert motherhood is powerful because, under our current conditions, it is seen as something virtuous (and so difficult, brave and exemplary) and it can only be seen as something virtuous if they are in fact averting something really difficult (and not just something “social” or ‘made up’). This real difficulty resides in a primordial urge and the virtue of “feminine independence” is thereby grounded in challenging this urge and so not sinking into any pattern which would effectively destroy the potential for “female independence”.

Motherhood is just the kind of institution that would effectively destroy this alleged virtue of female independence (which again is why many women are celebrated for perpetually avoiding it in their life, just like the monk that perpetually averts certain temptations in his virtuous life). Motherhood requires a woman to turn away from her self and direct her very life to the meaning and protection of another. Something else outside her very self now threatens (and make no mistake, for many woman a child is a threat nowadays) her freedom to be what she wishes to be. Why? A child demands certain responsibilities, it brings certain duties and obligations, and it brings with it a meaning, wrapped up in a relationship, that you don’t get to choose. But such a life is not compatible with the on-going “creativity” of that “new virtue” of “female independence” which means persistently defining (and redefining) what it means to be female for an individual woman. One must make a choice. Just as there is a religious call to the devout, so too the there is a “higher calling” that beckons females today. So you can hear many allegedly liberated ladies saying “There is nothing wrong with women who decide to have children; however, the higher path is being free of any imposed expectations – and at many times this means casting off motherhood”.

By doing this, the common line is that women are now more “empowered”. This issue with “patriarchy” for many feminists is that it mystifies and romanticizes a drab, boring existence (i.e. motherhood). In fact, there is no real power in motherhood; rather, it is to men’s benefit that women are taught motherhood is wonderful. But it’s seriously questionable that motherhood has no power in it. This seems like a counter-intuitive claim. I cannot say just what that power is or does, as it is clearly one of those relationships that cannot be explained in full nor comprehended completely without a corresponding experience. But any observer can see a real change in new mothers. What feminism often does is cultivate a disdain for motherhood while at the same time a desire for the power men have supposedly withheld from women ( one assumes, by the feminists standards, that this power is the only power worth having – but is that true?).

In my opinion, the best way to defeat feminism is by celebrating real, genuine mothers who have truly encountered this power I think we’ve all encountered in some way.


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