I thought that in both Hollingworth and Walzer’s article, the most compelling argument was that conventional motherhood is not always a source of power for women. Instead gender dynamics concerning bearing and rearing children help to strengthen inequalities for women both socially and economically. Hollingworth states that the theory of social control helps to perpetuate gender inequalities through the actual physical perpetuation of society. This dynamic is interesting because even though continuing our society would be impossible without women, women and their bodies are given unequal power and women are expected to have “an all-consuming desire for parenthood regardless of the personal pain, sacrifice, and disadvantage involved”. Hollingworth provides 7 devices she believes are used to secure order, “and insure that individuals will act in such a way as to promote the interests of the group” which are to “maintain a birth rate sufficient to insure enough increase in the population to offset the wastage of war and disease”.
The first device used to promote a sufficient birth rate is personal ideals. Hollingworth states that women’s personal ideal is to produce and rear families. This ideal is widely held still today (as Hollingworth’s text was written in 1916) and is prevalent in the findings from Walzer. As women’s primary sense of self is supposedly derived through motherhood (unlike men’s who derive their sense of self through work), women often worry that they are living up to the personal ideals perpetuated by society, women are told that being a mother is something they ‘are’, whereas being a father is something that men ‘do’ (231). Walzer notes that new mothers are constantly fed up in the act of worrying. They not only engage in ‘baby worry’ but also ‘mother worry’ which is “induced by external as well as by internal mechanisms” (223). Furthermore, Walzer also notes that there “is a much greater threat to their social identities as mothers than there is for fathers if, in any particular moment, they are not taking responsibility for their baby (230). Women worry if they are being a good mother, and today the personal ideal of being a good mother is impossible.
This directly leads into Hollingworth’s second device, public opinion. The public opinion now is that women are supposed to be “Superwomen” who not only have a perfect career but also a perfect family. A superwoman is supposed to excel at everything she does and never has any difficulty balancing all of these things. The two examples of motherhood in the publics opinion that came to mind when I was reading these articles was the 2012 TIME magazine cover (below) and the supposed ‘mommy wars’.
Both this cover and this repeated narrative are harmful to all mothers, and again lead to their disempowerment.
Hollingworth speaks to this disempowerment, stating that belief, law, public opinion, illusion, education, art, and bugaboos are all used to “reinforce maternal instinct” and really maternal burden. Similarly, Walzer notes worrying, processing information, and managing the division of labor are all placed on mothers to complete and enact, and leads to social and economic disempowerment, as well as marital dissatisfaction. The burden of worrying is put entirely on mothers, and places them in a double bind. If they don’t worry enough, they are a bad mother, but if they worry too much they are ‘crazy’ and neurotic. Again, we see women being set up by society to fail. Furthermore, processing information, especially reading baby books, is placed entirely on new mothers. Walzer notes that in the widely read ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ only one of the 26 chapters is directed at fathers and it is included in the section “Of Special Concern”.
On a side note, my older sister had her second baby over winter break, and I remember talking to my brother-in-law about how he was preparing for the birth. At first he shyed away from the question, but then revealed to me that he had been reading his own share of baby books. One he mentioned and pulled of his bedside table was “The Caveman’s Pregnancy Companion: A Survival Guide for Expectant Fathers”. Now although I saw this as a good step, we can see from the Amazon description that this might aid towards the ‘helper’ complex Walzer talks about, instead of promoting an actual equal distribution of raising children. The description is as follows:
“What’s a clueless caveman about to become DAD to do? After all, it’s tough carrying a child for nine months—for him as well as for her. He’s just not sure how to behave. But help is on hand, in the form of a reassuring (and hysterically funny) course for the totally perplexed. Along with a large dose of humor, it provides the father-to-be with all the know-how he needs to become a well-prepared, well-heeled partner who’s really ready to stand upright and embrace his new responsibilities…rather than cowering from them. Every cave-student will find out how to support his mate through this emotional time, cope with his own feelings, deal with baby-related projects, and perform admirably during labor and delivery. So whether it’s catering to his exhausted companion’s needs by preparing a nutritional and tasty meal or engaging in a snuggle session when she craves a little cuddling, with the help of this book a guy will become the proud Cro-Magnon caregiver he longs to be!”
And even though my brother-in-law was reading this book, it was my sister who bought it and encouraged him to read it. It was still her job to delegate and manage and do invisible and unpaid emotion work to ensure that her husband would be prepared for their new baby–all of which is consistent with the findings of both Walzer and Hollingworth.