Hollingworth and Walzer

Zoe Halpert

I was struck by how Hollingworth compares mothers to soldiers. He explains that having children is necessary to human existence but requires a lot of sacrifice and involves suffering and putting your life at risk. Considering the pain and risk, there have to be a lot of social imperatives to have children. Western culture has this idea of maternal instinct, and it is generally believed that all women have it. Hollingworth explains that society expects that all women want to be mothers, and if they don’t then they are “abnormal.” As a culture, we celebrate having children. When a woman announces that she is pregnant we say “congratulations!” We would never say, for example, “tough break, that’s too bad.” Women who don’t have children, on the other hand, are looked down on. As soon as women get married, they are bombarded with the question, “when are you going to have kids?” Women who can’t or choose not to have children are pitied.

Not only is this attitude a part of our culture, but it is present in many laws as well. A lot of countries have or used to have laws that encourage women to have children. In Nazi Germany, women were encouraged to have lots of blond-haired and blue-eyed babies in order to promote the dominance of the Aryan race.  Other countries simply want to keep up a high population.

I was surprised and rather pleased when I saw that art was one of Hollingworth’s devices. After all, art has such a profound impact on society, and is often a very good representation of society. I’ll use painting as an example, because there is definitely a romanticizing of motherhood in paintings. After all, very few paintings depict a mother changing a diaper or wrenching herself out of bed in the middle of the night. I also don’t see paintings showing a father cradling a baby. My image is one of Raphael’s Madonna and Child paintings, one of many Madonna and child paintings out there. It portrays an ideal of motherhood, literally saint-like.

Raphael_Madonna and child

Reading all this made me wonder why women would ever have children (in spite of these social imperatives), considering the pain and sacrifice that it requires. Also, considering overpopulation, it’s not a bad idea to stay child free. Actually, a lot of couples are now choosing not to have children, and a lot of these couples are a lot happier because of it. This makes sense, considering what Walzer says, that once heterosexual couples have children, women and men have increasingly different roles. Even if the couple sets out intending an equal distribution of housework and childcare, women still end up spending more time caring for children. Because they have more responsibility in the private sphere, women are more likely to leave their careers in order to avoid neglecting these responsibilities. This often leads to resentment and unhappiness in the marriage.

Men are usually responsible for the economic stability of their family; therefore their work has visible, tangible results. However, women do the more invisible, mental labor. For example, mothers are known for worrying, mostly about their children. Perhaps it’s because of the idea that women are supposed to be more caring and attentive to other’s needs. So mothers have to worry a lot more, partially because the fathers aren’t worrying enough. I found it frustrating when Walzer pointed out that a husband’s response to his wife worrying is to tell her to stop worrying, rather than to share the worrying.

Another invisible job is managing the division of labor. Not only are women the ones who do more of the housework and childcare, they are also the ones who must delegate work. After all, it’s not just about going shopping for groceries. Someone needs to plan meals and figure out what needs to be bought. This creates an illusion of power; it appears that women are in charge, but in reality, men have ultimate control. This is because typically, fathers don’t take initiative. They won’t do anything unless they’re told to. Mothers can only stop doing something when her husband agrees to take over. She can tell her husband to pack the kids’ lunches, but she can’t stop doing so until he agrees to.

4 thoughts on “Hollingworth and Walzer

  1. Zoe,

    I really liked what you said about art depicting motherhood as saint-like. I was browsing parenthood magazine covers, and there were only 2 categories: covers with mothers and their children or covers solely with children. I didn’t find any magazine cover with a photo of a man and his child. But these pictures go further than establishing a relationship. They advertise motherhood as an all happy, all worthwhile experience. But, as you said, motherhood is just one path a woman can take in her life. She can choose to not have kids, which allows her more agency in other areas of her life such as her professional career or her relationships with friends, family, and significant others.

    Emma Weisberg

    1. Emma again,

      Also notice a sub-title in the photo I attached: 10 Signs That Show He Might Be Cheating. So, in this hypothetical heterosexual relationship, on top of all the work the woman is doing for her child, she has to be concerned about her husband’s commitment to her and their marriage?

  2. Carly Ozarowski

    When first reading Hollingworth’s work, I too was struck by the analogy of mothers to soldiers. After reading more and seeing this week’s posts I feel almost guilty being so struck by this comparison. I also like how you addressed the idea that women who choose not to or cannot have children are pitied. This is a sad truth in life. My brother’s fiance is slightly older than him and as soon as they were engaged the questions and concerns flooded in about how they should marry quickly so she can start having children.

  3. It seems that there is some natural desire to have children and raise them successfully, but society has also created pressure to start a family because that is supposed to be the dream and goal for everyone. Now it seems that in a more progressive society this should hopefully lead to a wider acceptance of marriages without children. It is so deeply engrained within us to think we want and need to have a family with children to be happy. It would be interesting to study the dynamics of homosexual relationships. How do these couples determine their roles and delineate responsibilities. Do any patterns appear between these couples as well? I doubt that these couples feel the same pressure from to society to have children because the process in many ways can be more difficult. However these couples are less likely to get divorced and usually provide a stable home for raising children, and probably play more equal roles in the lives of their children.

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