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.
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.