Many points in both articles really resonated with me, either because I had never thought of them before or I was able to relate to them or, most of all, they were just shocking and appalling. Beginning with Hollingworth’s “Social Devices for Impelling Women to Bear and Rear Children,” the comparison of child-bearing to the work of soldiers is really awakening to think of what so many women endure and the reasons for it. It reminded me of the “Nacirema” article and the idea that if we step back and take a look at our “normal” practices, they can appear very different once we rid ourselves of all social and cultural attachments. It is true that childbirth is necessary for human existence, can be and has proven to be incredibly dangerous, and involves a great deal of sacrifice. Hollingworth discusses the expectation placed on women to have children, to the extent that if a woman either does not or does not desire to have children, she is considered “abnormal.” This weekend, I experienced an interesting example of this. At President Bergeron’s Inauguration this weekend, I heard a parent ask her daughter if President Bergeron had any kids. When the student replied that she did not think she did, the mother seemed confused and mildly disgusted. I took note of this as a great example of the expectation we place on all women to desire children and the stigma that women receive if they do not have children, as though they are not truly women and are not fulfilling their duties and responsibilities.
Hollingworth also discusses the “illusion” of childbirth and the tabooing of the actual process of childbirth. This made me think of how movies and television shows often depict childbirth. In many ways, it remains a mystery in which the mother pushes the baby out in a few different clips of filming and then holds the baby and the childbirth process is over. In the media but also in conversation, we fail to recognize the dangers and pains of childbirth but rather magnify the “joys and compensations” of childbirth.
Moving onto Walzer’s “Thinking About the Baby: Gender and Divisions of Infant Care,” this article made me extremely angry because there was so much obvious irony in all of the expectations and gendered imbalances for mothers and fathers. I appreciate Walzer’s focus on mental labor, as this is something that I have never thought about and is an added form of labor that often goes undiscussed. Walzer quotes mothers who explain that they worry that they are “bad mothers” or are “inadequate.” However, it seems incredibly ironic that mothers are constantly worrying that they are “bad mothers” but that in doing so, they are making themselves feel like “good mothers.” This just proves how socialized mothers are to believe that they must worry and be thinking about their baby all the time in order to be a good mother. Furthermore, Walzer quotes a father who saw it as his job to tell his wife to “lighten up.” The irony in that statement is that because fathers often are not the ones doing the work that must be done, if the wife did “lighten up,” these tasks most likely would not get done. Walzer quoted a father who stated that he just didn’t have time to read parenting books. This article was especially frustrating to me because at the same time as reading how absurd this gendered division of labor is, I also recognize how common these issues are and can even relate them to my family and the gendered dynamics of parenting between my mother and father. While fathers may not want to read parenting books, they also are not expected to. Walzer points out that parenting books are not written for fathers; they are written for mothers, with maybe a chapter or two in them directed at fatherhood. Therefore, this issue is so sociologically rooted in multiple systems that influence the actions of individual couples. And, as if mothers do not do enough work taking care of their children, they then have the added burden of delegating tasks to their husbands, because apparently husbands are more than happy to do the task but only after they are asked. We would never consider mothers “helping out” when taking care of their children, but when men aid in the parenting, they are considered so helpful. Additionally, women are probably happy to just do the work themselves because this is the only way to ensure that it gets done quickly and correctly.
Over spring break, my family had brunch with family friends who had just had a baby. The father talked about how he took his four-month-old daughter on a walk through the park and stopped in a restaurant to change her diaper. He described the challenges he had when taking her into the men’s restroom, trying to balance his daughter on the toilet seat or on his knee to change her, because men’s bathrooms do not have changing tables. This proved to me how ingrained we are to believe that women change the baby, and made me realize how we do not even attempt to let men engage in equal parenting. While it is true that not all restrooms have changing tables, the establishments that do have changing tables most likely only have them in the women’s restrooms.
Lastly, speaking about diapers, I decided to choose a diaper image as my depiction of Hollingworth’s devices. Diaper commercials, but also the packaging for diapers themselves, depict happy babies with their happy, smiling mothers. These images speak to the “public opinion” device, in which these mothers appear to be very naturally engaging with their children, using their “maternal instinct.” Additionally, it glorifies motherhood (especially relating to diapers!) and is in some way an “illusion” because it focuses on the joys of motherhood.