Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chapter 6 - The Mommy Wars

The “mommy wars” were not quite the media sensation here in Australia that they were in the states, and were raging their hottest when I was a little too young to be taking much notice, so I was rather (blissfully perhaps) unaware of much of this interaction. I googled “mommy wars” and got more American news articles than I could ever possibly read or process (see this one for an interesting later example). So, I appreciated this potted summary that also endeavours to show the roots of the battle.

I was pleased to read the opening material from Ann Crittenden, with the way she counteracts those ideas of social Darwinism tangled up with feminism by recognising the skills necessary to being a mother, and also the economic and productive contribution mothers make in nurturing human abilities (to say nothing of their spiritual importance) and then goes on to dispute the “mommy tax”. (It was quite refreshing to read something so reasonable!)

A section of this chapter that I found particularly informative was that on 'The Unproductive Housewife' and how the separation of public and private spheres we saw in the last chapter resulted in the work of women in the home falling out of economic valuation. I felt like I got some clarity of insight into the history of feminism (or some of it at least) here in seeing that initially women were fighting for adequate recognition of the value of their work in the home, but that that was trampled along the route by which the economic unit morphed from the household to the individual — meaning that women and children came to be labelled as “dependents” — and finally squashed as Charlotte Gilman pushed ahead with the ideas of social Darwinism. This read as a complicated and interconnected period in history and it was fascinating to see the way that there were the two contradictory strands of feminism developing but that the one leading out of the home came to triumph over the other and so devalue motherhood.

I could hardly come to terms with the writings of Margaret Sanger and Eileen McDonagh in this chapter and the echoes of eugenics present in them, not to mention their mind-boggling logic. As Carolyn suggests, Sanger made a tragic misinterpretation of an observed problem, and history testifies to how badly she erred in her solution. The statistics on female foeticide, a direct outworking of that “choice” Sanger was fighting for, are horrifying. I’d recommend reading Chapter 4 from The Essence of Feminism on the morality of feminism, with a case study in abortion. The church does indeed have much to “fear from the morals of women who have attained liberty” (from Sanger, pg 130) because the result is selfishness and irresponsibility, sought and found in “the freedom to be utterly self-centred and to sacrifice others for one’s own convenience and comfort” (from The Essence of Feminism). As Kirsten Birkett goes on to say: “We have now reached the point of ultimate sanction — extinguishing life that threatens my happiness”.

That might sound quite extreme, but it is worth looking for the ways that so called “soft feminism” has infiltrated the church. Ask yourself what you feel to be the expectation of how long you should wait, after marriage, before considering children? What sort of comments do you hear about those seek to have them straight away? Detectable in some reactions is the thinking that a couple needs time to themselves — for a variety of reasons, but often pertaining to freedom or self-realisation — or need to be prepared for the “damage” that is children. I’m not meaning to deny that (I am sure) children do have a very big impact on a relationship and significantly alter lifestyles, or that there might be good reasons for waiting, but we need to be mindful of how we are actually thinking about children in our “family planning”. As Carolyn helpfully points outs:
The history of feminist ideology is manifestly anti-mother, anti-child, and anti-Jesus. What’s less clear is how much each of us has been affected, or even infected, by this agenda. It’s good to know, for example, the worldview behind the tools we take for granted, such as contraception. Which of these tools can be received with gratitude and used with thanksgiving is an issue of Christian liberty and wisdom, tempered with faith toward God. But we should be suspicious of how much we have been influenced by our culture. For example, are children a blessing and a gift, as the Bible says, or an inconvenience or even unwanted intrusion? The Bible says it is God who opens the womb, so are we willing to receive a child at any time as a gift from His hand?
I appreciated that here we were pointed back to the spiritual battle we are fighting in defending the bearing and mothering of children and also in what we are training children for — to be and to do. I wasn’t convinced by the interpretation of Genesis 3:15 on page 123, that the devil is out to get children per se, but we are definitely fighting a war in training the next generation to be worshipers of God — and mothers are there on the front line. Being childless myself I also appreciated that Carolyn pointed out the necessity that we all enlist and invest in the children around us, and witness the majesty of God and the truth of the gospel to the next generation.


Erin said...

This was a chapter I found especially interesting.
I find the pressure within the church even as a single woman to delay children as long as possible - I once mentioned to my Mum that if I was married I would like to have had children by now (I'm 23) and she thought I was being rather romantic and naive. Rather I think children are a great blessing and joy from God and should be welcomed as such, no matter when God gives them to us.

I enjoyed the stories at the end of the chapter about real women who have suffered the effects of an abortion, or who decided against an abortion in circumstances when it was advised. But I would have also liked to have read about a family which didn’t have a 'happy ending', but still followed God. I can't find the blog at the moment (don't you hate that?), but I read one of a Christian family whose twins died a few hours after birth. They had been advised to have an abortion because they knew ahead of time that this would happen - many people would say they only made things harder for themselves, but they were an amazing example of obeying God even when it brought a lot of pain.

Ali said...

Thanks for your comment Erin. Yes, I think there is a lot of pressure, most particularly in Sydney, to delay having children - I guess it's worth asking ourselves what the particular pressures are. Financial? Career? Self-fulfilment? Overseas holiday? Then we can think through each of them with the value God places on them.

As you say, one of the things that disappointed me with the book is that all the stories seemed to have that happy ending. Christians who continue on with pregnancies knowing that the child/children won't live are certainly a great witness to the value God places on life itself and the life of the unborn.