Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Women as Public Property

Tonight I had a conversation with a woman in one of my classes where we were reviewing the concept of "Multiple Identities". We had to list the different social groups we belong to and rank them in order of how they influence our day-to-day. My number one was being "Mom". Her number one identity was being "childfree" or childless by choice as it is known in some circles. We noticed that we both listed other people trying to impose their opinions on us as negative consequences of our number one identities. Our discussion led into the concept of women as public property or automatically being open to public scrutiny by virtue of our gender. I could probably write more about this, but I'll try to keep it focused on motherhood.

I've been thinking about the principle of women as public property for a long time, but it became especially noticeable to me while I was pregnant. Total strangers wanted to touch and endlessly comment on my body. I was 27, bilingual, with a Master's degree and suddenly other people around me seemed to think I needed to be told how much food to eat or if/when I was tired or over-exerting myself.

Now that I have a child, the same rules seem to apply. As I've mentioned before people want to tell me when to stop breastfeeding or co-sleeping. They constantly remind me that I shouldn't diet while breastfeeding (I'm not dieting BTW, people just make assumptions.). I really do think this is a plague visited on all women at all times, but none so intensely as the public scrutiny related to motherhood.

I mean seriously, people criticize and make fun of Kate Gosselin all the time for having so many kids even going so far as to say she "asked for it", whatever that means, by using IVF in the first place or by getting "greedy" and going back after they already had twins. Angelina Jolie (but conspicuously not so much Brad Pitt) is constantly ridiculed for having the temerity to adopt children from underprivileged backgrounds that she can totally afford to support. I know these are celebrities and we all feel entitled to judge celebrities' private lives, but these wouldn't be public narratives if they didn't in some way relate to private narratives.

However, most of those same people are critical of childfree women. I have seen many of my friends and one of my own sisters constantly have their character called into question due to the fact that they have elected not to procreate. They are called "lazy" or "irresponsible" when all they are doing is not basing an important life decision on what other people might think about them or what society expects of them. I've wanted to be a mother all of my life. Even when I had no plans on ever marrying, I still was structuring my life plans to include future children. But I've never thought that this was a decision for everyone. A child knows when they are loved and wanted and no matter what Hollywood wants us to believe, it is the rare person who suddenly genuinely wants to be a parent only after giving birth.

Am I going anywhere with this? Nope. It just burns me that's all.