As the 'Me Generation' reaches adulthood, and the cult of 'I' gains adherents, and as self-awareness, consciousness-expansion, and self-improvement approach the status of a religion, the 1970’s have been proclaimed the decade of the new Narcissism.
........William K. Stevens in 'Narcissism in the Me Decade,' New York Times, Nov. 30, 1977
Although the above excerpt was written nearly thirty years ago, most observers of the American scene still find themselves in agreement concerning the existence of a growing self-centered, me-oriented movement in our society -- a movement in which the needs and rights of the individual often enjoy precedence over the consideration of the needs and rights of society as a whole.
There are, of course, many and varied explanations as to why this movement toward me-orientation has become so pervasive. Author and teacher Elaine Heffner in her book 'Mothering' suggests that the theory prevalent in the 40’s and 50’s that children should not be unduly repressed or frustrated in order for their personality development to follow a healthy course caused many parents to go overboard in trying to gratify their children's needs. In doing so, Heffner asserts, 'they unwittingly taught them that theirs are the only needs that count. The generation raised on self-gratification now finds it too difficult to give to others, and is thus deprived of a more profound gratification. They are left to continue their search for self-fulfillment.'
It is in the midst of this era of concern with self-fulfillment that the women’s movement has seen fit to promote the cause of fulfilling the needs of women. A certain aversion toward the role of motherhood has evolved, quite naturally, out of this burgeoning concern for the self. After all, the role of fulltime mother is, perhaps more than any other role, self-denying almost by definition.
In her series, 'The Psychology of Women', Helene Deutsch aptly labels motherhood as 'the inevitable conflict between the interests of the self and those of the species.' The feminist movement seeks to sublimate the self and subvert the species by instilling in mothers the idea that they can, without guilt, abandon their responsibility to their children for the sake of their own fulfillment.
Perhaps this state of affairs would be more palatable if feminists would admit to the fact that the primary reason for leaving home and children is indeed a 'self'-centered one. (Of course I do not include in this category those women who must, out of financial necessity rather than out of a search for self-fulfillment, enter the job market). But, rather than acknowledge this fact, feminists have resorted to ridicule and rationalization. And motherhood has found itself reeling under a relentless assault from the left.
The assault is taking place on three fronts:
First, in order to open other doors besides mothering for women, feminists have set out to prove that women are not necessarily needed for it. According to feminist doctrine, both men and society in general are just as well equipped as a woman to care for and nurture her children. We are urged to ignore the fact that a woman not only is biologically equipped to bear children but also has secondary characteristics peculiar to her which destine her to play the primary role in child-rearing.
Feminist dogma asserts that the innate mothering instincts which most mothers feel are not genuine, but are merely feelings which have been forced upon them by an exploitative male-oriented society. It is undeniable that the self-denying aspect of motherhood does lend itself to exploitation, and many mothers do allow their emotional needs to take second place to those of their families more often than is necessary. But the exploitation-prone nature of motherhood in no way justifies its abandonment.
The feminist solution to the mere possibility of exploitation is to disavow motherhood itself and take flight. The rational and caring solution is to balance motherhood with a sense of self. The two are not mutually exclusive conditions. It is here that the women’s movement, so bent on exhibiting the strength of womankind, does womankind its greatest disservice by intimating that women haven’t the strength or the insight to avoid being used as pawns. Mothers, and women in general, are stronger than feminists would have us believe. They can resist type casting. They are fully capable of being mothers and individuals as well.
The second aim of feminist anti-motherhood propaganda is to focus on the notion that self-fulfillment can only be realized outside the mothering role. The more time a mother spends away from her home and children in pursuit of other interests, the better are her chances of achieving personal satisfaction. Mothers are urged to abdicate their roles because there are bigger and better things to be done.
While inundating mothers with patronizing lipservice, feminists, when caught with their guard down, show very little interest in, or compassion for children, and an almost total disrespect for fulltime mothers. It can be a humiliating experience to be in the company of career-oriented women who supposedly have a high regard for the woman’s prerogative. In general they have little interest in relating to a woman who has exercised her prerogative in favor of motherhood.
Witness the following statements by leading founders of the feminist movement:
A majority of American women do not see how profoundly restricted and monotonous their lives are in relation to what they could be. It is important to move out of constricted, predictable and safe situations and into activities and spheres that call for decision-making, problem-solving and initiative ... Victoria Billings, in 'Womansbook'
[Mothers are] prisoners in their own homes for fifteen years while their children grow up ... Victoria Billings, in 'Womansbook'
Women should be able to define themselves not just as somebody’s mother, not just as servants of children ... Betty Friedan, in 'It Changed My Life'
Every wife must live with the knowledge that she has nothing else but home and family. Obviously any woman who thinks in the simplest terms of liberating herself to enjoy life and create expression for her own potential cannot accept such a role ... Germaine Greer, in 'The Female Eunuch'
Middle-class mothers can keep themselves home and miserable for years because they can’t escape their class bias that women with children shouldn't work ... Victoria Billings, in 'Womansbook'
Mothering, if we believe these feminists, is a safe, restricted, predictable occupation, requiring little or no decision-making, problem-solving or initiative. Mothers lives are, by definition, miserable. And because a mother must occasionally elevate her children’s needs above her own, she enjoys nothing more than the status of a servant.
In actuality, conscientious and dedicated mothering involves more decision-making, problem-solving and initiative than any other endeavor I can imagine. The self-discovery and self-realization involved in mothering are classically unique and intrinsically rewarding. What, after all, could be more challenging than being in almost complete charge of an as yet unshaped human life? And what could be more rewarding than to be able to claim at least some small amount of credit for having helped a small, dependent human being develop into a responsible, caring adult? Teaching a child, through example and guidance, to live well in society is an undertaking whose challenge is second to none.
As is the case with most endeavors, what one receives from the effort is directly proportional to the effort expended. Perhaps those who envision motherhood as nothing short of drudgery ought to analyze exactly what it is that they are bringing to the mother-child relationship. The flaw in their concept of motherhood may well be found in the mother herself.
The third, and most insidious, weapon used by feminists in their assault on mothers is the theory that mothers are misguided women who are actually harming their children by devoting a large portion of their time to them. They would have us believe that it is for the children’s sake that a mother must leave the home.
Létty Cottin Pogrebin, in her book, 'Growing Up Free', asserts that studies have shown that 'daughters of employed mothers ... have greater educational and career aspirations and higher academic achievement.'
Apparently being a fulltime mother to one’s daughter will seriously threaten the child’s intellectual growth.
Victoria Billings, in 'The Womansbook', poses the degrading question, 'Is it really better for a mother to stay at home doing for the children what they should do for themselves when she should be teaching them a sense of responsibility?
Apparently, to the feminist mind, a mother cannot teach her children responsibility by example. Her only alternative is teaching responsibility by absence.
Ms. Billings issues the following repulsive piece of propaganda on the subject of the supposed harm fulltime mothers inflict upon their children:
Working mothers of the world unites Start putting out books about the advantages for children when mothers work. Start whispering about the neighbors who stay at home and force themselves on the children all day.
The call to arms has been sounded, and the enemy is motherhood. Being a mother, to be sure, is an enormous responsibility, too demanding to be forced on anyone. The almost total dependence of a young child on its mother can be seen as an assault on the self. All women were not born to be mothers, just as all men were not born to be fathers. But the mother who is comfortable in, and dedicated to, her role cannot easily be swayed by arguments of convenience.
Mothers in general feel a unique love and responsibility for their children. They instinctively comprehend the importance of their role in their children’s lives. They have an innate sense of the magnitude of their children’s needs, and they can and do successfully combine the satisfaction of those needs with the satisfaction of their own. Most importantly, they know that it does indeed make a difference how and by whom their children’s needs are met.
From their rhetoric it appears that feminists in general do not achieve fulfillment from their motherhood, and they harbor a begrudging hostility toward those women who do. One would hope that a movement which professes to be preoccupied with the fulfillment of human potential might learn to exhibit a healthy respect for those who nourish its basic source. For genuine fulfillment is embodied in the consideration of others as well as ourselves. And it is nothing short of judicious self-interest to believe so.
I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it....Voltaire—letter, 1767