Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Being Viewed as a Person Vessel Instead of a Person

I'm currently reading Jessica Valenti's fabulous new book, "Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness." It's really wonderful and I'll post a review when I'm finished.

In the meantime, I wanted to talk for a moment about an excerpt from the book which really stood out to me. Valenti discusses the enormous pressure put on women to be perfect moms. She talks about how we are told that the absolute most important thing we can do is be moms and adds:
And really, how insulting is it to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I’m betting some of those women would like to do great things of their own.
I think about this culture message from time to time. I have certainly heard it and have the same reaction as Valenti. As I wrote recently, ciswomen are forever viewed as pre-pregnant and with that comes a cultural narrative which prioritizes the potential of said offspring over who the women currently are.

This observation stood out to me in particular because of Rian Johnson's new time travel movie, Looper, surprisingly. (This will get semi-spoilery.) I saw Looper this past weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed it from a purely entertainment perspective. However, from a feminist perspective, I was a bit troubled. In it, Emily Blunt plays the only noteworthy female character. She is a woman whose primary role is to be a mom to really important little boy. It reminded me all too much of Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies (Blunt's character is also named Sarah. I suspect that's no coincidence.)

In both cases, the Sarahs matter because they will mother guys who will go on to change the world.

Now I'm not saying that either of these female characters are weak. Rather--they both actually display at least some level of bad assery. But their ultimate importance, in the context of their worlds, is to be a mom to a super significant boy.  It all affirms what Valenti is talking about in her book.

Every time I write about motherhood, I hope to make it clear that I absolutely respect it. I'd like to repeat that again here. (In fact, I think that our society plays a lot of lip service to the importance of mothering but doesn't back it with any real action--like paid parental leave--that's a huge problem that I don't have time to do justice right now.) So I am in no way saying that mothering is insignificant. But my main point remains that we shouldn't be teaching our boys that they should aspire to greatness while teaching our girls to aspire to mother a great man.


  1. Not to mention the most revered female Biblical figure (especially in the Catholic tradition)- the Virgin Mary.

  2. Man, THANK you for articulating what bugged me about that character in Looper! I mean, the other woman literally had no lines, her only role was to silently save Bruce Willis from himself with her super-nurturing lady powers. Sarah is an (ostensibly) strong woman who gets plenty of dialog and screen time, but I still left the theater feeling like something was missing.

    Totes agree with you on the whole mothering-as-woman's-highest-aspiration issue. Personally I feel ambivalent about becoming a mother for many reasons. I can't quite separate out all the societal expectations and norms surrounding the decision from what I want as an individual.


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