This is part two of my baby themed trilogy. Last week I looked at the importance of a loving father and mother in raising a healthy, balanced child. Today, I’d like to discuss why society still pressurises women into becoming ‘mommy dearest’. Why is what a woman chooses to do or not to do with her womb an open forum for discussion?
Although the roles of women have changed dramatically in the last thirty years, women are still expected to produce the tiny pitter patter of tiny feet. It is widely understood the more educated the woman the more likely that she will delay marriage and child rearing. Goals and careers become the new rites of passage into adulthood. Interests and aspirations become the basis of our identity and determine the choices we make in life. Irrespective of a woman’s accomplishments or outward contentment, it’s assumed that without a child something must obviously be missing from her life. A generation ago, the main options for women were to become a wife and mother. Today, women have a plethora of opportunities on offer yet they are still constantly asked for wedding and due dates.
Black women are weighed down by high expectations. In my own experience we are constantly being pulled by the expectations of our community against our own needs. Although society at large is very patriarchal, the Black community is matriarchal in its set up. Black women are encouraged to become superwomen, able to take care of families, church groups and the wider community all in one single bound. We are the caretakers and the nurturers. Black women’s femininity is linked with their role as the constant care giver. The question is who takes care of superwoman?
But the times they are a changing. Black women are swapping the title of superwoman for businesswoman. In the US, women account for 75% of all Black enterprises. (Source Young Business Owner.com) Does this new found financial freedom have far reaching implication? I would say yes. The rate of Black teen pregnancies has decreased by 48% between 1990 and 2008. This is more than the general level of teen pregnancies at 42% (Source Guttmacher Institute). Why would economic emancipation possibly have an effect on teen pregnancies? Two words, self esteem. Apparently the chances of teen pregnancy are raised by 50% for those with low self esteem. (Source Health Development Agency 2004) Motherhood can easily be seen as rites of passage to adulthood especially if you believe that your prospects are limited. If a young woman believes that she will never marry, gain a degree or set up her own business why should she wait till she starts a family? Greater opportunities bring a wider set of choices for all women. Black women should not feel guilty for putting their own needs first.
I will always champion the right for Black women to widen their horizons but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. I believe that motherhood is ultimately a wonderful and rewarding experience. I would like a child of my own. I am certain that being a mother will be the most important title I will ever hold but it will not define my whole life. I imagine that having a good sense of who I am will be a useful attribute to pass on to a little Sudelicious. Plus if a woman does decide to become a parent she shouldn’t be expected to shoulder all of the responsibility, it’s a two person job. Matriarchies or patriarchies are not ideal power structures. We need to enter a period of cooperation between the sexes. Both men and women have a role in raising children. It can no longer be simply dismissed as ‘woman’s work’. Women should not have to choose between motherhood or the big career to validate their lives. This new found freedom cannot become a new pressure where women still feel obliged to explain their life choices. I am more than my womb and I am more than my job.
Surely, it’s a good thing that women are taking greater control of their lives. Taking the time to decide whether to have a child or not. I am bemused by the largely negative backlash in the media. Why is motherhood considered a forgone conclusion for all women, with those who don’t jump on the merry bandwagon viewed with suspicion? I suppose that women who choose to focus on their careers provide men with greater competition in the workplace. These same economically independent women are also likely to expect more from their relationships. Financial freedom gives a woman the space to be emotionally fussy. This undermines patriarchal power structures and explains why there is a rallying cry for all women to return to the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. Mothers and the child free should celebrate that we have greater choices than the previous generation. Not all women want the same things. Everyone has the right to do whatever makes them happy and for some that might include children for others it won’t. We are entering an age where women get to determine their lives and fertility. Motherhood is an exhausting role; it benefits us all when only those best qualified apply for the job.
Please let me know your thoughts