Motherhood Myth Busting

Motherhood Myth Busting

Women have been led to believe that having children will destroy the possibility of fulfillment and happiness. This narrative is so dominant that many women feel stigma from finding any joy in motherhood. Cohen described as much in a remarkable section of her Vox piece: “When I started asking women about their experiences as mothers, I was startled by the number who sheepishly admitted, and only after being pressed, that they had pretty equitable arrangements with their partners, and even loved being moms, but were unlikely to say any of that publicly. Doing so could seem insensitive to those whose experiences were not as positive.”  

Recently in Vox, journalist Rachel Cohen attempted to explain how “millennials learned to dread motherhood.” Noting the troubling drop in global fertility rates, Cohen spoke to dozens of women about whether they hoped to become or hoped to avoid becoming moms.   

Today, the question of whether to have kids generates anxiety far more intense than your garden-variety ambivalence. For too many, it inspires dread. I know some women who have decided to forgo motherhood altogether—not out of an empowered certainty that they want to remain child-free, but because the alternative seems impossibly daunting. Others are still choosing motherhood, but with profound apprehension that it will require them to sacrifice everything that brings them pleasure.  

At least part of the dynamic at work here is cultural. Technology and evolving social norms have created the impression that the choice to become parents is simply one among many lifestyle “choices” we make, such as whether to buy or rent, or whether or not to get a dog. And like those choices, we make the choice to have children or not based on convenience, enjoyment, and personal fulfillment. It’s no surprise, then, that motherhood often lands on the losing side of that evaluation.   

This narrative has roots in second-wave feminism. Unlike early feminism, which was largely about correcting social injustices in pursuit of equal rights for women, second- and especially third-wave feminism went further, presuming that a woman’s value is found entirely in how she compares to and competes with men. In the process, women’s fertility was, in many ways, pathologized, treated as a bug rather than a feature of being a woman.  

Rather than liberating women as promised, however, one of the consequences of this brand of feminism is fear.

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